Last year we were joined by members of the University of Bristol Speleological Society and Schnellzughöhle was connected to an upper entrance Stellerweghöhle, giving a sporting through trip to 400m and an overall depth of 650m. With the way on still open, our main objective this year was to continue exploration via the lower entrance. Unfortunately no U.B.S.S. were able to come, though they generously entrusted us with most of their rope. A small team of nine cavers spent four weeks camping at Altaussee by the lake, and although numbers were low, enthusiasm for caving ran high
Rigging in Schnellzughöhle proceeded rapidly at first, profiting from experience gained last ear in bolting techniques. The entrance is an old tunnel intersected by the valley, and this level is followed until a sloping ramp leads to a series of pitches in a massive rift. Last year we followed this down into the Big Chamber. From here horizontal passages radiate, both vadose and dry phreatic. Initially our lack of continental experience had led us follow the active stream down the notorious Pete's Purgatory. This is a narrow twisting rift passage similar to the entrance series of Disappointment POt, but over 800m long. Eventually this tortuous route enlarged at an inlet at the Confluence, and the streamway continued in classic Yorkshire style with short wet pitches separated by clean-washed passage and sporting cascades. Exploration ground to a halt when the streamway alone was over 1500m long and 300m deep, with nowhere to camp. Meanwhile the dry phreatic passage had been connected to Stellerweghöhle final chamber.
This year the unpleasant memories of Pete's Purgatory had faded somewhat, and we started pushing down the streamway again. Pitch after pitch was rerigged in a series of fifteen hour trips, and last year's terminus passed. The cave continued inexorably, now a sizeable winding streamway. The pitches became longer and wetter, leading to a fine canal. Round a corner this ended at a deep and murky pool, but a chilly swim reached a sporting duck beyond which airspace increased and a place to stand again was found. The stream then plunged abruptly down a spectacular shaft over 70m deep. Meanwhile a trip through the connection to the passage beyond the Stellerweg final chamber had found the long hoped for dry bypass to the Purgatory. This dropped into the streamway at the Confluence, and the inlet here turned out to be the water from Stellerweg.
It was now feasible to camp underground, and a small tent, well stocked with tins of corned beef and beans, was set up in a side passage just above the Confluence. This was to be used by pushing trips as a bivouac on their way out. The 70m shaft was descended in a series of leaps clear of the water, and led to a further three pitches into a large shattered chamber. The water could be followed forward, and almost immediately cascaded into a frothy sump in a deep rift. At a depth of 903m below the Stellerweg entrance, this sump is only 20m above the presumed saturation level at the altitude of Altaussee lake.
By now only six cavers remained, and with a week left, the derig began on the day following the discovery of the sump. Parts of the survey were rapidly completed just ahead of the growing mound of tackle making its way up the streamway. The camp was especially valued at this stage, and all the rope brought out and down without a day to spare.
The entire cave was surveyed to B.C.R.A. grades V and III and other entrances triangulated on the surface. WIth over a thousand survey legs in 4km of cave, the amount of data to be processed was considerable. The survey shown is based on the preliminary sketch made in Austria. This was drawn using a small programmable calculator to convert tape, compass and clino readings into 3d coordinates. We felt that taking a microcomputer and printer would have been well worth while, to reduce tedious calculation. The data has now been fed into a computer in England and a program is running which will plot a centreline survey of the plan or any projected or extended elevations.
There is no impervious cap or surface drainage on the plateau, and all the currently active passages are fed by percolation water. This only forms discrete streams below a depth of about 300m. However, the size of the Lower Streamway shows that the integration of underground drainage is already taking place. The passage finally drops rapidly to saturation level, and a few well defined resurgences other than seepage flows, owing to the lack of impervious basement rocks. No dry passage has been found below the Confluence, and it seems likely that all other streams in the area will drain to the Lower Streamway.
Most of the known entrances have a cold outward draught, caused by the temperature differences. However, Sonnenstrahlhöhle, a 300m deep find of a few years ago, is slightly above Stellerweg and has a slight inward draught. It was rerigged with renewed hopes of connecting it to the Stellerweg system, but this attempt failed. Nevertheless, the area behind it deserves further attention as it slopes up to the summit of the Schwarzmooskogel 1100m above the lake. At 903m, the Stellerweg system is now the second deepest in the Totes Gebirge by only 9m, and with the potential for more depth we will return next year.
Finally our thanks are expressed to local cavers Karl Gaisberger and Dr. Gunther Graf, to campsite owner Fritz Madlmaier, and to the Sports Council for a grant towards equipment.