CUCC Austria Expedition 2022 blog

Sarah P

New member
The CUCC expedition begins this Monday (25th July), after a two-year hiatus. Over 5 weeks, we’ll see 40+ people congregating in Totes Gebirge, Austria, to continue exploring caves on the Loser Plateau. We’ll be reporting the progress of this year’s expo on this thread and (hopefully) sharing all the exciting new finds and pretty photos.

Expo overview

The expedition’s main cave system is the SMK (Schwarzmooskogel Höhlensystem) system. It is currently 136 km long and 1125 m deep, making it the 2nd longest cave in Austria and the 17th longest cave in the world. It is also one of only five caves in the world that is >100 km long and >1,000 m deep. It is therefore an immensely exciting system to explore. Further adding to the excitement of this expedition is the fact that Austria’s longest cave (Schönberg Höhlensystem) is also on the Loser Plateau, ~3 km away. Connecting these two systems would make one of the longest caves in the world; This is a long-term goal of the expedition.

2022 aims


Exploration this year will continue in Balkonhöhle. Exploration of this cave began in 2014 and was connected to the SMK system in 2015. It represents the northernmost part of the SMK system. Exploration over the last few years has yielded a lot of exciting finds; a 130m long, over 40m wide and up to 100m high chamber (“Galactica”) and a 200 m deep pitch series (“Mongol Rally”) to name but two. In 2019, much of the exploration in this system was concentrated on a series of phreatic passages ~50m up from the bottom of Mongol Rally (~400 m deep in the system), called “Pitstop”. Numerous leads were pushed here (with names like “Medusa’s Maze”, “Hades’s Rift”, “Where’s the milk”, “Custard Cavalry”), but very few were killed. There is a lot of leads still waiting to be explored in Balkönhohle, including 42 A leads (the most promising ones), 44 B leads and 44 C leads. Many of these leads will extend the system northwards into unexplored space.


The other main focus for this year’s exploration is Fischgesicht (or Fish Face) and Glucklich Schmetterlinghöhle (Happy Butterfly), two closely located caves that were discovered in 2017. They are located ~ 500m west of the SMK system. Their location on the plateau, good drafts and the complexity of their passages means there is good potential for these caves to connect with the SMK system, and with one another. The connection between the two caves is thought to have been found in 2019, although not confirmed. In 2018, extensive phreatic cave was discovered at -250m in Fischgesicht, trending northeast towards SMK, towards a part of the SMK (“the Subway”) where a lot of unexplored leads remain. Connecting these caves into the SMK system would extend the system significantly westwards and towards the Schönberg Höhlensystem.

We’ll also be giving updates of the expo on out Instagram ( and Facebook ( pages.


Sarah P

New member
Here's some figures and photos showing the SMK system, Fischgesicht and Balkonhöhle:

Overall SMK system:


The Schwarzmooskogel (SMK) system (right) shown in relation to the Schoenberg-Hohlenen (SH) system. 264 = Balkonhohle, 290 = Fischgesicht, 291 = Glückliche Schmetterlingshöhle. Credit: Nat Dalton.



Location of Balkonhöhle (1623/264) and Tunnockschacht (1623/258) in the SMK system, coloured by elevation (a.s.l) in top left and year of exploration in bottom right. Credit: Nat Dalton.


Number of unexplored leads in Balkon, by depth in the cave. QMA: more promising leads, to QMC: less promising leads. Credit: Rob Watson.


Hades' rift, in the Medusa's Maze region of Balkonhöhle. Photo credit: Harry Kettle.


Phreatic passage in Medusa's Maze. Passage beyond was unexplored at the end of the 2019 expedition. Photo credit: Harry Kettle.



Location of Fischgesicht (290) and Glückliche Schmetterlingshöhle (291) in relation to the SMK system. Also shown is Homecoming (359), a cave explored in 2018 and 2019.


Number of unexplored leads in Fischgesicht, by depth in the cave. QMA: more promising leads, to QMC: less promising leads. Credit: Rob Watson.


New member
In our 2 year absence, some wasps had conveniently weaved a hat for the expedition Mascot but everything else seemed to be in order.


Photo Credit: Julia Day

With a well-manned first week, many hands made light work and base camp was rigged before the expedition had officially started.


Photo Credit: Julia Day

This meant by Monday we were already on our way up to the top camp looking to set up the all-important water collection tarp to catch the forecasted rain. The lack of snow was noted in comparison to 2019 when the bivy site and one of the caves we were meant to be pushing were completely snowed over. Once again with a strong team, we managed to set up top camp in a day despite the temperature soaring into the 30's. Now, all we had to do was wait for the promised rain and the place would be habitable.

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The Bivy Site disguised as a snow drift and inside Photo Credit: Jonty Pine

With the water buts full we could finally make a start at rigging the caves to the pushing front. This involved carrying a load of gear up the hill and over some treacherous limestone plateau. This has been fondly named the plateau monster, fortunately, it hasn't caused any serious injuries this year but it has been known to break and twist legs in previous years.

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The Plateau Monster with its toothy grin....... Photo Credit: Jonty

Although we don't have helicopters or even donkeys we do have a very atmospheric walk up.

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Photo credit: Jonty Pine and Luke Stangroom

All the hard work carrying and rigging means we are now ready to explore some new passage. With two trips planned for tomorrow to the pushing front, we are finally ready to explore some caves.....


