Caving: Dachstein, Austria (Aug-01)


Dachstein - Austria 2001, Schwabenland, Hirlatz Hohle
By Martin Groves

Peter Hubner, Pete Whitaker and Rich were left to tackle the larger more technical pitch whilst Greg, Tim and I made our way back to the smaller but equally interesting pitch some ten minutes nearer to camp. As Greg and Tim searched and checked the stability of natural belays I began to place a bolt. A nice solid Y-hang was soon established and I traversed out over the dark pot towards an inviting stal boss. The others erupted into laughter when upon grabbing the boss it peeled away in my hand. Having regained both balance and composure I too joined in the laughter. Continuing to traverse out along the ledge a precarious rock pinnacle was lassoed. It proved a sufficient belay from which to lean out and place a solid bolt for the main hang down the pitch. From the new viewpoint it became clear that the pitch was nowhere near as deep as first anticipated and I informed the others that I may as well continue down. The solid clean washed wall soon gave way to a loose, steeply inclined boulder pile: prospects did not look good. A quick tour confirmed that there were only two possible ways on, one was a downward continuation of the pitch, the other, on the opposite side of the chamber, a climb up with the audible sound of running water. As Greg and Tim made their way down I began placing another bolt ready to drop the continuation of the pitch. The continuation turned out to be a straight forward 3m free climb, but the bolting had served the purpose of keeping me warm whilst waiting for the others. The three of us dropped down into the new chamber. All ways on were solidly choked except a floor level meander that was deemed too tight when Greg could not fit his head any further in. Somewhat disappointed we climbed back out of our new find.

The only other lead was the climb up on the other side of the chamber. Drawn by the sound of running water Tim soon began free climbing the loose wall. The state of lethargy induced by the chilling effect of the cold cave air was abruptly broken as Tim screeched out, "Below!"

Instinctively brought back to life I jumped back, but in almost slow motion I viewed a dark, jagged lump of rock fall past my helmet and strike me on the right wrist. Following the propagation of a sharp pain up my arm I immediately cried out, "Oh fuck, I think I've broken my wrist!"

Amazingly as I looked down, although with some pain, I could freely wiggle all of my fingers. Relieved that the wrist was not broken, I removed the muddy glove to see a deep, blood-oozing gash. Tim was prompted to continue pushing the lead which turned out to be a wet, miserable meander, whilst I showed Greg my injury.

We regrouped at the top of the pitch and bandaged my wrist using a Kit-Kat wrapper and snoopy loop as the first aid kit had been left back at the camp. Tim apologised for knocking the rock down, but I pointed out that really it was my fault for standing too near the bottom.

Although mobile the condition of my arm was deteriorating. A group decision was made to survey our finds. The process of surveying was certainly a chore but needed to be done so that the pitch could be de-rigged and the rope used elsewhere. Just as the survey was complete our guide Peter Hubner arrived and prepared a much-welcomed brew. Huddled in a circle we passed the pan of steaming soup reciting the events of the last couple of hours. Peter's group had an on-going lead and so it was decided that he should return with the surveying kit whilst we would go back to camp to clean up my wrist and maybe look at another lead.

The trip back to camp seemed quick and was fairly uneventful. Upon arrival Tim and Greg set about finding antiseptic wash and bandages whist I peeled off the Kit-Kat wrapper which had become fused to my arm by the congealed blood. As the other two observed with morbid gazes on their faces I set about the cleaning process. With each wipe the nature of the injury became more graphic, although the gash was not particularly large it was certainly deep. Gritting my teeth in anticipation of the sharp stinging pain induced by antiseptic wash one last wipe was made to remove the surface debris directly inside the wound. With horror I exclaimed, "Urrgh, I can see moving bits inside, come and have a look!"

The others scrutinised with combined expressions of repulsion and fascination as they stared at the twitching tendons dancing to the beat of my wiggling figures: "it's like something out of the Terminator." The novelty quickly passed and the potential severity of the situation took priority. Infection was our main concern since this could render the hand totally immobile, a daunting prospect five hours into the cave. As rapid an exit from the cave as possible was deemed the best plan of action, but the others must first be informed.

