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Rope Sponsor Entry - CUCC, Austria


Active member
Caving in the Schwarzmooskogelhohle System, Loser Plateau, Austria with CUCC, 1976?2017

Since 1976, CUCC have been visiting the Loser Plateau near Bad Aussee, Austria, to explore the Schwarzmooskogelhohle cave system. As of 2016, the cave is now over 120km long and over 1000m deep, making it one of the largest in Europe. The expedition is one of the largest and longest running student expeditions in the UK, and is one of the leading training grounds for students new to alpine caving to learn how to explore new alpine caves safely and scientifically.


Frank Tully striding heroically towards Top Camp, with the Loser Plateau and Braunenzinkel in the background looking out towards the Dachstein Plateau in the far distance. Photo: Chris Densham.

There are a huge number of known entrances to the system, but there are four which stand out as key to understanding the history of exploration. The first major breakthrough came in 1983, when an entrance called Stellerweg (or entrance number 115/201) was pushed deep to find a sump close to the altitude of the resurgence in Alt Aussee lake, suggesting little potential for further exploration at this depth. Therefore, exploration began to focus on finding higher entrances to the cave system. In 1988, Kaninchenhoehle (161) was found and thus began extensive horizontal discoveries along with vertical gain, suggesting that connecting up entrances across the system was a viable exploratory goal. After potential from 161 began to wane, a new entrance was duly found: Steinbruckenhoehle (204), in 1999. In 2001 a new deep level called the Subway was pushed to find a streamway called Razordance ? a rarity in this cave system. In that year, we also established our current top camp bivvy site beneath a natural stone bridge next to one of the entrances to 204. Five years later in 2006, the entrance 258 was found, which led to a cave now known as Tunnocksschacht. This cave has been described as the ?corporation of Schwarzmooskogel? because it keeps absorbing the smaller caves around it and has so far been key to unlocking a number of phreatic levels in the system.

One of these caves was Balkonhoehle, which was re-discovered in 2014 and has been a focus of exploration alongside Tunnocks ever since (it was connected to Tunnocks in 2015). Recent exploration in Tunnocks has been focused on going to deeper phreatic levels in the cave, along a nylon highway of ropes down pitches such as String Theory, Procrastination, Number of the Beast, Inferno and Kraken, which have all been discovered in the last 5 years. In 2015, exploration of leads at the bottom of Kraken was becoming a bit much with 15?20 hour trips required if going on the bounce. Therefore, in 2016 it was decided that we would erect a camp in an excellent sandy site close to some water at the base of Kraken pitch (around ?650m). From here, exploration of deep phreatic levels proved extremely successful, with over 3.5km being found over the course of 7 camping trips (typically lasting 48 hours, though one ended up lasting longer than intended after an incident dubbed ?Indian Rope Trick?). One of these discoveries was an unprecedentedly large river passage ramping steeply down to a depth of -903m, and which is still not fully explored. Students made up a contingent of every camping trip. 


Wob Rotson, Katey Bender and Chris Densham at Underground Camp. Photo: Ian Peachey.

The plan for this year

2017 holds a lot of promise for extensive vertical and horizontal discoveries in the cave system, and will run for 6 weeks from 9th July?20th August. We have a roughly triple-headed plan of attack for this year:

? Go back to Camp Kraken and push the deep leads. This is the main objective of the expedition, as we left the camp fully rigged from the year before and after this year it seems unlikely that we will return there. There is around another 200m of depth potential in this area before hitting the level of the sump in Stellerweg. In 2016, the camp was set up for 3 weeks, with a team always underground on a rota. We would aim to do the same again this year.
? Head into blank space in Balkonhohle. This cave is an excellent place for novice alpine cavers to explore: it is not a long trip to most of the pushing fronts, the caving is very pleasant but the exploration still feels challenging and exciting. In 2016, an area of Balkonhohle called ?Hilti-a-Plenty? yielded excellent potential for big discoveries, with a vast black chamber, ?Galactica?, being discovered on a final push-and-derig trip.
? Return to Organhohle. This cave was explored in the 1980s and 1990s over 2 trips by UBSS (who form a substantial exped contingent along with ULSA) and is in a different part of the plateau to Tunnocks. It is close to the Schoenberg system which is explored by German cavers annually. The deepest phreatic level explored here seems to offer potential for similar phreatic development to Tunnocks. The cave is more testing by most accounts than the other two objectives, and will require a separate camp near the entrance (less walking and also less strain on top camp), along with a sustained rebolting effort. Improvements in lighting and a focus on horizontal exploration this time should yield exciting discoveries.

The long-term plan for exploration

The discovery of water at such great depths in Tunnocks has prompted a renewed interest in the streamways found in other parts of the system, namely in Stellerweg and Razordance/the Subway. In 2018, there is a tentative plan to return to the Subway, which will require some considered planning as it is quite deep in the cave.  There has also been discussion of returning to 115 to rebolt and explore the cave again, as it is now a long time since it was visited with comparatively primitive kit. However, this will require quite a lot of resources and a willing team. Deep leads in other parts of Tunnocks, namely Champagne on Ice and Clayton?s Cock-up, would also merit further exploration to see if we can push them to a satisfactory conclusion, though this will require a lot of rope as both leads go to around -500m.


Katey Bender in Das Lieden von der Erde (Song of the Earth), a huge river passage found last year. A full report of this trip is available here. Photo: Ian Peachey.

Why would CUCC?s expo benefit from the rope?

As can be seen, a lot of the current leads in this cave require vast amounts of string to rig them. Last year, a de-rigging team using the paella (Pulling An Extremely Long Length Altogether) technique removed well in excess of 1km of rope from Tunnocks alone in one trip. The expedition is also a focal point for novice university cavers to learn alpine caving techniques: this year, there are around 10 student cavers attending the expedition who have no prior alpine caving experience. To ensure the expedition is successful in both finding new cave and training new cavers, we would really benefit from additional resources so that a number of leads can be explored simultaneously and easily. Currently, the expedition has somewhere in the region of 1500m of rope, but another kilometre or so is likely to be required to fully achieve our objectives. As such, an additional 300m would be immensely beneficial. The amount of use and muddy conditions in these caves also mean that rope in this system wears particularly quickly, so we need to replace rope at a faster rate than, for example, when caving in the UK.


