|40 - a–h–h||Schwarzmooskogeleishöhle||7/S/T/E x|
|Wookey on the entrance shaft in 2002 (photo Olly Betts, using Wookey's camera)|
Until recently, it has been difficult to come close to a comprehensive survey or even a good estimate of the length of the system because of a lack of contact and some misunderstanding between the groups involved. However, in 1997 a chance encounter (at the International Congress) by Wookey with Denis Motte, of the G.S.Clerval, led to renewed contacts with one group who explored this area, and Thilo Müller of ARGE has contacted the leaders of other groups and obtained all the rest of the 1980s information that survives. This is being merged into a coherent set of information which will guide necessary resurvey work to complete the picture.
Stellerweghöhle in turn is connected to Schwabenschacht which was over 7km at the time and exploration continues. This must make the combined system at least 19 km long. We have seen figures quoted as high as 25km, but this may involve some double-counting, given the uncertainties involved. Arge's estimate (entirely from extant survey data) was 22.7 km after summer 1999.
From 'Längsten und Tiefsten Hohlen in Österreich', translated by Wookey and Thilo:
The cave is on the southeastern slopes of the Vorderen Schwarzmooskogel (1843) developed in Dachsteinkalk. From seven partly shaft-like entrance points, a huge, flat-floored level with impressive ice formations can be approached. The Schneevulkanhalle at the northern end is the biggest ice-bearing chamber in middle Europe.
Four entrances lead into the central area. A 40m shaft from the Top Entrance 'Oberen Eingang' breaks into the ice-decorated 'Altausseer Halle'. To the west from here via a 25m ramp accessing 'Schneehalle' leads both to entrance 2 and the connecting gallery from the ice-bearing 'Thalhammerhalle', that can be entered from entrances 3 and 4 too. South of the Schnee and Altausseer Halles, the 'Teufelberger Halle' connects, the bottom of which contains an ice lake. A wide passage with side shafts goes southsouthwest to 'Hans-Pfandl-Halle'. The east connected room, also reached by a 23m high chimney (entrance 7), is divided into two by a high block barrier. The 'Flusstunnel' south from here ends blocked.
From the Altausseer Halle, a lofty passage with ice figures heads off NNE. The continuation is the 'Halle des Schiefen Turms', where the 'Wahnsinnschächte' branches off on the west. It was thought that this was blocked by ice. However, over a wall of ice one reaches the 130 by 75 by 50 m Schneevulkanhalle, on the eastern wall of which rises a steep snowslope flowing from the 'Königsschachts' (entrance 6). The chamber with its very impressive ice formations can also be reached via the 'Brennerbeselschluf' (entrance 5). At its northern end a climb reveals the easterly-running 'Kalten Gang' and the parallel 'Spinnenfriedhof'.
The principal objective of both pushing and tourist trips is the huge ice chamber of Schneevulkanhalle, which requires some serious ice work to reach from the older entrances in the middle of the system. Instead, follow the description to the "new" entrance (Brennerbeselschluf, 40e), with a somewhat limited area to get changed, perched between the icy blast from the cave and whatever the Austrian weather is offering.
The entrance is not walk-in, and low crawling in the face of the icy draught starts at once. A small descending tube (somewhat muddy - irritating in crampons!) leads in about 20m to a short climb down into larger (walking/stooping) passage 'Geröllgang. This goes downhill to a scramble up. This was totally ice-covered in 1997 and 1998, but not 1999 or 2000 and has a fixed rope (VfHO-installed), which may be buried in ice at somewhat critical points - a certain amount of care is needed if chipping it out with an ice-axe and gloves really are needed!
Partway up this slope is a space on the left [C0000-40-05 A], including a pitch in the floor. At the far end of this space, a short crawl and a grovel down through boulders where a stream comes in from above both choke. The pitch is a c3, p20, p30 - the last part being very wet in early summer. Leading to Schotterland.
Survey data also suggests a passage off to the right of the iceslope for 20m or so.
Above the scramble up is a short traverse, also rather interesting when covered in hard ice (and also protected by a fixed rope which had to be dug out in 1998). A steeply ascending passage to the L holds a quantity of particularly scrofulous rope (presumably a previous fixed rope). This can be climbed ~10m until it gets too vertical. It draughts. Beyond the ice is a steep snow/ice slope down into the huge Schneevulkanhalle. It is strongly recommended to equip this with a properly rigged SRT rope rather than anything less - the cave has seen a number of accidents, some fatal. Although the slope looks like soft snow, it is a layer of coarsely crystalline hard névé over solid ice. In parts it is almost impossible to kick steps into, whilst in others it offers only minimal purchase for crampon points. Conditions no doubt vary with the season as well as with position on the slope and the year. Tackle required: 50m rope, crampons. There is one bolt at the top, for a traverse line to two bolts off to the R in the roof where the snow-slope proper starts. Sometimes the traverse area is full of snow and an ice-screw or ice-axe rebelay/deviation (club first ? in 1989) may be needed. A deviation (from rock) at the head of the steep section was found adequate in 1998.
