Application for Grant Aid

Submitted on: 28 Feb 2017

Expedition details (GPF2017a-008)

Expedition Name (& Club): Cambridge University Caving Club Austria Expedition 2016 (CUCC) (Cambridge University Caving Club)
Destination country: Austria
Region: Totes Gebirge
Lat: 47.7075 Long: 13.7987 Elevation: 1755 m
MEF funding: none

Leader: Ms Elaine Oliver
Total cavers: 35
Cavers ≤25 yrs old: 18
Cavers 25-35 yrs old: 6
UK/nonUK cavers: 33/2
Eligible for grant aid: 0
Alex Pitcher nominations: 2
Expedition dates: 8th Jul 2017 - 20th Aug 2017
Duration (days): 44
Man-days in field: 750 Man-days travelling: 100
Brief Expedition objectives:

List a short summary of the main Expedition objectives.

The overarching aim of this project is to survey and map caves and hopefully connect them into the Schwarzmooskogel (SMK) cave system, or to extend caves already connected to the system.
This year, we have three main objectives for exploration and surveying: deep camping as a base to explore excellent leads at -900m left last year in Tunnocksschacht (Camp Kraken at -600m); Balkonhoehle (the presence of three phreatic levels in the rest of the system indicates that some undescended pitches relatively close to the surface in this cave may lead into the second phreatic level, and thus significant new discoveries), and a second underground camp in Organhoehle (last visited in 1992 but we believe this represents an excellent potential link to the SMK system from the north, a direction in which we are hoping to expand explorations both from within the SMK system and from as-yet-unconnected caves). Surface prospecting for additional new entrances is also planned.
How can the GPF support your Expedition?:

Please explain the aspects of the trip which make it eligible for Ghar Parau funding.

The GPF is the primary source of caving expedition funding for UK teams. In recent years, the expedition has been moving to a less CUCC-centric model in order to offer students from other universities the opportunity to attend, and also to allow us to leave more equipment in Austria rather than bringing it back for CUCC use - thus saving on transport costs. The plan is for this to happen over five years, so as not to significantly increase the cost of any one expedition. The money that the GPF provides has been helping us to do this while keeping the costs down year-to-year, making the expedition a very affordable way for students to get into expedition caving. Currently, around half those planning to attend are current students.

Furthermore, there are two underground camps planned this year, one of which will be being established from scratch. Both camps will require a significant amount of extra provisions and equipment, and the GPF funding will help to make this feasible.
Detailed description of objectives:

Give a more detailed account of the purpose of the trip, including any particular known caves you intend to visit, specific areas where you will explore for new cave, and scientific experiments you will attempt.

This year sees the Cambridge University Caving Club's 41st expedition to Austria. Recent years have seen a trend towards larger expeditions, and more students in attendance, since we have been proactive in inviting other clubs including those of the universities of Bristol and Leeds. We are expecting at least 34 expedition members (with a few additional potential members awaiting confirmation of annual leave).

Given the large number of people and the varied ability, ranging from expedition veterans to people coming on their first expedition, we plan to divide our efforts between three main projects across six weeks to provide suitable opportunities for all members:

Deep camping in Tunnocksschacht:
Last year's expedition saw a camp established at around -600m in Kraken Chamber, Tunnocksschacht, to facilitate efficient exploration of deep leads below the camp. The maximum depth reached last year was -903m, and the four expedition members to reach this point were all either current university students or recent graduates. In light of ongoing promising leads in the area, including an active streamway, it was decided last year that the camp should be left largely intact so that we can hit the ground running this year. Furthermore, we have identified other interesting possibilities en route to the camp at approximately -450m, which we would be able to explore without a full derig – improving our efficiency by around 15 person-days against derigging then re-rigging somewhere else.

Since initial exploration in 2014, Balkonhoehle has been explored to over 9km in length and connected to the main SMK system via March of the Penguins in Tunnocksschacht. Most of this exploration has been along the first phreatic level; there remain several promising leads including a huge number of pitches that need to be dropped, especially in the Hiltiaplenty area – given the presence of three phreatic levels in the rest of the system, it seems likely that some of these will lead into the second level and thus significant new discoveries. Many leads in this area of the system are easily accessible and provide an ideal opportunity for the less experienced expedition members to make considerable new discoveries and contribute to the expedition in a meaningful way.

This cave was first described in 1989 and last visited in 1992. It was rediscovered in 2015 and we believe it represents an excellent potential link to the SMK system from the north (a direction in which we are hoping to expand our explorations). Our aim here this year will be to establish another underground camp, whence we will attempt to find a bypass to the particularly tortuous Organgrinder passage. Such a bypass would make exploration from this end considerably safer to access. This undertaking will require a significant amount of additional equipment, but will hopefully allow us to make a lot of progress, as the reports from 1992 mention some extremely promising leads.

In addition to our three main caving objectives, further surface exploration in search of new cave entrances will be carried out.

Extra time has also been allocated at the beginning and end of the expedition to set up our camps and rig the caves for initial access, since the pushing fronts are located many hours from the surface, and all equipment must be carried in on foot as the plateau is not accessible by any kind of land vehicle.

