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Austria 1990 - The BEC Return to the Dachstein

Richard Blake

Despite a large amount of enthusiasm for this trip (where have I heard that one before?) only Snablet and I were actually going. This left us with somewhat of a problem how to carryall the kit between the two of us?

All of the Friday morning was spent trying to cram far too much kit into my rucksack which soon became too heavy to lift.  Just for a laugh I also decided to take two less than light tackle sacks full of bolts, rope and assorted bits and bobs.  Eventually with everything packed it was time to start the long journey.  In true BEC style I had arranged to meet Snablet in a bar at Victoria Railway Station as he was coming straight from work.

The kit was already beginning to cause me a lot of problems as I found that it was taking me about 10 minutes each time to get it up onto my back, much to the amusement of my fellow passengers.  Luckily I found the bar with no trouble and sat down on my mountain of equipment to await Snablet who appeared after only a couple of beers.

We got on the next train to Dover and made the connection with the Ostend ferry, taking in a few more beers en route. From Ostend it was, in theory, a simple job of catching three more trains to Salzburg.  There is a direct train but because we were late leaving we had missed it.  The route we took was Ostend to Cologne, to Munich, to Salzburg and the journey took about 22 hours.

Getting the kit off and on the train was an ordeal requiring the use of siege tactics.  We had cleverly omitted to obtain any German currency so unfortunately had no food or drink for the entire journey.  Another problem was that the train from Cologne to Munich was a limited stop express which cost us extra money (which we had to pay in Austrian schillings!) and that we found that we were constantly being thrown out of other peoples reserved seats.

On arrival in Salzburg our task was to catch the bus to Bad Ischl. Snablet stood in the queue at the information desk for 15 minutes only to be told that the last bus had just left 5 minutes ago.  So our first night in Austria was spent in the company of the rats at Salzburg railway station.  I had checked with a taxi driver how much it would cost but he had quoted me £75 so I told him what to do with it!  Before we went to sleep we had a good look around Salzburg looking into bars that made two dirty and unkempt British cavers feel a little out of place - we couldn't find a dive of a bar anywhere so went back to the bar in the station which stayed open to 12.30 anyway.  After it had closed you could still buy beer from a bloke wandering around the station with a large trolley.

We got up early next morning only to find out that we had several hours wait for the bus to Bad Ischl. From there we intended to catch the train to Obertran, however we sat there waiting for a train that didn't exist because we had both read the bus timetable and not the train timetable! We eventually realised our mistake and after only a short bus ride and walk we were at the military seilbahn. For me it was my first ride in a cable car and I enjoyed it immensely, certainly better than walking up the mountains with all that kit.

After something to eat and a few beers which seemed to go straight to my head (I think that this was due to the altitude) it was time to carry the kit to the Wiesberghaus.  After only a few moments we realised that it was impossible to carry it all across, the effort being too much for us after the long journey.  Snablet then came up with two brilliant ideas for getting out of carrying the kit:

  1. Catch a plane from London to Salzburg. You arrive within a couple of hours and your kit arrives 20 hours later in Australia leaving you nothing to carry!
  2. Buy a helicopter!

We decided to hide half the kit and made two trips as we hadn't caught a plane to Salzburg and we hadn't purchased a helicopter. Snablet was gob smacked as to how spotless the Glocken was, but it was not to last long.  A good first night was had in the bar of the Wiesberghaus but there was no sign of Lyn or Tuppa from the NCC who had said that they would be there. We settled instead for a 12 hour sleep to recover from the effects of journey, carrying far too much kit and the hospitality of Wolfgang and Elfi, the hut guardians.

Monday August 20th

We woke up at the crack of lunch after the first full nights sleep since Thursday.  We were still tired from the journey but a goulash soup went a long way to reviving us.  We packed the caving kit and set off to find Magnum Hohle.  I was impressed by Snablets memory of where the entrance was since no one had been down the cave since '87.  We also found another small entrance near to Magnum Hohle which we thought might be worth a later look.

