CUCC Austria Expedition 2023 blog

ILoveCaves

Member
CUCC 2023 EXPO BLOG

The Beginning Bit:
Alright, Alright, Alright, here we go again! Brace yourselves for the CUCC expedition extravaganza, starting on the 1st of July and stretching over a whopping 6 weeks. We'll be gathering a mighty herd of 50 keen cavers to hit up Totes Gebirge, Austria, ready to venture into caves on the Loser Plateau. Get ready for updates, breathtaking photos, and yes, you guessed it, memes galore! Follow us here and don't miss out on the expo shenanigans on our Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/cambridge_uni_caving_expo/?hl=en) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CUCCEXPO).

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The Expo Overview Bit:
So where are we going?! Meet the SMK (Schwarzmooskogel Höhlensystem) system… It's a mind-boggling 136 km long and plunges a jaw-dropping 1125 m deep. That's right, we're talking about the second-longest cave in Austria and the seventeenth-longest cave in the whole wide flat world. But wait, there's more…. It's one of only seven caves on this planet that surpass the magical 100 km mark in length and the 1000m mark in depth. Oh, and did we mention that Austria's longest cave, the Schönberg Höhlensystem, is just a casual ~3 km away? If we manage to connect these bad boys, we'll create one of the longest caves in the world. It's like winning the spelunking lottery! Let's make this 2023 expedition one for the record books! 2023

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Aims and Stuff:
Now, let's talk business, or rather, caving goals. In the glorious year of 2023, we have some epic plans lined up. We're not just here to break records; we're here to shatter them into tiny pieces just like our beloved drill from 2022…. Our long-term goal is to connect the SMK system with Austria's longest cave, the Schönberg Höhlensystem, and create a cave so long that even Indiana Jones would raise an eyebrow. It's the kind of ambition that keeps us up at night, dreaming of spelunking glory. So, get ready, buckle up, and join us on this wild ride as we chase after dreams, squeeze through tight spots, and discover the hidden wonders of the underground…. Gemma Höhlen erkunden!

  • Fischgesicht
A recurring cave for this year's exploration is Fischgesicht (or Fish Face). Nestled on the plateau, it offers good drafts, and the complexity of its passages means there is good potential for these caves to connect with the SMK system. We have a lot of unexplored leads, one being a whopping great open passage that was left to be dropped on the derigging trip last year!

  • Homecoming
In a surprising twist, we're bringing back a "mouldy oldie" to our caving line-up this year. Say goodbye to Balkonhöhle, which unfortunately gets a break. Instead, we're diving into the thrilling depths of Heimkehrhohle! This cave has incredible leads, and its relatively shallow exploration so far gives us the perfect chance to train our newest members.

  • Garlic Cave
To spice things up and support our grand expeditions, we're establishing a brand-new camp at Garlic Cave! It's not just about warding off vampires; this camp will ease logistical challenges and become a base of operations for our Homecoming adventures.

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The Human Numbers and Training
We proudly present (Probably) the biggest CUCC expo ever! We've assembled a whopping 50 cavers for this wild ride. With plenty of newbies joining the expedition, we've tweaked our goals and plans to accommodate everyone. Thanks to the incredible success of past expos and our amazing team, we've attracted a swarm of enthusiastic cavers to the Plateau. We continue to pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming, guiding and teaching new faces in the wacky world of international caving.​

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Stay Tune For More!
 

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Adam 63

New member
A little something on preparing for my first expedition,

CUCC Austrian Expo 2023 will be my first expedition I’ve written this short piece sums up my preparation. Getting ready for my first expedition is an exciting but also quite daunting task. With the amount of new gear needed and the dangers and of the expedition itself it has proven a somewhat intimidating experience, however slowly I’m getting my shit together. A big help has been meeting with the other first time Expo cavers in Leeds, starting a group chat and meeting up to group order and discuss gear and insurance and generally about the expedition.

To be honest the biggest task has been just buying all the gear. One of the great parts of Expo is its affordability in terms of accommodation with travelling out making up most of the cost. Although for the first time going with not owning much gear for UK sport trips let alone the extra gear for alpine expeditions, getting the extra gear has somewhat affected my bank balance. However, aside from a few expensive items (a harness and over suit) there is plenty of general gear such as layers and dry bags that scrounging deals and charity shops, borrowing and gear exchange hasn’t been too hard to source.

In terms of practical preparation, I’ve been trying to get down the bigger and longer SRT heavy caves in the Dales and practicing rigging with other Leeds cavers going Expo. I have also been reading Alpine Caving Techniques and the Cambridge website. Furthermore, the Expo training weekend and CHECC have been really helpful to practice rigging and surveying.

This pretty much sums up my prep for my first time on expedition and aside from the nightmares of caves crumbling just by looking at them and flash floods lurking around each corner I’m psyched as f*** and basically just saving up money working, and getting down caves.
 

honorata

New member
Progress after the first 3 days of expo

July 1st

The first expoers arrived at Bad Aussee and we started setting up base camp. The instruction says setting up the kitchen tent is a two man job but we barely managed with six...

July 2nd

12 people who had been at base camp at this point set off for top camp. The hike up was rainy and foggy. We put reflectors and more cairns along the way and then arrived at top camp. There is currently plenty of snow there and most of the stuff stashed in the storage cave had to be dug out (with mess tins since the snow showel was at the very bottom) and hauled up. We got everything out, except for the solar panels which require more consideration when towing out. We set up the water collection system and then headed back to base camp.