In terms of scientific research, this year we anticipate the sampling and capture of a species of deep cave-dwelling pseudoscorpion, possibly new to science, discovered during our surveying trips last year at approximately -700m. To prepare for this project, we have been in contact with and instructed by entomologist and research explorer Dr Ross Piper.
Previous work in this area:

Give details of any previous work in this area by your own and other teams. Include references to reports and articles published on the area, and the names of any local cavers or academics with whom you have discussed the Expedition.

Established in 1976, this expedition has demonstrated ongoing success in the organised discovery and publication of data and surveys of caves of the Loser Plateau in central Austria, as well as undertaking in-depth scientific research in a range of fields from DNA analysis to speleothem formation. Our most significant discovery to date has been the SMK cave system, currently surveyed to 122.9km and therefore the 17th longest cave system in the world – and expanding every year.

That the club has been returning to the area for 40 years is testament to just how much scope there is for completely new exploration – there has not been a single expedition during which new terrain has not been discovered, surveyed and mapped. Over 20% of the SMK system length was connected in the past three years alone, so there is still huge ongoing potential for the project.

Data gathered by this expedition over the past 40 years has contributed greatly to understanding of the physical geography and hydrology of the Loser Plateau. This year’s expedition aims to further this knowledge – if we can confirm the theory of “three phreatic levels” (see above), it will prove a useful planning consideration for expeditionary groups in neighbouring areas.

Furthermore, all caves over 10m long and/or 5m deep are entered into the Austrian Kataster land registry database, so even relatively small surface finds have historical value.

We present the data from our expeditions annually at Hidden Earth, and regularly publish accounts in various journals such as the Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society and Descent magazine.

Some publications arising from previous iterations of this expedition include:

Day, A., 2002. Cave Surveying [Cave Studies Series 11]. Buxton: British Cave Research Association. ISBN-0-900265-25-6. 40pp, A5, with diagrams and photos.

Curtis, A., Science and Surveying: Totes Gebirge, Austria 2007.

Harries, P.D.D. and Martyn, C., 1992. UBSS Totes Gebirge Expeditions 1989 & 1990. Proc. Univ. Bristol Spelaeological Soc, 19(2), pp.2M-264.

Extensive surveys, findings and reports from previous years are also available at the expedition website:

Expedition Finances


Travel plans:
The majority of people and equipment will be transported to and from the UK to the Loser Plateau by road using personal cars and vans. A few people will be travelling from elsewhere in Europe (Sweden, Germany, France) using their own or public transport. In-country transport will be via the aforementioned personal cars or vans.

Please note that communal costs on the expedition are worked out on a per-person-per-day split rather than a per-person cost for the whole expedition, since the majority of people do not attend for the entire length of the expedition.

# from UK: 31 Travel costs breakdown (for personnel leaving from the UK):
Total costs from UK: £3,750 Estimated fuel costs and tunnel/ferry costs for 23 people leaving from various places in the UK. Assuming between 2 and 3 people per car and a share of the communal gear. Also including an additional 8 people flying to Salzburg and using public transport to get to Bad Aussee.

# from outside UK: 4 Travel costs breakdown (for personnel leaving from the UK):
Total costs from outside UK: £1,000 We have expedition members joining us from Sweden, Germany and France. the following costs include estimates for: car travel from France and Germany; flights and public transport from Sweden.

Travel total: £4,750 Travel p.p. from UK: £120
Travel p.p. from outside UK: £250


Total: £6,000 Comments:
Subsistence p.p.: £171 Please note that this cost can vary a lot year-to-year based on how many people attend for how long, and what the weather is like (bad weather usually means staying at the base camp which is more expensive.

Accommodation (camping and rental of huts at Gasthof Staud´nwirt, the "base camp") - £2,700
Food - £2,500
Camping consumables - £250
Local travel - £450
Permissions and fees - £100


Total: £1,650 Comments:
Subsistence p.p.: £47 Rope and hangers £700
Bolting equipment £300
Hardware for reestablishing Camp Kraken £200
Set-up costs for Organhoehle underground camp £450

Special 1

Total: £200 Comments:
Special 1 p.p.: £6 First aid kit replenishment costs
Exped Total: £12,600 Exped cost p.p. travelling from UK: £344
Exped cost p.p. travelling from outside UK: £474
Mean Exped cost per person: £360

Other Funding

Total: £150 Comments:
The expedition often receives sponsorship or discounts from food and equipment manufacturers, which will hopefully reduce the overall costs.
Total shortfall: £12,450 Mean shortfall per person: £355

Referees and Report

Please give the names, addresses and phone numbers of two suitably qualified people whom the Committee can contact. You should ensure that they are aware of the objectives of your trip, and that you have their permission for the Committee to contact them.

Referee 1: Mr Wookey
Affiliation: CUCC

Reason: Wookey has been caving with CUCC since the 80s, has been on 21 Austria expeditions, and does much of the work maintaining our cave data.

Permission obtained?: Yes
Referee 2: Mr Anthony Day
Affiliation: RRCPC

Reason: Anthony has over a quarter of a century of cave surveying experience (including 20 expeditions to the area we will be visiting), and has also written papers on the topic (see above). He provided a great deal of advice when selecting this year's objectives.

Permission obtained?: Yes

Expedition report author: Elaine Oliver