Balkonhöhle - Camp trip down Balkonhöhle

Mon 15 Aug 2022
Harry Kettle

Camp trip down Balkonhöhle

I was on the last pushing trip down Balkonhöhle in 2019 so was excited to finally go back in 2022 and continue our promising leads, after Covid put a stop to the 2020 and 2021 expos. My fifth and final trip down Balkonhöhle this year was a two night camp in pitstop, joined by Anthony, Alice and Jono.

After an impressive amount of faff we finally got underground around 5pm. Jono and I headed straight to camp, with a brief stop halfway down to swap the rope on a small pitch. Reaching camp around 9pm we set up the cavelink and made dinner. I was not particularly looking forward to camping; my only prior experience was in Daren Cilau at the Hard Rock Cafe, during which the camp flooded at 3am leaving us huddled on a ledge for 10 hours waiting for the water levels to drop. The Balkonhöhle camp was remarkably civilised, however. We had plenty of food and water, the sleeping bags were very warm and it didn't flood!
Underground camp

Eventually Alice and Anthony arrived, having done some rerigging on the way down. We exchanged some messages with camp kresh in Fischgesicht over cavelink and shared some questionable alcohol Jono had carried down before heading to bed.

In the morning after a fairly slow start we headed to the pushing front beyond Medusa's Maze. We passed through the newly found passages in 2022 of Erechtheion, Alphanuepsilonupsilonepsilonrhosigmaeta and down the freshly bolted pitch named Tartarus from the previous camp trip. Rope below the second rebelay had caught itself round a flake so I had to down prussik 20m to free it. Anthony later put two more deviations in to prevent this reoccurring.

As Anthony had the rope and drill for adjusting Tartarus, Jono and I were unable to push the main leads so started surveying down a small side passage above a rift. The passage was remarkably decorated by SMK standards with lots of popcorn, stalacmites and tiny helictite formations. We also found a very impressive fossil of five vertebrae, about 40cm long (pictured below). We are yet to work out what it's from but guess some kind of Triassic fish or shark. After about 150m we hit a short pitch, so without a drill or rope turned round to find the others. On the way back Jono 3d scanned the passage with his phone, producing a much quicker and more complete survey than our initial one with notebook and Disto. An exciting glimpse at the future of surveying.

Vertebrate fossil

On return Alice and Anthony were rather unhappy with us. Whilst Jono and I were surveying they had managed to get themselves stranded on a mud slope above a 20m deep rift, and had been shouting and whistling at us to come and rescue them for over an hour (we hadn't heard anything!). Once back to safety Alice hid in the bothy, having gotten very cold and Anthony began bolting and rigging a rope down the slope they had previously stranded themselves on trying to free climb. After eating some food Jono and I took over from Anthony, who headed back to camp with a now very cold Alice. We continued down the slope but annoyingly soon ran out of rope, leaving the pushing front at three huge drafting tunnels.

Heading back, the brand new rope on Tartarus that had been in the cave less than four days was already so muddy that none of our jammers would work properly. After lots of grumbling and swearing we eventually reached the top and got back to camp around 1:30am, finishing off a reasonably successful pushing day with about 200m of new passage surveyed and leaving lots of exciting leads for future trips. We named the new passage Ichthyes, a fish from Greek mythology inspired by the fossil we had found.

Tired from the long day of pushing we all slept well and after a slow morning the next day headed back to the surface. Not keen on another dinner of couscous and curry Alice and I headed down the mountain to base camp, and were treated to a stunning sunset on the walk down.
Sunset over the Loser plateau

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Survex files on this date:
Wallets on this date:
    2022#45 ['plan', 'notes2', 'notes1', 'elev1', 'elev2']
    2022#47 Perseid ['plan', 'notes2', 'big_bastard_just_rigging', 'notes1', 'elev1', 'notes3', 'no…
Logbook trips on this date:
    Fischgesicht - Connecting the Kresh Connection 2
    Balkonhöhle - Camping trip at Pitstop pushing Southern & Northern Pitstop
    Fischgesicht - Perseid (ex - Big Bastard)
    Plateau - Surface Prospecting between Balkonhöle and Griesskogelschacht
    Expo - Jonty: visual storyteller
    Expo - Jonty: concoction
    Fischgesicht - Connecting fishface to happy butterfly
    Expo - expedition glossary
    Plateau - "interesting" holes
    Balkonhöhle - Camp trip down Balkonhöhle
    Balkonhöhle - First and last of the 2022 Balkon camps – Part 2a