Tim headed off to try and make contact with the other group, Greg prepared food whilst I continued to clean and bandage the wound.

After a good feed the confines of a sleeping bag seemed the most attractive option. A light sleep was broken by Tim's return. Tim explained that he had not managed to make contact with the others. The only sensible alternative was to settle down and get as much rest as possible and await the return of the other group.

The others ambled back into camp around midnight clearly fatigued. Although stiffer and more swollen my hand was still mobile, an immediate exit from the cave seemed neither sensible or possible. After reciting the morbid details it was exceptionally pleasing to here that the other lead was still going, owing to the nature of the passage it had been christened Yorkshire Land. People were fed and settled down to sleep.

All arose around the same time the following morning. The camp was packed up and for future reference an equipment itinerary was compiled. With heavy tackle sacks we set off. The condition of my hand had stabilised which was a relief, but it was exceptionally painful and of very limited use.

The first hour or so of the trip out consisted of a Mendip like cave with numerous crawls and rope climbs. Each climb was executed with extreme caution; these were the obstacles I was dreading the most for out of necessity they required some brute force from the arms. The first few climbs passed without incident until one with an overhanging section was met. I clambered down and found myself helplessly stranded, my weight almost totally supported by the injured arm. Peter Hubner and Rich Hudson stood on the soft muddy floor below witnessing my predicament. In the few seconds I had been stranded I estimated that from my feet to the floor was about three meters. As the pain in my arm increased the damage limitation option seemed to be a leap of faith, without a second thought I launched myself into mid air. Peter's expressions of shock were a real picture. A half-hearted attempt was made at a roll as I stuck the floor with a thud. Lying on my back I looked up at Rich and Peter and burst into a fit of laughter. Contrasting feedback was received from the audience, Rich giggled, "Cool, free-fall caving!" whilst Peter in a more serious voice recommended that I do not try such antics again.

Although still some three hours from the entrance it was a huge relief when that section of the cave had been passed and it felt as if we were home and dry. Like beetles marching in a line we made steady progress through numerous enormous passages so typical of the Hirlatz cave system. The main obstacle to a successful exit now was the several hundred meters of rigid ladders that have to be negotiated. Peter Hubner's concern was easy to see, however I was quietly confident that, provided I could take my time, they would not be a huge problem since the injured arm could be wrapped around the back of the ladder for support. The first set of ladders was passed comfortably. Sitting at the top of the ladder leading to the infamous overhanging ladder above the bridge, apprehension lead to agitation as a number of people commented on how intimidating this section of the cave is. Below the ladder is a drop of over one hundred meters into a dark abyss, some way down a bridge cuts across the hole giving perspective to the site and the corresponding feeling of exposure. One by one we tackled the overhanging ladder. Peter Hubner waited on the outward side of the ladder for me. After clipping my cowstails into the traverse line I slowly edged out feet first along the ladder. The injured arm wrapped around the back of the ladder whilst the other took most of the strain. Progress was halted when the bulky tackle sack on my back caught on the ledge above the ladder. Looking down the distant flicker of carbide lamps far below created a picturesque view of a massive abyss. The only way to make progress was to lean out further into the void. Blanking out the scenes below a few steps were made and the ladder was passed. Breathing a sigh of relief I continued down to the bridge and began to enjoy the grandeur of this fine place.

After a few more ladders and a bit of boulder hopping we were soon at the site of the temporary sump, the entrance series landmark I'd had in mind throughout the outward trip. The hand ached more from here to the entrance; the limited use throughout the trip had certainly taken its toll.

The fresh air and a fine view of Halstatt were welcomed by all as we emerged into daylight. Quickly we changed and were soon on the way back to the campsite. The others greeted us on our return but I was soon in Peter's car on my way to hospital. X-rays revealed no broken bones but numerous pieces of rock buried deep inside my arm. After minor surgery all the pieces of rock had been removed and we were back just in time for Pizza and beers with the others. I felt lucky that the boulder had not caused more serious damage.

