'91 was the sixteenth year of Cambridge University Caving Club Expeditions to the Totes Gebirge in Austria. We had 25 people, awful weather, 40 trips & 908 caving hours producing 1793m of surveyed passage, and about 500m more not yet surveyed. We drank over 700 bottles of Bier.
The pile surrounding the wookvan was about 20ft across and looked utterly ridiculous. 2 hours later it had miraculously disappeared inside, except for the two hang-gliders, windsurfer, 5 surveying poles, 6 aerial scaffolding poles and 12 spare HG uprights. Iain (Miller, East Dorset SS) had failed to get much sleep the night before as he had been fixing his car and was the only driver. He made it to within 12km of the campsite before finally falling asleep and blowing up two tyres hitting the kerb. Olly and Fran (his lucky passengers) had to walk these last klicks to get Mark D to drive out and initiate the rescue.
The only other vehicle event during the expo was when Tony's 205 GTI stopped working mysteriously on one trip down the toll road, only to work again after the ignominy of being towed to the campsite by Del's crap strada - still going despite the fact that it should have died gracefully some time ago. Julian Todd's new (to him) car was also pronounced 'very ill' by those in the know when it used 5 litres of oil on the way out.
The Wook managed to break a tent pole in two places on first attempting to erect his brand new poncy tent at Top Camp and was only able to fix it by borrowing a pole sleeve from Paul Smith's Supernova. Wookey also later burned a hole in it with a candle.
The caving was a bit slow to get underway as the weather was far too nice and too hot to carry loads of gear around the place. When people finally went, it was not to 161, but to Puffball and Icing Sugar Cave (Bovistundpuderzucker-höhle), a find from the end of 1990. This was fine, except that most of the old lags who knew where to go in KHöhle were bored titless of it and so chose Puffball instead.
Our new radios provided much amusement as very little knowledge was combined with much enthusiasm to build impressive aerials that didn't actually work very well, especially not with the computer turned on. This meant that it was only possible to use the radios by agreeing call-up times in the morning and evening when basecamp would be listening in. This worked, but after the luxury of the year before, was a little frustrating.
Rigging-in down Puffball progressed apace, with 7 trips in as many days. Del & JulianH rigged the helpful but somewhat superfluous ladder near the entrance and the 1st pitch, whilst Ju & Jon started the mammoth task of surveying the ultra-widdly entrance series. The next two trips rigged down 'Shell pitch' and then the long vertical 'Q8' & 'Dot to Dot' series of pitches. They found the first and second 'bottoms' ('Strike One' & 'Strike Two' or 'Del's Bottom') where the rifts closed down, in both cases continuations were found by penduluming higher up.
Jon, Gill & Ol continued the mega-tedious Yorkshire Ripper survey over two trips & then went down to 'Strike Two' and rigged the rather cruddy 'Bottom Bypass' pitch which proved to be the end of the 100m drop. This was followed by the exceptionally unhelpful-with-gear 'Tarzan's Folly' which led into bigger cave with classic streamway/pitch/ development. Puffball was looking good, and a couple more efficient trips rigged down Natural Redundancy, Cyclotron, Cloud Chamber & NDE.
It was on this 7th trip that Puffball revealed its true nature when a thunderstorm made the place extremely unpleasant and gave Juliette, Tony, JulianH & Del a hard time (see Ju's write-up for the gory details - as if you hadn't already heard them 15 times in the pub). This distressing experience produced a sudden surge of enthusiasm for good ol' 161.
Team Hanglider was also out in force this year - JulianT, MarkS, IanH & Wookey (in order of keenness). They had four gliders between them - Julian's Kiss, and an Atlas, Typhoon & Clubman from CU Hang Gliding Club. MarkS had an ignominious first attempt with the Typhoon. Whilst he was rigging there was lots of animation from an employee of the Bergrestaurant. After much handwaving it transpired that someone had crashed and needed help from hang-gliders to rescue his glider. Wookey drove down to the other ramp to check it out and discovered a man with a broken arm being tended to in the road and his glider practically on a cliff, tied to the Armco barrier. He explained that he would sort it out & went back up to get help.
