Cambridge Underground 1994 pp 31-34

Austria 1992

"They set off from Cambridge with cars full of shit,
All wondering how possibly they'd made it all fit"

The first car to leave was the Battlewagon, with the rear suspension on it's bumpstops. Within ten yards of setting off, the towbar had attacked the kerb during a 3 point turn. The reckless occupants were MarkM and Ali, who planned to do some climbing in the Alps first. Their high point was Mark waking up from a dream and yanking the handbrake on. Fortunately it didn't work.

Next off was Wookey's van, with a trailer which was extracted from a dung heap twelve hours before the ferry was due to leave. MarkF was so scared by the huge piles of gear lying in Spalding Way (in the front garden, living room, kitchen and back garden) that he helped repair the rotten boards. The poor idiots who had to drive this combination were JulianS and Clive. The towbar was bolted onto the bumper, and only grounded getting on and off the ferry. Their high point was trying to repeat last year's van rolling events.

And so once more the expo began.

It had been raining in the Alps so Mark, Ali, and JulianH (who had joined them by train) were the first to arrive, followed five days later by Matt, and they set to with ungodly vigour. Mark had already been busy in Cambridge, and had built a tent ("The Portable Palace") which could sleep four in comfort, and a drill battery ("Small Paul") which could drill at least forty holes but weighed more than a full Goldflash tacklesack.

"The plateau and caves were covered in snow
They walked in ignorance of pitches below"

Puffball was found to be blocked, and while looking for Kaninchenhöhle, the three cavers wandered across a snow plug. After crossing it they looked behind and found a hole they could lob rocks down. Well, they found the cave, anyway.

Matt then arrived, and the caving began. A ladder placed next to the Puffball snow plug gave with some digging an entrance, and they went down to Piezo. There the rigging joy began, with the choice of a wet pitch or a hanging route off the far wall. With much use of skyhooks, power drills and bolts placed then removed, the Crows nest and Piezo were rigged, with an alternative, even drier route too! Maybe Julian's experience last year had something to do with this...

During these trips, the van arrived with the rest of the expo, and Glen followed closely. He started his expo well, trying out his new extra huge rucksack with an extra huge amount of gear, and staggered along regretting this move. Eventually the second wave set off caving, but Clive set the tone for the rest of the holiday by forgetting his welllies and hence being unable to go underground. This was fortunate, really, since his bottom exploded about an hour later. Expo food is so lovely. MarkS and Olly arrived that evening, and the potato hut filled with computers (2½ of them).

Puffball carried on until the hitchers arrived : first AndyA and Fran, then DaveF and Henri, with tales of fast cars and loud lorries. The exception was MarkM's trip down K-H to retrieve some co-ax for Julian's new hi-tech aerials. This started a new trend of solo trips : others were by Olly (surveying, too!), Tony, DaveF, MikeTA, JulianS and Clive. Most of the participants seemed to enjoy these trips, doing what they wanted to do and escaping the stresses of the expo. Mark's trip was an exception, caving wearing dry grots in an oversize harness off single dodgy spits not being his idea of fun.

Then it stopped : a large boulder in the Puffball entrance moved while MarkM and Julian climbed past it. This provided an opportunity for KH to be started properly, and for lots of new arguments - about gear split between the caves, and whether Puffball was actually safe. DaveF solved this latter one by the simple expedient of trying to put a tape round the offending boulder and sliding with it four feet down the slope, then gardening it for a couple of hours.

The next day, JulianH, Richie and Aggy decided it was time to carry on with Puffball, so they sensibly laid 600 metres of cable for the radio, and carried 200 metres of rope to the pushing front. This waited for a few days until Ali, Clive, Fran and MarkM went on the next trip went down. They had double clicker failure (now where did that happen before in pb?), with 'Kiss of Light' rift named due to the strange sight of two cavers nuzzling together, then found a small sump in the middle of a muddy rift - 'Waste of Effort', with a small way on that Wookey-the-Stupid subsequently found to be another sump. It was a strange feeling - satisfaction at finding the end of the cave, disappointment at it not going that deep, and fear at the sight of lots of mud next to the sump - I've never seen MarkM prussik so fast as he came out of the last pitch! To commemorate the end, 'The twelve pitches of Puffball' was written.

That was it, with the exception of a few surveying, derigging and general tidying up trips. Next cave, please.

