CUCC Expo Logbook 2017


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Expo - Food and prep. and Traungold Stash
Drills batteries and computers have been fettled, Cambridge Sainsbury's has been bought out of couscous, milk powder and packet soups (apart from the mushroom flavour, yuk), and the CUCC expedition vanguard is now crossing the Alps. Unlike Hannibal, we are not furnished with elephants, although rumours abound of (inflatable) orcas and flamingos that may also have seen active service on a certain Irish caving expedition this year.

Really, everything but the mushroom.

Somewhere in between the flurry of emails about exactly which type of custard we should or should not buy, the training weekend and briefing session took place alongside the BCA party weekend up in Castleton. We discovered that drilling holes too close together does indeed result in bits of rock shearing off, prusiking when you lose or break a jammer is very hard work, and that the event bar was an excellent source of sustenance while waiting for "the rescuer" to figure out which ropes should go where! Main takeaway: try not to need rescuing... Many thanks to Andrew Atkinson for his survey training, bolting and rescue workshops - and an incredibly welcome strawberry cake!

Teaching teenagers to use power tools

Prusiking with only a chest jammer and no tape: hard work. Even harder work: getting back down again.

A short lull in hauling proceedings

The UKCaving rope will be picked up from Badlad and Pegasus this week, and will be in Austria by the weekend where it will join the stocks we already have out there for a good soaking session in the weir by our base camp. With newly discovered shafts each year close to and even exceeding 200m (Purple Lupin in 2015 was over 180m top to bottom; Long Drop last year could not be fully measured due to a lack of resources but certainly surpassed 300m), this 300m length of rope will certainly be in high demand! Perhaps this year we will be able to keep the free-hanging knot passes to a minimum... Stay tuned to hear how our campaign unfolds as the first wave set up top camp and begin rigging!

The top camp gear stash appears to survived the winter

Soon this mere rock bridge will be transformed into a veritable palace of bivouacking delight (for certain values of "palace" and "delight")
Blog Author: CavingPig
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Rob Watson, Luke Stangroom,
Tunnocks - Rigging trip #1: Entrance Series

After a slow start at base camp, Luke, Brendan, Nathan and myself went up the hill so Brendan could have lunch. This done, we had to go caving, myself and Luke tasked with rigging Tunnocks, using Anthony’s 2015 rigging topo as a guide for the entrance series. The rig was very faffy and not much grease had been used on the derig last year which didn’t help. After much faff, we reached the snow slope which was sporting some very large icicles at the bottom. Out and back for 9pm.
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Nathan Walker, Brendan Hall,
Balcony - rigging trip

Rigged Balcony entrance series with 100m + 20m rope following [Ed Nathanael’s] 2016 rigging topo.
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Rob Watson, Luke Stangroom,
Tunnocks - Rigging trip #2: bottom of String Theory

After failing to locate any ropes longer than 61m, myself, and Luke headed back to Tunnocks, underground at the more respectable time of 11am rather than 3pm. I fettled the entrance rig a bit on the way in, replacing some ropes and some of Luke’s krabs whilst he rigged Caramel Catharsis. This done, we went to rig the traverse across Usual Susspects, which wasn’t very nice. I missed quite a few of the naturals the first time around, which Luke then found and added in with some red mammut tat - recommend that this is left in on the derig - while I rigged String Theory. This made a relaxing change from the Entrance Series and Usual Susspects traverse. Then on the way out we fettled the Entrance Series a bit more. Still not ideal, but when has it ever been perfect? Icicles still there. Bit dangerous, should probably destroy them in a controlled manner before they chop us or the ropes to bits.
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Nathan Walker, Nadia Raeburn, Mark Dougherty,
Balcony - rigging Hilti-a-plenty

Rigged Hilti-a-Plenty pitches with 80m rope using Martin’s rigging guide.
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Rob Watson, Luke Stangroom,
Tunnocks - Rigging trip #3: 1st rebelay, Number of the Beast

With me having a plane to catch and having had all evening the night before to pack gear, a very efficient start was had, underground by 9am! Luke went ahead to rig Procrastination whilst I again fettled the Entrance Series (icicles still there) and Caramel Catharsis, where a rope protector cannot prevent rub from the single bolt hang at the top, where there was a shit Y hang using a thread last year. Then I went to assist Luke, who had run out of hangers and had also missed some bolts. After a bit of faffing, the rig was almost perfect and we were on to rig the shit little traverse and pitch before Bring on the Clowns. It was barely gone 1pm at this point, so we decided to see how far a 39m rope can get you down Number of the Beast. It turns out you can get to the first rebelay (though this length + my rigging style rendered it a little tight later). Then out and down the hill to print boarding passes and rigging topos.

Note: the y-hang at the top of NOTB should be a bunny ears style knot for ease of safe rigging.
7 hrs

Rigging Topo: Caramel Catharsis

Rigging Topos: Usual Suspects Traverse and Procrastination

Rigging Topo: String Theory
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Rob Watson,
Expo - Week 1
So, the first week of CUCC Austria 2017 is over. It has been a slightly uncertain ride, with not many experienced CUCC members being around to coordinate the youth. Luckily, The Professor aka Mark Dougherty showed us what he?s made of by motorcycling for 2 days from central Sweden to be here and show us all the ropes in between G?ssers (the beverage of choice in Austria, tasty and cheap). After Brendan, Nathan, Luke and George had arrived after dehydrating themselves and, in George?s case, sustaining an annoying ankle niggle Via Ferrataing in the Dolomites, Base Camp (the hut that ?keeps the computers dry?) was set up and supplies were brought up to the Top Camp, with more being dug out of their storage in a big iceplug. Brendan in particular enjoys these trips up to Top Camp as they give him a much-needed excuse to eat more than one lunch (for Brendan life is just a succession of lunches broken up by playing with spreadsheets in his role as CHECC Treasurer). The guys got on with setting up the bivvy, installing the water collection system and setting up the main tarp.


Brendan Hall digs into a hard-earned lunch, the first of four that day, at the StoneBridge. You can actually see his second one already lined up if you are in any way observant.


The bivvy tarp (white) and water collection tarp (green, feeding the butts) set up and ready to use. The wooden frame is for mounting the solar panels, kindly done by acting Chief Nerd Martin Green.

This done, myself, Nadia and K Brook arrived after a month of parading around Europe pretending to climb to lend a hand carrying and, more importantly, drinking. What we really needed, however, was a certified Nerd to set up the computers we were keeping dry, and also to configure the solar charging system at Top Camp. The day after and our saviour arrived, none other than Martin Green, officially the highest ranking Nerd on the expedition at this point clocking in at around Level 7 (open-ended scale: currently Wookey and Julian Todd are vying for top position, but who knows, one day a hot kid on the block could put both to shame!). Soon we were getting into the swing of things, and Martin had the server up and going, which importantly meant that we could now play a wealth of music on the expo soundsystem! By a wealth of music, what I really mean is ?This Corrosion? by Sisters of Mercy, which has been the unofficial expo anthem ever since everyone accidentally brought the same album on tape during a very wet year in 1993. It also meant that we could get on with some much-needed Nerding (it?s what they live for in Cambridge) in the form of drawing up surveys from last year (apparently 8 of mine had been left ? naughty!).


Nerds at work. This activity must always be supplemented with alcohol to heed progress and ensure there is some Nerding left for later members of the expedition to do. And, indeed, for next years attendees...

Myself and Luke were determined to avoid doing this, however, and decided to go caving instead. Over the course of 3 trips we have rigged to a depth of around -400m in Tunnockschacht en route to the camp there, using over 500m of rope and well over 150 hangers. At the bottom of the always tiresome entrance series, we discovered a number of icicles, melting rapidly and looking a bit the worse for wear. Climate change is clearly having a pronounced effect on the snow conditions on the Plateau, with many former snow plugs no longer present and the usual snow slope at the bottom of the entrance series greatly diminished in volume. The rope lengths for the pitches were difficult to judge as in past years they have been rigged off a reel using a ?chop-and-go? approach, and a couple of the rebelays had to be rigged slightly tightly with a couple of skin-of-the-teeth knot passes thrown in. The long lengths of 9mm are being saved for pushing deeper in the cave, so gash 10mm and 10.5mm was needed (but not 11mm ? we swore, never again). Elliott arrives today with more of that, along with our 300m of sponsored rope, big excite! Only another 4 pitches need to be rigged before we reach camp now, but these may prove to be the trickiest ones. I have managed to avoid using any skyhooks so far, but that looks set to change. Chris Densham bolted the last section along with Anthony Day and Ben Whetton. The latter two are very tall individuals, and Densham is a big fan of acrobatic deviations, so I expect some entertaining situations! Stay tuned, many more updates on the way?



Me rigging the entrance series, where a number of icicles were found to be a bit in the way. They remain for now, until the destruction team get off their arses and up the hill. Last week it was 'too misty'... Photo credit for all: Luke Stangroom.
Blog Author: nobrotson
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Nathan Walker, George Breley, Luke Stangroom,
Tunnocks - rigging to bottom of Kraken

Rigged Tunnocks from Number Of The Beast to Kraken. Missed a rebelay on Inferno and decided it required a longer rope. Rigging done by: Luke (Knicker [Ed. Widow Twankey's Knicker Elastic] and Kraken); George (Magic Glue and Inferno).
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Nathan Walker, George Breley,
Balcony - Sloppy Seconds

Went down Balcony to Bat Country and dropped b lead near Galactica. Pitch rigged using sam rigging guide earlier in book. Turned back at next pitch due to lack of rope.
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Chris Densham, Elliott Smith, Katey Bender,
Tunnocks - 1st camping trip

The team out in the first week had done a tremendous job, rigging Tunnocks down to Kraken in 3 days. After arriving we washed, dried and stuffed 1km of rope into tacklesacks and carried half of it up the hill. On Tuesday morning we packed the camp kit, drill, rigging gear and Elliott managed to cart a 200m bag of rope down to camp. I fettled the rigging as required on the way in eg a deviation on Magic Glue and eliminating a catchy rub at the bottom of Inferno, which now lands on a rock bridge, saving ~10m further descent and re-ascent. I added a traverse line and descending Kraken was rewarded by the green glow from the Camp Kraken tent. Katey and Elliott had had to drain it and scrape the mould off the floor to make it habitable - even having to scrape calcite off the zip to get in. It was a comfortable night.

NB - Elliott from here:

Day 2 saw us heading down to the pushing front at Paw Paw passage. All was left rigged, bar the Song of the Earth ramp. ~120m of rope disappeared on that one. We carried on to the mud sump (-902m) and took some photos. We retraced a small continuation when a more modern stream (read trickle) had carved out a bit of the mud. Katey went for it and found it too tight… she did notice a draft however, albeit a small one.

Onto Paw Paw, katey climbed the C6 left last year and bolted it. The passage up a rifty (but still phreatic) section, approx. 3 - 6m wide, 6m high, still drafting. At this point, Elliott climbed an aven to the left (West) whilst Chris and Katey surveyed. Two rift passages soon crapped out. Elliott’s aven (‘Aye, there’s the rub’) rises for ~25m before leading to a ~20m pitch. Katey found a rising tube to the North about halfway up the climb, 2 pitches here, again ~20m. Out of rope, battery and willpower, we headed back to camp.

Next day (Thursday) we headed out. Left camp at 10am, out between 13:00 - 16:00.
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Nathan Walker, George Breley, Becka Lawson,
Balcony - Sloppy Seconds again

Rigged pitch/traverse to ~100m good horizontal passage. Ended in multiple pitches with horizontal continuations over them. Surveyed.

Rigging guide Sloppy Seconds 1 in HiltaPlenty, Balkonhoehle

Rigging guide Sloppy Seconds 1 in HiltaPlenty, Balkonhoehle

Rigging guide Sloppy Seconds pitches 1 and 2 (in HiltaPlenty, Balkonhoehle)
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Brendan Hall, Luke Stangroom, Philip Withnall,
Balcony - photos, tourists

Went down Balcony for a quick refresher trip in order to familiarise myself with the cave. Luke helped guide where I went wrong and also did some rigging. Most of the way from the entrance to Ice Cock had been left rigged from the previous year. I took a photograph of Ice Cock aven ice waterfall.
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Expo - Food on a budget as tight as a hipster's trousers
On Calories.

Last year, a few days before setting off on a week-long hike, I found myself in a Canadian supermarket weighing up the pros and cons of different energy bars. ?Look,? I squealed excitedly to my companion, ?this one has almost a THIRD more calories per 100g! YES PLEASE!? ?CavingPig,? she laughed, ?that's the exact opposite of what any girl I know would say!?

Gender stereotypes aside, eating enough is a hugely important consideration for any sport, and caving expeditions are certainly no exception. When you could be expending upwards of 6000 calories a day, you need to consume as much food as you can force down, and preferably in a form that?s incredibly simple to prepare. Haute cuisine is the last thing on your mind when you?re feeling absolutely shagged after a 16-hour surveying mission, but in a bivouac two hours? hike from the nearest roadhead (or an underground camp several hours? journey further on from that), chips with everything just isn't an option ? lightweight and compact is very much the order of the day. Throw into the mix the fact that as a student expedition, we're on a budget as tight as a hipster's trousers ? what's a hard-up undergrad to do?

Having enough to eat, and therefore enough energy, is our primary consideration. If this was all we had to worry about, we?d be buying every supermarket in Cambridge out of lard. High calorific value, incredibly cheap, you can burn it for heat and light at night or underground, or even spread it on your skin for insulation if you?re contemplating a dip in one of the beautiful but frigid Alpine lakes that abound in the area. However, there are good reasons why a 100% lard diet is not the best choice (and not just because there are a few vegetarians on the trip).

