Volume 38 Number 1 Article 14
Through Trip - Trou Mile to Pène Blanque
Roger Watkinson, Chris Daly, Shane Harris, Frank Tully
Trip was bound to be of epic proportions as when sober I had doubts of my fitness and route finding abilities (having previously gone down into Pont-de-Gerbaut to find the way on and not found it) but after a few beers it all seemed possible. Funny how this always happens. Got a good briefing from the previous team, excepting the dubious advice "wear a thermal top and Ron Hills for the first section." This, I can assure you, would not be comfortable. I was generally cold for almost all the trip with my half length wetsuit.
Trip started well with Chris trying to abseil down the pull down end of the rope and ending up in a heap - still groggy from drugs!!! Frank's watch gave up the ghost as soon as we went underground and I began to complain and whinge, something that I managed to maintain the entire length of the trip, and Frank's shoulder straps on the tackle bag broke.
We maintained reasonable progress down Trou Mile and into the streamway, Frank fortunately finding the correct way on before we rigged a 60m pitch with a 40m rope. Rigged the 39m pitch as two, to avoid problems getting the rope back. I am not sure if this was necessary as the rigging was well hung.
Crossed a massive pit, Shane and I in a state of terror due to the exposure. (Frank and Chris seemed unmoved). First time I have traversed on cows tails alone. This brought us up into Pont-de-Gerbaut and the first of our route finding problems.
Frank and I set off to find the route on. Looking in every hole in the floor, we eventually split up; Frank to check out an area which Paul Wilkinson and I had checked out on a previous trip, and me to check out where Frank and Shane had checked previously. I found the route as described by Slug and went back to find the others who were still by the pit approximately 20 mins caving back. Well pissed off by this time, and of two minds whether we should continue. Shane had already made up his mind and elected to go out of PDG.
Chris and Frank were still confident and I wanted to continue. We had a food break in which Frank and I ate a concoction of cold soup, pasta and sausage mixed together and cooked the night before, pretty disgusting to look at and to eat. I was envious of Chris and Shane's supplies of chocolate, which seemed never ending.
Shane said his farewells and made his way out alone and the rest of us continued down to the streamway. By this time we were finally beginning to enjoy ourselves taking it in turns to route find and to rig, hurling abuse at each other using Ben Shaw's famous words "sure sign of homosexuality" at the slightest sign of any faffing about. This section of the streamway is superb. Apparently it floods badly but I found a calcited tin of condensed milk (empty) on a ledge not more than 4ft above the water level, so it cannot fill too much; unlikely to drown but the pitches would become impassable. Biggest danger is from slipping on the moon milk floor - you cannot see the streambed, the water is always cloudy.
I slipped into a pool and had to swim to get out of it, this was tempered by watching Chris doing the same thing immediately afterwards.
Not before time we spotted the rope leading to Pène Blanque and followed it over some wild traverses, well scary, and eventually emerged in the Dromedary Chamber and what we thought was home ground, as Chris knew this section and had way marked it.
Unfortunately some one had already removed these markers and we got terribly lost, returning to the same cairn five times. I was beginning to tire and Chris had fallen off from a climb on to a slab. He said he was OK, but judging from the way his left buttock resembled a baboons arse the next morning, it must have hurt. (I had been hit by a rock in the streamway and was complaining of a sore neck too.)
Eventually Chris found the route on and we finally emerged at the crawls to the Pène Blanque entrance. Even this was eventful for me as soon as I started crawling I got cramp in both legs and I had to develop a 70's style dance movement in which every movement was embellished by a back kick. After what seemed an age we finally emerged to darkness after being underground for about 19 hours. The hardest trip I have ever done. Absolutely knackered, but very satisfied. It was a particularly satisfying trip as we had elected to do the trip without the use of a club hard man, like Slug, Andy Powell or Dalek who would have found the route, rigged it and carried the tackle as well. Team snail done well.