by Anthony Day
"In July 1994, CUCC mounted an expedition to explore and survey new caves in the Totes Gebirge near Salzburg in Austria. This was the eighteenth such expedition to Austria. Our main objective was to investigate some of the many leads in a cave called Kaninchenhöhle, which was found by CUCC in 1988 etc etc..."
What a load of bollocks, and I wonder if our sponsors find it any more interesting than I do. "CUCC go on holiday to Austria for four weeks and do a bit of caving as well" might be a more accurate summary of what follows.
As regularly happens, we were joined by a number of non-CUCC members, including a random American called Bob, an even more random caver from York by the name of Ralph, and four members of the University of London Caving Club, recently formed by CUCC member Ali Morris amongst others. We hope to continue having ULCC guests on expeditions in future years.
In the beginning...
The usual chaos associated with organising expo was compounded by the decision of Wookey, God of expo for the previous three years to go to Spain instead. Through not having the wit the volunteer for one of the easy jobs, the title of expo leader was bestowed upon Nick Proctor. To say that he greeted the news of his new responsibility with unbridled glee would be to entirely misrepresent the truth, and he spent the next eight months looking as miserable as the expo treasurer. However, a month before departure, he hatched a cunning plan to abdicate all his responsibilities by contracting glandular fever. This meant that the start of expo was delayed by a week, the title of expo leader was passed to a committee of Ali, Anthony, Petel and MTS, and the harassed expo treasurer won the task of writing half a dozen reports, of which this is one.
After many frantic phone calls between Cambridge, Holmfirth, Milton Keynes, Southampton and the Isle of Skye, transport of people and gear out to Austria was eventually sorted out (though at that point we didn't really know how it was all going to get back.) The first wave of cars arrived in Austria more or less on time (ie. on the right day), which owes more to good fortune than the mechanical soundness of the vehicles concerned, what with MikeTA's bodged clutch, Ali's percussive cam shaft, and Sean's car (which was towing the trailer) firing on only three cylinders from the moment he pulled away from the tackle store. (Incidentally, trying to push start a car on the dockside at Dover with a trailer still attached to it is a crap idea).
There then followed two days of efficiency during which we set up top camp (later moved 200m down the hill after it was decided that we had shafted the grass a bit too much), and rigged as far as Knossos and Algeria. By the time Andy A and Helen arrived, having travelled the scenic route via a German town that sounds a bit like Saarbrücken thanks to Helen's suspect navigational skills, we were prepared for a big effort on the caving front.
...there was the word
...and the word was with Festering and the word was Fester, which is exactly what we did for two weeks. Never in the field of speleological endeavour was so little done by so many for so long. Enthusiasm for caving was kept to a bare minimum, being mainly confined to AndyA and MikeTA. They introduced a variety of novices to the vast chambers and passages big enough to drive a bus down for which Austria is renowned (or so goes the bullshit that we had been expounding during the previous year), by taking them to a squeeze at the end of Gnome Passage. Strangely, few of their companions could be enticed to make a return trip. The squeeze lead to a series of rift passages and pitches. In an effort to prove their superhero status, Andy and Mike took our drill, Geraldine, and her outsize battery through the squeeze, only to find that Geraldine was in a fickle mood, so they dragged the whole shooting match out again - hence "Driller Killer" earned its name. They also surveyed out, recording 51 survey legs. On a later trip, Andy spent 40 minutes upside down a rift whilst trying to retrieve the drill power cable. Further trips found "Stomping," which isn't, and which eventually links back into Vestabule, and a chamber ("Dreaming of Limo") with a number of ways on.
Various abortive attempts to reach the far end were made, thwarted by tiredness, light failure and nice-weather-induced-jacking. To nobody's great surprise it was decided that underground camping would be too shit (though only after all the camping gear had been carted underground) and probably unnecessary after it was discovered that the campsite was only a four hour round trip from the entrance.
Sitting in the potato hut swatting flies and listening to "This Corrosion" playing on continuous loop on the expo sound system became the preferred pastime. The attractions of base camp in the sun were particularly appreciated by those who had experienced the washout of expo '93, though I think MTS regretted not investing in any suncream or a T-shirt with more colour and fewer holes.
