CTS 91.1327/a: Cambridge Underground 1991 pp 5-10

CUCC Austria 1990 Expedition Report


Now, the complete expo report that follows this article will be at least 9,000 words long and largely pretty dull as it is written for consumption by sensible people who hand out money; your average caver doesn't qualify for this description as they tend to be silly people with no money, so this is a version aimed at you lot.

This year must go down in the annals as the year Hi-Tech came to the Expo. With several grand's worth of radios, a survey computer, and a Bosch drill, CUCC were well on the way to the 21st century. Good job our carry-in is easy enough to accommodate such kit, and a pity that we can't manage the same levels of equipment for our transport. Anyway, read on to see how it all went.

Arrival in Austria

So, come the 25th June the first wave (Wookey, Del, Tina, Juliette and Dave F) set off 3 weeks early to do some mountaineering before the expo and to avoid all that last minute organization. A week after that came the Landrover and three more bodies (Jeremy, Adam and Paul T). After 2 weeks walking we jacked it in and headed for Hilde's familiar campsite, scene of many a debauched night over the years. This was a week before the official start of the expo but that didn't fool the weather and it tipped it down in a huge rainstorm as we travelled, so much so that the Wookmobile ignition resigned until an hour's rest and much WD40 got it going again. This was to be the first of many breakdowns amongst the even-more-rubbish-than-usual set of 'cars' that appeared this year.

We arrived to find that Claire and Olly had got there that morning to be told by Hilde that we weren't coming for another week! This meant that a week before the start there were nine bodies ensconced in Hilde's with our free introductory Schnapps, and then another car load of three (Dave H, Julian, and Matt) turned up at midnight making 12 in all. (Any apparent arithmetic errors in the above are caused by Tina arriving twice!)

That night the newly-put-up beer tent blew over, destroying much of its frame so we spent the next morning trying to get it fixed, being eventually saved by Hilde's husband who brazed it back together.

We also installed the Vesta. Now we had a bit of a problem with Vesta. They had asked us how much we wanted - we thought of how much we could reasonably ask for - ie. about 100 meals, and then doubled it and went for 200. How many arrived at Cambridge before we left? 720 two-person meals, ie. at least 1000 caver-meals, which was enough for everyone to eat Vesta twice a day for almost the entire Expo. We managed to get rid of some by swapping it with York for batteries and by giving it away to club members but there was still an entire trailer-full come Expo time and with only three flavours - Chicken Curry, Paella, and Chicken Fried Rice - everyone was looking forward to some really exciting food!

Despite the presence of 29 question marks on the 1989 Kaninchenhöhle survey there was some doubt about how much more there was to find and lots of slackers who wanted to go prospecting around the plateau anyway. One of the best leads was a big hole 5 metres up the wall at the end of Yapate Inlet, down the Right Hand Route. The deepest question mark was fairly close by, so it was decided to go for these first and then go for the stuff down the Left Hand Route where there were more leads. (After last year's problems with not having enough rope we had fallen upon this plan of only doing one or two things at a time to avoid the same problem - some hope!).

Caving at last

So after a couple of days of shopping and setting up base and top camps (Hilde's and behind the Bräuning Nase respectively) we were under way. Jeremy went down a hole that he had first bolted the entrance of two years ago, and it eventually went to minus 80 metres via some very tight pitches ('Fancy a coffee' and 'Get yer kit off'). Meanwhile the riggers-in started work on the Right Hand Route whilst Wookey and Juliette took some climbing gear and headed for Adrian Pitch, which had an inviting hole across its head. This was accessible by a dodgy traverse, which had been looked at and left ('needs some gear') in '88. This done, the Wookey headed off up some crawls and was surprised to find daylight again - it popped out and yelled 'Where the fuck am I' which produced an Adam who was prospecting in the area. Not bad for the first day - finding a new entrance.

Expo Hazards: 5k gif The next day, back underground, the traverse continued up-dip in what was obviously a big rift, eventually reaching a beautiful 50 metre pitch ('French Connection II'). At the bottom of this was a passage containing a piece of topofil cotton and some boot prints - hmmm, looks like someone has been here first. However, we couldn't find any of their bolts so we continued exploring. Back on the surface Adam found a corresponding marked entrance only 10 metres away from the new 161b, with circumstantial evidence suggesting that it was French. This has still to be confirmed.

Meanwhile Jeremy and Adam headed for the Yapate climb, armed with Geraldine, our lovely new Bosch drill. Unfortunately they didn't get very far as the battery went flat after less than a bolt hole (it had been used for a spot of re-rigging on the way down). Nevertheless, whilst wandering about in frustration they found an impressive pitch series reached by an 'obviously blocked' crawl. This was duly named 'Flat Battery'.

