Cambridge Underground 1981 pp 9-20

Austria 1980

Once again a Cambridge team raced across the German lowlands to a rendezvous with the Austrian alps, this time augmented by a number of able-bodied men from UBSS and NPC.

It was intended to cave in the Tennengebirge this year, but the sense of discomfort felt when we gathered on the first evening soon led to parties being despatched to Altaussee, pending confirmation of whether we would even be allowed onto the Tennengebirge.

Arriving at the familar campsite at Altaussee, the sun shining, the lake beckoning, the mountains soaring above and Fritz eagerly proferring free bottles of beer, our spirits were greatly raised and we set about organising ourselves for a renewed assault on the hidden depths of the Loser.

With many thanks to Karl and Gunther once again, we were able to arrange a vastly reduced rate for the toll road and garnered valuable hints as to possible sites to be examined. We are most grateful for their invaluable assistance, which has contributed to the success of our expeditions.

Despite the suggestion after last year's visit that it might be time to move to a new area, enthusiasm was rekindled by the liveliness of the 1980 gathering and with a complete break for many of the older hands (visiting Greece and the Pyrenees this summer) a new drive should bring further advances in 1982, if the younger CUCC members don't do it all this year !


Julian Griffiths

Originally explored by some Germans (Belgians ?), this pot had been ignored by us in previous years, partly because we had other things going and partly because it was some way away from the main area we were working in. We had once seen a survey of the place which showed a short length of horizontal passage ending abruptly at 200m+ of pitches and we knew the location of the entrance, but that was all.

An unfinished 200m deep pot was a tempting prospect but things didn't turn out quite as expected. The exploration comprised a strange mixture of excuses as to why the cave hadn't been pushed further and attempts to find a different (ie. easier) route down. Andy Waddington and Budge were first into the pot. There are two entrances, the lower of which is a draughting phreatic tube. This quickly ended at an ice slope which was rigged down to a large snow bank entering from the other entrance. A passage to the right was noted but the draught seemed to be coming from a passage across an ice traverse. This was negotiated and the continuing passage negotiated for about 50m.

Steve and Julian entered the cave later on the same day. Traversing across several steeply inclined bedding planes, the bottom of which disappeared into the gloom, they arrived at a 21m pitch. At its base they ignored a low bouldery passage heading down dip in favour of a climb up to and then down a steeply descending phreatic passage. This broke out onto another couple of traverses rigged with a handline as a precaution against a rather precipitous estimated 25m drop to one side. A large phreatic tube rose from the far side and crossed an immense inclined bedding plane passage (the largest yet) till it ended at another such passage. As there was no continuation at the far side of this the pair descended the bedding until they reached a greasy slope requiring a ladder. The same pair returned the following day and rigged the slope to the head of a sizeable pitch. A 15m drop ended at a two man ledge in a tremendous shaft. At this point, Steve's carbide packed up so we had to exit.

On the last couple of trips it became obvious that we were not following the German's route as their survey points ran out just inside the entrance, but as we were still following the draught it didn't particularly seem to matter. Julian and Nick returned to the pitch two days later. From the ledge a superb freehanging 55m pitch descended to a further ledge and from this a descent of 25m brought us to the bottom of the rift and a small streamway. We were now at -180m and things were beginning to look promising. The stream was lost after 3m but the passage continued for a further 90m to the head of a 10m pitch. Ben and Steve were following up behind, so it was decided to leave this for them.

Unfortunately, below this the pot went temporarily small, suggesting a continuation above the head of the pitch. Five short pitches alterately wet and tight, then along a small rift, up a couple of boulders and round a sharp corner suddenly gave into a huge rift 5m wide by 100m high. The short pitches had caught them somewhat by surprise and there had been some very uneconomical rigging, with the result that they had no rope left to descend the estimated 30m pitch that lay ahead. Clive and Tim had been meant to follow on, but a rather enthusiastic descent of the big pitch by Tim had led to a damaged coccyx. The pot was now 250m deep.

Deciding that the German route might provide an easier path to glory, Nick and Budge turned right just past where the other entrance comes in and found a large passage, which, if it hadn't been for the snow bank, would have been the obvious way on. Past a traverse, this ended at the head of a large shaft. The start of 200m+ of pitches, thought they. So did Julian, until he had got down the first pitch, split 6m and 18m, with Nick the next day. This led on to a short 2m climb, a 12m pitch and 14m pitch, and then a nasty sloping traverse down a canyon passage. A left turn (the canyon continued on small) and a muddy climb of 10m gave a low crawl that looked suspiciously like a dried out sump. All this showed signs of previous human occupation as there was survey cotton all over the place. The crawl continued past the 'sump' and a window to the right gave onto another climb down, a traverse across a hole and a slope to the head of a pitch. This was 14m into a 'biggish' chamber. Suspicions as to the accuracy of the survey were voiced and an exit made. An alternative pitch of 20m at the base of the first pitch was looked at but the exit to the chamber at the bottom was tiny.

