CTS 78.2018: Cambridge Underground 1978 pp 30-48

The Austrien Expedition 1977


The Austrian Expedition, which happened between August 5th and 24th, was based throughout at the campsite at Altaussee, beneath the Loser Plateau. All our finds, indeed all our prospecting, were confined to this area, although we did manage a few tourist trips in other areas (there being no previously known caves on Loser). Since the cavers present fell naturally into three subsets our account of the expedition follows a similar structure. There follows some pontification by Nick on the geological nature and caving potential of the Loser plateau area, and we conclude with a short account of other systems visited.

(a) Team Youth : Simon Farrow, Nick Thorne, Andy Waddington
(b) Team Enthusiast : Julian Griffiths, Steve Perry, Nick Reckert
(c) Team Geriatric : Vic Brown, Dave Fox, Julia Kostelnyk, Carole Leach, Rod Leach, Jont Leach, Mike Perryman

Note that membership of (b) did not preclude potential eligibility for (c) and vice versa. In most cases, team (c) members combined the finer qualities of both (a) and (b). Members of (a), who could be recognised by the enormous pile of sugar outside their tent, frequently had the qualities required for membership of (b), but never the other way round. (b) members could be picked out by the large pile of SRT gear always by their tents (never on the plateau), and (c) by the smell of haute cuisine emanating from their mess tent, or by the presence of slippers warming by the camp fire.

Our thanks go to Karl Gaisberger who gave us the benefit of his enormous experience of the area and arranged free passage for us up the toll road to the plateau; to Fritz Madlmeier at the campsite for his hospitality and cheap beer (to encourage us to drink more, he continually lowered the price of it until it was eventually free !); to Bar Fischer where we drank and ate Schlagg each evening; and to the waitress at Blaa-Alm ... her schnitzels were magnificent.

Chronologically events occurred as follows - dates refer to August 1977:

3 Geriatrics take Altaussee by storm
5 Naglsteghöhle
6 Brandgrabenhöhle
7 Naglsteghöhle again. Enthusiasts arrive
8 Hirlatz
9 Youths arrive. Prospecting on plateau commences
See below
20 Reiseneishöhle - a show cave on the Dachstein Massif
21 Elmhöhlensystem, Totes Gebirge
22 Derigging of the major pots 97 and 76. All tackle removed from plateau

Report of team Geriatric

Team Geriatric had two advantages - a high standard of living compared with the soya bean boys, thanks to Carole and Julia, and knowledge of the area from the previous year. Disadvantages were old age breeding lethargy, a readiness to 'diversify', particularly into canoeing, and an addiction to all forms of cake 'mit Schlagg' ! We took as our patch on the plateau, therefore, the area nearest the col (old age privilege) and ended up concentrating on an area no more than 10 minutes NE of the col. The holes explored were numbered in red as follows:

80: Found after five minutes on the plateau. A direct descent of 14m to a choke, and the hole was abandoned.

81: Found two minutes later, this turned out to be a short section of horizontal passage 5m below the surface with two entrances but no way on.

82: We took bearings of this cave - Bräuning Nase 247, Schönberg 341. All other Geriatric pots are within a stones' throw of this obvious entrance. Found five minutes later, this was to occupy most of our caving time.

Trip 1. An obvious entrance (see cover of 1978 Journal !) led across a short snow slope to a large, boulder-strewn passage ending in a climb down with daylight entering 20m above through an aven. A scramble over boulders led to a 6m pitch (Apfelschacht) with dangerous loose boulders near the pitch head. This was descended and led almost immediately to a 3m climb down to the head of a 20m pitch (Orangenschacht) with a trickle of water entering halfway down. From the foot, a fine keyhole passage was followed to a choice of routes of which the most promising was a 10m pitch. The three present exited to gather more tackle and better caving gear than T-shirts and a single light.

Trip 2. A demolition job was done on the boulders of the first pitch and a bolt placed to give a safer hang. The third pitch (Bierschacht) was descended over stal. flow to an awkward crawl which looked likely to fizzle out. Instead it suddenly led directly on to a 15m pitch (Nocheinbierschacht) needing bolts as there was no natural belay. The pitch hung impressively free and suddenly the cave was spacious again. At the foot, voice connection was established with a phreatic passage above the third pitch that had ended in a big hole. Ahead was a phreatic tunnel that choked and a very large black emptiness. 25m of ladder were fed into this (Viermalbierschacht) and the pitch was found to be made up of four steps of about 6m each connected by small ledges. At the foot, the stream plunged over a tiny ledge (one and a half men big) into blackness. A small stone thrown over was not heard to land, but panic was avoided on the basis that the stone was small and the pitch noisy with the sound of the cascading stream. On the way out to collect SRT gear, the early part of the cave was surveyed.

