Tunnocks - Going Nowhere fast

Sun 02 Aug 2009
Julian Todd

After many days of fruitless hacking on troggle, then losing my mp3 player sometime in the process of canoeing across Toplitzsee, and returning to hoards of very beery Austrians moving in on Base Camp like leiderhausen-clad apes with camper vans, I was seriously pissed off enough to go caving.

Team Tunnocks-string (Steve+Becka) had reportedly found some new horizontal levels at the depth of the 'Wheres in 204, causing Becka to bounce down to Base Camp in order to type in her notes, only to find that she had forgotten to pack them in her bag. She had returned to Top Camp and tried phoning them down to me so I could type them into the computer, run the calculations, and find out where they were going in relation to the rest of the cave.

All I could see on the screen was a little knot of loops at the bottom of a 100m pitch, because that's all she had surveyed. Steve complained later about how all they did was survey short loops around phreatic pillars and not actually go anywhere. The wide open leads that were left undone were not part of the numerical data.

Lacking sufficient toll road passes to justify driving up on my own, I was pissed off enough to cycle up the hill (easy after a mental two week Alpine cycling holiday) and walk in to Top Camp without any mp3 audio entertainment to keep my mind from stewing in its own thoughts, just in time to cook for all the returning cavers.

In the morning, Mike TA also showed interest in team string's discoveries, so we were four.

"It's only a hundred metre pitch, same length as the entrance pitch, which you know you can do, and the knot pass is just like a rebelay," said Becka.

Accounting for Becka's legendary reverse bullshit about things she is keen on getting people into, it sounded absolutely horrendous, but as I was still so pissed off with the world in general that this was a moment to do something very scary owing to the terror of falling to one's death not being at the intensity what it normally should be.

At the entrance, Mike and I enjoyed the perfect weather and sunshine while Becka bashed around the bunda looking for the 30m rope that MartinH had secreted under a rock like someone hiding the nice cheese in an unexpected part of the fridge.

There were two knot passes in the entrance pitch, but they were on the snow slope, so were trivial. Steve left his bothy (a silly rolled-up orange plastic sheet that cost him all of five quid) at the bottom of the entrance for people to keep warm under while waiting for others to get out.

Becka launched herself down the 100m Usual Suspects pitch without any issues. Then Mike headed down and hit the knot linking the two bits of rope 25m down, 75m above the floor, and found he couldn't down-prussic with his new product-designed-to-look-more-attractive-in-the-shop-window-though-not-function-as-well-as-the-old-version Petzl chest jammer, freaked out, and came back up. He went off to join the Holly and Noel trip in the next door passage, until his lights failed, and then exited the cave on his own before anything else went wrong, thus breaking any naive design in troggle for relating caving trips to logbook entries with T/Us to what people actually did.

Meanwhile, down at the knot, I was having a hard time due to a total lack of experience with knot passes, my fear of heights inducing hyperventilation and tunnel vision, and Becka shouting up from a great distance below that she was getting mightily bored.

I miraculously reached the ledge 70m down, stepped across it, and descended down the last 30m into the main chamber. Then I had to find a secluded spot under a boulder to deal with the consequences of scaring the crap out of myself for the last 45 minutes.

And so we went forth into the new discoveries.

Becka and I left Steve to rig his traverse with the 30m rope along a wide and drafty passage where the floor was missing and surveyed some mud and bat bone encrusted phreas while squabbling the whole time about whether we should explore the straightest, largest, ongoing passages first, as opposed to painstakingly measuring around every single trivial visible loop to produce numerical data that, if phoned down excitedly to someone at Base Camp, merely renders a little knot of loops at the bottom of a big pitch that don't go anywhere.

Meanwhile, Steve at the traverse changed his direction of attack from the right hand wall to the left hand wall to get to a "4m diameter phreatic passage."

My arse.

He'd actually found one of those Kaninchenhohle-style quiet rifts where all the rock has rotted into rounded boulders coated with black skinned cheesecake slime. A narrow squeeze and climb down under a tall thin col reached a wide slippery pitch edge over a two second drop and ten second rumble. And that was that.

We returned. Becka derigged the traverse rope, and we all went back to our nice proper phreas to survey a couple more legs. I headed off for a slash, and, while I was waiting for the others to arrive, the sound of hidden waterfalls appeared like a radio turned on to loud static. It was exactly 6:30pm.

Uh oh.

I manifested another dump. These states of scaring the crap out of myself are inconvenient.

The pitch now had a foaming river running down it. Becka tried to prussick up it, changed over after about 15m of becoming clean washed, and came down.

Change of plan. We were not going to get out any time soon.

We didn't return to the nice sandy passages we had been exploring because they were too windy. We tried making a place to sit it out at the far end of the pitch chamber in a deep open pit of clean razor sharp rocks. Becka and Steve unwrapped their emergency bivi bags (body-sized clear plastic bags) and pulled them over their heads cutting a hole in the top. I had nothing, of course. It was rubbish. After half an hour it was clear we had to do something else.

Opposite the waterfall there was a small patch of dirt under a perched rock with about 0.5m of clearance where it was not windy. We spread the rope out to sit on and cut apart the two plastic bags to form some kind of an outer wall to drape and hold over ourselves. Boy was it uncomfortable. Our backs were freezing from the gap under the boulder, our knees and feet were cold where they were poking out at the front, and our legs folded at funny angles were constantly getting pins and needles.

We stayed pretty silent the whole time and didn't waste energy with idle chit-chat. Time passed quickly. I wasn't bored at all. Although I hadn't brought useful stuff like my own emergency plastic bag or whistle, I did have a small thermometer which showed that the outside was at 2degC, while our improvized bivi scored an amazing 10degC even in the most miserable spots such as in front of my knees.

It was very difficult to gauge whether the water flow was going up or down. We should have made a better effort to remember exactly what it looked like when Becka first attempted it. It never looked great. Our concerns were whether the water flow was due to a sudden thunderstorm and flood pulse (good), or one of those long Austrian drizzles that can go on for days (very bad). It turned out to be the former. The hailstones at Base Camp were impressive enough for someone to save in the freezer.

We also didn't know the state of the top half of pitch. A 30m prussick up through absolute misery followed by 70m of reasonably dry technical rope-work would be okay, while 100m of nearly freezing waterfall would not mean we weren't going to do it.

We missed our 11pm call-out.

The well-oiled CUCC rescue machine at Top Camp swung into action, supercharged by newly arrived old-lags, and at 2:30am a shout accompanied by a swinging beam of light (Noel's) appeared above ceiling level in line with the waterfall. This showed the top part of the pitch to be in a side-pocket in the chamber so you couldn't see all the way to the floor from the top. We yelled back.

Having verified that we were okay, and confirmed the reason why we had not come out on time, the rescue was called off, and everyone went home. We decided that the top half of the pitch was probably okay enough to send Becka up to check it out. Wookey, at the top, noticed her light and stayed behind with all the now abandoned rescue equipment to make us hot drinks and cheer us up. "Looks like you've lived through this one, Julian" he said to me as I got up, having fluffed up the knot-pass on the way up and became incoherent with rage at the psychopath who put it there.

Steve passed us, having tested out his plastic orange bothy thing with me and confirmed that it would have been bloody nice to have had it downstairs where we had been waiting. I was pretty slow getting out. Far behind me, Wookey heroically dragged almost everything out of the cave including the rescue stretcher and still caught me up at the surface. I walked back to Top Camp in daylight. Almost everyone was asleep. I did nothing the following day, while Becka went caving. The day after it rained continually. Becka went caving again. I cycled down the hill and achieved nothing.

I would like to put on record that I would like a proper canyonning holiday next year before doing any expos to put me in a good enough mood cope with this and keep on caving.

T/U 18 hrs, (Mike TA 3hrs)

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Survex files on this date:
Wallets on this date:
    2009#23 ['notes2', 'notes1', 'elev', 'plan']
    2009#27 Usual Suspects - 1 ['plan0004', 'plan0001', 'elev0002', 'elev0003', 'plan0003', 'elev0006', 'plan0…
    2009#29 ['notes0001', 'notes0002', 'notes0003']
    2009#35 Tortuous tight tube ['elev0001', 'notes0001', 'plan0001']
Logbook trips on this date:
    Tunnocks - Going Nowhere fast
    Tunnock's - Usual Suspects
    Tunnocks - Just for a Laugh