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161 Kaninchenhöhle: Mainline to Siberia


From the massive collapse at Knossos/Tower Blocks, the Northerly trending main trunk of YAPATE and Chicken Flied Nice rise gradually up dip, punctuated by an abrupt step up at a small fault at Staircase 36. This fossil phreatic passage seems to stay consistently within the same bed of limestone as far as the significant change of direction leading to Strange Downfall. At this point, the cave becomes more maze-like, with passages going north and northwest to Exhaustion and Siberia, and others going more east and northeast through Repton towards the most remote parts of the system. The complex development of the Leadmine area provides links between Exhaustion and Repton.

As exploration is incomplete, and the big trunk passages seem to have disappeared, it is difficult to single out a "main way on" to the north. However, the deep route from Siberia is now the deepest point of the cave, and this is the "logical" destination of a tourist trip. The other routes are described in terms of the "normal" or shortest currently known ways to the remotest points of the cave, with the proviso that further exploration may reveal more direct or more logical ways.

"Traditionally", the easiest way to Siberia is across the tyrolean at Strange Acrossfall, and through Leadmine. However, the current pushing generation feel that Burble crawl is sufficiently short that it is almost certainly quicker, even carrying gear and assuming that the tyrolean was already rigged. Since the ropes have been removed, the tyrolean is no longer considered a "main" route, except when approaching the far north.

Knossos and Star Wars (1988)

Knossos photoWhether reached from Right Hand Route or Triassic Park, Knossos is the key to the deep routes and the extensive sub-horizontal system to the north. The 30m Knossos pitch from the Right Hand Route drops onto large boulders sloping northwest, at the southwest side of the 60m diameter chamber. The route from the third pitch along Minoan Surprise in Triassic Park lands on boulders at the eastern side of Knossos, from where a route down towards the lowest point reaches the same place. Up this pitch (if rigged) the quickest exit from Knossos is via Triassic Park.

Knossos photo - 26k Star Wars photo

Just downslope from the foot of the Knossos pitch, following around the wall northwards to the lowest point of the boulder floor, is a walking sized route through a boulder choke, Star Wars. It is so named as looking up at the stupendous roof boulder is reminiscent of the huge spaceship at the start of the film. Through this is lots of jumbled rock and open space. Over to the left, a gap looks over the cliff west into Tower Blocks and to the right is a steep, loose climb down and a small rift passage in the right hand wall. At the foot of the climb the way on is to go left down a slope SW into Tower Blocks. To the right is Tower Hamlets, which is very obvious on the way back so the junction should be remembered.

Knossos survey: 28k gif

Tower Blocks (1988/1989)

The chamber is large, domed, about 20m high in the centre and contains some really big fallen blocks. From the normal route in, via the 4m slope from Star Wars, keeping to the right hand wall leads round to the north to the foot of a sand slope up NE into Tower Hamlets. A little left (north) is a col at the start of the 8m wide passage to Waterfall Chamber and Carrefour.

Across Tower Blocks is Olympus.

Carrefour (1988)

Over the col and down the boulder-floored passage north from Tower Blocks, a route leads into a wide open area, Waterfall Chamber. There is a deep blocked pit to the left with a large wet window through the wall behind, looking over towards Flapjack. A lot of water is falling from the roof into the pit. Continuing by the right hand wall leads to a junction with a very big phreatic passage. This junction is Carrefour (French for Crossroads, and part of the long-term supermarket series).

Turning left at Carrefour (SSW) leads past the very wet window into Waterfall Chamber (good water source) to Flapjack, a large pitch, the far side of which can be reached from Olympus. Straight ahead at Carrefour (NNW) is Toilet Block. To the right at Carrefour (NNE) is the major trunk passage of YAPATE Inlet (Yet Another Pitch At The End).

survey - 20k gif

YAPATE Inlet (1988/1989)

A large phreatic passage, with a deep (about 10m) vadose canyon, is now an inlet to the Carrefour area, but was originally an up-dip downstream passage. This goes northwards for 100m with an inlet on the left and a large wet pit about half way along, bypassed by a 2m down-climb on the right hand side. 25m beyond this pit (c 30m from the end), a sandy slope up on the right to a straight rift apparently ends quickly but ducking under the right wall leads to Flat Battery Series.

