Got back yesterday from a camping trip down WUG yesterday; still knackered...
We left on Tuesday morning at around 11am after a brief Cavelink related delay, heading up the hill and down the pitches towards camp. Due to the snow above the entrance, the entrance pitches (including the Tyrolean traverse a few pitches down) were exciting drippy and the Gimp Mac (an old/cheap waterproof, Dachstein patent pending) were essential for avoiding freezing in the cold snowmelt water...
After the entrance pitches, the drippiness went away and it was back to the usual fairly dry descent. After a few more pitches we went down the 70 (70m of pitches) and then the 110 (80m of pitches as the current rope avoids the bottom). This is followed by a few more pitch series, the Meander (a traverse at different levels across the top of the meander), various awkward pitches and final the final pitch series until the base of the pitches is reached.
The cave then changes character completely. Instead of vertical shafts and vadose canyons, you immediately walk into giant fossil phreatic tubes with mud and rubble floors. A short pleasant walk reaches the top of Deep Sludge, a ramp with a vertical height loss of around 120m. Some of the ramp is on rubble, but most is on a horrifically sticky mud which liberally coats itself onto your gear and makes your boots weigh twice as much as usual.
Eventually the camp, which is actually very pleasantly positioned in the large tube on a dry mud floor, is reached. However, there is no rest for the wicked, and after dumping camping gear we headed on to help resurvey some nearby parts of the cave.
The onward route is via the Chutney Mine, a small dug crawl where the roof of the main passage drops. This leads into the large Chutney Chambers. A small awkward muddy slot - It's Not Ideal - near one wall leads to a small pitch down to continuing passage. This was the breakthrough in 2016 to the rest of the cave.
Our destination was the Glory Holes, a small very muddy dead-end passage, and another unnamed passage. After surveying, we headed back to camp for well-deserved food and sleep.
Meanwhile the other camping trip pushed a new tight lead at the head of Deep Sludge.
The next day we got up, ate breakfast, packed up the camp and headed off to the Left Fork, a passage off from the base of the pitches. One team set off to take photos of the passage, while we headed down into the Left Fork Basement, a small passage entered in the floor of the Left Fork passage. Unlike the mostly large tunnels of the Hirlatzh?hle, this was a much more British sized passage that wouldn't seem out of place in OFD. We surveyed 195m of passage which varied from tight boulder entrance to reasonable walking passage to rifty canyon to flat out crawl where the ceiling drops and finally ending in a chamber with a run-in boulder choke, probably from the Left Fork above.
After heading back to the base of the pitches, we began out ascent out. The ropes in the lower parts of WUG are liberally coated in mud, so your ascenders jam and don't bite on the rope. The pitches are also more difficult in the lowest 150m, with several awkward pitch heads and the meander which makes taking a big camping bag difficult. Finally after reaching the base of the 110 we still have most of the distance left but most of the difficulty is gone. A few hundred metres of prusiking later I finally escaped the muddy grasp of the Hirlatz, emerging shortly after midnight to clear starry skies.
Sadly my gear did not escape the muddy grasp of the Hirlatz and is still mostly brown...
And whilst Andrew is in Camelot recovering from his WUG trip, Nooty and I are sitting on an overnight bus to Cologne. Which is the perfect opportunity for me to post the promised cave photos!
UK Caving generously donated some Spanset 9mm rope to the expedition, and a bit of that made its way down Thundergasm. These photos show where it got used for
First things first, "Paranoia Pitch". This was last year's limit of exploration, and was named when the first explorers heard voices in the water trickling down it. Whilst it was dropped last year the shortage of rope meant that it was rigged on 2 threads and a single bolt rebelay, and even then two slings and a foot-loop had to be tied to the bottom for the explorers to be able to get close enough to the floor to free climb down.
As mentioned in my last post, the bottom of this pitch led to a long and deep alpine meander, which also needed bolting and rigging. Having learned to bolt in the very same cave last year, Nooty put his new skills to good use to enable this meander to be passed.
Meanwhile, Olly investigated some leads at the top of the pitch. These phreatic inlets, previously overlooked whilst the pitches were explored, became keyhole shaped rifts as they ascended, eventually becoming uncomfortably tight.
So instead he headed further up in the cave to "Mad Junction", where a drippy pitch drops into a sharp and tight rift. Here he placed his first bolts, and dropped the pitch into yet more vertical rift passage. He later returned with Krystal, where she also placed her own first bolts, to pursue the lead.
Whilst initially promising, the final pitch in this rift was completely blind save only for a tiny stream. In desperation Nooty attempted to worm his way into a tight muddy tube from a 2ft ledge nearly 10m off the floor. Being a Devon caver at heart he took remarkable enjoyment in this, but alas after 15 or 20m "Crawl of the Mountain Gimp" too became impassable even for him.