Trip 3. Bolts were placed at the head of Viermalbierschacht and over the new hole. Vic (it says 'our tame idiot' on the scrap of paper in front of me - Ed.) was kicked over the edge and stopped 50m lower down. The pitch (Besoffene) hangs freer than Juniper for all but the last 8m - most impressive. Heavy water, inefficiency over getting tackle to the front and a further pitch needing bolts forced an early exit. Spare time was used following passages nearer the surface to their conclusions, and carrying out more surveying.

Trip 4. More organised this time, one pair went down in heavy water (run off response was very rapid) and reached the head of the next pitch by traversing above a steeply dropping stream canyon. Bolts were placed above a sloping platform to give a pitch of about 17m to the stream floor which continued to drop steeply to a broken 6m pitch. A climb out of the streamway here showed a good spot for rigging a freehanging pitch out of the water. This was bolted by the second pair and descended to a depth of 30m. To our general surprise and great disappointment, a sump rapidly followed.

Trip 5. Final surveying and derigging was completed with Steve being drafted in to prove that we hadn't made it all up. This final trip took just five hours.


The pot is about 220m deep, and it seems likely that the sump is perched or perhaps even a temporary sump in highish water. However, no bypass could be found so the depth is unlikely to be increased. No major phreatic development was reached. Such phreatic passages as were found all choked rapidly and the overall impression is of a larger than life Yorkshire pot cutting through old phreatic developments. Like Yorkshire too, heavy water makes the big pitches very serious and the fourth trip assumed epic proportios at times, with one pair ascending most of the big rift in darkness, including transferring prussiking gear on a tiny ledge over 50m of exposure.

82 survey - 28k gif

Pitches :

1 - 6m Apfelschacht
2 - 20m Orangenschacht
3 - 10m Bierschacht
4 - 15m Nocheinbierschacht
5 - 25m Viermalbierschacht
6 - 50m Bessofene
7 - 17m
8 - 6m
9 - 30m

83: Found 200m north of 82. A 13m freeclimb dropped on to a steep snow slope requiring a line. This was descended for a further 10m to a steep boulder slope which funnelled down to a small hole through which stones fell free a long way. The large amounts of scree made the descent most uninviting. Back up the boulder slope, a phreatic passage was entered and quickly led to a big hole in the floor.

A second visit with Marlow and bolts was made to descend the big hole in the floor. Apart from the wedges being too big, things went smoothly and the bolts held OK. A fine free-hanging pitch of 36m got us quite excited. Unfortunately no way on could be found from the boulder-strewn floor. The phreatic passage continues beyond the pitch head (bolts or a lack of imagination requred for the traverse) but it is trending uphill and does not look very promising.

84: A draughting tube WNW of 83 led to a small chamber. A further small tube led off, still draughting but it was deemed impenetrable by the caver concerned on account of him wearing only shorts and T-shirt.

85: Strangely, we had missed this although it was within 20m of 82 and we had walked past it every day on the way to the plateau. A descent of this turned out to be quite entertaining - a series of short free-climbs of varying complexity led to a depth of at least 50m with no tackle required anywhere. An impenetrable fissure barred further progress.

86: This was a rift on the high ground just SE of 82 and didn't look too promising as it seemed snow-plugged. Ladder was fed down and a descent made to -25m before the gap between the snow and the rock got too small.

sketch surveys of smaller caves - 16k gif

Team Enthusiast's Report

None of our pots have accurate coordinates, a reflection partly on the recurrent low cloud and partly on our belief that we were sighting on a peak called the Bräuning Sattel. A 'Sattel', we later learnt, is a pass ! All our pots are marked in red paint.

Numbers 90 to 94 are all situated on the southern edge of the karren field, more or less below an obvious and dramatic breach in the Bräuning wall.