Next Julian took Dave H to look at his question mark part way down Flapjack. Their first attempt had been thwarted by Team Flat Battery who were failing to rig the last pitch as their rope was a good 3 metres too short. This time it went better, and despite Dave's comment "When I saw Julian's way on I thought he was joking", the tiny rift did go, although after getting lost on the way out the next visitors took a ball of string!

Wookey and Dave were the next to have a go at the Yapate climb, this time using conventional climbing gear. The climb itself was only hard, but the mud covered traverse at the top was 'absolutely horrific...' [serious bullshit edited out here]. Much faffing was caused by the snaplinks on both Dave's dangly bag and the tackle sack coming undone and leaving our intrepid cavers at the top with no bolting kit or SRT rope. This problemette was dealt with by the use of a bit of IRT ('Indestructible Rope Technique') with the climbing rope. Fortunately all this effort was rewarded and they found 150 metres of big phreas, followed by a 23 metre drop and 180 metres of steeply descending rift leading to a nasty-looking pitch. Along with the 100 metres of 'Vestabule' checked out on the way down, that made us about 400 metres of passage up on the day.

Cars and computers

At this point the rest of the Expo turned up, Mark D winning the worst car award by using 9 litres of oil on the drive out (the car later died completely near Salzburg, refusing even to be towed back to camp (we bent Tony's car trying), so Mark got the AA to pay for a brand new hire car to fill with caving gear and yob home in). He did succeed in getting the hang-glider out so that put paid to any more caving by Julian or Mark S who kept lemminging off the 10 metre ramp bolted to the side of the mountain to land on the Village Green some 900 metres below. Mark managed a descent time of 4 minutes on one rather choppy flight i.e. nearly 4 metres per second vertically, never mind his horizontal speed!

Other people avoided caving by going windsurfing, sunbathing by the lake, walking, climbing and touristing (oh yeah, and drinking bier of course) - any excuse really.

Along with another 13 people came the rest of the gear: a computer for doing the surveying on (bit of an improvement on the programmable calculators of the last few years); and the Philips radios, which proved to be absolutely ace gear. We didn't even need to cart the second base station up the hill as the mobiles reached down to base camp anyway. It was eventually shifted up and installed at the cave entrance giving excellent all-round communications. Now we didn't have to walk back down the mountain to go shopping when we ran out of Vesta and bog roll, we just phoned up base camp and told them to bring some up.

The only problem was irate Austrians trying to use the same frequency (they weren't supposed to be there either!), and trying to communicate with the total pissheads down at base camp. For example, Adam and Jeremy stupidly dashed all the way up and down the Dachstein in a day (20 miles and 8000 feet of ascent), and then got lost on the way down in the dark. Fortunately they had a Talkie Walkie with them so they phoned up for some transport, but all they got was an unbelievably pissed Julian (as the weather had been too bad for flying) who claimed that it would be 'completely impossible to walk the 50m to the beer tent to get someone else to talk to them as he would fall over'.

The computer caused a bit of a problem as well (don't they always?) as Wookey had brought the data and software on 5 inch discs but the Archimedes only had 3 inch ones. Wadders, unable to contact Wookey as he had buggered off early to Austria just to make things difficult, had intelligently brought an extra 5 inch drive with him, but it wouldn't read the discs. The combined efforts of about eight supposedly intelligent people, several of whom had newly-acquired degrees in Computer Science, got us nowhere. Eventually Wookey was forced to drive 40 miles to something approximating a town, and wander around looking for a Dixons, or anybody else that might have a computer, and attempt to explain to them that we were English cavers and could we just borrow their PC for a mo? Surprisingly, this eventually proved successful and provided Olly with another excuse not to go caving at all (the first excuse had been Claire but she had gone home after 2 weeks). He proved much more useful above ground than below by inputting all the data and writing an impressive 3D cave rotation/examination program as well.

Caving again

On the next trip underground, comprising some ouigees touristing around the entrance series, Mark S was somewhat surprised when one of our new Hilti bolts fell out, depositing him on his arse on the ledge he'd just tried to abseil from. This made people somewhat suspicious of our new drill and bolt combination, so it didn't get used for some time until Dave F and Wookey fished it out from the depths of the cave to do some surface testing. This involved bolting up a few boulders so that we could tie them to the mountain and chuck 'em off. Some Fall Factor 2s with a 40 kilogram boulder failed to break anything and a Fall Factor 1 with a 150 kilogram boulder (the biggest we could slide off the edge!) broke the tape and partially melted the rope but didn't do the bolt any harm. The ring hanger survived in very good nick as well - looks like good gear.

