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Cambridge Underground 1999 pp 75-82

Expo '96

by Unknown

"To jack, or not to jack. That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and bolts of outrageous rigging..." --- Steve B

Halfway through expo '95, it seemed that expo '96 would struggle to find ten members. The feeling that we were banging our heads against a brick wall was stronger than ever after an expo spent pushing fairly pointless leads in

Kaninchenhöhle. Then Wookey, AndyA and JulianH went caving and accidentally found Triassic Park, and suddenly everyone who had been looking forward to a Summer doing something nicer in 1996 was forced to think again.

A year of relentless expo bullshit followed, meaning that by the time the Summer came round again there was a long list of people intending to go to Austria, attracted by the stories of train tunnel passageway and over 50 new leads with walking access from a new entrance, 161d or Scarface. This included some unlikely names who hadn't been seen on expo for some years. Almost all of them were going to bring their caving gear, and a clear majority had expressed the intention of using it. In the end, forty people turned up in Austria at one time or another, the largest ever CUCC Austrian expo. The guest list included AndyC and Juliet from Bristol, Rolf and Lumatt from York, Phil Underwood from London, and Brian.

Up until a week before departure, Brian was known only as "Phil Underwood's Mate", so we were half expecting a scruffy student who barely knew how to wipe his own arse. Up rolled a 43 year old bloke who five weeks later had won the TU tally having amassed 121 hours underground. This was largely achieved by being the only person who was prepared to accompany Nick on repeated trips down Interview Bastard, of which more anon.

Expo wouldn't be expo if everything was organised well in advance, so this year we changed the dates two weeks before departure. This was largely because nobody wanted to derig, so we waited until everyone had booked their holiday and then moved the whole expo forward a week, and turned the planned reconnaissance week into a reconnaissance two days. Steve and Anthony spent the day before departure buying bits for making temporary cave tags and making up the top camp food. This rush helps explain the generally low quality of this year's top camp fare, though the absence of any nice ingredients may also be significant. In the end most of the things that needed to be done got done, and late that evening a Lada and trailer combination trundled out of Harvey Court, and expo was underway.

Week 1

"Well, if some of the spits weren't kak, you wouldn't appreciate the good ones." -- PhilU

The trailer proved to be considerably sturdier than it's 1995 predecessor, despite having ominously been found by Wookey in the same place, and was still in one piece on arrival at the Gasthof Staud'nwirt late the following evening. Anthony and Steve's run of good fortune continued as they managed to get enough pegs in to stop the beer tent being blown away by the first thunderstorm of expo, and re-found 161d at the first attempt (though it took a long time slogging round the Stogerweg in the rain.) Thus by the time Nick, Helen, Gunilla and Matthew arrived we had a base camp, a top camp and a cave. Not bad.

What we didn't have was a decent surface route to 161d, which is situated in the middle of a cliff on the far side of the Schwarzmooskogel ridge from top camp. Just as we were about to set off to try and find one, Hilda's phone rang: Helen, who had been in Austria 36 hours, had a job interview the following week, having failed to get any interviews at all during the preceding months. She and Nick thus had to go to Salzburg to change her flight ticket, and in the end she only managed one caving trip before returning home. The rest had surprising success in finding an adequate route to 161d from the col, and after a further afternoon practising plant husbandry with hacksaws and placing a couple of handlines, a passable route was created. The London team had now arrived, and everyone was ready to go caving. Everyone, that is, except Gunilla, whose failure to wear a sunhat caused her first to turn puce and then establish an unassailable lead in the chunder tally. So when the caving finally got underway, she was sitting at base camp eating baby food.

We first looked at some of the many good leads at the far end of Triassic Park. Under the watchful gaze of PhilU and Matthew, Steve attempted to scale Bugger, the star lead left from the end of 1995 comprising a 10m climb, beyond which it was hoped Triassic Park would continue in a similar vein. After some swearing and falling off, a retreat was called, and so they went to look at a horizontal lead near Ring Piece Junction. They found around 300m of cave with some moderate leads and went home happy. This later fell victim to a Gössered-up naming session, and the Puerile Humour Series was born.

Meanwhile, Brian and Anthony took the brand new length of 9mm to a big pitch off Minoan Surprise, with an estimated depth of 80m, whilst Nick and Helen went to the fourth way on at Trifurcation. They descended a 30m pitch, which led to a further pitch. This became the Interview Blues Series as Helen left to return to England the following morning. The other three went to carry on where they had left off the previous day. It started raining as they approached the col on the way to the cave. When they emerged, it was still raining...

