HomeCaving AbroadAustrian Exploits - Gesaeuse Massif

Austrian Exploits – Gesaeuse Massif

In September Nadia and I went on an Austrian expedition to the Gesaeuse massif in the eastern part of the Northern Calcareous Alps, the range containing the Dachstein and Loser plateaus where UK expeditions explore each year. This range only began to be explored in 2002 when Eckart Hermann and Reinhard Fischer, cavers from Vienna who had both climbed extensively in the range, realised there was no official documentation of the caves there.

Exploration focussed mainly on the longest cave on the mountain, Stadelalm Eiskluft (or 1713/22), which we helped push past the 4km mark to 4207m (gaining over 400m). Over one weekend, we found a new entrance from the inside (‘Elkpelzeinstieg’), and then explored a new phreatic level at -300m (‘Paleowindbacher’). Phreatic passage is quite rare in these caves and a bit of an enigma so this was a really interesting find. The passage had some interesting features which were photographed (see below).

New cave passage in this region is much more elusive than, for example, in the SMK system on Loser. Particularly, access to entrances is often logistically quite complex, with long, arduous walk-ins over very steep grassy slopes underlain by loose landslide debris and glacial till (not easy terrain in wellies after a big rainstorm). In the Western part of the massif, Eckart and Reinhard often had to do involved climbing routes (multipitch, up to E2) to reach the cave entrances, something I hope to go back to do with them one day. The hut we stayed at, Hesshuette, was very cosy and the warden, named ‘Reini die grosserer’ (‘Big Reini’, to differentiate from Reinhard aka ‘Reini die Kleinerer’ or ‘Little Reini’), was very friendly and strongly encouraged heavy consumption of Enzian (strong schnapps), though he spoke with an extremely strong Styrische dialect which meant I often didn’t understand what he was talking about.

I have uploaded the survey of Eiskluft here, as you can see Eckart really enjoys drawing and has quite a distinct style, which I rather like. Also note the ULSA dangly man in the bottom corner, we have a new presence abroad! Please don’t disseminate the survey all over the place, the Austrians are quite protective of these things…

All the following photos were taken by Eckart.

Sitting on the snow ramp which had receded enough to make an exit from Elkpelz passage. The passage had formerly been fully blocked by ice and snow but now there was enough space to bolt climb out to the surface.

Nadia and I on the surface after exiting through the new entrance. Never found a new entrance from the inside before!

Me bolt climbing up into the window in the top right of the picture with Reini belaying, which led to all of the new passage in Paleowindbacher.

Nadia looking down into a nice blue pool that was found 20m or so along the passage after reaching the window. Would it be interesting to investigate the water chemistry?


Walking passage in the unusual phreatic level, ‘Paleowindbacher’.

Interesting mud formations, presumably formed due to some kind of dessiccation, in Paleowindbacher.

Bolting a drop into new territory on the 2nd trip. You can see some of the mud formations as above in the left foreground.

Flowstone above some calcited in, highly rounded pebbles, presumably washed in from the surface when the passage was forming. This in the lower level of the newly discovered cave, at the current pushing front (another pitch down). I took a sample of the pebbles to investigate the geology of them by thin section. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to sample and date the flowstone at some point… Would be great to get a date on the pebbles washing in!