In the summer of 2009, twenty-two brave, hard and (mainly) good-looking cavers from CUCC (plus some guests from other clubs) returned to the Totes Gebirge mountains in Austria to continue exploring the cave systems of the Loser Plateau. The expedition lasted for four weeks.
Over the past three decades, CUCC has explored many different caves on the Loser plateau. Bit by bit, connections have been found between these caves (and also potholes explored by other groups, such as ARGE). This has resulted in the formidably-named Schwarzmooskogelhöhlensystem, a 55km long and 1km deep goliath.
For the past ten years, the focus of CUCC's expeditions has turned to the exploration of Steinbrückenhöhle. This has slowly been extended over the years and is now a major cave system in its own right: 16km long and well over 600m deep. It lies to the north of a cave in the Schwarzmooskogelhöhlensystem known as Kaninchenhöhle. In 2006 Tunnockschacht was discovered, and recent expeditions have also been dedicated to its exploration. Tunnockschacht lies to the north of Steinbrückenhöhle.
There were hundreds of promising unexplored leads in Kaninchenhöhle (KH), Steinbrückenhöhle (204) and Tunnockschacht (258), and this was reason enough to continue exploring. In addition, there is now a very realistic prospect of finding connections between the three caves, thereby extending the Schwarzmooskogelhöhlensystem.
For more details see the mission statement.
Some rather hard exploration in 2007 established that the closest point between KH and 204 was at the bottom of a particularly miserable rift known as Razordance. So it was decided that a more pleasant way of seeking the connection would be to look from the KH side, in the Far North, where happily there were also many large undescended pitches to look at.
In addition to returning to KH, plans were afoot to continue exploring leads in 204 and in 258. At the end of the 2008 expedition a new horizontal level was found, named Pussy Prance (in "honour" of Razordance). Meanwhile, Tunnockschacht was still "going like a train", and its southern extremities were tantalisingly close to the north of 204, so this was also an exploration goal for 2009.
This year's expedition also had a non-caving goal (not just drinking Gösser). Recently members of CUCC have started to develop a piece of software called Troggle, which aims to facilitate keeping track of logbook entries, typing up surveys, caves etc, and save time in a lot of the work that goes on behind the scenes when expo is over. This year was the first time Troggle would be tested "in th field" (well, spud hut).
And so it was that on the 18th July 2009, various cars from Cambridge, Sheffield, Bristol, Southampton, Norway and France converged on the campsite at the Gasthof Staud'n'wirt, Bad Aussee. In keeping with expo tradition not all the vehicles quite made it unscathed, Julian and Becka experiencing a rather exciting "bonnet-on-the-windscreen" moment on the autobahn.
The first few days were spent carrying equipment and supplies from the top of the Toll Road to the bivy near the 204 entrance, and setting up the bivy (tarps, water collection, mouse-proof food storage etc). Then the caving began.
Initialy, things progressed rather slowly in KH. The first few trips were spent cairning a route from the bivy to G entrance and then bit-by-bit navigating our way to the far north, replacing some of the very old fixed ropes and frighteningly rusty maillons as we went. Finally we were ready to start looking down some of the big undescended pitches in the area.
The pitch near Satan's Sitting Room, dubbed 'Satan's Sitter' was the first to be explored, dropping for 50m before ending in an inpenetrable rift. A similar story was met near Silent Fellow, where a 30m pitch 'Solid Rock' led to a promising looking series of clean washed drops. Unfortunately, once again a narrow rift was met and the lead was finished.
As is often the way, things started to look particularly good towards the end of expo. By now the route all the way to East Anglia had been rigged. A very promising pitch series, '6 Mile Bottom', was dropped until the rope ran out. It is still a going lead. Various other big black spaces were also found. Further back in Repton, an exciting-sounding bit of climbing led to a large, straight walking sized passage, which, again, is still a going lead as time ran out.
Altogether, 776m was surveyed in KH and more A-grade leads were found than were ticked off, so if nothing else, we showed that there is still plenty more to find at the far end, and that a connection to 204 is still a realistic possibilty one day! KH is now 22.3 km long.
Meanwhile, in 204 the expo Women's Institue (dubbed Team Zeus, for reasons long since lost to Gösser) were exploring the pitch series, Pussy Prance, that was discovered at the end of last year's expo. At the bottom (a bit over 200m down) they found an exciting new phreatic horizontal level with various feline-themed names: Puss in Bolts (a traverse), Cat Flap, Cat Walk, Snow Leopard and er... Painted Lady.
On one particular trip there was a little confusion when a pitch, Snow Leopard, was dropped for the first time, only to find foot prints, a pencil and a hanger at the bottom! This turned out to be the bottom of Brian's Phat Shaft. In fact, this was a very useful discovery as it offers an alternative, much easier route into the level than the route via Merry Fucking Christmas.
In total 553m of cave was surveyed in 204. Survex shows that the new level is perched vertically above Razordance and not too far from Hauchhöhle. There are vertical leads in Hauchhöhle, and plenty of vertical leads in this new level of 204, so cleary there is some exciting caving to be done here in the future. 204 is now 16.5km long.
In previous years, most of the horizontal leads in Tunnockschacht had been ticked off. Attention had turned to dropping some of the frighteningly airy pitches, in the hope of finding a lower horizontal level which might offer hope of a connection with the Wares in 204.
Frustratingly, the pitches all seemed to 'crap out'. However, this year, another 100m deep monster, 'Usual Suspects', was dropped and a new phreatic level found at the bottom, with many ongoing leads. It turned out, however, that this pitch has a tendency to take a little water when it rains, as Becka, Julian and Steve found during initial exploration of the horizontal phreas. As an almighty thunderstorm raged on the surface (basecamp claimed to find hailstones the size of golf balls) they were sat at the bottom of the Usual Suspects for several hours cowering in a 'tent' made of survival bags. The thunderstorm passed, but their call out time also came and went and so the well oiled CUCC rescue machine swung into action once more. Eventually the water levels dropped and everybody returned to the surface unscathed - see Julian's logbook write up for a far better account than the one here!
Plenty more was found higher up in Tunnockschacht. Stone Money was extended further and the explorers were convinced that it should by now have reached the surface. Several new caves were found by Frank and Martin J in an effort to connect Stone Monkey to the surface, but as yet Tunnockschacht only has the one entrance (although to be fair it does function quite nicely). Altogether 1462m of cave was surveyed in Tunnockschacht; it is now over 6km long and 290m deep.
Expo 2009 is now over, but writing cave descriptions, typing up logbooks and drawing up surveys continues. We found just under 3km this year. The overriding feeling is that there is plenty more cave still to be found in all three of the major caves we looked at, which bodes well for future expos. In addition Troggle looks like it will soon come into its own on expo and streamline all the basecamp computer-shenanigans.
Thanks go to all the expedition members and in particular everybody who helped get stuff organised both before and after expo. Thanks also to our sponsors for their help this year.