Volume 38 Number 1 Article 9
The Big One: Trou Mile to Pène Blanque
27 July 2000
Slug, Dalek, Andy Powell, Swanny.
I landed on a small moon milk cascade, undid the rope from my descender and promptly slipped into the next pool up to my neck in the swirling water again! Looking up the pitch I could see Andy on the end of the traverse which led out from the head of the pitch, a small figure swinging about in a mass of moon milk cascades. Dalek came splashing over to me and shouted, "How do we get out of this? You said there were only six pitches and we've done eight now and it's looking like a sump ahead".
I said, "I don't know how many pitches there are in this section before we can escape. I was guessing when I told you six. I lost the route description in the entrance of the Trou Mile eight hours ago and my mind has gone blank."
We pushed on. The sumpy area was just a lowish air space canal followed by a squeeze through the gloopy moon milk onto the head of another pitch, another series of arm wrenching swinging to the end of the bolts. Not so high this time. Careful descent and even more careful pull through to ensure the ropes didn't get snagged. One good thing about this trip and a good indicator of being on the right route was the newness of the ropes on the traverses and the shiny maillons. Anyway, nice when dangling "lost in space". I got to the head of the next pitch, my heart in my boots. This one was different from the previous ones; it seemed to be almost climbable. I was just contemplating it, my mind working slower than usual, when Swanny shouted, "Look, a rope going up!" This simple 9mm bit of climbing rope looked a bit tatty but as I climbed up, I thought, "I'm not going down again".
This lead to a twin traverse line and a shiny stainless steel wire, which went across the passage as a Tyrolean. Another short one led to an Eagles Nest and looking down I could see yet another traverse around the wall. This one was longer than any we had done before, and I couldn't see the bottom of the shaft at all. I thought, "I'm not going all the way round to rig this pitch. It won't make any difference if we drop it from here. I wonder if our ropes are long enough for this?"
I looked again and there about two metres below the traverse lines was another stainless steel wire, taughtly strung from point to point also around the wall. Then it twigged. This was the escape, it's not down any longer, it's around to freedom. A long step down and skirting around the wall, one of the ropes was worn to the core but I could see a chamber and the end of the traverse around the corner. We all got into the chamber and felt mildly elated. We felt we had left the streamway, but we weren't sure. The chamber led to sandy crawls and then to our horror another rope traverse that led to a rope down and a rope disappearing up into the roof. I wasn't going down so I prussiked up the rope to a single grotty bolt and rusty maillon. Not the way on. I quickly abb'ed down and the others prompted me down the short rope. Reluctantly I slid down into the water worn shaft but from the ledge two more simple wire belays led to more sandy caverns. Dalek rushed off and when we caught up with him he was ripping off his wet suit.
"We're here!" he yelled, "This is Carmel Hall - we're out". Two hours of knackered crawling and thrashing and scrambling and we were! Great, a brilliant trip. Now let's get drunk.
Back at the campsite, everyone out the caves, time to party! But, we had to be in bed for eleven because we had been naughty the night before and the campsite owner told us we all had to go to bed early.