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Ahnenschacht 1969

By Alan Thomas

We realised that there was little the advance party, consisting of Colin Priddle (Pope), Ian Daniels and myself, could do as we would have no gear.  In the event, however, the advance party was found to be useful as well as enjoyable.

To begin with we found that our friends, the Koglers, were no longer in charge of the Höchkogelhütte – though we managed to spend an enjoyable evening with them at their flat in Ebensee later.  It was then necessary to make friends with the new management as it seemed in doubt at first whether we would even be allowed to cook.  We soon found however that our new host, Gridi Hörhager was prepared to dispense with hospitality in the manner in which we were accustomed.

On Wednesday (30th July) the weather had changed for the worse and after a morning spent at the Hut we set out to investigate a hole on the path some distance below which I had noticed last year and which might be a lower entrance to the Ahnenschacht.  We soon found that though there were several holes from which powerful cold draughts emerged most of them were too small to get in. It was not long before Pope found a much more promising group of holes a little further down.  We pushed into several of these but were not able to do much at the time through lack of gear.

A large number of holes in the area have been noticed by the Landesverein für Hohlenkunde and their national catalogue number painted by the entrance.  Not all of these numbered caves have been explored and some of them are very small indeed.  It was rather surprising, therefore, that there were no numbers painted on the holes that Pope found as they were very close to the path.  Two possible explanations occur: first that they are not easily seen form the path and that secondly that people coming up the path are on their way to the hut and not really casting about looking for holes.

On Saturday 2nd August, Pope and I walked to the top of Grunberg and in the wood immediately opposite the Hut and before reaching the slope of Grunberg we found another group of holes from which a cold draught could be felt.  Further investigations of these holes on subsequent occasions led to nothing.  We no longer have a great faith in a lower entrance but I think it is more likely that one of these holes would repay a Mendip-type pushing.

On Sunday, when we were walking to Hangercherkogel, we were met by Helmuth Planer and Walter from Linz.  Back at the Hut were Helena, Helmuth’s wife and Judi, his four year old daughter, they will be spending the week with us.

On Monday morning we were joined by the others from England who has some trouble with the ford transit.  Six journeys brought all our gear to the top and the tent which Robin had donated to the club was erected as a store house.

On Tuesday everybody carried gear up to the Ahnenschacht.  A party comprising Helmuth, Robin, Dick, Brain, Dave Yeandle, Colin Dooley and myself spent four hours laddering the Sinterterasse and taking some other gear down in preparation for the next day’s party.  Robin put in 5/16” red heads on the awkward entrance pitch to break it into two and on the pitch below where the belay was unsatisfactory.

Mike calibrated the compass and the rest looked further into the possibilities of a lower entrance but without success so far.

On Wednesday, whilst Derek and I accompanied by Gidi and his two children, went to Grunden with the transit to have it repaired, a party went down the Ahneenschacht with the intention of laddering all the way to Schachtgabel.  The party consisted of Pope, Ian, Martin, Brian and Bob Criag.

They had a seven hour trip but did not quite succeed in their intention.  They managed to get the ladder as far as half-way down the 250ft. pitch from Shuppenstuffe.

On Thursday, a party consisting of Dave Yeandle, Derek Harding. Martin, Dick, Colin and myself went down to complete the laddering.  We put in a ¾” red head in on the ledge of the awkward 170ft. pitch thereby making it into two pitches but both life-lined from Sinterterrasse. Martin wet to the bottom of the pitch to make sure it was free all the way down.  A five hour trip.

We were now ready for the first big push.  A party of twelve (including Helmuth and Walter; excluding myself and Derek who went to fetch the Transit back) left the Hut at 7.30am.  The large party took some time descending the pitches.  Mike was first to reach Schachtgabel and Martin soon joined him.  By now it was mid-day and as Bob Craig was at the bottom, Mike and Martin went into the horizontal to ladder the first new pitch, when they came back, Dave Yeandle had arrived and by 2.30pm the ‘deep’ party was completed by the arrival of Brian. Marin and Bob had already left to descend the ladder, which had been placed in the small tube descending beside the big pitch and entered a horizontal passage.  The rest soon caught up with them in a large muddy chamber about 20ft in diameter.  This was explored, surveyed and an extension followed until it met another pitch.  On returning to the main passage an 8m climb down a mud fill allowed Martin to discover another 80m of descending passage which ended in a shaft and then the party made its way to the Waterfall and taking the right hand fork the Main Shaft was soon in sight.  This shaft is an awesome sight; perhaps 120m deep and 35m in diameter; it is formed in white limestone and surrounded at the top by steep and treacherous mud slopes.  Threading its way through a chaos of collapse chambers to the right of the shaft the descending rift was reached; this is very heavily decorated and contains some excellent cave flowers, following this to the bottom of the large chamber in the mud series was again reached, thus completing the first round circle of the cave. Two thirds of the way down the passage parallel passage was entered which swung round to the left and entered a long rift some 20m deep.