At the end of YAPATE is a dodgy traverse (permanently rigged) over a hole in the floor to a boulder-floored area with a way on up the end wall, Staircase 36, and a 12m pitch down - Gob on You to the left.

Chicken Flied Nice (1990)

survey - 16k gif

Above Gob on You is a 10m up-pitch, with a rope in place, Staircase 36 (named such by its climbers, who spent a lot of time festering on its namesake in Churchill College).

This climb gives access to another 100m of large up-dip phreatic passage, Chicken Flied Nice, with only a shallow floor trench. The pitch is formed where YAPATE is intersected by a small fault, and the roof attains the same horizon as that followed by the roof of YAPATE itself.

Geologic cross-section of CFN
Visible geology of the CFN/Burble crawl area.

At a 90° right bend 80m on is a narrow inlet, Burble, in the left wall. At this corner, the passage changes: the floor trench cuts down and widens to a high stream rift which opens onto a big space, Hyper Gamma Spaces.

Any method of crossing this space now involves replacing ropes via a long round trip, and this makes it much less viable as a way on. However, this would probably be done if contemplating any further work beyond Repton under which heading it is described.

Burble (1990/1991)

At the 90° corner in Chicken Flied Nice, where the passage changes into a canyon, a small streamway passage comes in on the left. A strong draught can be followed up here for 20m to a high aven. A waterfall comes down on the right (along with most of the draught). There is a traverse 2m up around the right hand wall leading to a 2m climb into Burble Crawl, the most obvious way out of the aven. A tape assists the move up into the passage for shortarses.

A difficult 2m climb above the Burble entrance on the right (one bolt for security) gives access to Shelf Indulgence. There is only an impassable rift (in back wall) and a small chamber here (on the left).

Burble Passage starts at stooping height, but rapidly degenerates to crawling, flat out in some bits. 90m of passage leads to Vom Pitch. A short traverse around to the right leads to 25m of walking passage to a boulder blockage. The traverse to the left has also been made (another bolt here for retreat), but it proved to be a dead end.

survey - 16k gif

Vom Pitch is 37m deep, rigged with a short traverse line, a rebelay 5m down and a deviation from a small thread below a rock bridge (at c 20m). Below this is a further deviation tied to a small rock embedded in the mud/rock wall which continues below this point. At one point (above this latter deviation ?) is a sort of ledge where the pitch intersects a hading section, forming a large convoluted chamber. This ledge can be reached from The Maze. Below the final deviation, a pendule over an undescended (though possibly blind) hole [C1997-161-21 B] reaches a large boulder to which the rope can be tied off for a tensioned abseil to this boulder floor of the chamber. There are ways out in the eastern corner and from a ledge 8m up the northern side.

The eastern passage is the key to the Leadmine and Maze areas. It comes almost immediately to a T-junction. Left is the Maze and the main way on to Siberia. (It soon unites with a crawl on the left coming from the northern side of the chamber below Vom pitch, whilst the main way right (north) here is bigger).

Right at the first T-junction is the Leadmine, leading to Repton and the far north.

Leadmine would be the logical approach to this point from the surface, if Strange Acrossfall was safely rigged. This route is described now. For the continuation towards Siberia, see below.

Repton I to Siberia via Leadmine and Maze

Up the slope in Repton I, just beyond the easier climb through boulders, is a wide inclined bedding on the left hand wall. This descends 10m into the Leadmine first explored from the other end via Burble crawl. A further 25m of straight passage heads northwest, until a 4m down climb on the right is reached, dropping down into three sand-floored chambers. Left out of the first chamber up a 2m climb goes northwest for a few metres to another junction. Straight ahead dead-ends in 5m, whilst sharp left (south) leads in 15m to a junction. Half left is 20m to Soil Pitch, but sharp right leads northwest again. Turns left and right and a short step gain a long straight passage heading northwest. After 25m on the left is the original way in from Burble (at the foot of Vom Pitch), whilst straight ahead up a short climb is walking passage - the Maze.

