The expedition committee in 1995 was a little inexperienced, with the leader having been to Austria only once, and the treasurer and equipments officer both being new to expedition caving. Despite this, the organisation went quite smoothly, with only a few minor glitches, such as the leader opening the Sports Council interview with the phrase: "We were going to wear suits, but there's been a bit of an error." Not recommended in future.
So when July came around Expo was ready to go. It was around this time that Anthony Day and Nick Procter first laid eyes on the nice trailer which Wookey had found for us. The wheels were the size of tuppenny bits, and were attatched to the body by rust, the spare was flat, and one of the indicator bulbs had blown. They changed the bulb and, satisfied that the thing was now legal, attempted to tow it a thousand miles.
Two blowouts and hassles with National Breakdown meant it took 48hrs to get to Austria. However, on Tuesday 4th July we established Base Camp, and the laborious carries up to Top Camp began. Once established on the plateau, a team set off to rig into France and push some of the many good leads discovered in 94. However, they arrived in the area of France entrance to find a large, featureless snow field, due to unseasonal snow-fall in May. Much digging ensued over the next couple of days, accompanied by even more muttering and grumbling, but the entrance did not appear.
Eventually it was decided that we would have to forego the easy leads in France and try some of the scrotty small question marks in Kaninchenhöhle main entrance, which, over several trips yielded some worthwhile finds. The "Doubting Thomas" series descended 100m down tight rifts from Dreaming of Limo chamber. Also found was the "Oral" series, encompassing, amongst others, "throat" and "tonsils" pitches. It remains a mystery why cavers developed such an interest in head-and-neck anatomy while spending a month in the field.
Meanwhile some snow had melted and some cunning navigation and frantic digging had revealed France entrance. The first rigging trip was aborted as a novice caver got strung up, but the second trip was successful, and cavers swarmed into "Algeria" to grab the best leads. A new pitch into "Twin Tubs" was named "Daz Automatic", a chamber at the end of "Mohr im Hemd" was named "Regurgitation", and a hole in the floor in Hob Nob passage dropped into a promising 3m wide passage, which unfortunately choked after 100m.
A major disappointment was that once again our radios failed to work, especially after the effort of erecting the huge Base Camp aerial and carting the necessary gear up to Top Camp. However, our resident sparky, Julian Haines, redeemed himself by sawing up one of the aerial poles and creating a cave-proof drill battery which was both effective and practical. Armed with this, we finally bottomed "Sultans of Swing", the large pitch which we got off halfway down for most of the '94 finds. The pitch turns awkwardly back under Algeria, then drops 40m in two pitches, sumping at 320m depth.
Wookey and Andy Atkinson arrived for the latter part of the expedition, and soon afterwards went on the trip to end all trips. All lethargy about repeated KH trips was soon to disappear after the finds of the last week of the expedition. Going down France, they first checked out "The Forbidden Land", a truly appalling bit of cave at the end of Mississippi. This was the southern most part of Kaninchenhöhle and therefore worth a look. A tiny, muddy, wet thrutch came out at the bottom of an utterly desperate bolder-choke. Traversing this carefully, they found themselves in a huge rift running in the NNE/SSW direction. One wall was collapsed and the floor was strewn with huge boulders. At this point they heard a horrible rumbling noise from the hole they had just crawled through, and hurried back. Fortunately only a couple of rocks had fallen and they weren't trapped, but all present declared this the scaredest they had ever been and vowed never to return.
However, the stuff they had found had been huge, and was also in the direction of Stellerweg. They decided there must be another way in, and went looking...
... and they soon found a trivial traverse over an undescended pitch, which led to a nasty squeeze. Pushing the 3m passage they found in both directions, Wookey found a 5m draughty choke climb which led into a totally huge space now named "Staudinwirt Palace" after our base camp Gasthof. From this led a windy, 10m wide passage containing bat droppings. Another entrance nearby perhaps? Following the breeze led to an even wider passage, "Triassic Park". Around 20m wide in places, this was all becoming a bit too much, so they surveyed out and returned gloating to Top Camp, making the less experienced members feel a little stupid that all this cave had been found down a lead that should really have been explored the year before but which hadn't even been included on the survey.
The next trip another 350m were surveyed and the passage was still left going strong. The survey data put us close to the side of the hill. If a new entrance could be found, we could effectively leave our SRT gear at home for the next expedition! Faced with this exciting prospect, a team went into France to try to find 161d from the inside. They went downwind, following the bat droppings, and went through a couple of ridiculous squeezes with gale force winds blowing through them (one named "Battle of the Bulge"). They found a skull, and some moths, and moments later they found daylight. 161d was promptly named Scarface due to a recent rockfall from the cliff above.
The easiest way to walk back to Top Camp from Scarface has yet to be discovered. All routes so far have involved difficult climbing on the limestone terrain, soan advance party is likely to head out early to Austria this year to search for a more feasible route.
To give an idea of the scope of the newest finds, in the last 9 days of the expedition we found and surveyed 1500m of cave, and there are 72 new question marks on the 1996 list. Kaninchenhöhle is now over 14km long in total.