Plenty of carbohydrate in your Top Camp diet is essential to replenish glycogen stores and stave off the onset of fatigue after a hard day?s surveying ? porridge, couscous, noodles, tortellini and instant mashed potato are our Top Camp staples. For the past couple of years, we?ve received pesto as a sponsorship item, which provides easy calories and makes pretty much anything it?s added to hugely more exciting. A lot of our calories come from boil-in-the-bag curries ? although not the lightest thing to cart up a mountainside, these are quick to cook, cheap, and there?s a nice wide range of them to stave off food boredom. They also provide some fat and protein, which can otherwise be slightly more difficult to come by at Top Camp (apart, of course, from in the ubiquitous flapjack). We tend to take the approach of ?buy all vegetarian, then if you want meat/cheese you can add that yourself? ? so you'll often see dried sausages and hard cheese being fiercely guarded by their owners.


For the curious, here?s a typical day of Top Camp?s finest gourmet cuisine. Do you have any particular expedition nosh favourites or tips ? or must-avoids?

Instant porridge is a firm favourite. Comes in several flavours, can have syrup/spices added for extra taste sensations. Sprinkle over some optional Choco Muesli for an even wilder ride.

Second breakfast
Unless we?re being super keen and getting in a cheeky Alpine start, I like to make like a hobbit and treat myself to second breakfast. Usually noodles. Often turns into a game of ?guess the contents of the package? since the ingredient lists tend to all be in Asian languages I can't read. Instant mashed potato with sponsorship pesto and/or wild chives growing round the bivi is another solid choice.

Penne for your thoughts?

Caving snacks
Flapjack, chocolate, then more flapjack. Some people are made of superhero material and are able to complete 600 m of prusiking without a snack stop. I am not one of those people. Chocolate bars are great for a boost of energy to get up the final pitch series, but I sometimes feel even worse after the glucose high. Flapjack contains much more in the way of complex carbohydrates, keeping you caving for longer ? hence the industrial quantities we bake to bring out each year!

Another sponsorship favourite; highly motivational.

Turns out it?s easier to mix when you don't try to make 7.5 kg in one go.

The highlight of any evening at Top Camp is surely a steaming curry! Each year brings a new roulette as we ascertain which of the latest batch are burn-your-ears-off spicy and which have the most interestingly textured chunks. Paneer butter masala (which somehow contrives to be vegan) with many scoops of couscous is my fave. If you?re feeling adventurous, Penny Market tortellini offers a cheesier and/or meatier option ? pair with sponsorship pesto for maximum Italian vibes.

Sarah hits the cheesy peas.

It?s so important to drink plenty while caving, since fluid loss will reduce performance more than any other factor. Yet with the temperature in the caves at 0?C?2?C on average, the urge to drink is often diminished, and dehydration can easily sneak up. A weak solution of around 6 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt in a litre of water, flavoured to taste with some cordial, is excellent for keeping hydrated. We also get through veritable lakes of cup-a-soup, hot chocolate and tea (sometimes with milk powder added, sometimes with custard powder instead as a surprise when things aren't labelled properly). Speaking of custard, purchasing the right type is highly important. You don't want ?custard powder? ? what you need is ?instant custard mix?. Otherwise you end up with lots of unhappy people in the bivi holding steaming cups of cornflour.

A wee nip of your preferred local schnapps is the perfect accompaniment to stargazing (the Perseids are peaking mid-Expo) or Dachstein TV (AKA lightning storms on the mountain opposite us). All in moderation, obviously ? would hate to be hungover and in control of a DistoX. Imagine the margin of error.

Of course, when we head down for some R&R at Base Camp, all bets are off! The excitingly gas-powered deep-fat fryer is Expo?s most popular appliance for good reason (last year, deep fried Mars Bars and Bakewell tarts featured alongside the more traditional chipped potatoes), while the kitchens at the Gasthof across the road do a roaring trade in sp?tzle and schnitzel for those feeling flash and in need of a protein hit. And there?s truly nothing finer than washing off the layers of cave grime in the river with a chilled G?sser beer.

Of course my survey drawings are up to date.
Blog Author: CavingPig
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Becka Lawson, Adam Aldridge, George Breley, Rachel Turnbull,
Balcony - Natural Highs

Aim was to drop the famed QMA (9A) lead on the right at the handline up at the end of the Natural Highs traverse. Rachel started bolting and then recognised she had been on the shelf on the opposite side in 2015. Then Adam and I found a way halfway down the pitch form the rabbit warren at the far end of Natural Highs down to an easy free climb. Her ewe could see the others’ lights and there were bolts already in to drop the rest of the pitch. Rachel had nearly finished rigging but we decided to give up given that it had already been dropped.
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Nathan Walker, Adam Aldridge, Katey Bender,
Balcony - Sloppy Seconds 2

Dropped 20m pitch in SS [Ed: Sloppy Seconds] to immature meander: found small horizontal passages that all crapped out in mud and immature meanders.
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Becka Lawson, George Breley,
plateau - Prospecting and refind of 1623/110

No GPS so we were relying on phones for location. We headed off beyond the cross country ski-pole line after refinding 2010-07 and 2010-01. Right next to 2010-01 is a drafting shaft blocked by very loose boulders which could perhaps be dug out in a couple of hours.

Found an open 10m+ shaft, ~3x2m opening. 33W 550789E 7885325N, 524067Y 3117175X according to Martin’s phone - may not be correct!

Second open shaft, ~20m deep, 2x0.7m opening, tagged CUCC-2017-03, same location as above 10m+ shaft.

Only find definitely worth returning to was a refind of 1623/110, had very faded red paint and fitted the description (I crawled in quite a way in a T-shirt, painful and low but an excellent draft). Tagged CUCC-2017-04 but no bolt for tag so just got balanced. On my phone’s GPS cords were 47.693408, 13.812227 or 47°41’36.3”N, 13°48’44.0”E. The cave is on the Top Camp side of the ski pole line by 100 - 150m, maybe 1.1km from Top Camp.. Sketch
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Brendan Hall,
Expo - ice waterfall in Ice Cock aven
Just checking I can remember how to post photos, hopefully it works...

We took this photo on Wednesday, it's of the ice waterfall in Ice Cock aven, this is also where the tunnocks - balcony connection was made in 2015 extending the SMK system to 114km at the time. 


Julia and Antony even made a cake to commemorate the event  :beer:

[NOTE: on 3rd August 2017 - Julia Day
Just for the record, that's a trifle ;) An excuse to get rid of THE WRONG CUSTARD (and some very alcoholic cherries, at least for trifle #1) and boast about the length of the system in one sugary package. I forget if that was trifle #2 or #3, but we definitely did one to celebrate the year the 100km mark was reached :beer: ]

I'll post a proper report later, I was going to write about lunch but looks like that's already been covered quite extensively  ;)
Blog Author: Hall2501
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Philip Withnall, Rachel Turnbull, Nadia Raeburn, Elliott Smith,
Balcony - destroying Galactica

Elliot, Nadia, Rachel and I went down to Galactica to survey it and drop a rift pitch at its northern end. Rachel and I drew triangles all over the floor surveying it whilst Elliott and Nadia dropped the pitch in cheesy rock. It crapped out wetly. This leaves a wet QMC below the entrance pitch to Galactica and no other leads. Galactica is dead.
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Becka Lawson, George Breley, Luke Stangroom,
Tunnocks - Camp Kraken

21st: underground at 10am, camp at 12:30 including Luke adding a couple of spits on Kraken pitch. Then took 90 minutes to get to top of pitch Elliott climbed beyond the mud sump in Song of the Earth. George rigged a traverse then an airy pitch to whoops - it was a huge chamber! We surveyed around the outside and then had a second wander around it but despit some dodgy free-climbing by George (aided by Luke providing a memorable foothold) and plenty of scary furtling amongst really loose boulders we couldn’t find a way on. We derigged the pitch; then George spent 2 more hours trying to find a higher level way on to no avail despite the strong draft. Eventually we set off back to camp at 8pm with Luke pulling through to retrieve Elliott’s rope and derigging the long set of pitches/traverses in Song of the Earth. Back at camp at 10:30 after a long day out.

22nd: Luke started rigging the pitch to the left of Indian Rope Trick whilst George climbed the boulder ramp below Indian Rope Trick with me belaying. This lead to a large, low phreatic passage which we surveyed and eventually looped to the pitch Luke had rigged and to a pitch down to a significant streamway and a large pool. Sadly we couldn’t get down to it as the 2nd and last drill battery died as soon as George tried to rig it. We finished the survey and then ran all around Slackers to check out other potential leads; we also surveyed 2 QMs, finishing one and leaving another as a good ongoing lead [this later turned into Grike of the Earth].

23rd: headed out taking up to 3.5 hrs to prussik out followed by a swift trot down the hill as everyone else (nearly) seemed to be having the weekend off.
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Philip Withnall, Nadia Raeburn,
plateau - Prospecting

A bad weather forecast saw most of Top Camp head out prospecting instead of caving. Nadia found and tagged 2 caves, one of which crapped out quickly (2017-NR-01). The other was a 20m pitch which crapped out in 2 tight directions at the bottom (2017-NR-02). Good bolting practice though. Both tagged, notes and photos taken.
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Katey Bender,
Expo - Elliott and Katey's first week on Expo
Elliott and Katey's first week on Expo

Elliott started the journey to Austria in London on Thursday, July 13th. He then travelled to Braintree to Cambridge to Richmond to Ingleton then to Leeds for the night at mine. Meanwhile I was panic-packing my entire life, moving out of my house and packing for expo all at once. The next morning we left for expo via Cambridge to pick up some survey instruments and Braintree to pick up all the remaining expo food ? a more challenging prospect than it sounds given that the van was already very full when we set off from Leeds, owing to nearly 1.5km of rope between sponsorship rope, rope we?d bought, and kit from the tackle store.


Lots and lots of rope. Photo Elliott Smith.

We finally made it to Dover in time to catch the ferry after the one we?d booked, and after an uneventful overnight drive we arrived at base camp around 4pm on Saturday, July 15th.

All the rope magically disappeared from the van and everything that wasn't new rapidly disappeared up the hill with the contingent of keen carriers; all the new rope (1km!) rapidly disappeared into the river to soak overnight. Chris Densham turned up about an hour after us so we celebrated the end of the drive with some schnapps and called it a night.

The next day, after nursing a hangover (or four) we pulled the rope out of the river and started processing it ? stretched it, dried it off, and packed it into tackle sacks to carry up the hill.


Chris Densham removing rope from the river. Photo Elliott Smith.


300m of rope packed into two tacklesacks (Katey Bender and Chris Densham). Photo Elliott Smith.


1km of rope disappeared into tacklesacks. Chris Densham and Katey Bender labelling bags. Photo Elliott Smith.

Sunday evening we made the first of a couple of carries up the hill. As it turns out, 200m of rope is quite heavy; it was an ambitious first carry for me, but a good kickstart to the expo fitness regime. After the best intentions for a quick bounce carry on Monday morning followed by a shallow pushing trip in Balkonh?hle, Chris, Elliott and I ended up carrying in the morning then sitting in the sun all afternoon. This, however, was not a total loss as we managed to get all the kit sorted out for underground camp, meaning we were ready for the first camp the next day.

Despite our best intentions Elliott and I were allocated to the first underground camp to Kraken, planned for 2 nights ? entering Tunnocks on Tuesday and exiting Thursday afternoon, as there were thunderstorms expected Thursday late afternoon/evening. After last year?s experience being flooded in on the way up from a camping trip, Chris and I weren't too keen on spending another chilly night at the bottom of a flooded pitch. A 600m descent saw Elliott and I at camp for about 4pm. On the final 40m free hang  the rope had, in fact, hit the bottom ? we had been slightly concerned after some not-so-confident noises from the team that had rigged down to camp. After leaving the ten in situ at the end of last year we weren't expecting an easy set-up; the zips to the tent corroded shut, the puddle in the bottom of the tent and a good layer of mold were somewhat worse than expected. However, we soon drained the puddle, found use for a Therion protractor as an excellent mold-scraping tool, and sacrificed our spare buffs to mop up the remains and the bivi was soon back to a state fit for human habitation. Chris joined us a few hours later having fettled the rigging on the way down; we lit a few tea lights, had some dinner and settled in for a good night?s sleep.

Day 2 of underground camp saw us continue to the deepest passage in Tunnocksschacht ? Song of the Earth, pushed last year to -902m. Minimal rigging after most of the ropes were left in last year made for a quick descent and we soon reached the bottom of the cave. The deepest point of the cave is a mud sump with no way on, though we stopped off there to show Chris as he?d not been before and to take some photos.


Elliott Smith and Katey Bender, from teams 1 and 2 to visit the mud sump. Photo Chris Densham.

While there, after a brief ?oh bugger?, Elliott pointed out that there was a small airspace on the far side of the mud sump. Naturally, as the smallest person on the trip, I got posted down the hole. As I was headfirst down this rather tight hole, helmet off, Chris decided to take some photos.


'Just hold still Katey, this is a good photo!? [Note Boots at top right pf photo] Grumble grumble.' Photo Chris Densham.

We noticed a small draft in the mud sump (very odd) but decided not to be Mendip cavers and rather to carry on with the phreatic passage that we knew was 10 minutes away. Through the very drafty, sandy dig to the pushing front!

The pushing front was a 6m climb, which I?d free climbed at the end of last year but which really needed a rope on to be safe. So, the first task was climbing up it and bolting it.


Katey Bender free-climbing to the pushing front. Photo Chris Densham.

That done, Elliott and Chris followed me up and we carried on to the exciting part. Elliott did a slightly dodgy semi free-climb, semi bolt climb up the most promising lead while Chris and I surveyed a couple unpromising leads.


Elliott Smith approximately bolt climbing. Photo Chris Densham.