Maze (1991)

Left at the T-junction below Vom pitch if coming via Burble, or straight ahead if coming from Leadmine, is the Maze. This passage continues north from the junction, walking uphill for 15m to a small chamber with a sandy ledge 2m up on the right, and a crawl from the top of it connecting back to the roof of the passage just traversed. The obvious way out of the chamber is left in a very high, pointy rift, which is awkward to traverse along over the holes / rock bridges, especially coming back. 15m of this comes to an awkward bridge down to another T-junction. The crawl to the left winds back to ledge 8m up Vom pitch, and thus to a climb back down into the chamber below it. Right in larger passage (a mixture of hands & knees crawl and hading rift) leads north to a widening and a muddy 3m climb down with a musical flake at its head, dropping into 2m wide passage. To the right, a crawl back towards the last junction is quickly blocked by sand.

To the left, a stooping passage through a shallow pool, Duckpond, and lots of gloopy slime leads northwest into the face of a strong draught. In about 20-30m, Exhaustion Pitch is reached. This is a 22m deep hading pitch with a deviation on the opposite wall 10m down. At the foot is a small window leading to a roped 9m climb down through flakes. The main passage here is tight and may bend round to the same spot. The foot of the climb was the 1991 limit [C1991-161-02].

Siberia (1994-8)

The passage from base of climb beyond Exhaustion Pitch starts as an awkward thrutch along a rift, then continues as stooping passage with a sandy floor. After 50m of gently descending passage, fairly consistently southwest is a T-junction, Not This Junction (end of 1994 survey at a depth of -304m from 161a (Alt. 1482m)). The floor of the passage entered here is about 3m below the passage from which you enter. A draught goes from right to left, as well as out towards the Maze. To the left is Fuzzy Logic, and to the right is larger passage taken to be the way on.

The right hand passage continues as a mixture of walking passage and thrutchy rift over a small pit in the floor [C1997-161-22 C]. Ahead, a small chamber where water enters from above to the right and disappears down a smaller hole. Several passages lead off at this point.

Right leads into a small chamber, Greengables, with initially easily climbable rift off to left [C1997-161-23], and small passage to right (not pushed) [C1997-161-24]. Half-right leads to rift junction where high left hand passage returns to main way, as does straight ahead. Right leads into oval shaped rift with ~6m aven [C1997-161-25]. Ahead is main way, passing two small passages off to left opposite returning loops mentioned above. These two unite in easy crawl in muddy phreatic passage which does not appear to close down. This latter passage does not seem to have a lead number.

Left after Greengables is a small lead [C1997-161-30].

Beyond Greengables, following the draught leads to a stooping passage turning into rift which leads to the end of 1994 exploration at -302m from the 161a entrance (alt. 1484m) at the head of a 3½ second drop Somebody Else's Problem [C1994-161-58].

20m before Somebody Else's Problem are two leads in the right hand wall, [C1997-161-31] and [C1997-161-32].

Somebody Else's Problem (1997)

Four bolts, moving round to the right and to a rebelay down from the pitch-head, lead to an almost-free hang in this fine 7m diameter shaft. A number of windows can be seen leading off this. After 42m, the rope is rebelayed to a spike and the descent continues for a further 27m, for a total depth of 75m.

At the foot is a chamber 5m across with a 3m climb down to the right. This is immediately followed by a 10m pitch in two steps to a small chamber where the water sinks and reappears. The passage now corkscrews round to the left and leads to a very short but awkward rift and a 4m drop. Beyond is another small chamber and an 18m drop. Across this pitch head, small crawls can be seen leading off left [C1997-161-28] and right [C1997-161-29]. At the base of the pitch is another chamber and the passage continues as a traverse in rift about 5m above the water, ending at a sharp left turn at the next pitch head. This lands in yet another small chamber with horizontal passage going off to the right to some further climbs down. The passage, Auspuff, continues in fine form, still draughting towards the main cave at the limit of exploration in 1997 [C1997-161-26 A]. This is at a depth of 421m from the 161a entrance (alt. 1365m).