Pic: Janis Huns (left) and Will Kay (right).
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Pic: Janis Huns attaching stuff to the rope for hauling up.
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July 3rd

More cavers had arrived and most went to top camp. Harry, Janis, Emma, Chi, and Charlotte went to Balkonhöhle for a derig (& succeeded). Me (Honorata), Radost, Mike, Jana, and Will set up the main tarp (took much more faffing than expected) and the second water collection tarp. Jonty, Mealy, and Emily went to Fishface to shovel snow out of the entrance (done!). Most people stayed at top camp for the night, except for me, Radost, and Jana who hiked down late in the evening.

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Meanwhile, the new shiny rope that we got from the sponsors (thank you!) was washed in the river at base camp.

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July 4th (today)

The weather forecast shows rain and thunderstorms today and tomorrow, which jeopardizes caving. People are hiking down to base camp. Meanwhile, Martin, Jana, and I have put the second tarp up at base camp, while Radost and Phil have been setting up electronics here.
 

Babyhagrid

Well-known member
Canon Ball Run - Austria (Attempted)

Three blokes from Cardiff Uni on their first Expo with CUCC. Left a house at Reading with the goal of getting to Bad Ausse in a single day. A task deemed challenging at best, stupid at worse. The saga begun at 1:30 am. With a base camp eta of 9pm we excitedly exited the ferry hitting the motorway heading for Germany. It was cool runnings for the first 700 km. Until the dreaded check engine light appeared with the car going into limp mode on the scary lane of the Autobahn. A maccies and petrol station near Stuttgart were quickly found, breakdown was called. The wait for rescue was painful wondering if we would make it to Austria. Support arrived with grim news. Problem with the turbo, needs to be taken to a garage which is open in the morning. Arrangements were made at a local hotel to the cost of the drivers entire expo budget. The morning came with a nervous trip to the local garage with baited breath. Good news came with the problem quickly being diagnosed as a sensor issue. After the pricey hotel breakfast the Autobahn was returned to making it to Munich in good time. Passing Munich on the last stretch to Austria, things were looking up. This was until a black bmw slowly changed into our lane with the feared follow me sign in the back window. We nervously followed the Rozzers to a nearby police station where our papers were thoroughly checked, with one of them quizzing a passenger on whether they "smoked". Thankfully we were back on our way, we thought that we had a clean journey to the border ahead. Yet again a black bmw slowly moved in front of us with their sign flashing. Another check without the fishing for drugs. After this whole ordeal we arrived at base camp, one day late, with a breakdown and two stops from the police. A beer was cracked with relief!
 

honorata

New member
The first two weeks of expo have been quite eventful, with exploration proceeding in Fishface and Homecoming, and a new camp being set on the plateau.

Garlic Cave

Garlic Cave is located just 20 mins of walking from Homecoming, making it a perfect location to explore the far side of the plateau.
See the great movie by Zac Woodford.

Pic (L to R): Nadia Raeburn-Cherradi, Oakem Kyne, Jana Podbelsek, and Jono Lester at Garlic Cave.
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Fishface

A couple of shallow leads were pushed and killed. In terms of deep leads, me (Honorata), Radost, and Mike pushed 60 meters above Clap my Pitch Up which required bolting a muddy traverse (we called it European Federalists). Later, Mike, Emma, Mealy, and Jonty camped in Fishface for 2 days to push the area further, but they were running in loops. The traverse we rigged has a strong draft which seems to be coming from the massive pitch at the end of it. The pitch is likely part of Clap my Pitch Up which had been explored earlier and might even connect to Ulysses above. Mike also explored Perseid Showers which does not seem to go anywhere. In sum, the most promising leads were killed.

Homecoming

A fantastic lead has been explored by Wassil, Chi, and Oakem behind The Second Coming, called Salamander Queen (not to be confused with Salamander Queen II which lies closer to the entrance, under Radagast -- I suppose the salamanders are crawling outwards, hence the reversed numbering). The passage was deemed a good lead because of a strong outward draft. Salamander Queen is achieved by going from Radagast, through The Second Coming, Willfully Endangering Lives, Swiss Cheese, Salamander Queen II, German Engineering, and War of Attrition. It is an approx. 90m deep pitch which seems to continue with a scary down climb. Wassil and Chi intend to camp in Homecoming on Saturday to push the lead further.

Meanwhile, Harry and Charlotte (with the help of Sarah and Becka) have been pursuing another lead in the direction of Watershed, called Plowstone Canyon. It is a phreathic tube with a draft (not a very strong one). They set off to the plateau today to continue pushing it.

Prospecting

A few small caves were explored and killed between Fishface and Homecoming by various groups. Radost and I found a massive cave entrance 5 mins of walking from Homecoming which we named Amphitheater Cave (http://expo.survex.com/1623/2023-hbrw-03.html). The entrance lies approx. 200m directly above the Watershed lead in Homecoming, giving hope that the two caves connect.

Pic: Radost Waszkiewicz at the entrance to the Amphitheater.
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We returned there with Ash on July 11th to explore it. We surveyed it until the entrance to the second pitch (70m) and Ash bolted it halfway down it. On July 12th, Ash and Janis returned there to push it further. They arrived at the bottom of the second pitch and continued down a passage which chokes with ice boulders, making further exploration dangerous. Essentially, the lead was killed, but we surveyed about 115 m in total. The second pitch is drippy and has ice patches (independent from the water entering it), and so is Watershed. Perhaps when the ice melts over years, we could return there to push the lead further.

Festering

Meanwhile, rest day activities took place. Me, Radost, Chi, Harry, and Ash went canyoning to Strubklamm near Saltzburg. The canyon is graded V1A3, it is suitable to do without ropes (if jumps up to 10m are acceptable) and can be done on an inflatable unicorn. Alice and Maddie also went there later.

Pic: Christian Kuhlmann on the unicorn in Strubklamm.
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Multiple groups went on via ferratas. Me, Radost, Harry, Charlotte, Oakem, and Jonty went to Panorama Kletterstieg Sisi, graded D and located close to the Loseralm parking lot. It is a fun vertical climb -- the scarcity of aids (besides the metal wire) makes it entertaining. The description says the route takes between 1-2 hours but it took us 50 mins with a photo break in the middle.

