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Austria 86 - A personal view 

Most of the Mendip lot were already in Austria, I had arranged to go with Dany and four others (Howard and Deb, Rupert and Tim Allen).  After a couple of delays in the packing we set off in Dany's van with enough food to feed the five thousand.  After about six miles Dany decided that we would have to stop in Bristol to restock up the food, we hadn't any "Lime Pickle" or "Bombay Duck".  After all the delays we actually managed to catch the midnight Dover to Calais ferry, an hour earlier than had been arranged.  The duty free was giving a bargain we could not resist, 24 small cans of beer for five pounds, these cans were the first best buy.

After stopping in the night for a sleep in a French lay-by we drove continuously through Belgium, Germany and into Austria.  We arrived in Hallstat in the early hours of Sunday, the mountains were just outlines in the sky.  We went to sleep by the lake, just outside Hallstat.  An early morning swim with the topless women was made by a few in the group, but was just too much for Dany.

After the excitement we had to organise the sailband (A cable car which can only carry equipment) The Scailband would take our equipment to the “Wiesberghaus” (The Hunters).  It took a few hours to organise because the Wiesberghaus had been hit by lightning the day before, so communications were nil.  A couple from our group walked up (one to two hour walk) and by midday we had just sent our first load.  We finished with the Sailband by 4.00pm and we managed to catch the last cable car up. As we arrived at the cable car we met Dave, Pete and Tomma who gave us the general news, and about Tomma's mystery illness after a night's drinking.

I was quite surprised at the speed of thunderstorms, because by the time we reached the top the heavens had opened.  We stayed at the cable car bar until the storm had subsided, then we made our way to the Wiesberghaus.  The evening was spent at the Wiesberghaus having a piss up, and hearing all the news.

First day up the hill I decided to go with Howard, Deb, Rupert, Tim and Dany to look for some new caves.  The walk was half an hour across jagged limestone following good cairn tracks  (A place which had been roughly looked at the week before but needed another look).  At the base of the cliff there was an obvious fault, the first hole (Al) was on the fault.  The hole was 15 feet by 20 feet, with snow on one side. Tim and Rupert descended the 10 metre entrance shaft to an inclined passage, 3 feet wide by 10 ft high with a ice floor.  This led to the head of a 20m pitch, at the bottom it was blocked by snow.  There was no obvious draught.

While they had been down the cave the rest of us were looking for more holes which could be descended.  One looked very promising (A2) and had a 30ft diameter entrance shaft.  The entrance shaft was about 40ft deep, with snow at the bottom.  One side of a pitch was descended (100ft) but this was also blocked by ice.  Some good ice formations!  Another hole was found (A3) with a slightly smaller entrance shaft than (A2) with a 20ft free climb onto a snow plug with no way down.  On the far side was a fairly awkward climb of 10ft.  This led along a small passage for 15ft to the head of a 30m pitch.  At the top it was very frost shattered and a few moments were taken clearing the pitch of loose boulders.  The pitch was descended to ledge 10ft from the bottom and a climb down revealed a tight passage leading off.  Trim and Rupert dug for a while to see another pitch (12m) but were too cold to descend.  At the base of the 30m pitch a small passage led off to the top of large shaft (+50m) this was also un-descended.  I arranged to go with Tim and Rupert on an early morning pushing trip down (A3) the next day.

The next day Tim, Rupert and myself left the campsite about half past eight.  We had arranged that Dany and Deb would come in later to survey. We managed to start descending the cave about quarter past nine, to the sound of a thunderstorm.  I was quite concerned about the storm but carried on. The first pitch had been rigged with a rebelay.  It was looped around a horizontal flake and care had to be taken when prussiking up. We reached the bottom and went to the top of the (50m).  This was actually a fine 160ft. pitch gradually enlarging to a chamber (90ft x 35ft). Half way down the rope went through an eye hole into the chamber, this is the finest pitch I have done!  There were two ways on at the bottom, one was a 30ft choked shaft, and a quick dig led to a 40ft pitch.  This landed on the floor of a chamber with flood water coming in from the roof, but there were no problems.  Another short passage led to a 50ft pitch into a mega fault passage, unfortunately it ended in a solid choke.  We dug for a while with no success!  At the other end of the mega passage a 30ft pitch dropped into a chamber, one end was choked and the other end had a 20ft climb which was too tight. Rupert climbed several avens in the chamber, there was much loose rock!  (“BELOW”)

At the bottom of the first shaft (90ft) a squeeze led to a 50ft pitch, but was too tight at the bottom to continue.

When we reached the surface after five hours caving the visibility had fallen to couple of yards due to fog.  Back at the campsite we found the surveying team; they had been delayed due to a mystery illness which Dany had caught the night before in the bar of the Wiesberghaus'

In the evening back at the Wiesberghaus there were rumours that 8104 (a Welsh find) was still going big and deep, so Tim, Rupert and I organised to go on an early trip down the “Jager Hohle” (Hunter"s Hole).

