Last summer I went to the Dachstein to expand my caving horizons a bit. I’ve never been on Exped before, and this one seemed really welcoming, with a bit of something for everyone to do, regardless of experience. And my God: did it exceed expectations?!The Dachstein Massif is an amazing landscape; big dramatic mountains broken by steep valleys and glaciers, and nestled in-between is a caving wonderland. The exposed limestone is really broken and sharp, and you can see the cave potential everywhere! We stay right in the middle of it in an Alpine hut, the Wiesberghaus, which really feels like a cross between a pub and a youth hostel. There’s a fantastic team feeling in the group staying there, and every day you team up and head out to do something fun.The nearest cave is literally a stone’s throw away, and WUG is just a short walk up the hill. There is so much limestone up here, that new caves are all over the place & even after half a century of regular Expeditions we still haven’t scratched the surface. The “A-Team” (Alex, Alex, Andy, Angie, and I) found a new entrance that’s about 100m deep and still going, and I’m absolutely dying to get back and see where it goes!Obviously, the caving is a little different than what I was used to, so there’s a lot of learning to do before-hand...
This is my first year getting involved with the Dachstein Exped, but I feel it's been a long time coming after hanging out with some of the regulars for so long! I decided to head over to the Forest to see what all the fuss was about. Even as of arriving Friday evening, I was impressed by the diligence of the trainers as I watched them set up the rigging and prep the site for the next day's activities (admittedly from afar, with a glass of wine). We started Saturday with a presentation given by Joel about previous Expeds and the upcoming goals of 2018. I was immediately drawn in by the tales of misery, as per usual, and whilst not wishing to glory-hunt the prospect of the connection becoming a reality sounded extremely tantalising. I was so drawn in, in fact, that I agreed to buy a Hirlatz book despite having minimal German language skill.We proceeded to get stuck into the practical elements of the training weekend, first with a refresher on SRT and hauling skills, followed by a play in a local mine with digital and non-digital surveying methods. Having been on a couple of Expeds, it was nice to realise I hadn't completely forgotten everything! I also had plenty of new things to take away and think about, namely how to transfer from the fair-weather Expeds I'd become accustomed to, to the harsh environment waiting under the Dachstein.Unfortunately, I had to head off Sunday morning, meaning I couldn't take part in the group rescue practise. I've only heard good things about the way the exercise was handled, so it must have been a great way to wrap up the event! I'm looking forward to getting stuck in this summer with such an enthusiastic (and also suitably boozy) group.
There was a fantastic turnout this year at the GCRG, with the number of attendees similar to that of the successful Dachstein Expedition last year. The numbers we had enabled a thorough alpine rescue training scenario on the Sunday. Joel & Matt were fantastic at ensuring everyone played a role and everyone had an opportunity to take a lead in the rescue practice.I went to the Dachstein last year, and found the rescue practice the year before absolutely invaluable. Training, teamwork, and coordination is so important, and this practice helps us learn the basic skills we might need to get a rescue underway abroad, before the locals take over. It also helps us understand what a rescue would really be like out on Expedition (and that we really don’t want to have one!).Prior to the training scenario, there was faffing consistent with common Dachstein “Faf” experienced on last years Expedition. Sarah, much to Joel’s surprise, volunteered to be our victim straight off the bat. Full of enthusiasm and curiosity, she was keen to experience life as a cave rescue victim, and sealed the deal when she chimed in "I can even capture it on my Gopro!”.
I've not been to the Dachstein, or the training before, but I figured how hard can I be? As the proud owner of a GoPro, and being a fresh face in the group, I was volunteered as tribute to be the victim in need of rescuing.I learnt many things in the 5 hours I spent trapped in what can only be described as a modern-day answer to a straitjacket, mostly that I never want to be rescued ever again in my life. Used to subdue the naively enthusiastic and unsuspecting victims volunteers in the cave rescue world, this is no normal stretcher. Once strapped securely into my plastic sledge with what felt like a thousand straps, I was carried, hauled, shoved and contorted through the cave back to daylight and the prospect of safety. While I may have been fit and healthy going into the cave, the same cannot be said by the time I surfaced. Many a bruise was gained through the experience and 5 hours of immobilisation is enough to give anyone backache. The sheer amount of coordination and equipment to get a person out of a cave was eye-opening.The group worked fantastically together and made a successful rescue, utilising everyone and everything they could get their hands on. The only thought that crossed my mind after was; if it took that long to get me out when I was only 20 minutes into a cave, I dread to think how long it would take and how painful it would be to be rescued from the depths of the Dachstein. It was an effective lesson into how important it is that we stay safe on these epic adventures.
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