We quickly rigged to the '87 limits where I climbed up and over some loose boulders for ten metres and up a boulder slope for twenty metres.  In the left hand wall a small insignificant hole with a small draught led to approximately forty metres of crawling passage.  The up dip passage then lead to a fifteen metre pitch into a chamber where the sound of running water could be heard.  We were very pleased with ourselves but by now it was getting on a bit, so after nine and a half hours caving and walking we returned to the Glocken arriving at 2.30 in the morning.  The only problem being that it had just started raining as we left the cave.

Tuesday August 21st

After 12 hours of solid rain I was beginning to feel very pleased that we had left Magnum Hohle when we did.  In the event no caving took place today although we spent a couple of hours prospecting up towards the Simony Hutte but gave up after we had got soaked to the skin and were cold and miserable.  The wind continued to blow throughout the day and later that night we had to open all the doors and windows in the Wiesberghaus as it was blowing all the smoke from the stove back into the bar and disrupting our drinking.

Wednesday August 22nd

We woke up late again, although this time I think this was probably due to the excess of Steigl beer that night.  Snablet can not even remember going to bed.  The weather was still bad so we decided against caving as we realised that with only two of us, rescue would be impossible, so we decided on some more prospecting.

We were looking somewhere under Brennten Kogel about 1 kilometre north east of Barengasse.  We found several interesting sites but all of them appeared to be choked.  Looking for caves in this terrain is both slow and difficult and the awful weather was not helping.

Snablet and I became parted and after a long time looking and shouting for him I gave up and headed back to the Wiesberghaus.  By this time the weather was getting worse and I was soaked to the skin and freezing cold. Snablet returned about one hour later after doing the same as me and as it was getting dark.  We had spent most of the day walking round in the rain and mist getting lost.  Elfi cooked us an excellent Wiener Schnitzel that evening which was the first full meal we had eaten since leaving Bristol.  The rest of the night was spent drinking beer and playing cards.

Thursday August 23rd

Finally the weather cleared up and we awoke to a beautiful morning.  We entered Magnum Hohle at about 11 am with more rope and additional bolts.  The draught at the entrance wasn't so strong but the cave was obviously much wetter following the previous two days of rain.  We had to re-rig the bottom 70 metres of the bottom pitch further away from the water and the lake at the bottom had risen by one and a half metres. This was not good as we realised that if it rose by the same amount again then it would cut off the 10 metre climb.

We quickly rigged the pitch into the chamber I had found on Monday.  This had a large active stream inlet coming out of the roof and we followed this downstream until I needed to peg a traverse line out over some deep pools to stay dry.  Snablet was amused by my aerobatics and made the comment that I appeared to be more frightened about getting wet than falling down 100 metre pitches.  At the end of the passage the stream sank in boulders in the floor.  These boulders rose up to the roof as a huge unstable pile.  When the going gets tough, the BEC stop for lunch.  After lunch I pushed around in the boulder choke dislodging some alarmingly large boulders in the process and found a route up to a point where I could see into a large black void above.

After some entertaining boulder moving and dislodging falling rocks I managed to squeeze through into a large chamber only to realise that I had been there before!  I had just completed a round trip back to the bottom of the main pitch by the lake.  This concluded the cave.  Now all that was remained to do was to survey and detackle.  This involved us in some interesting pendulums due to the way in which we had rigged the rope away from the water.

We finally surfaced after many hours of hardship hauling three very heavy tackle bags between the two of us; we decided to leave most of the kit at the cave entrance to carry back another day.  The walk back to the Wiesberghaus seemed harder than usual, this was however compensated for when we got back because the Wiesberghaus was still open and Wolfgang prepared an excellent meal for us.

Friday August 24th

When I woke up I could hardly move because of my aching muscles.  The idea of a rest day crossed our minds so we decided it was time to get some food from Halstatt to last us the rest of trip.  (So far food hadn't featured prominently in our plans).  Six hours of solid walking and a quick beer in the Divers Bar and we were back with one tackle sac full of food, we also picked up another tackle sac from Magnum Hohle so it was 7 pm when we began our rest day!  All Snablet could do was moan - he had just used up his last remaining non rancid Tee shirt, but we then enjoyed another evening of Wolfgang and Elfi's hospitality.