Peachey and Katey with a pile of rope for just one of the 8 monster pitches which are required to reach Camp Kraken. Photo: Fleur Loveridge.

What will we offer?

Our base camp in Bad Aussee has extensive computer facilities, with ?the Potato Hut? offering the opportunity for blogging throughout the expedition (though the survey geeks will be unhappy at further time not spent drawing up!). Members have written blogs in the past (eg https://daysyearoff.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/the-kraken-wakes/) and we have some quite budding photographers on the team. We hope you will consider us for sponsorship and look forward to hearing from you.

Website: http://expo.survex.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/cucc_expo



Staff member
Challenging logistics but incredibly exciting prospects.

You will have a PM


New member
Drills batteries and computers have been fettled, Cambridge Sainsbury's has been bought out of couscous, milk powder and packet soups (apart from the mushroom flavour, yuk), and the CUCC expedition vanguard is now crossing the Alps. Unlike Hannibal, we are not furnished with elephants, although rumours abound of (inflatable) orcas and flamingos that may also have seen active service on a certain Irish caving expedition this year.

Really, everything but the mushroom.

Somewhere in between the flurry of emails about exactly which type of custard we should or should not buy, the training weekend and briefing session took place alongside the BCA party weekend up in Castleton. We discovered that drilling holes too close together does indeed result in bits of rock shearing off, prusiking when you lose or break a jammer is very hard work, and that the event bar was an excellent source of sustenance while waiting for "the rescuer" to figure out which ropes should go where! Main takeaway: try not to need rescuing... Many thanks to Andrew Atkinson for his survey training, bolting and rescue workshops - and an incredibly welcome strawberry cake!

Teaching teenagers to use power tools

Prusiking with only a chest jammer and no tape: hard work. Even harder work: getting back down again.

A short lull in hauling proceedings

The UKCaving rope will be picked up from Badlad and Pegasus this week, and will be in Austria by the weekend where it will join the stocks we already have out there for a good soaking session in the weir by our base camp. With newly discovered shafts each year close to and even exceeding 200m (Purple Lupin in 2015 was over 180m top to bottom; Long Drop last year could not be fully measured due to a lack of resources but certainly surpassed 300m), this 300m length of rope will certainly be in high demand! Perhaps this year we will be able to keep the free-hanging knot passes to a minimum... Stay tuned to hear how our campaign unfolds as the first wave set up top camp and begin rigging!

The top camp gear stash appears to survived the winter

Soon this mere rock bridge will be transformed into a veritable palace of bivouacking delight (for certain values of "palace" and "delight")


Active member
So, the first week of CUCC Austria 2017 is over. It has been a slightly uncertain ride, with not many experienced CUCC members being around to coordinate the youth. Luckily, The Professor aka Mark Dougherty showed us what he?s made of by motorcycling for 2 days from central Sweden to be here and show us all the ropes in between G?ssers (the beverage of choice in Austria, tasty and cheap). After Brendan, Nathan, Luke and George had arrived after dehydrating themselves and, in George?s case, sustaining an annoying ankle niggle Via Ferrataing in the Dolomites, Base Camp (the hut that ?keeps the computers dry?) was set up and supplies were brought up to the Top Camp, with more being dug out of their storage in a big iceplug. Brendan in particular enjoys these trips up to Top Camp as they give him a much-needed excuse to eat more than one lunch (for Brendan life is just a succession of lunches broken up by playing with spreadsheets in his role as CHECC Treasurer). The guys got on with setting up the bivvy, installing the water collection system and setting up the main tarp.


Brendan Hall digs into a hard-earned lunch, the first of four that day, at the StoneBridge. You can actually see his second one already lined up if you are in any way observant.


The bivvy tarp (white) and water collection tarp (green, feeding the butts) set up and ready to use. The wooden frame is for mounting the solar panels, kindly done by acting Chief Nerd Martin Green.

This done, myself, Nadia and K Brook arrived after a month of parading around Europe pretending to climb to lend a hand carrying and, more importantly, drinking. What we really needed, however, was a certified Nerd to set up the computers we were keeping dry, and also to configure the solar charging system at Top Camp. The day after and our saviour arrived, none other than Martin Green, officially the highest ranking Nerd on the expedition at this point clocking in at around Level 7 (open-ended scale: currently Wookey and Julian Todd are vying for top position, but who knows, one day a hot kid on the block could put both to shame!). Soon we were getting into the swing of things, and Martin had the server up and going, which importantly meant that we could now play a wealth of music on the expo soundsystem! By a wealth of music, what I really mean is ?This Corrosion? by Sisters of Mercy, which has been the unofficial expo anthem ever since everyone accidentally brought the same album on tape during a very wet year in 1993. It also meant that we could get on with some much-needed Nerding (it?s what they live for in Cambridge) in the form of drawing up surveys from last year (apparently 8 of mine had been left ? naughty!).


Nerds at work. This activity must always be supplemented with alcohol to heed progress and ensure there is some Nerding left for later members of the expedition to do. And, indeed, for next years attendees...

Myself and Luke were determined to avoid doing this, however, and decided to go caving instead. Over the course of 3 trips we have rigged to a depth of around -400m in Tunnockschacht en route to the camp there, using over 500m of rope and well over 150 hangers. At the bottom of the always tiresome entrance series, we discovered a number of icicles, melting rapidly and looking a bit the worse for wear. Climate change is clearly having a pronounced effect on the snow conditions on the Plateau, with many former snow plugs no longer present and the usual snow slope at the bottom of the entrance series greatly diminished in volume. The rope lengths for the pitches were difficult to judge as in past years they have been rigged off a reel using a ?chop-and-go? approach, and a couple of the rebelays had to be rigged slightly tightly with a couple of skin-of-the-teeth knot passes thrown in. The long lengths of 9mm are being saved for pushing deeper in the cave, so gash 10mm and 10.5mm was needed (but not 11mm ? we swore, never again). Elliott arrives today with more of that, along with our 300m of sponsored rope, big excite! Only another 4 pitches need to be rigged before we reach camp now, but these may prove to be the trickiest ones. I have managed to avoid using any skyhooks so far, but that looks set to change. Chris Densham bolted the last section along with Anthony Day and Ben Whetton. The latter two are very tall individuals, and Densham is a big fan of acrobatic deviations, so I expect some entertaining situations! Stay tuned, many more updates on the way?



