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Results of the 7th Anialarra Interclub Expedition

Between July 27 and August 16, 2003 the 7th Anialarra Interclub Expedition took place. As always, the organization was in the hands of Caving Club Avalon (Belgium) but members of other Belgian en Dutch clubs participated as well: Hades, Marginal, De Grotters, Styx, Speleo Nederland.

The main goal was to continue the exploration of the "Réseau Nostradamus"; a huge gallery situated in the upstream parts of the Anialarra System, and discovered last year near the end of the 2002 expedition.Preparations for a two-day trip in Nostradamus

This year was marked by the best weather we have ever seen in the Pierre-Saint-Martin region: a three week long heatwave without one drop of rain. But the expedition was also marked by an incredible series of catastrophes and bad luck! Broken down cars and flat tires were daily business. Dropping down gear (kit bags, Hilti-batteries, hammers and even digital cameras) in deep pitches were also "quite usual". The icing on the cake was a real cave rescue of an injured participant out of the cave, and his evacuation by helicopter.

But the biggest blow we got, was the simple fact that Réseau Nostradamus, in which last year during a single euphoric exploration over 650m of new passages were found and surveyed, just ended... only 10 metres past the 2002 terminus!

Now "ending" is not the correct word for it, in fact we were standing in front of a vertical wall that was at least 50 metres high. With a powerful spotlight we could see a black hole, just under the ceiling of the gallery (which is, at this spot, indeed over 50 metres high which gives you a good idea of the kind of galleries we are dealing with here!)

Several days of very risky and difficult artificial climbing, over highly unstable ledges and rotten walls, were needed to scale this obstacle (called "the Rocky Horror Show") . At a height of 40 metres a passage was found leading to the continuation of the Nostradamus!Giant, 50 cm long formation in Galerie des Excentriques excentriques

This very ventilated and cold gallery (Galerie des Bronchiteux, in which indeed two cavers got a severe bronchitis during the survey work) lead much to our surprise to a big room, about 80 by 40 m and filled with giant boulders. The room was called "Cosmik Debris", in honour of Frank Zappa. It took us several days and three successive teams to find the continuation: a tiny blowhole between giant boulders gave access to a big gallery with the most bizarre formations (calcite, gypsum and possibly aragonite) we ever discovered. This gallery, Galerie des Excentriques excentriques, gave access to an even bigger room, Salle Lieven, named after our unfortunate colleague Lieven who discovered the passage to the room, but had to pay a heavy toll for it: that same night he injured his knee, resulting in a cave rescue!

Lieven is being evacuated by helicopter..So we were still going upstream, and the distance to this part of the cave got so important that our last exploration took two days: a 35 hour long trip, of which 8 hours of sleep in an improvised underground camp.

During this trip, the big room "Salle Lieven" was continued into a third room: Salle du Lapiaz, the biggest of them all. Salle Lieven and Salle du Lapiaz are in fact the same room, at least 250 m long and 60 m wide, and divided in two by some big boulders (as big as houses). Quite incredible to find passages of these dimensions, in the extreme upstream parts of a cave!

In Salle du Lapiaz one has to climb a giant pile of boulders, which we called "Baraque Fraiture" . At the top of it, it goes down again the other side, but so steep that one needs ropes. This is were the 2003 expedition had to stop. So it looks that we are not even halfway this giant room! All we can see is an enormous black tunnel going on.

Happy faces, during the discovery of Salle du Lapiaz (Erik, Rudi, Mark, Paul, Annette)We were however able to explore a lateral gallery at that point, about 15 metres wide. We did 100 metres in it .. and it too still went on!

As a result of our 2003 expedition, the réseau Nostradamus has been doubled in pure extension, and about 1,2 KM of new passage was explored (and mostly surveyed). The dimensions are so big that we think (and hope) that it should still go on like this for quite a distance. In theory, it could be possible to reach the giant, 500 metres high cliff in which the Anialarra plateau ends, and maybe we will even exit there!

Another interesting detail is this: a few years ago we discovered a cave AN546-Pozo Georges (almost 100 m deep), which is situated not only very high in altitude (Alt. 2278 m), but which appears now to be positioned exactly above Salle Lieven. If we could connect this cave with the underlying Anialarra System, then the total depth of the system would become -770 m instead of the current -648 m!

The Anialarra System now totals over 14,2 KM in length, for an unchanged depth of -648 m.

Of course, we not only explored and surveyed in the Nostradamus gallery, but in other parts of the cave as well.

We also worked in other caves, such as AN61 (Sima del Confusion) were we had a dig going on for days, in the narrow terminus of 2002, near -100 m of depth. Finally we managed to get 12 metres deeper, were the cave ends. A pity, because it is situated above a small underground river of the Anialarra system.

Action shot taken in the Anialarra system, around -420 mThe most promising cave is AN107. About twenty years ago, the local club GSHP managed to reach a depth of 55 m, were they had to stop because of lack of rope, at the top of a new pitch.

But in the following years, the cave was totally blocked by snow again. Thanks to the very hot summer of 2003, we finally managed to locate the original passage again between rock and snow. We pushed and surveyed the cave to a depth of -140m, an ice cold activity because even at that depth snow and ice is still occupying 9/10 of the volume of the cave. We had to stop because of a lack of time (the end of the expedition!) at the top of a new pitch, about 30m deep.

This cave might be an entrance to the nearby Gouffre des Partages, to the Anialarra System or even to both. Everything is possible at the PSM!

So, next year we will organize another Anialarra Expedition. This time we will use underground camps and make 2 or 3-day trips. This year we experienced a quite low efficiency because the end of Nostradamus is so far from the entrance away (almost 2 kilometres) and going there is the same as doing a 700 m deep cave. You first go down 420 m, then climb up 290 m!! In 2004, playing time is over!

Paul De Bie

Expedition leader

(pictures: Paul De Bie & Mark Michiels)

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