2000 sees the twenty fourth annual summer expedition to Austria by the Cambridge University Caving Club and the last one of the current Millennium. 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 twelve 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).
To the south of Kaninchenhöhle lies another major cave, the southern Schwarzmooskogel system including the stunningly beautiful ice-cave Schwarzmooskogeleishöhle. 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 22km in 1999.
In 1997 Kaninchenhöhle was linked with a deep shaft system, Steinschlagschacht, first explored by the club in 1983, giving an increased depth of 507m for the combined system. Steinschlagschacht was not rigged in 1998, as the expedition was a small one, and work concentrated on a reconnaissance of the nearest points of Schwarzmooskogeleishöhle to the passages in Steinschlagschacht. This revealed a few leads, but no connection. Other members of the 1998 trip pushed Kaninchenhöhle itself, achieving a new deep point at -534m.
After 1997, the gap between Steinschlagschacht and the Eishöhle was about 130m, in passages at much the same level. The 1999 trip returned to Steinschlagschacht, finding a major way on with surprising ease via a lead overlooked when derigging the Footlights Traverse in 1997.
This area of the cave, Chile, totalled 2½ kilometres with a deep point 440m below Steinschlagschacht, but, amazingly, ran parallel to the known trend of the southern Schwarzmooskogel system, and only narrowed the gap to some 80m, with no immediately obvious likely connection point.
Linking the two systems would involve us not only in further 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 47 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.
Elsewhere in 1999, a new cave, Steinbrückenhöhle, was found beyond the known extent of Kaninchenhöhle to the north. This shows many similarities to the caves further south, and reached a depth of 226m at the head of a big black pitch of 40m or so. There is great hope that this cave will drop into the same major horizontal development seen in Kaninchenhöhle, and eventually produce an easier route into the remotest parts of the cave, as well as adding its own length and 28m of depth to the main system.
The main Expo 2000 dates are July 15th to August 19th inclusive. However, Wookey joined Arge's initial 2000 trip at the end of May (the Spring bank-holiday week), on which a kilometre of passage, mainly in the old part Eishöhle, was surveyed. A few leads were pushed, and a report is on the site. This work wasn't expected to push closer to making a link, and no work in Kaninchenhöhle or Steinschlagschacht took place on this trip.
For the main expo, it would be useful to have people who are interested in Eishöhle (but didn't go in May) out during the first week, as it looks like that will be our only overlap with Arge's main summer trip. However, as always, 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. As a guide - over the last 3 years it average out at £200 + £40/week.
1 week = £240
2 weeks = £280
3 weeks = £320
4 weeks = £360
5 weeks = £400
The £200 gets you there and back and use of the gear, the £40/week covers food, camping, insurance and typical bier consumption...
The Expo 2000 committee are:
Most up to date information is available on the student website at http://mrs30.quns.cam.ac.uk/expo/
The southern Schwarzmooskogel system link is an ambitious project - 2.5 km to a depth of 440m in 1999 was a good result, even if a link wasn't achieved. This is probably more passage than we expected to find making the link, all from one easy lead among the first to be looked at. There is no reason to believe that 2000 won't be at least as successful - Chile just emphasises how much passage can easily be found in a part of the mountain that we thought was pretty much explored. A 50km/1000m+ system could still be ours before the millennium ends ! Steinbrückenhöhle also has the potential to go deep and long, so there will be plenty of scope for hard caving and new exploration. But those 250-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.