With little time to spare the party then went to the end of the Wind Tunnel.  The 20m pitch into the rift chamber was not descended and the descending passage in the other direction soon became impassable without a hand-line.  On return to Schachtgabel soup was prepared and at about 8.00pm the party ascended and all were out of the cave by 1.00am and soon returned to the Hut for soup and sleep.

A party consisting of Derek, Dave, Martin, Bob and I went into the cave at 10.30am on Sunday.  We went as quickly as possible taking food, photographic gear and extra tackle into the horizontals.  First we followed the Wind tunnel to its conclusion.  A small hole gave access to a large rift chamber via a 3½m ladder.  At the end of the climb was a meandering rift passage whose walls were covered in carbon coated bot. stal.  This was followed for 33m but became impassable.  Derek looked at a side passage just before the chamber.

Returning to the junction we followed the Descending Passage.  At the end of this Martin and I went down a ledge to the bottom of a chamber. The ledge seemed unstable so we suggested the others came on the rope.  Derek did this O.K. but as Bob came down the place where the rope was began to collapse.  Dave stayed above.  The whole of this chamber is very unstable and in places a large pot cane be seen underneath.  Further progress in the direction of the passage was prevented by a pot of some 100ft. A rift on the right hand side of the chamber could be descended for a short distance but it came out into the side of the pot a drop of 80ft. would still have to be negotiated.

After we had been to the end of the Descending Passage we returned to a small sand floored chamber near the entrance of the horizontals where we tried to sleep for two hours with little success as we were extremely cold.  We were, in fact, glad to get up for a rest.  (At about this stage I succeeded in cutting my head open when I banged it on the roof.  I keep telling people to jeep their helmets on – that must be why).  After the abortive attempt at sleeping we explored a small labyrinth on the right hand side, just below our sleeping chamber, which led to the mud series.

Martin took 30 pictures of different parts of the cave.  We felt that we had adequately explored the lateral system but of course we did not give it the full Cuthbert’s treatment (what’s that? – Ed.).

We had been long aware that Ahnenschacht (meaning Ancestors Shaft) was no longer descriptive of the cave as a whole.  Derek came up with the idea that what we had been referring to as the ‘horizontals’ should be named ‘Cave of the Ancestors’.  As well as matching the name Ahnenschacht it is descriptive of the dead world of decaying stal. and churt covered rock to which it leads.  About this time, too, we decided, by mutual agreement, that the ‘Boy’ should hereafter be known as Dave Yeandle.  As you know he was the recipient under the terms of the Ian Dear Bequest and I feel sure that Ian would have considered it money very well spent.

We now began the long journey to the surface.  We had been unable to examine my head properly (?  Ed) and so it was decided that I should go out as soon as possible with the view of going to the doctor.  I set off up the 250ft. pitch gladly thinking of a rest on the ledge half-way up whilst I hauled up the bags of tackle.  Unfortunately I was denied this as my light went out and I was unable to find the ledge and was forced to keep going until I reached the top.  I was very grateful to Pete and Brain, who were life-lining there, for the pull they gave me.

I then went half-way up the 170ft. pitch where I had to wait to clear the life-line for the next person. The others soon climbed the 250ft. pitch and worked like Trojans to get the tackle up.  It was over an hour before Derek joined me on my ledge. Unfortunately I had dozed off not long after getting there and never nearly got warm again.  I went on up the Sinterterasse at the top of the 170ft. pitch where Dick, Colin and Robin had hot soup prepared.

As soon as Derek and Martin were up we proceeded to the surface which we reached late on Monday afternoon very pleased to see daylight after over thirty hours underground.  The support party did more than support – they got all the tackle up as far as Sinterterase.

The next day everyone rested; some went to Offensee swimming and I went to the doctor (he somewhat surprisingly told me not to take my helmet off underground).

On Wednesday, a party went down and finished de-tackling and we carried everything back to the Hut.

A couple of days previously the Seilbahn had broken down, the hauling cable having snapped immediately enmeshing my car and the Transit in cable, but no damage was done.  Faced with the alternative of carrying all our gear down to Mitteroher where the vehicles were, we were rather pleased that it was repaired by Thursday and we were able to bring our expedition to a successful conclusion.

We think we have explored the Cave of the Ancestors part of the system pretty thoroughly and know where all the main passages go.  The shafts remain of course, and they will have to be descended. Time is a great healer and already I am thinking about those shafts.

Bob, Dave and myself remained for another week.  The weather was terrible and we were forced to drink beer instead of going out but this did allow Dave to discover and explore his cave.

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A SPECIAL THANKS TO ALL THE CLUBS THAT OFFERED ACCOMMODATION TO B.E.C. MEMBERS AT THEIR NORMAL CHARGES AFTER THE BURNING OF THE BELFRY

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