CTS 85.1463: BCRA Caves & Caving 29 (Aug 1985) pp 34-35 [ISSN 0142-1832]

CUCC in Austria, 1984

Pete Lancaster

The 1984 Cambridge expedition was the smallest for many years (10 people for 3 weeks in July/August), but it managed to tie up most of the leads which had been left at the end of the previous year. As usual, activity was centred around the small village of Altaussee in the South western Totes Gebirge, 55km south east of Salzburg. Unfortunately the expedition was characterised by conditions which were wet even for this mountainous region. A week of continuous rain hit the expedition before it had really got underway, and brought morale to an all time low. With the return of the sun and reasonable conditions, the considerable attractions of letching at the topless sunbathers on the Grundlsee proved as much of a deterrent to caving as the rain had the week before.

The main aim during the early stages of the expedition was the exploration of Wolfhöhle, which had been left wide open in 1983, a pleasant phreatic entrance series leading to a succession of fine pitches. It was during the second two-man rigging-in trip that the expedition hit its low point. The team tackled to the 1983 limit, which was a superb 40m free hang in a circular shaft. They roped on down a large clean washed rift which was completely dry until a change of character was met at the muddy Beezley Street, where they retreated, having finished the rope. They had just reached the streamway when there was a characteristic rush of wind and sudden increase in water level. On reaching the big pitch (Tiddley-Pom), they found the water level had increased by five times and ascending the pitch was out of the question.

From reports by the surface partyit was later estimated that the water had risen to this level in less than two hours, with the arrival of the worst thundestorm experienced in many years of expeditions. Fifteen hours of caving had depleted the team's food supplies, but solid planning based on equal quantities of food and rope meant there were a few sardines, the dust-like remains of a few packets of digestive biscuits, and some dried soup. They sat down to wait, trying to gauge whether the roar was increasing or decreasing, and experimenting with the best way to keep warm in a furry suit. After twelve hours, with no sign that the water would dramatically decrease (in fact it rained for the next 3 days), they took advantage of a slight improvement in the water level and struggled up the wet pitch.

Defensive rigging meant that the first rebelay was out of the main volume of the water, but was still painful with hands tingling as they recovered from the numbing water. They struggled out through the remaining 200m of pitches, all unrecognisable in the increased water, expecting at every pitch to see the lights of a rescue party. They dreamed of burnt rice pudding (a CUCC rescue speciality), but emerged after 28 hours underground to a rain swept and misty plateau with no sign of anyone. Halfway back they met an ill-assorted bunch of cavers. Apparently the rescue had a slow start - this would be the first caving of expedition for some; stops for food and beer at the restaurant and finally 3 hours spent wandering fruitlessly looking for the entrance all meant that the operation was not of the standard that might have been hoped for. It was probably just as well that they never did get underground.

When the rain finally stopped and courage was summoned again, the cave beyond Beezley Street was pushed down a muddy rift to a peculiar area of dried out phreatic tubes and a small sump at -426m. The final ignominy was to come, when the "wolf" skeleton which had given the cave its name was removed at the request of the local cavers, who declared it to be a brown bear.

During the later stages of the expedition, activity centred on the search for an upper entrance to the 898m Schnellzug-Stellerweg Höhlen System, explored by CUCC in 1982. The 1983 expedition had linked in the largely horizontal 1623/142 to the entrance series of Stellerweghöhle (1623/41), but this did not produce an increased depth. The main hopes for 1984 were in trying to connect 1623/143 and 1623/144, shaft systems further up the hill. Several trips were made to the area above the big pitch in Stellerweg, pushing the hitherto neglected maze of ramps and tubes in the search for a connection. Fortunately we were blessed with modern technology, and semi-instantaneous plotting of the survey data on a BBC micro showed that an aven which had been found in the far reaches was very close to the bottom of 143, which ended in a narrow slot. A trip was arranged with parties down 41 and 143 in the hope of establishing a connection; this was done, with hammering in 143 being heard in Stellerweg. The two ends of the caves are probably about 30m apart, but explosives would be needed to enlarge the rift, and this is unlikely to happen, even though the combined system depth would be 971m.

Other work done included the bottoming of the unloved Steinschlagschacht (1623/136) at approximately 240m, with a narrowing of the rift; and a small amount of prospecting on the Schwarzmoos Kogel which found some interesting phreatic tunnels.

Full details of the expedition will be found in the forthcoming Cambridge Underground 1985. A return trip is planned for this summer.

Once again our thanks to the local Austrian cavers, for many pleasant drinking sessions, to the landlady of the Staudnwirt, and to the Sports Council for a grant.