A couple of Swedes passed through, on their way to another Expo, dropping off Hugh, the newest member of the CUCC Scandinavian Department. One of them got the highest Time Underground per Day ratio of anybody. Dangerously keen some of these foreigners.

By now the Vesta mutiny was developing - led by Paul Smith and the Veggies. Ironic, really, as they didn't have to eat the bloody stuff anyway. Unfortunately, Paul was far too good a cook and everyone was eating veggie in preference to more Vesta, especially at base camp where shopping for nice food had become rife - what do think this is - a holiday? You lot can't afford to eat nice food, now shut up and eat some more Shit Curry.

We now had three deep routes, as the first three things we had looked at were all going strong, and indeed this started to cause a fairly serious rope problem as our entire 1.4 kilometres was used up. Fortunately, just as things were about to start getting nasty as people argued for their favourite route, the Flapjack II series ended at an inaccessible rift with water at the bottom - apparently at exactly the same height as last year's sump, which was only about 30 metres away. This made it pretty certain that that was the water table here and we weren't going to get any deeper without going sideways a fair way. This series contained an absolutely stunning 100 metre pitch 'Splatdown' - due to the mega rock that had been bunged down it and had sunk in the gloop at the bottom. This had been rigged on our new 9 millimetre rope - Ernie the Earthworm - and there had been much gibbering and whimpering all round!

Meanwhile 300 metres of coax cable was laid from the entrance so we could play with our radios underground as well, and people kept finding bits of cave more or less wherever they looked. The Adrian's 'French Connection II' pitch had a couple of others below it, culminating in a nasty, grey, dead-end bit, appropriately named 'Belgium'. More cave was found about 40 metres from the entrance and in several side passages, climbs and holes down the Right Hand Route.

The next development was that after much fruitless searching last year, we finally found a bypass to the Squeeze which had claimed two victims (a femur and a pelvis) in '89. The Bypass was called 'Dreamtime' and was one of the strongest leads left last year, coming out about halfway along the Right Hand Route. This allowed our rather large geologist to finally get into the cave proper, (he hadn't fitted through the squeeze)and tell us what all this bloody space was doing here anyway. The squeeze failed to claim any more victims as we had installed a 'dickhead catcher' - a sort of donkey's dick for cavers - which would catch anyone who attempted to repeat the previous disasters.

Sheep, drugs and rock'n'roll - only substitutes for caving (6k gif)

There was, of course an Expo dinner with much debauchery all round - well not that much debauchery this year, but Jeremy did challenge the Club that he could eat ten of Hilde's incredible 'Death-by-Chocolates'. He did manage seven before throwing up, but missed Mark's tent. This was a great pity as he had successfully thrown up in Mark D's tent in '88, Mark F's tent in '89, and had tempted fate by sharing his abode with Mark S in '90.

More fun and beer were had when the club was invited to appear in the village carnival by the local cavers who had an amazing artificial mountain, complete with abseil, cave, bar and accordionist on their float. We only had our trusty Rover, on its sixth (and probably final) expo, and with lots of free beer around, everyone got extremely drunk - well, what else is there to do?.

Photos were taken of the mega 'Splatdown' pitch, and of Yapate and the massive Knossus chamber. Unfortunately photos were not taken of 'Flat Battery' as Mark D the photographer had had far too much beer at the above-mentioned carnival (to prove how 'ard he was). Much to our surprise he made it up to the cave the next morning, looking like death and having the shakes so bad that he made a big hole in his hand whilst trying to break up our cheapo Polish carbide into bits small enough to go in a generator. He even made it underground, but resigned after about an hour as it was just too awful, and headed out. He did discover a third entrance on the way out by forcing a bedding plane connecting the 161b entrance to the nearby French entrance. "It was so tight I had to dig myself out at one point" said Mark 'God-I'm-so-hard' D. Later Paul-the-large-geologist got through so someone is bullshitting somewhere!

Meanwhile the rest of Team Photo had a lovely trip to the bottom of Flat Battery (minus 400 metres) and checked out the remaining leads. The pitch series had finished at 100 metres or so of largely sand-filled phreas with lots of tiny tubes going off. None of these went anywhere although Wookey-the-stupid pushed one for about 150 metres of thrutching and even did a classic Mendip duck (at 1°C)and after giving up at a dodgy climb froze his balls off for the rest of the 16 hour trip. There's technically still a question mark there, but anyone who wants it is welcome to it, OK? After deciding that this had finished too we de-rigged it, so that was that.