Staff member
'With two trips planned for tomorrow to the pushing front, we are finally ready to explore some caves.....' Good luck!


New member
Also before I forget there is now a live webcam at the expidition carpark. Which can enable you to monitor us 24/7 and see what weather conditions we are suffering or enjoying.

360 Camera

Here you can see a negotiation in progress to determine how heavy everyone's bags should be taking in consideration the approaching thunderstorm and sunsets at 20:40.....

Spotted by Julia Day

Also thanks to the recent UKCaving website update it has been possible for me to post this from top camp on my phone with relative ease


Active member
I write this from the car as we (me, Jonty, Keiran and Amelia) head for home. This thread has been a bit quiet in recent days; however, that's not for lack of caving, or indeed for lack of content creation. My current pilot Jonty, in fact, has really shown himself to be an excellent visual storyteller, capturing many key moments of the expo of late. I'll post a choice selection here as a brief morsel before Amelia pens a report of an important connection between two previously distinct caves, Fisch Gesicht Höhle and Glücklich Schmetterlinger Höhle. This endeavour involved an unfortunate loss of some crucial equipment, as you may glean from Jontys creations below...




Active member
And here are some more general concoctions from the hand of Jonty, mostly relating to one of the stronger characters present on the expedition who I'm sure will be well known to many UKCaving users for her commitment both to environmental justice and thorough cave surveying...




Connecting fishface to happy butterfly

At the end of week 2 the kresh set out with the plan to connect fishface to happy butterfly. After looking at the surveys we (with much help from Mike) highlighted 4 possible areas in fishface that we thought we could connect from. On Monday morning Mealy, Joel, Andreas and Lucy set off from base camp slightly slower then intended. Andreas should be thanked for his tolerance of the youth on this morning. Opting to try the shallowest of possibilities first. Mealy and Andreas at the front bolting and rigging from captain crunch with Lucy and Joel behind surveying as we went. After only a few hours Mealy dropped a pitch and landed at survey point rejoicing at this point we felt we may have already done it! Lucy however was sceptical which she was not shy to voice. Arriving at a very large seemingly floating boulder we descended down the “floating cottage” pitch. Arriving at another survey station. Carrying along the rift we found some hilti bolts which we did not have hangers for. It was in this rift that mealy managed to get lost having spun around and gone up and down so many times, Andreas came to the rescue. Not having any more bolts with us and being unsure of exactly where we’d ended up we decided we would survey where we were; connecting to the old survey stations and go back to top camp and ring the nerds.

Calling the nerds we discovered no record of any of these survey stations in either caves.

Puzzled we decided the next day that Lucy would get a team together to go down happy butterfly and make some noise (a particular talent of the now formed “kresh”). Whilst Joel and Mealy would go back with bolts to fishface recruiting Eric to employ his excellent American nerd survey skills. Now on this fishface trip we were unsure of which way along the rift we should be heading. So we chose one way which became particularly narrow meaning we had to hammer and chisel Joel out, who felt Mealy chose science over fun. We then found some ropes which turned out to be one of our previous pitches. Reaching a dead end we turned and tried the other side of rift. We surveyed all dead ends - please tell Becca!! Eric noting that the problem with these caves is that all cross sections look Phallic. Going back to the Hilti bolts we descended that pitch with the remaining rope. At this point we begun to hear something that sounded a lot like the kresh! Getting very excited Mealy continued down the rope. Unfortunately the rope was about 20m too short. sitting on the end of the rope 30m below Joel and Eric, the other team was spotted! Thus kresh connections was formed! Realising all teams had no more rope we shouted, sung and waved and all then returned to the surface. Due to the large gap in space and Joel having lobbed the nail varnish down the rift we could not survey the connection. Much to Becca’s displeasure.

Day 3: Mealy and Joel still very keen to make this connection and this time dragging Rachel and Charlotte along for the fun set out once again with the plan to come out of happy butterfly and de-rig that. With a small team behind them to de-rig the fish face side of kresh connections. The trip started quite poorly with a failed donkey’s dicks resulting in mealy lobbing the tacklesack down a 40m pitch. The drill and batteries did not survive. Frustrated Mealy and Joel returned to the surface, ran back to camp and after nearly 3 hours made way back to the pushing point with a working drill. Meeting an unimpressed Nathaniel on the way. Mealy was then banned from carrying the drill which was actually quite nice. Drills are heavy. Now back at kresh connections Joel put on a good shift bolting quite a tricky traverse. The team were now in happy butterfly and the two caves successfully connected! This final trip taking about 11hrs was not the short day 1 expo trip we had marketed to Rachel who without curry went straight to sleep waking up the next morning to complain the day had been too long and kresh-ey.


Active member
Just for some clarification, I'll define some terms here from the expedition glossary:

The creche (sic: kresh): clique of new expedition goers who enjoy partaking in japery, wittering, giggling and singing mid 2000s hits out of tune.

Crechling: member of the creche

Jape: member of the creche whose name begins with J. Especially prone to making errors of judgment and then failing to admit to them. Alternative meaning: derogatory term for one who has fucked up eg "Amelia why did you drop the drill you absolute jape"


New member
Prospecting adventures:

After spending a couple days doing cave trips, myself (Paul W), Aaron C, Philip B, and Andreas K visited a few holes previously marked as "interesting". Typically these holes are either filled in with small rocks or ice plugs, with proper cave entrances having a horizontal entrance that's more protected. We did not find any going passage (aside from a small entrance pitch) but did manage to cross a couple of these holes off our todo list!