Ben and Steve continued the headbanging later the same day. A traverse along a rift, down an awkward step and two pitches of 8 and 12m reached a floor. The rift became smaller and a further 6m pitch dropped into a small stream. After a tight and awkward thrutch along, a tight drop wasn't rigged as things were becoming a little silly. As Ben commented, "no stone to drop down it and we were buggered if we were going down to pick any up". Estimated depth beneath the start of the pitches was 140m and we reckoned that we were 60m below where the Germans got to, so where the rumour of 200m+ of pitches came from we can't quite understand. This route was derigged the next day and we returned to the "proper" route. The place had now become known, somewhat uncharitably, as Stalaglufthöhle.

Clive and Julian wanged in a bolt to descend the next pitch. 30m later rope became scarce so we had to pendule across to a place where it was possible to jam across the rift. Noch ein bolt and a 10m pitch to a boulder floor then a 7m freeclimb down gave the head of another pitch. Rope became extinct (we had forgotten one of the tackle bags) so Clive was hung over the edge on a piece of string to put a bolt in. Back at exactly the same place two days later with masses of rope, Steve and Julian were hit by a (the ?) flood pulse which converted the next pitch into something of a turbine. Not wanting to see how long floods could last in this part of the world, the pair beat a very hasty, cold and wet retreat. Ben and Clive finally descended this pitch two days later when things had quietened down a little. The 16m drop was followed by drops of 5m and 10m and a bolt was put in at the head of another pitch before an exit was made.

And so to the final mega- pushing, surveying and derigging trip. We didn't do much pushing, descending two 17m pitches before calling it a day at a further pitch; the survey was extended from the bottom of the big pitch to the head of the big rift and all the tackle was removed to the head of the big pitch. Steve, Tim, Andy W. and Julian emerged in the early hours of the morning after a 13 hour trip feeling somewhat tired.

On reflection, we weren't quite sure why it had taken us so long to get down to 350m. It wasn't an easy pot, but then it is probably no more difficult than a lot of continental pots. The last couple of pitches are wet and hence exploration beyond this point should be done in settled weather. However there seems no reason why this pot shouldn't go to 600 or 700m, especially if a connection is made with entrances further up the hill.


Ben van Millingen

Getting bored with looking for Stellerweg, Nick and Ben wandered off further down the path. About 200m from the climb up to Stellerweghöhle they found a gully full of boulders with a draught blowing out. Climbing up the gully, a hole was found at the base of a small cliff with the same strong draught. A short peaty slope descended to the head of a pitch the other side of which was a rock bridge leading to a larger version of the same pitch.

The first pitch was descended to a steeply sloping floor under the rock bridge. Uphill was choked by boulders seen above ground in the gully, downslope led into the larger shaft. This was particularly classy, but due to the disappearance of all bolt drivers, the trip was abandoned for more beer.

The next day a short swing reached the rock bridge from where a rope was rigged into the larger shaft. This reached a sloping floor at 20m The way on was down a small steep tube in the corner. The draught blowing out of this was strong enough to extinguish a carbide. A very cold bolting session secured the rope for the second pitch (16m) in the tube. The pitch opened into a roomy chamber with the head of the third pitch in the floor. Climbing out over boulders, the rope was rigged (17m)

The fourth followed immediately. A 38m drop landed in a chamber. On the other side, a slice of wall, 15m high and 4m thick had slumped. A crawl under this block choked with no noticeable draught. There was no other way on at the bottom of the chamber, so on the way out a pendulum reached the top of the block, where it was found that the gap between the block and the wall was choked with rocks. A large inlet high up on the wall in the chamber was noticed, but would require bolting up to reach. The draught does not come from beneath or on top of the block so is presumed to come from the inlet. Considering the size of the draught at the entrance and the top of the second pitch it was disappointing to find the cave end in such a manner.

AERW helped (or was it hindered) on the derigging, failing to take a successful picture of the entrance pitch which was superbly lit by sunlight. Unfortunately, Nick's water bottle took a walk under the boulders near the entrance, never to be seen again, but he doesn't need that now anyway.

87 is one of the more pleasant caves we have found in Austria, with large, roomy, straightforward pitches, and would make an excellent Yorkshire Sunday afternoon trip after the pub.

115 Gemsescheisenhöhle

Simon Kellet

A prospecting team consisting of Ken Baker, the Terrible Twins and Simon Kellet found 115 roughly below 32 (an obvious draughting hole on the Stoger Weg) some 50m from the pathway. It was the most promising of several holes looked at. The entrance is a railway tunnel emerging from the hillside. A slope down after 20m led to a steeply descending crawl which was blocked by loose stones. A howling gale issued forth - certain extinction for stinkies - inspiring us to begin excavations.

