CUCC Expedition Handbook - Expo Website Genesis

Taking Expo Bullshit into the 21st Century

Cambridge Underground 1996, pp 61-62


[This article was published in CU 1996, shortly after the site was put on the web. The text is reproduced without change, but the URLs were updated (in 2006) to reflect the then location of these pages.]

For many years, the only documentation of CUCC's activities in Austria comprised the Log Books written "in the field" and an article or two in the annual "Cambridge Underground". A few write ups appeared in "BCRA Caves and Caving" or "Descent", and occasionally a lecture would occur at the BCRA Conference. The standard of underground surveying was poor and, for the most part, surface surveying was non-existant. Often the only way to find some of the earlier cave discoveries was to collar the people who found them and get them to show you. Regrettably, even this didn't always work. Looking for going leads often involved grovelling on the floor of the Potato Hut to find an old logbook in a tatty cardboard box, then wading through it to find the relevant write up and trying to make some sense of it. All this before even going underground !

Today, we exchange survey data with other groups working in the area, and all of CUCC's internal and published documentation is available in a few minutes anywhere in the world. Logbook write-ups are linked to cave descriptions, maps, and even colour photos, and "every" going lead or prospect is cross-referenced to the cave description. What on earth happened to bring this all about ?

Two things - technology, and Kaninchenhöhle. The technology made it all possible, and Kaninchenhöhle provided the stimulus to do it.

To explain: for many years, Andy had been quietly sticking all of CUCC's cave descriptions, together with what translations of Austrian ones I could get/make, into a catalogue of caves which was supposed to be useful in Austria to prevent duplication of effort, and to avoid losing caves completely. A printed version occupied a very hefty ring-binder and was not found tremendously useful, particularly as maps were somewhat lacking. Trying to get the information to keep it any less than about five years out of date was also a losing battle. Some of the cave descriptions are inevitably quite complex, and Kaninchenhöhle, in particular, has so many side leads and connections between main routes that the description was becoming impossible to understand.

It is a feature of complex cave descriptions that the main route becomes hard to follow as more and more side passages get into the description. If the side passages are instead described somewhere else, then it is equally difficult to follow the route to the going leads at their ends. There doesn't seem to be an effective solution to this in a printed guidebook, but by writing the description in hyper-text, the side passage descriptions can be removed from the main route without making them inaccessible. At each junction, the passage is merely noted, and the main description continues. But the note includes a LINK which can instead be followed to read the full description of the side passage.

This approach was adopted for the KH description and proved rather successful. However, the resulting description lacked context, and soon links appeared to various other text files, which in turn were turned into hypertext. The process gradually took off, until by last year's (1995) expedition, all the cave descriptions were in this form, with additional material to describe each area on the surface and the approaches to use to get there. There were also a few photographs in the archive, though hardly enough to be useful.

A few journal articles and some of the older logbooks were also on disc, and it immediately became obvious that the value of these could be enhanced by adding links to the other material. Hence a cave description could have a link to the trip which discovered it; trips could be linked to the previous and subsequent trips to the same place (not necessarily in the same logbook) and journal articles could likewise be linked to the relevant cave description.

As the process took off, the gaps became more obvious, so progressively more logbooks have been transcribed and journal articles either retrieved from mouldering floppies or typed in afresh. Some early (and painful) attempts to represent logbook sketches in ascii text have been superceded by scanned-in material and the archive continued to build.

All of this represented a considerable amount of work, and the danger with such things is always that it will get lost, neglected or fall into disuse. However, stuff on disc can always be distributed to many people, in the hope that even if disaster befalls one copy of the archive, someone else will have an intact copy. In this way, hundreds of kilobytes of updated descriptions were soon passing backwards and forwards by email between Andy and Wookey each week. But the material was still only available to a tiny handful of people.

The format in which all this work had been carried out was, from the very start, the very same format which was needed to make it widely available on the Internet in the form of World-Wide-Web pages. Soon, Wookey managed to find us a server which would put it all up for global access. This revealed a very large number of problems with the system, but a couple of weeks work fixed most of these. A Cambridge University Caving Club home page was created, and the expedition archive (by now around five hundred separate files) hung below this. The CUCC pages are still a bit limited (the Home page, a brief description of the club and one of exCS, and an (old) version of the Novice's Guide to CUCC). However, it is hoped that CUCC itself will provide up-to-the-minute pages covering current club activities and perhaps even a weekly copy of the club newsletter ?

It is hoped that by the time you are reading this, all the extant logbooks and all the Cambridge Underground articles will be on the server, together with fully up-to-date descriptions of all CUCC's caves that we still have info for. The "Expedition slide set" which has been in gestation for over five years might even come together this year, in which case a Photo-CD can be made and a lot of much more useful pictures added to the archive. This is by no means the end of the road however. There are still many surveys and logbook sketches to scan, and we have a clickable map of the surface to take you straight to the cave descriptions (but unfortunately the server does not yet support this). There is foreign material from other groups in the area to add, and we have links to another web site being run by one of the German groups working in the area. The format allows for things like video clips and sound, as well as text and photos so we have the tantalising prospect of bringing a load of drunken students singing "Wild Caver" to your computer screen...

However, like the caves themselves, the web site is not easy to describe in printed text. We hope you'll try it for yourself, get enthused about expo, and want to come along and contribute. We hope it's structured so that you can find your way about fairly easily - if you have problems, please let us know so that we can fix it during the ongoing process of development. To ease your way, here are a few selected entry points. Note that the names are case-sensitive, and that the initial "cucc" is lower case.

[All those links are now incorrect and don't work. They have been commented-out. Press ctrl-U if you want to see them.]

If there's anything you think is wrong, anything you think is missing, or anything you have to offer to add, please get in touch at

Andy Waddington (mailbox 'Austria' on site '')
Wookey (mailbox 'Wookey' on site '')

and finally, the entire web edifice will be out in Austria [in 1997] on one or more machines in the Potato hut for expo members to browse through (and add to) to answer all your questions about the caves of the Loser Plateau ! If enough interest is shown, and enough photographs digitised, the current "state-of-the-art" may be put onto CD-ROM. The site has outgrown floppies, but can still be fitted onto a ZIP disc so, for the time being, if you haven't got Internet connectivity, the edifice can be supplied on disc.

Andy Waddington