Midnight in Moscow (1998)

From the small chamber below the final 1997 pitch, the passage leads off right, traversing over a slot in the floor for about 8m to reach a position overlooking a further small chamber, this one containing a rock bridge. At this point, the slot in the floor widens and can be descended to the head of a further climb (tricky, best roped using a good thread belay). Emerging into the chamber seen from above, the way on is a short descending passage to a small pitch, rigged as a Y-hang from a bolt on each wall.

Following almost immediately is the large black space of Midnight in Moscow. Two bolts at the head of this pitch are backed up to the preceding pitch rope. The lower bolt needs two maillons to avoid a rub, and the first 23m of the descent are against the wall. A small knobble on the right then provides a deviation, and five metres lower, a thread on the left provides another. Below this, the pitch hangs free as the descent continues down the centre of a significant widening of the shaft - apparently where it intersects a (choked) large phreatic level. Continuing free, the rope drops below this level to reach a boulder floor 55m from the takeoff.

At the foot is a further pitch with a loose pitchhead, and a small hole on the opposite side of the shaft, which provides a much better shelter from drizzling damp and debris dislodged from the lower deviation. The pitch is 10m, rigged from a single spit as a continuation of the rope from above. At its foot are three ways on. To the left is a climb up to an aven, which seems likely to connect with the black space 10m above the foot of Midnight in Moscow. To the right is a climb down, following the water through sharp, brittle flakes, which becomes too tight. Opposite the rope is the main way on, which leads via a crawl and past an aven, to a rift passage. This ends at a short (5m) pitch. Doubling back under this is a crawl to an aven.

Forwards, opposite the rope, the way on leads to an awkward climb down through an eyehole to a series of dried-out cascades in an old streamway, Rasputin. The last drop needs a rope, dropping 4m from naturals to a sandy mud floor. A faint draught issues from a mud choke, with no way on. This point is at 1269m altitude, 527m below the 161a entrance - the deepest point of the system at the time of exploration.

Ten metres above the foot of Midnight in Moscow, the widening blackness resolves into a sloping mud and boulder floored chamber. This can be entered by a swing on the rope, but all ways at this level choke. It appears to be a remnant of phreatic passage c 15m wide, heading on 320-140°. Only a 25m length is clear of choking sediment, presumably eroded away by the stream responsible for Midnight in Moscow. To the SE of the rope, reached by traversing the slope, is another parallel pitch, presumed to connect to the aven seen from below.

Fuzzy Logic (1997 / 1998)

Coming from Exhaustion Pitch, a passage is met at Not This Junction, with a 3m slot in the floor and a draught blowing from right (SEP) to left (Fuzzy Logic) and outwards back towards the Maze. The left route was not pursued for any distance when first seen in 1994 [C1994-161-59 A].

Turning left, an easy traverse down leads to an area of some complexity, but following the largest passage at each turning leads through it (other routes either link up or end quickly). An awkward step across a small pit is followed by a climb up and then a traverse along the right hand wall above an undescended pitch [C1998-161-01 A]. Beyond is a slope down to a pitch, undescended in 1997 [C1997-161-27 A], Paradox Rift.

Fuzzy Logic Pitches

The head of Paradox Rift is in a slot in the floor of a large, dripping aven [C1998-161-02 X], which soars out of sight overhead. The rigging is backed up to a handline which protects the approach to the pitch down a ramp. A Y-hang gives a pitch of about 4 metres to a small chamber, from which the second pitch follows almost immediately.

A short constriction separates the chamber below the first pitch from the second pitch, although this poses no difficulties. A safety line through the approach to the pitch head serves as a backup to a Y-hang, which provides a descent against the wall for about 40 metres, passing a deviation and later a rebelay below a large ledge.

The third pitch is reached from the foot of the second pitch by swinging to the right while still attached to the rope from the last rebelay. There is a rebelay about halfway down. Approaching the bottom of the pitch, swing across the chamber to reach the head of the fourth pitch. Ignoring this swing across, the apparent way on quickly becomes too tight.

The Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Pitches follow on immediately from each other and are short, scrappy descents against the wall, except for the Sixth and final pitch which hangs free of the wall for about 15m.

Psycho Street

The final pitch in Fuzzy Logic ends in a chamber with three ways on. Two of these, opposite the rope, are climbs up of about 2.5 metres. The left-hand climb is up a boulder pile, and is much harder than the right hand choice! Both ways re-join immediately and lead to Psycho Street. To the right of these climbs, following a small flow of water, the other way on leads to Clear as Mud. To the left of the climbs is a possible low, wet way on, which was not pushed [C1998-161-03 C].

Above the climbs, Psycho Street starts as a traverse in the roof of a narrow rift. After 6 metres, a right-angled turn to the right is followed by a slight constriction leading into roomier passage which turns leftwards, and immediately overlooks a pit some 3 to 4 metres deep, which it is possible to traverse around to the left. A climb down into the pit can be made most easily towards its far end. At the bottom of the pit is the way into Bearbum Passage.

Psycho Street continues beyond the pit as a small passage of highly elliptical cross-section, with the major-axis of the cross-section inclined at some 40 degrees to the vertical. After a few metres, a rock bridge spans the passage. The way past is a relatively easy thrutch above the bridge, although the return is more difficult. A final section of crawling leads into an enlargement of the passage to form a spacious rift chamber some 15 metres long. The continuation of the crawl at the far end of the chamber is choked with mud and rock, and is probably too small anyway. A climb up on the left-hand wall of the chamber leads via a short crawl to the foot of an aven about 15m high [C1998-161-04 B]. There is an obvious passage leading off at the top of this aven, and a booming echo. A cleft in the aven wall may make scaling this a relatively easy task.

Just before the constriction at the start of Psycho Street, it is possible to climb down back underneath the traverse in two steps each of about 1.5 metres, to reach a point looking down a short pitch into 'Bearbum Passage'. This pitch has never been descended, since the route described above requires no tackle.

Halfway along the traverse round the pit just after the constriction, is a small hole in the roof. Climbing up into this leads into an ascending passage, which ends in a calcite blockage after about 20 metres.

Bearbum Passage

Having climbed down into the pit in Psycho Street, the way doubles back to head under the constriction at the end of the initial rift. Here a small chamber is entered, from which the way on is a narrow rift. The obvious way to enter this rift is a squeeze at floor level, best tackled feet-first, which leads to some moderately acrobatic passage before opening out somewhat. A better option is to climb up to the top of the rift, where the going is much easier, and then drop down into the wider section beyond. Soon a point is reached where the route splits.

Straight ahead is a short climb down into a chamber (containing an attractive overhanging bed of cemented pebbles, immediately to the left of the climb down). To the right is a crawl, from which windows give glimpses of the chamber. After a short distance in this crawl, a double bend leads to a junction, where the left fork is a narrow, steeply ascending tube [C1998-161-05 C] containing calcited pools (one of which has a dead spider trapped in it).

The right fork enlarges, and splits again. Straight ahead here the passage continues as an easy rift, before suddenly turning, after about 15 metres, into an awkward squeeze to the right into a parallel, very tight rift [C1998-161-06 C]. This was pushed, with the enticement of a booming echo, but was abandoned after a dodgy moment with a detached carbide pipe. The left hand turn at the start of the easy rift leads to an exposed climb down into the chamber with the cemented pebbles. From this chamber, the only way on is a climb down through boulders in the floor, which doesn't go. The deepest point of this series is at -415m from 161a (-424m from 136).

Clear as Mud

From the foot of the final pitch in Fuzzy Logic, facing away from the rope, there is a pool to the right. Water from the pitch above flows out of this pool to run down a walking-size passage, before disappearing down a tiny hole in the floor after about 15 metres. Beyond this the passage continues dry, and rises steadily. An aven is encountered, which has been climbed for about 10 metres until it closes down. Various mud constrictions are passed before the passage finally ends at a mud choke some 70 metres from the foot of the last pitch.