Week 2

"We've got that bloody great useless thing." -- Rolf "What, Julian? He's coming out later this week." -- PhilB

It didn't stop raining for most of week two, bringing memories of 1993 flooding (ho ho) back. When we finally got fed up of festering in the potato hut, four heroic individuals slithered up to top camp to find five inches of snow, Leck Fell type weather and some funny shaped tents, which they excavated before heading back to base camp to sulk. We amused ourselves by putting up the base camp radio aerial, despite knowing full well that we would be rhinoceroused at for doing it wrong.

When the weather cleared a little, a bit of surveying got done in the embryonic Puerile Humour Series and work continued on Brian and Anthony's big pitch. Scepticism abounds when people claim to have found 80m pitches, and this once more proved valid: The Bottomless Pit of Eternal Chaos is a mere 79m deep. As is the way with big pitches in KH, the way on is a grotty rift which opens out onto a 27m pitch (Redemption). This leads only to more grotty rift before becoming choked. The survey shows this lot to be some 60m below the 'floor' of Knossos.

Since it was obvious that a nutter was required to get to the top of Bugger, the arrival of AndyA and DaveF towards the end of the week was most welcome. DaveF duly thrashed his way to the top, and walked into miles of train tunnel passage, eventually popping out of the hill somewhere near Bad Ischl. Or not. In fact, Fine Clean Rock disappointingly closes down after about 100m, with only a few scrotty horizontal leads, but they did find a deep pitch (estimated at 80m) with an impressively large rock perched on the edge which wobbled alarmingly when smaller rocks were lobbed at it.

Week 3

"Can we go to Stairway to Hell now please?" -- ChrisD. More than once.

Base camp started to fill up at the start of week three, and the ranting level escalated, with the quality of the walk to the cave being the favourite subject, followed closely by the somewhat variable quality of top camp food. The path can't have been that bad, as a couple of Austrian walkers turned up at 161d one morning wondering where the line of cairns went next, but the food was pretty awful on a bad day. Our leader rhino'd his way across Europe with Gill, Lumatt and Sam, and with the arrival of Mike and Tina, seven vehicles had made it to Austria without having to call out the breakdown -- a remarkable achievement in many cases, and disappointing given how much money we'd collectively given to Green Flag. Cometh the hour, cometh the man: Julian Todd didn't let us down, and it's a shame that base camp was deserted when he and Wookey turned up on the back of a breakdown truck after ten hours sitting around in Germany. Other arrivals in midweek were Chris and Becka fresh from the Berger, who set about trying to instil a bit of Oxford enthusiasm into the languid Cambridge expo (it didn't work.) Chris seemed very disappointed that everyone was shying away from Stairway to Hell, a boulder choke leading to passage heading towards Stellerweg, and billed as the nastiest bit of cave in the world by those who had been there the previous year, and Becka set about making Nick and Brian look like a pair of slack festering slobs by going caving on eight consecutive days.

Luckily the weather cleared up so the cave got rather busy, as did the changing area, entertainingly situated on a landslip above a precipitous drop. JulianH set about the task of single handedly wiping out the question mark list. He and Gill found Teapot Chamber from Shortage of Walls, which leads to a couple of pitches into the Rich Tea area of France (tick). In a desperate attempt to avoid Stairway to Hell, every potential bypass was investigated. A good lead off Zombie Slime leads to a pitch which was smaller than MikeTA, so they left it alone only to find their rope hanging out of the roof back in Zombie Slime (tick) and a loose climb in the corner of Staud'nwirt Palace simply keeps going up until it chokes (tick.)

Andrew Ketley at Penguin Falls, Puerile Humour Series, Kaninchenhöhle. (Dave Horsley)

This QM extermination effort was being comprehensively undone elsewhere in the cave, chiefly by Sam in the Puerile Humour Series. He and Lummat set off with instructions to complete the survey ("It'll only take a couple of legs") and returned with another half dozen leads. Sam and Brian made a major breakthrough the day after, finding Dead Bats Chamber (which contains two dead bats.) The main way on, a 3m round horizontal tube heading north, divides at Gotham City Junction. Sam and Brian gave up at a tricky climb in the left hand branch, and headed the other way to find a pretty mud river (note that this is KH and mud is regarded as pretty) and Five Ways Chamber (which has five ways out). Heading north they found Shaft Mine Passage (which has a number of undescended shafts), ending at the 6m deep Bounce Rift running perpendicular to the passage with a way on visible across the top. East from Five Ways they found Completely Loopy, a rabbit warren of interconnecting passages littered with leads. In one trip they found enough leads to keep a medium sized expo happy.

