Stormy weather in the mountains today for the start of our ice and mixed climbing week, so we played the joker card and went for an adventure – underground ice climbing in the Grande Glaciere du Parmelan. There are only a handful of ice caves like this in Europe, so it’s a rare place to visit – and not an easy place to find either, being a hole in the ground in a forest in the middle of nowhere!
After a back roads drive from Chamonix, we left the car at the end of a very rough track and set off into the forest, following small paths in the pouring rain with brollies in hand. Luckily, our map reading and handwritten instructions on a piece of paper proved good and we found the entrance about half an hour from the car.
There are two ways in – a free hanging 55 metre abseil through a hole in the roof, or a steep climb down snow into the big first chamber. We chose the latter, which was complicated somewhat by a large pool of melt water at the foot of the snow… but we found some old logs buried in the snow and built a makeshift bridge to get onto the icy floor of the cave proper.
The walls of the upper chamber are equipped with dry tooling routes, but we made two abseils down into the bottom of the cave, where there is a large chamber with ice all over the walls. There are numerous routes down here, including some crazy 30 degree overhanging ones up to the roof of the chamber. Apart from being an amazing place to visit, it’s also a great ice coaching venue – so we spent the day climbing and coaching ice skills, before making the steep climb back up the icy walls of the shaft to get back out into the daylight – a truly unique experience!