Freesteel Blog » Under Austria Again

Under Austria Again

Friday, August 3rd, 2007 at 4:50 pm Written by:

[Uploaded from the street in Bad Aussee.]

Six days into the CUCC caving expedition continuing the exploration of Steinbruckenhohle and I have almost recovered from the too-hard first three days. I have now learnt to say “No”.

Day One included a two hour jaunt up the newly placed via ferrata route on the 200 metre cliff above the Loserhohle. Someone had zig-zagged a steel cable across the cliffiest bits and stapled it to the rock. You could climb it by leaning back and walking with your feet, except at the overhanging bits where you had to hold on for dear life. Then we crossed the gryke-infested plateau to the Stone Bridge camp with all our caving gear.

Day Two involved ten hours down the second deepest route in the cave, Gaffered to the Pitch. I hate heights and had promised myself I’d never to go there again because of its scary 80 metre pitch halfway in. This year we’d gone all scientific; someone was conducting a stress test on us by getting us to collect our own saliva samples four times a day, and at ad-hoc moments. Ten millilitres of spit takes a long time to produce even when you are feeling good about things. The vials are kept fresh by burying them in a snow plug in one of the surface caves. We surveyed over a hundred metres of crappy passage and then got out.

The deepest route in the cave is called Razor Dance. It’s been under seige for over six years. I’ve tended to ignore it as being too hard and not my problem. Unfortunately the caving god who discovered the Stone Bridge, the cave, who had originally pushed down to nearly that level, and had also previously pushed the deepest route in the cave next door called Kaninchenhohle, returned from his non-stop expeditioning in China to do it properly. (Kaninchenhohle is next door by the fact that my attempts at discovering new caves in the area resulted in nothing more than two new entrances to that old cave.)

So, while I was messing around in my kayaks in Scotland, these guys were pushing a godforsaken tight passage to a depth of 600 metres, found the sump at the water table, and then reportedly explored a mysterious tunnel that went up the other side and broke into an area of horizontal development.

I didn’t believe any of it. The chances of two streams draining into the same remote underground lake from opposite ends, and happening to be climbable without the assistance of rope, was too unlikely to be real.

On Day Three I found myself going on a trip down there. As I abseiled down the ninth enormous pitch to the depth of 200 metres on my worn-out rack (that metal device hanging from my waist in pic — person on left), I realized I had made a terrible mistake.

The VAS questionaire we fill in for spit sample has a section on “energy”; mark a point on the line according to how you feel:

Can't do anything Can do whatever is needed
0 |----------------------------------------------------------------| 100

“Whatever is needed” can be defined as “getting out of the cave”. Clearly, there is no alternative, no matter what you feel.

The pitch series bottomed out at 350 metres, and was followed by half a kilometre of unrelenting rift passage. Although you can get through many of the pinch points by slithering down between the walls to the next false floor of the windy canyon, you have to worry about how you are going to get back up them again.

I had to keep blanking my mind whenever it began daydreaming in graphic detail what would happen if I accidentally slipped too far and broke a bone. It’s too awful to imagine. I had to kept close to the other members of the team, in as bright a light as possible, and move with immense caution.

The sump was there. Five hours after setting off underground, we were still going in. A rope had been bolted to the wall high above the water to assist the traverse across the lake. Then the cave continued upwards in a series of climbs for 120 vertical metres, consuming a chunk of my precious getting-out-of-the-cave energy.

We surveyed a hundred metres of sandy small passages and took some photographs. The walls were white and clean making it possible to imagine I was somewhere else much closer to the surface. Dark places sometimes freak me out.

I finally got out at 4am — slow and cold, even on the rope climbs. There was a big-eyed alpine squirrel in the food hammock under the bridge. So much for keeping it out of the reach of the mice. Mice sometimes nibble the ropes before you take them underground — also not something you want to think about while you are hanging above an enormous hole.

My sleeping spot was on a folded tarpaulin on a bed of rocks. This meant I couldn’t reach under and move them around to make them fit my body better. When the sun came up I sat on a stone and stared at the sky blankly.

I am never going down there again.


  • 1. s replies at 11th September 2007, 5:18 pm :

    and you’ll never have to.

  • 2. Freesteel&hellip replies at 12th October 2009, 5:09 am :

    […] Two days of hard coding on Tunnel Cave Drawer for this piece of crap! The orange tinsel bit on the right going down to the silver hammerhead shark shape is supposed to be Razor Dance. […]

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