This leaves the Thundergasm team with fewer promising leads than they might like, but a survey full of question marks and a lot more to do. Perhaps Wolfo's enthusiastic capping can be put to good use to widen the rift at the deepest point in the cave? Or maybe the maze of rifts leading off from Paranoia Pitch will eventually relent after more determined efforts.
We are coming towards the end of the expedition now. The entrances pitches of Thundergasm and Blood Moon have been derigged, and the last camping trip down WUG should be coming out early in the morning.
I am still recovering from my final trip down WUG. This was a bounce trip with Axel to push a lead in Uphill Gardeners, a rising inlet passage that leads from the base of the main pitches. After a relatively faff-free morning we set off at 8:30am and were underground by 11am. Three hours saw is at the base of the pitches, and another hour saw us at the current lead.
As Uphill Gardeners is directly off the base of the pitches it is not well-positioned for a camping trip since this would involve the extra trips to and from camp, hence our bounce plan. Uphill Gardeners is walking passage (with many small bouldery climbs) which slowly heads up towards the surface. Unlike most WUG passage there are actual formations - stalagmites, flowstone and other calcite formations, suggesting this passage is very old. We hope it will pop out somewhere on the surface in the vicinity of the bar!
Previous progress was halted at a chamber where the walking passage ended but there was a possible continuation at a higher level. Below this entrance is a mud slope, ending in a flowstone overhang. Consequently Axel bolted a lengthy traverse around the top rim of the chamber. The mud was a real problem; the hardest part of the climb, according to Axel, was getting feet in and out of the muddy etriers.
The Fischer through bolts we were using held steady even in surprisingly poor rock. This was good as the rock quality was very variable!
After about 4 hours, Axel had reached the upper continuation - which went! Unfortunately we didn't have time to do any proper survey, and therefore restricted ourselves to the first 100m of passage but what we saw was one of the nicest passages in WUG. It has a dry mud floor, easy walking, a good draught and formations as well.
We then cooked a freeze-dried meal each and started to head out. We were at the base of the pitches at around 10am and took a respectable 6 hours to prussik out, meaning we got out the cave around 4am and we're back in the hut and ready for bed around 4am.
I am still recovering, but doing my first bounce was good fun if incredibly tiring!
Since last years connection between Wot-U-Got Pot and the Hirlatz the combined depth of the Hirlatzh?hle system is 1560m, making it tied at ninth deepest cave in the world with the Sistema Huautla. Also last year, a connection was made between the nearby caves of Burnies and Blood Moon. These two latter caves sit at a higher altitude than WUG, with the entrance of Burnies sitting about 58m higher than WUG. Less than 60m separate WUG and Blood Moon, with several leads heading from Blood Moon toward WUG.
Higher still is the cave of PL2. This is a classic Dachstein cave - cold, drafty, narrow, hard, and generally unpleasant. Originally pushed in the late 80s by a Polish expedition, the cave ended in a 100m free-hang into the largest chamber in the Dachstein, lying only a short distance away from WUG. A large branch passage exists from WUG heading towards PL2, and re-surveying last year positioned the end of this passage at 40m below and 20m away from the end of PL2, with a high-level continuation visible from the foot of an aven.
The connection with PL2 would add some 78m to the depth of the Hirlatz, positioning it as the world?s sixth deepest and Europe?s second deepest cave system. Pushing PL2 Passage from WUG was then one of the main focus?s of this expedition.
Mid-way through the expedition a team of Jean-Paul Sounier and Sylvain Furlan pushed this passage. Aid-climbing up the aven for 8m, they climbed an ascending canyon reaching a large chamber some 40m long by 15m wide. At the very end the draft emerged from the foot of a boulder run-in, with no way on apparent. A few days later Tom Foord, Tom Chapman and Nadia Raeburn-Cherradi went and surveyed this extension, and in conjunction with a surface survey between the WUG and PL2 entrances, this indicated that the two caves were separated by as little as 10m. They looked at the choke and Tom F had been able to poke his head in enough to see black spaces just above the underside of the choke. Without tools they hadn?t been able to do any proper digging, but it was felt that the choke might be a short one, and with a bit of luck it might be possible to collapse the boulders and climb upwards into the PL2 chamber.
So, on Tuesday morning Joel Corrigan, Tom Foord, Christan Vogel (Wolfo) and I set off on a camping trip with the hope of connecting WUG and PL2. Laden with gear, including a huge 1.2m long crowbar we made sluggish progress down to the bottom of the ropes at -580m. Ditching our camping gear, we made off into the huge horizontal tunnels that make up the majority of WUG. After a half-hour tramp up and down over boulders we reached the turn-off for PL2 passage. This passage was originally pushed by Joel Corrigan and company some 8/9 years ago, and started off as a series of short upward rope pitches separated by sections of muddy horizontal passage. The third of these climbs is particularly awkward, being a dismal trudge up a mud ramp while struggling to move jammers on the greasy rope. Lord only knows how Joel climbed this originally. At the top is a squeezy boulder choke, which finally pops up into another big horizontal borehole. Unusually for WUG this passage is filled with old muddy flowstone, with some big pillars and stals visible. Some of the old calcite is disintegrating into fine calcite needles, which sit in the mud and make it remarkably clumpy, wellies can swell to three times their size within a few steps.
