With the bottoming of Stellerweghöhle, some of the older members felt it was safe to return to Austria and the attractions of lemon ice creams, gooey cakes and a little idle prospecting in the sunshine soon had the might of EXCS racing in their bath chairs along the autobahns to Altaussee.
The advantage of age is that it provides the experience so valuable in the act of prospecting. Don't bother with the big open shafts, they always choke in snow or boulders - look for a horizontal draughting entrance not too far from the road. So the first find, 140, was a loose, open rift, just below the summit of Schwarzmoos Kogel, and miles from anywhere. Bunde lashed arms and legs were endemic, and no-one felt too sorry when it inevitably choked at -100m, and even Julian couldn't be forced through the final boulders.
Ambling down from 140 after a surveying trip, John and Julian deviated from the normal route and happened across Wolfehöhle. Its main entrance lies 18m above 82, and is a 2m high, 1m wide walk-in passage complete with an icy outward draught. From the start, Wolfehöhle had all the symptoms of going horribly deep - see next years journal to see if it lives up to its promise. The two explorers, minus lights, felt their way along the passage, throwing stones ahead to test for a drop, but it was soon obvious that shorts and T-shirts alone wouldn't be adequate to push the pot to its end.
The next day Ben, Naomi, Julian and John finished derigging 140 and with armfuls of rope romped off down Wolfhöhle. A rapid bolt and the team surged on down the 19m pitch into a chamber complete with the skeleton of a wolf who had fallen in via another entrance. The drop continued down; this was dismissed as an irrelevance but could be worth looking at, and the way on was a loose 3m climb up into a draughting tube. It then decided to go down an awkward climb, later laddered, and after a short grovel it opened up and popped over the edge of a great black hole. With whoops of ecstacy the explorers lobbed boulders over the edge and grinning listened to the tantalising booms as they bounded into the depths. And then Ben realised he'd have to go down and suddenly he didn't feel very well.
A retreat was made for some more tackle, and the next day saw frightening quantities of rope ferried to the edge of the pitch. Off to the left, an interesting crawl tempted Julian and Naomi, and they disappeared down this to intersect a large passage leading to another set of smaller shafts partially descended before it was decided to concentrate efforts on the big pitch. One of the attractions of this alternative route is that the large passage comes back to the head of the big pitch, so the crawl could be avoided by a spectacular Tyrolean traverse rigged across the 80m drop. Meanwhile Ben and John were bolting down the big pitch with a series of glorious French style freehanging rebelays. The shaft opened into a large rift, with some black peaty mud on the walls in the upper section - no explanation for this mud was ever found. The rift bottomed out at a small streamway which continued with a bit of a traverse and a short drop. There had been enough excitement for the day and so it was time to exit for an early evening beer in the sun.
The weather turned nasty, but after a couple of days the party returned. The gear had been scattered sround the entrance to dry in the sun, and longjohns now had to be dug out of te snow, resulting in much whimpering. But two slightly damp cavers were soon back on the big pitch, wondering what it would be like with the water flowing. Fortunately, the rope gave a fairly dry hang, and the descent was continued down the rift, avoiding most of the stream with a series of short traverses and pitches before meeting a second shaft. Here it was impossible to escape the water, and the icy wind and spray soon penetrated the thickest longjohns. While it may be great for the bolter at the sharp end of the rope, with much to keep him occupied and enough exercise to stay warm, his partner squatting on a ledge above has nothing to do but shiver and ask himself why he's there. There was no obvious answer, and the team retreated.
Ben and John now had to go home, despite wanting to stay and help derig, so Wiggy joined Julian in a final pushing trip. The final section of the second shaft was descended and a few shorter pitches followed, before a truly tremendous shaft was reached. The last decent length of rope (40m) was fed down and Julian descended. The rope hangs free after the first metre, and for most of its length hangs in the middle of a circular shaft approximately 6m in diameter. The rope ended 3m off the floor, so Wiggy sent down a short length of rope so the descent could be completed. Beyond, another pitch estimated at 15m continued, but lack of rope precluded a descent. Time had run out, so the cave was surveyed and detackled.
Wolfehöhle still has much to offer; there is no reason why it shouldn't reach -800m. Many leads have not been explored and the poit should provide the younger generation with fun for the next couple of years while EXCS return to their retirement.