Me rigging the entrance series, where a number of icicles were found to be a bit in the way. They remain for now, until the destruction team get off their arses and up the hill. Last week it was 'too misty'... Photo credit for all: Luke Stangroom.


New member
On Calories.

Last year, a few days before setting off on a week-long hike, I found myself in a Canadian supermarket weighing up the pros and cons of different energy bars. ?Look,? I squealed excitedly to my companion, ?this one has almost a THIRD more calories per 100g! YES PLEASE!? ?CavingPig,? she laughed, ?that's the exact opposite of what any girl I know would say!?

Gender stereotypes aside, eating enough is a hugely important consideration for any sport, and caving expeditions are certainly no exception. When you could be expending upwards of 6000 calories a day, you need to consume as much food as you can force down, and preferably in a form that?s incredibly simple to prepare. Haute cuisine is the last thing on your mind when you?re feeling absolutely shagged after a 16-hour surveying mission, but in a bivouac two hours? hike from the nearest roadhead (or an underground camp several hours? journey further on from that), chips with everything just isn?t an option ? lightweight and compact is very much the order of the day. Throw into the mix the fact that as a student expedition, we?re on a budget as tight as a hipster?s trousers ? what?s a hard-up undergrad to do?

Having enough to eat, and therefore enough energy, is our primary consideration. If this was all we had to worry about, we?d be buying every supermarket in Cambridge out of lard. High calorific value, incredibly cheap, you can burn it for heat and light at night or underground, or even spread it on your skin for insulation if you?re contemplating a dip in one of the beautiful but frigid Alpine lakes that abound in the area. However, there are good reasons why a 100% lard diet is not the best choice (and not just because there are a few vegetarians on the trip).

Plenty of carbohydrate in your Top Camp diet is essential to replenish glycogen stores and stave off the onset of fatigue after a hard day?s surveying ? porridge, couscous, noodles, tortellini and instant mashed potato are our Top Camp staples. For the past couple of years, we?ve received pesto as a sponsorship item, which provides easy calories and makes pretty much anything it?s added to hugely more exciting. A lot of our calories come from boil-in-the-bag curries ? although not the lightest thing to cart up a mountainside, these are quick to cook, cheap, and there?s a nice wide range of them to stave off food boredom. They also provide some fat and protein, which can otherwise be slightly more difficult to come by at Top Camp (apart, of course, from in the ubiquitous flapjack). We tend to take the approach of ?buy all vegetarian, then if you want meat/cheese you can add that yourself? ? so you'll often see dried sausages and hard cheese being fiercely guarded by their owners.


For the curious, here?s a typical day of Top Camp?s finest gourmet cuisine. Do you have any particular expedition nosh favourites or tips ? or must-avoids?

Instant porridge is a firm favourite. Comes in several flavours, can have syrup/spices added for extra taste sensations. Sprinkle over some optional Choco Muesli for an even wilder ride.

Second breakfast
Unless we?re being super keen and getting in a cheeky Alpine start, I like to make like a hobbit and treat myself to second breakfast. Usually noodles. Often turns into a game of ?guess the contents of the package? since the ingredient lists tend to all be in Asian languages I can?t read. Instant mashed potato with sponsorship pesto and/or wild chives growing round the bivi is another solid choice.

Penne for your thoughts?

Caving snacks
Flapjack, chocolate, then more flapjack. Some people are made of superhero material and are able to complete 600 m of prusiking without a snack stop. I am not one of those people. Chocolate bars are great for a boost of energy to get up the final pitch series, but I sometimes feel even worse after the glucose high. Flapjack contains much more in the way of complex carbohydrates, keeping you caving for longer ? hence the industrial quantities we bake to bring out each year!

Another sponsorship favourite; highly motivational.

Turns out it?s easier to mix when you don't try to make 7.5 kg in one go.

The highlight of any evening at Top Camp is surely a steaming curry! Each year brings a new roulette as we ascertain which of the latest batch are burn-your-ears-off spicy and which have the most interestingly textured chunks. Paneer butter masala (which somehow contrives to be vegan) with many scoops of couscous is my fave. If you?re feeling adventurous, Penny Market tortellini offers a cheesier and/or meatier option ? pair with sponsorship pesto for maximum Italian vibes.

Sarah hits the cheesy peas.

It?s so important to drink plenty while caving, since fluid loss will reduce performance more than any other factor. Yet with the temperature in the caves at 0?C?2?C on average, the urge to drink is often diminished, and dehydration can easily sneak up. A weak solution of around 6 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt in a litre of water, flavoured to taste with some cordial, is excellent for keeping hydrated. We also get through veritable lakes of cup-a-soup, hot chocolate and tea (sometimes with milk powder added, sometimes with custard powder instead as a surprise when things aren?t labelled properly). Speaking of custard, purchasing the right type is highly important. You don't want ?custard powder? ? what you need is ?instant custard mix?. Otherwise you end up with lots of unhappy people in the bivi holding steaming cups of cornflour.

A wee nip of your preferred local schnapps is the perfect accompaniment to stargazing (the Perseids are peaking mid-Expo) or Dachstein TV (AKA lightning storms on the mountain opposite us). All in moderation, obviously ? would hate to be hungover and in control of a DistoX. Imagine the margin of error.

Of course, when we head down for some R&R at Base Camp, all bets are off! The excitingly gas-powered deep-fat fryer is Expo?s most popular appliance for good reason (last year, deep fried Mars Bars and Bakewell tarts featured alongside the more traditional chipped potatoes), while the kitchens at the Gasthof across the road do a roaring trade in sp?tzle and schnitzel for those feeling flash and in need of a protein hit. And there?s truly nothing finer than washing off the layers of cave grime in the river with a chilled G?sser beer.

Of course my survey drawings are up to date.


Just checking I can remember how to post photos, hopefully it works...

We took this photo on Wednesday, it's of the ice waterfall in Ice Cock aven, this is also where the tunnocks - balcony connection was made in 2015 extending the SMK system to 114km at the time. 