Up Jean-Paul and Sylvain?s ropes we went, skinny 8m bootlace rope, exactly what you want when you are completely caked in mud. We reached the chamber after some 10-11 hours of hard caving. While Joel and Tom set up a stove to make a hot meal Wolfo and I started prodding the choke. The first few boulders were easy to drop out of the roof, enough to reveal that the black spaces were just more voids in boulders. The boulders seemed to continue up, tightly packed for several metres. After 5 minutes it was apparent that we weren?t breaking through, but since we?d come all this way we continued on making increasingly futile progress for some 45 minutes. Caked in mud and frozen by the powerful draft, we gave up.
Joel and Tom had enough energy to climb a nearby mud slope and drop a tight pitch at the far side. This dropped into a small chamber going nowhere. Other drafts were followed into chokes in the floor, but there was nothing happening. We started the grim plod back down the passage. At around six in the morning we arrived at camp, then began the chores. Gathering water from camp was a particularly unwelcome task, involving hauling water drums up a series of awkward climbs and pitches from the foot of a drippy waterfall. Finally at 10 in the morning, as Europe set about it?s day, we went to bed with over 18 hours of caving behind us.
Waking at 4pm, we spent the day sorting gear and closing up camp for another year. The WUG camp is a fairly pleasant space to while away the day, once you?re dry and active it?s fairly warm. Also, a bit of music makes it a much more homely space. At midnight, we set off for the surface, collecting various bits of kit along the way, arriving on the surface to morning sunshine.
Sadly, WUG remains at the same depth it did at the start of the exped. We?ll continue to push both Blood Moon, Burnies and PL2 in search of a connection to a higher cave. Who knows, perhaps pushing from above in PL2 will reveal something not obvious from below in WUG?
I seem to recall after the tigth pitch head at about -200m you emerge into huge canyon passage with water surging in from all over the place, this is just before the 70m. My memory is hazy, it's been many years but has all the avens here been explored, this seems like a large convergence point to me.
To be honest while I wouldn't know if they had, I suspect none of them have been explored by bolt climbing up - most of the focus has been getting down, rather than going up and trying to push up all the inlets (which inevitably just lead to surface chokes in most cases). Bolt climbing all the avens on the pitches would probably take 20 years of expedition on its own...
So the expedition is winding up now, and most people are either home or on the way home. I hope everyone involved enjoyed themselves, and hope people enjoyed the reports. I am hoping for a few more reports still to come and I will thank the sponsors again who helped make it all possible, but for now let me just say thanks to everyone who helped in any way. And if anyone has any issue with anything to do with the expedition, let me direct you to our relevant department... :tease:
Tiger Trap was my first cave on the Dachstein Expedition. In 2018 I arrived up the mountain and my first trip beyond the Wiesberghaus was a prospecting trip in Schladmingelloch, a huge glacial corrie. One of the caves that Joel advised us to visit was the C-106 (Tiger Trap). This was a promising lead he?d looked at in 2005, and was happy to turn over to the young folk.
The entrance is a 2m square horizontal opening, dropping down onto a large snowbank that you can shuffle down into a 6m square chamber. The most obvious route out of this is a climb up and over a loose pile of scree and then down into the foot of an aven. Leading off from this is a narrow calcited rift, that ended in a minuscule squeeze. Here, Rob Moffat somehow managed to squeeze through, descending through several more squeezes to the head of a pitch he estimated at 30m deep. But no-one else was able to follow.
More interesting was the discovery of a 16m pitch off the entrance chamber, accessed via a flat-out crawl over scree. Later it transpired that the cave had been visited by a prospecting party in 2017, and they hadn?t found the pitch as it was covered by the snow slope.
The interest in Tiger Trap was in it?s position 800m above the recent extensions at the far end of WUG. If a more direct way could be found to far end of WUG this might open up the area for further explorations. Also, given the position of Tiger Trap at the back of the Schladmingelloch corrie, with numerous large choked shafts above and beyond the cave, there was the possibility to break into a large shaft series that could descend anything up to 800m before hitting the horizontal levels.
Flash forward to 2019.
