Application for Grant Aid

Submitted on: 27 Feb 2019


Expedition details (GPF2019a-007)

Expedition Name (& Club): Dachstein Expedition (Various)
Destination country: Austria
Region: Dachstein
Lat: 47.5204 Long: 13.6261 Elevation: 2300 m
MEF funding: none

Leader: Mr. Joel Corrigan
Total cavers: 9
Cavers ≤25 yrs old: 3
Cavers 25-35 yrs old: 4
UK/nonUK cavers: 8/1
Eligible for grant aid: 0
Alex Pitcher nominations: 0
Expedition dates: 17th Aug 2019 - 7th Sep 2019
Duration (days): 22
Man-days in field: 450 Man-days travelling: 60
Brief Expedition objectives:

List a short summary of the main Expedition objectives.

The Dachstein expedition has been exploring the deep, vertical karst systems of the Dachstein plateau for 50 years. Last year’s expedition provided the first high connection to the now 112km long Hirlatzhöhle, increasing its total depth to 1560m and making it both the 9th deepest cave & 19th longest in the world and, we believe, the deepest cave ever explored by a British expedition.

The Dachstein expedition is a training expedition open to all cavers, and has for many years run a well-attended training weekend prior to the trip. Many cavers have come to the Dachstein for their first expedition. The expedition aims to continue this tradition of passing on expedition caving skills to newer cavers.

Other objectives are to explore the newly-accessible area of Wadiland in the Hirlatzhöhle (and find a dry connection between WUG & the Hirlatz), to find more and higher entrances to the system, to continue pushing other caves found in recent years, and to find further caves on the plateau.
How can the GPF support your Expedition?:

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

The Dachstein expedition is an excellent fit to the Ghar Parau’s criteria for funding. The Dachstein is a fantastic area for finding significant new caves, with massive depth potential & snow retreat opening up new cave entrances. The recent connection of WUG Pot to the Hirlatzhöhle has inspired a new generation of cavers to join us.

The expedition provides training and skills for cavers from across Britain, Europe and the rest of the world, with a good mixture of highly-experienced cavers and younger student cavers.

We have strong links with the local caving club Höhlenverein Hallstatt-Obertraun, which controls the access to the Hirlatzhöhle and are extremely supportive of the expedition. We contribute our prospecting data and surveys back to the local cave database.
As an open expedition we had around 50 participants last year. Young cavers and student cavers form a large fraction of the expedition participants.
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.

1) Training
Training is a key part of the Dachstein expedition, and many expedition cavers cut their teeth on the deep, cold and hard caves of the Dachstein. However, there are caves for cavers of all abilities. The Dachstein attracts a core group of highly experienced expedition cavers who can teach new cavers a full set of expedition skills, including prospecting, exploratory rigging, bolting, digging, capping, surveying and much more. Safety remains a key consideration, however, which is why the annual well-attended expedition training weekend has for twenty years included a full cave rescue practice. The ‘SRT training’ cave near the hut provides a useful venue during the expedition. The expedition is deliberately kept low-cost, with a target cost of around £300 for a UK caver to participate including their travel, expedition fee (£65 last year) and accommodation.
Snow retreat, possibly due to climate change, means many previously snow-plugged holes are now becoming accessible. At the Dachstein expedition there are, therefore, excellent opportunities for new expedition cavers to search for new caves, and learn the skills required to bolt, rig, map & photograph them. Several recent significant caves have been discovered, rigged and surveyed by teams of new expedition cavers.