Julia and Antony even made a cake to commemorate the event  :beer:


I'll post a proper report later, I was going to write about lunch but looks like that's already been covered quite extensively  ;)


New member
Elliott and Katey's first week on Expo

Elliott started the journey to Austria in London on Thursday, July 13th. He then travelled to Braintree to Cambridge to Richmond to Ingleton then to Leeds for the night at mine. Meanwhile I was panic-packing my entire life, moving out of my house and packing for expo all at once. The next morning we left for expo via Cambridge to pick up some survey instruments and Braintree to pick up all the remaining expo food ? a more challenging prospect than it sounds given that the van was already very full when we set off from Leeds, owing to nearly 1.5km of rope between sponsorship rope, rope we?d bought, and kit from the tackle store.


Lots and lots of rope. Photo Elliott Smith.

We finally made it to Dover in time to catch the ferry after the one we?d booked, and after an uneventful overnight drive we arrived at base camp around 4pm on Saturday, July 15th.

All the rope magically disappeared from the van and everything that wasn?t new rapidly disappeared up the hill with the contingent of keen carriers; all the new rope (1km!) rapidly disappeared into the river to soak overnight. Chris Densham turned up about an hour after us so we celebrated the end of the drive with some schnapps and called it a night.

The next day, after nursing a hangover (or four) we pulled the rope out of the river and started processing it ? stretched it, dried it off, and packed it into tackle sacks to carry up the hill.


Chris Densham removing rope from the river. Photo Elliott Smith.


300m of rope packed into two tacklesacks (Katey Bender and Chris Densham). Photo Elliott Smith.


1km of rope disappeared into tacklesacks. Chris Densham and Katey Bender labelling bags. Photo Elliott Smith.

Sunday evening we made the first of a couple of carries up the hill. As it turns out, 200m of rope is quite heavy; it was an ambitious first carry for me, but a good kickstart to the expo fitness regime. After the best intentions for a quick bounce carry on Monday morning followed by a shallow pushing trip in Balkonh?hle, Chris, Elliott and I ended up carrying in the morning then sitting in the sun all afternoon. This, however, was not a total loss as we managed to get all the kit sorted out for underground camp, meaning we were ready for the first camp the next day.

Despite our best intentions Elliott and I were allocated to the first underground camp to Kraken, planned for 2 nights ? entering Tunnocks on Tuesday and exiting Thursday afternoon, as there were thunderstorms expected Thursday late afternoon/evening. After last year?s experience being flooded in on the way up from a camping trip, Chris and I weren?t too keen on spending another chilly night at the bottom of a flooded pitch. A 600m descent saw Elliott and I at camp for about 4pm. On the final 40m free hang  the rope had, in fact, hit the bottom ? we had been slightly concerned after some not-so-confident noises from the team that had rigged down to camp. After leaving the ten in situ at the end of last year we weren?t expecting an easy set-up; the zips to the tent corroded shut, the puddle in the bottom of the tent and a good layer of mold were somewhat worse than expected. However, we soon drained the puddle, found use for a Therion protractor as an excellent mold-scraping tool, and sacrificed our spare buffs to mop up the remains and the bivi was soon back to a state fit for human habitation. Chris joined us a few hours later having fettled the rigging on the way down; we lit a few tea lights, had some dinner and settled in for a good night?s sleep.

Day 2 of underground camp saw us continue to the deepest passage in Tunnocksschacht ? Song of the Earth, pushed last year to -902m. Minimal rigging after most of the ropes were left in last year made for a quick descent and we soon reached the bottom of the cave. The deepest point of the cave is a mud sump with no way on, though we stopped off there to show Chris as he?d not been before and to take some photos.


Elliott Smith and Katey Bender, from teams 1 and 2 to visit the mud sump. Photo Chris Densham.

While there, after a brief ?oh bugger?, Elliott pointed out that there was a small airspace on the far side of the mud sump. Naturally, as the smallest person on the trip, I got posted down the hole. As I was headfirst down this rather tight hole, helmet off, Chris decided to take some photos.


?Just hold still Katey, this is a good photo!? Grumble grumble. Photo Chris Densham.

We noticed a small draft in the mud sump (very odd) but decided not to be Mendip cavers and rather to carry on with the phreatic passage that we knew was 10 minutes away. Through the very drafty, sandy dig to the pushing front!

The pushing front was a 6m climb, which I?d free climbed at the end of last year but which really needed a rope on to be safe. So, the first task was climbing up it and bolting it.


Katey Bender free-climbing to the pushing front. Photo Chris Densham.

That done, Elliott and Chris followed me up and we carried on to the exciting part. Elliott did a slightly dodgy semi free-climb, semi bolt climb up the most promising lead while Chris and I surveyed a couple unpromising leads.


Elliott Smith approximately bolt climbing. Photo Chris Densham.

We followed Elliott up around 30m until we ran out of rope, and hangers, and drill batteries all at once. However, we left 3 pitches ~20m to be dropped, which the next camp should be looking at right now?

That day?s work done we headed back to camp and, 2.5 hours later, we were all back and our dinner was cooking. We decided that, having not managed to kill off our lead, we?d earned a celebratory tot of rum in our evening hot chocolate! The next day the long prussic began; Chris was the last one out and made it back to top camp for 5:30pm, about a half hour after the thunderstorm started.

The next day Chris headed down the hill to draw up our survey while Elliott and I headed into Balcony for another dose of Vitamin D deficiency. Elliott, Rachel, Nadia and Phil went to survey and explore Galactica ? a really quite large chamber discovered at the very end of last year?s expo. Having surveyed it they found it was over 100m long, 40m wide and up to 90m high. Unfortunately the only lead went nowhere. Meanwhile Nathan, Adam and I went to Sloppy Seconds to drop one of the pitches in the area. We had a similar success rate to Galactica, though we taught Adam how to survey so it was a useful training trip for him.

This morning Elliott and I decided we?d had enough of caving and probably ought to draw up our surveys, so we headed down the hill for a day of ice cream and quality festering.



Where better to learn surveying than on an expedition, this year I was pleasantly surprised to learn the expedition had upwards of 6 distos, provided by ULSA, Chris D, CHECC and UBBS. Unfortunately they all needed recalibrating, having had previous bad experiences with disto calibrations I was reluctant to take any responsibility for the task, however it seemed others had their priorities set on drinking beer and sorting rope, so I headed out into the woods with some marking tat and the topodroid app on my phone.



I created a disto calibrating environment by tying bits of blue tat on trees to mark the relative locations of the 14 calibration points, with a stone tied to a long piece of string hanging off a branch for the up and down points. I got to work taking the 56 shots required to calibrate each disto following some instructions I found on the pocket topo website. It took me over three hours to calibrate all the distos to within acceptable calibration tolerances, repeating calibrations for one or two of them.

