In 1991 the club had explored Puffball & Icing Sugar Cave (Bovist und Puderzuckerhöhle) to -230m or so, and it was left going stonkingly in a big rift. Meanwhile Kaninchenhöhle had been slowly giving up its secrets, revealing extensive horizontal development at -250m, and the extreme vertical complexity of its upper regions. Going deep in Puffball, and going long in KH were our targets in 1992. The first of these objectives was thwarted, the second largely fulfilled. In the meantime also had great fun with our Austrian hosts.
Most of the expo was fitted into two vehicles. The Battlewagon, an ancient, graffittied Princess, and the long-suffering WookMobile II, a Citroen C15 van. Even after packing the battlewagon to the gunwales, it was clear that the rest of expo wouldn't fit in the van. So CUCC was mobilised and extracted a trailer from a dung heap twelve hours before the ferry was due to leave, bolted a handy towbar to the bumper, filled the whole thing with gear and set off. This bodge actually lasted until 20 miles from Calais on the way back, when the bumber welding failed and the trailer had to be Y-hung from the roof rack for the last 150 miles.
Those who had gone to the Alps first were washed out, so expo started early. The snow levels were so high that Puffball had to be dug into, and the searchers for the Kaninchenhöhle entrance had a narrow escape; the three cavers wandered across a snow plug. After crossing it they looked behind and realised they had just walked over the top of the 37m deep, 4m wide entrance shaft on 6 inches of snow!
So the caving was underway, quickly rigging down the 1991 route as far as the bottom of the second pitch. At this point a branch off to the right ('Piezo') was followed in the hope of a drier, safer rig. Two washouts after thunderstorms in 1991 had given everyone a healthy fear of water and much effort was put into keeping as far from the water as possible. Mark 'Fixit' McLean had built a new drill battery ("Small Paul") which could drill at least fifty holes but weighed more than a full Goldflash tacklesack. This masterpiece of over-engineering came to be something of a liability as the expo went on. 25m down was a choice of the obvious wet pitch or a dry route 5m up and across over a rib, and down against the ceiling the far side. With much use of skyhooks, the drill and bolts placed then removed, a remarkable bit of rigging across to the appropriately named Crows Nest and down the roof of Chimney pitch was achieved.
All the caving was in Puffball (apart from one trip down KH to retrieve some co-ax for our new hi-tech aerials) until a large boulder in the Puffball entrance moved as one exiting trip climbed past it. It was at the bottom of a steep, constricted boulder slope and people were very concerned about the potential for death. This provided an opportunity for KH to be started and for lots of new arguments - about gear split between the caves, and whether Puffball was actually safe.
The Puffball safety issue was eventually resolved as Dave Fearon was trying to put a tape round the offending boulder and it rolled a few feet down the slope with him nimbly 'treading rock' on top of it. He survived, and after a few hours gardening, the route was declared safe again.
The next trip meant business, laying 600 metres of cable for the radio (for communication in case of flooding), and carrying 200 metres of rope to the pushing front, now at the 1991 limit of exploration. Unfortunately the next trip added 40m to the cave before it ended in a nasty washing-up bowl sized sump 'Waste of Effort'. The place was very oppressive with mud-soaked walls rising 10m above the sump. The only lead was a horrible tube just above the sump level which looked lethal if it rained. This was eventually explored, merely leading to another sump. So that was the end of Puffball, a rather disappointing 292m deep, and we had to fish all the gear out, whilst checking the remaining leads. 'The Twelve Pitches of Puffball' was written, to commemorate the end.
So: next cave please:
Ah yes - Elchfalle/Moosehöhle. This was investigated as it was close to Puffball, and only so many people could go down Puffball at once. The boulder slightly blocking the entrance was moved with a huge pulley system, and the way was clear for the cave to go! Which, after a few pitches, it didn't, ending in a scrofulous tight crawl. While derigging Olly and Clive heard the sound of rushing water, and memories of Puffball tales came flooding back. Quick, brace yourselves ... here it comes ... ... trickle. What an anticlimax. The pitches were rigged well out of the water too - it wasn't even awful.
Then there were the Austrian cavers. They invited us to the festival at Bad Mittendorf, where the freshly geartaped van driven with a pair of shreddies hanging off the waving windscreen wiper seemed to amuse the locals, and the commentator said our presence made it a truly international festival! Once more their portable mountain with a seemingly endless supply of beer inside provided amusement and lubrication for the subsequent gear and survey inspection in their hut.
It seems that Austrians get up earlier than Englishmen: we arranged a trip down a couple of their caves and they agreed to meet us 15km from Basecamp at 6am! The night before was Clive's birthday so getting up in time was a harrowing experience, leaping into the car coffee in hand and driving like looneys to get there. Most people went on a pleasant trip down Grubstein Eishöhle, a complex system with 27 entrances, and a very long walk to all of them. The other group went down Sonnenleiterschacht, which is basically a 368m pitch (in 20, 93, 10, 53, 88, 57m sections) down to lots of horizontal cave. Even though this was a tourist trip a traverse over a pitch was made to find another 300m of cave leading to a huge rift - duly named 'Cambridge Corner'.
Kaninchenhöhle was finally rigged to the pushing front and the first trip found 150m of very windy 3m diameter phreas 'Pipeless', doubling back down-dip to a big chamber 'Satan's Sitting Room'. Also France was rigged down to the 1991 limit at -120m in one solo trip, and a trip back to an old question mark in Gnome Passage found 'Deep Sleep' instead on the way. This (uncharacteristically for 161) stopped after three pitches of 20m, 5m, and 17m. Gnome passage was also extended through a very tight squeeze to a small pitch.
