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Dachstein Expedition 2019

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Are you feeling keen to explore snow-covered peaks in the Austrian Alps, learn to find new caves, then bolt, rig, survey and push them? Does the idea of being the first person in new cave passage excite you? Or are you an experienced expedition caver, looking for an area where exciting discoveries are being made yearly?

This year?s Dachstein Expedition will be held between the 17th August and the 7th September 2019, hosted as usual at the Wiesberghaus mountain hut on the Dachstein plateau, Austria. As usual, the expedition is open to all cavers. It is a very cosmopolitan expedition; as well as attracting cavers from university club across the UK and Ireland it has also attracted French, German, Austrian, Bulgarian, Israeli, American, Irish, New Zealand and Czech cavers.

The Dachstein is a relaxed expedition; join us for a week, the whole three weeks, or just a few days.

Last year, the expedition?s main cave, WUG Pot, was finally connected to the 112km long Hirlatzh?hle deep in the mountain after over 40 years. This made the Hirlatz 1560m deep and the 9th deepest cave in the world. This year one aim is to find a higher entrance and make the Hirlatz even deeper!

In 2018 the cave Blood Moon was discovered. This has already been connected to the 600m+ deep Burnie?s Pot, and may also connect to WUG Pot. Resurveying an inlet at the base of WUG has shown that it comes within 50m of the 600m+ deep cave PL2, which ends in a chamber well over 100m wide. The 2017 discovery Thundergasm is now 200m and still going, with several open leads for keen cavers...

Although being competent at SRT will make it a much more satisfying expedition, training is a key part of this expedition. As usual, we will be running the Dachstein Training Weekend (date to be confirmed) to let all cavers learn expedition skills before using them for real on the expedition.

The Wiesberghaus and the caving area we explore are set 2000m up in a stunning area of the Austrian Alps. To the south the Hallstatt glacier rises up towards the 2995m summit of the Hoher Dachstein and the enormous south wall of the Dachstein plateau. To the north is the valley of the Hallstattsee (lake) and the famous town of Hallstatt with its prehistoric salt mine. There are four other mountain huts on the plateau, the show caves of the Dachstein Rieseneish?hle (ice cave) and Mammuth?hle, as well as a range of via ferrata for all abilities, so there is plenty to do on ?rest? days.

Join the Dachstein Facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/dachsteincaving for more information and to keep up with the latest expedition news. You can also join the group?s Dachstein 2019 event.
 

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Joel Corrigan

New member
Recruitment is slowly starting to gain pace (we're fairly lazy these days) so if anyone wants to join what is (un)arguably the finest exploration project ever then you're welcome to join.  Andrew has posted most of the details but it's worth emphasising that two decades ago we were the first of the major projects to have an open invite as the organisers were fed up of the unnecessary elitism & cliques within the expedition game back then.  That means that we really do welcome 99% of people who want to go regardless of experience.  All we ask is that you be able to operate as part of a team, get involved with the chores, and not do anything that's likely to lead to an accident.  And just like many things this can be as hard or as easy as you choose: if you've not been down a deep Alpine cave before then you're best advised to cut your teeth in some of our shallower caves & building up to exploring the monsters.

It's also CHEAP & plenty of us have loads of gear we can lend out to worthy causes.  Many of the leading lights in cave exploration have been part of this project & it's our intention to get more people to join as we need fresh blood for the future. 

We are running our annual Cave Expedition Training Workshop over the weekend of 15-16 June based at the outstanding Gloucester Cave Rescue Depot in Cinderford in the Forest of Dean so again this is an open invite regardless of whether you're joining us in Austria (numbers allowing, of course). 

See the Calendar for more details.       
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Expedition Fees:
The Expedition Fee (for anyone coming on the expedition has now been decided and will be:
?70 if paid before 15th July
?75 if paid before the exped
?80 if paid during the exped
This includes use of the seilbahn this year.
Payment can be made to the shiny new bank account:
Sort Code: 40-27-02
Account Number: 91867555
Account Name: Dachstein Expedition Society
PLEASE DON'T SEND MONEY TO THE OLD ACCOUNT
International payments to my PayPal at my personal email address for now (PM me) and I'll transfer them over. Please don't use PayPal unless you can't pay into the UK bank account!
 