90: Rift entrance in scrub, just below talus and pasture. Chokes at -20m

91: Snow-fed rift in open lapiaz. Chokes at -20m

92: Distinct from its neighbours in several respects. Firstly, it was deep in scrub yet the entrance was not over-vegetated. Secondly, by virtue of its small horizontal entrance, it was unlikely to be blocked by thermoclastic scree. Thirdly it draughted slightly. With all these points in its favour, it was annoying to find that the interior was as loose as a dose of Delhi-belly. Everywhere we looked were vast, poised boulders, and one of our ropes was severed when NR dislodged a piece of wall by breathing too hard. It was not too much of a disappointment to find that it choked at -90m.

92 survey - 12k gif

93: Long rift north of 91. Chokes at -35m.

94: A little further north still. A spiralling free-climb choking at -35m.

At this point we realized what we should have known from the start: in this area pots aren't worth bothering with unless they:

(1) have vast entrances or
(2) have tiny entrances
(3) draught

So we abandoned the area under the Bräuning Wall. But before we go down to serious prospecting we decided to have a look at a pot recommended to us by Karl Gaisberger. In fact we had already been camping within 50m of it without noticing ! It was situated on a raised bank near the sink and huts on the west side of the Schwarzmoos Sattel, just off the path that we followed to reach the plateau from the car park. In fact Pot 96 was found first, but JG being an accountant, his tiny brain gets acutely perplexed by blunders in numbering.

95: A 10m climb to an unpushed and unpromising tube. Descended only for the sake of form and to restore numerical sequence.

96: An unusual pot in that the entrance was the only good clean shaft which we found in pasture. A series of short, solid pitches in a high rift led to an apparent end in a chamber where the water sank. However, the upper level of a small rift was found to lead to an abandoned passage. Several free-climbs, each muddier than the last, then a squeeze, brought us to a sordid little sump, although an air current (but not SP) seemed to vanish along an inaccessible passage above the final crawl. We were rather disappointed by the omens, as last year's major discovery, the Fledermaushöhle, had also ended in a sump. Would every pot end in a perched sump ? Well the next pot was to be a revelation. Depth 105m.

96 survey - 13k gif

97: The pot that restored the status quo to Team Enthusiast (otherwise known as Team Ireland, Team Trials Marina, Team Thin Geriatric, Team Gunge etc., etc.) We had been looking for a hole which we could name Konstantinopolitanischerstraßenbahnführerinassistentineninexpeditionnenzehnhundertsiebenundsiebsigtropfsteineishöhlensystem, but it would have had to be at least 50 km long for the name to fit on the survey ! So we settled for the name Schneewindschacht instead. Within spitting distance of Eislufthöhle, it was distinguished by a narrow, draughting entrance, with an encouraging rustle of water within. (Incidentally, all the draughting holes we found this year blew OUT: we never came up with a reasonable explanation, despite much speculation about localised barometric inversion, water generated and ionised air currents, but just took it for granted that such holes were more promising than pots with no draught at all.)

Team Fat Geriatric jeered at us for applying Yorkshire tactics in the land of the big shaft, but we returned next day with a hammer and enlarged the entrance to passable proportions. Two climbs of 10m and 5m led to a chamber with two exits, of which NR chose the drier. A sordid grovel doubled itself and passed directly under the wetter hole, which dribbled ferociously through his tatty Spock-suit. Obviously a diver was needed ! JG obligingly continued along the grovel for a further 5m, finding it about as tight as Baptistry crawl with a constricted pitch head on the far side. 15m below, the explorers reached the head of a very deep-sounding rift, which was initially descended only to a ledge at 20m. Due to the awkwardness of the entrance crawl, it was necessary to remove all SRT gear and clip it to the pitch head before exiting, hence the name Vestry. The crawl itself, which henceforward was entered and left by the wet entrance, was baptised the Nun's C***: partly on account of the shape of the orifice, partly on account of its tightness, but mainly because it was so desperately in need of banging.

Discovery progressed slowly, largely because every pitch had to be bolted: also, it was essential to be off the lapiaz by nightfall or resign oneself to an overnight trip, thus denying oneself the statutory five glasses of Reininghaus at the Bar Fischer. The survey is fairly self-explanatory. Traversing over a 'Puits en baionnette' took one down the Bottomless Abbess to a point where the cave turned horizontal and stream-like for a short stretch. But it still went on down, dropping - rather surprisingly - into an abandoned series of dry, dusty phreatic tubes, which sloped down at a steady five degrees. The tantalising sight of a large cave-type passage leading off beyond a 3m ladder climb almost made it seem likely that a giant fossil system had been reached. Alas, it was impossible to traverse over to it, so SP was tied onto a piece of string and forced down the next pitch.