The standard of base camp cuisine saw a welcome upturn, largely thanks to keeping pissed up rhinos at a safe distance from the stove and Sean's desire to prove that when it comes to cooking as in all aspects of expedition life, Oxford reign supreme (though his excessive use of whole coriander giving his slops the texture of birdseed did not meet with universal approval). The string of lentil curries was broken by a barbecue to celebrate Ali's birthday, at which the standing of the caving community was further enhanced in the eyes of the Gasthof residents by the raucous singing, loud stereo, and particularly by Ralph chundering all over their urinal.
Meanwhile, Anthony and others spent 70 caver hours in France finding that the big pitch near the top of Frog's Legs leads into Twin Tubs, which everybody knew anyway, a combination of inexperience, lack of confidence and good old fashioned slackness limiting their output.
At this point, more people began to arrive. Julian Haines was particularly welcome as he owned an estate car with a towbar, thus giving us a realistic means of getting the trailer and all the other shit back to Britain. He also brought out the new radio system, which had been carefully adapted from its 1993 predecessor such that it didn't work any more.
Steve and Kate appeared after hitching from the Alps, and Steve immediately started his assault on the beer tally by drinking 17 bottles of Gösser on his first day.
Another new arrival was Bob Bloodworth, a random American living in Germany, who had got in touch with Wookey prior to expo. His introduction to European style SRT was a trip down to Gnome with AndyA and MikeTA, and included a particularly nasty deviation. This trip popped out in Vestabule, thus meaning that the squeeze did not have to be negotiated again. Bob had more enthusiasm than the rest of the expo put together. In three days he amassed 33 hours underground and then went home - he will be most welcome again in future years.
The rediscovery of an old CUCC hole, labelled B11, caused some excitement, partly because it was jolly big with a six second drop followed by another four seconds of rattling around, but mainly because it was within spitting distance of top camp. Julian was volunteered to descend in dry grots, but having got about half way down, his zoom made the rest of the descent on its own, ensuring a later return.
Then came the dinner, by which time we had found the unimpressive total of 250m of cave. The dinner itself will be remembered for a notable feat of gluttony achieved by Kate, who became the first CUCC member to eat ten Mohr im Hemds in succession and fail to regurgitate any of them for a full fifteen minutes.
Apart from his exploits down B11, Julian's first real caving trip was the day after the dinner, which found and surveyed 250m of stomping passageway off Sultans of Swing, a pitch leading out of Algeria. This proved to be the most significant find of the expo, and revived interest in caving. The two main passageways were Mississippi, which resembled a dried up river bed, and a muddy passage called Mississippi Mud Pie. On the next trip down here, whilst Julian and Ali ran away and found even more huge cave, Anthony and Kate had the pleasure of surveying a scrofulous 30m crawl (Mohr im Hemd) which Kate had pushed with commendable enthusiasm on the previous trip. This was only worth the effort because it led to a sizeable chamber (Regurgitation) with a couple of possible leads, and sorely tested Anthony's cheerful demeanour.
The series of pitches and passages found by Julian and Ali, which in a fit of inspiration they named after biscuits reflecting the state of the rock, led into a stomping phreatic passage which emerged in the middle of a large pitch with spits in it. Much speculation and even more bullshit then followed about what we might have broken into, ranging from other parts of KH, to another French cave, to Stellerweg. An attempt to survey this the following day was aborted before it started after Kate couldn't find the survey kit we had been using the previous day and thought it might have been left down the cave. At least this gave Heather an introduction to Austrian caving, as she and Ali went to retrieve this only to find it sitting in Kate's gear at the entrance. When the survey was eventually completed, in one mega trip involving two teams of three who surveyed 600m of cave, the pitch was found to be an active shaft which runs parallel to Fat Not Fruity, so the spits are presumably French. The pitch was named "Skeleton in the Cupboard," as during the initial exploration Julian and Ali thought they had found the final resting place of an unfortunate caver, which turned out to be an oddly shaped rock. On the surveying trip, Steve, not usually the most enthusiastic of cavers, was so keen to get underground that he didn't bother to put his clothes in a plastic bag and just left them strewn about the entrance, so you can probably guess what the weather did whilst he was underground (boom.... crash....pitter-patter....)