Later trips surveyed this lot, and Sam and Becka returned to the left hand branch from Gotham City Junction and scaled the climb at the pushing front to find Where the Wind Blows, a dead straight passage which leads into Bloody Hairfire Passage after a carbide error on the surveying trip. Leads at the northern end of this passage are of particular interest since it is only 100m away from the Far End.

Meanwhile, lots of other caving was going on. Gunilla was now back on solids, so she, Duncan, and a selection of others headed off to find Dr Snuggles from a lead heading west from Triassic Park. This passage ends at a booming pitch, leading them to think it was at least 25m deep. This was pretty much true, the only complication being that the pitch is upside-down: A chossy 5m pitch cum climb lands at the foot of an enormous aven (35+m). Both ways on end in difficult or tight QM's, so they moved on to a lead at Ring Piece Junction. The rumoured horizontal passage failed to materialise, so they descended a 27m pitch instead, named Tapeworm after the tape measure snapped whilst surveying it, followed immediately by the 45m Hammeroids pitch, so called after the first descent was made by the head of a bolting hammer. These pitches drop down the same huge rift, potentially 90m deep, so the way on is inevitably a tight rift which quickly chokes. Mike and Tina checked out a hole in the wall of Triassic Park next to the gear dump, and stumbled across 250m of passage (Alternative Universe) which parallels Triassic Park ending in a short pitch with a rift exiting, which is too narrow to follow but is very close to the larger Tapeworm/Hammeroids rift.

The cave was still going strong at the Trifurcation end of Triassic Park: Someone eventually got round to descending the pitch at the end of Minoan Surprise, and the surveyors gave a sigh of relief as it dropped into Knossos more or less where expected. The big pitch in Fine Clean Rock became Henri's Cat and was indeed found to be 80m deep, followed by further pitches of 55m, 10m and 65m. This prompted DaveF to take the 200m rope to the bottom in anticipation of greater depth. It inevitably ended in a pile of rocks, close to the bottom of the Flat Battery Series but with no connection, leaving JulianT, hater of surveying and excessively deep holes, to survey it.

Interview Blues was also going strong, much to the surprise of those brought up on a diet of similar rift pitch series which always become too tight fairly quickly. Four consecutive pitches led to extensive horizontal development (well, about 50m anyway) with two possible ways on, the main one of which is yet another pitch which took two attempts to descend after Anthony grossly underestimated its length. Nick and Brian finally made it to the bottom of this fine 55m pitch and happily stomped off down a massive clean washed canyon littered with stals and flowing with warm tea, until reality kicked in and they found themselves in a gloop coated, foot wide rift culminating in yet another pitch. Surely it wouldn't go much further.

To maintain this expo's record of finding big pitches, PhilU returned with tales of a four second drop near the start of the Puerile Humour series giving an estimated depth of 80m. Alarm bells started ringing when he and AndyC descended it and declared that maybe it was only 50m deep after all. When we returned with a tape measure, the pitch had shrunk to a more manageable 30m.

Week 4

"Which bastard filled this water container right up to the top?" -- Rolf

As week four approached some people went home, but even more people arrived meaning that there were 36 people present for most of the week, including most of the festerers. Waddington had turned up complete with computer and Imax monitor (the laser printer was deemed excessive and thus lived in the shed), and Helen returned still no nearer getting a job. All of our early leads were going strong, somewhat irritatingly in one case, but nobody had yet had the pleasure of visiting Stairway to Hell. This was not to remain the case for long.