A fine clean shaft of 25m, it started unpromisingly, but soon belled out into a magnificent trench passage. Traversing over a gully led shortly to a succession of piddling little climbs and a final lovely pitch, The Dissolution. Here the water sank in an impenetrable crack, the draught having already vanished.

An excellent pot - even if it would have been impossible to rescue anyone from - but why did it stop so soon ? And would the traverse have led to further pitches ? The answer is almost certainly yes. Still, there's the rest of the plateau to be looked at yet, so we probably won't return to the Schneewindschacht. Depth 265m. 97 survey - 22k gif

'Youth Section' Report

The 'Youth Section' comprised the three undergraduate members of the expedition present this year, Simon Farrow, Nick Thorne & Andy Waddington. We arrived a few days later than the bulk of the expedition and immediately started prospecting. It took us about two days of exploring small shafts in the karren with depths of 10-20m before we found a very promising area. Two shafts of 30 and 40m were descended, but these were of the large open type and inevitably choked. The shafts were numbered as found:

100: A small shaft on the line of a fault, about 15m deep but ending in a tight wet crack with very sharp rock.

101: Near a large fault scarp, but apparently not associated with it. A small freeclimb down led to a horizontal passage which led in both directions, the northward branch led out into the face of the scarp (101A) while south led to a short pitch and then a small crawl led on. This dropped into a larger crawl, a meandering phreatic tube which went for 40m or so until a window in the right wall led to the base of an aven. The continuing crawl was too small, and the aven appeared to choke after a climb down. The total depth was probably 30-40m.

102: About 30m west of 101, a straight shaft of 20m to a snow plug.

103: About 15m north of 102, in the face of the same fault scarp as 101A, but aligned on a joint perpendicular to the fault. A very broken shaft of 30m to a choke - distinctly tight and awkward with lots of wedged rock.

104: Moving east to a new area below the Schwarzmooskogel, we found a large open shaft in the dense spruce. This was rigged from a bolt in a large erratic boulder, and found to be 30m deep. It was rather broken and inevitably choked.

105: A much cleaner shaft nearby, started as a handline descent of 9m to a ledge from which a pitch was rigged. It seemed likely to be loose from here down, but in fact proved to be a very fine shaft in clean bluish-white limestone, 32m to a flat gravel floor.

106: The rest of the account is taken up by our major discovery, which occupied us for the rest of the trip.

It was while we were derigging 105 that a small hole sloping downwards for about 5m was noticed. The entrance was invisible from 5m away and only attracted attention because the air around it was noticeably cooler than elsewhere. A closer examination revealed that the hole led down over a small ice slope and then stepped sideways so that stones could not be thrown down any further.

The next day, a handline was rigged to a spruce at this entrance and a descent was commenced. Andy soon discovered that the ice was rather hard and slippery and his descent was not too well controlled. At the bottom of the initial slope, two small passages led off, and a further ice slope went down a narrow rift. This was descended more carefully, and a small chamber was entered. At the far end, another hole led on and from this emerged the draught which at this point was powerful enough to blow out a carbide lamp flame. This hole was a pitch head and a temporary retreat was made. We were obviously on to something good, and the entrance was labelled 106. The two small side passages were investigated and both found to lead out into the bottom of nearby dolines, both carrying part of the draught. One of these dolines was subsequently used as the normal entrance (106A).

Tackle was quickly collected from the surface and Andy and Nick returned to the ice slope, where a short ladder was rigged for safety. No natural belays were apparent, so the next ladder was put down the pitch belayed to the first, while Nick tied on to a dubious flake. The pitch dropped about 9m onto a large snow platform from where two ways on were possible. Andy descended the larger and found himself climbing round and under a large snow and ice plug. Below this was another platform and round the corner, the pitch continued into blackness, with another snow ledge visible some way below. All this snow prevented stones from being thrown far down the shaft, but we were obviously onto something big so we retreated for more tackle.

Our main priority on the next trip was to put some bolts in and descend the next section of the pitch, and having shown someone else where our entrance was, we were all able to descend the pot simultaneously. The shaft continued, getting bigger all the time, and we were soon 40m below the second snow platform on a large ledge. At this stage we started to find that the shaft was not giving up its secrets easily as the ladder started getting caught up on the numerous ledges, making it very difficult to climb. This necessitated considerable delay while we rerigged the shaft, putting in various bolts on the way.