Ah yes - Elchfalle/Moosehöhle. This was investigated since it was close enough to Puffball so you didn't need to move gear, and only so many people could go down Puffball. JulianH, Matt and Aggy started it, gardening and pitching as you do. The boulder slightly blocking the entrance was moved next with a huge pulley system, and the way was clear for the cave to go! Which, after a few pitches, it didn't. The crawl in the fault at the bottom was looked at by several people, the furthest being Clive on one of his solo trips, and was declared crap. While derigging Olly and Clive heard the sound of rushing water, and memories of Puffball tales came flooding back. Quick, brace yourselves ... here it comes ... ... trickle. What an anticlimax. The pitches were rigged well out of the water too - it wasn't even awful.

Wait! This is supposed to be a holiday, remember. Surely the club aren't as odd as the Austrians spotted wandering past the crapper at 8am in pouring rain clutching umbrellas? Obviously there was some festering to be done...

Firstly there were bicycles to be played on. Some people cycled up the toll road, Justin being the fastest at 1¼hr. Others preferred to cycle down it, AndyA getting to 55 mph before the speedo went funny and Clive doing the 5¼ miles in ten minutes, including hairpins.

Then there were the Austrian cavers. They invited us to the festival at Bad Mittendorf, where the freshly geartaped van driven with a pair of Wookey's shreddies hanging off the waving windscreen wiper seemed to cause amusement to the locals, and the commentator said our presence made it a truly international festival!

Once more their portable mountain with a seemingly endless supply of beer inside provided amusement and lubrication for the subsequent gear and survey inspection in their hut. They then inspected our singing and tried to teach us to clap at the expo dinner, where Henri as best german speaker was volunteered to get us an invitation to their caves.

The day before this invitation was due to be honoured it was Clive's 21st birthday, and after the nice food we ate, as a change from the relentless veggie slop, and the nice beer we drank anyway, we went to sleep under the stars, having duly ignored the repeated warnings about what was to happen next. Which was being awoken by Henri who must have felt subconsciously guilty about arranging it all to begin at 6am in Bad Mittendorf. Half an hour later Richie was driving at 90mph, coffee and cigarette in two hands and steering wheel in the other, and we made it, closely followed by Wookey sliding into the car park. There then followed a long day of, for one party, walking lots, caving a little and walking back. This led to an awful scree slope with rocks being thrown by goats, an unlikely flat football field sized piece of grass on top which was their campsite and we were told they had to carry all their camping and caving gear including the over-the-top stainless steel entrance fixed ladder, and a helicopter brought them cakes and a barrel of beer. On the way back over the plateau we were shown lots of huge holes, including one with a huge memorial cross on the wromg side of the hole from the path, and the one which the others had gone down, so we stole their shorts (apart from Wookey's because there didn't seem any point). Their cave went quickly to -368m via 20,93,10,53,88,57 metre pitches, and at the bottom they went pushing, found 300m more of cave (Cambridge Corner) which they didn't even have to survey - oh happy cavers.

Around all these frolics, the slogan on the T-Shirt (Kaninchenhöhle V The Final Frontier) was busy being unfulfilled. The initial rig to Knossos prompted major ranting about the amount of rope in Puffball, but fortunately this was finished, just in time for France to go deep after Tony started it with a solo rig that he enjoyed so much he ran back from the cave. AndyA and DaveF started the silly pushing at Repton, finding Pipeless and Satanás Sitting Room. MikeTA and Tina preferred to begin closer to the surface at an old question mark of theirs at the end of Gnome. Mike continued Deep Sleep on a solo trip and was really surprised when it stopped - this is supposed to be 161 and hence infinite!

Having learned from their previous experience of the distance to Pipeless, and being encumbered by the newly released drill battery AndyA and DaveF, accompanied by Henri and Tony, went down Garden Party and swiftly discovered it led to Niflheim. Sam worked the other way round, first being on two Dungeon trips, then deciding that since he was only in Austria for a week he had better go and do something silly, went off to stop AndyA and Wookey rigging a tyrolean across Hyper Gamma Spaces by stealing the gear, and accidentally found Mostly Mud with MikeTA. After this his next trip was a photo trip in Big Sainsburys, with tea, so maybe he'd had enough of being hard. He did find a zoom (Dokertees from '88?) in Dungeon, so maybe he was trying to be lucky again.

Meanwhile the club was producing its normal level of casualties. The vomit tally was started by the normal means of people drinking too much, but Wookey doesn't drink beer so he was forced to chuck all over Puffball due to dehydration. Jerry eventually won, and also helped Richie on the way. Gill tried to string herself up on Snot while fetching a drill battery for Dungeon, and her ensuing whistle call was swiftly answered, so no damage was done. Matt's whistle call while failing to find top camp from a couple of hundred yards away was however ignored.

