by Mike Martin
Preparation started several weeks before. This was always destined to be a small scale expedition and despite the inexperience of those who participated, our goals were met.
In Cambridge, training started by stringing Tina up over the side of Fen Ditton Railway Bridge. Stef borrowed a rope and tried tying himself in knots in a tree. Vast quantities of food were bought (Mark had a strange idea as to what we needed), and scattered around 46 Catherine Street. Tacklebags were crammed full of gear and the Rover packed. A last minute shuffling of gear and people, and everyone was crammed in their respective vehicles and we departed - almost without incident.
The plan was to drive to Dover, meet up and ensure everyone knew where we were going. Thus team Rover and Blue Fiat caught a ferry three hours before Team Banana (after the colour of their car). Not to be outdone, the Banana zipped along the motorway, overtaking Rover before leaving Belgium, to arrive at the campsite approximately ten minutes after Stef and Chris. The only problem we experienced was the inability of the Alpine's cooling system to cool. In fact it ejaculated over the attendants every time we stopped for petrol!
Day one set the tone of the expedition. Everyone got up early-ish and went to explore the plateau. A new area was chosen, and a draughty hole located. On returning to the campsite, Mike R and Tina were greeted, tents erected and food cooked. It was decided, to pevent wasting valuable days, that Mike M would take Stef, Gavin, Tina and Mark down 142 so some of them could try their SRT rigs underground for the first time. The cave was found without too much difficulty (despite the total darkness) at about 11.15pm. We surfaced six and a half hours later to a glorious morning.
Thus the expedition started with an overnight trip, the first of many. It seems strange that the justification of this trait was to avoid the necessity of emerging after dark, and getting lost on the way back down (as had happened on previous expeditions). However no one questioned trying to find the entrances in the dark!
The next few days' activities were split between descending 144, gardening as they progressed, and looking for new cave. The aforementioned cave was dug into after two days' effort only to stop eight feet in at a two inch slot. However, a little lateral exploration revealed the entrance of 152 at the bottom of a little gully. On the first descent, the team was a wee bit under equipped comprising Gavin and Tina sharing a set of SRT gear and a little stinky. The entrance pitch landed on a snow plug and steps were kicked down past an ice column to a scree slope. Wriggling behind a boulder at the bottom led to the second pitch. Gavin then surfaced and I went down wearing shorts, tee shirt and oversuit (bit chilly) to join Tina. Progressing down a series of short pitches and precariously perched boulder bridges, the proportions increased and our confidence rose.
The third trip saw the descent of the finest and airiest pitch, "The Good Pitch Venus". This was so named as Chris's original descent (accompanied by Tina) was the result of a considerable piece of levitation on Chris's part and what some described as "Frigging in the Rigging". Unfortunately, not much seemed to follow, the cave becoming an awkward tight rift. The way on was missed and found by a subsequent trip.
On this later trip, a further tight pitch was found, and the placing of bolts could have benefitted from the attentions of a contortionist. The pitch was named "Suicide Pot" in view of my skill with the driver! I descended (minus lamps which had both packed up) and failed to reach the bottom of the short rope used. A hasty retreat was forced by Gavin and myself, sharing his back-up lamp, having had three light failures between us. The pitch was finally conquered at the beginning of week three, after my return to the UK, by Stef and Chris who discovered bolts at the head of the next pitch less than five feet from my point of furthest exploration.
Meanwhile, other early activities had included a search of the Big Pitch area and Chamber in 142, hoping to find a way on towards 144:
A climb up out of the big chamber led to a balcony overlooking the pitch and via a weathered ramp to the passage between 142 and Stellerweg. The onset of a thunderstorm alarmed Tina and Gavin whilst they had a break from surveying. The munching of Mars Bars was interrupted by the thuderous roar of water. This turned out to be a three inch diameter column of water falling some twenty feet from the roof of the passage and echoing through the cave!
However, the main objective was to locate the connection between 144 and Stellerweg, the existence of which was suggested by many previous trips. Progress was slow at first due to the unstable heap of rocks at the top of the second pitch and an inability to find (or trust) the bolts placed three years ago.
On reaching the "Yellow Brick Road", the party split up. Somehow Mark Roddick managed not only to find but fall down an obscure little hole and land on a pile of sand. Then he slid down a boulder and stopped providentially before the edge of the sixty metre pitch. Amazingly, others wanting to follow this route (as it proved to be the main way on) had great difficulty with this small hole, and it took one person in excess of thirty minutes to get back up the fifteen foot pitch.
Beyond "Roddick's Dive" as it is now called, a ramp was crossed (which became a shower when it rained on the surface) to reach a continuation of the Yellow Brick Road. Progress was made by following a steep narrow tube down a ramp to a larger canyon twenty feet wide by thirty feet high. The many ways on from here mostly closed down, but one led to the head of a pitch. A food dump was established here and a retreat made.
The next trip started with a walk to the entrance in a blizzard and a descent in the freezing draught to the food dump. The pitch which had limited previous exploration was bypassed via a low mud crawl to a wet and draughty chamber below. Following the stream, another pitch was reached, this too was bypassed by a wet tube on the right and a very wide, ten foot chimney down. This ensured that each of us was totally drenched and ensured our discomfort in the slow, laborious surveying back to the Yellow Brick Road. The bottom of the chimney was found to lie in the rift below the Big Pitch in Stellerweg. This was confirmed by the finding of a wrapper from a dried dates packet. These had been a particular favourite of Steve Perry who was the last person below the big pitch on the derigging trip of 1981. No one on our expedition this year indulged in these.
On returning to the surface, a quick plot of the new data confirmed our discovery thereby providing a new top entrance to the system, making an overall depth of 971m, and a length of over 6.5km.
At this point all that remained was to tie up loose ends in 152, and derigging. Team children played with some magnesium ribbon in 142 - I'm told it made the chamber much lighter!! Needless to say, my employers carefully arranged things on my behalf so that I missed the detackling!
Finally - what is left for 1986? (or 1987, since 1986 didn't get there!)
Several draughting holes were found between 152 and the Vord. Schwarzmooskogel. These will require exploration and may join 152/113 the Sonnenstrahlhöhle system.
On ploughing through previous reports it appears that the draught at approximately the 1600m contour level in Sonnenstrahlhöhle reverses direction. This height also corresponds to the extensive phreatic levels of Stellerweg and 142. If there is an extensive horizontal development around the Fox's Glacier level in 113 then perhaps the 1 km gap may be bridged making one gigantic system.
For those interested in statistics:
|Name||No. Trips||Time Underground in hours|
|Brian Derby *||4||33|
|Mike Martin *||5||45|
* two weeks only