Juan

Member
but it's worth emphasising that two decades ago we were the first of the major projects to have an open invite
The Matienzo expeditions have had an "open invite" to all interested people since the early 70s. I'm not saying we were the first though, there may be others!
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Expedition Training

The Dachstein expedition has for many years ran an expedition training weekend, and 2019 was no exception. As usual, the expedition training is open to all cavers including those not planning on attending the expedition, although it is naturally focussed on the skills needed for deep, cold Alpine caves such as those in the Dachstein.
The format of our training weekend has varied over the years. In 2017 the first day of the weekend was spent in a rope access centre training for French-style counterbalance pitch hauling, with the second day spent in Pwll Dwfn putting these skills into practice. The 2018 event was more similar to this year?s weekend, although it had a longer rescue practice.
This year there were 33 paying attendees, with 8 people staying for one day only and the rest staying for the whole weekend. There were also 8 trainers who attended during the weekend, all of whom attended voluntarily and without claiming expenses ? for which the expedition is very grateful. As in 2018, the weekend was held at the Gloucester Cave Rescue Group headquarters which features a large meeting room, a small kitchen, camping and parking space and a large barn with various platforms suitable for SRT training. We are grateful to the GCRG for use of their venue for a second year, and were happy to make a donation to the team. The expedition provided breakfast and lunch for the two days out of the fee of ?20, and a large takeaway curry order was organized on the Saturday night.

Day 1 ? SRT and Survey Training

The trainees were split into four groups. Two of these groups headed off in the morning to Bixhead stone mine, an underground sandstone quarry, for survey training led by Tom Foord and Rich Smith and underground survival training led by Ian Holmes and Sam Lee, with the two groups taking turns.
The survey group learned to use DistoXs and SexyTopo to survey the stone mine. Meanwhile, the underground survival group set up camp in a corner of the mine. The demonstration showed the use of various important tools, including group shelters, the ?gimp mac? (a waterproof jacket), the MTDE poncho (which can be combined with another poncho to share body heat with a friend), blizzard blankets and small gas stoves. Alpine caves cold, and in the event of flooding it is critical that cavers have the right equipment to stay dry and warm.
The other group groups stayed at the GCRG base to practice SRT techniques and basic hauling. SRT practice ranged from the basic to the advanced. Topics covered included SRT kit setup for use in tight caves, rebelays and deviations, rope protectors, additional braking for descending on ?fast? ropes ? including an 8mm rope covered in washing up liquid ? and finally to rebelays with pendulums and horizontal and sloping tyrolean traverses.
The groups then swapped, following lunch, with the underground groups now staying at the GCRG base for SRT and hauling practice and the surface group heading to the stone mine for surveying and underground survival.
The final portion of the day was lecture format, with the expedition leader Joel giving an overview of the expedition and Alpine expedition caving generally. The use of survival equipment was again demonstrated and discussed, together with general information about the expedition such as where the expedition takes place, what sort of caving people should expect, what other activities are available and what people will need to bring or organize.
A brief overview was also given of French-style counterbalance pitch hauling techniques in preparation for the rescue practice the following day, including the use of plywood boards with anchors mounted on for showing rigging techniques.

Day 2 ? Rescue Practice

Following 2018?s successful but lengthy rescue practice at Miss Grace?s Lane, this year?s rescue practice was held at the Wet Sink entrance to Slaughter Stream Cave. The cave had been pre-rigged with tri-hang anchors for the counterbalance rescues, and the trainees were split into two groups. One group went deeper into the entrance series to practice hauling a casualty up several pitches, while the other group practised on the first few pitches of the entrance series, ending with bringing the casualty out of the entrance.
The surface group were first shown the use of the expedition?s Ferno split basket stretcher, which was purchased last year. This stretcher is ideal for relatively large but deep caves, such as WUG Pot, and can be broken in half for carrying. The casualty was then taken down the fixed ladders to the bottom of the first pitch series, strapped into the stretcher (in a vertical position due to lack of space) and then hauled up the series of pitches.
Counterbalance systems were used for the majority of the pitches, but a simple Z-rig system was used to haul out of the entrance gate and onto the surface. Both the surface and deeper group?s rescue practice were successful. This rescue practice was shorter than some in previous years, enabling people to get home somewhat earlier although possibly not drilling home the important message of any Dachstein rescue practice ? getting rescued will be thoroughly unpleasant, so don?t hurt yourself in the first place!
 