Down France Tony tried to kill AndyA. "Below" he cried, so Andy tensed up to receive a blow. Which arrived on his head just after he relaxed. There goes one carbon fibre helmet, and one Andy down the pitch. "Aha", he went, "If I let go of the handle my stop will work". STOP. Throw up. Carry on caving. Push a bit. Oops, falling again, where has that 6ft by 1 ft shelf gone. Put a bolt in using 3 spits. Better leave. A tad psyched then!

Slightly more serious were Glen and JulianS. Glen fell down a shakehole and dislocated his shoulder, to which Olly's comment was "Does it go?". The injury was aggravated by getting washed down the river at the back of Hilde's. Julian was slightly more cunning - he waited until derigging had just begun, and fell off a small cliff on the way back from the cave, bruising his back. Oops - better fester and watch all these big strong men carry gear.

JulianH had appointed himself radio man, and spent several hundred pounds on CB gear, including a portable to go caving inside an ammo box. His amazing triple inverted-v aerials (3 big posts with lots of wire and guys) were a sight to behold, his repeaters were so complicated he had to change the design while on expo to make them work and the portable was completely reengineered. After 3 weeks fettling, the portable didn't work even slightly, but top camp to base camp did, which meant he could escape to the French Alps for a proper holiday without getting too much strife. Unfortunately, just after he had gone, a huge thunderstorm came and blew the aerials down (and some of base camp), and nobody knew which direction to put them up in. Oh well, maybe next time...

Time to do something else again, isn't it. The Austrians were still around (not surprisingly). Robert the Wonder Caver came and gave us an excellent slideshow, with much oohing at the tight bits of cave, and jealousy at the amazing lightning photographs. (A few days later we had the privilege of watching a thunderstorm from base camp for half an hour before it started raining.) Robert then invited us to go to a beer festival, at which the term "Schnappered" was coined, meaning having drunk far too much of the different sorts of nice schnapps they served there. Richie, while trying his best to avoid it, nearly started a fight, and we eventually found him asleep under a fairground lorry. After this Jerry generously stuck his fingers down Richie's throat and ensured his place on the vomit tally. Meanwhile Aggy Finn (his real name) was consolidating his place on the sharking tally, but Robert TWC spoke Austrian better so he did better that night.

Team lag turned up to catch the embers of the expo, but left before derigging. Jeremy, Chris and MarkF arrived, drank some beer and declared their intention of climbing the Trisselwand. Roping in one of DaveH's festering women, off they set, ridiculously early (according to Mark's writeup). After eventually finding the correct starting point, four hours later (11am), off they climbed. Climb they went, with some more getting lost, until 5pm when Jeremy decided he had sunstroke, and that they ought to go down again. So they did, and got to the 2nd pitch without problem. Unfortunately, a thunderstorm decided to happen, at the same time as people were having problems going down. All this led to rope tangle, which delayed their crossing of the small gulley sufficiently that by then it was full of water with rocks and ice in it. This was epic, and Jeremy has subsequently claimed it was the most scared he has ever been. Eventually they all reached the bottom with only minor injuries (a badly bruised shoulder was the worst) logbook etc etc.

Of course the expo would not be complete without its quota of car failures. However they were remarkably good this year. The Wookvan waited till Slovakia to break properly, the only minor damage being a pissed and fat JulianH pulling the roofrack apart. Even the battle wagon survived with only a few improvements, a bit of oil system fettling, and new rear brake shoes. These were so tight the van had to tow the wagon out of the campsite (a four wheel drive princess) and Ali had to sit in the boot for a while to give the rear wheels enough grip to stop sliding.

So back they went to caving. DaveF, after avoiding the end with Garden Party, decided it was time to go solo caving and went down The Hole Below The Pitch Below The Squeeze (hooray for descriptive names), now called Bladerunner. Everyone else (well, those sufficiently hard/stupid) went to the end. Aggy was sent to climb round a pitch, while Wookey, AndyA and Jerry stood around making helpful comments like "Put your cowstails in and get on with it", hence the 3 Wise Men. So he did, but unfortunately went too far and had to be destrung by Andy. This made him all scared, so he left Wookey and Andy to find Far Too Far, via phreatic passage with jet black floor they didn't want to put footprints in, and the question marks multiplied. On the next trip, Wookey and Andy surveyed their finds, and it was time to derig.

Yawn derig carry they went. Ruth and Jane (DaveH's friends) were impressed with the amount of shit we all carried, but DaveH was the star, carrying far too much inside and outside the cave. It didn't even rain too much, only thunderstorming at night. Time to go away - Slovakia for some, trains and cars for others, and poor DaveF left to cycle home (900 miles in 9 days - not bad)

The End