We followed Elliott up around 30m until we ran out of rope, and hangers, and drill batteries all at once. However, we left 3 pitches ~20m to be dropped, which the next camp should be looking at right now?

That day?s work done we headed back to camp and, 2.5 hours later, we were all back and our dinner was cooking. We decided that, having not managed to kill off our lead, we?d earned a celebratory tot of rum in our evening hot chocolate! The next day the long prussic began; Chris was the last one out and made it back to top camp for 5:30pm, about a half hour after the thunderstorm started.

The next day Chris headed down the hill to draw up our survey while Elliott and I headed into Balcony for another dose of Vitamin D deficiency. Elliott, Rachel, Nadia and Phil went to survey and explore Galactica ? a really quite large chamber discovered at the very end of last year?s expo. Having surveyed it they found it was over 100m long, 40m wide and up to 90m high. Unfortunately the only lead went nowhere. Meanwhile Nathan, Adam and I went to Sloppy Seconds to drop one of the pitches in the area. We had a similar success rate to Galactica, though we taught Adam how to survey so it was a useful training trip for him.

This morning Elliott and I decided we?d had enough of caving and probably ought to draw up our surveys, so we headed down the hill for a day of ice cream and quality festering.
Blog Author: kbender
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Philip Withnall, Nadia Raeburn,
2012-OK-01 - Prospecting - Bad Forecast (2017-PW-01) found

Due to another apocalyptic weather forecast, Phil and Nadia decided to do another day of prospecting north of Balcony rather than potentially getting marooned down a cave. We went back to a potential lead at a cave tagged 2012-OK-01, for which the existing prospecting notes were along the lines of ‘tagged, undropped, unsurveyed’. Not quite as bad as some of the notes for prospects, which were along the lines of ‘lost’. We dropped 2012-OK-01 off 3 naturals, to find a pleasant amount of nothingness with a peephole through to a depression in the plateau. Another one crossed off the list.

We then went back to a potential lead north of 2011-01. Shining a headtorch down it showed a passage and a lot of dry dust. A handline was rigged (p8, 45° slope) gave us access to a cave. With a drafting phreatic passage leading off at 45° down at the bottom. We followed this down 30m until the slope angle increased and a rope was needed (which we didn’t have). Surveyed, photos and GPS coordinates taken. QMA! Nadia christened the cave ‘Bad Forecast’ since it turned out sunny all day.
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Philip Withnall,
base camp - Pathetic festering

Everyone in Top Camp festered because they were scared of the high water levels. Nobody caved.
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Expo - Calibrating Distos

Where better to learn surveying than on an expedition, this year I was pleasantly surprised to learn the expedition had upwards of 6 distos, provided by ULSA, Chris D, CHECC and UBBS. Unfortunately they all needed recalibrating, having had previous bad experiences with disto calibrations I was reluctant to take any responsibility for the task, however it seemed others had their priorities set on drinking beer and sorting rope, so I headed out into the woods with some marking tat and the topodroid app on my phone.



I created a disto calibrating environment by tying bits of blue tat on trees to mark the relative locations of the 14 calibration points, with a stone tied to a long piece of string hanging off a branch for the up and down points. I got to work taking the 56 shots required to calibrate each disto following some instructions I found on the pocket topo website. It took me over three hours to calibrate all the distos to within acceptable calibration tolerances, repeating calibrations for one or two of them.

The distos are all up at top camp now ready to be used, apart from mine of course which remains in it?s glass display cabinet only to be used in case of emergency.  The (totally not posed) photographs below show us honing our surveying skills by resurveying a section of Bat Country discovered last year. 



Blog Author: Hall2501
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Lydia Leather, Corin Donne, Ashley Gregg, Michael Sargent,
Balcony - Cathedral Chasm

This was myself and Corin’s first trip underground whilst on expo. Ash took us down Balcony to Cathedral Chasm. He gave myself and Corin a lesson in surveying which was great because he uses a PDA which - so I am told - is a very efficient surveying technique. We surveyed a total of 79 metres!.. In about 2 hours… By the end of this we'd found 1 C lead and 2 B leads, one of which resulted in a grim mendip crawl that only Ash ended up doing and surveying. Michael thinks that the other B lead could connect to Tunnocks… We'll see.

NB: Ash’s alternative account

After the rain prevented caving the day before, the four of us set off to Balcony at long last. Got underground just before midday and soon we reached the bottom of the entrance series. Lydia and Corin had not been into Balcony before so this was a nice introduction to Austrian caving. Successfully remembered the route to the Trident junction turn off. Lydia rigged the intermediate 10m pitch. The bolts had been left in by Luke who had removed a slightly too short rope. I showed the others the bat skeletons just before we got to the rift B lead we had planned to explore. I taught Corin and Lydia how to survey in paperless style so progress was slow but successful. The rift interconnected in a couple of places before heading off in the direction of Tunnocks. Passed an aven - possibly freclimbable QMB - before getting to a 4-way junction with 2 QMBs and a QMC. Pushed one of the QMBs which got smaller and turned into a crawl. Michael called for a ‘Mendip caver’ up front so I pushed a squeeze leading to a more sideways thrutchy crawl. This continued for 30m through a couple of other squeezes before crapping out. I then did a 1-man disto mission to survey it.

Meanwhile Corin and Lydia took some photos. Michael and I caught them up and we then exited the cave. Entrance pitch was a bit drippy and quite cold.
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Nathan Walker, Philip Withnall,
Bad Forecast - (2017-PW-01)

Found ~40m horizontal passage heading due east at 45°, passage ended in ~35m pitch dropping into large phreatic passage. Way on is undropped 20m pitch to the north that lands in a large continuation. Rigging topo for Gardener's Delight

Phil continuing:

The continuation chamber has several avens in the roof, as does the choked phreatic chamber. Hopefully it doesn’t crap out with breakdown debris from the roof, since it looks as if it lies on a fault. Progress down the passage prior to the 40m pitch was slow due to bulldozering several cubic metres of cobbles dow the passage continuously. We got to know some of these cobbles quite well.
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Nadia Raeburn, Chris Densham, Haydon Saunders,
Tunnocks - Camp Kraken: Densham Master Cave, Grike of the Earth, Bullshit in a China Shop

After the rain on the 24th delaying our startwe were all packed up for the morning of the 25th. We arrived at camp at 2 and had a quick lunch before setting off for the Tunnocks Master Cave [to be later renamed ‘Denshams Master Cave’ after disagreement about its Master Cave status from other expo members]. We got to the Master Cave at around 4pm where Chris insisted that we rig a traverse from the start of the rift. Around every corner Chris would claim to have not gone past it the year before only to be proven wrong by footsteps and survey points.

Upon deciding where we would start rigging the traverse line our one and only drill battery only had power for half a bolt. After considerable swearing it was decided that Chris would go back to camp for another drill battery while Haydon and I went to check out other leads in the area. Haydon and I were given clear instructions as to where to go so naturally we did not find what we were looking for; however, we did find a small waterfall lead that we decided was too grim to do ourselves.

Chris returned with hopefully charged drill batteries and we began rigging the traverse and surveying the passage. The stream at the end of the passage dropped down about 10m into a rift while a phreatic tube continued above the rift with considerably muddy and slopey walls we decided to end the day there and make a decision on our plans over tea.

Considering our lack of faith in our remaining drill batteries we decided not to continue with the battery eating rift and went to pursue another lead. (Sidenote: we thought we would like to go for something a little less muddy). We set off for a pit in the north of Slackers. Down a 3m climb we were dropped into a muddy pit and the more we moved the more the mud stuck to our clothes, wellies and gear, doubling us in weight.

Haydon dropped the rift pitch, which had phreatic properties. Chris and I sat getting very cold in very drafty passage, occasionally going on a run around to warm up and check out the area. Chris went to the waterfall lead Haydon and I had been in the day before to find a massive waterfall where a small one had been. Proving that conditions underground must be much more pleasant than those at Top Camp.

Once the pitch was rigged Chris and I surveyed down and became very excited by the sloping phreatic tube with hard mud plates coating the floor. We began to feel guilty for ruining the plates like bulls in a china shop. Then suddenly the way on was entirely mud choked. Bullshit! On our way out we considered the cross sectioned phreatic tube about 5m from the floor. We determined that the draft was coming from there but did not have time to inspect the tubes.

The next day we slept until 12pm waiting for the water levels to recede enough that we felt motivated to head up to Procrastination. En route out I had a slightly embarrassing route finding incident near Caramel Catharsis, ask Haydon for further details.
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Ashley Gregg, Elliott Smith, Elaine Oliver,
Balcony - Cathedral Chasm

Went back to Cathedral Chasm to finish off what was done the day before. Started by going left at the junction, this was after rigging the traverse to Cathedral Chasm (17m) and letting Elliott loose at the top of the really loose pitch.

Elaine and I surveyed along, eventually reaching an aven and pitch. Both crapped out, with the small stream we found en route disappearing into a pebbly floor. There was a bat skeleton at the top of the aven.

Elliott then met up with us to inform that the pitch had crapped out. I joined him to survey it, apparently it got very wet and loose near the bottom of the first drop. A definite QMC, but around 80m surveyed.

Elaine had become rather cold at this point so we got her bolting a B lead traverse with [ASH COME ON WHAT THE FUCK DOES THIS SAY] I went digging. 5 trowel fulls of earth made it through. The lead then crapped out after 10m. I then put some conservation tape around the 3 bat skeletons in the main passage. By this time Elaine had finished the traverse, so we headed out leaving the lead to be completed later.
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Ashley Gregg, Luke Stangroom, Adam Aldridge, Kristian Brook,
Balcony - Nothing to See

After hearing about Luke’s many QMAs I decided to join him on a trip down Hilti-a-Plenty to ‘Nothing to See’ just below Bat Country. Kristian and I crapped out 2 QMAs whilst Adam bolted a pitch, being supervised by Luke. One of our leads went for ~20m before ending in a little chamber. The other went to a large which could link into Galactica.

We then took some pictures of ‘Dinosaur Bones’ found by Kristian which looked and felt a lot like rocks. Then we went down to the pitch that Adam and Luke had rigged and surveyed it. This ends in a rift that also looked like it connected into Galactica.

Deciding that we hadn’t yet done enough caving we then went to another pitch lead, starting with a dodgy free climb which we then put a handline on. Kristian began rigging the pitch. Two of us went down a tight C-lead which popped out halfway down the pitch. [UNTRANSLATABLE SENTENCE, PROBABLY NOT EVEN IMPORTANT]. Then in a very tight bedding heading toward Galactica which I decided was too tight after a dogleg. We then reconvened before the batteries died on the drill. Left the rope and [OTHER HORRIBLE WORD]to cave back to find the pitch Kristian started. The prussik out was long but efficient, with Kristian taking a bit longer due to the ‘bones’ he decided to take out. Still a fair bit to do down here.
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Rob Watson, Becka Lawson, Nadia Raeburn, Rachel Turnbull,
plateau - Prospecting, 110 area

After beginning to cairn a route the evening before, myself and Becka decided that despite the sure-to-come rain we wanted to check out the howling draft at No helicopter hole aka 110 again. Due to a shortage of drill batteries that contained charge, we brought a hand bolting kit and a short length of rope. The route taken was convoluted to say the least, and visibility was not optimal, but after an hour or so the cave was found.

I quickly changed into my caving kit and crawled inside the low and chilly entrance. After ~10m, I came to a small constriction which was passed without much trouble. After some ~20m further passage sloping at ~30° and a further small crawl the 8m climb described by the original explorers was reached. I began to down-climb this but then realised that most of the rock was very loose and one wall was entirely made of loose boulders. A retreat was made to get a rope and Rachel. Once attached to the rope, tied round a big boulder, extensive gardening occurred to the point at which the pitch would need to be bolted on the far wall for a safe descent. We then exited the cave and had a very welcome lunch. I was finally able to warm my freezing hands up. This cave is pretty miserable all round, being sharp, cold, drippy and small. This was to be a prevailing theme of caves in the area.

After lunch, we decided to prospect further in the surrounding area to see if other easier entrances to the same system could be found. In total, six prospects within a 100m radius to the east of 110 were explored, none of which had any potential or anything like the draft felt at 110. Myself and Becka then surveyed 110 until the pitch was reached. After this. We began to prospect further west of 110 before the mists came in and a tactical retreat to Top Camp was made.
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Michael Sargent, Corin Donne,
Bad Forecast - chossy slope

On a wet, claggy day we decided that we should at least try to go caving, so we set out to try and find Bad Forecast, based only on a GPS pin and the instructions: ‘you go to Balkonhöhle, then continue up a bit.’ Given the visibility was ~50m and dropping, it took a long time to get to the right area, and then even longer to find the cave.

Once we had got to the vicinity of the GPS point, we spread out a bit because we were unsure of the accuracy of the fix and the reader we were using, or even if they were using the same datum. We found 2011-01, which we had been told was less than 30m away from Bad Forecast, then proceeded to go in every direction except the right one. We eventually found the cave, right where the GPS told us it was.

Having not found any surveying equipment at the Stone Bridge, we had two objectives: to garden a dangerous slope above the large pitch, and to better cairn the route there. Low visibility prohibited any cairning, so we set off down the steep chossy slope to the pitch head. We had a look down below the pitch to see the large chamber and where the rocks could fall.

Coming back up, I theorised that the second hole near the start of the pitch traverse would connect to the second half of the large chamber, so dropped a rock down to let Corin hear where it would fall. It actually landed in the first half of the chamber, about 2ft from Corin, so don’t do that.