2) The Hirlatzhöhle
The crown jewel of the Dachstein is the monster Hirlatzhöhle, now 112km long and 1560m deep. For half a century the main focus of the Dachstein expedition was to find a higher entrance to the Hirlatzhöhle from the plateau, and last year WUG Pot (2100m altitude) was finally connected to the previously diver-only Wadiland area in the far west of the Hirlatz.
This has opened up more possibilities. Firstly, exploration in the vast tunnels of the Hirlatz at the bottom of WUG Pot has already found many kilometres of new passage over the last few years. The connection with Wadiland may allow a bypass to the sumps to be found, allowing a dry connection with the rest of the Hirlatz. This area includes the 250m+ high ‘Dark Star’ aven, previously climbed to no further leads.
The depth potential of the Hirlatz system is over 2500m. Caves on the south wall of the plateau have been located at up to 2700m, as well as the large Südwandhöhle at 1800m. Water has been shown to flow from the south wall to northern resurgences, so it is possible that the Hirlatz could one day be connected with these caves to significantly increase its depth.
Various other parts of WUG Pot have promising leads. A steep draughting passage heading south still remains unclimbed due to thick steep mud, but Dachstein expedition members have developed climbing techniques using ice axes and crampons to overcome the thick, steep glacial mud of the Hirlatz.
Close to the base of the vertical series, a previously neglected inlet now named PL2 inlet currently ends in an unpushed meander with a howling draught shown to be within 60m of the final chamber of PL2, a 600m deep cave originally explored by the Polish and ending in an enormous chamber around 100m high and over 100m wide in each direction. PL2 is approximately 60m higher than WUG and so a connection would increase the depth of the Hirlatz.
A second inlet, Uphill Gardeners, was pushed in 2018 and is heading towards the surface, which could provide an easier less vertical entrance to the cave.
WUG Pot has been almost completely surveyed to a high standard, and completing this survey is another objective.

3) Shallower cave systems
There are several shallower cave systems currently being explored. Blood Moon cave, discovered in 2018, has been connected to the 600m deep Burnies Pot. There are still several ongoing leads with a connection to WUG very possible, which would add Burnies Pot and around 100m depth to the Hirlatz. Connections with one of this or a similar higher entrance could push the Hirlatz from 9th deepest to around 6th deepest in the world.
In 2017 Thundergasm was discovered, which was then pushed and surveyed to 200m deep in 2018 by a relatively inexperienced team. It has several ongoing leads, as well as the main open and continuing descent. These shallower caves provide excellent experience for newer cavers.

4) Prospecting for new cave systems
The Dachstein expedition has gone digital. Expedition member Axel Hack has been managing the local cave database for several years, and produces Viewranger files of all the known cave entrances and their details which are uploaded onto smart phones. Prospectors use this to navigate through the known entrances, checking old entrances known to be snow-plugged in the past, and finding new entrances. Several new significant caves have been discovered in recent years, and the Dachstein expedition has a long history of discovering deeper (600m+) caves in the area. Locations, surveys and entrance photos are submitted back to the local cave database.
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.

Surveys and cave data are held by the local Austrian caving clubs. WUG Pot has an almost complete high-quality survey, but this is being regularly extended. A project has begun by the Austrian caving clubs to collate all Hirlatzhöhle survey data into a modern format.

News articles
‘A Cardiff man's two decade quest to find the deepest cave in the world’ - Wales Online
(https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/cardiff-mans-two-decade-quest-15225544)
‘Dachsteinmassiv: Forscher finden Durchstieg in Hirlatzhöhle’ (Translation: Dachstein Massif: Researchers find passage in Hirlatzhöhle)
(https://www.br.de/nachrichten/wissen/dachsteinmassiv-forscher-finden-durchstieg-in-hirlatzhoehle,R57wlO2)

Caving articles:
BCA Newsletter 34: Hirlatzhöhle – W.U.G. Pot link breaks British expo depth record (David Rose)
http://british-caving.org.uk/wiki3/doku.php?id=news_events:oct18#hirlatzhoehle_wug_pot_link_breaks_british_expo_depth_record
Descent 259 (Dec 2017): It's Not Ideal
For years cavers have tried for a connection to create a mile-deep system in the Dachstein.
Descent 266 (Feb 2019): Finding Wadiland
The decades-long search for a connection between two major Austrian caves has been successful. Tom Foord concludes his story of how the final link was achieved.
Descent 265 (Jan 2018): In Search of Wadiland
That link between two caves was soooo elusive! How many times have we heard that – but for one team in the Dachstein it looks promising.

Books:
Die Hirlatzhöhle im Dachstein by Gottfried Buchegger (German text).
Höhlen und Karst in Österreich (German text, English abstract and captions) - chapter on the caves of the Dachstein and the Hirlatzhöhle.