The distos are all up at top camp now ready to be used, apart from mine of course which remains in it?s glass display cabinet only to be used in case of emergency.  The (totally not posed) photographs below show us honing our surveying skills by resurveying a section of Bat Country discovered last year. 





New member
Perspective of a newcomer to expo

Having been caving for several years with CUCC, but having managed to successfully avoid Expo previously, 2017 was my first year in Austria exploring the caves of the L?ser plateau. I spent two weeks out there and, having returned home and had a few showers, here are some of my thoughts about the Expo experience.

I turned up on Expo shortly after the setup and rigging had been completed, meaning that some of my first trips were to the pushing edge of exploration. All of my trips this year were in Balkonh?hle (apart from a couple of trips down a new cave, found while prospecting; more on that below). This was more caving than I had done before on any trip: more depth, longer duration, and more technical SRT in one place at the same time. Good fun. While I was confident with my caving before arriving, there was the inevitable mismatch in prussiking fitness between me and those who had already been out on Expo for a week or two. A few trips down to Galactica (one of the lower areas in Balkonh?hle at the start of Expo) started to sort that out.

There were other skills which I hadn?t had the opportunity to practice before: surveying, and photography. Since a lot of Expo is about surveying, that was a critical skill to learn. Thanks to the patience of Luke, Nadia and Rachel, I got enough practice on a couple of trips to feel confident about surveying. Rachel and I surveyed the bottom of Galactica (a huge chamber found at the end of last year?s expedition which, unfortunately, is an almost complete dead end due to fill from fault breakdown). Later on, Nadia, Nathan and I started surveying a new cave. Exciting to do; less exciting to try and work out how to write up afterwards. Thankfully, various people at base camp were quite helpful in guiding me through writing up surveys and tying a new cave into the overall survey.

One of the downsides I found on Expo was that knowing the set of A-leads to investigate was hard; the information mostly resides in a few people?s heads, rather than on a list somewhere. It was only during my second week on Expo when we got a relatively up-to-date survey to look at at top camp. This made it a bit harder to take the initiative to lead trips to the pushing front. Hence I became a sheep; a situation I was happy with, given it was my first year at Expo.

Prospecting was another activity which I got some practice at, due to a few days where the weather forecast was terrible (and the weather reality was rather nice). Given a bad forecast, going down Balkonh?hle is inadvisable due to the potential for getting flooded in (the Entrance series drains a lot of water). Prospecting seemed a safer option, and the possibility for finding the long-sought second entrance to Balkonh?hle was attractive.

We didn?t manage to find a second entrance to Balkonh?hle, but we did manage to find another promising cave (nicknamed Bad Forecast; I?m looking forward to the Austrian translation) which we pushed to -100m in a large phreatic chamber. The entrance passage is about 100m long at 45?, running contrary to the dip of the surrounding plateau, and doesn?t seem to take water. So at least we?ve found a cave people can do in wet weather (so far), and something for people to push if they?re bored of Balkonh?hle or Tunnocks. And I think we?ve now surveyed enough of it that the name can?t be changed, so that?s one more pun set in stone.

Weather was ever-present during my time on Expo: there was typically the threat of rain (also typically dismissed, correctly, by people). When there wasn?t rain, there was sunburn. A particularly entertaining two days of rain lead to us rebuilding the kitchen area of the bivvy, and me running out of reading material. Pro tip: bring more reading to top camp. Another pro tip: bring more interesting food; preferably things which can have the powdered custard from top camp added to them to increase their deliciousness. After much experimentation with various combinations of powdered food up there, I concluded that custard and smash is a timeless combination.


Active member
Quick stop press ahead of a fuller update in due course when I get some photos: we found 2 new caves in a previously totally unexplored area of the plateau which are both going big, leads at underground camp are still being explored, a new surface camp has been set up at Organhohle and we have now had 2 hospital visits. More to follow...


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blhall195 said:
Julia and Antony even made a cake to commemorate the event  :beer:


Just for the record, that's a trifle  ;) An excuse to get rid of THE WRONG CUSTARD (and some very alcoholic cherries, at least for trifle #1) and boast about the length of the system in one sugary package. I forget if that was trifle #2 or #3, but we definitely did one to celebrate the year the 100km mark was reached  :beer:


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One of the downsides I found on Expo was that knowing the set of A-leads to investigate was hard; the information mostly resides in a few people?s heads, rather than on a list somewhere.

There is supposed to be a list flakey, but your fellow 2016 expoers did an exceedingly poor job of sorting out such things last year after expo finished, so one was not updated/generated properly. Nevertheless (despite not going in Balkonhoehle last year, so knowing very little about it) I did collect what info I could find and put it in the list here: http://expo.survex.com/1623/264/qms.csv, so there was a list of sorts.

I understand that a 3-line whip will be in place this year so no-one can leave if any docs or surveys are out of date :) There will still be piles to do over winter, and I hope we can do a better job than last year, because, as you observe, it's a right pain if it doesn't get done.


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As the expo dinner approaches and the halfway point looms close, what exactly has CUCC expo 2017 achieved so far? Well, we?ve worked out one thing: deep Tunnocks is a stubborn beast that refuses to reveal its secrets easily. So far 5 camping trips have been completed, and the finale of last years? big find, Song of the Earth, ended in a huge chamber choked by mud and boulders, which George nearly became part of after having crawled into a boulder choke, only to pull on the ceiling and then nearly become encased in the cave. So, the chamber, named ?Big Lad?, is now dead, at least for a while. The other camping trips have turned some seemingly less promising leads near to Octopussy into howling chasms, most of which need dropping within the next week. Lots to do on that front. There is still some good windy phreatic passage to go at as well, after Densham, Nadia and Haydon descended a pitch to a very muddy floor only to miss some very draughty passage 5m above the floor. However, it was very very very muddy. So that was left as well.


Fleur Loveridge silhouetted against the massive backdrop of Galactica, which sadly died after very few trips. Photo: Brendan Hall.