Philip and Aaron debating whether or not this pitch is even worth surveying

A week later we tried this prospecting thing out again, but this time with the help of Wookey who had a bit more experience than us. We visited a few slightly larger holes in the ground in the Balkonhöhle area, but once again these were ice-plugged. One of the 3 small holes had a small side passage that unfortunately choked out after about 8m. Wookey had a great time learning to use SexyTopo and we crossed a few more holes off our todo list!

Myself, rappelling into a small hole rigged to bunde and using Philip's brand new pack as a rope pad.
Camp trip down Balkonhöhle

I was on the last pushing trip down Balkonhöhle in 2019 so was excited to finally go back in 2022 and continue our promising leads, after Covid put a stop to the 2020 and 2021 expos. My fifth and final trip down Balkonhöhle this year was a two night camp in pitstop, joined by Anthony, Alice and Jono.

After an impressive amount of faff we finally got underground around 5pm. Jono and I headed straight to camp, with a brief stop halfway down to swap the rope on a small pitch. Reaching camp around 9pm we set up the cavelink and made dinner. I was not particularly looking forward to camping; my only prior experience was in Daren Cilau at the Hard Rock Cafe, during which the camp flooded at 3am leaving us huddled on a ledge for 10 hours waiting for the water levels to drop. The Balkonhöhle camp was remarkably civilised, however. We had plenty of food and water, the sleeping bags were very warm and it didn't flood!
Underground camp

Eventually Alice and Anthony arrived, having done some rerigging on the way down. We exchanged some messages with camp kresh in Fischgesicht over cavelink and shared some questionable alcohol Jono had carried down before heading to bed.

In the morning after a fairly slow start we headed to the pushing front beyond Medusa's Maze. We passed through the newly found passages in 2022 of Erechtheion, Alphanuepsilonupsilonepsilonrhosigmaeta and down the freshly bolted pitch named Tartarus from the previous camp trip. Rope below the second rebelay had caught itself round a flake so I had to down prussik 20m to free it. Anthony later put two more deviations in to prevent this reoccurring.

As Anthony had the rope and drill for adjusting Tartarus, Jono and I were unable to push the main leads so started surveying down a small side passage above a rift. The passage was remarkably decorated by SMK standards with lots of popcorn, stalacmites and tiny helictite formations. We also found a very impressive fossil of five vertebrae, about 40cm long (pictured below). We are yet to work out what it's from but guess some kind of Triassic fish or shark. After about 150m we hit a short pitch, so without a drill or rope turned round to find the others. On the way back Jono 3d scanned the passage with his phone, producing a much quicker and more complete survey than our initial one with notebook and Disto. An exciting glimpse at the future of surveying.

Vertebrate fossil

On return Alice and Anthony were rather unhappy with us. Whilst Jono and I were surveying they had managed to get themselves stranded on a mud slope above a 20m deep rift, and had been shouting and whistling at us to come and rescue them for over an hour (we hadn't heard anything!). Once back to safety Alice hid in the bothy, having gotten very cold and Anthony began bolting and rigging a rope down the slope they had previously stranded themselves on trying to free climb. After eating some food Jono and I took over from Anthony, who headed back to camp with a now very cold Alice. We continued down the slope but annoyingly soon ran out of rope, leaving the pushing front at three huge drafting tunnels.

Heading back, the brand new rope on Tartarus that had been in the cave less than four days was already so muddy that none of our jammers would work properly. After lots of grumbling and swearing we eventually reached the top and got back to camp around 1:30am, finishing off a reasonably successful pushing day with about 200m of new passage surveyed and leaving lots of exciting leads for future trips. We named the new passage Ichthyes, a fish from Greek mythology inspired by the fossil we had found.

Tired from the long day of pushing we all slept well and after a slow morning the next day headed back to the surface. Not keen on another dinner of couscous and curry Alice and I headed down the mountain to base camp, and were treated to a stunning sunset on the walk down.
Sunset over the Loser plateau


Active member
Just to pass my time while we wait at customs at Calais, here are a few more snapshots of expedition japery, this time mostly concerning our in-house man of the world, nuclear power specialist and comms connoisseur Mr Tully. The focus on bolting is in reference to an entire team forgetting their spanners and trying to set thru bolts by other means... the trip was unsuccessful



Active member
2022 exploits in Fish Face – Part 1 of 3

Four years had passed since Fish Face was last visited in 2018, and the dreams Luke repeatedly had during that time about the caverns measureless to be found here were essentially the only thing that prevented him from giving up caving completely. He and three others surveyed over 200m on a trip that was meant to be focused on derigging the cave, and six top leads, each blowing a howling gale, were left staring east into blank space. Back at Base Camp, the data looked exceptionally promising: all the remaining leads pointed directly towards 204 (Steinbruckenhohle), the ‘key’ to the SMK system which links the major caves to the south (161 - Kaninchenhohle, 107 - Gemsehohle and 115 - Stellerweg) with those in the North (258 - Tunnockschacht and 264 - Balkonhohle). If made, this connection would really expand this part of the SMK system westwards and keep the flame of the ‘great connection’ with the Schonberg system burning in the far distance, along with adding over 1.5 km of passage to the total length of the system (this was the length of the cave in 2018).