JulianH and Chris made the first attempt to survey through Stairway to Hell and into the Forbidden Land as the passage beyond had nominally been christened, but managed only four legs before fleeing in horror at the appalling wall of choss apparently held up by a single perched rock, so it was left to Wookey and AndyA to complete the job. They found that the 'rift' beyond the choke was really an enormous chamber (90m x 30m) -- Hall of the Mounting Choss -- with a pile of boulders in the middle passing for a floor beneath which they were wandering around. They eventually found a south going strongly draughting phreatic tube -- Pump House -- which they followed as far as a large cross rift which they couldn't climb into before calling it a day. The survey shows this passage to be of similar dimensions and orientation to Mississippi in Flat France, but some 40m higher up lending credence to the idea that the breakdown at Stairway to Hell was produced by a fault. A further trip extended the Forbidden Land by 200m to the southwest via passages given the exotic titles of Elin Algor and Tirolia Werke, which arise from a total lack of inspiration on the part of AndyA when it came to writing names on the survey, so he pinched the titles of the fridge and cooker in the potato hut. Within four hours of the survey being completed, there was a picture of the plateau revolving on Waddington's monitor showing that this end of the cave was very close indeed to Steinschlagschacht (136), explored by CUCC in 1983 and '84. Chris's verdict on the bit of cave he'd been dying to see? "The hanging death was the worst I have seen, and the route has nothing to recommend it". Most other people who had been there seemed to concur.

Interview Blues refused to die, and efforts in week four concentrated on the nice bit (relatively speaking) -- the alternative lead at the top of the fifth pitch. This proceeds via a south trending rift to a short pitch, then a larger chossy pitch with aven above which could be traversed around to reach yet another pitch. Whilst bolting this, they heard a voice. It was Sam, who was standing at the top of an undescended pitch in Minoan Surprise adjacent to the Bottomless Pit. Another QM bites the dust. Nick and Brian were fairly sure that the larger pitch did not lead to the Bottomless Pit. It did of course, so Spatial Awareness got its name and another QM was crossed off. Meanwhile, other people were admiring the breezy but impossible looking traverse over the head of the 25m first pitch of Interview Blues. Fortunately Dave 'Walking On Air' Fearon was on hand to leap across the void and find yet another big pitch. This eventually links up with the main route down IB, and would be a superior route were it not for the fact that it becomes a raging waterfall at the first sign of any rain. There's also another breezy traverse across the top of it.

Wookey on the Fear-On traverse over the start of Interview Blues. (Andy Waddington)

Being fed up with big pitches and Interview Blues respectively, JulianT and Helen took some time out to go hangliding. Julian provided expo's most impressive exhibition of projectile vomiting by chundering over most of the Grundlsee from a great height, and Helen's unconventional choice of landing site led to expo's only rescue. The Austrian fire brigade were called out to extricate her from the upper reaches of a tree, and she even got a free lift back to base camp with a nice policeman.

Watery fun was also on the agenda as JulianT took several people diving, and Waddington's canoes provided ample entertainment as JulianH went white water rafting in the Grundlseer Traun. He was also responsible for capsizing Knowledgeable Dave in the lake, but then came a cropper himself when he went to Halstatt for the annual trip to play on the pedaloes wearing sandals and removed most of his big toe nail.

The QMs were still coming faster than we could tick them off in the Puerile Humour series. After giving Interview Blues one of its most uncomplimentary reviews the day before, Becka and Anthony begged Sam for a nice lead and he came up with Bounce Rift. Becka scaled the far side, and they bumbled off down the passage beyond to emerge in a large hading rift chamber. Having established that none of the shitty unimpressive leads went anywhere, it was time to stomp down the draughting 4m round phreatic tube, which ended after 80m in a draughting choke. There seemed to be a small chamber beyond, so ten minutes of digging followed before Becka broke through into it and saw daylight. Admittedly there was only three inches of daylight at that point, so it took another 40 minutes of digging before Becka slid out of the new 161e entrance with grace, style and effortless ease. Your lardy scribe had obviously been over indulging in soya chunks however, and didn't fit through until a few more rocks had been removed, and so Yorkshire Pudding earned its name.

Ten minutes later, voices were heard, and Sam, Lummat and Craig appeared having just emerged from the second new entrance of the day. They had been surveying near Completely Loopy, and had similarly followed the main draught until they popped out of the hill. After sitting around grinning like a lot of little kids for a while and trying to guess where they were, they all went back underground to measure it and find out for sure. The answer is that 161e and 161f are about 500m north of 161d, some 40m higher up the hill, and suffer from the same surface accessibility problems as 161d meaning that neither will be very much use for access to leads other than those in the immediate vicinity of these entrances.

