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Scialet A2 - Double Black Helmet

3 June 2002
By Dr. Beale

It was not the best of days for a descent : it was raining gently, but we just went for it.

Finding A2 was not exactly easy. Portering in 250m of rope was as tedious as ever, but at the end we had the added hassle of trying to locate a cave in a dense pine forest with a not completely accurate description. Mathias firstly located Scialet P2. This was somewhat uninspiring : we knew we were on for something more significant.

20 minutes of ferreting around between limestone pavements, shakeholes and other general speleological features saw me at the gaping edge of what was unmistakably a hole of major speleological significance. It was quite apparent to me that whether this was A2 or not, this was the hole that we were going down today. More out of politeness than anything else, I radioed to Mathias on the talkie walkie to come on down (I was so awestruck).

After a somewhat arduous walk-in, it was good to be racking up at the top of what appeared to be a bottomless shaft deep in the Vercors forest with a steady rain dripping around us. Mathias's 3 month abesence from the monsters of the deep meant that he was more than un for leading the descent of the first pitch (i.e. it didn't take much persausion from me for Mathias to agree to the lead).


The first pitch down the shaft was masterful : one tree and a single deviation 3m down led to a glorious 40m drop to a small snow pile at the base of the shaft. The walls were perfectly smooth in the lower section, the water had etched out the fossils in the bedrock to yield a display of unparalleled beauty.

The next two shafts were shorter, but of similar aesthetic quality : magnificently shaped shafts just yearning to be bolted (which Mathias was forced to do on the second shaft : though we loved the glorious limestone, we felt that a deviation to avoid catastrophic rope rub could only add to the zen of the situation).

We found ourselves looking down a classic Mendip-like vertical squeeze (this was the worst section of the cave). I tried to broddle a sling into a thread to help protect this descent. When I seemed to be getting nowhere, Mathias appeared and in a moment of inspiration, he had threaded this tight little hole. It was at this moment that I realised that Mathias was operating on another plane from me. This was further confirmed when I attempted the downward squeeze and was repulsed only to find Mathias later dropping this squeeze like a log from a .... (well, suffice to say, it was shear elegance).

At the bottom of the squeeze, Mathias was looking nervously up at the E15 - "tres delicate" which looked to me more like an E22 gurt hard. I was right, the climb (that Mathias led) was gurt hard. I do not wish to undersell what Mathias did on this E22 : Mathias's ascent of this climb was the single most inspirational piece of outdoor action I have ever witnessed. The climbing was steep and technical (4c : that is technical for a 22m climb in a cave) : there was always the danger of loose rock and the prospect of a fall was unconscienseable [sp?]). Given the nature of the obstacle, this was likely to be an early repeat of the feature. Mathias's effort went beyond boldness : this was pure bravery - an inspiration to us all.

I met Mathias at the top of the the climb, belayed to a couple of uncannily new bolts. I offered my congratulations and the ropebags. He gracefully accepted the congratulations, but initially declined the ropebags claiming that he was mentally drained. I could well understand his mental exhaustion : as I jumared Mathias's climb, things looked well wild. However, I knew that I didn't have the mental strength to face leading to the base of the shaft having witnessed Mathias's heroic efforts minutes beforehand. I concocted a story that the lower pitches would require drilling and that Mathias had clearly mastered the art. Mathias fell for the excuse hook, line and sinker and reluctantly accepted the bags.

The 71m (actually 85m) pitch was an absolutely huge pitch. It started as a sloping shaft with a crucial deviation in the sidewall (which later required a rope protector in case of failure) and was followed by a couple more deviations before the floor of the shaft was reached 85m below (not bad for a 71m pitch!). I followed in absolute awe of "The Master" in top form. Even when Mathais offered me the lead of the bottom pitch, it seemed almost unethical to deny The Master the descent of the final pitch : a descent that was executed in a single stylish slippery drop.

It would be almost churlish to describe the ascent in great detail : lest it detracted from the heroics that Mathias displayed on the E22. The (sic) 71m pitch seemed huge (and fine training for Pot 2). I was amazed when I descended the E22 : it seemed impossible to climb : I said to Mathias that his ascent of this was pure brilliance (and I totally meant it). Half way up the P14, we could see daylight and we knew we were almost there. There was no time for rushing now and we were able to savour the majesty of the entrance shaft (a grand version of Jingling Pot).

We got out of the cave at around 8:30pm. As we changed, we retold our stories of a brilliant cave : a cave of beautiful shafts and formidable obstacles. I realised at the exit of this cave that Mathias had almost transcended his status as an elite speleologist : he was at another level.

The walk back was arduous yet amenable. I really felt for Mathias as he dragged his weary body backed to the La Moliere car park : he is clearly more akin to the Vercors's depths than its heights.

Next stop : Pot 2.

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