Pic: Oakem Kyne (L) and Jonty Pine (R) on Panorama Kletterstieg Sisi.
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Pushing Watershed in Heimkehrhohle

I got back from 2 weeks in Austria yesterday and spent much of that time pushing Homecoming (Heimkehrhohle). Homecoming was discovered in 2018 and was last visited in 2019. A key interest of Homecoming is it sits a long way west of the main SMK system, so connecting it to SMK would move the expedition closer to a long term goal of connecting to the Schoenberg-Hohlenen system to make one of the longest caves in the world.
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The Schwarzmooskogel (SMK) system (right) shown in relation to the Schoenberg-Hohlenen (SH) system. Homecoming is labelled 359, sitting just west of this year’s other main objective, Fishface (290).

I spent this years expo pushing Watershed, a piece of passage found by Dickon, Becka and myself in 2019. Looking at the survey data, Watershed appears to offer the best hope of connecting to Fishface, which when Fishface (hopefully!) gets connected to the main SMK system would in turn connect Homecoming to SMK.

At it’s closest point, Watershed sits just 300m horizontally and in the same vertical plane as Keanu Breeze, a pitch in Fishface bolted and surveyed by Jonty, Joel, Luke and myself last year, named for its strong draft. The hope this year was we may find passage in Watershed that could move Homecoming closer to Fishface.


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Homecoming survey next to Fishface and SMK

It took two long rigging trips and ~600m of rope to get from the Homecoming entrance to the pushing front. From the bottom of the entrance series, a small up pitch is climbed to access some small phreatic fossil passage named Propane Nightmares. This is followed for a few hundred metres via a series of small pitches, climbs and pleasant sandy crawls to the head of Strained by Gravity, a 75m pitch series that drops via 3 large ledges into a large wet chamber and the start of Watershed.

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Rebolting the second pitch of Strained by Gravity to give a better hang.

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Emily eating noodles after the second rigging trip with a rope knife as we forgot to bring a fork.

Watershed was named as we had to run through several wet drips to access the ongoing passage, though thankfully water levels seemed lower this year and we were able to stay relatively dry. The ongoing passage is a lovely phreatic tunnel with a significant active streamway and many excellent stalactite and helictite formations in the roof, both unusual for caves in this area.
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Charlotte looking at some of the Watershed formations.

On the first pushing trip Charlotte, Sarah and myself surveyed ~100m along a sandy downwards rift. This was again well decorated with some lovely flowstone and stalactites, and passed several tight thrutchy down climbs that were good fun coming back up. At the end of the rift a small pitch was reached so without bolting gear we turned round for the day. This passage seems like a good option for a camp, which may be necessary soon as the pushing front gets further from the entrance.

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Sarah surveying by some nice flowstone.

Thunderstorms halted progress but three days later Charlotte, Becka and myself returned. Charlotte hadn’t bolted before but after a quick lesson went bolting down the pitch whilst Becka and I surveyed more horizontal passage. My book work was quite rusty but Becka is an excellent teacher and I soon got back into it. The passage consisted mainly of tall narrow rifts with several passages lying on top of eachother. The day finished with 6 drafting A leads to come back to.

Annoyingly further thunderstorms were forecast but three days later we returned again. This time Charlotte, Becka and myself were joined by Jono and James, with a plan to split to two teams at the pushing front. In a streamway at the base of the previous pushing trip, Jono and Becka went upstream looking to experiment with photogrammetry on Jono’s phone whilst Charlotte, James and myself went downstream. Following the narrow rift and streamway a series of small pitches were reached which James bolted and rigged. After the second pitch the tight rift opened up into huge passage and a further 20m pitch to the floor. Sadly by this point we had run out of rope so had to turn round. Annoyingly on turning round I realised half the survey notes had been rubbed off the notebook in my oversuit so we had to resurvey some of the passage heading out.

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James and Charlotte surveying in the narrow rift.

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Huge rift passage at the current pushing front.

Despite ~300m of passage being surveyed minimal progress was made in getting closer to Fishface but there are lots of excellent leads to explore and four weeks left of expo so hopefully lots more cave will get found 🙂.
 

Mealy

Member
Written as we (Mealy, Jonty, Emily) made slow progress through endless traffic in Germany on our route back to the UK. Finished at home with working internet.

In an attempt not to repeat Honorata’s write up… I’ll briefly summarise week 1:

First caving(?) trip was spent digging the entrance for fishface with Emily and Jonty as we were greeted with rather more snow than 2022! As you can see from the photo we may have had a little too much fun with the transporting the shovel; trying to recreate the Patagonia baby photo. Jonty got a little carried away with digging and quite the entrance trench was formed. Once dug in we saw some excellent ice features.

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Emily Sat with the ice formations.
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Jonty digging the trench into fishface
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Mealy and Emily recreating the Patagonia Baby photo with shovel.

After set up and digging my first week was spent across 4 more trips into fishface. The first being the least successful owing to not bringing the correct bolts to rig so I’ll just skim over that minor error as Joel in particular got rather sad at the reality of that trip. Each of the subsequent and arguably more successful trips were accompanied with a different new expo goer. Emma got to bolt their first pitch and Will survey’d his first passage. Alice claims to have enjoyed surveying for the first time. These trips resulted in the accidental killing of all leads between the Blitzen Boulevard and Liquid Luck area as it turned out all 4 leads were the same interconnected loop. Some entertainment was had as teams met midway through loops. Claims of “you’ve stolen my lead” were made. On the raining days I enjoyed some challenging nerd times sorting the loop closures on survex with Ash. A big thank you to Ash for helping me improve my survey skills on these trips!


