The Sound of Music - The Holloch - Xmas 88.
Hugh. Andy. Anne.
I must be
seeing things. Surely no one would dare cut a track called ‘In The Holloch,
Muotathal’? I mean, can you imagine it? You walk into Bernies in your freezer
fresh Levis, crushed satin jacket, shades and Brylcreemed hair, lounge over to
the jukebox and thumb a coin in the slot as the Ingleton talent eye you
longingly over their coke and crisps. Barn! You hit the buttons, spin around on
a polished heel, thrust your hips out and jive, man, jive to ‘In Lancaster
at the Hollgrotte Restaurant after a 24hr. dash across
gate and the key turned behind us. No going back now. Andy made a vain escape
attempt by having light failure five minutes in, but only burned his hand
fettling, it and then knackered himself running through the show cave to catch
Faintly, far off, could be heard the sound of music as
We couldn’t sit
for long. Shouldering our 30lb. sacks we set off to burn rubber up and down an
eternal series of slippery ramps. It was OK I suppose, if you’re the sort who
likes running over Hardknott Pass, at night, in Teflon coated trainers with a
sack of bricks on your back. We lost track of time and direction. Fixed ladders
rose 150ft., then slopes and ropes descended 200ft. Up again, down again. Would
it never end? Julie Andrews piped up: “You know, all this cave we come through,
it is under water in the spring.. Good Eh.” Fine,
to Styx Sump, one of the lowest parts of the cave, and climbed into the dinghy
for the 40ft.. beat trip. At the far side Julie Andrews piped up again:
“Now we are at Innominata! “ I was immediately suspicious. Half an hour later I knew why. Innominata — no name? I could give the passage a few, all beginning with F. A pigmy in crampons would tire of innominata. With gear and a sack it became a life sentence..... ‘that you would be taken from this place unto a place of humiliation where you shall climb up and down until your ego is deflated and you are utterly and completely knackered,,....
Out of the
gloom a great shroud of plastic sheeting appeared, like some netherworld oxygen
tent. We collapsed into Biwak 1 and drank the water bucket dry. Half way to
Biwak 11. One thing you quickly realise about the Holloch is that it is long.
OK, so you’ve already read the book and know that it is 150 Kilometers and all that. But it doesn’t really sink in, does
it? Not until your legs have turned to jelly, the sweat on your Lila has frozen
back onto your skin, and you know you have to face another two hours of this
purgatory. “Off we go!” shouts
The tat lands
on top of a precarious ladder that lands on a platform that leads to a rope
down another treacherous cliff of greased flutings that lands on a big slope
that goes down an enormous distance to the edge of a lake and another boat. A
quick pull across and into another ellipse. The faint smell of tobacco wafts on
the draught. We must be there! The last few corners and there it is, Biwak 11,
a homely glow of lights at the end of a long trenched tube. A large table,
benches, a cooker, washing lines, beds, lime washed walls, bottles of booze. I
must still be dreaming.
I am dreaming. A bottle of champagne appeared from a tackle bag. We settled down to re-hydrate in style, 4 hrs. from the entrance. The five Swiss cavers in the camp ply us with endless cups of herbal tea and the eloquent champagne. Unreal.
a fall could be fatal! Mesmerised, we fall into pits on thick foam mattresses and
fall into a deep sleep punctuated by visions of a dormitory in
clock chimes. The Tilly lamp blazes. The stove roars promises of pints of
herbal tea. We eat cheese biscuits, wondering why the Swiss are having double
helpings of chicken curry, have we missed a day somewhere?
Marcel beams at us, advising to travel light with one spare fill, can’t be going too far eh? Once again Hurricane bumbles about trying to find some grip. Lifas are cold and wet, but once on the move we soon warm up. Past the bog and off into the unknown. (Yes, I know shit does that too.....) Words can only fail to describe the enormity of Holloch. There are bigger passages in Lancaster Hole, larger chambers in the Berger, more stals in Gale Garth even. But nothing is as long, so unendingly long as Holloch — except Mammoth I suppose. Where else can you just about keep seven cavers strung out ahead of you in sight continuously for an hour?
It’s the same
old tune we played yesterday, ramps, ramps, and more ramps, ellipse after ellipse,
tube after tube. The three figures in PVC steam like pressure cookers. In
Holloch you wear a tee—shirt and cotton boiler suit -- and still sweat.
Another slope rears up to the right off our passage and we nip up to goggle at Biwak 7 complete with hammock chairs of stone slabs slung on ropes from pegs. Comfy.
The next Kilometer
is a ten foot diameter muddy tube, and then it’s up into the big stuff again,
and a few rope climbs break the monotony. The Swiss have an interesting method
of descending these. None of the old hand over hand business: you press the
rope against your belly one hand on either side, and run full tilt looking
straight down the pitch. It takes a bit of nerve, but Anne and I got the hang
of it in the end. Andy decided that discretion was the better part of lunacy — which
it probably was, having watched the washing line on one climb see—saw over a
nice sharp edge. Undaunted, the Swiss turned the climbs into a competition,
often going back up for several more runs, yodeling as they came down. Faith in
the alleged safety of Swiss ski lifts and cable cars began to dwindle from that
After four hours of hard labour we finally burst into the really big stuff at Hoffnunsgang, a large bore in grey limestone liberally veined with white calcite veins. Down this and a low arch ducked through into Pagodengang and the first proper stal we’d seen in 10 kilometer of cave, the Pagoda. Bobs Boss would knock spots off this, but it was light relief to the eyes after miles of rock and mud.