I arrived in Bad Aussee in week 2 after a very fun week at the UIS conference in Chambery, with the cave already rigged to the pushing front and with several hundred metres of new passage having already been found on the monster horizontal level around 250 m deep (at an altitude of ~1400 m asl). Having been involved in the initial exploration of Fish Face in 2017, I had then spent some time away from the expedition, meaning that this trip was my first beyond the third pitch which I had bolted on my last visit. After a good but long trip into Balkon after only 4 hours sleep, exploring alphanuepsilonupsilonepsilonrhosigmaeta (see Harry’s report above), I made my return to Fish Face with Alice to supervise her bolting a few naughty climbs that had remained unrigged but were now apparently quite slippery with mud. After hearing Luke and Mike’s gushing praise for the new passage they had explored the day before (big, clean sandy, lots of cool formations), eight punters wished to descend FF that day, of whom only Luke knew the way to the leads. He therefore decided to extend the system of reflectors (used to guide us on the surface to Top Camp and the caves) to underground, again quite naughty but extremely effective (although Becka of course still got lost). Alice and I soon arrived at the climbs just below the 4th pitch, but drill battery failure curtailed our mission after only one and a half bolts. Not to be deterred, we decided to head to the pushing front in the hope of pilfering a battery or two from Luke, who was supervising Joel and Jonty (collectively referred to as ‘the Japes’ – see glossary above) while they bolted a short traverse to horizontal passage beyond. We would then head to the surface and complete the job en route.


Beautiful helictites, impressive amounts of speleothems (for Austria) and big clean phreas... MIke and Luke strike good in FF. Photos: Luke Stangroom.

My overall impression of the cave as we descended was that it was essentially like a souped up Dales pothole: a few larger pitches to start with, the odd meander, a few more pitches, some climbs, some nice phreatic passage, a succession of shorter pitches in a meandering rift interspersed with the odd larger chamber, and then a big pitch, all in fairly quick succession (in contrast to Balkon, which has a long romp along some very draughty and muddy phreas followed by a series of pitches around 300 m deep – far more alpine in character). The absence of sticky alpine mud was also a major attraction and the trip into FF definitely cleaned my SRT gear after the previous days trip into Balkon.

With the climbs now bolted and some extra rebelays added to the big pitch to speed things up, I was back again the next day with Amelia, Becka and Hannah. The aim was to push some leads at the southern end of the horizontal level, and Amelia wanted to have a go at doing ‘book’ (making notes of the survey data and drawing the passage), which I was more than happy to supervise (and thus avoid having to do myself). Surveying in Austria is a chilly affair: my usual layering system was to do ‘active’ caving to the pushing front in just a furry suit, and then on arrival to strip down the top half and add a t-shirt and grid baselayer underneath along with a buff and headband, then furry back on (dry layers beneath dry out any sweat accumulated, although the aim is not to sweat) and then a pac-a-mac on underneath my oversuit (to keep the wind off – extremely effective). After starting off pushing down an easy passage full of sediment which ended in a dig, we turned our attention to another horizontal lead heading further south. After a few legs along a clearly joint-controlled passage progress was stopped by a ~10m pitch; having no rope, we set off towards the area where Luke was supervising the japes, with a view to snaffling some. We headed across the ‘Nicholas Cage’ traverse toward the pitch which Jonty was rigging, named ‘Keanu Breeze’ (these names really sum up what the creche is all about – nonsense and japery). Sadly it appeared that Jonty (and by extension Keanu) could not spare any rope, so Amelia and I decided to head out after writing off a couple of other leads (left by Luke and the Japes) simply by looking at them (though Amelia seemed to really want to grot around pointlessly in a sediment bank).

Amelia surveying
Top of Keanu Breeze

Amelia making survey notes in front of an impressive sediment bank (photo: Rob Watson) and the Creche hiding at the pitch head while Jonty rigs Keanu Breeze (photo: Luke Stangroom).

Back down the hill for a few days to draw up data and form a plan of attack for the coming week, when the number of cavers on expo would theoretically almost double. Water levels at Top Camp were much lower than would be ideal for a full capacity bivy, and objectives for exploration would have to be carefully outlined to ensure that new arrivals could get stuck straight in. During this planning session, Luke, Mike and myself resurrected an idea first toyed with by Mike in 2018 (before a heavy drinking session at Base Camp got in the way) – camping at the pushing front in Fish Face, but without the traditional camping approach of communal tent and pits. Instead, this camp would be very minimalist: bivy in your personal sleeping bag in the passage, with each person bringing enough food for themselves for the duration of their stay (much more like the approach to camping taken by our Austrian and German caving friends). This camp would not only allow us to push the cave more efficiently, it would also ease the strain on the water supplies at Top Camp as there in an active streamway very close to the proposed campsite, and also provide a chance to test the viability of using CaveLink in this part of the system to communicate with Top Camp.

