Fischgesicht - 2022 exploits in Fish Face – Part 4 of 3

Sun 14 Aug 2022
Rob Watson

[Written on 22nd, but this trip down FGH must have been Saturday 14th., from bier book.]

After a couple of days away from Bad Aussee visiting friends in Graz, returning to base camp in time for the expo dinner, I was keen to return to Clap My Pitch Up and drop the continuation of the pitch series, though I would need to assemble a new team as Luke and Mike had by then departed and the Creche had decided to take a break from caving to focus on eating icecream and giggling. In the meantime, we had been joined by former ULSA caver Mex (it's how he says 'Max'), who had just begun a PhD in lasers in Munich. He was keen to return to FF, having been involved in the infamous ‘PushDerig’ trip of 2018, so he, Nathan and I planned a return effort for Saturday. During my absence, Luke had plotted up the data for CMPU: it was clearly heading toward a rather miserable section of cave in Steinbruckenhohle (204), named ‘Razordance’, which in 2007 had been pushed to a sump at 1200 m asl. The limit of exploration in CMPU was currently 200 m NW of this sump and 136 m above it, so I felt that with a concentrated push and a lot of luck a connection could be possible.

After waiting out the rain at base camp on Friday afternoon with activities such as: ‘group reading of “Hiroshima” by John Hersey’; ‘who can stand on one leg with their eyes shut the longest’; and ‘who does the best headstand’; it was eventually time to return to Top Camp. The walk across the plateau in the evening sun was beautiful and we arrived just after dark around 10pm. Much of the gear was in the cave already from the last trip so packing the night before was reasonably swift. The rain in the valley frustratingly had not graced the shoulders of the plateau, meaning water supplies were again a concern.


Sunset on the Plateau.

Up around 8am for a relaxed breakfast yet still at the cave entrance before 10, top work. Eric and Chris were also with us, heading to the lead first explored by Amelia and I in part 1 (named ‘Mourning the Moths’ after Amelia drowned two moths in her curry) which had been subsequently pushed further to another deeper drop. After a pretty speedy descent I showed Eric and Chris their lead and then Nathan, Mex and I headed to Clap My Pitch Up. Mex and Nathan proceeded to try and continue to traverse above the initial stage of the rift, still in the phreatic level, while I commenced bolting the pitch. Without the absolute unit that is Mike’s Bosch, I was more conservative than I might have been with the bolting as we were using two batteries of unknown quality, one of which was not fully charged. The descent was dry but it felt as though it could get wet (we were in drought), and the rock at the pitch head was quite flakey and poor. The space I had entered was very impressive though, descending a ~50 m pitch to reach an immense boulder floor below.

Nathan and Mex had traversed as far as they could along the exposed muddy tube above (Mex: ‘it was very shit, I got scared’) so had begun to survey down to me. I explored around the chamber in the meantime, noticing a significant meandering passage heading off in what seemed to be a SE direction, bang on with where the intersection with Razordance should be… Elated by this fortune, I jumped in to help with surveying, firing off beams of laser towards Mex’s varnish markings while Nathan noted down our findings. The passage was a meandering keyhole with a small but significant streamway in the base of the rift/trench below, with a number of avens entering from the eastern side, all carrying streams of their own. The convergence of all the water on this one collector route convinced me that this passage could be our ticket to the connection, so we pressed on with renewed energy.

After scuttling gingerly under a pile of teetering boulders and shimmying down some muddy drops in the rift, we reached an impasse: a 3 m drop down a completely smooth, belled out shaft with no chance of free climbing it without getting fully soaked (and even then it would have been an ask). We really didn’t want to chop the nice 8.5mm rope just for this tiny drop, so I ran back to the bag with the rigging gear and scavenged all the slings and extra bits that I could find. A convenient chockstone was found and I lashed a length of dyneema around it, then attached various slings to the bottom of that, hoping we would be able to use them like etriers to negotiate the drop. The way down was simple enough (just arms really), but all was in vain as just around the corner out of sight was a further 10 m pitch with no chance of another episode of japery. So Nathan and I re-ascended to get the drill and sadly chop the 25 m of 8.5mm that was still in the bag. The ascent of the pretend etriers proved far more taxing due to the slippiness of the dyneema but we managed to avoid the water almost entirely, very good.

Nathan installing his first thru bolts above the naughty climb.

We descended both drops with one rope (rigged very tightly, we just about made it). However, at the bottom we were thwarted again after only 5 more legs by a further 10 m drop. Having by now used up all the drill batteries, rope, and bolts, it seemed fate was indicating that we would have to leave the connection for another time. We decided it was unlikely that anyone would be back this year, so we decided to pull all the rope back to the campsite of the previous trip in case anyone wanted to drop Big Bastard, a very big drippy hole adjacent to camp (we had used the pitch head as the location of our shit drum). Mex offered to derig and I wasn’t going to say no, so Nathan and I headed off to the pitch head where we jumped in the group shelter and talked shit for some time before we saw Mex’s light at the pitch head.

Nathan then took over derigging and Mex and I headed back to camp carrying most of the gear. Quick water stop at the Tap and soon we had noodles on the go, finding a message from Eric and Chris saying they had left the Kitchen around 2 hours before. And so began the long slog out, with Nathan and I getting to the surface around 2am only to find Eric and Chris who had only just finished changing. We waited at the entrance for Mex until around 3am then decided we needed to sleep so began heading up the plateau, relieved to notice his light emerge from the cave around 15 minutes later. Back at TC curries were eaten and hot beverages drunk. Most turned in but Chris and I stood admiring the moon and then the stars until around 5am.

And so ended my last trip of the expedition. Soon down the hill, I ignored strong hints from Jonty that he wanted me to pack to leave and instead got the new data in, to find that we were now only 60 m above and 120 m east of the sump… looking pretty promising, though the nature of the new passage suggests it will not be an easy connection to forge. Speaking to Wookey in the Potato Hut while entering the data, it appears that there were a number of extremely promising leads that were climbed up into at the far end of the Razordance Sump in a passage called Silk Road, which was visited only on a single trip in 2007. So, if made, this connection would allow us to push these leads far more easily as well. Exciting times!


Plot showing the possible connection between 290 and 204.

Huge thanks to everyone that I caved with who made this year such a good one, and special thanks to those stalwart attendees who can always be relied on to put their all into making the expedition so welcoming and successful: Anthony Day, Becka Lawson, Chris Densham, Frank Tully, Martin Green and Wookey. Looking forward to next year: that connection won’t make itself…


Julian Todd in some lovely looking sandy passage in Silk Road, Steinbruckenhohle. All only seen once, all waiting to be further explored... Photo: Andrew Atkinson.

Survex files on this date:
Wallets on this date:
    2022#44 Kresh connection connection ['notes2', 'notes1', 'notes3']
Logbook trips on this date:
    Fischgesicht - Connecting the Kresh Connection
    Balkonhöle - Camping in Pitstop. N. Powerhouse leads
    Balkonhöle - Bolt traverse in Nothing to See
    Fischgesicht - 2022 exploits in Fish Face – Part 4 of 3