Dachstein 2023


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What: the Dachstein Caving Expedition
When: August 13th - September 2nd 2023
Where: the Wiesberghaus, Hallstatt, Austria

Once again the Dachstein Caving Expedition is returning to the high Dachstein plateau in Austria. After Covid left us unable to run expeditions in 2020 and 2021, a small group headed out in 2022, and we are looking forward to a re-invigorated Dachstein expedition in 2022. We have opportunities for new and seasoned expedition cavers. For those not familiar with the area the scenery is fantastic and there is plenty to do on the plateau (climbing, via ferrata) as well as lots of caving.

For those new to expeditions we can teach you Alpine expedition caving including prospecting, surveying, rigging and bolting. Keen, fit and SRT competent people may also (weather and objective dependent) get to camp in our main cave almost 700m down. Last year we found a new area further up the hill covered in open entrances, which present a fantastic opportunity for new expedition cavers to explore new caves and start looking for higher entrances to WUG Pot and the Hirlatz.

For more experienced cavers there is a lot to be done. As well as various open leads in the deep cave, we would like to set up a second underground camp and find a route around the sumps into the rest of the 115km long and 1560m deep Hirlatzhöhle (9th deepest cave in the world).

Sign up for details about the Dachstein expedition and to help us apply for Ghar Parau funding!

Last year the expedition fee was £150 for all three weeks (£100 for students) and it should be less this year. You don't have to stay all three weeks, but staying at least 10 days will help you get the most out of the expedition. I'm hoping that the exped fee will be quite a bit less than it was last year but the treasurer (me) needs to get on and actually run the numbers!

This fee covers:
  • Food for the three weeks
  • The equipment we purchase (ropes, maillons, hangers, drills, cooking equipment etc.)
  • The seilbahn which carries your gear (but unfortunately not people) up to the Wiesberghaus where we stay.
This fee does not include:
  • Travel to Austria
  • Caving travel insurance (which is mandatory and must include search and rescue cover and is likely to cost £50-£100)
  • Accommodation at the Wiesberghaus in alpine hut-style accommodation - this was €10 a night last year and is likely to be similar this year
  • Your beer tab at the Wiesberghaus bar (sadly!)


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The long report isn't written yet (another job for me) but I have just finished our three-page short report if you want to see what we got up to last year...

We will probably run our usual training weekend in the Spring but don't have any details yet.


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A few photos to show you what it's like:

(credit Paul McCarron)
This is Camelot, our home away from home where we sleep, cook, and do all our gear faff.

(credit Andrew McLeod)
Looking down towards the valley you can see Camelot on the left and the larger Wiesberghaus on the right. The Wiesberghaus has power, toilets and of course the bar. It is also where some people stay if Camelot is full.

(credit Paul McCarron)
The Wiesberghaus makes an excellent Strudel. In the distance you can see the Dachstein plateau. Our current main caving areas are on the left of the large block in the centre of the picture.


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You get up to a lot of different things on exped in the Dachstein:

Carrying heavy bags (credit Paul McCarron)

Measuring rope (credit Paul McCarron)

Walking on bare limestone (credit Paul McCarron)

Cooking (credit Paul McCarron)

Faffing with gear (credit Paul McCarron)

Improvising - here winding wire onto a drum ready to go underground as Cavelink antenna (credit Paul McCarron)

Poking around down small holes - this one dropped into an enormous ice slope with the sun shining down from above that was sadly blocked with snow at the bottom and had been previously explored from another larger entrance (credit Andrew McLeod)

Dropping big holes - this one didn't go anywhere either (credit Alex Reid)

And most importantly of all - washing up! (credit Paul McCarron)


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But we do also get underground...

Emerging from WUG Pot, our high entrance to the 115km long, 1560m deep Hirlatzhöhle (credit Paul McCarron)


Newly rerigged tyrolean early in the entrance series of WUG Pot - note the ice on the walls! (credit Paul McCarron)


The tight pitch-head - now less tight thanks to some excellent capping work by the dynamic duo of Alex and Oscar (credit Paul McCarron)


Re-rigging the entrance series with fresh ropes (credit Paul McCarron)


Rerigging the 'water pitch' where we collect water deep in the cave (credit Paul McCarron)


And our home away from home, underground camp nearly 700m down and further down than that below the surface as there is a large hill directly above it (credit Paul McCarron)


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Sign up for this year's Dachstein Expedition is now open!

