Austria CUCC Expo 2014: Kaninchen Hohle and 107 connection
Friday, 25 July 2014 – Thursday, 21 August 2014
When I was out on CUCC expo, I didnt really get involved with the Sam Allshorne caves as Nat and Katey (I only went in Balkonyhohle twice and didnt get into Tunnocks until midway through expo), so I have written a report of expo from my perspective designed to complement Nats. This rant focuses on the (eventually successful) attempt to link 107 (Gehmsehohle) with 161 (Kaninchenhohle or KH).
107 had been known of for some time, but had in 2013 been pushed quite a long way further and resurveyed by Olly and Jenny; KH is one of the most prolific and well-explored caves in the system, being first explored in 1990. The first twoof my trips on this project were down KH, with Antony Day (known as Dour to many, a thoroughly excellent bloke and great guitarist), and Rob Adams, lean, not at all mean and most definitely a caving machine. On the first day we rigged a fair bit and explored some side passage in an attempt to see if there was a connection to the area of KH near the Runnelstone and Blown Out (pushing front for the 107 connection) so as to avoid the ups and downs in between (Strange Upfall, Strange Downfall, Sedatensland and Mordor). On the second day we were underground late (about 2/3pm) and got to the pushing front reasonably quickly. I rigged a few things, and in doing so got my first experience of Austrian Cheese Rock when, after having turned round to check how tight my traverse was, the rock bridge I had been standing on decided it had had enough and fell off completely, meaning that I also fell off completely and pendulumed across a very deep large hole to smash into the opposing wall, a lot of which then also fell off. Its a good job my hand jammer was very tight! After this excitement we went to visit Blown Out and the Runnelstone and had a decent poke, resolving to come back next week and try and make a voice connection. By this time it was about 11pm, and we were a little tired. Progress out was slower, and we surfaced at around 4:30am, returning back to Top Camp bivvy in time to watch the sun rise as we ate our curry and cous-cous. Excellent.
After a couple of days rest (I had still not fully recovered from the Ario plague and 2 reasonably long trips had taken it out of me somewhat) I was back and keen for further action at this lead. An opportunity arose to look at the 107 side of things with David Walker (CUCC), Aled (DUSA) and Elaine (UBSS). We got down 107 pretty quickly, with it being rather different in character to KH and more like a Yorkshire pothole than most things in Austria with lots of short pitches and some walking/squeezing in between before you reach the final massive chambers of China and Korea. KH, by contrast, is very muddy and has lots of steep sloping walking passage with fewer pitches (the entrance pitch, Mordor and Strange Upfall and Downfall are the only real ones there). We got to the bottom of China after I had helped Elaine down some of the SRT (having only done 4 SRT trips before expo she was extremely able and just lacking slightly in confidence), and started to explore. The pushing front of 107 was an extremely unstable 10m or so climb that Wookey had scaled, put a couple of bolts in the top and then dropped back down on finding nothing at the top (Wookey is a bit crazy; his bolting antics are detailed in Nats rant). The climb was particularly sketchy as it comprised large mud-filled columns, which appear stable, but like Andean flutings in ice climbing are prone to instant and unpredictable collapse. David and Aled ascended this on the rope very carefully, and found the draughting hole in the wall that Wookey had described. David then bolted and dropped the pitch, and after a short explore shouted quite excitedly. I then followed him down the pitch, only to find an extremely sandy chamber which, in hindsight, did look very similar to the 161 side of the connection. David and I started to survey the passage, but after only 3 survey legs discovered some survey stations already y marked on the rock in nail varnish. What was this place? We had thought, on looking at the survex projection, that the connection to the surveyed area of 161 was 40m or so away, and we had barely surveyed 10m. We then back-surveyed to the top of the pitch and headed out, Aled and Elaine having already left having grown cold. Quite a bit of kit had been left down there by Matt Watson and Wookey, so the outward journey was significantly heavier than the inward one (and with only half the number to carry it), and after a few wrong turns on the dark plateau we were only 20 minutes ahead of callout when we returned to the bivvy at 11:40pm.
The next morning, I was awoken at 7am by a very eager Becka Lawson and Andrew Atkinson, who had spent the rest of the morning writing a short interview about the pushing front. Being very tired, confused by the presence of the survey legs and overall a bit inept, I did not make the connection clear and gave the impression that it was not a sandy lead similar in character to 161 but more like Korea (frost shattered and generally completely unlike the bit of cave we had explored). It was therefore decided that Becka, Andrew and Rob Adams would accompany me to the pushing front to have a look, with all 3 knowing 161 much better than I. We were there in no time, and Rob Adams and I went through the lead while Becka and Andrew went through to Korea to shout and see if a voice connection was established. After only a few minutes at the pushing face, Rob Adams exclaimed Im willing to bet my bottom dollar that were in Blown Out! and shortly after Becka and Andrew appeared to confirm it, with Andrew being particularly tongue-in-cheek about my description of the lead (we should call this no-sand-at-all passage!). It was then decided that we would, after briefly linking mine and Davids survey to the 107 survey in China, derig 161 and head out of there. This we did, with reasonable progress. I derigged Mordor, a rather interestingly rigged pitch with lots of bollards and clowns, plentiful cheeserock (think bits of rope cut from the bottom of the rope used to rig the pitch and lashed round a quite unstable spike of rock with a maillon on it) and a deviation round a hollow pillar using a maillon. A lot of 161 was rigged on the infamous red mammut 9mm, an extremely fast and unruly breed of rope made even more entertaining to use by copious mud, heavy bags and the rather worn bobbins of my simple. We emerged to a lightning storm brewing, prompting a very rapid walk across the Plateau back to the bivvy. System now definitely past 100km and pushing 2nd longest in Austria, and 2 of the main caves in the system connected: job pretty well done! David named the pitch at the connection Tibet because it was draughty as fuck and prompted very hasty surveying.