Further trips down France linked in the survey with Fat Not Fruity, and pushed and surveyed "Fudge Brownie," a side passage off Mississippi. This led to a collection of loose rubble and earth levitating above a rift, named "Rocky Horror". The rift was found to link into the bottom of a pitch at the end of Mississippi, which was duly named "Black Suspender." MikeTS had an entertaining time climbing up a bank of choss in "Rich Tea Chamber" with the aid of a bolting hammer, which it was thought might lead to more passageway, but in fact concealed a pitch which was deemed too dangerous to bolt.
Meanwhile, AndyA, Bob and MikeTA finished off Driller Killer, surveyed and derigged. (The newly fettled drill battery packed in on its first trip). Despite all the easy stuff lying around in France, AndyA and Olly still worked up enough energy to push Exhaustion Pitch in the far northwestern corner of KH. They found a few hundred metres of cave which was draughty, cold and remote and thus named "Siberia," which ended in a pitch with a watery bottom.
Despite all this industry, we did find time for a little relaxation, zooming up and down the Halstättersee in a pair of pedalos, and going even faster down the toboggan run near Bad Ischl. 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. (Note for next year: Twin sleds go LOTS faster than individual ones). This escapade took place on the same day that AndyA finally managed to pester enough people into going to take photographs of Vestas and Duracells in the depths of KH.
So the second half of expo made up for the first, with over a kilometre of cave being found and surveyed. We even managed to make base camp less pleasant by not washing up for three weeks. Eventually, when the fetid aroma behind the beer tent had not subsided despite us having stopped pissing there, it became obvious that the festering pan collection was responsible, and Kate very kindly did the honours and washed up, using enough disinfectant to sterilise the whole of Austria in the process. The subsequent discussion, as to whether or not they had been adequately rinsed, following a suspiciously tangy omelette, produced an unreasonable amount of ranting on both sides.
The day after the photo trip, derigging began. Pete and Ali had the joyous task of derigging the far end, which led to the most succinct write up of expo ("It was fucking hard, we were fucking shagged,") whilst Anthony, Julian and Martin finished some surveying in France and then derigged out. Since Julian and Anthony were going to do the lion's share of the derigging, they packed Martin off early with a full tacklesack. Martin thought it seemed a little heavier than normal, and this could have been because it was a quarter full of hangers. On the next day, AndyA, MikeTS, Steve and Olly finished derigging from Knossos, with Olly adding a little interest by dropping a tackle sack off the top of Bungalow. Julian also went to retrieve his zoom from B11, which is described in the old literature as a 50m shaft, choked at the bottom. It was thought that maybe it hadn't been fully explored. Guess what? B11 is a 50m shaft, which is well and truly choked.
Then followed the usual procession of overloaded cavers staggering down the mountain, followed by a mammoth rope washing session in the river. This offended one Belgian Gasthaus resident sufficiently to earn her a suitable volley of abuse from Julian.
At this point, Kate's bloke appeared, full of bullshit about how he'd been appointed Grand High Wizard of the International Veterinary Students Special Wanking Sub-Committee, or some such illustrious post. We bade them farewell as they set off to hitch, initially to Budapest, with two huge packs and a collection of veterinary text books on a trolley with a branch lashed to it for added comedy.
Then it was all over for another year, leaving KH now over 12km long (and still not bloody well finished), a number of promising leads in France (which still rains boulders on the unwary), and a big pile of empties to take back to the supermarket. Expo had not been as successful as it might have been, but we had still found another 1.8km of cave. Andy fixed his brakes, which had given him an exciting time coming down the toll road, most of the expo was packed into Julian's car and the trailer, and off we went. The two drivers of the latter vehicle (Julian and Anthony) were quite comfortable, but their passenger (Steve) probably realised he was going to be in for a hard time when the wall of shit next to him on the back seat collapsed as we negotiated the first bend. Never mind, it's only 16 hours to Oostende...