Summer 1980 saw Cambridge University Caving Club return to Austria accompanied by several members of UBSS; several members of the Pennine were also in the party, namely John Bowers, Andy Waddington, Andy Connolly and 'Budge'. After meeting up in London, we had our final dose of English beer before departing for Dover in a mega-thunderstorm.

The long drive through Germany led us to Golling, south of Salzburg and at the foot of the Tennengebirge mountains - Austria's most promising caving area. Here we met up with the others and proceeded to our first night of Austrian lager and a near miss with the Vienna-Salzburg express on a level crossing which was inconveniently situated between the pub and the campsite. As we still hadn't received official permission to work in the area, we were only planning a recconnaissance here before the main group moved on to the traditional CUCC location at Altaussee - if we found anything promising a small group might stay at Golling. Budge and Andy set off to prospect Die Schwer, a large hanging valley east of Kuchlberg Alm - the site of Schneeloch, Austria's deepest cave. Our hangover befuddled brains led us up the path to Winnerfall - a 50m waterfall resurgence that takes water from both Schneeloch and the Die Schwer area. This was very pretty, but wasn't on the right route. The right route, however, proved very steep, and after five thousand feet of ascent, we found a Frenchman sitting on a rock playing pan pipes. Behind him were several tents, and more Frenchmen dressed in caving gear. After a rather complicated conversation, the French revealed that they had "bagged" the area in 1979 and were just starting to rig into a pot that they had pushed to -300m last year.(1) The area looked very promising indeed but was one hell of a slog to reach and the campsite was a pretty bleak place. Perhaps slightly relieved that the French had beaten us to it, Andy and Budge returned to Golling and joined the others in Altaussee.

The same day, John Bowers and Andy Connolly had set off on a two day high level walk into the Wildensee area with Tony Malcolm. The area seemed to offer quite a lot, though access would be harder than the traditional stomping ground - the only positive benefit was a hut full of schoolgirls who invited them to stay the night, so they did !

The next three weeks saw the thirteen man group caving, walking, swimming, sunbathing, eating, drinking and being ill to varying degrees of seriousness. Four significant pots were explored and pushed to various ends :

Höhle No. 87 (2)

A series of pitches leads to a choke at a depth of 111.5 m. The very strong draught goes up an inlet opposite the last pitch, but to reach this would require bolting. The cave was explored in two trips by Ben and Nick, surveyed in one by Budge and Andy, and derigged within the first week, an efficient start.

Höhle No. 41 Stellerweghöhle

This well-concealed cave has been known since the fifties, and was pushed by a German group in 1972, supposedly to -276m with a 220m pitch, so we had avoided it carefully in previous years. On our first trip in, Andy got lost and found a new way on, which led to a quarter mile of passage and the start of a new series of pitches which were still going at 330m when we had to pull out due to lack of time.(3) The German route was investigated, and was horrible with about 220 feet of pitches before virgin ground was found, nowhere near -276m, so the route was abandoned.

Höhle No. 115 Schnellzughöhle

An obvious railway tunnel-like entrance (hence the name) apparently also looked at by the Germans, choked almost immediately. The strong draught encouraged a dig which took a few days of hard collar to reach a pitch, but the way on proved elusive, and was finally found by the derigging party who thought it was the obvious way on.

Höhle No. 113 Sonnenstrahlhöhle

Found by John Bowers, Tony Malcolm and Andy Connolly, the three, known as 'team Sunbeam' rapidly descended the impressive 40m entrance pitch to reach a large snow plugged chamber left by a passage above a short climb up one wall. A series of climbs down a large ramp led to Barnsley Methodist Chapel and the Opera House, followed by a series of pitches on which a small stream was met at Purple Pit. On only the third trip, the three got to a tight sump at -230 m, but the two Andys later found a bypass to this, leading to more pitches, this time ending at about -300m. The fact that sudden heavy thunderstorms produce rapid runoff was highlighted when John, Tony and Andy Waddington found themselves at the bottom as a flash flood arrived, but luckily were able to sit it out in a dry chamber, while Andy, in retrieving Tony's dropped carbide lamp, extended the pot down a small wet streamway until the way on got rather intimidating.

Mike Burgess & Andy Waddington.

Expedition members present : J T Griffiths, B A Van Millingen, A P Malcolm, N Thorne, A S Connolly, A E R Waddington, J A Bowers, C Owen, S R Perry, T Lyons, K Baker.

(1) This cave was pushed by the French to -650m in 1980 and to about -1100m in 1981, ie. about the same depth as Schneeloch.
(2) All caves in Austria have a Kataster-nummer, which is their number in a national catalogue. In Loser the numbers are 1623/xxx and we have only named the biggest of our caves.
(3) In 1981, CUCC & UBSS pushed Stellerweghöhle to a connection with the lower reaches of Schnellzughöhle, and then via Schnellzughöhle to a total depth of 680m still going. The 1982 expedition again has a Pennine contingent so watch this space for news !

References :

Cambridge Underground 1981 pp 9-21
Proc. UBSS Vol. 16 No. 1 pp 11-20
Cambridge Underground 1982 pp 5-20
Proc. UBSS Vol. 16 No. 2 pp 77-83