Week 2 started with a camp. After hearing of the promising roaring A lead from Radost, Honorata and Mike that they strongly suspected would connect to SMK if it kept heading east… I was keen to go to Europeon Federalists.

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Mike, Jonty, Mealy and Emma bags packed about the head into fishface for 3 days of camping.

After a tremendous amount of faff and a rather exciting walk across the plateau that had Mike, Emma, Jonty and myself trying to hide under a 1 man survival bag to not be wiped out by a brief monsoon we made it to camp.

Jonty and I set out for European federalist which has to be the muddiest place I’ve been to on the CUCC expo! Mud got everywhere! Progress was slow the rock made some unpleasant sounds as we tried to find some where to bolt a traverse. We clambered about trying to not fall down the whooping shaft to our right. Eventually we got across having taken a number of hours to move about 20m we found 2 phreatic tubes, Jonty crawled into one, before I had moved I could see a light in the second (Jonty's light of course…) once again in fishface we had a loop! I complained about the 2023 curse of the loop and that fishface simply connect to fishface again and again and surveyed another loop closure. We also had a poke under the traverse onto a boulder choked floor above what we suspected was clap my pitch up to survey that area and confirm if it was that or something else and check no sneaky passages were hiding down there. We called this “nice rift bad sound” owing to the whooosh noise rocks made when they got knocked down. Hungry, disappointed and myself so cold I was beginning to question if I still had feet we returned to camp for some food. It was this day I had to exercise some self control limiting myself to a 1 minute timed cry for I was scared, cold and very tired. Jonty on the other hand was quite cheerful and somewhat bemused by my request of a 1 minute timed cry stop.

After noodles and a weird situation with Jonty seeing the face of god in legume soup, we stole Emma (who had been abandoned in a group shelter) from Uncle Mike leaving him to his bolting of a dry route down Pursid Showers to try some other leads on the horizontal level. We headed off to Moths2 only to find it too wet to proceed this surprised me as last year I recalled that area being dry. Turing around (again!!) we discussed pushing the Keanu breeze area but concluded if moths was wet that would be very wet. So we took to a smaller rather unassuming lead off Kubla Khan just after Miracle Maze a person sized walking rift for a person Mealy size, Jonty was experiencing a bit more bother taking to flapping around on the floor like a ‘graceful’ (he told me add graceful) salmon. Emma making less fuss, on disto duty and having a better time than they were having in the group shelter! The rift meandered for 50m and was rather pretty, we popped out onto a larger rift. Jonty and Emma got excited that we were finally getting somewhere. I sat perched on the edge of the rift having got perhaps too into playing on sexytopo colouring sand in, I looked up and got that I’ve been here before feeling just as Jonty with evident disappointment shouted he was at a survey station. Yet again another loop closure! It now being gone 10pm we made our way back to camp, via our cave link. I should add we’d gone in Monday knowing rain was due Wednesday and we were not confident with how fishface responds to rain. We had requested weather updates via cave link , alas nothing on the cave link. Back at camp no sign of Uncle Mike, a tad concerning but we decided Uncle Mike is a big boy and Pursid Showers was a big task so we wouldn’t get concerned until 2am, we set alarms and took a nap. Mike appeared shortly after. Having spent some time “warming his crotch up on the stove” I did not enquire any further on what that was about.


Now we discussed the weather, the lack of any contact via cave link, our leads crapping out and concluded it be sensible to make a retreat/escape early Wednesday as we had a growing concern about the prospect of getting flooded in. We slept. This night we positioned ourselves far better than the previous night and didn’t wake up downhill. Wednesday morning with our heavy packs we made our way out timing it rather well with the rain; luck not judgment. Exhausted we made our way down the hill via top camp to drop kit and back to base camp.



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Mike, Emma, Mealy and Jonty forming a cuddle puddle of exhausted caver's outside fishface entrance.

That night back at basecamp at 3:30am myself, Jana and Jonty awoke to discover our tent was under flood and had become a lake swamp hybrid in the storm (glad we had decided to leave the cave! It was quite the storm!). Jana and Jonty ran away apparently both terrified of rain - they were unfortunately for them on the down hill side of the tent and experiencing more of a lake than myself and the slugs that were residing on my side with me were experiencing. I decided perhaps out of tiredness rather than good thought to “ride the flood” bid them farewell in their fleeing endeavours and stayed in the tent thinking I could make the water agree to stay on one side and I’d sleep on the other. I spent Thursday morning bailing the tent out with a beer bottle.


Post camp we have learnt that we should have visited Keanu Breeze as it is now suspected that is the most likely place that we could connect into homecoming from (as Harry shows above).




tldr: Camp: Effort does not equal success.
 

Samouse1

Well-known member
I’m very happy that Homecoming is being revisited, I pushed that back in 2018 when it was discovered, and named a lot of the bits you can read about above.

One thing to note is that in German it’s Heimkommen, not Heimkehr! The second was found to be a propaganda film related to a certain political party in the 30s and 40s. The original exploration logs from 2018 have it as Heimkommen.

Either way, glad to see it being pushed towards the rest of the system!
 

Sarah P

New member
Pushing Hobnob hallway in Heimkehrhoehle

Exploration in Homecoming this year has been happening along 3 distinct pushing fronts. Harry has given an excellent account for the exploration along Watershed (scroll up). Pushing has also been happening along a section of the cave called Second Coming, including a particularly character-building (but productive) camping trip that ended in a promising looking pitch. My exploration this year has largely been focused on the third pushing front: along some very pleasant sandy passage discovered in 2018, called Hobnob Hallway, down some less inspiring passage called Dead Flies passage (a lot of dead flies can be found really quite deep into Homecoming - do any cave biologists know why this is the case?).

