The 1979 expedition was a small one and necessarily had limited objectives. Many of the people involved in previous years had other commitments and of the eight who made their way out to the Totes Gebirge, three had little or no SRT experience. This being so, the sole aim was to continue with the exploration of 106 and, hopefully, bottom it.
Though most of our attention was centred on 106, Andy C.,Simon K. and Tony did make some progress down a draughting hole about a hundred yards from 106, numbered 99. It is not clear how this relates to 106, but if it does come into 106 then it must do so fairly far down. I don't think that we shall bother to follow this up. This year has been the club's fourth in Austria and the bottoming of 106 will provide a convenient point for moving on.
There are undoubtedly many more holes to be found on the plateau, but most club members have an urge to see somewhere new. This 'somewhere new' may indeed be in Austria again as there are still a lot of relatively unexplored limestone areas there.
On the last Saturday in July, Ben van Millingen, Andy Waddington, Tony Malcolm, Nick Thorne and Julian Griffiths crossed the channel with two cars crammed full of gear. An uneventful drive saw Nick and Julian in Austria by Sunday evening. A somewhat more eventful drive saw the rest walking into the campsite in Altaussee very early on Tuesday morning, a broken axle bearing and a burnt out electrical system being largely to blame. Luckily (?) Ben's car had finally given up the ghost only a matter of kilometres away and a couple of hour's work saw it safely to the garage where Julian's wrecked Fiesta had been left the year before.
Whilst waiting for the others to arrive, Julian and Nick negotiated free access to the plateau and laid a guide-line back from the cave to the col so that parties could safely make their exit from the cave in the dark. A couple of days were then spent moving rope up to the cave and establishing a campsite at the col, and it was not until Thursday that any real progress was made down the cave.
That day, the pot was rigged down to -270m in the course of a seven hour trip. The next day, Ben, Tony and Andy W. descended to continue the rigging in. Past the 7m eighth pitch, they used a passage noted the year before to avoid the 23m broken pitch. A superb freehanging 15m pitch followed by a 9m pitch brought them back to the start of the traverses leading to the Fiesta Run, at which point they came out.
The weekend saw the arrival of the other three members of the expedition, Andy Connolly, Simon Farrow and Simon Kellet, and the beginning of new exploration in the cave. On Sunday, Nick and Julian took the obvious traverse past the Fiesta Run. After dropping 3m, the traverse continued to the head of a broken 15m pitch. A free climb at the bottom led to the base of a large aven where all sounds of the stream, which had been so prominent on the traverses, were absent. A steeply inclined and somewhat thrutchy canyon opened at the far side of the aven and after 30m of traversing another broken 15m pitch was reached. This was followed by a narrow canyon. This was beginning to get really silly when it broke out into the side of a very large aven. A stream could be heard falling down the aven and a boulder lobbed to the floor suggested a pitch of around 15m. Satisfied, but somewhat puzzled by the days work, the pair exitted.
Discussing it with the others in the comfort of Bar Fischer, it was decided to abandon this route, the last passage being very narrow indeed , and to try descending the rift just before the first broken 15m pitch at the point where the stream was last heard. Accordingly, Ben and Andy went down on Monday and started rigging from the 3m drop in the traverse. After a couple of metres, the rift widened to form a pleasant shaft to a large ledge where a terminal attack of exploration nerves set in and the two came out. On Tuesday there was a trip I think Simon F. would prefer forgotten. Suffice it to say that a nameless hero emerged after a shattering twelve hour trip and was promptly violently ill back at the col campsite (a direct result of a surfeit of English beer and cigarettes, I believe). Wednesday was equally eventful but in a more encouraging way. Nick and Julian rigged the pitch from the ledge. This was 33m deep and forms the lower part of Madlmeier Schacht. A short distance on, the head of another pitch was reached. After 23m the rope was rebolted at a small ledge and a further 18m descended in a rift of ever-increasing dimensions. Clambering down 5m at the end of the rope, a substantial platform (5m wide by 6m long) saw the start of the 14th pitch. 15m below this, the explorers landed on another platform of similar dimensions. Our last length of rope was flung down the pitch that followed and Nick descended. Unfortunately the rope finished about 5m from the floor necessitating a return, but he saw enough to establish that the series of pitches had temporarily come to an end, the passage levelling off along the line of the rift.
There then followed four frustrating days when no caving was done because of rain. Although reasonably dry when they were explored, it was evident that the last series of pitches was no place to be in wet weather, it being impossible to rig the pitches out of the main stream course. It was not until Monday 13th August that we went down again. This time five descended: Nick, Ben and Simon F. exploring and Andy W. and Julian taking photos and measuring pitch lengths. As time was running short we also had hopes of derigging some of the pot, in particular the section below Madlmeier Schacht, that being the most affected by the weather. In the event, the cave did not go very much further.
Past the previous limit, a climb down boulders followed by a muddy 5m pitch led to a large sump pool at a depth of just over 500m. Derigging proved slow and strenuous. After much cajoling, 300m of rope eventually found its way to the top of the Hall of the Greene King where it was dumped and an exit made in times varying from fourteen to sixteen hours.
During the last two days the cave was completely derigged with the help of Simon K., Tony and Andy C. and by Thursday morning all the gear had been transported back to the campsite in Altaussee. In the afternoon we departed for England.