Whilst all this excitement was occurring, Balkony was also progressing steadily. Further leads above Galactica, in an area called ?Nothing to See? because it had been overlooked last year were pushed, but mainly found to link into Galactica disappointingly. This might have happened much quicker, but for a critical factor. One of the great problems over the last 2 weeks has been a problem with one of the drill battery chargers. The older drills are taped with electrical tape and Wookey has extensively fettled them over the years. However, this year there was no qualified Nerd to nurture and care for them. Consequently, Luke Stangroom was the man left in charge of their care, with that responsibility soon to be passed to me (or hopefully someone else entirely), meaning that no one can really be sure how they work. There is soon to be a full consultation, but for now they are rationed very carefully. This seems to mean that myself and Luke get the ones that are correctly charged each day, and everyone else has to bodge, survey, use naturals or just resign themselves to their fate. There has been enough battery for plenty of pushing at a deeper level in Balkony, however, with a lead called ?Sloppy Seconds? still going to previously unrecorded depths in Balkony.


Silverback Stangroom begins the Great Battery Auction. The batteries numbered 7, 8 and 14 are the Lucky Ones. Or is it all in the hands of one man? Photo: Becka Lawson

Aside from established classics, there has been some serious development of the system in a previously totally unexplored area. Early on in week 2, George and Becka refound a cave about which Andy Waddington proclaimed "we haven't a kitten's chance in heck of finding this again". This was called No Helicopter Hole, or 110 in normal speak, and was very miserable and ultimately a fruitless endeavour. However, after some prospecting in the vicinity of this cave, we broke into excellent passage after 4 days of trying. Gl?cklich Schmetterlinge H?hle proved to be an excellent and very windy cave, albeit very loose, quite wet and a bit scary. This cave is now over 100m deep and 500m long after 3 days of work and still carries a gale through it. Very promising! Whilst this was occurring, Nadia was busy waiting for Nathan to bolt the cave next door, also with a howling draught, and then pulling a large rock onto herself, causing her fibula to fracture. In addition to this injury, Lydia Leather, after around 4 trips, took a trip to town on the expo bike (retrieved from the lake a few years back) and got the European and British braking systems the wrong way round and mashed up her left hand, resulting  in a premature return to the UK.


Left: Rachel with a gamse skull in front of 110. Dead. Very much like all the leads in 110. Photo: Becka Lawson. Right: Nadia looking pathetic and unimpressed after walking for 5 hours on a broken leg. The brace on her knee cost us ?150. Photo: Brendan Hall.

The other main source of excitement at Top Camp was the Mousetrap. No, not the 7 hour long play, but the contraption built by George to catch rogue rodents at Top Camp, whose sightings are recorded on the whiteboard carried up by our hoofed animal, Adam Aldridge. This inhumane creation managed to kill a mouse via either drowning or hyperthermia, resulting in rage from the environmentalists and delight from disgusting people like Luke. The mouse had a sky burial and no further animals were harmed. We had a slight water shortage, but this was dealt with by shovelling some snow. Brendan has started to go caving again after he discovered that he could store films on his phone and then watch them in a group shelter whilst other people bolted pitches. Plus lunch, obviously?


This is horrid. What is it? Luke considers wolfing down the extra protein before deciding instead that it deservved greater respect and that another more deserving animal could eat it. Photo: Brendan Hall. And, on the right, comedy character and farmyard beast Adam Aldridge is doing an excellent job of carrying a lot of things on the outside of his very small bag. Huge! Photo: Luke Stangroom.


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The expo is nearly over and derigging had begun when I left on Tuesday (15th August). Lots of interesting stuff found: ice-covered walls deep in Happy Butterfly (or was it Fishface?), an open, very long, traverse lead in Balkon, a new cave with lots of prospects in Good Morning, just near the rather distant Organh?hle bivvy.

But I'll leave all that to a proper wrap up post at the end of expo. What I want to write about is what it is like returning to expo after a gap of 34 years.

I was on the last expo which camped at the lake at Altaussee (1982), and the first which stayed at Hilde's at Staudnwirt (1983).  I was already 28 in 1982, and not nearly hard enough for the desperately long and cold trips to the bottom of  Schnellzugh?hle (1623/115) - whose sump is still the deepest point in the SMK system.

So what is different between now and then? Most impressive and immediate is the size of the operation, and the organisation of getting so many people and gear properly based at the Steinbr?ckenh?hle (204) bivvy site. The bivvy is "only" a couple of hours walk and scramble from the road-head but it supports 12-15 people continuously caving eating and sleeping, including supporting the underground camp in Tunnocksschaft and the further hour-distant surface camp at Organh?hle bivvy. A massive operation.

The second great difference that struck me is in the standard of surveying: the exacting detail of the pencil and waterproof paper records in particular. Yes of course the laser ranging distos and Bluetooth automatic data capture are great, but it was the improvement in the manual processes which impressed me.

I wasn't up to caving much: Becka gave me a 2-hour tourist trip down the first couple of pitches in Steinbr?ckenh?hle past a couple of snow plus to the top of the 3rd pitch, but while I could manage technically it was obvious that I was getting out of breath too quickly to be any use underground. Or maybe I am just much more sensitive to altitude (1800m) than I used to be. (Anyway, my SRT kit was carried up by Becka and down by Fleur, and gave the security people in Salzburg airport some amusement on my return. My 1980s-era furry suit was quite handy for days when top camp was in heavy cloud - even extending into the shelter itself when particularly thick.) Later on in my stay there were open leads near the surface in the new discoveries but I felt that it would be better to give the expo freshers the experience of new discovery.

I was very glad to be able to get onto the plateau at all. When I had last been on expo in 1983 the closest I got was Wolfh?hle and various places on the Vord.- and Hinterer-Schwartzmoosk?gel. I suffered a number of "plateau bites" on knuckles, hands and knees as the rock is really very sharp - especially so when I was wandering off the main routes prospecting and getting lost. It is a magnificent place and everything is much further apart than it appears as the terrain is so unforgiving and complex.