Part two, detailing what we found on our camping trip (lots), will follow in due course…


Active member
2022 exploits in Fish Face – Part 2 of 3

With the plan to camp in FF now hatched, Mike and I prepared for the trip in the only way we know how – Gosser and schnapps. Despite this attempt to delay ourselves in the morning, we were up in good time. I had not slept well though, after having a terrible dream that I had spilt the one and only coffee I was allowed before going to underground camp, now facing days without… A truly horrific prospect. Thus I decided that the camp would have freshly ground coffee and packed my handgrinder and aeropress in preparation.

It transpired that we were to be accompanied by Jonty the Jape, who had managed to get up and packed earlier than the rest of the Creche. This was good as two teams of two would be more effective than a single team of 3, allowing for pushing on two fronts simultaneously. After procuring a daren drum suitable for transporting human waste out from camp, we set off up the toll road. However, only 15 minutes or so into the walk to Top Camp, we were befallen by misadventure as Mike was bitten by the Plateau Monster (despite not really being on the Plateau yet), cutting the palm of his hand badly. After disinfecting it we decided we would press on to Top Camp, where there were more abundant medical supplies, and then see whether Mike’s hand was up to a multiday underground camp.

After further cleaning of the wound at TC, Mike decided the FOMO would be too much if he didn’t come with us, so we sealed his hand inside a surgical glove and forbade anyone from thinking about it until we came out in two days time. Sleeping bags, roll mats, rope, drill, bolts, CaveLink, shit drum, jetboil and food packed, we began the unwieldy stumble across the Plateau to the cave entrance, with the mornings drizzle still wet on the rock and threatening to further disrupt our plans.

We emerged at the entrance in tact though and I began the steady plod down to the area where we planned to camp, just at the base of the big pitch, arriving just before 6pm after just over an hours descent. By far the shallowest and easiest to access underground camp I had ever done: quite reassuring to know that the surface was barely two hours away if we had forgotten anything crucial! Mike and Luke soon arrived behind me and we decided to have a look at some of the leads in the northern part of the big horizontal level while we waited for the Jape to join us, and to also try and make a rough plan for where to set up the CaveLink and our sleeping pits. Jonty arrived at around 7 and we set up camp, heading down to the Tap to fill up on water. This was a camp of many firsts: I have never had such easy access to abundant fresh water camping underground before. It was possible to fill a 10L Daren drum from the Tap in a matter of seconds as opposed to the minutes or hours that are sometimes needed under dripwater – sheer luxury!

Having eating a curry and setting up the Schnapps Shrine (complete with lemon, as the Creche had taken to consuming lemons underground at any opportunity) we tried to get the CaveLink working in time for our scheduled comms appointment with Top Camp at 8pm. However our connection was repeatedly ‘very bad’ – not promising. It was decided that 4 people were not required for this job, so Luke and Jonty continued to fettle the connection while Mike and I headed to a couple of unsurveyed horizontal passages in the Elizabeth Line, the big passage that Mike and Luke had discovered last week. The new passage proved to be the muddiest squalor yet encountered in FF, summoning visions of the ghost of Balkon past (no thanks!). We persevered however and soon reached a larger passage where a stream was flowing towards us far below in a narrow rift. This level of the cave is characterised by many interconnecting inlet passages arriving radially from many directions and apparently collecting into a larger stream somewhere deep in the rift below the lovely draughty horizontal phreas that we wanted to stay in.

Becoming bored of meandering upstream towards nothing at about 11pm we decided to leave this as a QMC (unpromising lead) and head back to camp in order to get a good nights sleep before our proposed start at 7:30am next day. Noodles and schnapps before bed went down splendidly, with the kitchen-top ‘shelf’ in the passage making cooking standing up possible – another underground camping first. Then to bed, where we slept in a line in the almost flat sandy passage. The maze-like nature of the passages even meant that Luke, who was at the far end, had an easy alternative route to the pissing pool. So many serendipitous aspects of the cave lending themselves to the camp!


Happy campers at the Tap, cooking and enjoying the fruits of their labour (photos: Jonty).

Up bright and early for a shit and freshly ground coffee. The Jape had claimed he would not be shitting while in the cave, but after seeing all of us do so he became jealous and headed off to the chamber we were using to house the shit drum. After checking the CaveLink, it appeared that our messages of last night had now been sent – happy days! The timing of these messages did cause some confusion on the surface though, as Frank thought we were japing around by saying we were ‘kreshing down for the night’ at 7am! It was decided that Mike and I would continue to tie up loose ends surveying while Luke and the Jape dropped a small pitch at the Elizabeth Line pushing front. After around 30 legs of largely uninspiring (though easy to draw) passage, we had ticked all of these small leads off, so went back to camp for lunch (only a 15 minute commute!), and then went to see what Luke and Jonty were up to.

It turned out to be big. A small pitch had been dropped and then a short section of meandering passage led to an apparently huge largening of the rift ahead, which would eat all of our pushing rope. Luke was still questing downwards when Mike and I arrived, with Jonty worshipping a tiny flame from a tea light in the group shelter in a nice alcove. We backtracked and began to survey from the end of Elizabeth Line, reaching the pitch head just as Luke bellowed ‘ROPE FREEEEEEE’. Mike set off into the blackness wielding the disto, while I scribbled notes and drew frantically behind. Luke had rigged the pitch very nicely with lots of y-hang rebelays, making the SRT very easy. We soon arrived at the end of the ropes on a drippy ledge, where delicate scuttling around the edge of a big hole led to a further continuation of the rift. Luke flicked a small rock over the edge and we waited around 4 seconds till it hit a ledge and then a further second until it clattered to the floor. We would need to return with more rigging gear, but we wanted to save the nice 8.5mm pushing rope, so Mike stripped that out leaving the metal in place.