If you are planning on coming this year, then you need to do three things:

1) Complete the Google form here:
2) Fill in your entry in the Google sheet linked in the form
3) Pay your expedition fee as soon as possible

Exped fees:
£110/€125 for students/U25
£160/€180 for everyone else
Accommodation: €11/night (paid to the hut in cash; €15/night in main hut if we run out of space)

PS thanks to Ghar Parau for supporting us, and to UK Caving for supporting us in the past with rope and letting us post here :)


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We have tried to keep costs down for students and young people this year, hence the £50 discount. We are aware that going on expedition has become more and more expensive for a number of reasons. Some of these, like insurance and travel, are obviously out of our control and not included in your expedition fee. Others

We lucky to be hosted by the wonderful Wiesberghaus mountain hut (but we are based in a small separate hut about 100m away from the main hut, where we have some sleeping space, cooking space, eating space, our gear store and space for people's personal caving gear out the back. We are lucky that the Wiesberghaus give us a discount on things like accommodation, and are also able to organize things like gas cylinders and rubbish disposal, but they have also had rising costs and so things (particularly the seilbahn cable car) have become more expensive which has pushed the exped fee up. The general increase in prices in food and gear also pushes the fee up.

So here are a breakdown of costs you should consider before you join us (and I hope you do); these probably apply to any similar expedition...

1) Expedition fee (paid to us) - we have tried to keep this as low as possible, especially for younger cavers. It includes all exped food (except snacks), reasonable use of the seilbahn and use of exped equipment like ropes, hangers and maillons (and pays for a load of other things like kit for the hut, cooking gas, rubbish disposal costs...)
2) Accommodation - €11 per night (paid to the Wiesberghaus at the end of your stay in cash)
3) Travel - you have to get to Austria somehow. Irish Ferries currently looks to be the cheapest UK-France crossings.
4) Insurance - don't forget about this! BCA membership is not sufficient; you need a good insurance policy e.g. from the BCA Expedition policy or Snowcard. If you are going on several caving trips in a year, it is usually cheaper to get an annual policy (but cheap limits on how long each trip abroad can be).
5) Your bar bill at the Wiesberghaus (to be paid in euros in cash at the Wiesberghaus).


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We are a bit more limited in accommodation than we were in pre-Covid years. At the moment I'm expecting us to be limited to about 15-20 people at any time (so sign up now!). On the plus side, this should mean we can do a better job of the most important part of the exped - training!

The Dachstein has for many years been an open invitation expedition where people can learn expedition skills - rigging, bolting and surveying. We intend to make sure that everyone who comes to the Dachstein gets a chance to learn some new skills and do as much caving as they can (safely) do.


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With the training weekend (I sadly couldn't attend) over and only 7 weeks left to the start of exped, a lot of us are now entering are transitioning from "Aah, loads of time." to "Oh bugger, I won't have time to sort out everything I need."

So with excitement building I thought I'd share some more moments from last year as well as some of the personal preparation happening.
A lesser known aspect of expeditions is fashion consciousness, and the Dachstein is no exception - above ground or below.


A fetching sunhat/ hi vis/ neon Ktape/ sandals combo
(Alex Ried in photo)

Axel wearing the classic yellow gimp mac (photo probably by Paul McCarron)

Another aspect of a nice big Karst plateau are flood pulses associated with frequent afternoon thunderstorms. However, all is not as bad as it seems. Where in the UK you'd be left sucking the ceiling, in the Dachstein you'll just have to make sure you're off a pitch, find a dry nook and nom down some Harribos or other sweets of your choice.


Alex and Oscar waiting out a flood pulse, photographed by each other (shocker)

These thunderstorms may make things difficult underground and unpleasant on the surface, but with the Wiesberghaus 200m away or so there's always something else to do.


Alex, did you soak those ropes?