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andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Just a quick update from the Dachstein team. There are still spaces available for clearly the greatest caving expedition on earth :)
The exped fee has now gone up to ?75 but that is still a bargain (as treasurer I am currently in the process of trying to work out how to buy as much kit as possible with minimal money!).

For those who are new to the exped writing up a list of helpful information is on my list of things to do, but here's a few brief points:
The exped fee includes exped gear, use of the seilbahn and most food. There is a small charge per day for fresh food (probably ?1.50 / day). There is also a daily fee for accommodation (last year it was ?5 / day) which goes directly to the Wiesberghaus. Bring cash! :)
Food is porridge for breakfast and a cooked dinner. There will be some lunch stuff available (bread, cheap jam, margarine). It is highly advised to bring snacks and cave snacks (chocolate, cereal bars, luxuries) and the exped is vegetarian with a vegan option so if you want meat you will have to bring it.
On the plus side the scenery is fantastic, there is plenty of stuff to do above as well as below ground, and the bar is never too far away... :)

In the near future I will hopefully have photos of shiny gear to show, although like Dachstein participants it will probably be coming from all over the place! :)
 

Alex

Well-known member
Food is porridge for breakfast and a cooked dinner. There will be some lunch stuff available (bread, cheap jam, margarine). It is highly advised to bring snacks and cave snacks (chocolate, cereal bars, luxuries) and the exped is vegetarian with a vegan option so if you want meat you will have to bring it.

Has it changed now then, is it not an option to just buy a meal or two next door? When I was there I used to buy a few meals from the Wiesberghaus house when I got sick of the Tex Mex.
 

Joel Corrigan

New member
Andrew is being a bit dramatic & not a lot has changed since you were there, Alex.  Breakfast is generally porridge but traditionally those people about to head deep underground tend to raid the supplies & scoff down pancakes, eggy bread, omelettes etc... but we discourage that for normal day to day meals as forty + greedy buggers will decimate our stores.  And lunch in Camelot is deliberately kept fairly basic to encourage everyone to do something more useful...  And whilst the Exped is essentially vegetarian that's not just because I have a conscience (!) but also because meat goes off very quickly, costs a fortune, and it's far easier to make the same communal meals for everyone & those who want it can hunt, butcher & cook their own marmots for the pot.  We haven't made it sound very impressive but the food is generally very good on the trip but that of course varies year by year. 
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
Alex said:
Has it changed now then, is it not an option to just buy a meal or two next door? When I was there I used to buy a few meals from the Wiesberghaus house when I got sick of the Tex Mex.

It is a great option; the food at the Wiesberghaus is excellent :p
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
In just a few days, the World's Greatest Caving Expedition will begin, and cavers from across Europe will start converging on the Dachstein plateau. The final purchases of gear and food are being made, cars are being packed, and excitement levels are increasing.

This year we are lucky to have been given free or heavily discounted equipment from a variety of sources. UKCaving has always supported cavers and caving expeditions, and we were lucky enough to have been awarded 200m of Spanset 9mm rope, which we look forward to using to rig the deep caves of this area.

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You can't get very far in a vertical system without some anchors to hang that rope on, and so we are very grateful to Fischer, the well-known German manufacturer of high-quality anchors and fixings, who have supplied us free of charge with 200 zinc-plated and 100 stainless 8mm through-bolt anchors.

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Bolts need hangers, and we are lucky to receive 150 heavily-discounted stainless hangers from a new German supplier whose name I will add as soon as I get sent it :)

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Last of the big donations but certainly not least, we were very lucky to receive a grant for ?1200 from the Ghar Parau Foundation. This has been spent on an underground Cavelink unit which together with a surface unit purchased by CUCC (again largely funded by Ghar Parau) forms a set which we hope will be of use not just to the two Austrian expeditions (Cambridge and Dachstein) but also to other expeditions.

We were also lucky enough to receive 3 tackle sacks from 2 individuals after an appeal for large tackle sacks to bring gear down to the new deep camp we are establishing this year. We have also, via a group of visiting Austrians, received 6 synthetic sleeping bags for the new camp from Vaude.

In addition to the generously donated or discounted gear, we have also bought:

200 Petzl hangers from the illustrious Mr Seddon

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600m of Beal rope
200 maillons
A new Makita drill
3 tents
12 sleeping mats
A new large burner and pot
And lots of the usual boring but essential stuff (food, cleaning equipment etc...)

