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.
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.
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.