Saturday August 25th

We spent today looking for new caves and shaft bashing in the area around Gjaid-Alm.  We found several new entrances that the Austrian cavers had marked which looked very good.  These were numbered 74+, 75+ and 30+.  Snablet checked out another cave but found it to be choked, but with a strong draught disappearing into the boulders.  This set the scene as everything else we found was choked.  We found that the problem with searching for new cave is in fact a lot of people have looked in the areas close to the Wiesberghaus, so we were looking in areas about two hours walk away, well off the few paths and well away from cairns. Snablet remarked that there were fewer snowplugs this year and we found that dehydration was a real problem today.  Wolfgang and Elfi told us that evening that they are keen for us to find a cave with water in it near to the Wiesberghaus so as to provide them with a reliable drinking water supply.  We also found that we were beginning to run low on money but Wolfgang and Elfi are continuing to provide us with lots of good grub.

Sunday August 26th

We got up late today and decided on a days prospecting over on the far side of Grun Kogel.  Just as the area started to look interesting we had to shelter from what we thought was going to be a passing shower. Unfortunately it didn't ease off and a thunder storm followed.  We started back towards the Wiesberghaus as we were about two hours walk away but our walk soon developed into a run as the lightning began landing all around us (Donner and Blitzen!).  We considered the idea of curling up into little balls and waiting for the storm to pass but decided firstly that we would feel like real prats, secondly that we would probably die of exposure if the storm lasted all night and thirdly that we didn't like the idea that we were the two most prominent features on the mountain and that we were carrying lots of lightening attracting metal objects in an area of nothing but limestone.  As we got closer to the Wiesberghaus our pace quickened again as the lightening was by now landing less than 100 metres away, close enough to see the explosion when it landed!.  Eventually we crashed through the door of the Glocken, exhausted and drenched.  The storm was magnificent to watch from the relative safety of the Wiesberghaus and we were advised not to go outside again. At the height of the hail storm the thunder and lightening strikes were averaging about one every three seconds.

Monday August 27th

We woke up this morning with a mega hangover due to our enforced stay the night before in the Wiesberghaus, and the fact that we were drinking all night with Wolfgang, Elfi and her father.  The weather forecast was again bad with more thunder and lightening promised.  We decided to take Wolfgang caving and afterwards we were invited in for a quiet drink which included a bottle of Schnaps. This wiped out the rest of the day and my few remaining brain cells.

Tuesday August 28th

Mozart in Mirrorshades - This is the name of the first pitch in the new cave that we found today.  We had gone back to the area we had been looking at on Monday and soon found a very promising entrance.  We called the cave Bleistiftspitzerschaft - Pencil Sharpener Shaft.

The cave has two entrances. One is a four metre climb down through the roof but the main entrance is a 3 metre by one and a half metre hole that descends at an angle of approximately 40 degrees for 100 metres to the first pitch.  Stones tossed down this were taking 14 seconds to land but were hitting several ledges.  One of the rocks that we dropped must have destroyed a ledge because it sounded as though the whole cave was collapsing.  Snablet was saying it was the biggest entrance that he had seen on the Dachstein plateau.  We marked the entrance and made our way back to the Wiesberghaus cairning the route as we went.

Back at the Wiesberghaus we had a quick Skiwasser and returned to Magnum Hohle to collect the rest of our kit.  That evening Elfi cooked us a wonderful meal of venison which we ate in the company of a botany student.  We had a few beers to celebrate our find although we were feeling a little apprehensive about rigging the pitch as it had the feeling of a deep one.  In Snablets immortal poetry "Its a shed spreader!"

Wednesday August 29th

We got up early today in preparation for a long day.  We had packed all the necessary equipment the night before so it was only after a short time that we set off with two very heavy tackle sacs.  The climb up the climb proved difficult with all the tackle and an additional complication was the heat.

