Dachstein 1986 and 1987

The discovery of Jagerhohle (6/8/86)

Chris Fry, Andy Dawson, Jon Young, Chris Grimmet & Ow Jones.

A small party of SWCC/Croydon members utilised a coach hired by SWCC in order to reach Hallstatt in Austria. We rapidly made our way up to the Weisberghaus a typical Alpine refuge, where we met the EEC and NCC Expedition. A miserable first day was spent on the Dachstein poking about in the vegetation and trying not to get lost in the mist. On the way back to the Weisberghaus we took a detour through Weis-Alm, a steep sided amphitheatre, where we noted several obvious entrances in the cliffs. We vowed to return if suitable weather presented itself.

In fact it was only the next day that sun and good fortune were to smile upon us. A gentle walk down to Weis-Alm in shorts saw us at the base of the rock-faces in about 20 minutes and Jon, Ow and Andy set about checking various holes in the cliff face. Whilst they got themselves sorted out I started checking out alcoves nearer ground level but found nothing of interest except a few thousand moths of the type Chris Grimmet demonstrated to be edible in the bar later that week!

Andy rapidly found a steeply ascending passage that brought him to the surface near the path we had just descended. Nearby he found a very strongly draughting hole which was unfortunately in solid rock and too small to enter. An adjacent draughting choke was found. This inspired a Welsh type dig to be started later on in the expedition-when a few SWCC members paid us a visit - but it didn't warrant the work required.

Meanwhile Jon and Ow were doing great things with rudimentary climbing equipment and a bit of nerve whilst I laid in the sun with a monocular spotting the holes from the ground and shouting directions to them. At least half of what looked to be promising proved to be simply shadows. The rest, though interesting to investigate, didn't go further than 2Oft or so.

After some time I considered I was causing more problems to the climbers than they were able to find for themselves and decided to go prospecting by myself on the other side of the Weis-Alm. After all I didn't want to get sun-burned so early. in the trip! Explaining to the others that I fancied a bit of prospecting by myself further North I set off to an area of sloping limestone pavement with well developed clints and grikes.

After about an hour I had found a number of tight shafts which were all blocked just a few feet from the surface. I had slowly been working my way back toward the base of Weis-Alm and noticed that the features I was finding were generally becoming a little larger and tending toward a localised hump in the limestone close to some hunters' huts. I eventually approached this and found myself in a shallow concealed gully amongst some dense "Pinas Montana" (the indigenous foliage which we had dubbed FBS - f*****g bastard shrub due to its resistance to human movement and its propensity to inflict pain to bare flesh). Following this for about 50-80ft I noticed a dark space beneath overhanging foliage.

Tearing away and breaking back branches of FBS my heart raced as I uncovered an entrance about 3 x 4ft. I could see down into a chamber about 2Oft. Armed only with a pair of shorts, a helmet and Petzl Zoom I entered the first cave I had ever discovered with turbulent emotions. Proceeding cautiously I was surprised at the nature of the rock; extremely sharp and very light in colour. I was also taken aback by the low air temperature and realised there was a fair draught blowing, outwards. After descending a couple of climbs and short traverses I was obviously following a rapidly descending rift that gave every indication of continuing.

Realising that nobody knew where I was, I felt it was time to share my discovery with the others. On reaching the surface I was able to shout out to Jon and Andy who were high on the opposite wall that I was onto something - to which they replied "Well go and explore it then. Can't you see we're busy?" I did however get Ow Jones to leave what he was doing and the two of us kitted up and re-entered the cave which had already gained a place in our numbering system - S-104. Further short climbs were descended and we became convinced that a pitch would soon be encountered so we headed for the surface once more in order to gather further equipment.

By this time Jon and Andy were back at the base of the cliff and were happy to kit up and follow us back to the entrance with a bag of rope and bolting kit. Quickly reaching our previous limit we all pressed on down a couple more short climbs into roughly circular chambers with trickling water and pebble floors. At this point Andy was leading and announced hat the passage was closing down and was partially choked. However after a bit of clearance and thrutching he passed an S-bend and recommended that we should follow. A wide, stooping height passage had been reached which ended in a low arch which showed evidence of sumping but emitted a strong draught. Andy again had the privilege of passing this constriction and shortly afterward let out an excited cry. We could tell he was in a spacious gallery and lost no time in following.

We had broken through to the head of a spacious pitch with some fine pom-pom formations on the roof. The pitch was estimated to be 120ft deep and Jon and Andy set about the rigging. A good hang took a long time and the rest of us became very cold while waiting. We opted to exit and await news. Jon and Andy surfaced about half-an-hour later grinning from ear to ear. A large chamber had been found at the base of the pitch and there were very good signs of continuation.