On the next trip after rerigging, we got everyone down to the large ledge "Yesterday's Terminus" and rigged the next pitch from yet another bolt. Nick abseiled into the unknown and the pitch proved to be 13m onto another large patch of snow, but this time things were somewhat different, since the snow occupied one half of the floor of a large chamber forming the base of a huge aven soaring beyond the range of our lights. We were now at a depth of about 90m and soon found that the way on was a further pitch in a rift to one side of this chamber. We were able to rig this quickly as the large boulders in the floor gave us our first safe natural belays. Nick and Simon descended another 13m pitch into a small chamber at the far end of which was a large boulder blockage.

The obstacle comprised three huge boulders, one above another, with the gaps filled by several smaller blocks and at first seemed insuperable. Andy descended and a brief discussion ensued. After an initial attempt to climb over the choke, thwarted because each of the large blocks had various amounts of loose grubble on top, attention focussed on a small hole from which the draught seemed mainly to be coming. A lot of loose rubble was pushed through the hole and then Andy ventured to peer through. The hole was short and led out into a narrow rift type passage with a floor of jammed rubble. After throwing various lumps of rock at the floor, Andy descended and moved forward on a lifeline. A gap in the floor was noted and a small stone dropped in. The result was both worrying and encouraging, as after a delay of a couple of seconds, an echoing crash was heard. Further forward, the explorer was able to demolish the false floor which fell with loud crashing and booming noises into the pitch below. Eventually enough of the rubble was removed to judge the pitch head safe, but it appeared to be too narrow to descend except at the far end where it seemed to widen slightly.

The descent of the pitch had to wait until the next trip when a bolt was placed above the takeoff and a traverse line rigged over the pitch head. All the available ladder was put down the pitch which was estimated at 40m, and by the sound of stones dropped seemed likely to hang free. In fact, when descended it proved to be 31m in a fine wide shaft, but against the wall all the way by virtue of the takeoff having been chosen right at the far side of the shaft. A heavy drip landed on the large boulder strewn ledge and then the pitch continued. Stones dropped suggested a broken pitch of perhaps 15m, but the pitch proper was hidden round a corner and the lifeline had run out. It was noticed that while the next pitch was small, no draught was noticeable. This later led to the shaft being named the 'Keg Series'.

A retreat had now to be made, since insufficient tackle was available to continue, and the pitch was derigged. While pulling ladders up the pitch, a large rock fell out of the pitch head and crashed onto the ladder some 15m below, smashing most of the way through one of the wires. Sitting at the top of the pitch coiling ladders, it was noticed that while the pitch ended directly below, the rift continued beyond, and investigation of this led to the discovery of a draught coming from an awkward hole between chockstones in the continuing rift. As soon as all the tackle was coiled, Andy set off through the hole to find a climb down to the enlarging continuation of the passage. After a short distance, the gradient steepened and another pitch head materialised, this time in an apparently roomy shaft starting some way above. Derigging the pot was abandoned and another return trip planned.

Next day all the tackle was ferried forward and put down the new pitch rigged from a convenient wedged boulder. Nick descended to a ledge 16m down and found that the pitch continued. This section proved to be 14m to a solid floor from which a vadose type passage led onwards. He set off to investigate and soon came to a chamber below a large aven from which a heavy drip fell. A passage could be seen beyond, as well as a rift in the floor which seemed to be the start of another passage about 5m below the floor of the chamber. The chamber could not reasonably be crossed by a lone explorer on carbide because of the heavy drip from the roof, so Nick retreated to report the good news. On the way he noticed a small passage which led back parallel to the way he had come, and following this he came upon another large shaft in the floor with an estimated depth in excess of 15m. He could see a passage beyond the pitch but could not cross it so returned to the final pitch.

After discussion about whether the lifeline could be safely returned down the pitch, Simon and Andy descended and repeated the exercise, noting in addition that the draught in the final chamber seemed to be distributed, some going to the pot that we had explored, and some going to the passage on the far side, suggesting yet another inlet to the system. A single photograph was taken and the pair returned to the final pitch.

The trip was clearly the limit of our tackle, and time for the expedition was running short, so we started to derig, getting as far as Yesterday's Terminus before leaving the job for a final trip on the last day of the expedition. On this final trip, we were assisted by Rod Leach, while Andy stayed on the surface. Behind a rock bridge about halfway up Plugged Shaft, a passage was found leading off, and this was followed to the head of yet another pitch which descended into the unknown, another lead to be followed next year. Nearby on the surface, another draughting entrance was found and descended down a climb to a side-step leading to a pitch. This was investigated only by the dropping of stones, but seems to be about 10m to a snow ledge. This pot was labelled 99 to fill a gap in the numbering sequence.