He was just too late to see MarkS running gracefully off the top ramp & spiralling straight into the ground (but fortunately a German tourist had it all in his video camera for us to review). MarkS was extremely lucky to hit the only patch of grass for miles and got away with bending his upright, smashing his camera, and spraining his ankle. After fishing his glider back up the slope we were finally able to work on the amusing task of de-rigging a glider tied to a hairpin without wrecking it.
Later efforts were less epic & both Wookey & IanH got their first ramp launches in, although Ian bounced off the end of the ramp in a heart-stopping manner.
For the first two weeks there were only a few people doing KHöhle trips; old lags (and Fran, JulianS & IanH) in France (161c), and a few rigging-in to the RH Route, carefully improving the Dreamtime rigging for the expected heavy traffic that it never actually got. Ian Harris arrived for his first trip and then asked 'Where's my hat & light?' - for some reason he was surprised to find that he was supposed to have carried them up himself. Knossos was turned into a single hang to eliminate 1990's mysterious rub near the top. Iain was unimpressed with the rigging and re-rigged the 2nd & 3rd pitches just to show how well it could have been done; especially the second pitch which changed rigs every five minutes last year, but was still crap until Miller got to it.
On the third KHöhle trip Wook, Henri & Andy finally made it to Burble which needed to be pushed so that the survey wouldn't fit on the paper any more. The crawl proved to be a pain in the bum (especially to survey) and it unfortunately went (via a p38 - 'Vom pitch'). Andy ran out of rigging gear halfway down, so Wook got to run around the bottom first. There was lots of nice walking passage and an obvious lead at 'Exhaustion Pitch'.
This was a long way in and getting tackle through Burble Crawl was pretty awful so the search was on for a bypass. The next two trips down here (MarkM, JulianH, AndyA, JulianS, MarkS in various combinations) found, a couple of climbs that didn't go ('Shelf Indulgence' being one of them), some more passage and leads at the foot of 'Exhaustion Pitch', and, by climbing a 4m slope, a huge chamber ('Repton I & II'), which almost rivals Knossos in size.
There were two ways on found out of Repton II - one down the obvious exit passage, and one down a hairy 8m climb through the boulder floor, which is still-going running passage.
France was also going well, with 3 trips confirming that the 161c entrance dropped straight into France, and finding a passage 10m up this 'Francophobia' pitch ('Robinson Crusoe'). This was identical & parallel to the one below it connecting France & the FCII rift. It continued on the other side of the FCII rift, accessible by a dodgy traverse. Strangely this section of passage had a welly print in it, whilst the previous section didn't, and the climb up from the floor looked very unlikely. Thus it was named 'Man Friday'.
MarkD and his assistants rigged on down below 'The Dice', the huge block in France, duly calling the pitch 'Roll of the Dice'. It was on this trip that Mark's footloops - which he "had been meaning to replace for ages" finally snapped on the way out. His shouts for aid were answered only by a "What's that Mark, I can't hear you" from a sniggering Paul Smith, and there was much jollity as they listened to him huffing his way slowly up the pitch, muttering dire curses. Later on, Henri, MarkS, Tony, Fran & Andy pushed on down another pitch to the current partly explored hading rift pitch. They also surveyed everything below the Dice.
One day when we wandered up to the camp we found a small horde of Slovak cavers wandering about. They were apparently there to help a German group. They invited us to visit their caves and it looks like this will in fact happen after the '92 expo.
A trip intending to finally check out the Dungeon (left inconclusive since the very first 161 trip 4 years ago) was sidetracked when Fran found a big rift pitch directly below 'Automatic Doors'. This came in via the passage that had proved to be a very poor campsite 2 years ago for Jeremy, JulianT & Animal. It also made by far the quickest route into the system below the squeeze, thus making the newly-fettled Dreamtime rigging superfluous.