This was Craig's introduction to expo caving, so just to bring him back down to earth and show him what it's really like, his second trip was to an appallingly loose pitch below Bugger bolted by MarkM and Juliette the previous day, and appropriately called Choss Pot. Expo's senior citizens were also in action this week, as Jeremy, ChrisD, Tony and DaveH went to a lead near Moth Chamber and bounded back to top camp with mile wide grins like a bunch of novices who'd found their first ever bit of cave. Wheelchair Access is around 50m long and sounds faintly squalid, but there is an interesting draughting hole which will require enlargement. Duncan and Steve were already applying the 'Make Your Own' technique by hammering out a four inch round hole in the wall in Dr Snuggles until they fitted through. 60m of crawling appeared to have yielded a result as they emerged into a large space containing pristine mud, until they spotted the red and white flagging tape marking the route through Triassic Park and realised they were at the start of Alternative Universe. These exploits took place on the day of the annual photo trip, something of a misnomer as it turned out. All the fancy gear which was working perfectly at top camp consistently failed to work for five hours once taken underground. AndyA was not pleased. (There were repercussions at conference time, when the CUCC talk was accompanied by exactly five underground slides, but that's another rant...).

Happy with our week's work, everyone retreated to base camp to get drunk at the expo dinner, this year in the presence of the deputy mayor of Bad Aussee and the head of tourism who bizarrely seem quite pleased that we keep returning to their otherwise lovely town. This could have been a disaster, but passed off quite peacefully as they were both sound blokes. Even so, we refrained from raucous singing and throwing people in the river until after they had left.

Week 5

"... As my lumps of mud which passed for gear turned to slime, my glasses clouded over, the tacklesack became five times heavier and my jammers completely refused to down-prussik, it could be said I was not having fun". -- Nick on the joy that is Interview Blues.

With the prospect of imminent derigging upon us, base camp started to empty at the beginning of week five. For those that remained, there was still lots to do in Interview Blues and the Puerile Humour Series, and we had relocated 136 so there was some excitement at the possibility of redescending it and trying to connect to the Forbidden Land thus bypassing Stairway to Hell. This excitement lasted as long as a cursory inspection of the 1983 log book. Most of the work in this cave was done by Chas Butcher and Mike Thomas in 1983, and their logbook accounts don't so much hint that it might be a bit crap as scream it in six foot high neon letters. Although Wookey and Anthony made plans to descend 136, and even went as far as collecting together enough gear, it was obvious that any excuse would do to force an abandonment, and the weather duly obliged, so 136 will have to wait until next year.

Nick and Brian were rapidly running out of volunteers to accompany them down Interview Blues, which boasted eight pitches at the start of the week and ten pitches by the end of the week. However these last two pitches proved to be the nicest bit of caving in the whole series -- indeed Brian declared that the ninth pitch was one of the nicest he'd ever descended, but then maybe his standards had slipped after four weeks down Interview Blues. Arriving at the foot of the tenth pitch, they were presented by a bewildering array of leads, but obviously checked out the scrottiest one first (it didn't go anywhere). The bottom of Interview Blues is 449m below 161a -- the third deepest point in the cave -- and with a number of fairly promising leads giving the prospect of more depth, so a return is likely despite its reputation.

The last caving action of the expo was to the north of the Puerile Humour Series, where a party went in the 161e entrance hoping that the good lead around there would close down after ten yards so we could all go home, and being initially irritated when it didn't. However, it proved to be a worthwhile find as the area contains a number of ice formations, which are genuinely pretty in anyone's terms, and overwhelmingly so by the standards of KH. Iceland was a nice little find to round off expo.

Of course there was still the small matter of disassembling top camp, and the rope wasn't going to wash itself, so there was another two days of tedium in scorching heat. The weather stayed fine until somebody mentioned the magic word 'barbecue' and the heavens opened. Thankfully it cleared up long enough for DaveH to show us all how it should be done, and for once we managed a barbecue where all the food was cooked but not charcoaled -- possibly the most remarkable occurrence of a remarkable expo. After some last minute morning packing in the pouring rain, we said our goodbyes to Hilda and Karin and that was that...

...Almost. We still had to get some ailing vehicles some intimidating distances. Brian's car made it to France without incident, and the Angular Vehicle did sterling service towing the trailer, so its passengers were somewhat surprised to find Duncan propping up a wall when they pulled into a service station in Luxembourg. Paul's Peugeot 205 diesel -- universally agreed to be the poshest vehicle remaining on expo -- had given up the ghost. They eventually got given a hire car, complete with free porn mag, to drive to Calais, whilst the car was taken on the back of a breakdown truck, which promptly broke down itself. Despite this complication they arrived back in Britain the following morning, at about the same time that a Lada and trailer combination spluttered into Girton and expo was over.

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