Cambridge Underground 1994 pp 35-39

Austria 1993

"Oh yes, I'm pretty sure it must have rained,
The day before you came"

It did. Lots. Every day. For four weeks. At the beginning it had seemed like the glorious excesses of last year - Spencer turned a peculiar shade of lobster after the first carry, and we were even permitted to put our tents up in peace. Exhilarated with the joy that is Austria, Adam's tale of a knife wielding, stone throwing, psychopathically criminal Bulgarian driver was much appreciated, and we settled into the beer and Hilde's free schnapps.

Adam's presence forced some enthusiasm into the first arrivals (Clive, Spencer and Nick) who had been worrying about finding the cave, since Clive had been there only once the previous year and the other two were novii. This worry was justified as Nick and Clive continued their run of directional disability - first Juniper Gulf via Clapham, then the awful escape from Salzburg, miserably failing to find S'not, and finally the search for rucksack cave.

Adam had found this while prospecting, abandoning the traditional technique of throwing a rock down it, preferring to lob his rucksack instead. Eventually retrieving it, he ran out of ladder, so he marked it with a cairn, 'for future exploration'. Exploration of the plateau maybe. The attempt to find it by Clive, Nick and Spencer was put off first by Clive being desperate to avoid caving and going into the pleasant ice cave, "Glitterstompf", instead, and then the rain beginning. A measure of the optimism of the expo up to that point was shown by Spencer leaving his cag at base camp, "because it hadn't rained the past few days".

Meanwhile AndyW arrived, bringing MikeTS and a van of crap, even bringing a spare tent for his gear, if you can call it that. His light was so ancient (when was the last time a stinky made an appearance on expo?) it gave him the excuse to leave the cave early while Adam and MTS carried on rigging in. He then lent it to Tess for her tourist trip to Knossos, along with his "novel" SRT gear, which turned a pleasant trip into a rant. She left fairly quickly after this.

Team France arrived from Dauphiné, JulianH, Ali, Petel and Hugh packed in one car being noisy with their lungs, and much later that day, Wookey and Tess being noisy with the van's freshly broken exhaust. After a day to recuperate and drink beer, the first portion were swiftly off to France, although unfortunately this time it was the cave. They set up the new improved radios at top camp, and carried on down the cave to run out of rope at the top of the pitch. After ranting at the rope while escaping, they found Austria showing it's teeth in the shape of lightning bolts steadily advancing their way, and decided to make a run for the car, claiming it was awful when they arrived back.

Adam was not quiet during this time - he had an old question-mark hacking away at his mind, took MTS to go and look at it, and found 'Final Cut' in Gob. However this was all a bit active, so a short pause was in order to carry some more crap up. Clive's tent poles finally arrived, allowing top camp to be set up with all the piles of flapjack, veggie meals and the one flavour of Vesta we had this year. The radios were fettled as far as they went, with the new booster providing more opportunity for us to broadcast all over Austria except to top camp.

A few souls pushed back the inevitable onset of more caving by taking the new 200m rope to a big cliff above Toplitzsee where the Austrians said there was a 200m freehang. This involved a strenuous walk up the side of the cliff, then a tentative walk down the steep wooded slopes, which would have been alright has it not been for the immense slipperiness of the surface (but the leaf mould provided surprisingly good grip in the end) and the knowledge that there was a drop just past the trees. When they were within a sensible distance, Wookey was volunteered to tie the rope to a couple of trees and go down to see if the rope reached. After the usual faff he set off properly, and after what seemed like hours later he stood on top of his van half a mile away, which was the signal for 'pitch free!' On average it took the descenders about a quarter of an hour to get down, mostly filled with thoughts of rubbing ropes, the knot at the end for Wookey, and Clive's thoughts on melting STOP's. It was generally agreed that it had now been Done, and this was a Good Thing, since no-one need try it again. (Apparently the Austrians did it on 4 50m ropes!)

The same day, Gob was bottomed by Adam, Nick and MTS. They found footprints on the floor - it joined Dehydration. On leaving they then had the usual tally of light failures, Nick ripping the lid off his Oldham/FX5 in the slot of Final Cut and MTS's just generally dying. Adam had been let out first and the other two followed slowly out due to being over caved and under lit. Nick's opinion of his trip was to be found in his illegible drunken ranting a few days later - "Once upon a time there was a caver. He was fucking hard. Nobody liked him", and "Caving is shit especially with hard bastard adam He is so hard I want him"

Team rant (Ali, JulianH and Pete) were busy playing down France and throwing rocks at each other. They liked the rebelay at the top of Algeria - 6 inches into a huge rock ceiling - but didn't like the huge rock Ali dislodged from Orient Express and sent rumbling towards the others. This was to cause problems later while derigging as it landed on the rope, was too big to move by hand, and so 50m of rope had to be fed underneath it, making the whole pitch take 1½ hours to derig.