These were completed next day, and after pausing for refreshments (a UBSS innovation to bring civilisation to CUCC), Clive wriggled through a 10m crawl into a large passage. A climb down a boulder pile led to a 7m pitch, followed by a scramble down piles of loose stones to a hopeless choke at -50m.

It was decided that the draught was coming from a hole opposite the pitch head. It wasn't. However this didn't stop us making two trips to bolt a way across to it, to find that it didn't go anywhere interesting. Clive found the real way on. A climb up led to a strongly draughting phreatic tube in the roof. Hands and knees crawling led to a chamber with a 20m pitch dropping into a second chamber. A climb into a thrutchy sharp-sided rift followed, with one squeeze, breaking out into a large phreatic tube. The two branches of this system all ended in pitches, one of which draughted.

Progress was then halted when Simon and Ken bungled, not being able to find the rather obvious way on. The pitch led to a nasty rift with no draught, but Simon failed to notice an obvious traverse some 10m below the pitch head, despite dangling there while fiddling with protectors. An attempt was made to entomb Ken, when someone prusiked up a pitch with all his gear and then showered him with assorted lumps of metal.

Allegiance was, as a result, transferred to other systems, and only on the derigging trip was further progress made. The traverse led to a very big phreatic tube with a ramp sloping down at about thirty degrees to a pitch estimated at 20m, but undescended. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. There was no time left to plunge on into what looks like a very promising cave. Bolts, and a rope on the bolt traverse, were left in place. 1981 will see a renewed attack.

1623/113 Sonnenstrahlhöhle

Andy Connolly

'Team Sunbeam' (Sonnenstrahl) - Tony (pilot), Andy (co-pilot) and John (Cheese sandwich maker) - having established a record time to Salzburg, decided that a similarly speedy exploration of a pot would be the only way to keep their reputation up. 113 was pushed to a conclusion at -330m in under a week, due to the straightforward nature of the pot.

Dreaming of enormous caverns with underground lakes (courtesy of John) the three set off to the northern end of the Loser plateau beyond Wildensee - a region that Cambridge had not previously explored in the past because of the long walk of over six hours required to get there. No caving gear was taken as it was designed to be purely exploratory. The original intention had been to camp, but a party of teenage girls offered us a place in the Wildensee Hut, an offer that could hardly be refused.

An early start saw us prospecting by mid-morning - several promising leads were noted, detailed elsewhere (1). The return to Altaussee was made at a speed which resulted in the near extinction of the 'Barnsley School' of architects - however the wise inclusion of an iron lung in his pack saved the day ! We were somewhat disheartened to find that everyone else had found "lots of holes with massive draughts howling out of them" - the classic Loser success formula.

After much mature consideration, Team S. turned their attention to the Stellerwand area next day. Several nasty 'grots' were entered with little success. The lunchtime sardines set the seal of failure on the rest of the day. Tony's late find of a "promising hole" descending at an angle of forty five degrees turned out to be a dead end, after a short pitch, as was verified the next day.

Exploration in a substantial dry valley above this find led to a sizeable hole in the ground (18m x 8m) surrounded on three sides by vegetation and having a large descending snowbank on the fourth. A return was made to this the next day. John, in shorts, T-shirt and wellies, placed a rebelay while dangling on the end of "a rope I picked up cheap - I think its for SRT!" Descending to the floor of a snow-filled chamber, a ramp, hading down at about forty degrees, was followed. A spate of naming, not always inspired, resulted in the creation of Barnsley Methodist Chapel and The Purple Pit !

A further day's work gained the bottom of the Purple Pit and an area of abandoned phreas with no way on. AERW, dressed in his usual odd assortment of 'fun-fur' garments, had planned to descend 113 to have a look around, but as usual had forgotten to get directions regarding the way on from the bottom of the entrance pitch. He proceeded to blunder off down an unexplored section of ramp, and foolishly looking down into a large black space, his helmet and complete lighting system plunged into the unknown. A four hour search revealed his whereabouts and he was hauled with many dark mutterings to the surface.

A survey trip was made to the base of the Purple Pit, measuring pitch lengths only as the compasses were found to be somewhat untruthful, indicating a direction of SE for magnetic north ! Due to AERW forgetting to bring pencils and slate, the survey was given up as a bad job and a further search of the abandoned phreas at the bottom of the pitch was started. Five minutes search revealed a further pitch of 50m. A retreat was made for more gear.

The next two days saw a descent of a 100m shaft in steps to a point where vertical development stopped and horizontal development became tight. Nick offered his services for the final push.

AERW, John and Tony descended to the bottom to survey out and derig, a few minutes ahead of a flood pulse caused by a freak thunderstorm. Tim, Clive and Ken met the pulse at the Purple Pit and got out quick, arriving back at base camp a bit concerned for the others. Nick and Andy, ably assisted by Team Cordon Bleu (messrs Kellet and Burgess - Ambrosia creamed rice burnt to taste) descended to find the others safe, but cold, having found some more passage.

