CTS 84.1580: BCRA Caves & Caving 23 (Feb 1984) p 14 [ISSN 0142-1832]

CUCC in Austria

With no underground leads from last year still to be pushed, the Cambridge University Caving Club went right back to basics. Prospecting for day after day gradually uncovered entrances until eventually several systems were being explored at once. At the end of the expedition three caves were still 'going'

Although we were back in the familiar surroundings of the Totes Gebirge in Austria, it seemed in many ways like a new expedition. We knew that only details of last years work remained to be tidied up, and some serious prospecting would have to be done at the start to locate new caves. The new area of plateau we selected was further from the road than we had been last year, and increased the walk-in to over an hour. With the closing of our traditional campsite we had to stay in the next nearest, some 45 minutes drive from the caves. We kept to our usual system of caving in pairs as day trips from the base camp but, as the caves became deeper, the additional four hours spent travelling made for very long days. To continue exploration it will almost certainly be necessary to camp on the plateau, which in the past we have always avoided. Fortunately we had enough cars to keep the expedition mobile, ranging from a smart TR6 to a disintegrating Datsun. Several veterans of previous expeditions in the late seventies made a comeback and their experience of the area was much appreciated.

The expedition divided naturally into several groups to begin prospecting and the older chappies soon showed that they weren't past their prime in any way. The speed and efficiency of their early morning starts sometimes surprised the younger generation. Initially the weather was glorious, with a deep blue sky and the white limestone peaks towering upwards towards the sun. We struggled upwards through the undergrowth, becoming scratched and torn on all exposed areas, sweat pouring as we scrambled across the rock. From vantage points on hillocks and ridges we would scan the surrounding land and roughly divide it into smaller areas to cover one by one. But once down in the bushes all sense of direction could be lost. Working in pairs, it usually took all day to cover a couple of acres.

Entrances abound in this part of the Totes Gebirge. Some are obviously only rock shelters, but more commonly we would come across shafts, some wide open, others partially hidden. Having convinced ourselves that the bottom was out of sight, and rocks could be made to rumble down for a suitable distance, we'd rig the entrance - usually to find the shaft choked or the way on becoming too narrow after a couple of pitches. Each one was plumbed to check the depth and the entrance numbered with paint. We also surveyed back to fixed stations on nearby and distinctive surface features to locate the relative position and altitude of each. A day was also spent surveying down the hillside from the entrance of last years find (Schnellzughohle) in another attempt to find a lower entrance. Despite locating the exact spot on the surface nearest to the known cave, there simply wasn't an entrance where we thought there should be.

Initially, one area of exploration was near the upper entrance to Schnellzughohle, called Stellerweghohle. The entrance series of the latter is mostly horizontal and nearby is another short cave (142) ending in a pitch into a huge chamber. Upon resurveying and superimposing onto the Stellerweg survey, they were found to almost overlap. A later trip made the connection, but also found that 142 is below Stellerweg and so no extra depth was gained. Looking higher up the hill, two entrances were discovered quite close together. One (143) became too tight after a splendid series of free-hanging pitches at about -125m, but the other (144) met a phreatic level about 200m below the entrance. We guessed that this was at the same level as the entrance series to Stellerweg and looked to a new depth of 990m for the latter. SAdly, although we followed the horizontal passage to within 130m of Stellerweg, it abruptly dropped into a large chamber with an inaccessible roof tunnel continuing. The cave continued downwards to nearly -300m, finally dropping into a tiny streamway, but we felt sure that the way on was across from the "Mud Wall" pitch. The obvious plan was to return to Stellerweg and try to find the roof tunnel from the other side - but we ran out of time.
As the expedition continued, the weather deteriorated and it would rain for several days at a time. This was bad enough, but one day we reached the plateau to find the hills under a sprinkling of snow. Snowball fights in August proved to be an original amusement and strengthened by our training, the caving continued.

Two other major finds were made. The first was the well-named "Steinschlagschacht", number 136. EXploration of this cave was done slowly and cautiously as chunks of cave would follow the intrepid speleos down each pitch. Teams returned with stories of "hanging deaths" and falling boulders. Eventually, the cave broke into several small streamways at about -200m and it is still going.

A little to the north of 136 the entrance to "Wolfhohle" was found. This caused some excitement early on when the well-preserved skeleton of a large animal was found in it. Opinions still vary as to whether it is a wolf or bear skeleton. The cave beyond continued in quite varied fashion to nearly -300m and there are several leads remaining to be explored.

With only three weeks actually out in Austria, the end came all too soon, and we found we had to leave just as the real caving began. After completing the exploration of the Schnellzughohle last year, we were pleased to show that there is still a lot to do in the area. Despite some atrocious weather, we hope to return next year.

Thanks must go to our ever-tolerant and splendid drinking companions in the local caving group, and to the Sports Council for a grant towards travel costs. A full report will appear in "Cambridge Underground 1984".

Dave Brindle