We pulled the rope on the pitch up above the pitch head (undoing the rebelay) to put the rope out of the path of falling rocks for gardening. 2 hours later we had improved the pitch head from ‘loose gravel’ to ‘muddy gravel’, which we decided was as good as we could get, the actual rock floor being several feet below. The walk back was no more visible.
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Becka Lawson, Luke Stangroom, Rob Watson,
plateau - Prospecting, 110 area, day 2

Tempted back by that sweet, sweet draft, this time with a drill no less as the only good rock at the pitch in 110 was in the ceiling and placing hand bolts in a ceiling was beyond my stoke remit. Bolts were placed and a descent was made. After a look around at the bottom, I frustratedly concluded that the ‘dig’ in the chamber which had been described would be a major operation and unfeasible without a lot of time and materials.

I summoned Luke and Becka in, with Luke complaining substantially about the misery and shitness. Survey done, we headed out and again had lunch. Further prospecting then again failed to reveal any alternative ways into the cave, after looking south-west by around 200m from 110. Two shafts were dropped, [2017-21] (tagged CUCC-2017-21, GPS’d, surveyed) and [2017-22] (tagged CUCC-2017-22, GPS’d). 21 was a pitch of around 15m leading to a breakdown area at the bottom with no way on. 22 was of good novelty value as it was filled with ice and snow at the bottom of a 7m climb, where a small gap behind the back of the snow plug could be slid down. Nothing at the bottom though.

Slightly dejected, we started on the walk home. En route we found some excellently drafting holes after deciding to divert from the cairned route. We did a quick dig in one to find a large passage which led to a smaller diggable passage. I then explored the other entrance for ~20m in shorts and t-shirt to a very loose climb down to large walking passage. In light of these excellent prospects, we decided that the area merited another visit the next day.
[Ed., renamed caves to current use.]
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Michael Sargent,
Bad Forecast - surface survey

Returning from the previous day, to surface survey another entrance that I saw on the way out the previous day. After failing to see the disto laser in the bright sunlight, I returned to the Stone Bridge to pick up a tape, compass and clino to do the surface legs. Overall, not an entrance worth doing unless the handline is not present on the main entrance.
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Rob Watson, Luke Stangroom, Becka Lawson,
GSH - Glücklich Schmetterlingehöhle (GSH) and Kein Wassermelonhöhle (KWH) - initial exploration

We returned with more rope and drill batteries to rig the loose climb in CUCC-2017-24 (GSH or Happy Butterfly Hole) and to continue digging CUCC-2017-23 (KWH or Not Watermelon Hole). Whilst Luke entertained himself by digging in a shit muddy shakehole I got on with bolting the climb, which was trickier than anticipated due to the sheer abundance of shit rock. Soon I was down and the draft was confirmed to be a gale force wind. I headed out to find Luke, who informed me that Becka had also broken through digging in KWH. Great success!

We decided that we would survey GSH first, with Luke and Becka surveying whilst I bolted a second small hole which was to the right of the initial climb at the T junction. I then followed them to act as varnish bitch. We soon reached a T junction and first took the right branch, which headed down a large (~3m diameter) steeply ramping phreatic passage which had quite a few holes in the floor. When skirting round one of these, Fat Bastard Luke Stangroom managed to exacerbate its collapse greatly by slipping at the outer edge whilst investigating it and half blocking the hole with a large boulder.

Just after this we got extremely excited, however, because the wind turned into a Baltic storm, positively whistling through a small sandy hole towards us. We surveyed to just beyond this and then went back to the other branch of the T junction for a couple of legs before returning to survey the climb I had just rigged.

Myself and Becka had only just reached the floor when we heard Silverback Stangroom beating his chest in triumph, for he had found a bypass to the pitch via a nice boulder choke. We surveyed this passage until we came upon another potential dig QMB).

We then went to survey KWH, which Becka thought was a great cave, and which me and Luke kept downplaying, though the passage was pretty big (‘It’s 6m wide!’). Then we headed out and home. En route home, we found a series of exciting holes, one ~50m north-east of GSH and blowing extremely strongly, and one tagged 2012-SW-02 which looked promising.
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Nadia Raeburn, Fleur Loveridge, Pete Talling, Brendan Hall,
Balcony - Sloppy Seconds

The four of us set off with the intention of dropping some pitches in Sloppy Seconds and photographing Galactica. When we got to the junction between the two Brendan and Fleur went down Galactica and Pete and I headed on to Sloppy Seconds. When we got to the pushing front we scouted out the leads and decided to traverse around one of the pitches for a horizontal lead.

Pete was almost finished rigging the traverse when Fleur and Brendan arrived having had a surprisingly efficient photography and derigging trip. The only issue being that Brendan had derigged on his cave lunch.

It was decided that I would drop the pitch we had traversed around while the others surveyed past the traverse. I tied into the traverse bolts and dropped down to do a rebelay. The others carried on and after a few metres found another pitch. After three failed attempts at placing a bolt the battery ran out and the others were done surveying. I swapped over with Brendan and he dropped down to a platform. We surveyed the platform level and found four more pitches to be dropped of varying pleasantness. We also confirmed our suspicion that the nearby holes on the level we had started were connected. We found multiple mud slopes leading to avens.

We left a horizontal lead at the higher level, traversing over the second drop encountered after Pete’s traverse, which a traverse line could be rigged for. There is also still a pitch at the turn slightly higher than the rest on this level that potentially does not connect with the rest of the holes. As well as the obvious lower level pitches which we did not drop.
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Phil Withnall,
Expo - Perspective of a newcomer to expo
Perspective of a newcomer to expo
[id is 'Flakey' = Philip Withnall]
Having been caving for several years with CUCC, but having managed to successfully avoid Expo previously, 2017 was my first year in Austria exploring the caves of the L?ser plateau. I spent two weeks out there and, having returned home and had a few showers, here are some of my thoughts about the Expo experience.

I turned up on Expo shortly after the setup and rigging had been completed, meaning that some of my first trips were to the pushing edge of exploration. All of my trips this year were in Balkonh?hle (apart from a couple of trips down a new cave, found while prospecting; more on that below). This was more caving than I had done before on any trip: more depth, longer duration, and more technical SRT in one place at the same time. Good fun. While I was confident with my caving before arriving, there was the inevitable mismatch in prussiking fitness between me and those who had already been out on Expo for a week or two. A few trips down to Galactica (one of the lower areas in Balkonh?hle at the start of Expo) started to sort that out.

There were other skills which I hadn't had the opportunity to practice before: surveying, and photography. Since a lot of Expo is about surveying, that was a critical skill to learn. Thanks to the patience of Luke, Nadia and Rachel, I got enough practice on a couple of trips to feel confident about surveying. Rachel and I surveyed the bottom of Galactica (a huge chamber found at the end of last year?s expedition which, unfortunately, is an almost complete dead end due to fill from fault breakdown). Later on, Nadia, Nathan and I started surveying a new cave. Exciting to do; less exciting to try and work out how to write up afterwards. Thankfully, various people at base camp were quite helpful in guiding me through writing up surveys and tying a new cave into the overall survey.

One of the downsides I found on Expo was that knowing the set of A-leads to investigate was hard; the information mostly resides in a few people?s heads, rather than on a list somewhere. It was only during my second week on Expo when we got a relatively up-to-date survey to look at at top camp. This made it a bit harder to take the initiative to lead trips to the pushing front. Hence I became a sheep; a situation I was happy with, given it was my first year at Expo.

Prospecting was another activity which I got some practice at, due to a few days where the weather forecast was terrible (and the weather reality was rather nice). Given a bad forecast, going down Balkonh?hle is inadvisable due to the potential for getting flooded in (the Entrance series drains a lot of water). Prospecting seemed a safer option, and the possibility for finding the long-sought second entrance to Balkonh?hle was attractive.

We didn't manage to find a second entrance to Balkonh?hle, but we did manage to find another promising cave (nicknamed Bad Forecast; I?m looking forward to the Austrian translation) which we pushed to -100m in a large phreatic chamber. The entrance passage is about 100m long at 45?, running contrary to the dip of the surrounding plateau, and doesn't seem to take water. So at least we?ve found a cave people can do in wet weather (so far), and something for people to push if they?re bored of Balkonh?hle or Tunnocks. And I think we?ve now surveyed enough of it that the name can't be changed, so that?s one more pun set in stone.

Weather was ever-present during my time on Expo: there was typically the threat of rain (also typically dismissed, correctly, by people). When there wasn't rain, there was sunburn. A particularly entertaining two days of rain lead to us rebuilding the kitchen area of the bivvy, and me running out of reading material. Pro tip: bring more reading to top camp. Another pro tip: bring more interesting food; preferably things which can have the powdered custard from top camp added to them to increase their deliciousness. After much experimentation with various combinations of powdered food up there, I concluded that custard and smash is a timeless combination.
Blog Author: flakey
Response by Wookey:
Flakey [Phil W] said:
One of the downsides I found on Expo was that knowing the set of A-leads to investigate was hard; the information mostly resides in a few people's heads, rather than on a list somewhere.
There is supposed to be a list Flakey, but your fellow 2016 expoers did an exceedingly poor job of sorting out such things last year after expo finished, so one was not updated/generated properly. Nevertheless (despite not going in Balkonhoehle last year, so knowing very little about it) I did collect what info I could find and put it in the [qm.csv] list [ Now imported into:] so there was a list of sorts.

I understand that a 3-line whip will be in place this year so no-one can leave if any docs or surveys are out of date. There will still be piles to do over winter, and I hope we can do a better job than last year, because, as you observe, it's a right pain if it doesn't get done.

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Rob Watson, Luke Stangroom,
GSH - pitches, crapping out KWH, scooping

After the excitement of yesterday, having left all our personal kit and a set of bolting kit at the cave, we returned optimistic that we would find something big today. We were under strict instructions from Becka not to crap out KWH, which she considered her cave. We headed off into GSH to continue surveying from where we had got to the day before. We first went up the right-hand fork at the second T junction. After one further survey leg we realised that we had reached a pitch of about 12m, which had not been noticed before due to the strict scooping restrictions imposed by Becka. These restrictions were to prove a great inhibition all round throughout the day.

We decided to survey as far as possible in the other direction before returning to bolt it, having left the drill etc on the surface. A reasonable distance (~60m) was surveyed, but as it was drafting inwards we suspected that the passages were leading to the surface. We found four ways on, three of which became choked with boulders after only a few further legs. The fourth was a ~5m climb up a drippy aven which had horizontal passage leading off at the top, but we didn’t climb this as we thought it was heading to the surface and the climb probably needed a rope for the way down. This done, we went back to the surface for a melon break.

We then returned to the pitch to bolt it. The rock again was extremely poor and there had clearly been some major ceiling collapse. Huge boulders were loose at the pitch head. After the drill battery ran out having done 3.5 holes (with the second battery - taped, #1 - doing zero holes) a scrappy descent was made using the tacklebag as a rope protector at the top. At the bottom, a rift led off for ~20m before arriving at another pitch head. This one was huge - at least a 3s drop. Exciting! We would return with more batteries and rope tomorrow to drop it. We exited again for a second lunch of snowmelt, noodles and soup.

Then we went back to KWH, where both of the going leads crapped out after only one more survey leg each. Another example of where further scooping would have given us extremely useful further information and saved us a lot of time. The final example of this was when we stuck our heads into the other drafty hole found the day before, which Becka claimed to have ventured ~20m into. After ~50m, we found a very drafty pitch which looked much easier to drop than the pitches in GSH.

So, with two excellent prospects (along with two excellent digs for Ash to investigate), we returned to Top Camp quite early but in high spirits.
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Michael Sargent, Rachel Turnbull, Becka Lawson,
Tunnocks - Underground camp, Snake Pit, Snake Charmer 2 and 3

Set off from the Stone Bridge at 8am, planning to spend 2 nights at Camp Kraken in order to follow leads in Snake Charmer. Underground at 9am. Route finding was simple enough, no major mistakes, and arrived at camp at 12:40. Dumped camping gear and picked up rope and drilling kit, headed down Octopussy, took two of three drill batteries to the pushing front.

On the way Rachel put in another bolt to the lowest rebelay on Snake Charmer, and a handline on the climb down shortly after. Arrived at the window looking over the lead, Rachel and I sat in the bothy and put on extra layers while Becka bolted the main pitch [named Snake Pit] down to the water.

Rigging Topo

The water came from a large ~15m aven just upstream of the pitch. The majority of the water went down a low passage, along ~50m of vadose rift with frequent pools and free climbs with flaky sharp limestone. The main route comes up and left of the water into a rift canyon with pools and a short 2m climb. Eventually a pitch head (P6) comes up marking the start of a series of three short pitches.

Rigging Topo

Ended at the second pitch, uneventful back to camp. Up early on the 1st, headed back to the front with the remaining drill batteries. Third pitch becomes tighter and leads to a fourth pitch.

Rigging Topo

Unfortunately, here we ran out of drill battery so had to turn back, both to camp and then out to the surface. A brief lunch of noodles fuelled Rachel and I while Becka powered on out. Return journey also uneventful, exited the cave at 10:30pm.
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Rob Watson, Luke Stangroom,
GSH - Dropping the big pitch in GSH, Nadia leg break

After having worked out the optimum route the day before, we headed back to the cave with Nathan and Nadia in tow. They we to drop the other hole while we went deep into GSH and then surveyed back. The rigging was again made difficult by a proliferance of shit rock until the lower depths of the pitch were reached, where the rock was excellent. Prior to this, we had spent a good hour crow-barring big table sized boulders at the top of the pitch rigged yesterday.

At the bottom of the pitch, a rift was followed for ~60m under and over some boulder obstacles until another pitch was reached. This was where we stopped for the day, placing two bolts with the last of the drill battery before surveying out, which due to the enormous dimensions of the passage (a huge fault-controlled rift with multiple avens coming off it) was a twat to visualise on paper.