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At the limit of 2018's exploration at the end of Dead Flies, I bolted an approx. 70 m deep shaft, named 'Goose Box' (named by one of our expo newbies as 'Juice Box', then misheard). The pitch was deceptively deep, I kept arriving at what I thought was the bottom, just to get there and realise it was just a small ledge.

The bottom broke through into a chamber with a very aesthetic canyon, with a waterfall feeding a stream through it. (No photos have been taken, because none of our group are enthusiastic enough about cave photography, so I hope everyone enjoys nerdy figures instead... ). Phreatic passage led off from the top of it, but it would have required a rope traverse, so we left that as an ongoing lead. We clambered down into the canyon and surveyed along there for several legs. I discovered my wellies had holes in them, so had to adopt the French (i.e. aquaphobic) approach to my caving technique. Our exploration ended at an approx. 8 m mini cascade, that would make a nice beginner bolting task. We named our canyon 'Lassitude Canyon', based on the fact that we were feeling a little fatigued and generally lacking stoke a bit at the beginning of the trip.

Back down the hill with beer and chips in hand, we (and by we, I mean Becka, the trip's survey wizard) input the survey data to discover that our lead was at the same vertical level as the Second Coming lead, and some of the horizontal passage along the Watershed leads. Its possible that we have broken through into a major horizontal level - time and more exploration will tell...

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Also, it is now our closest cave passage to the neighbouring Schönberg system (it's less than 2km away). If you have read Jono's intro post on this thread, you'll know that our long-term expo goal is to connect our SMK system to the Schönberg, to make one of the world's longest caves. I'm sure that last 1.94 km (and connecting Homecoming to Fishface, and Fishface to SMK..) will be a doddle 😄
 

Tinywoman

Member
My first underground camp

Everyone was chased down the hill by a forecast predicting a lot of rain and a temperature of: feels like -2 on the plateau. (Everyone except a few young new arrivals and one crazy returnee to show them the way. They headed up during peak storm to get soaking wet before experiencing one of the coldest nights as their first night. Youth…) After a night at basecamp everyone was keen to make the most of the sunny day forecasted for the day afterwards and we wanted to head up to top camp to pack and have an early start for an underground camp trip.

Arriving at top camp we realised that we had misjudged the weather. We all shivered, too cold to think about packing for our underground camp. Overnight everyone shivered in their sleeping bags as the wind whistled by. Waking up in the morning I saw the sun outside which motivated me to leave my less than warm sleeping bag. Unfortunately the sun was sporadic and it wasn't actually warm outside. We begrudgingly packed for our underground camp while wishing we could bask in warm sunlight.

Having never been down to the camp before I was intimidated by the depth as I struggled with my two tackle sacks, one normal sized and a massive but light one with our underground camp sleeping bags. My intimidation was needless because it turns out going up with only one bag is easier than going down with two.

After finally arriving at camp Botch and I headed over to a lead called gerbil hole, due to the small and apparently very tight squeeze that leads you into a reasonably sized rift passage. Botch had been their previously with Becka and Luke. Luke had been so terrified of returning through gerbil hole that he carried on through the exposed rift to find an alternative exit. Luckily for him he found a hole to pop out of in a previously explored connecting passage. The route he took looked too sketchy for Becka and Botch to follow so they returned through gerbil hole.

Botch and I's mission for the day was to bolt down what Luke has previously free climbed and then head on to the leads down the other side of the rift. Unfortunately, this proved more difficult than expected because Botch didn't know what level Luke had been in the rift or how far along we would have to go. We eventually made it to the connection but not before running out of rope making the continuing leads inaccessible. We surveyed the passage that we had come down and headed back to camp a bit disappointed and a bit early for a cold night at camp.

Curry and gnocchi for dinner cheered us up as we waited for Kai and Rob to return from their trip. They brought great news of a new traverse into a phreatic window with a few unexplored junctions. After dinner we settled into another cold night made better by the memory of an even colder night before. At least it wasn't as bad as the night before.

Waking up had me worried because even with all my layers and a thick sleeping bag I wasn't warm. But coffee coaxed me out of bed and the movement and hot food warmed me up. We all headed off to the traverse they had found the day before. Rob's plan was to rig the pitches below the traverse (clap my pitch up) while the rest of us explored the horizontal leads. Rob went down first and said he was out of the way and we could carry on the traverse. This turned out to be false. He was directly below and the mud was thick and clumpy, and try and we might, we could not prevent it falling from our boots. Rob, increasingly annoyed by the mud whistling past his head, eventually decided to seek cover. We later found out that he managed to find new phreatic passage in his search for shelter.

Eventually making it to the window, we got our survey equipment out and decided to head down the least promising lead of a small phreatic tube. About half a metre wide. We figured we would quickly tick off this lead and save the best for last. After about 4 legs we found an excellent bat skeleton and another junction! We carried on 'straight' to a walking height rift with small flowstones and crystals in the ceiling. We also found a 30cm stalactite that had small crystal hairs. A photo was taken but the camera is at top camp so I have no photo to share.

After about 20 legs Rob had finished his rigging and came and collected Botch to survey the new passage he found while hiding from our traverse. Kai and I carried on a little longer until we got to another junction and decided to end our day at this promising location. We later uploaded the data and learned we had discovered 125m of new cave that trip! We headed back to camp, packed up and started our long prussik out. We returned to top camp at midnight pretty tired and glad it wasn't too cold finally.

(In a subsequent underground camp trip I returned to the same area but Hannah will be telling you about that adventure. I brought my down jacket to underground camp and found that to be a game changer. Not only was I warm at night, somehow that heat carried on to my caving trips. It was amazing)
 

h_collings

New member
Fishface Camp - Muddy Goons

I’d arrived at expo in the early hours of Monday morning having done a straight drive from the UK with Nathan. I made it up to top camp Monday evening after catching up on some sleep, excited to get underground. Unfortunately the weather was very (very) wet on the Tuesday, continuing the theme of this years expo it seems, so a day of top camp fettling was had and plans made with Nadia for a fish face camp the following day.