Kristian, Aidan and Radost in top camp. Camp beds are stored over winter and it sleeps 15 comfortably, and 22 in varying degrees of discomfort. {Click to see full-size image.}

Partial view of the PV/car-battery Makita battery pack, phones, AAs and 18650 cell charging system at Steinbr?ckenh?hle bivvy. {Click to see full-size image.}

As the expo resumed after the dinner at Hilde's, I took charge of the drill battery situation. There was a lot of frustration with dying Makita battery packs and confusion as to why it was happening and which packs could be rescued and which not. The Titan packs at the Organh?hle site were fine, but the 16 or so Makita ones at the main bivvy were the problem. I read the relevant bits of the expo handbook on my phone (which means sitting on the "signal rock" a few metres from the bivvy to get adequate 3G reception to the website http://expo.survex.com/handbook/charging.html) and worked through it systematically: 3 packs were completely dead, 5 seemed OK and taking charge, but the rest seemed stuck at 12.2V and accepting only a trickle: a couple of these eventually clicked into a 13V+ state and seemed to be OK (but in fact only did a couple of holes underground before dying again). This seems to mean that nearly all the packs had got drastically unbalanced (the packs contain 4 sets of 3.6V in series, and if one set is dud then the other 3 just expend their energy heating it up). Confusing factors were that the fuses in the 12V "car charger" plugs had blown so that the  (15A) inverter and the old Makita charger (8A) weren't working at all: a bit of aluminium foil fixed the most urgent of these, and a trip to Bad Aussee bought replacements (10A, but nothing had blown up since).

A much more pleasant job was improving the cairning on surface routes. This means pottering about on my own under a blue sky in the empty karst building cairns at 4m intervals in the tricky bits of the new paths up to Organh?hle and the new prospecting area down on the plateau to Fischgesichth?hle and Gl?cklichsmetterlingh?hle. I was really just having fun, but apparently this was really quite appreciated by late-night returners in cloud. [I also did rather a lot of washing up - the squalor level among students is one thing that hasn't changed in 30 years.]

While in Bad Aussee we discovered that new14.4V Makita packs could only be bought in a town half-way to Vienna so multiple phone conversations with Wookey lead to us (or rather him) buying 2 new packs for urgent delivery by Amazon. The idea was that we could use an Amazon Prime account back home to get quick delivery... but this doesn't work. Amazon has the concept of "out of country" deliveries, and new accounts can't get fast delivery at all - until some validation or delay has occurred. So we learned that it would have been a good idea to set up an Austrian or German Amazon account with a main delivery address at Gasthof Staudnwirt some time earlier. This is probably a good idea for any expedition in a vaguely civilised country covered by Amazon services. The result was a number of abbreviated or partially aborted pushing trips. We got the new packs on a Monday afternoon when we could really have done with them on the previous Thursday.

Elliott and Thom revising manual procedures for recording survey data using pencils, protractor and notebook - at the Organh?hle bivvy site. {Click to see full-size image.}

All in all a very enjoyable trip for an old lag, though I am rather suffering still from carrying all my caving and expo kit between train stations and bus stations on my return. Next time I'll plan this sort of thing further in advance and get the heavy stuff taken by van. I added one innovation to the expo Bier Book: a new page for "number of stings at base camp in one day" with my entry of Wx4 (wasps, the buggers).


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New to Expo 2017 - a whiteboard appeared mid-expo at Top Camp. We've had a whiteboard at Base Camp for many years now, and it gets well used, so why did it take us so long to realise that one would be even more useful at Top Camp?

The Top Camp whiteboard in context:


And here's a selection of daily shots:

August 5th

August 6th

August 7th

August 8th

August 9th

August 10th


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Beyond my comfort zone

It's been six hours since we left the quiet, calm space of the fossil level and started dropping down hundreds of metres of spray-lashed pitches. Six hours fighting hypothermia with not one alcove or sheltered ledge to escape the unremitting, icy gale. We're at the head of another 50m pitch with anchors going in for the final bag of rope but I can't wait any longer. I strip half naked to piss in the churning pool at the base of a waterfall then battle for ten minutes to get dressed again, my useless, numb fingers refusing to grip my central MR tight enough to turn it. Over 800m above me the sun is baking the limestone pavement. What am I doing here, struggling to hold it together?

Setting off for the two hour walk up from the valley to the surface camp at Plankamira.​

And in the drizzle on the way up, with Glitzi kitted out in wellies and an umbrella.​

Having been on the CUCC Expo since week one I took a few days out in the final week to join the local Austrian club, VHO, for their annual week of expedition to the Plankamira area, a few kilometres east of CUCC's patch in the Totes Gebirge. After five weeks of expedition caving I wasn't expecting anything too stressful and I thought I knew what to expect as I'd joined them twice before to cave in the same area. With my flaky German I only realised we were heading on a multi-day underground camping trip the night before we set off. We were going to Wildbader H?hle, which was explored to -874m in 1982 by a team of tough French speleos from the Soci?t? des Amateurs de Cavernes de Rioz (SAC). Since 2013 VHO has been systematically resurveying and extending the cave. However, bad weather in the past two years meant that they hadn't yet reached the deepest horizontal level because the only route down is via a wet shaft series.

The French survey of Wildbader Hoehle (1625/150) after exploration from 1977-1982.​

I set off to the underground camp with two tacklesacks - my own, laughably small by Austrian standards, plus another I was lent that was over twice the size. En route three of the five of us diverted off to take rope to start re-rigging the deep, wet pitch series. However, after a couple of short pitches, we reached a big shaft where the overnight rain meant that a powerful waterfall was shooting across it to hit the far wall, filling it with spray. With the cave at 2 degrees and us sleeping in our caving undersuits we weren't willing to get soaked so we left the gear and headed back up.

Later, whilst unpacking at camp, I spotted a wetsuit. Hmm, what's that about? It's for Robert, I was told. Strange, I thought, surely he's not diving here? Then, mixed in with the bags of food, I saw a neoprene hood - so what's this needed for? After all, the Austrians think British cavers are crazy for going near pitches with water. They explore flood-prone caves in the winter, when water levels are low and predictable as any precipitation falls as snow. Well, they do except that, just this once, and unbeknownst to me, the plan was to try to bottom Wildbader H?hle, dropping from the camp at -400m to follow the master streamway down another 500m of aqueous pitches. So they all had their wet gear with them. WHY DID NOBODY THINK TO TELL ME? I even had neoprene at the CUCC Base Camp, neatly packed away, that I could have brought. And it looks like I'm supposed to be in the team of three going deep tomorrow.