After the first week's activity the weather deteriorated and there was much sitting about at top camp waiting for the rain to stop. A boredom-inspired trip to de-rig Dreamtime was all that happened for a couple of days.
Four more Puffball trips occurred after the washout. First MarkD & Jon went to the bottom, re-rigged NDE to take out the knot-pass, and (due to a severe gear shortage) rigged a couple of ladders from naturals and their one remaining hanger to reach the current end of the cave in a gaping rift, hading somewhat and nearly big enough to get a train down. Meanwhile, MarkM & Julians S & H moved the surveying front down to the end of the 'Quark Strangeness & Charm' rift.
One more push attempt was made by JulianH & MarkD, but piezo failure caused them to push the lead at the top of Q8 instead. This went down a couple of pitches and may well make a promising alternative to the current route into the Darkroom.
A final attempt to catch the survey front up to the pushing front by Wook & JulianH was thwarted by another thunderstorm, the waters reaching them just as they got to the Darkroom. After waiting for 30mins produced no improvement, an extremely cold & soggy exit was made. It was awful. At this point JulianH resolved to buy a real oversuit next year, instead of using his bin bag & boiler suit combination.
This thunderstorm had caused general chaos as it had washed out Iain & Jon down the Left Hand Route (fortunately while they were on Butcher, before they got to Niflheim itself). It also soaked the mega-wrinkly team down France (Tony, Hugh, PaulS, MarkD & Penny). And finally the team that had set out to do Eishöhle was trapped for an hour at the col, before resigning and trudging back to camp.
After this no-one went down Puffball again until it was forced upon us by the de-rigging, as the weather never looked good enough.
Meanwhile there was the expo dinner at Hilde/Karin's to which three of the local Austrian cavers were invited. At this, Hans, one of the Austrians, offered to take us down Eishöhle. as the first trip had already been thunderstormed off this was welcomed by those who hadn't been. Henri was useful in her capacity as translator, and the usual ragged collection of 'caving' kit was assembled to get JulianS, Andy, Fran & Henri down. JulainS unfortunately lost a crampon on the exit and Hans made a really hairy ice-climb to a different exit look sufficiently easy that Andy followed him - much to his regret.
People had now all started leaving to avoid the de-rigging, and this meant that Iain and MarkF had rigged down nearly to the bottom of the Left Hand Route but had failed to reach the bottom because of the thunderstorm, and now had to go home. This left the Question Mark at bottom wide open for Wook and Andy to zoom on down and check out. It went, and (after pushing the very unlikely 'Wormhole') was connected to the Right Hand Route at an extremely obscure point in Wobbling. This allowed us them to get out without going back up Niflheim, which was a good thing as it had obviously been raining again as all the drips had turned into streams.
This trip caused a neo-rescue as somehow Andy managed to prussik out so much faster than Wookey that he waited for some time at S'not & then 1 hour 20 mins at the entrance without hearing anything and thus decided that something must have gone wrong. He dashed down to camp and dug Tony, Olly & MarkS out of bed (at 5am). Thus Wookey was extremely surprised to find people coming to go caving at 05.45! and was soundly abused for not being sympathetic enough to those who had come to rescue him.
Towards the end a few attempts at finding new entrances were made by Fran, Andy & Henri. They investigated a couple of shafts but all were blocked either by snow or rocks.
Dan and Penny had arrived for the second half of the expo and had found it very difficult to actually get underground as their first attempt was thwarted by a terminal lack of carbide, and then a Gösser bottle exploded in Dan's hand, cutting his wrist badly and causing a dash to the hospital. This prevented him from caving for about a week so he only managed a Knossos tourist trip & a de-rigging trip.
There were also various other trips wandering around Big Sainsbury's and Dreamtime, with a few new leads found and one new pitch rigged but not descended due to the water in Dreamtime, as well as an instance of 'second generation cavers' where Olly & JulianS 're-discovered' Bullshit Alley.
De-rigging time was now almost upon us so Olly and Wook went for a mega trip to get things finished off. They finished off the survey of S'not pitch. This had been surveyed earlier but no sketches drawn as 'it had been done before' where this consisted of Wookey having a quick sketch of it a couple of years ago.