The 50m Königschacht (40f) entrance is the source of the snow slope and comes in here. It is often full of snow but was open in 1999 and so was surveyed (by ARGE).
At the bottom is the main chamber from which the pitch does indeed look like a snow-covered volcanic cone. Most of the floor area is ice-covered and only a slight slope is necessary to make crampons vital here. Most of the chamber is filled with ice formations up to 15m high (end of season). Those with two ice-tools can climb almost anything in the chamber, though the formations are no doubt rather more spectacular and fragile in spring or early summer. Formation-ice can also shatter very easily as melting occurs between component crystals later in the season, so it is probably safer for climbers to stick to hard névé. Ways on are mostly reached by steeper slopes that definitely require ice-gear and can be quite unnerving approached from above. Note that the slopes are usually hard ice, ice-axe-braking after a slip is not an option - lifeline or don't fall !
Starting from the pitch (facing outwards from the slope), heading round the chamber to the left leads over a large flat area of ice to where a gap between ice and rock [C0000-40-01 A] drops 10m (2 bolts, one added 1999) into large passage Elefantengang.
Right next to it is an icefall coming in from above [C0000-40-02 C] (Apparently explored by GSCB in early 80s for ~40m). 40m round the wall of the chamber is a rubble run-in, iced on the top half. This was climbed by Haines (1998) and Atkinson (1999), as well as the GSCB. At the top is a wet boulder choke that definately doesn't go, but the GSCB plan shows a narrow rift on the right marked 'tight'.
Halfway up this slope on the left is the narrow entrance to Persistence of Vision.
20m further round another couple of icefalls come in. Both are about 8-10m and vertical [C0000-40-03 A]. GSCB plan shows they have climbed up here to find a 20m pitch beyond into narrow rift. Their survey doesn't make it clear how it ends. CUCC bolted up the left side of the left icefall in 2000 to find an ice water duck leading to a pitch series (Mission Impossible). The duck was dry in 2001, but back again in 2002.
50m further round (downslope) the ice drops away steeply under the wall. A line is advisable for the descent. 20m down, the ice slope peters out giving way to sand and rocks. At the end here is a very strongly draughting hole [C0000-40-04 B]. This appears too tight, but survey data shows this is where Kalten Gang and Spinnefriedhof are (VfHM, 1984). To the right at the foot of the slope closes down with rocks and ice - it would probably connect with Plastic Hell. A few metres up from the bottom of the slope on the left hand (N) wall is a gap between the ice and rock leading into a large chamber [A1998-40-05 B] (reported by Robert Winkler).
Back in Schneevulkanhalle, another 10m clockwise round the chamber is another, steeper iceslope. A rope is definitely needed for this. This is the way to Plastic Hell.
Beyond and above are more thin icefalls coming from high in the ceiling - trying to climb these would be bonkers - the debris from the collapse of some of them is all around.
The foot of the piss-wet pitch opens out into very large triangular passage. You can go NE about 35m until it chokes (a good draught comes out of one hoplessly choked corner) or SW 20 to a T-junction. Right (W) is Kleiner keller. Left, ducking under the low wall, is Schotterland.
Kleiner keller is about 50m on huge passage to where the end is choked with glacial fill and a waterspout comes in the from the roof 3m up. A sling ladder makes it possible to ascend the waterspout - you can even doing it without getting very wet, as the spout is unusually well-concentrated, and thus avoidable. This comes into an E-W rift, with the water coming from the E end. It can be ascended in both directions at various traverse levels for about 30m, but the top appears choked at all points. The top is probably very close to the floor of Elephantengang.
The old Munich cavers' data suggests that there is a passage off kleiner keller that we missed - which seems hard to believe, but maybe it is worth another visit?
Schotterland is more enormous passage (10m wide) going SSE, presumably schotterland, due to the flooring of small rocks. A ramp goes up steeply on the L after 30m. It closes down after 40m. Ahead the passage slowly narrows until it chokes at the end - probably very close to the surface.