From the 106A entrance, 15m of stooping passage leads to where the original entrance 106 comes in down a 6m snowslope. Doubling back down a further 45° snowslope (6m ladder needed) brings one to Draught Bitter, the head of the first pitch proper, Plugged Shaft, corkscrewing down 67m past snow ledges at 11, 18, 35 and 54m and ending in a fine 13m freehang into a large chamber. A short walk down the last of the snow is followed by Saved Shaft, a 13m ladder climb landing in Boulder Chamber. A thrutch through the boulders is followed by a climb down to the head of Keg Series, the 32m pitch of which leads to an undescended 15m pitch which produces no discernible draught.
Traversing over the head of the Keg Series pitch, a further climb down brings one to the head of Follow Through Shaft, a 33m pitch split at 19m by a large boulder strewn ledge. At the bottom one encounters the first significant horizontal passage in the pot. Traversing over and under boulders for about 100m leads to The Tap Room, the base of a sizeable aven down which a steady trickle of water comes. A 6m handline climb is followed by a sharp right turn and a 2m climb up into a narrow traverse which continues in a dead straight line for about 30m to a handline climb down 2m into a small chamber containing a large jammed boulder. This is the head of a series of pitch dropping in stages of 12, 30, 11 and 48m into the Hall of the Greene King, a 20m diameter aven about 80m high. The 7m balcony pitch which follows lands on the floor of the aven. A short walk and climb down now lead to Overhanging Boulder pitch (7m). The way now splits.
Heading right, up a short scramble, leads to the top of a split 20m pitch (1978 route). A walk down the 2m wide passage at the bottom and climb 6m down a boulder jamb now joins up with the 1979 route at the base of the Gents' Pitch. Back at the junction, traversing left down a narrow passage one arrives at the head of a beautiful 17m free hanging pitch into a wide vadose canyon with a narrow trench in the floor. This is followed downstream to the 10m Gents' Pitch which unites the two routes.
Some further 150m of traversing at the bottom of this pitch in a high vadose passage ends at the top of the Fiesta Run, a 28m sloping muddy pitch. The way again splits at the bottom of this pitch. A traverse over the obvious blackness below is followed by 15m and 23m pitches and a tight crawl to an undescended pitch, while rigging the pitch down the hole at the bottom of the Fiesta Run yields Madlmeier Schacht, a damp 61m abseil split at 28m by a ledge. The shaft now begins to bell out to magnificent proportions and a short climb over a boulder is followed by a 43m pitch split at 24m. A 5m climb then leads to the top of the wet pitches of 24 and 17m landing on the floor of a large level passage covered in shingle and small boulders. A short walk and a climb down a boulder blockage end at a 5m pitch down mud covered walls to the brink of a splendid sump chamber at a depth of about 506m.
As the heavyweights plunged on into the depths, Andy and Tony (Team Extremely-Enthusiastic-and-fit-but-willing-to-allow-others-the-ultimate-glory) were left to play at exploration on the surface, leading to the discovery of some rather unspectacular holes, but including 89 - a 25m shaft into a narrow rift of approximately zero lateral extension.
With days running out just prior to the frustrating wet season, we had a look at 99, which is about 30m from the entrance to 106. This had been noted at the same time as the latter (on the 77 expedition) as a strongly draughting hole, but considering the close proximity to 106, the progress being made there, and the possibility of it being connected, it had been left alone.
Having rigged a ladder down the snow slope of the entrance gallery, Andy disappeared to examine the head of a pitch. From an ice perch, a shaft descended at about 70° in a line roughly back to the 106 entrance. Bolting was quickly effected, after which Andy descended a 20m snow-lined pitch on rope. At the base was a snow duck under a rock wall beyond which a small rift-like chamber descended about 3m. Straight ahead at the same level, the rift quickly became an impenetrable slot through which could be seen a 2m wide passage with an ice floor running down from right to left at an angle of 5 to 10°. This was the source of the strong draught.
Feeling the effects of the icy draught, Andy returned to the surface to report and Tony descended to confirm the situation and to progress, if possible, below the level of the draught. Unfortunately the slot was too small, but below it there was another low hole. This leaked a vague draught and led to a small boulder strewn ledge with a definite blackness continuing to the left behind more boulders. Energetic but nervous removal of boulders gave obvious signs of a continuation. Requiring some backup, Tony returned to the surface.
It was decided to return the next day when there would be more time available. Unfortunately, the rain then set in, leaving those not involved in 106 confined to camp. When we did return (on the day 106 was bottomed) we got through the dig onto a lower ledge with a 1m diameter shaft dropping in a corkscrew at least 20m. We were constrained by lack of bolts, and were forced to begin derigging with time running out for the expedition anyway. Thanks to Simon Kellet for keeping us amused on our last visit.
Mon aeroglisseur, qui resemble un peu à un bateau (merci Torquil), est remplit des gymnotes. Merci à tous ceux qui m'ont porté en stop en France l'année dernière. [I suspect that this is not entirely relevant - Editor]
The completed survey of 106 and a sketch (!) of 99 are included, together with a surface survey of the Loser plateau. Due to the clino packing up and the uncooperative nature of the survey tape, the 106 survey is only grade one below Hall of the Greene King depth or thereabouts. Depths were mainly calculated by measuring rope lengths on pitches so the final depth of 506m is possibly not extremely accurate.