Volume 38 Number 1 Article 10
The Real Thing - Trou Mile to Pène Blanque
27 July 2000
Michael Hale, Robert Bialek, Andy Powell, Alan Swann.
Total trip time 11 hours 25 mins
A superb through trip best described as five trips in one. Not to be under estimated as "The sting in the tale" is the exit; a hard strenuous business.
a) Trou Mile: Superb entrance climbs / pitches at the beginning, lovely rift in clean washed passage culminating in a muddy sumpy passage and bypass out through muddy crawl, took one hour to complete to Trou de Vent Chamber.
b) The next section through a strongly draughting blowhole is dry, albeit chilly and balaclavas worn. Pull through with ropes, mainly 45m two singles used as double. About two hours. Bypass, 60m via two pitches plus broken ledge.
c) Fossil Gallery was dry and dusty, marked fairly well until a giant oxbow is met with a muddy pool. Noticing that things looked rather familiar we all tramped back to the divergence of routes, up a slope and on this slopes right hand side - lost twenty minutes but not far to familiar territory. Through low sandy crawls from two major junctions showing Bernadettes streamway led up to two hand lines with traverses, the second of which we recognised as the big one the day before. This was in ten smaller sections and it looked evil, but in practice OK. Usually two bits of rope to clip into. One hours prussik through had got us to Gentout Gallery. The Wet Suits. About fifty minutes here and feeling in good spirits we descended into the streamway (10 minutes).
d) This was made triply difficult despite pitches being close together once we had reached them. The moon milk floor plus six-inch wide slots were very slippery and indiscernible at depth. The wet suits made us (especially me!) feel clumsy like a Michelin Man.
The amount of tackle increased since dry gear now being transported in bags. (Wet gear previously dumped.) Fixed high level traverses out over exposed drops and some intimidating pitches eventually led us to the escape route - three hours in this section. Here the water got from waist deep to floating through low hung formation, obstacles and once a deep pool with the route on left hand side over moon milk. Fortunately the end was in sight. A short step up and prussik on the right hand side onto an easy traverse line got you to a buttress and a short but very exposed drop and reach across to an alcove. From here a very wide "Nightmare" traverse and standing on a fixed stretched wire got you across to the dry last section.
e) This sandy passage had a few surprises in store. A rope up of about twenty-foot (7m) to mixed large and small going eventually to a rope going up 15m and down 3m. Slug didn't want to go down so once up he realised his mistake and descended, hotly followed by me. Here a short wire / rope traverse led to a marker showing a hidden climb down to the familiar passage I saw three days earlier. Quickly into the Dromedary Slope and we all dropped off our chaffing wet suits. About half an hour to here. Enjoyed the change to dry grots (soaking wet for me - lovely!) and a bite to eat - half an hour and away we went. Best way out is follow left hand wall and straight on and down to join electron ladder / rope. Well sign posted by the dynamic duo of previous fame (late last night) we had no more route finding to do. The only trouble being it was an uphill. About 2 hrs for the team to exit from the change of clothing stop.
It was just as well we emerged when we did, as there was a large heavy downpour. That's enough said!