The first trip to The bitter end (Far Too Far) was made by Lummat (who dropped and broke the new, small, light drill battery), JulianT (who wants to rename Boulder Alley, Shit Alley and hates endlessly sucking on fudge) and Wookey (who has this strange desire to rig mental tyrolean traverses across Hyper Gamma Spaces). They spent most of their time rigging to get there, and Wookey went down the virgin black crusted mud of Anglia while Lummat started rigging a small pitch. They emerged at dawn, having been underground 16 hours.

Everybody was frightened, knackered or at least wet by now, so it was decided to have Ali's birthday party as an excuse to have nice food rather than bean slop. He and MTS had shown their skills earlier by sharking some German girls ("she was at least fourteen, honest") and when trying to find their rooms at half past midnight were intercepted by their teachers who were awake and sitting in ambush. Some swiftly cobbled together excuses about the toilets were mumbled before they scarpered. Since then a party of Czechs had shown up, in much improved tents since the previous year. They had a collection of even younger girls, which was just the ticket for our two intrepid Cassanova's. Ali had to be dragged away to be fed his birthday cake and be thrown in the river, and rounded his evening demonstrating his newly found prowess at firebreathing (taught by Adam).

Meanwhile, Nick was secretly sitting in a corner of the Potato Hut writing his drunken ramblings...

Then came the New Question of the expo, caused by France being loose and Far Too Far being so : "Wookey, can I have a question mark near the top, please?". Proponents of this school of caving were primarily Anthony, Hugh and DaveG, the others just going along for the ride. Lummat and DaveG went down past Arrow Chamber, and Anthony, Hugh and JulianS surveyed at the bottom of the second pitch. The latter trip went ok, but after Lummat and DaveG's discovery of the "Chunder pitch" series their trip started going wrong. Dave has started to feel ill at the top of S'not, and by the time he was prussiking up the entrance pitch he lost all strength. Hanging aroung on the last rebelay for over an hour, vomiting for around twenty minutes, he got dragged out by Lummat eventually. Then there was the small matter of it being foggy, dark, and neither of them knowing the path back very well.

At top camp, JulianS called base camp to tell them a call out had been missed - the radios were used at last. Lots of running around was done, people who had been drunkenly laughing ten minutes previously suddenly claiming they were sober, Ali dragged himself away from the Czech girls and a CB was jury rigged into Wadder's van. An hour after the call, they were storming up the toll road, Wadder's rambling drunkenly over the radio to whoever would listen. With typical caver timing he stood on the jury wire and blew the fuse just as top camp sent one final message with 3 zoom batteries held together since the main battery was dead : "All Clear at top camp". Fortunately, base camp received it, and relayed it to the car just in time for Wookey to catch up the rest who were already hurrying to top camp.

The next day, those unfortunate to be at top camp were treated to rain, sleet, mist, drizzle, hail and an over inch of snow. All the cars were hiding at base camp, the radios were dead, so they were happy, until Lummat and MikeTS went to carry on where Lummat left off before, and they were all able to leave in time to miss the real weather.

Even CUCC get bored of sitting in the rain. Wookey and Adam were first to break, going up to see all the snow on the plateau, and then down to survey and derig Gob. On the same day Lummat, Nick and DaveG got to survey "Chunder Pitch" series, a cloudy clino having cleared up while prospecting, and JulianS, Anthony and Hugh played pushing again. Top camp was still too awful, so they left fairly quickly, Anthony minus his socks so his boots wore about fifteen little holes in his toes. This combined with his flooded tent made him even more dour than usual.

France then went deep, changing from big pitches and chambers to a typical Yorkshire streamway, with cascades, pools etc. and an awful sump at the bottom. Having got suitably wet, team rant felt too keen and zoomed back to survey and derig up to Algeria, which is when they found the stuck rope. To continue the proud expo tradition of broken feet, Pete blistered his prussiking and swore a lot.

