Saturday 3 January 2015

The Battle of Trafalgar. A trip to Iles Inlet & The Courtesan

For our first trip of the caving year I have been privileged to tick off another of my bucket list of trips. I had seen stunning photographs which Brendan had taken of the Courtesan formation and read horrendous accounts of the trip to it with the mile long Southern Stream passage and numerous squeezes and contortions to get to this stunning area of the cave.
Sounded like just my kind of thing, so an email was put out and a team of six arranged to meet at White Walls for 9am.
After changing in a cold drizzle we made our way down the escarpment to the entrance, logging in at 10.15am.
We made good time through the entrance series arriving at Barons Chamber after only 45mins and were in good spirits as we dropped out of Main Passage in to Southern Stream.
I had only been in this passage once before on our Grand Circle trip and it hadn't seemed too bad. For some reason, not sure if it was the fact I was carrying a hefty camera box or the cold I still hadn't managed to kick off, but the slog up the stream definitely felt more tiring and monotonous this time around.
We arrived at the climb out to Priory Road after 3 hours of caving. Another 20 minutes of sandy, mostly stooping passage, followed till we reached the start of Iles Inlet. This is a collection of very impressive digs in sandy passage creating numerous contortions, U-bends, dog-legs and squeezes. I had been quite nervous of this section having read other trip reports where people had trouble with the dog-leg squeeze / contortions, but these turned out to be more fun than fright and the entire group followed Brendan through with ease.
Even though I had done some research and had survey with us it would have taken some time poking around route finding had it not been for Brendan being there. The descriptions and survey itself give the impression of the route being far more straight forward than it was.
With almost 4hrs clocked up Brendan announced we had reached the junction where Corkscrew Chamber split from Trafalgar Passage.
First we headed up Trafalgar to take a look at the impressive formations, helictites, urchins, stalactites and stalagmites, the passage ending in a sand filled dig.
After this we returned to the branch up to Corkscrew Chamber. Again I had read two reports of people coming all this way only to find they could not get through the last squeeze in to the chamber.
Brendan thrutched up the awkward tube first and I followed........I have to say after a month of turkey and mince pies I was expecting to have far more trouble than I did. In fact I found this last obstacle quite easy, my leg dropped down a slot and found foot holds easily and there turned out to be no actual squeeze.
What you enter in to is just gob smacking. Immediately you are face to face with the Courtesan itself and brilliant white formations are just everywhere. As you begin to look at the delicate crystal structures and calcite formations you notice the very unusual corkscrew helictites which give the chamber its name.
With everyone through we took some time to try and photograph some of this extraordinary chamber. Loz had a squirrel off toward Broadside whilst we did so and re-joined us as we exited for a couple of quick shots back in Trafalgar.
After over an hour it was time to begin our exit. Everyone had chilled down somewhat and Jess handed out some of our spare hand warmers which were immediately stuffed in all sorts of places that I shan't go in to in this blog!
Again the Iles Inlet proved little problem on exit. Chloe found at one point it does make a difference which arm you put ahead of you in a squeeze through....having your arm pinned under you apparently  doesn't help much as you try to thrutch through a U-Bend.
Soon we were back in Southern Stream Passage and Brendan's warning on the way in that it feels a lot longer on the way out was spot on.
Forever we crawled flat out through water, or stooped between rock. Occasionally we'd be able to stand at full height, but this would just be a tease and would only last a moment before you were stooped or on your knees again.
Finally we arrived back in Main Passage where everyone stretched out their backs and were glad to be able to walk stood upright.
We reversed our route through the choke and rest of the entrance series to exit in to the night skies after around 10hrs underground.
We had hoped to stay over at White walls, but unfortunately there was no one around at the hut. After a brief discussion we decided we'd head to Abergavenny for a meal together before heading our separate ways.
A chilly walk down the escarpment
Mel putting a hand warmer where other hand warmers just can't reach!
Mel at The Courtesan
Chloe at The Courtesan
Jess in Trafalgar Passage
Brendan in Corkscrew Chamber
Loz in Trafalgar Passage

Present: Mel Bell, Chloe Burney, Loz Appleby, Jess Burkey, Brendan Marris & Mark Burkey

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your write up. Not a trip I am ever likely to be fit enough to do now so interesting to read about it and see the pictures.
    Happy New Year, Cara