Scialet du Blizzard
Tuesday, 30 June 2009 – Monday, 6 July 2009

The Scialet du Blizzard is one of a number of entrances making up the spectacular and deep Clot D’Aspres system located high up above Villard de Lans. I’d only recently heard about the Blizzard, but after taking one look at the description and topo I was sure it would provide an exciting and challenging trip for me and tom.

Steve Round from Bernies had very, very kindly offered to transport the 950m of rope, 100 hangers/maillons and other paraphenalia out to the vercors for us, so tuesday morning was spent packing tacklebags……4 ‘mahoosive’ bags in total for the entrance series, and 3 smaller bags for beyond.

Around midday, Tom and I (along with Nick Gymer and John Worden) set off to take the gear up to the entrance with the intention of dropping a few pitches. With the ski lift closed, this meant for a rather sweaty walk in the midday heat. We elected to choose a longer path through the woods given the heavy loads & risk of lobsterisation. Over 2.5hrs of walking later, the entrance was located being superbly located nestled between two high limestone ridges, and with awesome views down to Villard de Lans and also along the very spectacular ridgeline.

After kitting up, I set off in to rig down to the bottom of the first big pitch. A very short section of narrow rift complete with howling gale led to the first two, short pitches. A short section of rift then led
to another short pitch and a superb, vast P50. Bags were left for a more sustained attack on the rigging tomorrow, and with the entrance gained we enjoyed a pleasant walk in the evenings sunshine back down to the car.

On Wednesday, tom and I headed back up the hill (along with Mr Worden) to continue the rigging. With lighter loads of one tacklebag of rope each, we elected to choose the shorter, more direct route which allowed the entrance to be gained in around 1.5rs, at around 1pm. The swarms of flies soon saw us underground, and we were soon reunited with the bags. From the bottom of the P50, a P6 in a narrow, jagged rift led to the top of the P108, although with the presence of a number of holes it wasn’t obvious at first which was the correct pitch-head……but the spits were soon found.
A number of re-belays were required for this monster pitch, where care is required due to loose rock and some quite sharp rock in places. Following this, a short section of stream passage led to a very pleasant P32…..not unlike one of the grander pitches in lost johns.

More streamway led to a short, easy traverse over a deep pitch, a P11 and then a very, very nice P78 – again well split up. With the relatively technical rigging, the hangers were disappearing fast. A few more shorter pitches then led to a long traverse to the top of another vast P56. It was now around 7pm, and with the majority of the entrance pitches rigged we elected to head out and return on the thursday or friday to bottom the cave. We had decided earlier to try and avoid overnight trips if possible and disrupting sleep patterns.

Thursday became a ‘holiday’ day, and was spent at the town’s open-air pool drinking pastis out of a water bottle… beers at the local bars of course!

Unfortunately, and with great frustration, it was around thursday that the weather forecasts started to look a tad pessimistic. Thunderstorms were forecast for friday and saturday, with more unstable weather on the sunday. And so, we had to stay away from the Blizzard until the monday – our LAST day! As it turned out, friday was superb, and we regreted not going in. Having said that, you just never know, and we already knew from the rigging trip on wednesday that the Blizzard really isn’t the cave you want to be in when a flood pulse hits……..things would turn very nasty, very quickly!

And so, with the arrival of a weather window, we decided to head in on monday, get as far as we could before de-rigging everything. Thankfully we managed to enlist some help for the de-rig.
Tom and I reached the entrance at around 10.30am after a much less sweaty walk, courtesy of the ski-lift which opened at the weekend for the tourist season. Underground at 11am, speedy progress was made down the entrance pitches to the top of the P56 and I continued rigging. The P56 was very impressive and airy – a freehang to the bottom. A short section of streamway led to a P4 and P14, followed by a beautifully sculptured P49 which dropped into the river at -500m.

After a quick snack we continued on with the 3 remaining bags down the impressive river. Some large deep pools required careful traversing around the translucent, blue-tinted water, and where wading was required it was only bollock-deep. Soon enough, a black hole appeared before us and gazing through this the top of the P47 could be seen…….a bloody vast black space with the stream crashing down before us. This is actually the junction with the Scialet des Brumes Matinales.

This was one of the trickier pitches to rig, mostly off naturals (a couple more spits would make the rigging more ideal). Simons Ashby and Rowling soon arrived……great we thought! However, there was no one else with them……a tad worrying considering the 1km of rope and rigging gear that we would need to get out of the cave today.

We decided to carry on with the hope the others arrived, and so I sped off along the fine streamway (now black limestone) towards the P30, gained by climbing out of the streamway into a fossil passage above cluttered with boulders. This was another superb, airy pitch but with lots of loose rock so care was needed.

At the bottom, a climb up gained a chamber with a spectacular waterfall crashing in. The next few short pitches were in a smaller rift, more akin to dales potholing. Soon enough, the Simons arrived……still no contact, and so after peering down the final pitch into the final chamber, we very speedily set off out with the hope of catching up with the others, who had obviously stopped before the river and were likely to be getting a tad chilly.

Good, quick progress was made back up this fine cave towards the river with tom de-rigging. Once back at -500, no one else could be found and so we started up the entrance series and 3 already full bags were given to Simons Rowling & Ashby and John to take out of the cave. Tom and I would bring everything else out – a total of around 700m of rope and associated rigging gear! Eek!
I kept taking ropes off tom as he de-rigged to keep him light and quick. Soon enough, the first 40L meander transport bag was full. Arriving at the bottom of the 108m pitch, this bag became two, and a fairly sweaty prussik followed. By the top of the 108m pitch, we had two very large bags each and so we elected to haul them up the 50m pitch……..a decision we came to regret as even with a Z-rig, it was very difficult going…….these weren’t small bags, but the largest tacklebags you can buy stuffed to the brim.

Nevertheless, once hauled I set of out with two and waited at the entrance for tom to arrive and assist with getting them out the entrance. We finally reached the surface after a superb 16hr trip to find the others had lit a fire and waited for us 🙂

An hours walk off the mountain has us back at the cars and campsite for around 6am.

An awesome trip in a very beautiful cave! Go do it! Many thanks to those who helped us at various times along the way!

Posted by: Mike Bottomley
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Posted: 08 July 2009