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Nadia very happy with a tacklesack!

Considering we had a whole day to pack for our camping trip we thought we could depart the next morning in good time, but alas the faff gets us all. After a debrief of the current leads with the previous camping team, who had returned in the early hours, we set off from top camp shortly after 10:00. We had an uneventful walk across the plateau and descent to camp. I’d heard great things of the legendary fish face camp… kitchen sides… taps… and mud free passages. And I hate to admit it, after my stubborn commitment to Balcony’s muddy depths last year, but it’s actually quite nice. We dropped off our camp kit and enjoyed a noodle lunch before heading off to the pushing front.

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Nadia enjoying underground camp cooking.

The report on the state of leads from the previous camp group was not overwhelmingly positive, with some promising leads having been abandoned due to wetness. However a lead that Nadia had found on a previous camping trip (described above) was still left for the taking; named Theophilus Goon. We headed across the traverse above clap my pitch up and off to the junction at the pushing front. We had a choice between walking height passage ahead or a small tube which would make for awkward surveying, so when given the choice by Nadia I naturally chose the small tube. The logic was that we would quickly close out this lead before getting onto the good stuff, but after 40m the switch backing crawl was persisting on so we abandoned it as a C lead and returned to the junction. With falsely high hopes for our walking height passage we set off again, managing one survey leg before turning a corner and finding the passage intercepted by a rift. After a short climb down we set off along the reasonably sized rift, still feeling hopeful, only to find it ended after several legs. We retraced our steps and contemplated a climb up that we had previously been unconvinced by, but now out of options was looking more appealing. Nadia waited below while I headed up to see if it actually went anywhere. At the top I found a crawling height passage that ended in a flat out muddy crawl. Shouting down that I wasn’t sure if the passage went, Nadia said to go ‘a bit further’ to check before she followed me up the climb… I misinterpreted this statement and disappeared off through the mud about 20m to find a walking height phreatic passage beyond. I returned to Nadia to tell her the good news… that she considered less good looking at the state of me plastered in mud. Understandably Nadia was not keen to get covered in mud before returning to camp, so we surveyed up until the crawl and agreed to return the next day.

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Ruairidh and I trying to stay warm at underground camp.

A pleasant evening was had in camp with Ruairidh and Frank, who had been exploring leads beyond coconut shy. We returned the next day with some lacking enthusiasm for the mud which was in my opinion worse than Balcony, which is really saying something! The crawl was only 10m long but once covered in mud it was challenging to keep survey notes and disto clean. Nadia later commented that most people would probably have considered this crawl as ‘not going’ but I think my over enthusiasm got the better of me, it was my first trip of the expedition after all. Despite the unpleasant start to the passage, the rest was very pleasant with some interesting helictites found. The most impressive of which came horizontally out the wall approx 40cm, with a diameter of 5-8cm (much debate was had on these dimensions) and three crystallised bulbs along it… unfortunately we had both forgotten a camera and so no one else is able to appreciate these sights but we have made sure to tell lots of people about it! After 100m the rift passage became impassable, and with only two unpromising leads we suspected connected up in a subsection of the main passage, we turned around. Nadia aptly named our finds for the day Muddy Goons.

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A sketch of the interesting helictite (almost as good as a picture...)

The pitches back to camp were painful, despite their shortness, due to our mud caked jammers. We reached the ‘tap’ near camp with relief and had a good gear cleaning session before making our way out. We were greeted on the surface with the impressive sight of an almost full moon, bright and low on the horizon, which lit the first part of the walk back before slipping below the mountain peaks - I have definitely missed life on the plateau since last year!
 

nobrotson

Active member
Connecting FF to SMK - a step further
Two weeks really isn't long enough to spend on a caving expedition. You really have no chance to think, it's all just go. Well, that was certainly Stangroom's approach to driving anyway, reaching giddying speeds on the Autobahn as we pressed on towards Bad Aussee. We had chosen a poor weekend to depart, the first of the school holidays, and so despite arriving in Dover two hours early we had to settle for a ferry two hours later than planned, which also stank of fish, in a bad way. One absolutely mad woman chose to embrace the stench and tucked into fish and chips at 2:30 am! This experience caused us to want to move away from Dunkirk at great speed, with only a brief stop en route in the Frankenjura to go for a swim in a very fast flowing river.

So it was that on Saturday evening we found ourselves alongside the river Traun and rolling into the usual gravelly expanse opposite Gasthof Staud'n'wirt which is almost a home from home for me in Austria now. Chips on the go in the Bier tent, Wiessbier in the fridge - always nice to return. Though the real home from home is on the sea of late Triassic limestone 1000 m higher, among which hide many alpine plants (about which I learnt a lot this year from Botch) and below which hopefully we would be able to connect Fish Face to the main SMK system via a nasty bit of passage called Razordance. This would not only increase the length of the system by around 7 km, but would also provide much easier access to some tantalising leads which had been left in the Silk Road, just above Razordance, 15 years before. However, this year the weather had other ideas...

Straight up the hill the next day, and after a couple of days fixing rigging in both FF and Homecoming it began pissing down again so we headed down to make a plan in the relative comfort of the potato hut. Nadia and I decided we would camp with Botch and Kai, it being the first underground camp for both of them. I won't repeat the story of the freezing cold and forgotten utensils, though the shuffle across the 'Delicate Steve' traverse was a highlight of the expedition (even if it was derigged prematurely due to miscommunication from Luke and Becka about the quality of the leads left on the branch that Nadia and Hannah didn't visit). Less ideal was the discovery that Kai was much more dyslexic than I had thought, to the point that when we returned from the camping trip and were typing in the data it transpired he had got '7' and '0' the wrong way around on clino readings multiple times. Either way, between us Luke (caving on the bounce) and I rigged Clap My Pitch Up and Apis Medicus, though I had to fix a lot of my slap-dash rigging from last year (I blame Makita 14 V drills and modified cells - I bought a new Bosch ahead of this trip, best decision of the year alongside quitting that PhD).