Soon out and en route back after receiving a message from Nathan on a soup packet: ‘Nadia injured leg. We need your help. Time now 16:00.’ Three hours behind, we packed up Nadia’s caving gear and set off back, picking up her rucksack as well en route at the sight of the accident. Apparently she had pulled a big boulder onto herself. There was an obvious section of disturbed mud but we didn’t see the proclaimed blood splatters.
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Nadia Raeburn, Nathan Walker,
CUCC-2017-28 - initial exploration

The two of us were led to a surface prospect by Luke and Rob with a blowing draft and pitch that needed to be dropped. Because drill batteries were in short supply I sent the efficient Nathan to bolt the pitch while I soaked up the sun at the entrance. After a while I mustered up the enthusiasm to enter the cave and was immediately greeted by Nathan complaining that the drill battery was dead. He sent me to check if Luke and Rob were using theirs but not being able to find them or the bolting equipment I assumed they were using it. Nathan had rigged a traverse using 6 bolts to the pitch head but had run out of battery before being able to drop it.

We then headed back to camp early and tried to add extra cairns to the path. I climbed up a bit of a ridge to add one, but failed to find any suitable building materials and climbed down. On my way down I found a microwave sized loose boulder and dropped it onto my leg. With it being so early in the day we assumed no one would be at camp. We sat around for about an hour and a half and then decided we might as well try to head back. An hour later we had gained about 150m with some bum shuffling progress. As we carried on I got better at using my leg without hurting myself and three hours after setting off we arrived at camp. Having learned to walk no one believed I was seriously injured. The next day I set off down the hill with Rob and Kristian and after 5 hours walking I too no longer thought I was seriously injured. It turns out I am really hard and had a broken leg. It then later turned out it was a pathetic fracture.
T/U: 0.0 hours

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Fleur Loveridge, Pete Talling, George Breley,
plateau - Prospecting, 2016-01

Revisited 2016-01 (explored briefly the previous year). Coordinates: 33T UTM 0411651, 5283655. Elevation: 1888m.

[This has since been identified as 2012-ns-07 discovered in 2012.]

2016-01: 3m climb down into 2x3m surface depression with muddy floor. Single bolt in wall at head height, descending small hole (obvious) at far end of depression. Optional deviation from chockstone adjacent to hole, rebelay ~2m down shaft. I descended to the end of the rope (22m + 9m - too short!) then downclimbed the rest of the shaft (~6m). Passage continues underneath ledge turning back on itself (limit of 2016 exploration). Further 4m downclimb and the passage very soon gets too tight/filled in. ascending passage on the left ends similarly. DEAD.

Rigging topo and survey sketch

Pete’s hole: wriggle down a slot and climb down ~2m. Very short crawl immediately ends in tiny chamber with draft emerging from under large slab of rock. Spent some time digging out cobbles but slab requires capping for further progress.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Mike Butcher, Kristian Brook, Adam Aldridge,
Balcony - Nothing To See

My first trip on the hill having arrived and walked up the day before. Good introduction to Balcony pushing in the Nothing To See area. Kristian tried bolting the pitch at the end, only to find his two drill batteries were flat. So he went back out to get fresh ones from Top Camp.

Meanwhile Adam and I rigged the pitch from the naturals available, first dropping a tube to the right of the traverse which was choked with boulders partway down. After unsuccessfully trying to clear the boulders by kicking them into the void below (too stable to be safely moved), we then dropped the main lead to find it also choked by boulders below the second pitch. I was able to squeeze past into a 8x3m chamber below, but Adam declined to continue. From the chamber, a tight meander could be slithered along for seven body lengths before becoming too tight. To the right a phreatic passage 3m above the floor was choked by mud. In the roof two shafts came in, both appeared choked with boulders part way up, the right-most shaft being the one I had dropped earlier, and the leftmost joined the bae of the first pitch. We surveyed from above the boulder squeeze, but having forgotten a pencil Adam had to engrave onto the page.

We had finished by the time Kristian returned with the ‘fresh’ battery. So we went to investigate the climbing lead Adam, Luke and Rachel had previously tried but thought it needed bolting. It was an inclined phreatic tube ~30m high, easily free climbable but exposed. From the top, another parallel shaft was to the left which continued up but also needed bolting.

To the right a narrow passage soon joins another shaft similar to the other two, which we suspect drops down to the choked pitches we had rigged earlier, but also continues up, requiring bolting. At this point Kristian’s fresh battery was also flat, so rigged off a natural and then made our way out. The shafts need a return trip to survey and possibly bolt.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Brendan Hall, George Breley, Adam Aldridge,
Tunnocks - The Beast, trip #3

(Katey and George failed to write trip reports of the first 2 trips, maybe they were both a bit distracted)

*What George said*

‘Who wants to go caving with me?’

*What George meant*

‘Who would like to come and sit at a pitch head while I bolt for over 3 hours 1.5 hours 2.5 hours?’

Having lost all enthusiasm for caving yet needing an excuse to stay at the Stone Bridge, I saw a golden opportunity to utilise the Brendan Cave Cinema SystemTM.

This device had previously been tested with great success in Balkonhöhle with Corin. We were able to watch the whole of Skyfall before ASH had finished rigging his pitch.

Diagram of Brendan Cave Cinema System in action at The Beast

Adam and I found a comfortable spot next to a window through which we could see/hear George rigging. I told George he would have to scream at least three times before I could be persuaded to leave the warmth and comfort of my cave cinema.

Adam and I watched the whole of Limitless and half of Focus before leaving to check on George (at around 5pm we heard flood pulses around the corner). George and I met at the pitch head to catch up. He had rigged to the bottom… it crapped out. But the good news was it ended next to another pitch [later termed ‘Not the Beast’] which had been rigged previously…

Diagram of The Beast and Not The Beast
T/U: 0.0 hours

Fleur Loveridge, Pete Talling, Ashley Gregg,
Tunnocks - Camp Kraken: below Snake Pit

On 1/8/17 Becka and co came out with instructions of pushing beyond Snake Pit pitch which they had descended on the previous trip.

We were underground by 9am on 2/8/17, in the back of our minds that it might rain that morning. But we sailed past Procrastination with no trouble. Onwards to Kraken arriving after ~5 hours. This was Ash’s deepest trip by a very long way and due to be Pete’s most substantial trip post hip op. so all was good. After quick noodles, we set off again, marvelling at the beauty of Octopussy and Living the Dream. First job was to derig Indian Rope Trick so that we had more gear for rigging.

NOTE: it was impossible to unscrew the clown hanger at the pitch head so we had to cut the rope out and leave the hanger in situ.

Then followed Becka’s detailed instructions down Snake Charmer and Snake Pit to the impressive stream falling from two inlets. We took he flood overflow ‘dry’ streamway, arriving at due course at the pushing front. For expedience I started bolting - a short traverse then partially down a small pitch. As the rift at the base was small, we progressed at part height before descending the second part further along.

Rigging topo

Then the rift degenerated into small and catchy passage. After initially trying to go for a ‘look-see’ in case of another pitch, I returned and stripped off all the drilling paraphernalia. I thrutched at mid-height then climbed down and squeezed through at low level. Meanwhile Pete and Ash surveyed behind, and poked an alternative route in the roof. We both independently popped out into the base or side of a muddy boulder choke.

Inching forward we entered a larger passage. Sadly very soon it became clear this was Song of the Earth. I found a survey station for us to tie back into. Then we derigged back to the base of Snake Pit. Here we left ropes in allowing for pushing of the streamway, but also untied the rope here from the base so that it could be derigged from the top easily. Left a gear dump at the base of Octopussy. Back to camp 14 hours after entering Tunnocks.

Nice enough night at camp then out by ~6pm the next day. Just in time to miss the impending thunderstorm.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Alice Shackley, Rachel Turnbull, Corin Donne, Michael Sargent,
Balcony - not finding Sloppy Seconds, touristing, flooding

We headed to Balcony with the intention of pushing Sloppy Seconds. We were underground by midday and nominated Rachel as leader as she knew how to get to Hilti-A-Plenty. However, none of us knew for sure how to get to Sloppy Seconds (we were looking for Bat Country first off).

I enjoyed the entrance series and the completely dry big pitch (this is apparently abnormal) and the following pitches down Hilti-A-Plenty. We took a left at the bottom in the hope of finding the right way, but sadly this was not the case. After much fun exploring, we decided to head back to the bottom of Hilty and take the other (correct) passage. It soon became clear that we were not going to find Sloppy Seconds, so, as it was my first trip, we replanned for a tourist trip to Ice Cock Aven.

After ascending the pitch leading to Cathedral Chasm, Corin decided to head out with Ash’s pushing rope as he had been to Ice Cock Aven only the day before. The journey for the three remaining was very enjoyable as I like a good climb and there were some good sandy crawls. The ice formations were as good as promised and Michael gave a great tour of the area. We then set off out.

I was first onto the ‘15m pitch’ when we heard a rumbling noise. We gave each other a worried look before quickly deciding to retreat away from the pitch to see where the water would appear. It was 5:40pm at this point and we found out that although the far side of the chamber gets wet we were alright to go up.

Our next concern was how far Corin had got as the entrance series big pitch is too wet to pass in flood. Thankfully we found him in the bottom of the entrance series in a bothy bag singing contentedly. He had had a similar close call, having retreated after just putting his croll on the rope.

It then became a military operation to put on out extra warm layers and prepare for a long wait in the bothy bag. We sat on rope and put tacklesacks below our feet to keep warm. The efficiency was excellent and we soon had water, food and a seating plan ready for our party. We pulled the bag over and made sure to leave a small hole for oxygen. Six games of ‘what time is it?’ and lots of chats later, Rachel went to check if the much less noisy pitch was now only drippy. After shouting down that it was good we all gradually left the bothy and headed out safely, almost missing callout at 11pm. What a first trip.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Luke Stangroom, Becka Lawson,
GSH - bottom of big pitch

With Rob escorting Nadia down the hill Becka was keen to see the continuation of GSH. Successful distribution of drill batteries. Set off to cave, route needs cairning but only takes 30 minutes. Mike and Nathan in CUCC-2017-28 (now named Fisch Gesicht Höhle). Inspected some horizontal leads at head of big pitch but crapped out immediately. Still had drill battery so descended to the pushing front from last trip. Battery wouldn’t die so had to keep on going, multiple options but ran out of rope.

On exit flood pulse happened at the top of the big pitch so not sure how it responds to water. CouldaWouldaShoulda was rigged perfectly out of the water. Exited cave, tagged CUCC-2017-28 noting that Mike and Nathan had probably not had any drill battery. Back to Top Camp in 40 minutes, confirmed that Nathan and Mike got no holes. Almost acted as callout for Balcony crew who got rained in despite the rain happening for 30 minutes 5 hours previously.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Mike Butcher, Nathan Walker,
CUCC-2017-28 - aka Fisch Gesicht Höhle (FGH)

Went to drop the pitch reached by Nathan the day before, having rigged a traverse before his batteries died. However, our drill battery was flat. No surprise. Nathan very angry. We surveyed up to the top of the pitch. On the way out, instead of dropping the pitch and surveying, I dropped the survey down the pitch. Nathan very sad.

Note to self 1: do not stuff notebooks down jumper when only wearing shorts and jumper and over a pitch.

Note to self 2: cave very cold and windy. Do not wear shorts and jumper.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Rob W,
Expo - Update 2 new caves
Quick stop press ahead of a fuller update in due course when I get some photos: we found 2 new caves in a previously totally unexplored area of the plateau which are both going big, leads at underground camp are still being explored, a new surface camp has been set up at Organhohle and we have now had 2 hospital visits. More to follow...
Blog Author: nobrotson
T/U: 0.0 hours

Radost Waszkiewicz, George Breley,
Balcony - Cathedral Chasm

We went down Balcony to investigate Cathedral Chasm following suggestion that ‘there will be 100m of rope waiting there’.


Prussiked back up.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Rob W,
Expo - Dinner, Achievements so far
As the expo dinner approaches and the halfway point looms close, what exactly has CUCC expo 2017 achieved so far? Well, we?ve worked out one thing: deep Tunnocks is a stubborn beast that refuses to reveal its secrets easily. So far 5 camping trips have been completed, and the finale of last years? big find, Song of the Earth, ended in a huge chamber choked by mud and boulders, which George nearly became part of after having crawled into a boulder choke, only to pull on the ceiling and then nearly become encased in the cave. So, the chamber, named ?Big Lad?, is now dead, at least for a while. The other camping trips have turned some seemingly less promising leads near to Octopussy into howling chasms, most of which need dropping within the next week. Lots to do on that front. There is still some good windy phreatic passage to go at as well, after Densham, Nadia and Haydon descended a pitch to a very muddy floor only to miss some very draughty passage 5m above the floor. However, it was very very very muddy. So that was left as well.


Fleur Loveridge silhouetted against the massive backdrop of Galactica, which sadly died after very few trips. Photo: Brendan Hall.

Whilst all this excitement was occurring, Balkony was also progressing steadily. Further leads above Galactica, in an area called ?Nothing to See? because it had been overlooked last year were pushed, but mainly found to link into Galactica disappointingly. This might have happened much quicker, but for a critical factor. One of the great problems over the last 2 weeks has been a problem with one of the drill battery chargers. The older drills are taped with electrical tape and Wookey has extensively fettled them over the years. However, this year there was no qualified Nerd to nurture and care for them. Consequently, Luke Stangroom was the man left in charge of their care, with that responsibility soon to be passed to me (or hopefully someone else entirely), meaning that no one can really be sure how they work. There is soon to be a full consultation, but for now they are rationed very carefully. This seems to mean that myself and Luke get the ones that are correctly charged each day, and everyone else has to bodge, survey, use naturals or just resign themselves to their fate. There has been enough battery for plenty of pushing at a deeper level in Balkony, however, with a lead called ?Sloppy Seconds? still going to previously unrecorded depths in Balkony.


