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Steigl Boot Boys On Tour

Austria Xmas 1990 – 91
or
"What do you get if you cross Snablet, Richard Blake. two pairs of skis and several bottles of Steigl?"

We set off with the great intention of pushing last years find, Bleistiftspitzerschacht (Pencil Sharpener Shaft), hopefully to a depth of -400 metres or more and of leaving the place wide open for the big summer push when we would know a little more about the place, but things didn't quite work out as planned!

The idea for going out to Austria for the second time in one year came to life at the BCRA conference over a pint or six whilst waiting for the boring lectures to finish and trying to decide between which one of the four interesting lectures to go to (the expeditions that have found kilometres of cave) that were all on at the same time.

It turns out that Tuppa of the NCC has pushed Verborgen Hohle (Hidden Hole) above Orkan Hohle (Hurricane Hole) to -250 metres which is a must for going deep next season and he is dead keen on going down Bleistiftspitzerschacht.  The others sitting around the table are fairly interested too.  Plans for the summer are afoot but we can not wait that long as there may be access problems.  Hallstattersee Caving Club are planning to initiate an access system similar to that of the Salzburg Gruppe Caving Club and although we have sent letters. reports and surveys to the Austrians we don't know if this has worked.

A short time later at a stomp in the Hill Inn a Xmas date was decided on.  All we needed was a strong enthusiastic BEC team to push the cave. We thought that this would be no problem as everyone was saying, after the last Xmas trip, "It sounds like you had a great time, count me in for a trip sometime next year"  So the word was spread and in true BEC fashion the huge party of Richard Blake and myself constituted the expedition .... What's wrong?  Don't the BEC like going down caves any more? or could it be people remembered the famous Blitz and Harper winter drinking expedition to Austria back in the dim and distant past. However help was soon on the way in the guise of the NCC.  So it was that the team of Richard Blake, Steve Brown, Ruth, Paul Ibbertson, Mark Wright and me (Snablet) was formed.

After a long train journey only broken by a long ferry delay (Apparently P & O, had forgotten to put any oil in the engine at Oostend ..... Viva la tunnel!) saw RB, PI and Snablet arrive in Halstatt.  It took no time at all for us to down our first statutory pint or two (or was it a litre or three) in the Diver's Bar and to stagger up the road to our five star hotel. We awoke the next morning in the Seilbahn hut nursing sore heads and with a distinct feeling of deja vu.  It was however a great feeling seeing our kit disappear up the mountain by Seilbahn.  In fact almost as good as a helicopter but the photos aren't quite as spectacular.  What was most spectacular was a certain Mr A Nerd's beer being carried up by Seilbahn at the same time (Remember him from Caves and Caving?).

Mountaineering skis were hired from Dachsteinsport for our journey to the Wiesberghaus as some b*st*rd had thoughtlessly left one and a half metres of snow everywhere.  There is a knack to ski mountaineering.  Once you have got it then you can go anywhere and everywhere.  It obviously helps if you know what you are doing and we found that we had to learn the hard way.

Richard had what can only be termed a crash, and I mean crash course in downhill skiing from the Krippenstein to Gjaid alm huts from Paul Ibbertson and me.  Then the interesting bit began, the uphill struggle. We slapped the skins on the skis and set off uphill cross country in the direction of the Wiesberghaus.  It was dark by now. Within 500 metres of Gjaid alm RB had lost his second skin and had resorted to walking the uphill sections. This may well sound like a good idea to you but as anyone who has been to the Dachstein in winter will tell you, the neck deep powder snow makes life just that ever so little bit tedious. The powder snow meant that his forward motion soon became a crawling exercise and unfortunately it wasn't long before the rest of us had joined him.  Its really good fun crawling out of Barengasse pushing your skis in front of you and with a rucksac on your back at nine o'clock at night in temperatures of -17 degrees Centigrade!

It was a six hour epic to reach the Wiesberghaus and the Steigl went down particularly well that night. All ideas of hard expedition pushing caving were filed in the bin for the while and we settled down to enjoy the Xmas festivities.  The Christmas dinner of Red Deer was particularly enjoyable.  The next couple of days were spent in skiing lessons from Elfie and an Austrian family who were staying at the Wiesberghaus such that we acquired some basic skill. However Richard still found it easier on occasion to head for the nearest snowdrift as a means of stopping.

We met up with MW, SB and Ruth at Gjaid alm on December 28th to make sure that they didn't have the same problems that we had.  A mega session was had by the six of us and Hans, our personal ski coach. Sixty five Steigls, some Schnapes, some wine and any free drinks that came our way left us wondering with the few brain cells that we had left between us if this was to be a sign of things to come.

We were awoken the next morning at 6.30 am! by Hans with the idea of going up the Dachstein.  The six of us in perfect unison told him where it was that he could go!  However in the twinkling of six hours later we got up and practiced skiing in the general direction of Bleistiftspitzerschacht but we failed to get there.  A discussion followed and a decision to give up caving for the remainder of the visit was made unanimously.  We however noted some good ice flows on the north face of Oxen Kogel, the south face of Niederer Grunberg and the east face of Hirlatz and considered the possibility of some winter ice climbing.

The following day we visited various entrances.  Orkan Hohle was only draughting slightly, this suggested to us that the majority of the air movement was coming out of PL1 (Polish numbering system), its presumed higher entrance.  Wies alm Hohle was draughting strongly and was a lot easier to find in winter. Magnum Hohle had no wind whatsoever. We returned to the Wiesberghaus and found that skiing the path from Wies alm to the Wiesberghaus was a lot easier to do than walking it.