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Me (re)surveying beyond Delicate Steve. Why are so many cavers dyslexic?

After another night at base camp sitting out some rain, we returned the next evening and departed for camp that night to beat the faff, arriving just after midnight. Tomorrow was the only definite good weather day before I returned to the UK, so if we were to make the connection it had to be then. A team of five this time: myself, Luke, Becka, Botch and first-time (very) happy camper Lea, who was hoping to go further than her previous deepest point in FF, reached at the 'flaque verte' or 'green puddle' which was the anticlimatic end to Perseid Showers. Next morning we tried hard to stay in bed, but at around 10:30 Luke, Lea and I were on our way towards the pushing front, Botch and Becka going to look at another wet lead left last year, Keanu Breeze, which seemed to be heading towards Homecoming (see Harry's post - sadly it was too wet for them to make any progress, so they surveyed in northern FF instead). Although no rain was forecast for the day, it was significantly wetter in the stream passage which followed the big pitches than it had been during last years drought, so my hopes weren't particularly high for the connection. After a bit of sniffing around in the rift after the final pitch we dropped last year, we noticed it was much larger passage a bit higher up, though much muddier. I crept along the sticky mess above the yawning slit below to reach a large pitch, and decided we should stick a rope in, so retreated and began bolting across while Luke headed back to the pitch for the extra rope we had left there.

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A morning at Camp Kresh. First, wake up, though preferably after Becka has already been awkwardly prowling around for 40 minutes waiting for you to pay heed to your alarm. Take some more time in bed to admire your camp crocs, if you have them (well done Luke and Me), then eventually spring into action on the coffee (we only accept freshly ground at this camp). Once you have fulfilled your caffeine needs, tend to your other needs and pack them away carefully in the Jape drum. Luke was very proud of how small his was.


Soon I was dangling above a drop into a very noisy, wet chamber formed along a big fault. Partway down, I decided that I needed to put in a rebelay to bring the rope out of the spray behind us, so climbed out left some distance and flicked my skyhook over a small knob of rock. While I was hammering to find good rock for the next bolt this popped off and sent me swinging at speed about 15 m across the shaft. Without thinking, I decided to use my hand to stop the swing, which really hurt. Skyhook held next time though and the bolt went in to land us on a large ledge with many enormous car-sized boulders upon it. The streamway slunk off out of sight in a small canyon formed in bedrock below the bouldery matrix.

A cautious inspection of the very mobile and friable surroundings in which we found ourselves revealed that there was basically no solid floor to stand on. We considered beginning to bolt around the side of the shaft, but decided that we could spend days doing that (it seemed to have no end, and we only had the one day), so I decided to embrace the misery and follow the water beneath the huge mound of choss we had been standing on just before. I hammered the flaky rock gingerly: the knowledge of the size and precariousness of the boulders above, combined with the constant noise of the stream, was quite disquieting. I could almost feel the rocks pressing down upon me and the water rising up my spine. On beginning to abseil down the drop, it became clear that there was no way of avoiding the water entering from an inlet on my left, though I put in a pathetic deviation anyway to stop myself from landing in the pool at the bottom. Ever since I first caved in the Alps, the dangers of water and associated hypothermia had been repeatedly drilled into me, as had the dangers of loose rock. For good reason. At the bottom of the pitch my 'exploration fever' ebbed away and I realised I was cold and wet, could barely use my right hand now after the skyhook smash incident, and was far from home. Another 5 m drop headed down to a calmer looking streamway below, willing me on towards Razordance. We had to be close! But I had already decided that we had come far enough and that I couldn't risk dampening (literally) Lea's psyche and potentially getting everyone, rather than just me, into a shivering mess. So I derigged and left the lead for a year where it doesn't rain as much.

Luke already had the Jetboil on for me like the sweetie he is, so I was soon treated to some noodles eaten with a pencil, luxury! We then started the tedious process of pulling all the gear out. We filled a bag with rope, maillons and hangers, then I took that and the drill back to camp while Luke and Lea began to PAELLA the rope out from the bottom of Apis Medicus. We returned to finish the job the next day after a small bit of exploration beyond Delicate Steve, and headed out to arrive at the surface at around 11:30pm. My hand appeared to just be badly bruised, so that was a bonus. I would need it when derigging some particularly interesting rigging in Homecoming the next day, but that's a story for another time...

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New passage 'Dentelle de Caca' in FF. Lea was fuckin psyched about the lacy textures on the cave walls. Possibly because she was dressed like she was working at a festival and was channelling the energy that comes when you're doing the litterpick at the end, pocketing all the bags of treasure the rich punters have left... Finding big caves is better though.

And that was it for my exploration in FF. Lea continued the trend of french names for our new passage with 'Dentelle de Caca', named as the walls of the passage had thin lattices of calcite which looked like lace, covered in a veneer of shitty mud. 8 m vertically and 50 m horizontally to make that connection now. Luke and I have almost definitely decided we won't be back next year, but we'd like to connect the caves before we're 30, so it all hinges on 2025...

All photos: Stangroom.
 