Luke bolting what would become 'Clap My Pitch Up'. Photo: Jonty.

Continued below...


Active member
Contineud from above...

By now I had been on book for over 60 survey legs (spread across the two days) and around 300m of passage, so I requested a change of role. Luke said he had just the thing for me: a naughty traverse over the top of a huge hanging flake/block in Keanu Breeze, where the Japes claimed they had seen a horizontal continuation on the far side of the shaft (the bottom turned into a miserable dripfest). Jonty and Mike made preparations to drop an unexplored pitch heading down towards the streamway in the rift (a little downstream of the Tap) while Luke and I headed to Keanu Breeze with Mike’s drill. The aim was to kill off this lead today so that the rope left there could be repurposed at the earlier find. Keanu Breeze is located in a huge fault and thus the rock on the shaft walls was often poor, meaning I needed to be a bit creative with the rigging (but also not wanting to use too many bolts on what we assumed would be a no-hoper). After plenty of skyhook japery on the traverse and subsequent rebelays I was hanging in space trying to kick across into quite a substantial window on the far side of the passage. This eventually done I shouted to Luke to come and join me with the survey gear and drill bag as the meandering passage beyond clearly continued. I bolted the next small drop in the rift while Luke came to join me, muttering about ‘japery’ and ‘not a trade route’ as he did so (I never said the rigging would be beautiful…). A quick scamper along the rift led to a further small drop which I rigged to land in a continuation of the meander, now heading northwest, which had descended into a slippery shredpiece which reminded me of the cave we had explored in Albania in 2017: you want it to end, but you know it won’t for a very long time.

We considered continuing, but now I had a medical issue of my own: some shrapnel had got into my right eye while I was hammering above and it still hadn’t cleared and had become quite painful. By now Mike had joined us, with Jonty having headed back to camp to take on some fluids as he was dehydrated, and he again derigged the ropes as Luke and I surveyed back out. At the first aid kit drop above, I attempted to clean out my eye with saline solution but it stubbornly refused to improve. Vision by now faltering, I struggled back to camp to find Jonty again worshipping a tiny candle. After prising him from his sermon with the flame to have another go at cleaning my eye (which still didn’t improve), I began boiling water for curries and couscous. Luke and Mike arrived back having repacked all the rope and the final half of the bottle of schnapps was finished off before turning in.


Bedtime. Photo: Luke.

Next morning the poo drum was nearing capacity, Mike and I both had a need to seek improved medical attention and the Jape was missing his friends in the Creche so we decided to head straight out, Luke and Mike even declining a final coffee to ensure the shit drum didn’t overflow. The journey out was uneventful and my eyes really struggled to adjust to the glorious sunshine at the entrance. I began the stagger back to Top Camp, meeting Amelia, Joel and Eric heading in the other direction to finally connect FF and Happy Butterfly (see earlier report). At times my bad eye gave up completely and I had to shut them and sit down to let them calm down – not looking good, especially given that my new GHIC card hadn’t arrived before I left for expo (you can get an emergency letter which covers you, but I really couldn't be arsed to talk to a government employee on the phone explaining my situation).

En route back to base camp we stopped at a pharmacy to get some eye drops for me, however while I was applying these at base camp my glasses fell off my head and broke at the bridge into two pieces! Having no spare pair we constructed a frame to hold the pieces together while they glued back together and I settled for simply hearing what was going on ( think not seeing was quite a good break for my eyes actually). Mike’s hand smelt bad but overall seemed no worse and not (yet) badly infected, so to celebrate we walked into town where a summer festival was going on, with lots of oompa bands and direct involvement from the audience via short bursts of clapping in a sort of call and response with the brass instruments. Back at the Potato Hut Mike and I proceeded to get quite pissed until 5am. Awakening at 10am I discovered that my eye was cured – the healing properties of Gosser know no bounds!

So, camp was pretty successful, tying up plenty of leads and leaving some great new ones to go at on future trips, while also proving that camping in FF is a very good option with abundant resources and facilities along with a good CaveLink connection. In the final instalment, hear about what we found at the bottom of the big pitch Luke dropped, which we named ‘Clap My Pitch Up’ not only in honour of the Prodigy song (which I liked to play as an antidote to the terrible music favoured by the Creche), but also in homage to the great musical traditions of Bad Aussee as observed at the summer festival.


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2022 exploits in Fish Face – part 3 of 3

After a couple of days away from Bad Aussee visiting friends in Graz, returning to base camp in time for the expo dinner, I was keen to return to Clap My Pitch Up and drop the continuation of the pitch series, though I would need to assemble a new team as Luke and Mike had by then departed and the Creche had decided to take a break from caving to focus on eating icecream and giggling. In the meantime, we had been joined by former ULSA caver Mex (it's how he says 'Max'), who had just begun a PhD in lasers in Munich. He was keen to return to FF, having been involved in the infamous ‘PushDerig’ trip of 2018, so he, Nathan and I planned a return effort for Saturday. During my absence, Luke had plotted up the data for CMPU: it was clearly heading toward a rather miserable section of cave in Steinbruckenhohle (204), named ‘Razordance’, which in 2007 had been pushed to a sump at 1200 m asl. The limit of exploration in CMPU was currently 200 m NW of this sump and 136 m above it, so I felt that with a concentrated push and a lot of luck a connection could be possible.