A quiet night was had in the Wiesberghaus that evening and we had all crashed out by 12.30 in preparation for a 6.30 start up to the top of the Dachstein.  Believe it or not we managed to get up at the correct time. We had breakfast in the Simony Hutte while the weather cleared.  The skiing to the glacier only involved two major steep uphill slopes, both of which caused major epics.  In general we were not doing too badly despite a lot of falling over which we found a little unnerving when one is traversing just above a large cliff. Indeed the glacier was a lot steeper than I remembered it!  We got to Niederer Dachstein and the weather closed in completely.  We soon reached the Bergschrund of Hoher Dachstein and yet another expedition discussion was held.  It was decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we decided to jack it on the head.  It was beginning to get dangerous as the weather conditions were deteriorating, we were losing sight of people in white out conditions and there wasn't a lot of daylight left.  All in all a case of bad weather, bad light and very steep slopes stopping play.  One of the main factors in our deciding to wimp out was seeing the trouble that the very competent local skiers were getting into!

Its quite exciting skiing down a 50 degree slope littered with crevasses in zero visibility but the journey down was easier than the one up except for the steep bits.  Indeed we had nearly as much of an epic going down as going up!  In fine BEC tradition we stopped for a celebration drink at the Simony Hutte and found ourselves benighted.  Skiing at night is simpler than skiing during the day as you can't see the gullies or the cliffs to fall over!  We arrived back at the Wiesberghaus at 5pm and proceeded to continue with the celebrations. It was Sylvester, the Austrian Festival for the New Year, and we were forced to celebrate through the night for the next 12 hours.  Its great being abroad at New Year as you have to celebrate it twice.  The only problem is that I'm waiting to have the photographs developed to find out what actually happened!

New Years day didn't exist, well not much of it anyway, but we got up just in time for the evening session. Elfie prepared a massive spread for us as it was our last night as we had to go off down the mountain the following day.  We had spent virtually all our money and a huge bar bill each for New Years Eve night hadn't figured in the calculations.

The morning we left to go down the mountain, we said our goodbyes and had one customary leaving schnapes, two more for the road and three more for the gutter.  All this before breakfast left us slightly unstable for the journey home.  It only took us one and a half hours to Gjaid alm - much more respectable than our first efforts.  Another couple of schnapes (Cheers Hans) and a bite to eat put us in the right frame of mind to descend the 11 kilometres to Obertran, apparently the longest ski run in Upper Austria.  We considered it as a fitting end to a fortnights skiing.  Hans was a great help in ferrying the six of us and our gear to Robert's house.

Robert. an ex-guardian of the Wiesberghaus, was in fine form.  He is still as wild as ever and instead of shooting his Magnum at German soldiers, he has taken to shooting at Rotweilers that shit on his lawn!  A night with Robert left the six of us pooling our remaining small reserves of money to buy a crate of Steigl for the train home and the journey was spent in an alcoholic haze.

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Austria - Summer 1991

There will a continuation to this saga in a few months when the Steigl Boot Boys and friends return to do battle with crates of Steigl and rounds of schnapps, oh yes and to push Bleistiftspitzerschacht (Pencil Sharpener Shaft), and Verborgen Hohle.  We will be taking a very strong team of hopefully 15 - 20 cavers but anybody is welcome and the area is great for walking.  The potential for Bleistiftspitzerschacht is good and a breakthrough is likely (hasn't every expedition to Austria said the same)!

Bleistiftspitzerschacht is at an altitude of 2000 metres and is directly above Wilder Wester Series in Hirlatz Hohle.  Hirlatz Hohle is now a 50 kilometre long system with a 988 metre vertical range (1987 figures) and we were told that it has recently been connected to Kessel giving a lower entrance at 517 metres.  It resurges lower than that in the lake so would give us the deepest through trip in the world!  Anyone interested in joining the Steigl Boot Boys for their summer tour needs to contact either Rich Blake (BEC), Mark Wright (NCC); Paul Ibbertson (NCC) or me, Snablet (BEC).

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Ski Hire Tips.

Ski hire is quite a complicated business.  It consists of getting Wolfgang and Elfie to phone up in advance letting Dachstein Sports know what exactly you need i.e. type of skis and boots etc.  This hopefully gets you a little discount as the shop then doesn't consider you as a run of the mill tourist - could they ever I ask myself?  Are we not that wild bunch who annually get pissed up in the Diver's Bar and throw up in the gutters in the early hours of the morning while singing six different songs in eight different keys?

When you get to the shop wander in with as much tatty kit as possible. i.e. ice axe, crampons, caving lights, tackle sacs etc as it looks like you know what you are doing - again another possible chance of discount.

When asked if you are good at ski mountaineering answer "YES".  This means that you will end up with a set of half decent skis and not a set of pine planks, i.e. the cheap rubbish that they keep for beginners which are nowhere near fast enough for the likes of the BEC.

Beg, borrow or ask them for a spare set of skins as these come in exceptionally handy.  Then make sure that you have got your full BEC discount and your long hire discount before asking them how to ski!  Seriously it is worth asking them to show you how to put the skins on as this involves warming the skis and skins before putting them on.  This does however blow your cover as an expert skier somewhat!

Snablet.