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Dachstein Caving Expedition 1999 Eisturen Hohle (G5)

By John "Tangent" Williams
Photographs by Joel Corrigan

Over the first two weeks this August, 11 cavers from various places based themselves at the wonderful wooden Weisberghaus (a bit like the Hunter's except at 1883m).  The main objective of this trip was to continue pushing Eisturen Hoble (G5) towards the Sudwestem series of Hirlatz Hohle in the hope of making a connection.  A quick look at the survey will show that no connection was made this year.  However, the cave was extended to a depth of approx. 520 m., with potential for further discoveries next summer still remaining very good indeed.  Several other cave sites were explored also, however, I'll write about those another time. This was my first trip to the Dachstein area, and my first time caving outside of the U.K.  What follows are some impressions of G5 and its caving.

"If it holds its own weight up it must be safe"

John and Chris Lloyd at the Entrance of G5

Chris Lloyd and I made the first visit to the cave of the trip.  A ladder was fixed in the narrow entrance and down we went.  The ambient temperature of the cave felt shockingly cold. I was surprised by this.  It was an entirely new experience.  Once off the ladder we moved down a short climb and then into a twisting rift.  Presently we found the way on at floor level blocked by ice.

A handy rock was found and the ice plug was slowly broken up.  The dry creeping cold that emanated from the ice began to gradually penetrate through my caving gear.  Lying sideways in the rift on a floor of ice, occasionally moving backwards chunks of ice that Chris had chipped away, I tried to distract myself from the chill by looking at the rock.  It was mostly a yellowy white colour with hints of orange in places, it appeared to be very crystalline, and was spikily sculptured by lots of small scallops. The way it reflected my torch light as I lay there it seemed almost to glow with cold.

Soon we were on the move again, and at a pitch head which we would rig and then call it a day.  This bit of passage was like Eastwater meets Wigmore, except on ice.  After passing Chris various bits of ironmongery he thrutched his way forward whilst I moved along behind to stuff the rope through a hole up on our right.

"Rich sure did a job on this one!" (vertical guru speak) exclaimed Chris as he moved backwards and forwards trying to move to near where the bolt hole was.

"John, why don't you try this instead ... " said Chris as he reversed from the passage for a rethink, which seemed to involve me.  "I haven't got my harness with me Chris, besides I haven't a clue how to rig stuff" I replied.

Chris tried the move again, "I'm thinking of Pacific beaches ... " (more vertical guru talk).

Meanwhile, I searched the passage walls for an alternative belay point.  Picking up some rocks I eventually persuaded one to become a chocks tone in the rift, a plan was formed.  With less ice than in previous years, an alternative approach to the pitch head was possible lower in the rift.  The rope was belayed to the newly created chockstone, another small rock was tied to the end of the rope to help us swing it, and grab at it as it went past the hole we were trying to thread.  I thrutched back up into position whilst Chris slid along on the ice below towards the pitch head.  The cowboy bit was done with the rope and after a bit of "Go, go gadget arms!" I caught hold of the line and passed it back to Chris to do some vertical guru knot work.  After some half hearted ice chipping in the approach to the pitch we made our way back out.  I returned to the surface certain that the next two weeks were going to be very enjoyable indeed (which they were!)

"My kingdom for a carbide rocket pack"

Huw Jones on the entrance Pitch of G5

On the next trip I finally had to put my rather theoretical S.R.T. skills into practice.  Waiting at the base of the "Action Reaction" pitch for my turn on the rope, time seemed to just stand still.

Once I'd managed to take most of the stretch out of the rope, and was left hanging just above the ground, the clock began ticking once more.  The passage of time was nudged forwards by the bounce of the rope as I slowly pulled away from the ground.  After a while the motion became routine and I found myself hanging in the harness kind of adrift.  I sat there spinning in the void barely conscious of the increasing exposure anymore wondering how long it might take to reach the top.

Occasionally I was jerked back to semi reality when my Croll would slip back down the rope, and I would have to pull the slack through the device.  Near to rock once more, I pulled a flake of ice from the wall and sucked on it. Feeling refreshed by this, I suddenly for the first time became acutely aware of where I was.  Far below me now I could see the faint flicker of a carbide lamp amongst some boulders.  All around was both the awesome and sickening panorama of rock, ice, and blackness, being briefly disturbed by the feeble glow from my lighting.  After looking about, I decided to hurry on upwards. Time jumps ahead a little at these moments. 

An insane worm or Gecko in G5

Then a rebelay loomed ahead. As it approached, the world I had briefly glimpsed shrank back to become just the few inches of rope in front of my face, as the procedure for a changeover flooded back into my mind. Time stood still once again, whilst I concentrated on completing the changeover, and then to my surprise shouted, "ROPE FREE!"  I had learnt a few things on the ascent and time had made another jump forward.

The Cast of Characters

(In order of appearance)

Chris Lloyd (the token Canadian a.k.a. Vertical Guru), Pete 'Snablet' MacNab (the one responsible for this gathering) Joel Corrigan, John 'Tangent' Williams, Rob Garrett, Mike 'Quackers' Duck (as surface support 'cos TSA don't make oversuits large enough anymore) Ian Wilton Jones, Peter Wilton Jones, Chris Densham, Huw Jones, & Peter Hubner.


John Williams relaxing after his trip

Thank you very much indeed for the hospitality and support of Wolfgang & Alfi at the wonderful wooden Weisberghaus. "PROST!" to Pilz Robert for flying the B.E.C. flag, and sharing a drink or two with us.

The Ian Dear Memorial Fund for helping me get there in the first place.

Plan survey of G5 – I have only printed this part of the survey as the complete A3 survey would have been too small on reduction.  Ed.