The cave is situated fifteen minutes away from the Wiesberghaus down towards Hallstat.  To find the cave we proceeded in a south easterly direction down the Wies Alm Valley past two hunting huts.  At the third (south eastern) hut we turned left and the cave was roughly 30 metres away in a small depression / gulley.  The cave entrance was quite small compared to the cave we did the day before (4ft-6ft).  The first ten minutes were along a rifty passage, not hard, but it wrecks S.R.T. gear.  At the end a small crawl led to the first drop of 100ft in huge chamber.  I had been told the ropes were muddy (bloody hell! they were right!).  The first 20ft was like a free fall due the ropes being so slippery and I was pleased I had a Petzl Stop!  The second pitch was not far from the first.  It was 180ft split into four parts, and was very badly rigged!  There was more mud on it than the last and was soon known as "paranoia pitch".

As we continued down, the pitches became smaller.  At the bottom of the sixth pitch my carbide light bust!!!  The others were slightly in front so I decided to solo out.  On my way up the sixth pitch the case for my Petzl light fell off, so I had to re-descend to the bottom with my light fading every minute!  My case was lying between some boulders in the stream and I had to crawl in the water to retrieve it.  I soloed out and met Bob, who was “superman” of the trip (the only way to slow him down was with large tackle bags).  At the bottom of the second pitch I found that they had started to re-rig it in a different place to give a free hang of 180ft.  The problem was they hadn't finished and I had to climb the old rig, half way up the rope caught behind a flake.  When I was about 5ft below it~ the flake came away from the muddy wall and damaged the rope, the sheath was nearly rubbed through.  I reached the surface around three o’clock without further incidents.

A couple of days later I went for a walk further up the valley from the “Jager Hohle”, I found a hole which was draughting strongly, it was blocked with boulders appeared to become larger inside.  I meant to return but didn’t have time.

On Saturday seven of us went down to Hallstat and swam in the lake.  In the evening we had a meal at the Diver's Bar.  We had fairly cheap meals compared to usual Austrian prices, well except for Dany.

In the morning we had breakfast at the Millerty station at top of the cable car.  The beer and food was so cheap here it was unbelievable, beer costed 8 schillings which is less than 40 pence.

Jager Hohle had now reached 22 pitches, one of the drops was 250ft, and the last was an un-descended 50ft. Most caving trips were taking about 18 to 20 hours and next year it will be necessary to have an underground camp. The depth was now just over 500 metres and still going towards Hirlatzhohle.

De-rigging the cave started on Monday morning with five cavers de-rigging up to the ninth pitch and through the rifts.  Tomma and I set off a couple of hours later and helped to carry bags from the ninth. The second pitch was nearly impossible to descend as some fool held tied rock on the bottom of the rope.  We took about and hour and a half to reach the tenth pitch, we arrived to see them exiting from the rifts.  There was a sudden noise and the stream began to increase in size.  I was amazed at the speed it rose compared to the Mendip streams, but luckily the ninth pitch stayed dry.  After a brew we started to head out with a bag each.  On the eighth pitch (10ft) my croll became jammed with mud and it took ages to free it.  Everything was going quite smoothly and the flood had not caused any problems, except for on the fifth pitch, when another flood pulse came and Dave was soaked.  We decided to tie all our bags on and pull them up the fifth pitch (90ft).  This was not a good idea.  It took ages with Dave performing acrobatics over the pitch.

At the second shaft Dany had rigged it to haul bags, he had come in a couple of hours after Tomma and myself.  He told us that he had been delayed due to two huge thunder storms.  The last two pitches took hours.  The M.U.S.S. group were supposed to give us a hand from the second pitch, hauling bags up, but they were sitting out the flood in another cave.  After half an hour I was freezing, so I started out but had to wait at the bottom of the first pitch.  While we waited Dave decided to have some snackertacks (lollypops, wine gums etc.) but instead he nearly blew himself up!  He had put his head down towards the B.D.H. container to see what was inside and his carbide ignited the gas stove which had been leaking.  We eventually reached the surface in the early hours of Tuesday after a ten hour caving trip.  The walk back was a slog but it had stopped raining and I managed to get a drink at the Wiesberghaus.  We had left the bags at the top of the first pitch, ready for the next day.  After coming out we thought we might have to do a cave rescue.  The M.U.S.S cave group were still down their cave.  The problem was that nobody knew exactly where this was!  Then a few lights could be seen in the distance, they had been delayed as they had had to sit out the flood.

The de-rigging was completed the following day with help from the M.U.S.S group and only took about 45 minutes.

It was now Wednesday and we had to start packing our gear to come home to great British weather!  In the evening there was a great Piss Up!! Tim Allen brought his ghetto blaster and there were two barrels of beer.  A bunch of Polish cavers had arrived for 5 weeks.

On Thursday we finished packing and then left for home on Friday morning.  At Calais we decided to get John and Geraldine free onto the boat (one big laugh!). When the ticket officer came round we told him there were only six of us (John and Geraldine hid under a pile of caving gear) and we managed to get through.  We caught the 9.30pm ferry instead of the 12.30am for an extra 13 pounds.  We arrived on the Mendips at 3.00am on Sunday morning.

Thank you to everyone who organised the Austria trip and especially Dany who arranged the transport.

Alan Turner.