Tempest - The Tempest Diaries

Tue 29 Aug 2023
Joel Stobbart

Blog Author: El Stobbarto

The Tempest Diaries*
*(Posted over a month after the actual events, mostly because I forgot I’d written this)


Tempest survey. (Credits: Ash Gregg/Lizzie Caisley)

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a new cave for Expo! Admittedly one that only kept us occupied for a grand total of five days, but an interesting development nonetheless. Before crapping out, this felt like a very promising cave – a large initial entrance pitch sheltered by the peak of a small hill, with promising leads both to the left and right of the base unobscured by fallen rock. Given that much of the caving this year has revolved around deeper leads, it was helpful to have a shallower project for less-experienced/lazier cavers to take the pressure off those leading deeper trips. It was a significant point of pride for me that this project was almost conducted in a large part by first-time Expo-goers – evidence, if it is needed, that inexperience does not equal incompetence. The bolting, rigging, surveying and pushing all felt like a showcase of what those involved had learnt in the past three weeks.


The entrance to Tempest. Note the rather sharp deviation (definitely not rigged off a bit of baler twine Ely found in his bag), which was fortunately later adjusted.

Situated around 100 metres south of the entrance to Fishgesichthöhle, in a depression at the centre of a tiered limestone knoll, Tempest was discovered by myself, Emily, Lizzie, Tom and Merryn at the end of a delirious day of prospecting under the hot hot Styrian sun. Stumbling blindly into a dense patch of bunde, we discovered an impressive-looking crack in the side of the rockface in a patch of lush vegetation reminiscent of the Lost World. Mabbett began bolting a traverse but we were chased off by impending weather, and were discouraged from continuing by a multiple-day stint festering at base camp.


Initial bolting of the entrance to Tempest. Everyone looking very serious. Lizzie “helped”.

Returning to our efforts on Monday, a small team comprising myself, Lizzie, Tom and Ely completed the traverse but were halted in further efforts by Tom exploding the drill. Successive efforts pushed the more promising lead down a 45° slope of scree and snow which reached a choke that again continued in two directions, a short downwards pitch and a chossy ledge to the left. The team installed a short traverse and dropped on a single bolt into a chamber which became known as Narnia due to the sizeable frozen waterfalls and other ice formations dotted around.


Big Tom and myself in Narnia. Chossy death to the left, and sexy ice formations to the right. (Photo credits: Lizzie)

The following day we were joined by Ash and Zac, who began surveying a horizontal passage reaching out from the base of Narnia while the original team began surveying the sloping chamber surrounded by ice formations in the opposite direction. The former group had considerably more success, bagging a grand total of 100 metres of horizontal walking phreas before Ash, true to form, promptly killed the lead. Meanwhile, Team Narnia made excruciatingly slow progress surveying down to another pitch around 30 metres away from the main chamber, which they then bolted (excruciatingly slowly). I was dealt one of the biggest disappointments of my entire life when Big Tom eventually dropped down this hole of choss, frozen waterfall and ice chunks to announce that it was completely choked at the bottom. After days of telling ourselves it surely wouldn’t go anywhere, with this latest discovery we had dared to dream only to be crushed a short while later. But at least we had found some nice ice formations.


An example of said formations. Some even survived Tom's crowbar-assisted efforts at improving pitch safety. (Photo credits: Lizzie)

However, the saga did not end there... determined not to let this be the end, I descended down next to Tom and began casting wildly around for some continuation in this latest bit of cave, a vertical tube roughly two metres in diameter floored with fallen rock. I discovered two small holes to the left and right, barely big enough to fit a head in but deep and echoing when rocks or primal screams were cast into them. Lizzie by this stage had decided any further effort was futile and, abandoning the hapless males to their desperate scrabbling, prusiked gracefully out of the cave. Not to be dissuaded, I managed to haul enough rocks away from the left-hand entrance to reveal a squeeze just large enough to accommodate a caver. Tom tried it first and quickly decided he didn’t fancy it, so I stripped off my SRT kit and wriggled in to ascertain that the floor of the chamber was in fact a wedged boulder over a large rift. I got no further as Lizzie was waiting for us on the surface and another storm blowing in, but we left feeling vindicated; Tempest was continuing, and Tomb Raider was born.


The "hopeless" squeeze, sans SRT kit... (Photo credits: Lizzie)

Our final day in Tempest was also conveniently our last day on the Plateau before leaving Expo. Having espoused the virtues of our baby to the others at Top Camp, we managed to convince a small tourist team to come and visit while we beavered away at Tomb Raider. We had it in our heads that a rope was needed to get down the rift, and throwing caution (and cave conservation) to the wind, we planned to extend the opening with hammer and chisel to enable entry on-rope. After Ely and myself had blasted away for an hour, we realised that it was actually quite possible to down-climb the rift safely without needing the rope. All our effort was for nothing, but at least we’d had fun, I told myself through gritted and gritty teeth.


...which widened into this promising stretch of rift. (Photo credits: Lizzie)


Merryn doing unspeakable things with a disto at the end of Tomb Raider rift.

Having assembled a crack surveying team of the smallest members of the party, we clambered into a deep and narrow rift with another impressive frozen waterfall at one end. I bounded ahead, squeaking excitedly about drafts and continuations, before sadly discovering that the lead crapped out in every possible direction. Disappointed but content with what we had achieved, we whipped round with the disto and collected photographic evidence before hauling out the ropes and saying goodbye to Tempest for the last time.


More ice formations in Tomb Raider. My desperate prayers to the gods of cave conservation went unanswered.


Returning to the top of the rift, we were greeted by Tom "frozen wizard" Phillips. He was only mildly hypothermic.

All in all, this was a fun project to have for our last week. It was a shame not to leave further leads to be explored on the second half of Expo, but we still left satisfied; I felt especially pleased to have found the rift in Tomb Raider, demonstrating that blind obstinacy sometimes bears results. Ultimately, the whole escapade goes to show that prospecting can be just as fun as deep caving, and provides a good environment for expedition newcomers to hone their skills.

All photos mine except where credited.

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