Silverback Stangroom begins the Great Battery Auction. The batteries numbered 7, 8 and 14 are the Lucky Ones. Or is it all in the hands of one man? Photo: Becka Lawson

Aside from established classics, there has been some serious development of the system in a previously totally unexplored area. Early on in week 2, George and Becka refound a cave about which Andy Waddington proclaimed "we haven't a kitten's chance in heck of finding this again". This was called No Helicopter Hole, or 110 in normal speak, and was very miserable and ultimately a fruitless endeavour. However, after some prospecting in the vicinity of this cave, we broke into excellent passage after 4 days of trying. Gl?cklich Schmetterlinge H?hle proved to be an excellent and very windy cave, albeit very loose, quite wet and a bit scary. This cave is now over 100m deep and 500m long after 3 days of work and still carries a gale through it. Very promising! Whilst this was occurring, Nadia was busy waiting for Nathan to bolt the cave next door, also with a howling draught, and then pulling a large rock onto herself, causing her fibula to fracture. In addition to this injury, Lydia Leather, after around 4 trips, took a trip to town on the expo bike (retrieved from the lake a few years back) and got the European and British braking systems the wrong way round and mashed up her left hand, resulting  in a premature return to the UK.


Left: Rachel with a gamse skull in front of 110. Dead. Very much like all the leads in 110. Photo: Becka Lawson. Right: Nadia looking pathetic and unimpressed after walking for 5 hours on a broken leg. The brace on her knee cost us €150. Photo: Brendan Hall.

The other main source of excitement at Top Camp was the Mousetrap. No, not the 7 hour long play, but the contraption built by George to catch rogue rodents at Top Camp, whose sightings are recorded on the whiteboard carried up by our hoofed animal, Adam Aldridge. This inhumane creation managed to kill a mouse via either drowning or hyperthermia, resulting in rage from the environmentalists and delight from disgusting people like Luke. The mouse had a sky burial and no further animals were harmed. We had a slight water shortage, but this was dealt with by shovelling some snow. Brendan has started to go caving again after he discovered that he could store films on his phone and then watch them in a group shelter whilst other people bolted pitches. Plus lunch, obviously?


This is horrid. What is it? Luke considers wolfing down the extra protein before deciding instead that it deservved greater respect and that another more deserving animal could eat it. Photo: Brendan Hall. And, on the right, comedy character and farmyard beast Adam Aldridge is doing an excellent job of carrying a lot of things on the outside of his very small bag. Huge! Photo: Luke Stangroom.
Blog Author: nobrotson
T/U: 0.0 hours

Kristian Brook, George Breley, Becka Lawson,
Tunnocks - 'The Beast' has fallen #gloriousendings #whataday #pokemon

Based on tunes originally whistled by Kristian Brook

I woke at 10am to find Becka screaming that she had not gone caving in 24 hours (it had only been 13 hours). Whilst George was laughing he asked me if I was keen for a trip; I responded by packing my caving gear. The destination was ‘The Beast’ to explore a window George had seen when he last went there. After the 50000000 rebelays of the Tunnocks Entrance Series we made it to the top of the Beast. Becka and I descended the Beast in order to survey whilst George took a drill and 2 dubious batteries in order to rig a separate shaft called ‘Not the Beast’. We would link into the window at the bottom of The Beast in order to look at virgin passage.

George set off down the passage first and crossed a low risk, high severity traverse. This was rigged with the remaining rope that we had and whatever naturals we could see. The dubious rigging inspired the passage name ‘Rig-a-Mortis’. There were 3 streams passing through the passage and sinking into person sized stream passage. These leads would have been pushed enthusiastically in the UK but in this situation they were too cold to push on. A trip back with a wetsuit is recommended if they are to be further looked at. On the way out Becka derigged The Beast and George derigged ‘Not the Beast’. I was knackered going out of the cave so Becka and George took all the rope and bolting kit out. Exited the cave at 2am, 13 hours underground; a new personal best for myself.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Jacob Podesta, Elaine Oliver,
Guten Morgen Höhle - trip #1

After walking across to the Organhohle bivvy in the rainm and then getting cooped up by the weather, Elaine and I decided to push GMH, a lead very close to the bivvy which had been followed to a T-shaped rift by Haydon and Elaine a few days before. The cave starts with a choss slope and then appears to end, but up to the right a short bolt climb across the T-shaped rift leads to further passage. We followed it past a junction approximately 25m through a fairly tight section to an undropped pitch. Sketch survey of Guten Morgen Hoehle
T/U: 0.0 hours

Philip Sargent, Becka Lawson, George Breley,
204 - warm-up trip

Tourist trip to test out Philip’s gear (and Philip) in 204, doing the first two pitches. The snow plugs were the smallest ever seen, according to Becka.
2 hrs

Rigging topos for GSH
T/U: 0.0 hours

Aidan Marks, Rob Watson, Adam Aldridge,
FGH - below first pitch

We descended the entrance series at around midday to investigate some leads found previously by Mike and Alice. Adam and I surveyed the main chamber and some side passages whilst Rob dropped a small pitch to the left hand side of the main chamber below the pitch.

Quick note from Rob: the passage is along the ‘windy tunnel’ as termed by Mike and Alice, and the pitch was rigged on naturals (I added a bolt on the next trip) as the drill battery died immediately when I was trying to drop a rift slightly further along the passage.

Aidan continued: Once we had finished surveying, Adam and I met Rob at the head of this small pitch, where he had identified several promising leads which we then surveyed. One lead arrived at a choked crawl, down a small climb; another lead produced a pitch with a promising potential traverse, which we left for another day due to the dearth of drill battery.

The final lead produced a long rift after a slightly dubious downclimb (which I nearly fell off), eventually leading to a stream flowing underneath the rift. We then headed out as Adam’s fingers were starting to become painful after his mishap at the lake, and reached the bivi before sunset.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Jacob Podesta, Elaine Oliver,
Guten Morgen Höhle - trip #2

Elaine and I returned to GMH the following day to bolt the pitch and survey the cave as nothing had been surveyed past the entrance pitch so far. Below the 12m pitch at the end of the T-shaped rift (‘Waterfall Rift’) there were several horizontal leads. Down a short climb put us in a chamber with several routes leading off from it. On the right a short rift a short rift leads into a small chamber with drips coming from a small hole in the ceiling. Also on the right is a low crawl which reached a sandy junction and immediately crapped out beyond.

On the left from the chamber a fairly large section of walking passage continues past a hole in the floor to a junction, the left hand route leading to a drippy aven and a small stream which we did not follow (it was quite committing and damp) and the right hand route led to a promising little pitch. Because we had left the surveying gear at the top of the pitch, we turned back at this point and surveyed from the pitch head to the cave entrance. Just as we reached the choss slope, Haydon and Elliott arrived, having got fed up with the Organ Grinder. Elliott helped us survey the pitch while Haydon went to have a look at what we had found. Sketch Survey
T/U: 0.0 hours

Adam Aldridge, Aidan Marks, Philip Sargent,
plateau - Prospecting beyond FGH and GSH

#1 ‘Delicate Bridge Hole’ [2017-AMS-01]: near skipole, rigged from natural and steelpole section to snowslope, 40m. Tagged.

[Adam and Corin returned to this the next day and crapped it out).

#2 and 3: three big holes and pit, see survey notes. [LOST !]
lat="47.692963919" lon="13.808749951"
ele 1677.613525
comment=3 BIG HOLES

[Editors note: Adam managed to mislay all the notes of this trip, including the numbers of the tags made and left in the caves; and the notes were not found on the 2018 or 2019 expos despite looking for them. They never went near a wallet apparently.]

One of our caves at 078 was re-found and pushed by Becka as 2023-BL-11 in 2023]

Geolocating photos, and tying up with a scrap of paper found in the hut, we have an entrance at GPS point 081. Now 2017-AMS-02 and wallet 2017#60.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Radost Waszkiewicz, Rob Watson, Alice Shackley, Becka Lawson,
FGH - dropping pitches, ice

Firstly we went down to the left of the entrance pitch with the help of a handline towards a tight rift [explored the day before by Adam, Rob and Aidan]. Ended with too tight passage. Went back to the entrance chamber to survey it. Across the ramp bolted and rigged a pitch to the right. Successfully descended pitch onto a massive block of ice. Horizontal rift passage leads to junction: forwards in an icy tube leads to an aven and right to a chossy passage that needed rigging. This stopped us from progressing further [though the pitch was mainly dropped]. Surveying backwards we exited the cave safely.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Sarah Connelly, Kristian Brook,
Balcony - Nothing to See - surveying and photography

We descended the Balcony entrance pitch, myself taking it embarrassingly slowly and cautiously due to my lack of caving for several months. On reaching the bottom Kristian led me to and down Hilti-A-Plenty, and then on a sporting romp to Nothing to See (featuring a traverse, a sandy crawl and a bold step that was ‘a bit dodgy’ - K Brook, 2017).

Once there we completed surveying as far as possible and took some distances up two potential leads that required bolt climbing to reach. Once this was done we bumbled back towards Hilti-A-Plenty and took some amusing sponsorship photos, featuring myself jealously guarding my Tunnocks bars and Kristian enjoying a refreshing drink of pesto. Nothing to See was then derigged and we made our way out slowly due to my tendency to prussik at a snails pace. We arrived back at camp in time to watch a lovely sunset and moonrise.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Fleur Loveridge, Pete Talling, Corin Donne,
Balcony - Sloppy Seconds to Second Wind

Had walked up on Sunday ready to hit Sloppy Seconds the next day when drier conditions prevailed. The absence of a good draft last time meant I was not too optimistic, but also committed to try and trace the draft on the way in. the draft going into Galactica came from Sloppy Seconds, but but mainly up from the base of the second set of pitches (see trip by Rachel, Adam and Nathan earlier in the expo). In fact, the draft on this trip came up here and into the horizontal passage.

We carried on to our previous limit, where Pete chose the right hand pitch lead. This route was initially muddy, then drippy as an aven with a small stream was passed. However drill battery failure (again) left Pete in a small clean rift looking down a narrow pitch with no more drill power. With two slings he got further and saw pitch continuing, but small and wet (QMB). Hence heading back up to try second (left hand) pitch as best we could on a couple of slings. Tied rope around huge rock and Corin made his first descent of an unexplored pitch. A sling made a rebelay and I followed adding two deviations.

At the base one way choked after two climbs down. But the other way led to a drafting tube - yay, we had refound the wind! More dodgy natural rigging saw us at the end of the rope staring down a two metre wide steep phreatic ramp. Game on!

Rigging topos for Second Wind
T/U: 0.0 hours

Becka Lawson, Rob Watson,
Balcony - Sloppy Seconds: Second Wind and Dog End Series

Batteries were in very short supply (three total at Top Camp, ) so we headed off with our allocation (one) plus three ropes and lots of metalware down some seriously slippy rope to the ‘ramp’ at the pushing front from yesterday’s Second Wind trip.

We arrived, Rob kitted up and set to on the first bolt. Drzzzzzzzzzz… went the drill. Grrrrrrrr went Rob. He managed to wheedle a single bolt out of the battery, put in a deathly dodgy deviation from a perched boulder and abseiled down a bit. The ‘ramp’ rapidly switched from steep to vertical with not a hope of naturals so sense prevailed and we gave up there, leaving the rope for a better equipped party.

We returned to the top of the Second Wind pitches and dropped the pitch opposite the horizontal passage at the bottom of Sloppy Seconds (straight on rather than through the mud tube to the left leading to the start of Second Wind). My ‘pitch head’ natural was a monster but the next one immediately cracked off when I weighted it. However, some mud excavation gave a convincing thread for a rebelay down to confusing bridge area. Rob came down and we spent some time digging mud out to give a second decent thread anchor to descend to one way to a dead end and then a second way which continued as a pitch/climb down. We had nothing to rig this but Rob clambered down on shitty rock (later regretting his boldness) and it continued (QMA, pretty drafty and cold but shit cave). We finished the survey, getting very muddy, then headed out.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Rachel Turnbull, George Breley, Mike Butcher,
Tunnocks - Camp Kraken: killing Grike of the Earth

From camp, we headed north to a bolt climb lead (QMA). Mike free-climbed 5m to a ledge and was unable to climb further, so he placed a bolt and pulled through down.

Note from Mike: rock was very flakey, holds were coming off in my hands, would need thru bolting to progress. Also loose looking boulder above.

Back to Rachel: in Grike of the Earth, from the ledge we headed northwest, following pleasant walking passage, turning into inactive stream passage with higher false floor. This led to a 40m pitch to a large rift chamber, clear sump pool and drippy aven. No obvious leads could be found from here. From the ledge, southeast tunnel, dropped 20m on a ramp down to a mud sump. A previously noted ‘too tight rift’ directly north was followed for ~20m where the draft disappeared into the choked ceiling. At 3am, we headed back to camp, to derig the next day.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Aidan Marks, Radost Waszkiewicz,
FGH - pushing the big pitch

Radost and I dropped a pitch bolted the day before by Rob after he ran out of rope. The pitch was some 50m down a small icy pitch series to the right of the entrance. The pitch we dropped passed through the icy layer of the cave to one somewhat warmer. Whilst the top of the pitch was promising, the bottom was less so - one crawl, which choked after 10m; one tight, inaccessible rift and on the opposite side of the base of the chamber there was a rift that could be squeezed through for 15m or so until it became too tight to navigate. We both tried again without SRT kits, as the rift was drafty, but little more progress was made. Eventually, we sacked it off and derigged the pitch hang; Radost thought he saw some leads halfway up the pitch on the way out, which may be worth another look.
T/U: 0.0 hours

Jacob Podesta, Elaine Oliver, Haydon Saunders,
Tunnocks - Caramel Catharsis photo trip

Haydon and I went from the Stone Bridge and met Elaine at Tunnocks (with Elliott) at just after 10:30am. Haydon went in first and zoomed ahead while Elaine and I were a bit slower. The original plan was to head to camp at Kraken to take some sponsorship photos with Tunnocks bars. However, issues with Haydon and Elaine’s SRT kits forced us to change the plan. We decided to take some photos at Caramel Catharsis and head out. Pester Haydon for the pictures.
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Jacob Podesta, Becka Lawson, Rob Watson,
Tunnocks - Camp Kraken: below Snake Pit, Northern Slackers

Underground just after 9am. I had not been to the deep stuff in Tunnocks before, so I waited at the bottom of Caramel Catharsis for Becka (Rob had gone ahead) and route finding instructions. Apart from the bottom of String Theory, I did not have too much trouble finding my around, and we were at camp just after 12:30.