The next morning I could hear them talking about me but I couldn't follow what they were saying. Eventually Paulina said that Robert and Glitzi would wear their wetsuits under their oversuits and that I could use her thin rubber suit which should keep my furry stuff dry underneath it. I didn't really understand what I was being offered but anything had to be better than drenching all my clothes. It turned out the suit was a Russia-made, lightweight, membrane caving drysuit. Despite being taller than Paulina I managed to get into it though once I had my harness on I couldn't raise my arms far ... but hopefully there'd be no stretchy free-climbs needed. It felt odd but toasty and comforting, hurrah, things were looking up. However, barely five minutes after leaving camp, my wrists were being squeezed unbearably tight by the seals: this just wasn't going to work. I struggled out of the top half of the suit then tied the arms around myself, so effectively I was wearing pontonnieres. I was now perfectly equipped for wading deep canals .... but that wasn't where I was going. I was scared that, with water falling down on me, I'd fill up like a tacklebag with no drainage holes ... and then what?

The three of us set off down the pitches. The water levels hadn't dropped from yesterday and we were each struggling with a beast of a bag. Together we had around 300m of 10mm rope, rigging gear, a hefty drill, spare battery and all the rest of the usual junk you need. Around 250m down we got to VHO's previous limit of rigging. Here we slowed down as Glitzi started to put in thru-bolts whilst Robert began surveying. I was at the back, tasked with the no-brainer, donkey-plus-Disto-target role.

Is this the worst water yet, I kept pestering Robert. No, no, it gets wetter further down, as inlets come in. Sheeesh. The low point was a long drop that ended with 10m where the rope disappeared, unavoidably, into the middle of the main water course. I abseiled through, water pounding down on me and emerged to join Robert at a small ledge. The shaft here was 7m in diameter. Some bits didn't even have much spray. All innocence, I shouted to him above the din: so could the rig perhaps go, err, a little further away from the water? Not possible, I was told, firmly. Oh woe.

Fortunately below here Glitzi found a dry parallel shaft series for a series of drops. Unfortunately the draft was even stronger. Pitiably, I tried to use my tacklesack to shelter from it. As we slowly crept deeper I knew I wasn't the only one struggling to keep my temperature from steadily dropping: I could see the tell-tale, jittery dance of the laser beam of the Disto and I felt for Robert as I watched him battling  to control his hand shake enough to draw the survey notes. It transpired that he and Glitzi were in just 2mm of neoprene under their cordura oversuits - madness. Later still I was told that when the original French explorers got hit by heavy rain down there they couldn't keep their carbides alight. There was nowhere to shelter so they'd put plastic bags over their heads to let them breathe and then prussiked up through the waterfalls in the dark. There's always another level of misery to sink down to.

Finally, seven hours in, Glitzi then Robert whooped and, at last, I touched down in the huge chamber at the base of the shafts. I climbed stiffly up the boulder pile to them, out of the spray, and we shook hands formally and grinned inanely - we'd done it. We stomped off down the huge phreatic passage slowly driving some warmth into ourselves, took photos and heated drinks on the Jetboil (an excellent, well-designed bit of kit - light and really fast to boil). I braced myself and breezily asked, so, what now? Do we finish the survey down here? No, it's late - we'll just head out. Phew.

Five hours later I was at last away from the water. My arms were sodden and I was still chilled through but I'd thrashed myself and my bigger-cross-section-than-me tacklesack up through some tight pitch heads that vied with the most awkward that Yorkshire has to offer. We made it back to camp before 3am after fifteen hours of effort. The other two woke and cooked for us whilst Robert and Glitzi peeled off their wetsuits and changed into their dry furries with shudders of pleasure. No such instant relief for me. However, from now on in it was just a waiting game. I pulled off my wettest layer and tucked up in my pit to gradually warm up and then to start to dry off. Finally back within my comfort zone ....

Relaxing in the sunshine after the underground camping trip.​


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End of Expo update

Here's some photos (all by me, Becka Lawson) from the second half of expo and derigging and packing up at the end, written as I'm trying to distract myself from a scarily fast drive back to the UK on the German Autobahn.

Admiring a spectacular sunset from Top Camp.​

Adam Aldridge (AKA the Hoofed Animal) holding his "mended" hand-bolting driver after he unaccountably managed to shear the head off it. My favourite Adam story: late, after a drunken session at Base Camp, he swayed his way into the Tatie Hut and asked whether anybody knew if the Hilti SDS drill-bit grease was toxic because in the dark he'd mistaken the tube for toothpaste and it'd taken him a while to realise his mistake.


Adam's hand after an accumulation of mishaps.​

Rob and Jacob having just got out from our last underground camp of 2017 with the first of the rope and gear from the derig. We're hydrating at Top Camp before the two hour walk off the Plateau.​


The rest of the underground derig went smoothly at the start of this week and the weather was mostly kind for packing up the Top Camp and Organhoehle Camp on the Plateau, for bringing gear down the hill and for washing and drying.

Sitting at base camp with piles of freshly river-washed rope, checking for damage like rubs and glazing before measuring and relabelling.​

Hilde Wilpernig, from the Gasthaus Staud'n'wirt, where she and her family have hosted our base camp for over thirty years now. When we said we'd got an excess of eggs and milk Hilde offered to make us Kaiserschmarren (Emperor's pancakes) and homemade apple sauce. She even braved our mess tent to cook it.

Here's Hilde, on the left, cooking​
and then everyone eating Kaiserschmarren​

Kristian Brook in fine form, about to drive back to Leeds. In amongst many distinctive characters on Expo, this man still effortlessly stood out from the crowd.​

Spectator sport as Rob Watson attempts to bring my SRT kit into the 21st century. This led to stressfully slippy knots whilst I was deep in Wildbader Hoehle, with my long cowstail creeping to what, to my alarm, seemed like two metres long as I dangled way beneath it.​

Typical Tatie Hut scene with, oh, at least one person hard at work on the survey (interim print-outs of the survey on the wall).​

I spent my last day on Expo cracking the whip for data entry, drawing up surveys and scanning and uploading data. We've ended up with two floating surveys, arghhhhhh. Survey pocket 24, labelled "SHIT", was the low point - appropriately it was in passage called "Nothing to See". Jacob and Mike both did five hour shifts on the scanner - please can we upgrade to one that takes less than a minute to scan a single sheet of A4 for next year?

Here's a shot of one of four cover sheets logging progress along the ten steps towards survey perfection (as yet only Phil Withnall has achieved enlightenment; whilst only Adam has contributed to more than one survey officially categorised as "shit").