OUR EXPLORATIONS AT THE PIERRE-SAINT-MARTIN
20 years of expeditions already... (1997-2016)
In the past, we visited the Pierre-St-Martin area (French/Spanish Pyrenees)
a few times, but only for "classic caving". In 1988 we did the through-trip
of the famous Pierre-St-Martin Cave (SC3->Verna), and bottomed both the
Lonné Peyret (-700m) and the Aphanicé (-500m) with it's magnificent 328m
free-drop. In 1990 we bottomed the Couey Lotge (-600m), another splendid
underground river. In 1997 we spend our first holiday with main goal "exploration".
The Anialarra limestone plateau became our playground for the first, and
certainly not the last time.
the remote Anialarra area, situated in Spain, some exploration waves had
swept by in the past. The first one in the early '70ties, resulting in the
discovery of the FR1/Gouffre Vaille-que-vaille (-337m), the FR3/Gouffre
des Caou-Couges (-420m), the AN3/Pozo Estella (at that time -614m) and AN6/Pozo
Frontenac (-406m). All this was a French/Spanish realisation, with a lot
of heroism and tragedy, such as the death of young Francis Zamorra during
a flood pulse in the pitches of Pozo Estella...
A second (and Belgian) wave followed in the '80ties, with the exploration
of the AN51/Pozo de Acuarios (-390 m) that connected to the AN6, soon followed
by the connection of AN6 with AN3/Pozo Estella, thus creating the "Anialarra
Cave System", 711 m deep and 11 km long!
Despite some other explorations afterwards, one had to wait for a decade
for another major discovery. It was again a Belgian club, SC Avalon, who
found the the AN506/Pozo de los Ninos, -410m deep, in 1997 and 1998.
This cave has got a gigantic pit, called "the Monster" 258m deep.
1999, another expedition resulted in the exploration of the AN519/Pozo
Ibarra, -347m deep, with another big pit: the 222m deep "Extremist".
This cave became the fourth entrance of the Anialarra System and opens up
great possibilities for re-exploring this system. The 1999 expedition
also found the AN534/Pozo del Eclipse, pushed to -130m and still
2000 another big expedition was organized. A big part of the cave system was resurveyed; and at a depth of -650 m, close to the end of
the cave, a new part was discovered which totals over 350 m of cave-passage.
In this part there is a realistic chance to get passed the terminus of the
cave one day!
In 2001, we worked mainly in the upstream parts of the cave and made
some very nice discoveries (Réseau des Affamées, an upstream rivier).
In 2002, a very important breakthrough was made in the upstream parts
of the cave. A giant fossil gallery was explored over 650 m: Réseau Nostradamus.
During the 2003 and 2004 expeditions we explored almost 3 km of new
passages in that part of the cave. The highlight is a giant
gallery, over 600 m long and with a passage that is 50 m wide...!
The 2005 expedition finally delivered the downstream continuation of the
cave. We got through the terminal boulder choke, and explored a giant part
with big rooms and very decorated fossil galleries.
The 2006 expedition became the icing on the cake. Three times we went to
Anialarra, five weeks of caving fun in total. We re-discovered the river,
explored many kilometres of magnificent galleries, found an important inlet that
was explored over 750 m, and drastically changed the depth of the cave, for the
very first time in more than 20 year!. The cave is now -731 m deep for a
total length of 20,3 km.
In 2007, things were going well, we were pushing the river further and
further, when suddenly disaster struck. Annette, one of the team leaders, got
hit by a falling boulder and got severely injured. A 3-day rescue operation was
necessary to get her out of the cave. But the expedition was not a failure, the
cave grew to 21,3 km in length and -735,5 m in depth.
In 2008 all misery was soon
forgotten, because this episode became one of the best ever. There was not
only the come-back of Annette, but also the cave went on and on. The most
downstream terminus (Trémie Crimson) could not be passed yet, but in the Tintin River we had fun for weeks. This river was explored further and
further, during long, difficult and exposed trips. The Anialarra system grew
3 kilometers and now totals 24,3 km, for a depth of -739 m. We also
made significant progress in other caves, e.g. in the AN60 where we finally
arrived in a series of pitches, after having worked for many years in a very
In 2009 thing went very smoothly.
Tintin River was pushed for several hundreds of meters in upstream
direction up to a point where we are only 90 m away from another
giant cave: System Partages-Pierre-St-Martin (+80 km). A small
dye-test soon showed us that the water of the Gouffre des Partages
goes the Tintin River. In AN60 we reached -300m, the cave goes on.
Another new cave was found, AN509-Pozo de la Mariposa, we reached
-340 m and stopped (due to lack of time) above a big pit.
was in all aspects an exceptional year. For the first time we went
there in the winter, to search for "blowholes" in the snow. We found
65 of them! During the summer we checked them all. One of the caves
that we found that way, was AN588-Pozo de la Grieta (-220 m). Other
promising caves were found such as AN595-Gouffre Polaire (-175). In
AN60 we passed last year's terminus and the cave was explored to a
depth of -444 m, where it connected to the Anialarra System, to
become a 5th entrance.