Caving Logbook

Caving: Schornberg Hohle (29-Jul-01)

  • Schornberg Hohle

  • 11:00 hours
  • 742:00 cumulative hours

Glad to be caving back in Austria. The purpose of this trip was to carry in camping stuff and set up camp. A couple of groups had gone in before to rig pitches so in theroy we just had to carry stuff to the camp. We got the cable car up the mountain, then had a short walk round to the cliff above the cave. In the nice hot weather we got ready for cold Austrian caving then abseiled over the edge of a 200m cliff face where we would pendlum into the cave about 50m down. As you approach the entrance there is a tremendously cold draught forcing its way out the cave. The rest of the kitting up and sorting out gear was done in the entrance before heading into the cave. Carbide lamps were being blown out as we made our way into the cave via some tight bedding plane crawls. Soon some short handline pitches were reached, which were passed but not without incident. Rich Bayfield decided to fall off some of them before deciding he would be a bit more carefull with his caving technique because of the remoteness of this location. More pitches, squeezes and akward uphill muddy slopes got us further into the cave. En-route to the camp we explored a ''' on the survey where various immature rifts were explored but no promising leads were found. We soon made it to the camp where we dropped off the kit and made tea. It was then time to head out which was a lot easier as the mud slopes were downhill and there was no kit to carry. Back at the entrance Martin Groves had rigged the remainder of the cliff face so we abseiled the 150m pitch down to the floor. At the bottom there was then the steep down hill walk back to the car at the seilbahn station.

Caving: Schornberg Hohle (31-Jul-01)

  • Schornberg Hohle

  • 22:00 hours
  • 764:00 cumulative hours

31/07/01 ' 01/08/01 (+3 Hours Sleep) This time we decided to walk up from the valley instead of using the seilbahn (?5 each way). The walk up is tiring especially with lots of kit and brings you to the bottom of the cliff whereupon there is still a 150m prussik to the cave entrance. We all gathered on the grassy ledge about 5m below the cave so as we could kit up and not actually go up into the cold draughting cave until everyone is ready. Not a lot of kit was carried in so progress to the camp was relatively quick. At the camp we made some food before getting as much sleep as possible. It wasn't long before Mike, Tim & Jim returned from a pushing trip, so after they had eaten we were extradited from the sleeping bags and made to get into caving kit - Not very pleasant. From the camp we headed further into the cave up a 20m' pitch and then over to the head of the 200m pitch. On old rotting rope we traversed across the head of the pitch and continued onwards. We soon got to the start of the skywater system where we were going to explore and see what we could find. We were now heading down a partially mud filled phreatic tube when suddenly we came to a pot in the. This was, with the assistance of some ropes climbed down then back up the other side. More perfectly formed phreatic tubes were followed untill navigation became a problem at a rather confusing jumble of boulders. Thanks to the draft the way on was located and more excellently sculptured passageways were followed. All this ended in a rather large boulder chamber with no obvious route on. A return back to camp was made. As we passed the 200m pitch Joel, Rich and Martin were still rigging the bottom of it. We then continued where we had lots food and drink at camp. We also decided to head out now as opposed to spending another wonderful night underground and heading out in the morning.

Caving: Schornberg Hohle (02-Aug-01)

  • Schornberg Hohle

  • 04:00 hours
  • 768:00 cumulative hours

De-Rigging trip. We were the second wave of people to go in and clear out the ropes, ladders and campsite. Fortunately for us just before getting to the camp we met up with Rich, Helen and Donald who had done a stirling job of packing up the camp and rigging gear and bringing it all forward in a mountain of tacklebags. We split the tacklebags up so we had one each and headed out with the others. Back at the entrance all our caving gear, camping gear, above ground gear and rigging gear had to get back down the mountain. Abseiling the 150m pitch below the entrance and passing the 4 re-belays with rucksacks and tacklesacks that you cant even lift was not easy, nor was carrying it all down to the valley. We weighed the tacklesacks that we bought out of the cave but they went off the scale which was 25Kg. My rucksack of caving kit, SRT kit, camping kit etc was also over the scale.