From here, we went to try and push a lead below Snake Pit, which is very Yorkshire-ish stream passage. We followed it to a pitch which had not been dropped. Once Rob had bolted it, we surveyed to another deeper pitch which took he stream and (we assumed) dropped into Song of the Earth. We then derigged our way up to the bottom of Octopussy. From here we went into the far north of Slackers to investigate a lead that George had been talking about that morning. For a while this tested Becka’s route finding ability (she was the only one who had been there before), but eventually we found ourselves above Grike of the Earth. The lead was above this, up a short handline climb (which gained a not-so-helpful rebelay at the request of Becka). The pitch we dropped led down to a large drippy passage which carried a small stream. After 20m the stream disappears down a crack in the floor while the way on continues above this, with one hole below that presumably leads back down to the stream which we left as a question mark. The passage became smaller and draftier and, below another short pitch, became steeply sloping with a dry muddy floor. By this point it was 9pm and in order to sleep at any way a reasonable hour we had to leave, which took some careful diplomacy by Becka and I. it was still a promising lead and would need to be visited again one day. We named it Beckoning Silence.

On our way back we derigged everything below Camp, and then ate everything we possibly could at camp before bed. Despite missing/failing to set our alarms we were up and ready quite early and we were all on ropes carrying other ropes (and drills and poo etc) by 9:30am. Rain was forecast for the afternoon so we wanted to make sure we were all above Procrastination with plenty of time to spare. All went very smoothly until the entrance pitch, where we had to pass Ruairidh, Aidan, Fleur and Pete on their way down. Got to the surface just in time to get rained on on the walk back to Top Camp.

Rigging Topo Lower Snakebite and Beckoning Silence
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Fleur Loveridge, Pete Talling,
Balcony - Sloppy Seconds, Second Hand

Having escaped the deep Tunnocks derig, I sneaked in another trip to our Second Wind lead in Sloppy Seconds with Pete. With an absence of functioning drill batteries we decided to go old school and hand bolt.

Relatively good progress to the limit where we spent three hours placing five bolts to get down the shaft that followed the ramp. Rob and Becka had left us a starting bolt, Pete added a Y before two more rebelays to the end of the 28m rope. We then swapped so Pete got a chance to shiver whilst I tied in the next rope and added another belay to reach the floor 20 - 25m below. Here I landed on a boulder pile. A small hole led into a rift. Not looking promising. A final spit allowed me to abseil into the hole, but there was no way on. The draft we were chasing was coming out of the boulders and there was no option but to derig and go home.

Took out as much rope and gear as we could manage, making it out at 11pm. Had some final excitement as thunderstorm broke while I was on the entrance shaft and got a soaking. But out to amazing lightning show and lots of thunder.

Rigging topo for Second Hand
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Corin Donne, Aidan Marks, Sarah Connelly, Radost Waszkiewicz, Ruairidh MacLeod, Alice Shackley,
Balcony - Cathedral Chasm, attempted derig

All of the more experienced expedition cavers seemed to be busy, so a fairly straightforward trip was needed which we (Aidan, Alice, Radost and I) could take the new arrivals on (Sarah, Ruairidh). The aim was to derig the pitch in Cathedral Chasm which Ash had rigged (over many hours, entirely on naturals) and use the rope to drop a drippy hole nearby. We eventually passed the Balcony entrance series and got to Cathedral Chasm. The number of people on this trip was clearly a few too many.

Aidan, Sarah, Radost and Ruairidh went to have a look at Ice Cock aven while Alice and I went to derig the pitch. The pitch had some unconventional rigging, and was rigged very tightly on naturals with some awkward sections. Neither of us had done much derigging before and we were both somewhat intimidated so we promptly fucked off at speed. We apologised to the others and then bailed on the trip. Six people was too many for this trip so it was a bit of a clusterfuck, but eventually gained the surface.

Note from Alice: the bottom of the pitch series led to a shelf that I was unable to reach. The cross section below shows the rigging at the time.

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Rachel Turnbull, George Breley,
Balcony - Cathedral Chasm and Dark Arts

The aim of the trip was to derig Cathedral Chasm and poke around George’s lead in the Dark Arts. We followed Ash’s exceptional rigging and were thoroughly impressed with his resourcefulness and creativity. The man deserves recognition and from now, the pitch will be known as the Mashterpiece.

At the bottom of the rigging, a ledge led to a short crawl and a 5m pitch. We considered how much rope we could cut off the Mashterpiece given the swing across necessary to ascend. We tied off the rope with a length of cord we had brought.

The 5m pitch gave way to a north-bound rift with a crawl, QMA, for 10m after a C4 down and we left it at a 20m+ pitch, drafting inwards. The obvious way on from the P5 is up a C4 to another chamber, then C14 (chimney) down to a large, echoey chamber. This had a huge jammed boulder, heading a 30m+ pitch, also very worth dropping (QMA). We surveyed from the bottom of the Mashterpiece to the C14 climb, but it needs tying into the above survey (we were unsure where this ended, so didn’t bother to risk duplicating work). We promptly ran away to the Dark Arts.

George had tried to drop a P15 for the previous two years, and we finally dragged the final four functional drill batteries through the crawling rift with trench in the floor. I was somewhat behind with the rope bag when swearing filled the passage. It transpired that George had done a bad thing. He had let the drill bag slip down the rift whilst leaning back through an awkward dog-leg at the pitch head.

The next 20 minutes involved a whole hearted effort of ‘hook-a-duck’, where I tried to manoeuvre the bag with a snapgate, tied open on the end of a piece of cord. For reference, if possible, hauling from the top/bottom of the bag may be more successful than the shoulder straps. George gave his best in forcing his arm down the rift and the bag was eventually retrieved.

George set about bolting the awkward pitch head. Batteries 8, 13, and 15 successfully gave us half a hole in the shit rock, before the mighty number 14 finished the job. The 25m pitch gave way to a ‘skanky’ (George, 2017) pool of water and parallel shaft that also went nowhere.

Quite cold and disheartened, we left to find the entrance series rather wet. Deciding to give it half an hour, we set about investigating the flood drum. Some items are of obvious importance, although the absence of a pan is noteworthy in the presence of a stove, gas cylinder and large selection of oatso’s and soups. Fairly frustrated, we braved the not-very-wet entrance.

Sketvch survey of Loser Lido sump below Grike of the Earth
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Aidan Marks, Fleur Loveridge, Pete Talling, Ruairidh MacLeod,
Tunnocks - Shallow Tunnocks leads - Double Barrel

We decided to investigate leads in Tunnocks due to expected rain. I went to the base of the entrance pitch whilst the others negotiated their way down. Eventually we met the campers (Rob, Becka and Jacob) who passed the others on the entrance series, and Ruairidh and Pete headed back to the surface after some extensive SRT practice.

Fleur and I checked out a number of leads in Tunnocks (three QMA in the Double Barrel area, all small pitches to be dropped) which fell apart due to apparent dodgy historic surveying. The first QMA we checked out was through Starfish Junction, again past Petticoat Junction; however, we came across a 15m pitch in the way of this lead which we had missed on the survey, and could not cross the pitch so abandoned this lead after some viewing.

As an alternative we went the alternate way down Hedonism Highway to 2008-41-B(?) in Rocky Road. This lead was very promising, continuing for 40m or so up some climbs until we found a 2009 era rope down a pitch lead. As a result we abandoned these leads and decided to investigate the survey further.

Note from Fleur: I could find no record of this lead being pushed in the 2008 - 2016 logbooks, no data in Survex and nothing in Tunnel. A mystery!

Back to Aidan: an alternate route down Rocky Road led to a series of P5 pitches which allegedly produced a QMB; however, after dropping these with naturals and hand bolting (good practice for me) we discovered this lead was in fact an aven.

After this, we headed out. The trip was very good practice for me and I hope for Ruairidh as well. Mainly, I hope Fleur enjoyed a run around Tunnocks as much as I did.
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Rachel Turnbull, Rob Watson, Alex Hanam,
Tunnocks - Camp Kraken derig

The paella had been unanimously sacked off. (Real reasons apply). After arriving at camp, we learnt Rob had investigated Anthemusa and was thoroughly unimpressed.

Note from Rob: I wouldn’t say I was thoroughly unimpressed after a look at the survey and consideration of the possibilities. Big potential, could find another Kraken. To access, cross Turtle traverse (slippy, bolted, can do without a rope but high stakes if you slip) and ascend choss slope. Possible to kick rocks down so care required. Good draft coming out of entrance to Anthemusa chamber proper near top of slope. Enter drippy chamber where draft dissipates. Chamber very large with a lot of loose muddy boulders. Hard to work out way on. Pre-2017 survey and 2015 logbook have pitch noted in northeast corner that I could not find (though didn’t spend very long there). Needs another look by a team who enjoy boulders and technical bolting. I didn’t do much poking as I was on my own and having a boulder move under the circumstances would not have done well.

Rachel continuing: after we had stripped camp Alex set off with three hefty tacklesacks, Rob following with two whilst I derigged Kraken to remove it from the cave. The rope for Inferno was pulled up and coiled in sets up to the rebelays to support the riggers next year, left at the pitch head. Magic Glue was pulled up and left at the pitch head, one of the deviations was removed (can’t remember which). Widow Twankies rope was removed from the cave, with Rob ferrying seven tacklesacks from pitch to pitch as far as the bottom of Procrastination. The short rope below Number of the Beast was derigged and coiled.

Tacklebags were removed including the camp pits and degradables (full list available). Three tacklebags containing rope from below camp were removed, in summary, and all but three rope bags which were left at the following stations:

A very solid effort put in by all, as Rob and I exited the cave shortly after Alex. Hiltis greased and reflected appropriately.

P.S. I did the ‘womens work’ of cleaning the tent floor with disinfectant and then washing up and tidying up whilst Rob and Alex did the ‘proper work’.

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Philip Sargent,
Expo - Derigging begun
The expo is nearly over and derigging had begun when I left on Tuesday (15th August). Lots of interesting stuff found: ice-covered walls deep in Happy Butterfly (or was it Fishface?), an open, very long, traverse lead in Balkon, a new cave with lots of prospects in Good Morning, just near the rather distant Organh?hle bivvy.

But I'll leave all that to a proper wrap up post at the end of expo. What I want to write about is what it is like returning to expo after a gap of 34 years.

I was on the last expo which camped at the lake at Altaussee (1982), and the first which stayed at Hilde's at Staudnwirt (1983).  I was already 28 in 1982, and not nearly hard enough for the desperately long and cold trips to the bottom of  Schnellzugh?hle (1623/115) - whose sump is still the deepest point in the SMK system.

So what is different between now and then? Most impressive and immediate is the size of the operation, and the organisation of getting so many people and gear properly based at the Steinbr?ckenh?hle (204) bivvy site. The bivvy is "only" a couple of hours walk and scramble from the road-head but it supports 12-15 people continuously caving eating and sleeping, including supporting the underground camp in Tunnocksschaft and the further hour-distant surface camp at Organh?hle bivvy. A massive operation.

The second great difference that struck me is in the standard of surveying: the exacting detail of the pencil and waterproof paper records in particular. Yes of course the laser ranging distos and Bluetooth automatic data capture are great, but it was the improvement in the manual processes which impressed me.

I wasn't up to caving much: Becka gave me a 2-hour tourist trip down the first couple of pitches in Steinbr?ckenh?hle past a couple of snow plus to the top of the 3rd pitch, but while I could manage technically it was obvious that I was getting out of breath too quickly to be any use underground. Or maybe I am just much more sensitive to altitude (1800m) than I used to be. (Anyway, my SRT kit was carried up by Becka and down by Fleur, and gave the security people in Salzburg airport some amusement on my return. My 1980s-era furry suit was quite handy for days when top camp was in heavy cloud - even extending into the shelter itself when particularly thick.) Later on in my stay there were open leads near the surface in the new discoveries but I felt that it would be better to give the expo freshers the experience of new discovery.

I was very glad to be able to get onto the plateau at all. When I had last been on expo in 1983 the closest I got was Wolfh?hle and various places on the Vord.- and Hinterer-Schwartzmoosk?gel. I suffered a number of "plateau bites" on knuckles, hands and knees as the rock is really very sharp - especially so when I was wandering off the main routes prospecting and getting lost. It is a magnificent place and everything is much further apart than it appears as the terrain is so unforgiving and complex.