Expedition Finances

Travel

Travel plans:
Many expedition participants travel from the UK to Austria car. It is approximately a 16 hour drive which can be done in one (very long) day or two days. Another significant fraction of participants arrive by plane (generally to Salzburg Airport) and train, making use of the train and Hallstattsee ferry to reach Hallstatt. From there, it is a few km walk to the seilbahn station.
We are permitted, for a small fee, to use the seilbahn (freight-only) cable car to bring expedition and personal gear up the mountain to the hut. It is then a two to four hour walk up the mountain to the hut.
Almost all participants use this method to access the Wiesberghaus, although in the past when it was cheaper the Dachstein cable car was sometimes used.
Personnel coming to the expedition from outside the UK tend to use the same approach; typically driving from nearby countries, and flying and taking local public transport from more distant ones.


# from UK: 20 Travel costs breakdown (for personnel leaving from the UK):
Total costs from UK: £2,400 By car with 3 people:
Ferry crossing £130 (return)
Approximately 1000 miles each way, assume 50mpg and £1.3/litre
Fuel approximately £200 return
Approximately £110 per person

By plane: roughly £150-200 per person (return) including baggage and public transport from Salzburg to Hallstatt/Obertraun

Last year each caver was asked for a £5 contribution towards the seilbahn costs which were €5 a load for over 50 loads, despite sharing seilbahn loads wherever possible. Total cost: ~£200

Estimated total number of participants leaving the UK: 20
Assume all travelling by car: £110 x 20 = £2200
Add £200 for Seilbahn: £2400

# from outside UK: 0 Travel costs breakdown (for personnel leaving from the UK):
Total costs from outside UK: £0 Most personnel leaving from outside the UK are likely to not be UK citizens and therefore ineligible for GPF funding. However most will be from Europe and therefore their costs would fall within a similar range to UK travellers (£100 - £300).

Travel total: £2,400 Travel p.p. from UK: £120
Travel p.p. from outside UK: £0

Subsistence

Total: £3,300 Comments:
Subsistence p.p.: £165 Accommodation is arranged through the Wiesberghaus at €5 per person per night last year.
Food is arranged communally, with large stocks of relatively cheap food which expedition participants generally supplement with snacks. The expedition food is vegetarian to save on cost and issues with perishable meats. There is a €10 per week per person food charge, which pays for fresh vegetables and other perishable goods. Some non-perishables, such as rice, pasta, TVP, milk powder, spices and porridge ar

Gear

Total: £3,910 Comments:
Subsistence p.p.: £196 Last year’s expedition suffered from a shortage of hangers and maillons until some were donated by the local caving club. This impacts the less-experienced teams more heavily, restricting the exploration of new caves as there is not enough equipment to run several projects at once. Last year, as the old expedition drill was ageing we bought a second drill, but even with two drills the expedition is still very heavily reliant on personal drills. Buying a third expedition drill would allow shallow

Special 1

Total: £2,000 Comments:
Special 1 p.p.: £100 In 2018 the expedition was able to borrow a CaveLink set from Austrian cave rescue, although one of the underground units malfunctioned. The entrance pitches of WUG flood badly, and many expedition members have been caught on pitches in flooding as they headed back from camp. This is both dangerous and avoidable, as most rainfall is forecast in advance. CaveLink allowed campers to check for weather windows before beginning their exit from the cave, significantly improving safety and also making
Exped Total: £11,610 Exped cost p.p. travelling from UK: £580
Exped cost p.p. travelling from outside UK: £0
Mean Exped cost per person: £580

Other Funding

Total: £0 Comments:
No other grants are being or have been applied for.
Total shortfall: £11,610 Mean shortfall per person: £580

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. Martin Groves
Affiliation: Ex-member of the Exped

Reason: Martin was a major player in the project for many years and was one of the cave divers who made the connection possible.

Permission obtained?: Yes
Referee 2: Mr. Pete Mcnab (Snablet)
Affiliation: Ex-expedition leader

Reason: Snablet was the project coordinator who introduced Joel to the area and is familiar with some of the logistical challenges involved. Alternative phone number: +6434794208

Permission obtained?: Yes

Expedition report author: Andrew McLeod