El Stobbarto

New member
The Tempest Diaries*
*(Posted over a month after the actual events, mostly because I forgot I’d written this)

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Tempest survey. (Credits: Ash Gregg/Lizzie Caisley)

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a new cave for Expo! Admittedly one that only kept us occupied for a grand total of five days, but an interesting development nonetheless. Before crapping out, this felt like a very promising cave – a large initial entrance pitch sheltered by the peak of a small hill, with promising leads both to the left and right of the base unobscured by fallen rock. Given that much of the caving this year has revolved around deeper leads, it was helpful to have a shallower project for less-experienced/lazier cavers to take the pressure off those leading deeper trips. It was a significant point of pride for me that this project was almost conducted in a large part by first-time Expo-goers – evidence, if it is needed, that inexperience does not equal incompetence. The bolting, rigging, surveying and pushing all felt like a showcase of what those involved had learnt in the past three weeks.

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The entrance to Tempest. Note the rather sharp deviation (definitely not rigged off a bit of baler twine Ely found in his bag), which was fortunately later adjusted.

Situated around 100 metres south of the entrance to Fishgesichthöhle, in a depression at the centre of a tiered limestone knoll, Tempest was discovered by myself, Emily, Lizzie, Tom and Merryn at the end of a delirious day of prospecting under the hot hot Styrian sun. Stumbling blindly into a dense patch of bunde, we discovered an impressive-looking crack in the side of the rockface in a patch of lush vegetation reminiscent of the Lost World. Mabbett began bolting a traverse but we were chased off by impending weather, and were discouraged from continuing by a multiple-day stint festering at base camp.

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Initial bolting of the entrance to Tempest. Everyone looking very serious. Lizzie “helped”.

Returning to our efforts on Monday, a small team comprising myself, Lizzie, Tom and Ely completed the traverse but were halted in further efforts by Tom exploding the drill. Successive efforts pushed the more promising lead down a 45° slope of scree and snow which reached a choke that again continued in two directions, a short downwards pitch and a chossy ledge to the left. The team installed a short traverse and dropped on a single bolt into a chamber which became known as Narnia due to the sizeable frozen waterfalls and other ice formations dotted around.

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Big Tom and myself in Narnia. Chossy death to the left, and sexy ice formations to the right. (Photo credits: Lizzie)

The following day we were joined by Ash and Zac, who began surveying a horizontal passage reaching out from the base of Narnia while the original team began surveying the sloping chamber surrounded by ice formations in the opposite direction. The former group had considerably more success, bagging a grand total of 100 metres of horizontal walking phreas before Ash, true to form, promptly killed the lead. Meanwhile, Team Narnia made excruciatingly slow progress surveying down to another pitch around 30 metres away from the main chamber, which they then bolted (excruciatingly slowly). I was dealt one of the biggest disappointments of my entire life when Big Tom eventually dropped down this hole of choss, frozen waterfall and ice chunks to announce that it was completely choked at the bottom. After days of telling ourselves it surely wouldn’t go anywhere, with this latest discovery we had dared to dream only to be crushed a short while later. But at least we had found some nice ice formations.

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An example of said formations. Some even survived Tom's crowbar-assisted efforts at improving pitch safety. (Photo credits: Lizzie)

However, the saga did not end there... determined not to let this be the end, I descended down next to Tom and began casting wildly around for some continuation in this latest bit of cave, a vertical tube roughly two metres in diameter floored with fallen rock. I discovered two small holes to the left and right, barely big enough to fit a head in but deep and echoing when rocks or primal screams were cast into them. Lizzie by this stage had decided any further effort was futile and, abandoning the hapless males to their desperate scrabbling, prusiked gracefully out of the cave. Not to be dissuaded, I managed to haul enough rocks away from the left-hand entrance to reveal a squeeze just large enough to accommodate a caver. Tom tried it first and quickly decided he didn’t fancy it, so I stripped off my SRT kit and wriggled in to ascertain that the floor of the chamber was in fact a wedged boulder over a large rift. I got no further as Lizzie was waiting for us on the surface and another storm blowing in, but we left feeling vindicated; Tempest was continuing, and Tomb Raider was born.

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The "hopeless" squeeze, sans SRT kit... (Photo credits: Lizzie)

Our final day in Tempest was also conveniently our last day on the Plateau before leaving Expo. Having espoused the virtues of our baby to the others at Top Camp, we managed to convince a small tourist team to come and visit while we beavered away at Tomb Raider. We had it in our heads that a rope was needed to get down the rift, and throwing caution (and cave conservation) to the wind, we planned to extend the opening with hammer and chisel to enable entry on-rope. After Ely and myself had blasted away for an hour, we realised that it was actually quite possible to down-climb the rift safely without needing the rope. All our effort was for nothing, but at least we’d had fun, I told myself through gritted and gritty teeth.

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...which widened into this promising stretch of rift. (Photo credits: Lizzie)

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Merryn doing unspeakable things with a disto at the end of Tomb Raider rift.

Having assembled a crack surveying team of the smallest members of the party, we clambered into a deep and narrow rift with another impressive frozen waterfall at one end. I bounded ahead, squeaking excitedly about drafts and continuations, before sadly discovering that the lead crapped out in every possible direction. Disappointed but content with what we had achieved, we whipped round with the disto and collected photographic evidence before hauling out the ropes and saying goodbye to Tempest for the last time.

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More ice formations in Tomb Raider. My desperate prayers to the gods of cave conservation went unanswered.

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Returning to the top of the rift, we were greeted by Tom "frozen wizard" Phillips. He was only mildly hypothermic.

All in all, this was a fun project to have for our last week. It was a shame not to leave further leads to be explored on the second half of Expo, but we still left satisfied; I felt especially pleased to have found the rift in Tomb Raider, demonstrating that blind obstinacy sometimes bears results. Ultimately, the whole escapade goes to show that prospecting can be just as fun as deep caving, and provides a good environment for expedition newcomers to hone their skills.

All photos mine except where credited.
 
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