Because of the amount of caving required to get to the far end, people began prospecting around that area of mountain. This yielded nothing except a few small shafts, one of which JulianT got stuck in until he was given a bolting hammer to make it bigger. So it was time for another long trip. Going into the cave was uneventful - the silly rigging was marvelled at, and Wookey and MTS were left to set up camp while Lummat and Clive continued Lummat's previous rigging. This led nowhere except a pile of mud, so they were sent off to survey Anglia (because it's flat and horrible) while the others played rigging. Some later they all decided to leave, which was again uneventful until Knossos where the queues began. Clive was last, prussiked slowly and took a wrong turn at the top of Boulder Alley. By the time he had climbed down from his mistake he was knackered, saw what looked like obvious bolts and he was lost. Eight hours of shivering later, trying not to fall asleep, he decided to look at the bolts, which turned out to be carbide marks, and he was in fact just at the top of Boulder Alley. Having confirmed this by walking down to the Knossos rope, he set off again and found Poxy pitch, and was happy. He was even happier when he met the rescue team (JulianH, Ali and JulianS), who gave out food and light when his finally broke.

Having made their exit, met by "Tea or Coffee?" and other such comforts, the weather broke and it was a collection of miserable wet bedraggled cavers who wound their way to base camp.

It was so awful everyone hung around in base camp shouting at each other about the lack of bolts, slings, sunshine, nice food etc. Then in a break from tradition, team rant split up, Petel being sent to the far end with Wookey and MTS, and JulianH and Ali taking Anthony (mended at last), JulianT (too many bloody Julians...) and Spencer (caving! only 3½ weeks into expo) into France to explore Algeria some more. They found "Twin Tubs", and sent Spencer down a hole. Upon emerging from this he was heard grunting and cursing like a very rude monkey, the tackle sack having draped itself in a particularly painful way round his bollocks. Ali and Anthony hid behind a boulder "cringing with each wail of pain" while the hardier Julians carried on surveying.

The first CUCC camp for many a year began that day, the far end trip being the fools. A measure of the success of the camp is that the Vesta meals were a high point. They intended to sleep in cheap hammocks obtained from the Army and Navy stores bolted to the wall. What they actually spent their time doing was hanging on trying not to fall out all night and consequently got no sleep. Conversely, Wookey, who had approached the whole thing in his usual slack manner, borrowing a thermarest on expo and sleeping on a ledge, had a wonderful night. The campsite itself was reasonable, at Beehive where there is water and not too much wind.

Their caving was hampered by losing the Hilti driver on the way in, and the expected hand driver which was supposed to be at the end having mysteriously disappeared. This meant they spent their time surveying, rigging pitches awfully off naturals and going up scrotty holes. Eventually this got boring, the mud got everywhere and they weren't going to be able to get any more sleep so they left, carrying too many tacklesacks. And yes, it was raining again as they emerged.

Then up rolled a big van, with the other DaveG (you thought the Julians were confusing) who was a teacher at JulianH and Hugh's school. Instead of teaching them boring things like German, which would have been useful on expo, he took them caving. His redeeming features were fluent German, so all the confusing liaising bits could happen, and some tins of meat. His contribution to extending Austrian caves was limited to looking at the top of KH and deciding to go home again.

Seb, who is fat, turned up late too. He brought some sun for Clive's birthday party, so was forgiven. Team rant and Hugh took him caving down (surprise surprise) France, where despite all their efforts, question marks persisted. Then some water came down. It had been dry for almost 36 hours, so it had obviously been saving it up - 2½ inches in 15 minutes at base camp, flooding it, and Algeria suddenly got wet and windy so they all left.

Then all that had to be done was derigging. Had everybody spent all their time caving this would have been an even longer and more arduous task than it was, but fortunately they didn't. JulianT brought an estate car full of festering gear with him. The hang gliding was awful all holiday - on his last flight he got hassled by a helicopter with a dead cow swinging by its neck below - but he and Wookey got to go diving. Robert The Wonder Caver had taken up cave diving, so he was able to provide free air and take Julian round all the things in Grundlesee put there by a mad local who went there too often.

Bicycles put in another appearance, Wadders going for the downhill record, Clive beating his previous best, and mountain biking on road bikes providing diversions. Nobody went up the toll road - it would have been too awful! That left the beer festival, which was quite jolly as the Austrian cavers gave us a bottle of schnapps, Robert the policeman carefully ignoring Clive's protests of "No, I'm driving".

So, as is traditional in these things, all came to an end. The caves were derigged, Wookey and MTS being superheroes and carrying out six tacklesacks betwen them in one trip, then going down the next day for more. Only a couple of people were left up the mountain, Anthony with a hole in his knee and Spencer carrying a stupid amount of gear, then we got to pack it all away. The last day was sunny, and being really dim, we left the campsite strewn with bits to pack in the morning. We thought it wouldn't rain, because it hadn't all day. What happened? Nothing. "Hooray" we went as we went home, all terribly sorry the expo was over and wishing it would go on for ever. Or not.