For any first timers, here's what I would say:
You'll learn more in 2 weeks of exped caving than in years of caving in the UK. What gear setup works, what are other people using, how to best rig a pitch, it's an incredibly powerful skill accelerator.
If you're toying with the idea of joining, it's not too late. I know most cavers coming this year personally, and they're a fantastic bunch of people.

I learn something every year; last year Oscar and myself had the questionable joy of what effectively amounted to a couple of days unpaid IRATA work re-rigging old pitches. This is essential housekeeping and rope donations are part of what makes it possible.
This year I'll come armed with a different spanner setup making this kind of work faster, or so I hope. Also the poncho above was way too bulky and heavy, I will go back to the classic Decathlon-style gimp mac.


Some old kit out of WUG

New ropes soaked & washed ready to go underground

Have a fantastic summer everyone and see you underground.


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In previous years, we have always had lots of young people on their first expedition come to the Dachstein. This is great, as we have always aimed to be a training expedition. We are giving a £50 discount this year (same as last year) for U25 members. Unfortunately, in the last couple of weeks two U25 cavers have had to drop out.

We've still got six U25 members set to attend at the moment. Two of these are being supported by Alex Pitcher awards to the tune of £100, for which we are extremely grateful to Ghar Parau. Two more are on their first foreign expedition and the exped is giving them a further £50 off (making their exped fee only £60 which is below expected cost even not including any gear purchases).

What would be great, however, would be to get more new cavers out to the Dachstein. If money is a limiting factor, please talk to us. We may be able organize lift shares etc. that will reduce your travel costs, or give you advice on cheap flights and public transport to the exped (which has always been a popular option) etc.

Recruiting has been difficult this year - I think some of that is because we haven't run a large expedition since 2019, with only a small grouping of mostly the usual suspects heading out in 2022 when there was a lot of uncertainty about whether we would be able to have an exped at all, so we aren't getting the usual good word-of-mouth that we used to from people who enjoyed the Dachstein in the past. So if you are thinking about a last-minute exped, please consider us...

The second half of the expedition (23/8 to 1/9) is currently less busy - it would be a great time to come and learn some new skills :)


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Just to make this offer a bit clearer, we can at least some U25 cavers who have not been on an expedition before a further £50 off their expedition fee i.e. £60 instead of £160 for an over-25 caver. At that rate we are probably losing money just on food, seilbahn, cooking gas and rubbish collections etc, even before considering bolts, rope, gear...

But I think it's really important that we get new cavers out on expedition and to the Dachstein.


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Almost time to head off! Plans are made, hotels and ferries and booked. We will soon be on the road (we are taking it easy these days with not one but two hotel stops on the way to Austria - luxury, but then it is a long way from the Dales). Then there will be all the faff of getting gear up the hill in the cable car, walking up, setting up the hut and cleaning... but eventually we will be free to explore the beautiful mountain scenery (and the deep caves) of the Dachstein once again.
Then a few weeks later, do it all again in reverse (albeit with only one hotel stop that time).

If you look in the very full car boot (and bear in mind this is an XL wheelbase Combo Life, basically the same car as an XL Berlingo so it's a pretty big boot), you will 200m of rope very generously donated by UKCaving. This rope will soon be put to good use prospecting and pushing new cave for our new and young expedition cavers, including our two Alex Pitcher awards (thanks also the GPF for those and our main grant).

It even looks like the weather might be nice for a bit (mostly) :)


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Oscar D

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Alex Ried and Oscar Doyle

The Quest for the 70 dry bypass.

Last year Alex and I spent a good couple of hours stuck in a bothy bag on a ledge above the last pitch of the 70. The 70 is a series of pitches that follow the entrance series to WUG and are just before the 110 pitch series. The problem being that the final pitch of the 70 becomes so wet when it rains that it becomes impassable - meaning you are stuck waiting for a few hours on whatever side you happen to be on. It was whilst being stuck there last year that we noticed a side passage above us heading away towards the 110 and made us wonder if there was another way - allowing us to skip the wet bit and continue down the cave.


