Cambridge Underground 1982 pp 4-14

Austria 1981

For newcomers to Cambridge Underground, a few words may be in order about our involvement with Austria. The first CUCC expedition in 1976 stayed at the small village of Altaussee, 55km southeast of Salzburg and on the southwestern fringe of the Totes Gebirge - and we have had no reason to move. The 77-79 expeditions worked on the Loser Plateau and found 82 (-215m), 97 (-265m) and 76 (-506m) (see map). The numbers are those of the Austrian Catalogue and should be prefixed by the area code 1623/. The 1980 expedition concentrated on an area further south (and nearer the car park at the top of the toll road); this was the region near Stoger Weg (path no. 201).

113 (Sonnenstrahlhöhle) went to -329m; 41 (Stellerweghöhle) was still going at -350m; and 115 (Schnellzughöhle, but referred to as Gemsescheisenhöhle in last year's journal) was discovered. The 41 entrance is just above the path near the point where it drops sharply and 115 is nearby, below the path. It was with the intention of looking at these two pots that the 1981 expedition went out for the first three weeks of August.

This year's expedition included a large number of new faces. The usual exCS contingent had decided to give Austria a rest for a year and live it up in the Pyrenees; so that there were mostly resident CUCC members on this year's trip. They were joined by a large party from UBSS, some of whom had been to Austria before. Although the expedition as a whole lacked experience outside Britain, the larger than usual number of very enthusiastic and able speleos gave hopes of a successful expedition.

Those partaking of regular refreshment in the Bar Fischer were:

Rich Barker (UBSS)
Dave Brindle
Chas Butcher
John Cownie
Judith Greaves
Simon Kellet
Pete Lancaster
Jane Lolly
Tim Lyons (UBSS)
Fraser MacDonald
Mick McHale (UBSS)
Mike Martin
Pat Martin (UBSS)
Janet Morgan
Clive Owen (UBSS)
Rob Parker (SWCC)
Tim Parker
Steve Perry
Phil Townsend
Julian Walker (UBSS)
Martin Warren (UBSS)

four of whom had caved on the CUCC expedition in previous years.

The expedition intended to continue the exploration of 41 and 115 from 1980 and so Altaussee was the obvious place to stay. The steady influx of nineteen cavers, their cars, ropes and heaps of smelly tackle came as rather a shock to Fritz the campsite owner and even more so to the other campers. The half-sized campsite rapidly became overcrowded - some of us nearly had to sleep in t'bottom o't'lake with only a handful of cold ravioli for breakfast. This overcrowding was certainly a factor, along with the hedgehog, in the spreading of the dreaded lurgi in the second week, when everybody on the site was struck down at some time by the legendary Spanish tummy, Delhi belly, or whatever you care to call it. This illness nearly had serious consequences when several people were taken ill underground, one particularly badly, leading to a certain lack of enthusiasm to enter 115 amongst other cavers for fear of what they might put their hands in ! Many thanks are due to our eminent expedition surgeon for ministering to the sick with undying affection.

CUCC will not forsake Fritz another opportunity of forcing them to drink a crate of beer on arrival; Seecamping Madlmeier will see them again next year. As in previous years, a special rate was negotiated for the toll road - bottles of Scotch should go at the top of any quartermaster's list of essentials. An accident-free three weeks on the driving front was an unexpected achievement considering the many early hours trips back from the plateau and our previous record of crashes.

The arrival of the UBSS in force on the Loser this year was particularly useful from an expedition point of view. They had received and spent a sizeable grant on expedition tackle so that there was enough rope to explore two large caves at once and furthermore no necessity to chop up personal rope. The UBSS also provided much of the transport during the first week.

It was decided that the ubss/SWCC Höhlenforschers would concentrate on 41 whilst CUCC renewed the attack on 115. This decision was based purely on the fact that Steve Perry knew where 41 was and Simon Kellet purported to know the whereabouts of 115. In fact everyone who wished got a trip in both caves; which produced some constructive criticism of the rigging in 115! The exploration of 41 was perhaps carried out by too few and as a result very long tackling trips were undertaken, worth many hero points but leaving several days when no-one entered the cave. The rigging was a superb piece of engineering and the cave was a real pleasure to descend. In contrast 115 was overmanned, largely because the prospect of breaking new ground was present from the first trip, and some pretty unimaginative rigging was done. It is fair to say that the entrance series of 115 to the streamway, does not lend itself to long free-hanging pitches, much of the depth being gained in hading rifts; any exploration next year ought to start by rigging a more enticing route in.

Once the streamway and high-level dry phreatic maze had been reached in 115, and a similar situation revealed in 41, the chance of a connection became more than a dream. A 115 trip to find a bypass to the first arduous 500m of streamway discovered a considerable amount of phreatic passage, some with seemingly anomalous draughts. Finding no obvious right way on, a cairn was built at the furthest point of exploration and a decision to push on down the streamway made. Three days later a pushing trip in 41 found the cairn and the connection was made. Unfortunately it now became easier to get into the system so that the more spectacular and better-rigged entrance was used only for tourist through-trips and may not be rigged next year.

The exploration of the streamway was dogged by illness, badly coordinated trips in which teams reached the bottom to find that there was insufficient rope or the bolt kit had been taken out, and by the arduous nature of the first tight 500m of streamway. It will be necessary to find a high level route if the exploration is not to involve twenty hour trips and a lot of enthusiasm.

Very little prospecting was done this year, and most of it concentrated on finding a third entrance to the 41/115 system. 32 is a promising hole but requires either a lot of hammer wielding or an application of Dr. Nobel's Linctus. The region to the north of 113 has yet to be investigated, largely because it is a long walk to lug tackle!

CUCC is not in the habit of mounting serious scientific expeditions and this was no exception. Surveying was the usual pain in the posterior and the club lacks a committed cartographer to sit around in the cold distasteful bits of 115. The club does have a surfeit of geologists, but they showed very little interest in applying their brains to the hydrology and geology of the system, though they did find some "pretty fossils - **** knows what they are".

CUCC may be criticised for not moving to pastures new, but the fact remains that the Loser Plateau continues to provide good caving, considerable depth potential - the current bottom of 41/115 is around 800m below the entrance to Eislufthöhle - and is a very accessible area. This latter part has to be the greatest advantage, after all, for most participants, the expedition is a holiday and so there should be a minimum amount of donkey work, trekking and roughing it involved, and easy access to beer, Apfelstrudel and Pfeffersteaks.

Finally thanks to campsite owner Fritz Madlmeier and to our local contacts Gunther Graf and Karl Gaisberger.

Phil Townsend