THE ANIALARRA 1997 EXPEDITION
"ARSIP", the association that coordinates all exploration
work on the plateau for over 25 years now, proposed us 2 objectives. The
first one was re-visiting Gouffre GASPI; the second was re-visiting the
notorious "Pozo Estella". Avalon put their "base camp" at Camping Ibarra
in St. Engrace.
GOUFRE GASPI (-285m)
The Gaspi is situated very close to the ski station of Pierre-St-Martin.
It was at
that time -234 m deep and ended in a narrow meander. The cave
had the potential to become an entrance to the very big Gouffre des Bourrugues
(700 m deep and several kilometres long), and this entrance would probably
arrive past the sump of the Bourrugues!
Gaspi proved to be a fine cave, essentially 2 series of pitches that were
connected at -130m by a narrow and difficult crawl, 50 m. long. At the bottom,
(-234 m) an extremely narrow, sharp and wet crawl starts, ventilated by
a strong and cold draught. Lots of bends and squeezes cheer up the "ambiance";
and even wearing a helmet proved to be "too much" here... After a short
dig I managed (solo) to do some 50 m more, where I could only see that this
claustrophobic rat-trap still continued. A few days later, the heavy thunderstorms
that were battering down on us every day finally calmed down and time was
ripe for another try. This time, the smallest in our party, Annette and
Rudi, pushed the crawl further until they arrived in a series of small pitches.
Very excited they ran towards the "big river"... but unfortunately everything
ended soon in a narrow crack and a small sump. Their altimeter indicated
-285m, and a rough survey showed that the crawl was about 150 m long. Impossible
to start a dig at the end of this passage.
When derigging there was again some suspense: Annette and I found a window
in a pitch at -70m. We arrived in a new series of pitches (R2, R5, R2, R4,
R4 & P40) but they re-connected to the known part of the cave at -130m...
AN3-POZO ESTELLA (-711m)
This famous cave is the main part of the Anialarra System, formed by AN3,
AN51 and AN6. This system is 711 m deep and over 11 km long. The cave resembles
a lot to it's big sister, the PSM, because of it's big underground river
that flows in an enormous gallery. Unfortunately the cave end in a huge
boulder choke. Clearly, this is not the real end of the cave, so we thought
that reviewing this choke should be worth the try..
To reach the entrance, a 2 hour long walk uphill is necessary. The cave
starts with 450 m of pitches, most of them narrow and very flood-dangerous
past the -200m point. An ingenious construction of flexible hosepipes leads
the water into the big fossil pitches. We rigged the cave in two days time
to -450 m, and after a few days of waiting because of the rainy weather;
we bottomed the cave in a "flash raid" . We reached the final choke, after
a 2 kilometre long "walk"through the big gallery, enormous rooms, low crawls
in the river. We risked our neck for over an hour, trying to find a way
through the boulder choke. The very strong draught, strong
enough to blow out our carbid flames, went through the choke, straight to
the colossal, still unknown cave that surely must exist past the choke.
Anyway, we couldn't get through... After a long climb out, and way past
midnight, we found our small blue tent that provided shelter for a cold
night, in the middle of spectacular thunderstorms.
Conclusion: this cave has a great potential (the depth potential
is 1800m!) and deserves to be thoroughly searched again. But in order to
do this, one needs a big and strong team, one must make an underground camp
near the final choke, and one needs powerful digging material, and a lot
of time (3 weeks).
THE DISCOVERY OF THE AN506
the last days of our stay, we explore the Anialarra lapiaz. Some small caves
are found, such as the AN500 with a rather large P15. Eric, Pierre and his
children discover a tiny hole, not far from the AN6. The day after, Herman
and I widen it up and much to my surprise a wide 25 m deep pitch follows
this small entrance. I go down solo, and I arrive in a room with an 8 m
pitch. A new big free drop presents itself, but I have no more rope left.
Again the day after, the very last day of our holiday, my wife Annette and
I go down this beautiful 25 m deep free hanging pitch. And then... surprise:
the yawning mouth of what seems to be a giant shaft, that we estimate at
over 200 m deep, after having thrown the obligatory rock down!! I go down,
with trembling knees, and several bolts later I'm 90 m down, at the knot
of my rope, hanging in a 7 by 20 m wide shaft. Under my feet, there is sheer
blackness... The cave gets the number "AN506", and is baptized "Pozo de
los Niņos". The giant shaft is named "The Monstre" and will haunt our dreams
for a very long year.
To be continued in 1998. Read all about it here:
the Anialarra 1998 Expedition