1999 will see the twenty third annual summer expedition to Austria by the Cambridge University Caving Club. A number of major goals are set out for this year's expedition, along with a great deal of other work both on new projects and continuing documentation of previous exploration.
For eleven successive summer expeditions, C.U.C.C., and its post-graduate sister club ex-Cambridge Speleologists, have been exploring the Kaninchenhöhle cave system in the Totes Gebirge of Austria (about 80 km east of Salzburg). A major goal of the 1997 trip was to link the cave with a deep shaft system, Steinschlagschacht, first explored by the club in 1983. This was successfully achieved by means of some rather spectacular traversing of a ledge system 40m above the floor of a large chamber, giving an increased depth of 507m for the combined system. After the 1998 trip, a new deep point was reached, making the cave 534m deep and 22.4 km long, ranking as one of the major caves of Europe.
To the south of Kaninchenhöhle lies another major cave, the southern Schwarzmooskogel system. Parts of this were explored as long ago as 1938, but the major central part of the cave, Stellerweghöhle, was explored by CUCC in 1980-85, to a depth of 973m and a length of some 7km. Other parts of the cave have been explored by both French and German groups, and the total length of this cave was over 20km before some new exploration in 1998 by ArGe.
After 1997, the gap between these two systems is about 130m, in passages at much the same level. The 1998 expedition eliminated some of the more obvious leads working from the Stellerweg end, using the nearest entrance, which leads into a spectacular ice-decorated chamber. Various climbs down and up were pushed, finding some new passage, but no convincing way on towards Steinschlagschacht.
A major goal of the 1999 expedition will be to search for new passages in the area of this gap, via the Steinschlagschacht entrance. Linking the two systems would involve us not only in exciting new exploration, but also in a great deal of tie-up surveying to establish definitive figures for the length and depth of the combined system. Current survey information suggests that the linked cave would be well over 42 km long and 1056m deep, making it the third or fourth longest cave in Austria. This would also put it among both the fifty or so deepest caves in the world and the fifty or so longest. Few caves make it so far up both the long and deep lists - truly a cave of world significance.
Our German friends from Stuttgart, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Höhle und Karst Grabenstetten e.V. (ArGe) have explored 7km (up to the end of 1997 - more this year, too) in one of the linked caves in the southern system and are still working in cooperation with us in the area. We are also in contact with the French Groupe Spéléo de Clerval - Baume les Dames (GSCB) who explored part of this system in the 1980's. Liaison with these groups, as well as with the local Austrian cavers Vereines für Höhlenkunde in OberSteier (VfHO) is an important part of the work both on the expedition and during the year-round documentation effort that goes on at home in the UK.
Other areas of Kaninchenhöhle also merit attention, with over 230 unfinished ways on documented in the cave. Some of these were quite remote when first found, but have been made much more accessible since the discovery of the lower-level Scarface entrance in 1995.
The Far North of the cave has not been revisited for some time, but is now rendered rather easier of access. If enough people attend the expedition, this area is also one of potential interest, as are any of a number of other areas. Any of the 230-odd going leads could gain access to significant new extensions. For example, a rather unpromising lead in a 1996 find gave access to the Lost World in 1997. This was a rather unexpected, but very impressive series of horizontal passages developed at a level lower than any of the other major horizontal development in the system.
The production of an accurate survey of all the cave newly explored by each expedition has been a goal we have increasingly met in recent years. This has been aided on the surface by computer technology, of course, but in the cave, still requires the investment of considerable effort and manpower.
Away from Kaninchenhöhle itself, CUCC have explored several dozen other caves during the two decades we have been visiting the area. A number of high-quality survey points established by laser-rangefinder and theodolite are now available, and these combined with GPS units, are enabling us to relocate many of these and provide a much higher standard of documentation than was regarded as acceptable in the earlier years of our exploration. Although something of a "background" task, this work is important, and will undoubtedly lead to the discovery of more new caves as the surface is covered more systematically than previously.
As always, publication of a report, with photographs, maps and surveys, is an essential part of the expedition's activities. In recent years, the aim has been to provide a printed report in the autumn following the expedition, for circulation to our sponsors and others. The main publication is a full report in the CUCC journal "Cambridge Underground", whilst briefer resumé articles appear in the British Cave Research Association Bulletin "Caves and Caving" and in the popular magazine "Descent". Surveys and photographs of new finds are presented in a lecture at the annual BCRA conference, despite this being within only three or four weeks of the expedition's return each year.
However, the main avenue of publication for the great mass of detail which each expedition generates is now via our club website. This contains annually revised descriptions of all the explored cave, as well as a wealth of archive material which we could not contemplate publishing on paper. As well as our own material, there are links and summaries of the work of others in the area. Links are also provided to other caving clubs' sites (many CUCC cavers go on to join regionally-based clubs when they graduate, whilst still continuing to cave on the expedition) and of course to the websites of our sponsors.
Expo '99 will be five weeks to include August 11th, although as usual dates are flexible according to when people want to go/leave. Typically there are people arriving/leaving on every weekend so it is entirely possible to go for as long or as little time as you like.
Transport is pooled to minimise cost, but overall costs are variable and difficult to be precise about since it depends on factors such as how long you go for and how much beer you drink.
Expo 1999 is currently at the "blue sky" stage, serious planning having barely started. This year's volunteer for Expedition Leader is Andrew Ketley who will no doubt be circulating details of what prospective members need to do. One thing worth doing early is applying for the various sports and travel grants available from most colleges.
Likely people of vast previous experience to contact in Cambridge are Julian Haines (mail <JHaines> on site scigen.co.uk, recent expo leader, and keen to let someone else have a turn), Sam Lieberman (mail <sam> on site avroind.com) and Tony Rooke. Last year's leader was Tim Vasby-Burnie (mail <trv21> on site hermes.cam.ac.uk). The information in this website is maintained by Andy Waddington (mail <austria> on site pennine.demon.co.uk) and Wookey (mail <wookey> on site aleph1.co.uk), where any questions or suggestions will be welcomed.
Both the Far North and the southern Schwarzmooskogel system link are ambitious projects, so there will be plenty of scope for hard caving and new exploration. But those 230-plus other leads include easy ones near entrances, and much of the other work will not need mega-hard caving talent, so there should be plenty of enjoyable caving and walking for everyone, regardless of fitness or experience. Expo takes a while to get moving, but it is always worth while discussing options from early on.