In July 1994, Cambridge University Caving Club mounted an expedition to explore caves beneath the Loser plateau in the Totes Gebirge of Austria - not for the first time. The principal focus of the expedition was the complicated Kaninchenhöhle system - not for the first time. We found some more cave (1.8 km) and still have enough leads to entice us to return next year at least - not for the first time.
For the umpteenth year out of umpteen, a motley collection of 18 cavers, 5 cars and 1.4km of rope installed themselves outside the Gasthof Staud'nwirt near Bad Aussee to amuse and entertain the local population for another Summer. Amongst our number were four cavers from the University of London Caving Club (ULCC), founded by CUCC member Alistair Morris and others in September 1993. They made a full contribution to the expedition, providing both money and equipment in addition to cavers. We hope to continue welcoming ULCC members as guests over the next few years.
There were times when it seemed doubtful that the 1994 expedition would get off the ground. The expedition leader for the previous three years, Wookey, decided to go somewhere nicer this Summer, and so the reluctant Nick Procter took over the reigns. However, a month before departure, he contracted glandular fever - one of the more watertight excuses for abdicating all responsibility for the expo - and so the title of expo leader was bestowed upon a committee consisting of Anthony Day, Pete Lord, Ali Morris, and Mike Pigram. Despite this setback, and a chronic transport shortage which was only fully resolved two weeks in, the expo got underway only a week late.
The first wave of intrepid adventurers arrived on Sunday 3rd July. That all three car loads arrived on schedule without a major incident owes more to the inherent good fortune which follows these cavers around than the mechanical soundness of their vehicles. There then followed two days of supreme efficiency, so that by the time the fourth car arrived on Tuesday evening, we had set up top camp (though it was later to be moved 200m down the hill because the grass was in a poor state) and rigged in the cave as for as Knossos from 161a entrance and Algeria from 161c entrance ("France.")
The scene was set for a big effort to find lots of cave... So we festered in the sunshine for two weeks. Some people did spend rather too long pratting around on a big pitch in France which everyone knew was going to link into Twin Tubs from 1993 (it did, and was duly named "Top Loader") and there were a few abortive attempts to reach the far end. It had been planned to camp at the far end this year, but to nobody's great surprise it was decided that since the proposed campsite was only a four hour round trip from the surface and was in a cold draughty part of the cave, underground camping would be both unnecessary and too unpleasant. Unfortunately, we only worked this out after all the camping gear and food had been taken underground.
Most of the caving during the first half of expo concentrated on a lead at the end of Gnome Passage. This was mainly investigated by Andrew Atkinson and Mike Richardson with a variety of partners, for few other people made more than one trip to this part of the cave. Maybe this was due to the squeeze at the beginning, which must have come as a surprise to the novices who had been fed stories about unexplored passages big enough to drive a bus through during the year. Andrew and Mike had a nice time dragging our electric drill and it's cumbersome heavy battery through the squeeze and the rift passage beyond it to the top of an undescended pitch only to find that it didn't want to drill any holes: Thus the pitch was named "Driller Killer." (On a later trip, Andrew spent 40 minutes upside down in this rift whilst attempting to rescue the drill power lead.) This section of cave was eventually found to link into Vestabule.
By the time of the expo dinner, halfway through expo, we had found the unimpressive total of 600m of cave. Clearly we would have to make a more concerted effort during the last two weeks. At this point Julian Haines arrived, which was good news since his car had a tow bar and we now had a realistic means of getting the trailer load of gear back to Britain. He took a party down France the day after the dinner to investigate a pitch leading off Algeria called Sultans of Swing. In one trip, they found and surveyed 250m of cave with several promising leads. This proved to be the major find of the expo and revived interest in caving. A long boulder strewn passage became "Mississippi" because it resembled a dried up river bed, and the muddy side passage was named "Mississippi Mud Pie." This started a trend for naming bits of cave after items of food as subsequent trips explored and surveyed "Fudge Brownie," and a series of pitches passages and chambers named after biscuits which reflected the quality of the rock for bolting.
One trip discovered a long phreatic passageway ("Infinite Improbability Drive") which contained footprints and emerged in the middle of a big wet pitch with spits in about 30m above the floor. This led to much speculation about what we had broken into: Was it the main part of Kaninchenhöhle? Was it another French discovery on the far side of the ridge that we knew nothing about? Was this the rumoured and much bullshitted about connection with Stellerweg, the longest and deepest CUCC find to date? When the survey was completed and linked in, it was found that we had in fact broken into an active shaft which runs parallel to Fat Not Fruity - another part of France. The spits had been placed by the French, so there must be a way into the top of this big pitch. Although there are many theories as to where it may be, the connection has yet to be found.
Further trips down France discovered a rift passage at the end of Fudge Brownie, the roof of which was made of loose boulders and earth supported (in typical Austrian fashion) by thin air. It was called "Rocky Horror." This linked in a nice loop to a pitch at the end of Mississippi, which was named "Black Suspender." On one trip to this area, one of our novii learned a valuable lesson: In Austria, where thunderstorms are common, it is not a good idea to leave your dry clothes strewn about the cave entrance open to the elements. In total, we found another 1150m of cave in this area of France, with many promising leads remaining.
Two individuals still managed to work up enough enthusiasm for a trip to push Exhaustion Pitch, in the depths of the main part of Kaninchenhöhle. They found and surveyed another 140m of passageway culminating in a pitch with a wet landing. So remote, cold and draughty was this part of the cave that it was named "Siberia."
Despite all this industry, we did find time for a little relaxation, which usually meant sitting in the river warding off the local population of biting insects. We paid a visit to nearby Halstatt and re-enacted some of the great naval battles in history in a pair of pedaloes on the adjacent lake. On one day when some lucky individuals got the chance to take photographs of Vestas and Duracells in the depths of Kaninchenhöhle, some of us went to play on an artificial toboggan run. The regular clientele probably suspected there were some reckless nutters in their midst when we showed up on a swelteringly hot day wearing long trousers and long sleeved shirts.
All too soon it was time to derig the cave, which was completed in three trips. Then came the annual sight of waves of cavers staggering down the hill with overfull rucksacks, and standing in the river washing all the rope. We then packed most of the expo into one car and a trailer, and bade farewell to Austria on Friday 29th July. Roll on Expo '95.
Despite a slow start, and considering the many difficulties encountered before leaving Britain, the 1994 CUCC expedition must be regarded as a success, with another 1866m of cave found, bringing the total length of the Kaninchenhöhle system to 12009m. There were still enough leads remaining in Kaninchenhöhle to keep us going for another year. However, there are almost certainly many more holes in the plateau waiting to be walked into. Given that Kaninchenhöhle had been the main focus of our expeditions since 1989, it was considered that in 1995 a concerted effort should be made to find some of them.
1995 report from same article...