This year is yet another exciting year for exploration. Deep down in WUG Pot we will be establishing a forward camp to accelerate exploration of the previously diver-only area of the Hirlatzh?hle. With open leads in all directions, this will no doubt be a multi-year (or multi-decade?) project. Higher up we have Thundergasm, now 200m deep and still wide open. Closer to the surface we have Blood Moon, discovered last year, which has connected to the deep Burnies' Pot and will hopefully connect to WUG. Finally resurveys last year showed the long-neglected PL2, a 600m deep cave with an enormous chamber at the previous end, is within 50m of a heavily-draughting inlet in WUG...

Some objectives this year:
- To continue exploring the western end of the Hirlatzh?hle
- To connect WUG to a higher entrance; either Blood Moon/Burnies, PL2, or a new entrance
- To push Thundergasm and other caves as they are discovered
- To continue prospecting the plateau for new caves; the area is riddled with them!

As usual, any glory is due to the Dachstein team; any mistakes are my own  :halo:
 

David Rose

Active member
I wish you the very best, and that I could join you. The sheer tenacity involved in the exploration of WUG - Hirltatzhohle over so many years is surely without parallel in the history of caving, and it's evident that the story is far from over. I have my own unfinished business to see to at Ario shortly, but I hope I can get to the Dachstein again next year. Awesome place, astonishing caves. 
 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
So just like the Cambridge, we have found lots of snow on the mountain this year. Cambridge abandoned one of their caves for the year because it was blocked by a snow plug.
So when we found that WUG, our gateway to the Hirlatzh?hle, the jewel of the Dachstein, was also blocked by snow, this was cause for concern...

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This was the cave where we made the connection making the Hirlatz the 9th deepest in the world. This was the cave where we were planning to establish a forward camp to help push objectives in the Western end of the Hirlatz and find a dry route to the lower entrance. We needed this cave.

Where there is a will, there is a way...

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A day of hard digging in the sun, and a large pile of shifted snow, and we were in!

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With WUG open again, we will be heading back down tomorrow for further exploration and glory...
 

aricooperdavis

Moderator
We aren't all as virtuous as those noble diggers who cleared the entrance of WUG to facilitate exploration - some of us used our rest days to go walking in the stunning hills surrounding the caves and camp.

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The Ochsenkogel (above) is an enormous lump of limestone that looms above Camelot, and which itself is riddled with caves. It sits just North of Wildkarkogel, the large bowl that contains WUG, Blood Moon, Thundergasm, and many of the other exciting unpushed leads of the expedition.

It looks steep from camp, but amazingly it doesn't really look any less steep from halfway up it.

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It's well worth it at the top though, with superb views down to camp and across the valley. Points awarded to anyone who can identify the huts we can see from the top.

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The walk back down isn't half bad either, as it encompasses both the Simony Hut (which boasts beers with glacial views) and the path down past all of our promising leads!

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More photos, hopefully of some actual caving, on their way as the exped continues...  ;)
 

Speleotron

Member
The digging reminds me of a similar effort on a Durmitor expo, where we had to dig through snow-plugs after an unusually heavy winter. But we were digging to try and find a stash of Booze rather than any cave!
 

pmccarron97

Member
On Monday (19th August), the push to clear the entrance into WUG continued for second day with a small team of six working tirelessly for hours to clear the entrance which was composed of mostly the Irish Crew (Adam Prior, Emily Punzalan, JP Wallace and myself) along with Wolfo and Oscar Doyle.

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Eventually after around 3 hours or so, Axel turned up after to have a gander at how we were getting along and of course offers to lend a hand, after which he breaks through into the entrance after the first hit! He just wanted to steal our glory!

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We spent a bit more time tidying up and marking caution tape around the entrance to secure the snow a bit more. All in all a great effort from all involved. The evening then consisted of a lovely walk back to Camelot in the rain.

The following day (Tuesday 20th August), Axel, Oscar and Myself decided to head to Blood Moon, a particularly interesting cave and one of Axels objectives for the expedition due to its location and possible linkage to another cave nearby, that being Burnies, however, Blood Moon required surveying the second half of the cave to prove the linkage to burnies.