A group of Irish cavers had flown out a drill, bolting kit, and a capping kit with Tiger Trap planned as a key project. The group pushing the cave was Petie Barry, Adam Prior, Emily Punzalan, and John Paul Wallace. After reaching the cave we got off to a poor start with me forgetting my SRT kit, and realising that we?d left all the through-bolts at Camelot. JP heroically lent me his SRT kit and went off on a two-hour round hike to pick up the through-bolts. To pass the time until JP returned the rest of us went to cap the squeeze at the end of the main passage. After setting off two caps, Adam squeezed through and reported that the 30m pitch was actually 10m free-climb into the foot of a large aven, with a possible continuation. It took about 6 more caps before the squeeze was passable to SRT kit-clad cavers of a more average build. We called this passage Righty Tighty. By now JP was back with a fistful of through-bolts, and a bit sunburned after two hours in the sun.
So off to the other lead, the 16m pitch. This was soon rigged and dropped. At the bottom there was another drop of 6m, and also a boulder-choked crawl under the wall of the pitch that seemed to lead into a large chamber. I kept rigging down, with the 6m pitch dropping to the head of a 3m pitch, after which a short crawl lead to a 15m pitch. By now we?d run out of rope and metalwork, so I drilled several holes in preparation of another push the following day. While I?d been drilling, Adam and Emily had dug out the boulder-choked crawl to reach the head of a booming 23m pitch. This was a very promising lead! So at the end of the day we?d turned our two leads into three, a very satisfying return. The main route ending in the 15m pitch we called the Sunburn Series, the big pitch we called Next Big Thing, expecting it to be just that, a huge never-ending lead.
Expecting to drop a huge number of pitches, we carted up 100m of rope and about 25 hangers and maillons. We went straight for the jugular, bolting and descending Next Big Thing. Alas, at the bottom a 6m free-climb lead to a progressively narrower rift that quickly pinched off. Leaving the other three to survey, I grabbed a 50m rope and headed back up the pitch to continue rigging the Sunburn Series. As I approached the end of the previous day?s rope I suddenly heard water falling. It was as if someone had turned on a shower, it was that instant. Thunderstorms had been forecast, so this was no great surprise. We ditched the gear and high-tailed it for the entrance chamber, spending 2.5 hours sitting in a shelter listening to the thunder rolling outside and making inane chit-chat. Eventually Emily tired of the inane chit-chat and decided to make a bolt for Camelot in the rain, the rest of us followed her lead.
Straight down to the end of the Sunburn Series today, popped in two bolts and dropped the pitch. At the bottom, the only way on was a desperate squeeze along a rift that only Adam could manage. A little further along he found a narrow 8m pitch down a rift, which was blocked by several boulders. With a lot of capping needed to even reach the pitch, this lead was more or less dead. We went all the way back to the surface for some sunlight. Adam and JP headed back to Camelot, eager to beat the forecast rain. Emily and I were happy enough to chance pushing the Righty Tighty rift, and headed back and pushed through the previously capped squeeze. A few further squeezes down the rift we reached a tight squeezy pitch head. I popped in a bolt and abseiled down through the unpleasant drippy squeeze. At the bottom of the 8m pitch was a 5m diameter chamber with the way on a snaggy hole through boulders. I wriggled in, in full kit and gimp mac, and got properly shredded. Beyond was 6m of rift reaching another 15m aven. The way out of this was a tight rift, which reached a 6m pitch. Sadly this was too tight to get to. However, it was clearly continuing beyond, and drafting strongly. We left an 8m rope for a push the next day.
A solo derig with Camilla Casella for surface support / donkey work. I derigged the Sunburn Series and then went down Righty Tighty to retrieve all the gear. Overnight I?d decided I wasn?t bothered capping the tight pitch head - in spite of it?s promise it was only 33m down and already getting fairly desperate. Capping the pitch might only suck us into an unending circle of miserable pushing drips with increasingly committing ongoing passage. Joel had warned me that Schladmingelloch caves are typically miserable and hard. While struggling to derig the tight drippy pitch and fighting my way up through the squeezes with a rope bag I felt vindicated with this decision. Perhaps next year if we?ve nothing else on we?ll have a crack again.
Total passage surveyed was c.200m, and 57m deep at the deepest. A fun adventure while it lasted.
Still a few more posts to come, but I want to thank the sponsors again:
First obviously UKCaving who provided 200m of 9mm Spanset rope. This can be seen, in use, earlier in the thread
Fischer provided us, free of charge, with 200 non-stainless and 100 stainless M8 throughbolts. I'm always a lot happier hanging on a quality German manufacturer's bolts rather than no-name (or worse, Screwfix) bolts!
The new web shop SpeleoConcepts gave us a fantastic deal (roughly half price) on 150 stainless hangers. These have been put to good use!
We also got 6 new Vaude sleeping bags, organized by the visiting Austrians (thanks!) and had three tackle sacks donated by two British cavers (thanks!).