During the expedition, all the finds had been allocated numbers in accordance with the official Austrian recording system, and only on the return trip did we decide to name our pot "Eislufthöhle", since on drawing our rough survey, we found its depth to be 150m, the depth which we had been taking as the minimum for naming a pot.

106 survey - 19k gif

Some Notes on the Loser Plateau

In the absence, as we are given to understand, of any detailed study of the 1623/Schönberg plateau, it is difficult to write with any authority on the hydrology and geology of the area. We were further handicapped by a lack of adequately contoured large-scale maps from which spot heights could be assessed. Still, the following points may be of interest.

The part of the plateau with which we were concerned takes the rough form of a wide and shallow cirque, bounded to the south by the impervious (dolomitic?) shales of the Bräuning Wall, to the east by the peaks of the Schwarzmooskogel and Augsteck, and to the north by the Schönberg. The slope - and as far as we could judge - the general dip are WSW, and the bulk of the plateau falls within the altitude range 1600-1800m. Several sizeable valleys appear to coalesce in the centre of the plateau, but in the short time available to us we were only able to explore a small area within about 1 km from the Schwarzmoos-Sattel. Given the size of the plateau, its patches of dense scrub, and its orogenetic and morphogenetic complexity we can only guess at the character of the parts left unexplored, but we think it very unlikely that there will be any integrated surface flow or stream sinks.

sketch map of area - 20k gif

Karl Gaisberger informed us that a dye-test in the Augstsee (a small lake near our route up to the plateau) had given a positive trace to the water mains of Bad Ischl, some 12km to the west. Unfortunately, Bad Ischl is fed by several tapped springs and it had not been possible to identify the exact one. We do know though (1) that a spring near or in Naglsteghöhle has been tested from the Steyrer-See near Tauplitz, a trace distance of about 30km. Since the Loser Plateau lies on this traceline it is a simplistic but fair assumption that the water from our discoveries also resurges there.

A corollary of this particular series of tests is that the drainage of the Totes Gebirge mountains in shown to be essentially radial. The main sinks dyed fed resurgences around a circumference of 75km, an area delineated by Bad Mitterndorf, Bad Aussee, Bad Ischl, Ebensee, Grunan, Hinterstoder and Liezen. This extraordinary radial drainage makes it unlikely that the Loser pots join a vadose dendritic system. Far more likely is an extensive and sluggish phreas. Again, it is unfortunate that we have no flow through times to substantiate the theory.

If the assumption is correct, the possibility of a master cave of sorts is not necessarily ruled out. It would necessarily date from the late Tertiary period (the most important in Austrian speleogenesis) and would probably be situated several hundred metres above the current resurgence level. This supposes a series of deep vertical shafts dropping into a large, abandoned main drain, with further shafts, representing a more recent and predominantly vertical genetic phase, dropping further still to near-static sumps.

Although the nearby Rauherkarhöhle (c. 700m deep) does little to bear out this theory, being a highly complex and gently sloping cave system, a comparison between it and, say, the Schneewindschacht, will show enough points of difference to invalidate strict parallels. A glance at a cross-section of the plateau with the Schneewindschacht superimposed will demonstrate graphically that some sort of horizontal trend must be expected shortly. Moreover, the pattern of large horizontal galleries feeding (and sometimes fed by) shaft systems is common enough in Austria already; the Geldloch, the Dachsteinmammuthöhle and, more recently, the Ahnenschacht (2) are examples.

Several trips were made into Naglsteghöhle, attempting to bolt across to an inlet at the far end. If we had persevered - either in this, or in investigating local resurgences - it is conceivable that we might have found a good length of passage heading towards Rauherkarhöhle or under the plateau. Food for thought !

One further point of interest is the Stellerweghöhle, whose approximate position is marked on the area map. This cave was discovered in 1951 and was found to end in a deep shaft. This shaft has still to be descended ! A partial descent and a plumbline revealed a depth of 220m plus. That alone must speak volumes for the potential of the area.