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So we went about completing this task, surveying as we went along until we descended down the final 30m pitch of bloodmoon and Axel keenly spotted the pitch entrance for Burnies, rigging it halfway down this initial pitch. The survey was completed linking the two caves together.
This is an interesting project as there are many leads still to push in these caves which could end with the possibility of a linkage to other systems.

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On Wednesday (21st August) I spent the day prospecting the area above WUG, this was to mainly check a number of possible leads which haven?t been pushed and slso to see if we could spot any other caves in the process. The views around this region are stunning, however the weather was not on our side, with dense mist and rain constantly moving in. There were a couple of interesting leads that we found during this and we hope to head back soon in the coming days.

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Dachstein 2019 has been my first expedition and so far i?ve really enjoyed it. I look forward to remaining week and a half I still have out here!


 

andrewmcleod

Well-known member
The weather has been a bit difficult and unpredictable over the last few days which has held off a serious attack on WUG. This was about the best of the weather on Wednesday:
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The rest of the time it was raining.

The last two days have been much sunnier but with thunderstorm warnings, and as many of our caves flood badly this has restricted what can be done. Irritatingly the thunderstorms have failed to materialize... However, tomorrow's forecast is good and serious work in WUG will begin then.

The views from Camelot have, despite the warnings, often been pretty good in the evening...

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One piece of gear of use to the expedition caver is a drill condom. Usually, this is a drybag with a hole in but some people have developed winners of neoprene and waterproofed fabric to keep their drills clean and dry in the worst conditions. But since necessity is the mother of invention:

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Last but not least, a very nice view of the fault that presumably causes the dry valley up the side of the Wildkarkogel:

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As I write this in the bar, the first pushing trip of the year from Thundergasm is probably on the way out, and I am eagerly awaiting what they have found...
 

aricooperdavis

Moderator
andrewmc said:
As I write this in the bar, the first pushing trip of the year from Thundergasm is probably on the way out, and I am eagerly awaiting what they have found...

And what a first pushing trip it turned out to be!

But first some background...

Thundergasm is a reasonably new cave - discovered by The A-team (Alex, Alex, Andy, Angie, and Ari) in 2017. It was found when a prospecting team hunkered down in an emergency shelter to sit out a thunderstorm, and emerged to find that they were sat right next to the entrance.

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This was the first year in the Dachstein for all members of The A-team, and exploring the cave has provided some fantastic learning opportunities for many of the people involved; from placing bolts and making surveys to capping squeezes and everything in between.

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Last year the surveyors left the cave at about 200m deep, with an unexplored meander twisting off into darkness at the bottom of a wide and deep aven. But this year we couldn't just jump straight back into exploring - there were other chores to do. The entrance snow slope had melted enough for the rigging to become awkward, and there were a fair few other pitches deeper in the cave that had been rigged rather precariously with limited rope and bolts in the heat of exploration excitement.

So the surviving members of the A-team and a new cohort of explorers set about bolting, rigging, and capping to make the journey to the pointy end a bit more manageable. The entrance pitches were rebolted and rerigged, the Sphincter (a tight meander at about -100m) was capped to oblivion, and a few traverse bolts were thrown in here and there to replace some of the more "creative" naturals.

They even put a tarp up to store kit by the entrance.

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And then the pushing team went in, which is where Andrew's post leaves off.

Travelling light, having already moved most of the rope down to the end, they made it down in record time. They dropped the last pitch and headed off into the unknown...

The unknown turned out to be a deep and remarkably slippery meandering rift. If you've ever been to Afton Red Rift in Devon then imagine that but on Alpine steroids. Undettered they free climbed what they could and bolted and rigged what they couldn't. After 3 pitches, about 50m of depth and 50m of horizontal wriggling they found themselves at the top of a large and deep aven.

As the water from the rift poured down the pitch the character of the surrounding cave changed completely - rusty red crumbling rock turning dark and brutally sharp. And at the bottom of the pitch this impenetrable rock forced the water down into an even tighter, sharper, and lower meander than had carried it before.

Running out of time and with a literall uphill struggle ahead of them the pushing team put this continuation behind them and set off back for the surface. The cave is no longer the tiny entrance series that it once was, and by the time they reached the surface the sun was setting.

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So the story of thundergasm continues - the new passage needs surveying, new leads need exploring, and more fun needs to be had.

(Underground photos to come when I collect the cave camera from the cave!)
 
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