Caving: Hirlatz Hohle (04-Aug-01)

  • Hirlatz Hohle

  • 36:30 hours
  • 804:30 cumulative hours

04/08/01 - 06/08/01 (+15 Hours Sleep) What a magnificant cave. From the forest car park a steep tiring walk gets you up to the cave entrance. The short entrance ladder leads into a low crawling phreatic tube where the draught is so strong its blowing sand and grit in your face. A chamber is soon reached and the draught seems significantly less due to the size of the chamber. The entrance series in winter is ice covered so in dry summer conditions the via veratta style spikes, ladders, wires seem a bit excessive. Eventually the series of ladders begin. A few short ones pass and then the big ones arrive. Walking across a 70m deep void on a horizontal ladder then climbing up another 50m on yet more ladders is quite intimidating. At the top you traverse around this chamber with over 120m drop to the floor on more horizontal ladders untill climbing through the roof and into another passage. All of which with a rucksack full of camping gear and no lifeline. A bit of caving leads to another 70m ladder up a vertical wall. At the top a big trunk passage is reached and camp 1 gained. We were not planning on staying here so pressed on to the next campsite in Schwarben land (known to us as Mendip land). Lots of steeply inclined big passages were followed with short handlined climbs and more very exposed drops. Schwarben land was then reached (the name relates to a tight akward caving area in Germany) and the small ensuing passages and muddy climbs were followed again intersecting a main trunk passage. It was here that we were to camp. The campsite being 5km horizontally and over 800m of vertical height from the entrance. After a good night sleep we reluctantly got changed (cave temperature is 2?c) and headed further into schwarben land on a pushing trip. After a couple of hours caving we reached the un-descended pitches marked on the survey. Here we split into two teams so as we could attack two different leads. I went with Martin and Tim to push a pitch 7-8m diameter by the side of the main passage. A series of bolts and not very reliable naturals got us to the bottom (20m) and into a chamber which continued across boulders down a 4m climb and into another chamber. This unfortuanately was the end of this lead with only a small meandering rift being the way out. I pushed on down this but it soon became to tight to even get my head through even without no helmet. At the bottom of the pitch Tim looked at a higher level above the chamber and in doing so unknowingly knocked a sharp jagged boulder down and onto Martins wrist. With blood pouring out and the tendons inside moving we retreated back up the pitch to where we had left the bag and covered the wound with a kitkat wrapper and snoopy loop. As is Austrian tradittion we surveyed what we had found and headed back to the camp. Tim headed over to the others to inform them, while I poured some strong anti-septic drug onto the wound and bandaged it up. Another night sleep was had and in the morning we packed up camp and started to head out. Martin coped incrediablly well on all the ladders considering the state of his hand. The way out was a lot easier as most of it was downslope. At hospital martin had X-Rays to remove all the bits of rock embedded in his wrist then had a plaster cast.

Caving: Kessel Resurgence (08-Aug-01)

  • Kessel Resurgence

  • 00:30 hours
  • 805:00 cumulative hours

Excellent tourist dive. Surfaced after 50m and decided against getting out the water and going into the next sump. We instead looked for an underwater connection to the next sump and explored various side passages on the way out. Vizibility 10m+.

Caving: Austria Caving (08-Aug-01)

  • Austria Caving Expedition

  • 00:00 hours
  • 805:00 cumulative hours

08/08/01 - 10/08/01 (Surface Prospecting on Hirlatzalm) After a sucessful dive Rich and I headed up the mountain via the military cable car whereupon we met Martin and Donald in the bar at gjaldarm. We sat here and waited for the others to return from a rather miserable day on the hill due to the weather. They soon arrived soaking wet and joined us for a beer. Closing time unforuanately met going outside and pitching tents. In the morning we headed over in the direction of where Canyon Hohle should be and looked for both that and other entrances. Lots of entrances were found, recorded and marked but nothing seemed to continue any distance inwards. A retreat back to the pub was then made. The next day we headed for the pub in the morning before getting the cable car back down the mountain.

Diving Logbook

Diving: Kessel Resurgence (08-Aug-01)

  • Rich Hudson

  • Kessel Resurgence, Dachstein

  • 01:00 dive time hours
  • 4m Depth

Excellent tourist dive to end of sump 1. On the way out we looked at some side passages and also for a possible connection through to sump 2 without getting out the water.

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