Kristian, Aidan and Radost in top camp. Camp beds are stored over winter and it sleeps 15 comfortably, and 22 in varying degrees of discomfort. {Click to see full-size image.}

Partial view of the PV/car-battery Makita battery pack, phones, AAs and 18650 cell charging system at Steinbr?ckenh?hle bivvy. {Click to see full-size image.}

As the expo resumed after the dinner at Hilde's, I took charge of the drill battery situation. There was a lot of frustration with dying Makita battery packs and confusion as to why it was happening and which packs could be rescued and which not. The Titan packs at the Organh?hle site were fine, but the 16 or so Makita ones at the main bivvy were the problem. I read the relevant bits of the expo handbook on my phone (which means sitting on the "signal rock" a few metres from the bivvy to get adequate 3G reception to the website and worked through it systematically: 3 packs were completely dead, 5 seemed OK and taking charge, but the rest seemed stuck at 12.2V and accepting only a trickle: a couple of these eventually clicked into a 13V+ state and seemed to be OK (but in fact only did a couple of holes underground before dying again). This seems to mean that nearly all the packs had got drastically unbalanced (the packs contain 4 sets of 3.6V in series, and if one set is dud then the other 3 just expend their energy heating it up). Confusing factors were that the fuses in the 12V "car charger" plugs had blown so that the  (15A) inverter and the old Makita charger (8A) weren't working at all: a bit of aluminium foil fixed the most urgent of these, and a trip to Bad Aussee bought replacements (10A, but nothing had blown up since).

A much more pleasant job was improving the cairning on surface routes. This means pottering about on my own under a blue sky in the empty karst building cairns at 4m intervals in the tricky bits of the new paths up to Organh?hle and the new prospecting area down on the plateau to Fischgesichth?hle and Gl?cklichsmetterlingh?hle. I was really just having fun, but apparently this was really quite appreciated by late-night returners in cloud. [I also did rather a lot of washing up - the squalor level among students is one thing that hasn't changed in 30 years.]

While in Bad Aussee we discovered that new14.4V Makita packs could only be bought in a town half-way to Vienna so multiple phone conversations with Wookey lead to us (or rather him) buying 2 new packs for urgent delivery by Amazon. The idea was that we could use an Amazon Prime account back home to get quick delivery... but this doesn't work. Amazon has the concept of "out of country" deliveries, and new accounts can't get fast delivery at all - until some validation or delay has occurred. So we learned that it would have been a good idea to set up an Austrian or German Amazon account with a main delivery address at Gasthof Staudnwirt some time earlier. This is probably a good idea for any expedition in a vaguely civilised country covered by Amazon services. The result was a number of abbreviated or partially aborted pushing trips. We got the new packs on a Monday afternoon when we could really have done with them on the previous Thursday.

Elliott and Thom revising manual procedures for recording survey data using pencils, protractor and notebook - at the Organh?hle bivvy site. {Click to see full-size image.}

All in all a very enjoyable trip for an old lag, though I am rather suffering still from carrying all my caving and expo kit between train stations and bus stations on my return. Next time I'll plan this sort of thing further in advance and get the heavy stuff taken by van. I added one innovation to the expo Bier Book: a new page for "number of stings at base camp in one day" with my entry of Wx4 (wasps, the buggers).
Blog Author: PhilipSargent
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Becka Lawson,
Expo - Whiteboard
New to Expo 2017 - a whiteboard appeared mid-expo at Top Camp. We've had a whiteboard at Base Camp for many years now, and it gets well used, so why did it take us so long to realise that one would be even more useful at Top Camp?

The Top Camp whiteboard in context:


And here's a selection of daily shots:

August 5th

August 6th

August 7th

August 8th

August 9th

August 10th
Blog Author: Becka
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Becka Lawson,
Expo - Beyond my comfort zone
Beyond my comfort zone

It's been six hours since we left the quiet, calm space of the fossil level and started dropping down hundreds of metres of spray-lashed pitches. Six hours fighting hypothermia with not one alcove or sheltered ledge to escape the unremitting, icy gale. We're at the head of another 50m pitch with anchors going in for the final bag of rope but I can't wait any longer. I strip half naked to piss in the churning pool at the base of a waterfall then battle for ten minutes to get dressed again, my useless, numb fingers refusing to grip my central MR tight enough to turn it. Over 800m above me the sun is baking the limestone pavement. What am I doing here, struggling to hold it together?

Setting off for the two hour walk up from the valley to the surface camp at Plankamira.​

And in the drizzle on the way up, with Glitzi kitted out in wellies and an umbrella.​

Having been on the CUCC Expo since week one I took a few days out in the final week to join the local Austrian club, VHO, for their annual week of expedition to the Plankamira area, a few kilometres east of CUCC's patch in the Totes Gebirge. After five weeks of expedition caving I wasn't expecting anything too stressful and I thought I knew what to expect as I'd joined them twice before to cave in the same area. With my flaky German I only realised we were heading on a multi-day underground camping trip the night before we set off. We were going to Wildbader H?hle, which was explored to -874m in 1982 by a team of tough French speleos from the Soci?t? des Amateurs de Cavernes de Rioz (SAC). Since 2013 VHO has been systematically resurveying and extending the cave. However, bad weather in the past two years meant that they hadn't yet reached the deepest horizontal level because the only route down is via a wet shaft series.

The French survey of Wildbader Hoehle (1625/150) after exploration from 1977-1982.​

I set off to the underground camp with two tacklesacks - my own, laughably small by Austrian standards, plus another I was lent that was over twice the size. En route three of the five of us diverted off to take rope to start re-rigging the deep, wet pitch series. However, after a couple of short pitches, we reached a big shaft where the overnight rain meant that a powerful waterfall was shooting across it to hit the far wall, filling it with spray. With the cave at 2 degrees and us sleeping in our caving undersuits we weren't willing to get soaked so we left the gear and headed back up.

Later, whilst unpacking at camp, I spotted a wetsuit. Hmm, what's that about? It's for Robert, I was told. Strange, I thought, surely he's not diving here? Then, mixed in with the bags of food, I saw a neoprene hood - so what's this needed for? After all, the Austrians think British cavers are crazy for going near pitches with water. They explore flood-prone caves in the winter, when water levels are low and predictable as any precipitation falls as snow. Well, they do except that, just this once, and unbeknownst to me, the plan was to try to bottom Wildbader H?hle, dropping from the camp at -400m to follow the master streamway down another 500m of aqueous pitches. So they all had their wet gear with them. WHY DID NOBODY THINK TO TELL ME? I even had neoprene at the CUCC Base Camp, neatly packed away, that I could have brought. And it looks like I'm supposed to be in the team of three going deep tomorrow.

The next morning I could hear them talking about me but I couldn't follow what they were saying. Eventually Paulina said that Robert and Glitzi would wear their wetsuits under their oversuits and that I could use her thin rubber suit which should keep my furry stuff dry underneath it. I didn't really understand what I was being offered but anything had to be better than drenching all my clothes. It turned out the suit was a Russia-made, lightweight, membrane caving drysuit. Despite being taller than Paulina I managed to get into it though once I had my harness on I couldn't raise my arms far ... but hopefully there'd be no stretchy free-climbs needed. It felt odd but toasty and comforting, hurrah, things were looking up. However, barely five minutes after leaving camp, my wrists were being squeezed unbearably tight by the seals: this just wasn't going to work. I struggled out of the top half of the suit then tied the arms around myself, so effectively I was wearing pontonnieres. I was now perfectly equipped for wading deep canals .... but that wasn't where I was going. I was scared that, with water falling down on me, I'd fill up like a tacklebag with no drainage holes ... and then what?

The three of us set off down the pitches. The water levels hadn't dropped from yesterday and we were each struggling with a beast of a bag. Together we had around 300m of 10mm rope, rigging gear, a hefty drill, spare battery and all the rest of the usual junk you need. Around 250m down we got to VHO's previous limit of rigging. Here we slowed down as Glitzi started to put in thru-bolts whilst Robert began surveying. I was at the back, tasked with the no-brainer, donkey-plus-Disto-target role.

Is this the worst water yet, I kept pestering Robert. No, no, it gets wetter further down, as inlets come in. Sheeesh. The low point was a long drop that ended with 10m where the rope disappeared, unavoidably, into the middle of the main water course. I abseiled through, water pounding down on me and emerged to join Robert at a small ledge. The shaft here was 7m in diameter. Some bits didn't even have much spray. All innocence, I shouted to him above the din: so could the rig perhaps go, err, a little further away from the water? Not possible, I was told, firmly. Oh woe.

Fortunately below here Glitzi found a dry parallel shaft series for a series of drops. Unfortunately the draft was even stronger. Pitiably, I tried to use my tacklesack to shelter from it. As we slowly crept deeper I knew I wasn't the only one struggling to keep my temperature from steadily dropping: I could see the tell-tale, jittery dance of the laser beam of the Disto and I felt for Robert as I watched him battling  to control his hand shake enough to draw the survey notes. It transpired that he and Glitzi were in just 2mm of neoprene under their cordura oversuits - madness. Later still I was told that when the original French explorers got hit by heavy rain down there they couldn't keep their carbides alight. There was nowhere to shelter so they'd put plastic bags over their heads to let them breathe and then prussiked up through the waterfalls in the dark. There's always another level of misery to sink down to.

Finally, seven hours in, Glitzi then Robert whooped and, at last, I touched down in the huge chamber at the base of the shafts. I climbed stiffly up the boulder pile to them, out of the spray, and we shook hands formally and grinned inanely - we'd done it. We stomped off down the huge phreatic passage slowly driving some warmth into ourselves, took photos and heated drinks on the Jetboil (an excellent, well-designed bit of kit - light and really fast to boil). I braced myself and breezily asked, so, what now? Do we finish the survey down here? No, it's late - we'll just head out. Phew.

Five hours later I was at last away from the water. My arms were sodden and I was still chilled through but I'd thrashed myself and my bigger-cross-section-than-me tacklesack up through some tight pitch heads that vied with the most awkward that Yorkshire has to offer. We made it back to camp before 3am after fifteen hours of effort. The other two woke and cooked for us whilst Robert and Glitzi peeled off their wetsuits and changed into their dry furries with shudders of pleasure. No such instant relief for me. However, from now on in it was just a waiting game. I pulled off my wettest layer and tucked up in my pit to gradually warm up and then to start to dry off. Finally back within my comfort zone ....

Relaxing in the sunshine after the underground camping trip.​
Blog Author: Becka
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Becka Lawson,
Expo - End of Expo update
End of Expo update

Here's some photos (all by me, Becka Lawson) from the second half of expo and derigging and packing up at the end, written as I'm trying to distract myself from a scarily fast drive back to the UK on the German Autobahn.

Admiring a spectacular sunset from Top Camp.​

Adam Aldridge (AKA the Hoofed Animal) holding his "mended" hand-bolting driver after he unaccountably managed to shear the head off it. My favourite Adam story: late, after a drunken session at Base Camp, he swayed his way into the Tatie Hut and asked whether anybody knew if the Hilti SDS drill-bit grease was toxic because in the dark he'd mistaken the tube for toothpaste and it'd taken him a while to realise his mistake.


Adam's hand after an accumulation of mishaps.​

Rob and Jacob having just got out from our last underground camp of 2017 with the first of the rope and gear from the derig. We're hydrating at Top Camp before the two hour walk off the Plateau.​


The rest of the underground derig went smoothly at the start of this week and the weather was mostly kind for packing up the Top Camp and Organhoehle Camp on the Plateau, for bringing gear down the hill and for washing and drying.

Sitting at base camp with piles of freshly river-washed rope, checking for damage like rubs and glazing before measuring and relabelling.​

Hilde Wilpernig, from the Gasthaus Staud'n'wirt, where she and her family have hosted our base camp for over thirty years now. When we said we'd got an excess of eggs and milk Hilde offered to make us Kaiserschmarren (Emperor's pancakes) and homemade apple sauce. She even braved our mess tent to cook it.

Here's Hilde, on the left, cooking​
and then everyone eating Kaiserschmarren​

Kristian Brook in fine form, about to drive back to Leeds. In amongst many distinctive characters on Expo, this man still effortlessly stood out from the crowd.​

Spectator sport as Rob Watson attempts to bring my SRT kit into the 21st century. This led to stressfully slippy knots whilst I was deep in Wildbader Hoehle, with my long cowstail creeping to what, to my alarm, seemed like two metres long as I dangled way beneath it.​

Typical Tatie Hut scene with, oh, at least one person hard at work on the survey (interim print-outs of the survey on the wall).​

I spent my last day on Expo cracking the whip for data entry, drawing up surveys and scanning and uploading data. We've ended up with two floating surveys, arghhhhhh. Survey pocket 24, labelled "SHIT", was the low point - appropriately it was in passage called "Nothing to See". Jacob and Mike both did five hour shifts on the scanner - please can we upgrade to one that takes less than a minute to scan a single sheet of A4 for next year?

Here's a shot of one of four cover sheets logging progress along the ten steps towards survey perfection (as yet only Phil Withnall has achieved enlightenment; whilst only Adam has contributed to more than one survey officially categorised as "shit").
Blog Author: Becka
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Elaine Oliver, Thom, Haydon, Elliott,
Basecamp - aftermath

[from UK Caving blog by CavingPig ]

So, the van-loads of rope and metalwork are back in the UK; the Cambridge tackle store once again resembles a tackle store, and survey legs and log book write-ups are gradually being transformed into cohesive reports. Sleeping indoors in an actual bed still feels a little strange after more than a month of bivvying, and despite never wanting to look at another morsel not all that long ago, I'm already feeling nostalgic about the flapjack (although definitely not about the thunderstorms!) Fancy hearing a bit more about what we all got down to out in Austria this summer? Join us for a cup of tea at Hidden Earth this weekend! We're on at 1 p.m. on the Saturday. We promise it'll be cosier than in this photo...

Thom, Haydon, Elliott and Elaine take a break from surveying in Guten Morgen Höhle. (C) Haydon Saunders
Thom, Haydon, Elliott and Elaine take a break from surveying in Guten Morgen Höhle. (C) Haydon Saunders
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