CHECC grand prize entry, ULSA: Discovering a massive river in Tunnockschacht


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Tunnockschacht is the corperation of the Schwarzmooskogelhohle system in Austria, which CUCC has been visiting since 1976. It gradually absorbs all smaller caves until they all form part of the Tunnocks Corp. This proved to continue to be the case this year, with some really excellent pusing trips at depth, one of which I will tell the tale of here.

Chris Densham, Katey, Peachey and I arrived at camp for 1:15pm after the usual route in via the Nylon Highway that is Tunnocks. The Kraken pitch was as dodgy and loose as forecast, this being my first time descending it. We ate some noodles and soup and then headed off down the railway tunnel that is Octopussy. At the bottom, we headed to the bottom of the 30m pitch bolted by Antony et al on the last camping trip. After a quick reconnoitre of the area we split into 2 surveying teams.


Myself and Chris initially headed in a northward direction into a rather nice and very pretty chamber with a number of very nice stalactites and a wonderful poached egg formation on the floor. On the far side of the chamber was a 7 ? 10m climb which Chris stated up but then encountered too many delicate calcite crusts/flaky formations to continue. Predicting that we might well drop into the passage from somewhere else anyway, we left it behind for another trip (which there hopefully will be a lead ramping up heading North and strongly drafting in Tunnocks is to be sniffed at!). Then we headed on toward where the others were surveying in the other direction. Chris soon decided that if we caved ahead we could easily back-survey to them and thus avoid the frowned-upon scoop ? little did we know of the wonders that lay ahead.


After a lot of sprinting along a muddy boulder floor (with an additional handline for a particularly treacherous mud slope that Peachey and Katey descended with nothing ? naughty!) we arrived at a point where we were presented with 2 routes ? a narrow slot up and a way down among boulders. I took the slot, but before that both routes had one thing in common ? we could both hear a massive amount of water up ahead, of a magnitude very rarely found in this cave system. On emerging from the slot, what I saw was just incredible; the absolute essence of why caving is such an amazing exploratory sport.


An absolutely huge passage, at least 15x20m width for height, and ramping steeply down at around 45?. The roar of the water was by this time truly impressive ? think similar in size to Penyghent Pot?s streamway. Blinded by exploration fever, Chris and I climbed a long way down the boulder ramp until Chris got ahold of himself and decided that we were being unnecessarily silly. The grip of exploration fever ebbing away, we surveyed back to the junction at the top of the ramp where we met Peachey and Katey. Almost unable to contain our excitement, we told them of our findings. They then headed off up the ramp in the opposite direction to see what could be found (apparently a lot of passage) while Chris went to fetch Antony?s 100m 9mm so we could rig this thing properly: we were at this point conceivably -800m deep, if not more! I got on with it and soon we were down. This was the biggest pitch I had ever bolted, using around 130m rope in total, and was great fun. After dropping the ramp, we headed down through the slippery boulder slope below the master cave, only to find the most amazing development at the bottom: an upward ramping phreatic borehole around 4x4m and certainly getting bigger! By now it was long after 11pm and only getting later so we resolved to survey the new (scooped) passage tomorrow and headed back to camp for a welcome Travel Lunch for tea. In bed by 1am.


Next morning, I awoke at 8am needing a shit. The facilities on offer at camp were very sophisticated, and consisted of a shitting stool with multiple bags available for storage inside a daren drum. Many noodles and oatso along with lots of tea made for a great breakfast. Then we headed back to the lead to complete the survey, along with some proper photographs of the camp and Octopussy. 2 hours of surveying later, myself and Densham had arrived at a steep slippery boulder slope without an easy climb down. We had no rope, so left it for the next campers before heading back to camp for a pre-exit lunch.


Rain had been forecast for the trip down, so we were quite aware that a flood pulse could catch us at Procrastination (a 90m pitch), as this had happened to Becka Lawson in the past. I arrived at the bottom at 7pm. Rather warily, I started to ascend the rope. As I approached the first rebelay at around half-height, I heard a very ominous rumble. RUN AWAY! I rapidly changed over (that?s why we practise them) and zipped down as the water hit me with full force. Luckily my oversuit was relatively new; otherwise, I would have got soaked through. As it was, I only got quite damp. We then spent around 12 hours in a group shelter in a slightly sheltered, sandy area at the bottom of ?Bring on the Clowns?, a pitch just below Procrastination. At around 8am the next day, we decided to make a break for it, and found the pitch to be only slightly drippy. I then sprinted out with the thought of expo dinner at the front of my mind, reaching the surface for 10am to meet my first response team of Luke and Michael S. as it happened, two other teams had been caught in the floods until late into the night before. We were then down the hill for a night of merriment and debauchery ahead of a full rescue debrief the next day, with the Austrian rescue report of 'Heavy Alarm Time Overflow' making for interesting reading!

Overall, a truly amazing trip; one I will remember my whole life!
I read an article in the Independent saying there are no caves in Austria. I think you are full of rubbish and are just show boating what was a 2 metre deep hole you found whilst on a ramble in the Brecon Beacons.  :spank: