Trou Mile – Gouffre des Hrtiques Epic
Thursday, 25 August 2005

Caroline Fretwell, Footleg, Gary Cullen, Martin Jahnke, Paul Dold, Sheila Cullen

Following our wet day finding entrances in the forest, and playing with Ollys GPS, we were keen to get underground again. Sheila was over her cold too, so she was ready for an easy trip. With the entrance to Hrtiques still rigged this was an ideal chance to take everyone down the Trou Mile and out of Hrtiques. I could always turn back with Gary and Sheila if the trip was looking to be too much, as the rest of the group knew the way out via Hrtiques from the Grand Salle. It was a lovely sunny day, so the walk to the entrance was very pleasant. We took a detour to visit the entrance to the Gouffre Ramonde which we had plans for another day, and then took lots of photos around the Trou Mile entrance before going down. All the pitches except the last one are reportedly free climbable, so we only took one rope to pull through on, plus a spare length in case I had to re-rig any of the free climbable drops on the way out should we decide to turn back.

The entrance pitch looks quite an intimidating free climb from the surface! We abseiled in, and found it was actually not all that deep. If you stood on tip toes on the highest point of the floor, your head nearly poked out of the entrance. As we had two lengths of rope, we sent everyone on ahead to get down the next pitch while I pulled through the entrance rope, or at least tried to. It would not budge. I prussiced back out and rearranged it much further up the tree trunk it was wrapped around, and went back down. It still would not budge! Paul reappeared to see what was taking me so long. Two of us could not move it. The friction of the tree bark plus the angle the rope pulled over the lip of the entrance was too much. So Paul ended up testing the free-climbability of the pitch and pulled the rope down from near to the top. The second pitch was no problem. The third was somewhat vertical and around 8m deep. Quite possibly free climbable, but not for the faint hearted. We decided to leave it rigged with the spare rope just in case. The subsequent pitches were all easily climbable, and we did not need to abseil many of them. I was taking the occasional photograph in the streamway while waiting for Gary to rig climbs ahead. I was surprised that we had got as far as we had without any sign of Sheila wanting to head back, when we reached the final pitch. This was permanently rigged with a nice traverse out along the left wall to a nice 12m drop back into the stream. I took a number of photographs of people doing the traverse and descending the pitch.

It was at this stage that it became apparent that Sheila was really tired. We were so close to the bottom of the cave here that it seemed the easiest option was to carry on. I remembered a short muddy flat out crawl leading into easier going which connected via a rope climb with the Grand Salle of the Trou du Vent. From there the way out was well known to us now, and easy going compared to the long narrow descending streamway of the Trou Mile. What I had forgotten was that the rope climb was bloody awkward, and followed by a long awkward ascending slope which was all coated in what appeared to be a mixture of fine mud and cooking oil! Paul, Caroline and Gary proceeded to help Sheila up all of this, leaving Martin and I stuck at the back in a muddy chamber. Then Martin noticed a cave millipede on the wall. He said these were quite rare, and we spent a happy hour trying to photograph it while the sounds of struggling came down from above. While we were chasing the millipede around the wall with the camera, we discovering two more of them! By the time we were all up the greasy climb it was clear that Sheila was now very tired indeed.
Once in the Grand Salle, we could gain half the total ascent back to the surface by walking up the steep slope of the chamber. Sheila was finding this difficult going, struggling to put one foot in front of the other. The last time I saw someone this exhausted at the bottom of a cave was with Tony Trauma on the legendary Rift Pot-Large Pot exchange. We decided that Caroline and Paul should head on out to get some pulleys and extra food from the car, while we plodded along with Sheila. It took a long time to reach the bottom of the pitches, and it was clear that Sheila needed a hauling system setting up. This needed to be done in three stages on the bottom pitch because of the changing angles of the descent. More of a long ramp than a proper pitch. Having done training sessions in gyms and chapel some years ago, I was glad that with some helpful suggestions from Gary I was soon hauling away with Sheila safely ascending.

Paul and Caroline reappeared as we neared the top of the pitch, and the pulleys they brought down really helped to reduce the friction in the haul rig compared to the bobbin and karabiners they replaced. It took a few more hours to haul Sheila up the remaining three pitches. Caroline and Paul helped haul and reassure Sheila. Gary made sure she was safely attached at the bottom of each section, and Martin single handedly derigged the pitches behind us (all 3 tackle bags worth!). We were entertained in the entrance pitch by bats which flew orbits around our heads. On the surface we found the bats would chase after pistachio shells when we threw them! We had everyone out of the cave by ? AM, and I reassured Sheila that she had not broken the record set by Tony Trauma of a 7 AM exit! Overall the trip was a big success in its way. A superb team effort where everyone played a valuable role, and our first practical underground application of those rescue skills we hope we have learned in training sessions but had not previously used in a real life situation. Apart from Sheila I think we all really quite enjoyed ourselves, and after a good night (and days) rest Sheila was recovered too, although strangely reluctant to take up our offers of more caving!

Images
Paul Dold climbing down a cascade in the Trou Mile streamway
Posted by: Dr Footleg
Size: 99kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 800 pixels
Posted: 19 October 2005
Paul helping Sheila on the last pitch in the Trou Mile
Posted by: Dr Footleg
Size: 98kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 800 pixels
Posted: 19 October 2005
One of those ‘rare’ cave millipedes
Posted by: Dr Footleg
Size: 45kb
Width: 600 pixels
Height: 432 pixels
Posted: 19 October 2005