This year we returned armed with bolt climbing kit and 60m of rope to find out. We started as early as we could on what was Day 1 of the expedition. We rigged the entrance pitch to WUG and raced down the entrance series checking the ropes as we went. With rain forecast at 3pm and heavier rain at 7pm - we expected to have to wait out some water on the way out.

Arriving at the site of the climb we kitted up - me in my balaclava and gimp mac and Alex with his drill and etrier’s. We made quick work of the ~6m climb and after a Y-hang was rigged - we arrived at the top. Looking down we saw a small pot - blind except for a small side passage coming off it. Not expecting to find much, Alex dropped down first, his excited whooping giving away the fact that it didn’t crap down just yet.


Arriving at the bottom of the pot I caught sight of the large shaft dropping away just around the corner. We couldn’t see the bottles even with our most powerful lights on full spot. A hasty Y-hang was rigged out of all the tat we had left and Alex swung out over the Abyss. Making it ~20m down before he ran out of rope. With the bottom still not in sight we made a retreat and headed back to Camelot with grins on our faces and plans to head back with a bigger rope.



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I remember being stuck on that very ledge on the 70, that was a very cold night! Glad to see it may have a bypass.


13/08/2023 The Gathering

For the 2023 expedition a stay at the Obertraun Caving Hut was organised to reduce the amount of possible faffing involved with getting people up the mountain. This was also particularly great for myself, Ethan and Petie travelling over to Austria by getting the Ferry from Ireland to France, driving through Germany and into Austria. For myself this was split over a few days of driving and it was extremely nice to arrive in Obertraun to spend the evening getting to know all of the new faces around, but also to re-fresh before the great en-faffening. The evening was spent by the Obertraun lake, before heading over to the local pizza establishment for some calories and beers, followed by even more beers in the evening back at the hut.


14/08/2023 The Great En-Faffening

It's expedition time, and with 16 people gathered at the local caving hut in Obertraun there was much to get organised.


Andreas showing his excitement for Ectoplasm

The task as always is to get all of the gear up to the mountain as fast as possible with the least amount of faff as possible. A task that is always arduous, but with three cars to ferry the equipment and people, it was a fairly quick task to complete - made all the better with the ability to use the Wiesberghaus' seilbahn.


Oscar getting ready to start his strava recording

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A strategically packed Seilbahn


Petie calling the Wiesberghaus to get the Seilbahn moving

With the Seilbahn loads on the move, it was time to get up the hill so that we could get the loads unpacked as quickly as possible, get Camelot organised and expedition prepared so that caving could get started straight away on the Tuesday. I always particularly enjoy the walk up to Camelot, the scenery is beautiful and views outstanding.


The Seilbahn moving towards its final destination, the Wiesberghaus

Thankfully we were able to get all the associated faff completed so that caving could indeed take place for the day ahead.

15/08/2023 The Great Entrance Re-rig

The main plan for this trip was to re-rig some of the re-rigging work that Andreas Klocker and myself undertook in 2022. Unfortunately due to a small incident involving water, Andreas and myself had to quickly make haste down the final pitches of the entrance series leaving any further re-rigging to the next trip (which never happened due mainly to pushing trips taking a priority). This also resulted in Andreas, Alice, Peter and myself camping out in some group shelters for a while before Alex and Oscar re-appeared in an extra soggy state out of the bottom of the 70 from their bolting session as the waterfalls above reduced.


Setting off pretty sharp, Josh Bratchley and myself took the remainder of the rope set aside for this re-rigging, including a variety of stainless hangers, bolts, mallions and kits over to WUG in the baking sun. Arriving to WUG Alex and Oscar who were preparing for their own bolt climbing adventure to bypass the 70 were greeted to a enthusiastic Josh and myself who was infused with a mix of banana scented sun cream and sweat. Entering just after noon, progress was extremely quick with all rigging double checked before a plan was formulated between Josh and myself. I would finish the last 40metres of replacing rope and re-rigging, whilst Josh double checked the previous rigging that had to be done in haste with Andreas chasing my back due to the water.


Re-rigging the entrance series in 2022

A final few tweaks will need to be made to this trade route, mainly the replacement of a few remaining non-stainless bolts, which will be a suitable task for a day with unpredictable weather.