After waiting out the rain at base camp on Friday afternoon with activities such as: ‘group reading of “Hiroshima” by John Hersey’; ‘who can stand on one leg with their eyes shut the longest’; and ‘who does the best headstand’; it was eventually time to return to Top Camp. The walk across the plateau in the evening sun was beautiful and we arrived just after dark around 10pm. Much of the gear was in the cave already from the last trip so packing the night before was reasonably swift. The rain in the valley frustratingly had not graced the shoulders of the plateau, meaning water supplies were again a concern.


Sunset on the Plateau.

Up around 8am for a relaxed breakfast yet still at the cave entrance before 10, top work. Eric and Chris were also with us, heading to the lead first explored by Amelia and I in part 1 (named ‘Mourning the Moths’ after Amelia drowned two moths in her curry) which had been subsequently pushed further to another deeper drop. After a pretty speedy descent I showed Eric and Chris their lead and then Nathan, Mex and I headed to Clap My Pitch Up. Mex and Nathan proceeded to try and continue to traverse above the initial stage of the rift, still in the phreatic level, while I commenced bolting the pitch. Without the absolute unit that is Mike’s Bosch, I was more conservative than I might have been with the bolting as we were using two batteries of unknown quality, one of which was not fully charged. The descent was dry but it felt as though it could get wet (we were in drought), and the rock at the pitch head was quite flakey and poor. The space I had entered was very impressive though, descending a ~50 m pitch to reach an immense boulder floor below.

Nathan and Mex had traversed as far as they could along the exposed muddy tube above (Mex: ‘it was very shit, I got scared’) so had begun to survey down to me. I explored around the chamber in the meantime, noticing a significant meandering passage heading off in what seemed to be a SE direction, bang on with where the intersection with Razordance should be… Elated by this fortune, I jumped in to help with surveying, firing off beams of laser towards Mex’s varnish markings while Nathan noted down our findings. The passage was a meandering keyhole with a small but significant streamway in the base of the rift/trench below, with a number of avens entering from the eastern side, all carrying streams of their own. The convergence of all the water on this one collector route convinced me that this passage could be our ticket to the connection, so we pressed on with renewed energy.

After scuttling gingerly under a pile of teetering boulders and shimmying down some muddy drops in the rift, we reached an impasse: a 3 m drop down a completely smooth, belled out shaft with no chance of free climbing it without getting fully soaked (and even then it would have been an ask). We really didn’t want to chop the nice 8.5mm rope just for this tiny drop, so I ran back to the bag with the rigging gear and scavenged all the slings and extra bits that I could find. A convenient chockstone was found and I lashed a length of dyneema around it, then attached various slings to the bottom of that, hoping we would be able to use them like etriers to negotiate the drop. The way down was simple enough (just arms really), but all was in vain as just around the corner out of sight was a further 10 m pitch with no chance of another episode of japery. So Nathan and I re-ascended to get the drill and sadly chop the 25 m of 8.5mm that was still in the bag. The ascent of the pretend etriers proved far more taxing due to the slippiness of the dyneema but we managed to avoid the water almost entirely, very good.

Nathan installing his first thru bolts above the naughty climb.

We descended both drops with one rope (rigged very tightly, we just about made it). However, at the bottom we were thwarted again after only 5 more legs by a further 10 m drop. Having by now used up all the drill batteries, rope, and bolts, it seemed fate was indicating that we would have to leave the connection for another time. We decided it was unlikely that anyone would be back this year, so we decided to pull all the rope back to the campsite of the previous trip in case anyone wanted to drop Big Bastard, a very big drippy hole adjacent to camp (we had used the pitch head as the location of our shit drum). Mex offered to derig and I wasn’t going to say no, so Nathan and I headed off to the pitch head where we jumped in the group shelter and talked shit for some time before we saw Mex’s light at the pitch head.

Nathan then took over derigging and Mex and I headed back to camp carrying most of the gear. Quick water stop at the Tap and soon we had noodles on the go, finding a message from Eric and Chris saying they had left the Kitchen around 2 hours before. And so began the long slog out, with Nathan and I getting to the surface around 2am only to find Eric and Chris who had only just finished changing. We waited at the entrance for Mex until around 3am then decided we needed to sleep so began heading up the plateau, relieved to notice his light emerge from the cave around 15 minutes later. Back at TC curries were eaten and hot beverages drunk. Most turned in but Chris and I stood admiring the moon and then the stars until around 5am.

And so ended my last trip of the expedition. Soon down the hill, I ignored strong hints from Jonty that he wanted me to pack to leave and instead got the new data in, to find that we were now only 60 m above and 120 m east of the sump… looking pretty promising, though the nature of the new passage suggests it will not be an easy connection to forge. Speaking to Wookey in the Potato Hut while entering the data, it appears that there were a number of extremely promising leads that were climbed up into at the far end of the Razordance Sump in a passage called Silk Road, which was visited only on a single trip in 2007. So, if made, this connection would allow us to push these leads far more easily as well. Exciting times!


Plot showing the possible connection between 290 and 204.