On arrival at Bleistiftspitzerschaft we changed and surveyed down to the first pitch.  This was approximately 97 metres long with a depth of just over 55 metres.  I then began bolting the pitch.  We first rigged a handline at the pitch head as we knew that this would be invaluable in the event of a flood.  A traverse was rigged out on the left hand wall which proved most entertaining because a lot of loose rock kept falling off.  Indeed a lot of gardening was necessary but I had soon placed a couple of bolts and it was time for lunch.  When the going gets tough the BEC stop for lunch.

After lunch I descended for about 50 metres via a rebelay to a rock bridge.  I placed the sixth bolt and paused to look around.  In front of me was a very large empty space, I couldn't even begin to estimate its size as I couldn't see the walls.  I threw some rocks down below me and they took four seconds to land but I could also hear some of them rattling down another pitch for an unknown distance.  I then shouted to Snablet to come on down (What is this - some kind of quiz show?). He said that he was going to check the weather first. When he returned he told me that a thunderstorm was probably coming very shortly.  Needless to say I came back up the pitch de-rigging very quickly.  When we reached the surface the immensity of what we had found began to dawn on us.  We realised that we didn't have enough rope to get down the next pitch, that the weather was obviously looking very bad, that it was getting dark and that we had a two hours plus walk in front of us.  We decided to return to the Wiesberghaus.  The walk back was hell in the dark with route finding problems and very heavy tackle sacs.  However the path was regularly lit up by the lightning that was merrily striking all around.

Thursday August 30th

We decided that today was to be a rest day.  We also had to pack our kit as Wolfgang wanted to send it down on the Seilbahn for us to pick up tomorrow.  Consequently we took the opportunity to take Wolfgang caving again.  I took him as far as the first pitch in Magnum Hohle and he enjoyed the trip very much, he may even come with us next year.  Our last night in the Wiesberghaus was excellent with the accompaniment of live Austrian music and an excess of alcohol.  I had to help Elfi's father to bed as he was so drunk he could hardly walk.  Mind you neither could I.  And where was Snablet all this time.  When the going gets tough, Snablet goes to bed.

Friday & Saturday September 1st & 2nd

All that was left today was to say our goodbyes, to walk down and to pick up our kit.  Just before we left we were given a bottle of Schnaps to take with us.  While we were walking down we met Gofried, our friend the botanist and we walked down with him.  Wolfgang had given us two lock combinations so we able to get into the Seilbahn hut to get our kit and also so that we were able to get a beer out of the store room. Gofried proved to be a great help as he carried 200 metres of rope for us down to Halstatt.

At this point in time Snablet had only 14 schillings left (about 60 pence) and I only had enough to get us to Salzburg. Thankfully the journey to Salzburg was uneventful and we quickly spent our remaining Austrian money on Steigl beer in the station bar.  While we were there an Austrian caver recognised our caving kit and came into the bar to look for us.  He instantly recognised us as we were in the same state as he was!  We talked to him for some time and agreed to exchange caving literature with him.

was livened up at Munich when a group of heavy metal fans came into our carriage with a crate of beer.  We all got very drunk and when we woke up the carriage looked like the Belfry after a Saturday night session.  That is all I remember about Germany and the rest of the continent, although I do remember getting back to Bristol about 7.30 pm on the Saturday and heading out to the Hunters for a beer.

A very special thank you has to go to Wolfgang, Elfi and Guste because they treated us so very well. We were always made most welcome at all times and there is no way in which we can repay them for all the hospitality they extended to us.  Anyone, whether caving or not, will have an excellent time there.

Austria 1991

For anyone interested we will be returning next year in the last two weeks of August.  Blitz has already written seeking a Sports Council and Ghar Parau grant.  We have obviously found a large cave which will probably need a minimum of ten people to push.  As it is so far from the Wiesberghaus we will have to set up some form of camp/bivy near the cave.  So anybody interested contact me.