Reaching the Weisberghaus at the end of the afternoon I bought a round of schnapps and we cheerfully toasted S-104. A short mention of our discovery was made in the expedition log-book, though this seemed to pass the notice of the others present. Little were we to know that this cave soon was to become the focus of attention for the whole expedition.

Next day we returned with further tackle and all bottomed the first pitch. Andy and I found the way on to be up a boulder pile and down a muddy slope with a few formations where we rigged a hand line. This led directly into a wide rift and straight to the edge of a further pitch with a dubious bridge spanning it about half way across. Initially it was considered too difficult to arrange a good hang down the first hole and a traverse across the bridge was decided upon. This still proved a difficult problem and after a couple of hours Andy and Chris were left to continue while the rest of us carried on out. We emerged to find a big storm brewing up and not knowing the flood characteristics of this new cave returned back in to warn the others.

As we walked back up the mountain to the Weisberghaus a really heavy thunderstorm got underway and lightning was coming down all around. The nearer to camp we got the more exposed we became and as Jon, Andy and I reached the vicinity of the hut everything seemed to go white momentarily and the air was simultaneously ripped apart by a deafening crack and the three of us found ourselves in a heap on the floor just inside the door. The Weisberghaus had taken a direct hit and, despite being covered in lightening conductors, the kitchen had lost several electrical appliances and the telephone had blown up. Chris Grimmet was unfortunately some way behind us at the time and was caught in the ground tracking. He was flung off the path and partially deafened in one ear for a day or so.

Exploration of S-104 quickly became the centre of attention for the expedition, swallowing pushing parties and rope at an alarming rate. In fact so much rope went deep underground that there wasn't a suitable length available to re-rig the first pitch when Jon's rope went square and started to groan after the passage of many cavers. By the end of the expedition a depth of approximately 580m had been achieved to the head of a further pitch.

After protracted debate the cave was eventually named "Jagerhohle" (Hunter's Hole) due in part to the proximity of the hunters' huts but largely because the BEC have a special interest in Hunters Hole on Mendip.

Return to Jagerhole (1987)

Chris Fry, Andy Dawson, Chris Grimmet, Sheelagh Halsey, Jon Young & Sally Jones

The BEC have visited the Weisberghaus each summer for nearly 20 years. Nineteen Eighty Seven was to be no exception again accompanied by various NCC and independent cavers Tim Allen the expedition leader, managed to procure a £600 grant toward expedition expenses. This bought a lot of 9mm rope and paid for equipment to be carried up the mountain. The expedition had been dubbed "Through the Mountain" as its main aim was to push Jagerhöhle even deeper with the hope of connecting with Hirlatehohle lower down the mountain. This would produce a record depth through trip of 1200m.

By the time we reached the Weisberhaus a skeleton advance party had already rigged the cave almost to the limit of the 1986 expedition. After a couple of pushing trips & another 3 pitches the cave gave every indication of going yet deeper and laterally closer to Hirlatehohle. Trips were taking about 18 hours by this time and it was decided that an underground camp was required.

Three cavers set off to establish the camp and spend 2 days pushing further. Unfortunately for them Andy Dawson and Pete O'Niel set off about 12 hours behind them and found them all in their hammocks 500m down about 2 hours later. Pete and Andy carried on past the campers, down a ramp and a further pitch. A 30 x 20ft phreatic passage was found running nearly horizontally. This was was followed for many hundreds of feet before eventually dipping into a sump. A higher tube was noted which it was hoped would provide a sump by-pass, though the camping party found that this too dipped to a sump a little further on.

Chris Grimmet the next day managed to fit in a 24 hour photographic trip to the camp, accompanied by a suicidal Austrian caver before the camp was abandoned.

The survey showed Jagerhohle to be nearly 700m deep in total (about the same as the Barrengasse). It is unlikely ever to be bottomed again.

The discovery of Magnumhöhle (3/8/87)

Whilst Jagerhohle was being pushed I was determined to find another new cave and spent part of the first two days poking about within easy reach of the Weisberghaus in poor weather conditions and without particular success, though I did spot the odd marmot and Chamoix.

At the first sign of anything approaching good weather Chris, Sheelagh, Jon, his girlfriend Sally and I set off for a serious investigation of the "Tiergarten", a beautiful area of Alpine pasture and flora with the promise of the odd cave or two. The area is laterally very close to the further reaches of Hirlatehohle.