Two days later the derig was complete and the only job remaining was for John to give various features esoteric or just plain stupid names. (Vielen Dank MGP 69 V)

References :

(1) 1980 expedition logbook.

1623/113 Sonnenstrahlhöhle Stellerwand, Totes Gebirge, Austria

Explored 1980, ExCS

The 113 entrance pitch, belayed to two substantial pine trees at the lip and rebelayed 5m further down to give a 21m free hang, lands on a snow ramp which is descended to the floor of the entrance chamber. Two ways on exist : parallel to the dip, a passage communicates with two further surface openings, 113A and 113B. Down dip, a 1m climb over boulders leads to a series of ramps hading down at about 40 degrees. The first of these ramps descends for 30m over a treacherous surface of ice and rubble to a drop not descended (Ibbeth Perilous Pot). The second ramp, which communicates in places with the first, descends for 60m to a chamber 20m high and 30m long (Barnsley Methodist Chapel). This is floored with large boulders at one end. The obvious low, sandy side passage to the left leads onto the head of a 14m dry rift pitch with a bouldery takeoff. The pitch is free hanging after the first 2m, to a gravel floored chamber opening off the rift. Water entering high on the right takes a floor trench 10m deep which may be traversed above to gain the balcony of the Opera House, an impressive 20m, roughly circular chamber. A 12.5m pitch gains the bouldery, sloping floor of this chamber. A further 7m ladder climb, followed by a 10m pitch down a rift, leads to a 6m x 2m x 2m high gravel floored chamber with a 1m diameter hole at one end. This is the takeoff for a series of pitches (the Purple Pit) which corkscrew down a fine clean-washed pot for 60m. This pitch system lands in an extensive area of abandoned phreas; a short 6m pitch down the obvious hole in the floor leads to a narrow rift. A 3m climb up and a short traverse lead to the entrance to a sandy phreatic tube (Muesli Crawl). At the end of this passage is the takeoff for a 100m shaft system which descends in steps of 8m, 26m, 12m, 10m, 20m, 5m and 9m to a rocky floor. A 6m drop lands on a gravel floor, with a small streamway disappearing down a tight slot in the floor. Back at the base of the 100m shaft a tight abandoned side passage leads to the Crematorium, a complex of dry rifts and gravelly chambers becoming too tight at a depth of approximately 330m.

"But we didn't mean to be rescued"

John Bowers

The expedition was settling down into a pleasant routine. The days began with the early morning mist clearing from the lake, the cheery sound of Ken swearing as he brought round the tea, and Ben cough-starting his lungs. A leisurely breakfast, a cooling swim and a quick drive up to the plateau - not too hard really. All you had to do was pick up a pile of rope, abb down and add another 100m to the pot. Then out in plenty of time to enjoy a long evening guzzling lager and gooey cakes. But then it all went very wrong.

Competition between Stellerweg and Sonnenstrahl was intense. Sonnenstrahl was deeper but it looked like stopping - would this trip find a way on and keep the lead over Stellerweg ? Parties were down each pot, leaving just three heroes to sunbathe, drink and tidy up the remains of last week's breakfast. The drinking was successful and they even washed up a pan, but the sunbathing was a total failure as the skies clouded over and rain crashed down. Thoughts turned to their poor comrades deep beneath the Austrian limestone. As the day passed, more rain fell. Some of their friends returned wet and cold, telling of icy dark prusiks up crashing waterfalls. Night fell and still Andy, Tony and John were missing. What had happened ? Were they dangling helpless from a rope ? Were they huddled in a narrow, draughty rift with the flood waters rising around them ?

Well, no. Eating apricots - that's what they were doing. Happily sitting in a spacious, warm, dry chamber stuffing themselves with marzipan and apricots. Just before the flood pulse arrived, they happened to notice a slit in the wall above the final pitch. Thinking it could lead to a bypass, Tony was forced through to find an abandoned phreatic series. When the flood pulse came, the prospect of 200m of wet prusiking didn't appeal too much to these geriatrics and so they decided to stay warm and dry, waiting for the waters to subside. The chamber was thoroughly explored and surveyed (its the most accurate part of the whole survey). A dig was started, and for want of any more lively entertainment they built dry stone walls up and down the chamber. But slowly our reluctant heroes were getting cold, and despite an imaginative game of I-spy played without light, they were beginning to wish they were somewhere else.

Then the waters parted and Nick and Andy Connolly descended - using racks rather than wings. "Who are you looking for ?... What us ? ... alright, we'll come out now..." and at 3.00 am, five wet, tattered figures emerged to be greeted by a cold drizzle and a pot of burnt rice pudding.