(1) Herak, M. & Stringfield, V.T. (Editors) Karst, p 242
(2) Spelunca, 1975, no. 3, p 23

Other Caving

Naglsteghöhle Bolting

Last year's inspection of this small system found that a possible way on was visible at the top of the ramp at the highest point of the cave. Mike and Vic performed an exposed traverse to a ledge, where a rusted piton was found in the rock with the initials WA inscribed next to it. There was no evidence of anyone having got beyond this point. We bolted a further climb of 4m to a passage above from which a one metre diameter phreatic tube leads off in the roof at about 60 degrees. This is about 4m up, and may need a bolt as well as more enthusiasm to reach.

The Brandgrabenhöhle Fiasco

This is a resurgence cave about 50m below the entrance to Hirlatz. It was rumoured to be desperately wet by Austrian standards, so a wetsuited team sweated up the 300m climb to the entrance to do a spot of pushing for them. About 50m into the cave we were stopped by a 10m pitch into a deep lake. Not having thought of bringing any ladders, we lowered Dave down into the pool. Dangling just above the water he announced that he could see that the passage sumped further along and didn't need to get himself wet to prove it. He ascended amidst jeers from the other three who were peering over the ledge. But since nobody else wanted to go down, we exited planning to return with a ladder. On our return to Altaussee, Karl informed us that the passage does indeed sump off here in the summer, but that in winter over 1km of streamway can be followed.

Hirlatz bashing

Julian and Mike dismissed this vast and impressive system in just over three hours. The cave as far as camp 1 with its rotting canvas tent and renowned supply of naughty magazines was described in last year's expedition account. The only aspects of the cave's entrance series of note were the uninspiring state of the fixed ladders (about a dozen had to be negotiated throughout the cave), and the incredible current of air blowing through the entrance crawl. The Wind Tunnel in Betzula just doesn't compare with the gale that was roaring out that day, and it was with some trepidation that we groped in through the iron gate and under the draught doors that revent the entrance icing up in winter.

Beyond Camp 1 the cave splits after a chamber with initials smoked on the walls. To the left the passage passed a fixed ladder, then got progressively smaller until we came out above a streamway with waterfall facing us. Retracing our steps for a few metres we were able to drop down 10m through boulders to a traverse above the stream. A 5m climb up through water on minimal holds led to a further 5m fixed ladder climb up, and we called a halt where the water appeared as spray from a 60m aven.

Back at the 10m fixed ladder we climbed up to an old deserted phreatic passage and soon arrived at Camp 2 - an elaborate but squalid set-up with carbide, food, pots and plates all over the place. Beyond a waterfall, a small stream was reached. From here the passage closed down and rapidly developed into a vadose trench for a hundred metres or so. It degenerated to a point where we decided to proceed no further in claggies. A stinky gonk in the stream proeceded a sprint out to daylight.


An ascent to the Pühringer Hut by Team Geriatric was combined with a trip into the Elmhöhlensystem, described in detail in last year's journal. We entered by the Kleines Windloch and proceeded into the ice-section as far as the Grosses Windloch shaft. Rod and Jont took lots of piccies. The rest of us hurled snowballs or went toboganning! On to a splendid evening meal at the Hut (where chamois was on the menu), and a bed for the night.

Some notes in conclusion

  1. We will undoubtedly return to the area in 1978 .... we have still hardly begun on the plateau, and we have no competitors as yet.
  2. Lots of bolts and drivers are essential - there are few natural belays and the rock is very hard.
  3. SRT rope could be taken down larger pots in long lengths and then cut underground to the lengths required.
  4. Ladder or SRT ? Clearly SRT is faster on a long trip, but we found that using mixed tackle avoided unnecessary bolting for the free-hang required by SRT. For example, Viermalbierschacht would have to be rebelayed in three places on SRT. There still seems, for exploratory work - at any rate where pitches are descended and ascended many times during the exploration - to be a strong case for mixed tackle and flexibility on the part of cavers.
  5. Size of party - 82 was our first major exploration involving depth and uncertain rescue facilities. Consequently we were fairly inefficient. Ideally teams of two or perhaps three should go down at intervals of an hour or so - this allows a party to get down, rig the next pitch (bolts almost inevitable) assess the situation beyond, and then return quickly, passing on their information to the next group. This avoids long trips, something none of us fancied.
  6. Get fairy floats for canoes if VB or DF have offered to take you on an 'easy' river.
  7. Give up caving and take up skiing...
  8. Don't have two plates of schlagg washed down only by beer...etc., etc.
  9. A tip for new members - the club dinghy CAN be rolled should you capsize, provided you have tied yourself in first.