The next trip was also sidetracked. Not far down, on their way to the far end they started gardening a couple of loose rocks in the floor, soon having a pitch requiring a traverse line, where before there had been a perfectly good trade route! With the aid of the newly released (from Puffball) drill battery AndyA and DaveF, variously accompanied, pushed down through a maze of parallel shafts for three trips, eventually coming out at -250m in Niflheim. This route passed right through two other routes, without apparently sharing any shafts with either of them, despite them all being enormous. Quite how is not clear!
A couple of trips explored The Dungeon, a question mark left since the very first trip into KH in 1988, and found the editor's molten zoom where it had been dropped when it caught fire. This connected to the new (1991) 'S'not Pitch' quick route into the system, showing that it could have been found the first year had the circumstances been different, and the squeeze route wouldn't have been necessary. Meanwhile trips to the end rigged into Satan's Sitting Room finding 'Silent Fellow' chamber at the bottom, and another 150m of passage ('Mostly Mud') beyond, leading to the base of a big aven.
Mishaps. There were a few. We had to start a vomit tally, as it was so prevalent, although a surprising number of the entries were due to over-exertion/dehydration, and illness, rather than the more usual over-drinking. One unfortunate got strung up with the battery, spending an hour and half hanging around before her whistle was heard. The next France trip involved two severe cases of 'BELOW!'. The first was a rock landing squarely on AndyA's head, doing his helmet significant damage, and making him throw up. The second was a whole ledge which disappeared down the pitch just as he clipped in having traversed all the way across the pitchhead and back on it. After these warnings of impending doom they retreated.
Slightly more serious were Glen and JulianS. Glen fell through the snow down a shakehole and dislocated his shoulder, his companion helpfully enquiring "Does it go?". The injury was later aggravated by getting washed down the river at the back of Hilde's. JulianS was slightly more cunning - he waited until derigging had just begun, and fell off a small cliff on the way back from the cave, bruising his back enough so that he couldn't carry anything.
The next trip down France found old bolts, apparently having re-joined the route the French had taken down here, although we couldn't work out how they had done the last 100m without going the way we had. These allowed some high-speed rigging down to a stupendous chamber 'Algeria' at -240m, which had several leads, including a stonking 60m freehang at one end, 'Orient Express'.
This year we spent several hundred pounds on CB radio gear for camp to camp and cave to camp communication. We had a repeater on top of the hill between the camps, which after a great deal of fettling worked for one day, two weeks into the expedition - just long enough to allow its creator to escape without being lynched! The cave to camp stuff was postponed till next year.
Robert the Wonder Caver (a super-hard Austrian caver) came and gave us an excellent outdoor slideshow, showing some of his remarkable exploratory efforts. He invited us to the beer festival (where a number of people got thoroughly 'Schnappered'). We retaliated by inviting him to visit the end of KH.
A few lags then turned up, intending to climb the Trisselwand. Yet again an epic was had. They roped in a volunteer to make two ropes of two and set off, getting within two pitches of the top of the 700m face, before Jeremy decided he had sunstroke and could climb no further. That was 5pm. They descended to within 2 pitches of the bottom before a thunderstorm hit and the rope tangled simultaneously. They were out of the lethal main gully but the one they were in soon turned into a small torrent containing a lot a rocks. They could do nothing but cower, especially MarkF, hanging on the rope in the waterfall, trying to untangle it. They eventually escaped with the worst injury being a severely bruised shoulder, and another damaged helmet. They were just in time to meet the mountain rescue who had been alerted when someone saw their lights.
Robert TWC, when taken to the end of the cave, performed a remarkable traverse to the other side of Satan's Sitting Room allowing Aggy to do a stunning bolt traverse (see photo) and climb to a big window beyond SSR. He made the last move with both cowstails in the last bolt, and so was unable to get off at the top, having to hang there for several minutes until he was unhooked. He refused to move again for the next two hours! This was named 'Three Wise Men' after those who sat around proffering advice and taking photos. Beyond this window another chasm had to be crossed by penduluming to rig a tyrolean into genuine new passage. Here we found another 250m of passage: 'Tinkle Rift', 'Black Velvet', 'Far too Far' and 'Wellie Scraper'. There were also 5 big pitches to be dropped, but there was only time for a long survey trip before derigging.
DaveF soloed down 'The Hole Below The Pitch Below The Squeeze', now called 'Bladerunner' rigging down 120m to yet more complex big vertical stuff.
So we derigged, having found and surveyed another 2.0km of cave, finished off Puffball & Elchfalle, whilst increasing the number of question marks in KH to 41.
Cast of thousands :
Aggy Finn, Ali Morris, Andy Atkinson, Clive George, Chris Leveridge, Dave Fearon, Dave Howes, Fran Lane, Gill Lindsey, Glen Long, Henri Welbourne, Jane Herries, Jeremy Rodgers, Jerry Williams, Julian Haines, Julian Shilton, Justin Powell, Lone, Mark Fearon, Mark Mclean, Mark Scott, Matt Keeling, Mike Richardson, Olly Betts, Richie Perotton, Ruth, Sam Lieberman, Tina White, Tony Rooke, Wookey.