They also de-rigged the bottom of Niflheim so that the rope could be pulled up from the top, found and surveyed a new bit off the black lagoon ('Trehala'), and measured hellgrind due to insufficient time for a proper survey. Then they surveyed the rest of 'Ambidextrous' and went into Burble to derig the 9mm rope in there. When printing the results of the survey data for Burble it had become obvious that Repton I was extremely close to an existing bit of the cave - Hyper Gamma Spaces - as they seemed to overlap. But the descriptions didn't seem to tally so a check was necessary. Wook went down for a look and found that they were, in fact, the same, so a burble bypass had been found. The pitch was left rigged (with the rope from Exhaustion Pitch) so that the bypass could be used next year.
Finally they set off out leaving two tacklebags tied to the foot of Knossus pitch for someone else to derig. This epic took 20 hours, getting back to camp at 12:40pm.
Unfortunately, that afternoon, the Eishöhle trip returned warning of thunderstorms by the next afternoon - they had been given a weather forecast by Hans. This meant that we had to get the rope out of Puffball immediately - it would be our last chance. It would take 4 people in 2 waves. Henri volunteered to go down the bottom with Andy but whilst this was noble it probably wasn't very wise, so it was arranged that as Wookey had had 2.5hrs sleep he would go first with Andy (at 10pm) and Henri & Ol would do the second half (starting at 5am the next morning). As France had already been de-rigged, this left just enough people to de-rig the Left (Dan, Penny, Tanya) & Right (Tony, JulianS, MarkS, Fran) Hand Routes as well. Tony felt very ill and hated every minute of it but survived the experience. All the de-rigging went well and both Puffball trips were completed in about 10hrs each and everyone was out with a few hours to spare before the rain started.
It went on solidly for four days afterwards, while the nine miserable souls remaining hauled everything up the entrance pitch and carried it all back down the mountain.
Tony manfully pulled about 7km of rope through the washer, spending about 5 hours in the rapidly rising river. It proved impossible to dry all the gear so we had to wait for a couple of extra days for some sunshine. Some of the time was passed by building a tyrolean traverse across the river, which was now so swollen that it was flowing across the bottom of Hilde's garden. This provoked some interest and much photography from the Gasthof residents and was very exciting to cross.
Eventually the campsite was packed up, and despite leaving a great deal of crap in Austria there was a stupendous pile of gear to go in the Wookmobile. Several hours of caver packing achieved this aim, although quite a lot had to go on the roof and the end result was a van that was probably somewhat overloaded. This proved to be disastrous in Switzerland a day or so later when Henri lost a valiant battle to retain control and she, Wook, a bent van & the most amazing pile of gear ended up on the hard shoulder. Again - see elsewhere in this tome for the gory details.
And Iain Miller won the beer tally, despite claiming not to drink beer!
Cast: Andy 'Wormhole' Atkinson, Olly 'Whirling computer man' Betts, Mark 'footloops' Dougherty, Mark 'The Lord's Day is sacred' Fearon, Julian 'boiler suit bravado' Haines, Ian 'Where's Belgium' Harris, Juliette 'Wet Herself' Kelly, Fran '3 in a tent' Lane, Gill 'Fridgid' Lindsey, Dan 'Under the thumb' Mace, Mark 'The Leper' McLean, Iain 'I don't drink beer' Miller, Penny 'Earth mother' Reeves, Del 'boy''every penny counts' Robinson, Tony 'What's a girl' (C)Rooke, Hugh 'technicolour dreamcoat' Salter , Tanya 'Mind the bull, you've got red legs' Savage, Mark 'Crash & Burn' Scott, Julian 'Lord of the Flies' Shilton, Paul 'Jolly Blue & Yellow Giant' Smith, Julian 'Where's the engine' Todd, Henri 'Baldilocks' Welbourne, Jon 'Pretty boy' Williams, Wookey 'The Wreck-a-tent'