Huge thanks to everyone that I caved with who made this year such a good one, and special thanks to those stalwart attendees who can always be relied on to put their all into making the expedition so welcoming and successful: Anthony Day, Becka Lawson, Chris Densham, Frank Tully, Martin Green and Wookey. Looking forward to next year: that connection won’t make itself…


Julian Todd in some lovely looking sandy passage in Silk Road, Steinbruckenhohle. All only seen once, all waiting to be further explored... Photo: Andrew Atkinson.



The Beginning (Post 1 of 2) -“I'm going on an adventure!”​

After spending the better half of 2 months in north Africa on research, I was VERY MUCH not in any 'cave-fit shape', however, the idea of doing two underground camps some 500 meters down somehow seemed like a good idea at the time.....

As I sit now facing my beautiful majestic breeze block office wall, I think back to how the view on top of the plateau might have been slightly better.

- Sunset on the plateau. Following on from a conversation about why dog bowls are suitable eating vessels by Hannah -


One of the discoveries mentioned earlier was that of the 40cm 'fish' spine, some 500 meters down. (A basic rendered model can be seen here) Fish Fossil

Currently, we do not have any further information on the species or if it is a fish... However, some nicer renders from the point cloud data I collected are here. Being an Indiana Jones wannabe archaeologist, I'm not interested in fossils. But after waiting what felt like 15 hours for Harry to draw a single line in his sketching book, it seemed rather more interesting; that and the feelings in my hands had left me, the Disto laser wasn't warming my hands up when I pointed it at them.

Fish Image 201.png

Fish Image00.png

3D Data​

Once I have finished processing the rest of the data, I will make part two of this post, going over the types of data collected this year and how this will start feeding into the CUCC expo. Alongside why this new way of surveying is indeed the future of underground surveying (Further info here), Cave Surveying

As usual, all of our research data is available for free! 3D Data
Covid Corner Passages

- Covid Highway Passages -


- Covid Highway Passages Mid, Cross Section -


One wonders what that fishyzzz last meal was




Hannah - "My Van has Safe Spaces"

Harry, Alice, Oakham - "Let's do Via Ferrata the other way around"

Charlotte - "Is up bolting as your first bolting experience a good idea?"

Nat - "There is more protein in a Kit Kat than these Curries"

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The first and last of the 2022 Balkon camps – Part 1 of 2

This year’s CUCC expo was my first caving expedition, and I was very excited to find out what expedition caving was all about. Having been on all three of the rigging trips from the entrance of Balkon down to Pitstop, and then on the first couple of pushing trips to Northern Pitstop, I became rather attached to Balkon for the duration of expo. And Balkon was very much in need of support with so many singing the praises of Fishface and its lack of clinging mud.

My commitment to Balkon saw me go on the first and last of the Balkon camps at Pitstop. The first trip was instigated by Chris Densham, who first persuaded Nat it would be a good idea, and then, in need of another body to carry gear, Nat in turn persuaded me to join the venture. A lengthy couple of hours followed of packing gear and debating with Chris how much food was an appropriate amount… Nat and I were advocating for greater quantities. After acquiring a couple of sherpas (in the form of Luke and Lucy) to assist with the carry of kit to the entrance, we set off; I was feeling distinctly nervous at the unknown of underground camping and the large array of tacklesacks we had to manage between the three of us.

Slow but steady progress was made down to Pitstop, with some teamwork required to negotiate the large tacklesacks through an awkward crawl above Mongol Rally. On arrival Chris quickly set about finding a fantastic camp spot, in a cosy alcove off the main passage. After some re-sculpting to create a flat area to sleep and a kitchen counter of sorts, camp was complete; I was pleasantly surprised at the (so far) civilised nature of our camp. Dinner and an early night were had after a long day.


Chris enjoying his well found pitstop camping spot.

Chris rose early the next day, unsuccessfully persuading Nat and I to join him with his early start. Eventually we surfaced from our pits and after a leisurely start we headed off down Northern Pitstop to the pushing front. On the previous two pushing trips we had explored two areas off Medusa’s Maze each of which had yielded ongoing leads. We decided to head to the most promising of these, a large, open pitch approximately 50m deep, at the end of Erechtheion. I hadn’t yet rigged any new pitches and was strongly encouraged by Nat and Chris to have a go; I was very nervous and only coaxed into it by the promise that I could do the first couple of bolts and then let someone else take over. This was a good tactic as more confidence was gained with each bolt and, a few hours later, I had rigged the whole pitch. At the bottom of the pitch we landed on a boulder floor, with a further drop to our left, a passage on our right and a climb down straight ahead. We headed straight on, and Nat rigged a short drop down onto a boulder slope. Here there was a lead off to the right with a cathedral echo and various bottomless holes further down the passage potentially lead to the same place. We carried on down the passage and reached an intersection with a passage heading up and down with a wet trench at the bottom, and a lead off to the right just before this. As we needed to survey the new pitch on the way back up, we set off on our return to camp and after a long day got to bed around 3am. The new pitch was later named Tartarus, continuing with the Greek mythology theme of the previous areas.


Left: Looking up Tartarus pitch. Right: Speleothem in passage below Tartarus.

We had a late start the next morning, before heading out and fettling some rigging along the way. All in all, I was very happy with my first experience of underground camping and was eager to go again. To be continued below…
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