Meanwhile lots of people had been wandering about on the surface looking for holes as it was sunny up there (the weather was being consistently brilliant) and 15 new holes were found and marked, at least one of which is still going after 200 metres or so. Even Wookey and Dave F took a couple of days off to survey two caves left over from '88 (162 and 163), before everyone forgot where they were, as has happened to so many other over the years - ahem.

Ending it all

Finally, as everything started bottoming out, people remembered the original plan and got round to looking at some stuff down the Left Hand Route. The first hole they tried went straight into more big pitches (bloody cave's full of holes!), called 'Powerstation', comprising 'Dungeoness', 'Sizewell B', 'Dinorwig', and 'Foulness Ledge'. Two more trips pushed this down for 120 metres until it stopped at a couple of tiny rifts. Why do they all do that? - I mean where does all the water go?

This year's collection of cars was even more motley than usual; at one stage, five of the six remaining vehicles were knackered. Wadders' pistons had popped out of one of his rear brake cylinders whilst hacking down the toll road, causing the occupant's lives to flash before their eyes, but fortunately he had a spare circuit so they survived. His clutch lever had also snapped whilst driving to the cave so he had neatly turned round and driven all the way back to the campsite in second, ignoring all the junctions as he couldn't afford to stop. This was left for us to fix as Wadders dashed back to the UK to do a week's work in the middle of the Expo, taking Jeremy's car (the nice one) with him. The Wookmobile's brakes slowly decayed until at least four pumps were required to get any slowing down done. After taking 3 days to buy a new cylinder, and knackering it on insertion as it had the wrong threads, National Breakdown took the car away to fix it. This meant that those unfortunates who were supposed to drive it back got a lift in Mark D's nice new hire car. The Landrover's dynamo died so we had to keep charging up car batteries for it, and only using it in the daytime. Fortunately, with all the shagged cars about there were plenty of batteries to spare! Del's thermostat was knackered so a drive up the toll road took 45 minutes and required at least one refill. That left Tony's nice 205 GTi - but that had shagged rear suspension so you could only put two people in it without taking big gouges out of the tyres.

Back underground Jeremy went and gibbered at all the hanging death at the head of the Endless pitch, and then Wookey and Dave F (who had become engaged at the CUCC dinner for always going caving together) took Geraldine down and did some fancy rigging down another 70 metres. One more (20 hour) trip finished this off as the pitches stopped at a mud floor at minus 450 metres with a hole at the end that "you might be able to get through Wookey, but no one else is going to try" so that was surveyed and finished with, although a tempting huge hole halfway up may be worth a go next year.

More passage was found above the Yapate climb heading 60 metres straight off the end of the survey, with three ways on at the end. This, along with all the Left Hand Route holes that we never even got round to looking at, and the rifts in Adrian's, holds most promise for '91.

Finally, we ran out of time and people started buggering off home to avoid the derigging. All able bodies were pressed into service to shift all the string out of the hole and back down the mountain, along with all the other Expo paraphernalia like Rebecca the stretcher (unused this year!), and lots of tents, food, bolting kits and caving gear.

We successfully turned Hilde's nice campsite into a bombsite with gear, string and dead cars everywhere. Eventually it was all stuffed into the available vehicles and everyone disappeared: Team Trinity off to hitch to Turkey and back; Team Intrepid to do Swiss mountains, French Caves, Gorges, and beaches; and the rest off home.

So, another successful trip for CUCC, with 2.7 kliks of passage discovered, mostly in pitch series below the 300 metres level, and plenty more holes in the ground to go at in future. We may not be the most glamorous expo on the planet, but it is one of the nicest, an excellent training ground for future hards, and, well, someone's got to discover all that nasty Austrian cave!

This year's team: Jan Armendal, Olly Betts, Adam Cooper, Mark Dougherty, Tim Farrar, David Fearon, Mark Fearon, Annie Heppenstall, Lief Hornsved, Dave Howes, Matthew Keeling, Juliette Kelly, Joe Lenartowicz, Keith Millar, Claire Purnell, Mike Richardson, Del Robinson, Jeremy Rodgers, Tony Rooke, Hugh Salter, Tanya Savage, Mark Scott, Paul Smith, William Stead, Peter Swain, Paul Theobald, Julian Todd, Francis Turner, Andy Waddington, Jared West, Tina White, Wookey.