After 4 or 5 hours nothing of any significance had been discovered and we had worked our way towards Weis-Alm. Jon and Sally had lagged behind and Sheelagh was very reluctant to leave the path but Chris and I fancied a quick probe into a very broken and erratic area at the. Western approach to Weis-Alm in the Herrengasse.

We set off in different directions, calling to each other every so often through the dense vegetation. Progress here was very difficult and it was often necessary to traverse round blind shafts and force a way through. The area was so suggestive of cave that we were both rushing around looking down all the holes we could find. But, as is so typical of the area, they were all blocked just a feet from the surface by rock and vegetable matter.

The great majority of significant caves on the Dachstein have been discovered by following crawls and rifts at the base of cliffs or in alcoves until pitches are encountered. It seems that surface shafts are easily blocked as a result of weathering and the action of melt water on the walls of the shaft when deep winter snows recede.

Just as we were due to return to Sheelagh by the path I came upon a shallow depression with what appeared to be an entrance near one side. In fact it turned out to be a collapsed rift and was not enterable. However turning round an alcove in the opposite wall on the same line as the rift, presented itself. This looked like a fireplace-sized entrance.

Approaching the hole I hardly dared believe I had found another "goer' but let out a load "Yaahoo" as I was greeted by a very strong icy draught many feet before actually looking into the hole. In fact when I knelt and peered into it I could hear the air buffeting in my ears and, when the sun shone, billowing clouds of water vapour could be observed.

Quickly meeting up with Chris, hi issued a few expletives as I described the results of my work and we both scuttled back to have a quick look. It proved possible to slide in, to the limit of daylight, over a descending floor of ice and snow into a narrow rift.

Shortly after, Chris, Jon, Sally and I were back at the entrance with our lightweight caving kit. We were able to get several hundred feet along the meandering rift passage estimated to be up to Soft high in places, which followed the dip of the rock. The walls were extremely sharp and the overall impression of the cave was akin to the entrance series of Jagerhohle half a kilometre away - though better developed.

Several inlets were passed which displayed fine ice cascades. In fact large amounts of ice in the cave caused us to proceed very carefully; when crossing ice we often could not tell what was beneath us and much of it was melting. Eventually a drop into an ice floored chamber was reached with an obvious continuation in the opposite wall. The way down could not be negotiated without tackle and so we reluctantly had to return to the surface. However Jon managed a climb deeper down the rift some way back along it. We hoped that this route would lend access to the chamber.

Having toasted our new cave - S-106 on our reaching the Weisberghaus we returned the next day with 200m of 9mm rope and a bolting kit and were quickly able to cross the chamber at the limit of our prior exploration and re-gain the rift. This was followed for another 100ft or so before a climb down beside an ice covered collapse and a stooping way beneath "hanging death" led to an impressive chamber giving way to a shaft of large dimensions. The drop was estimated to be 8Cft with a similar distance to the top of the aven where a further inlet was observed.

After considerable gardening and a re-belay Chris Grimmet was first down shortly reporting a large rift passage which "goes on and on". Chris and Andy carried on and rigged another short pitch before reaching an area of massive perched boulders with blackness below. No obvious way on was discovered at this time.

The following two other expedition members found a way onto a pitch estimated to be 200ft; though due to difficult rigging this was not bottomed until a subsequent trip. A large standing pool was found at the base of the pitch but the draught had been lost at this level. A window part way up the pitch was seen which probably breaks through to a parallel shaft but this remains to be investigated.

On a subsequent surveying trip several hundred feet of tributary passage was discovered before the two BEC cavers had to make a rapid exit, tandeming up the pitch in flood conditions, following about 10 minutes of intense rain and hail on the surface. Two other parties were also hit by the flooding down Jagerhbhle and Orkanhöhle, (found by MUSS in 1986 and pushed to over 400m during 1987). The Orkanhöhle party were trapped for several hours before the last few pitches could be passed. They estimated afterward they had about 7 seconds warning that the cave was to flood.

With a great deal of de-tackling to be done in Jagerhohle and Orkanhohle it was decided that S-106 should be de-tackled to avoid further logistic difficulties and the cave has been left for next year with a current depth of 153m.

An unfortunate series of bizarre events during the evening following the discovery of S-106 (involving a .44 calibre firearm and several very drunk German soldiers) suggested the name Magnumhohle - the hole that blows you away!

Next year's expedition can look forward to continuing the exploration of Crkanhdhle and Magnumhöhle. There are doubtless other caves waiting to be found, that is if anyone can be bothered to look for them.

Finally I must thank Howard Limbert and Tim Allen for making the necessary arrangements for the '86 and '87 trips and hope that good relations between the British and Austrian that cavers can be maintained.

Chris Fry