In the system we did some remarkable
discoveries, such as the giant Blake & Mortimer room. The total
length of the Anialarra System is now 27,5 km.
In 2011 we made two important junctions. In august, we
connected the Anialarra System with Gouffre des
Caou Cougues (FR3): a 6th entrance, with two more "satellite"
entrances, AN57 and AN548-FREU.
Only 3 weeks later,
in september 2011, we connected Sima de la Mariposa (AN509) through
a splendid 134 m pitch with the system. The total depth of the cave
system is now -770 m, for a total length of 31 km.
2012 was the year in which we found a new cave,
AN594 or Sima de la Verdad. We invested a lot of time in it because it could
become a direct access to th most upstream parts of the Tintin River. By the end
of the expedition, we were around -160 m and the cave is still going. We also
explored quite some new pits and galeries in Mariposa and in the Anialarra cave
system. The total length is now nearly 32 km.
The most spectacular discovery was made by our friends of
MJC Rodez and GS Bilbao. In AN43, situated far downstream, they found the
Anialarra river. Upstream they explored a giant gallery that nearly connected
with Trémie Crimson, the end of the Anialarra System! Most probably the
connection will be made in 2013.
In 2013 the
connection with AN43 was made. The length of the System passed 38 km for
a depth of -838 m ! We explored also AN594 (Sima de la Verdad) to
a depth of -186 m, made an important breakthrough in AN669 (Sima de la
Babosa) to -140 m and rerigged and resurveyed AN6 (Sima de Frontenac).
2014 was a very successful year. AN669 (Sima
de la Babosa) was pushed to -345 m with still many unexplored leads. In a new
cave(AN563-Sima Estúpida) we stopped near -245 m above a new pit of at
least 100 m deep. AN6 was finished and in the System we found a kilometre of
virgin passage. In the most upstream parts, an artificial climb of over 100 m
led to a new and very big room. The length of the System approached 40 km...
In 2015 we connected AN563-Sima Estúpida with the System, a 9th
entrance. And the French team working downstream made a 10th entrance: de AN308.
In the System the exploration near the top of the big climb in Réseau de
Nostradamus, resulted in the discovery of yet another giant room (3 Garçons sur
In 2016 Babosa got a bit deeper and lonher,
without connecting (yet) to the System. A magnificent, new cave (Sima Regalo),
was explored tot a depth of -150 m, where we stopped above a new deep pit. In
the System we explored another kilometre of new, smaller galeries. And a few new
caves, such as Sima Pokémon, could offer us to so-desired entrance above the
Tintin River. The System now measures 42,6 km for a depth of -853 m.
In 2017 and 2018 we worked hard Sima Regalo, that became a super
cave with a depth of 430 m and 2,5 km long! And it connected with the Anialarra
System en became the 11th entrance. In the System we also returned to the Réseau
de Nostradamus and Tintin, which revealed new passages. By the end of 2018 the
System measured 46,5 km in length.
The "Anialarra champion" !
a few years we award an expedition member with this trophy. We give it to
somebody who has shown exceptional team-spirit and effort.
This original trophy is made of a piece of limestone and a stack of
totally worn pulleys of our Petzl descenders. In 1999 we started
exploring the Pozo Ibarra with its 222 m pitch. After three weeks all of
our descenders were worn to the bolt.
In 2013 Paul DE BIE was awarded this trophy.
He can put it on a nice spot in the house, for a whole year!
People that received this trophy are:
- 2016: Gertian Roose (Spero)
- 2013: Paul De Bie (SC Avalon)
- 2012: Jack London (CASA/C7)
- 2011: Tobias Speelmans 'SC Avalon)
- 2010: Friedemann Koch (SC Avalon)
- 2008: Tjerk Dalhuisen (Speleo NL)
- 2007: Rudi Bollaert (SC Avalon)
- 2006: Bart Saey (SC Avalon)
- 2005: Erik Van den Broeck (Hades)
- 2004: Mark Michiels (SC Avalon)
- 2003: Lieven Demeyere (Styx)
- 2002: Annette Van Houtte (SC Avalon)
- 2001: Oswald Pauwels (SC33)
- 2000: Tom Van Rooy (Technico)
- 1999: Michaêla Van de casteele (SC Avalon)
Here you can find a lot of surveys of our discoveries
The blog of speleoclub Avalon is a rich source of information,
pics, movies and reports:
If you want more information about the Pierre-St-Martin mountains and
about other caving clubs that are exploring there, then I recommend you
the ARSIP website, and more precisely
their links-page: http://arsip.free.fr
Many thanks goes to De Berghut in Hamme,
one of the best, if not THE best outdoor store in Belgium, and to
the best caving camping of the Northern Hemisphere (more precisely located in
the French Pyrenees!