The Swiss setout their picnic table while we took a few pictures and consumed our solitary Mars bar. It was too much to look at the cold meats, cheeses, biscuits and cans of larger coming out of their sacks, so we beat it back to Hoffnunsgang and blitzed the big bore with a-few4’ more snaps.
Pagodengang is the end of the cave on the middle level. A complex high level system rises above it where work is continuing to force a route through to Schwyzerschact, a 15 Kilometer system 200 metres higher and 300 metres horizontally away. Unfortunately the end of Schwyzerschact (did you have to repeat that one’? Ed.) is an enormous boulder choke continually on the move Routes investigated one weekend are simply not there the next.
But I digress. The Swiss suddenly run past muttering ‘Gin and Tonic’. It’s one of those foreign rituals. If you reach B 11 by five o’clock everyone has G&T’s. After five. well, tough, you’ve blown it. We blew the 5 o’clock bar session and then a series of light failures blows the 7 o’clock beer session as well. Only the champagne and whisky left. It’s too much for the Swiss. One by one they ditch the Brits and burn off into the distance. Anne clings on to the end of the Swiss Express and I try to keep them in sight without loosing the Caves and Caving editor who as usual is bimbling along in the guards van. Eventually the carriages come adrift and I sit on the top of another giant slope all al one shouting into a 150 Kilometer void. It’s not really’the r place to get lost isn’t Holloch.
Coupled to the guards van once more we navigate the last Kilometer by nose as the bog gets ever closer. Shit does have its uses. Refreshed by the lights of camp after several hours in the dark, Gourmet Hall springs into action with a five course special, only to be outdone by the Swiss who produce a joint of pork with all the trimmings. Our riposte is to have a sweet in the shape of rice pudding, but this only brings derisory calls of ‘baby food’ from the Swiss. A bottle of Russian champagne pops to celebrate Ruth’s birthday and the entente cordiale is restored. The, revelry is punctuated by the arrival of Mad Max II from the Hotel with some of his tigers. Max is a netherworld Ron Bliss who keeps the camp fires burning while the tyros go out to play. Like Mad Max I at Biwak 1, these old flames come in year after year to relive glories past, suggesting passages visited in bye gone days that have never been seen since. It’s a veritable Bull Pot Farm underground — only difference is that the Biwaks are cleaner. I drag a reluctant team away from the champers to take some more piccies. All goes well, then Andy hands me the camera he’s testing for Caves and Caving. ‘Try a few shots on this’ he says, so I position the slaves and get then to stand still, and frame the shot in the viewfinder of the Le Clic Tuff 35.
“Yeah, get on with it, don’t want to be here all night!” I press the shutter button.
The intimate world of the viewfinder explodes in a thunderous bang. I fly backwards through the air and lie prostrate on my back as the echo of the explosion reverberates down the passage. Maybe I can’t see? I feel my face, and slowly test my eyes one by one. Relief! I can see. Andy and Anne run over thinking the roof’s collapsed.
“What the F... was that?!”
We recover the camera which predictably doesn’t work anymore. Seems the capacitor might have exploded. An alarming incident which fortunately didn’t have any more serious consequences. That ends photography for the day, so we retreat to camp for a nip of whiskey to soothe the nerves. One thing you can say far the Holloch, the bar never closes. Prior to pit time we have a quick foot inspection and giggle at the onset of trench foot. A distant rumble emanates from the hotel — someone snoring again. We clock out.
Breakfast at 8 o’clock they said. So much for Swiss timekeeping. At 8.30 prompt I pump the Tilly into life and rouse the continentals from their slumbers. Must be more knackered than I thought! However, the Brits head start is neatly counter pointed by another Hall mega bimble — much nail biting and hopping from one ‘foot to the other, picking up bits of gear at random, picking his nose, and generally failing to find grip of any kind.
‘Come on Andy!” chides Kurt.
“You’ll have to wait, I’m not ready, now f... off!”
At last he’s kitted up and we head off out, once again falling about with huge packs and praying for a rest we know won’t come. Kurt and Johnny have been ten minutes at Biwak I when we arrive with Marcel, who generously blames it on his dicky ticker and not our snails pace. Off again, and now for the dreaded Innominata. But it’s not so bad this time, mostly down, running the ropes Swiss fashion. Getting casual I ‘fall and crack my elbow.
We sign out
Hugh. St. Lawrence
The Holloch — a few facts.
First a resounding thanks to Marcel Brandli, Johnny huller, Kurt Arto and Ruth. Without their hospitality (and champagne we’d never have had such a fantastic first introduction to the Holloch. They’re from something Arbisgemeinschaft, and it’d be a lot easier all round if they just called it a club. Thanks also to Hans Rudi Baliman, Warner Walz and Barbara Weber for taking us in late one evening when they had to be working the next day. Thanks finally to the Holigrotte Restaurant for providing the numerous beers and some very inexpensive accommodation.
The Holloch is Long. Often it’s quite borinq. Never dull, but: it does tend to qo on a bit. It ‘a nowhere hard, at least where we went but it no wimps trip - The Swiss keep most of their kit in the cave from one year to the next, so the travel liqht But if you are visiting and going in for a few days you need to take everything with you. This amounts to a large rucksac full, which does’nt make for easy going.
Required: Sleeping bag. Food. Track suit or similar plus a good warm top for lingering about in camp, a feather duvet is ideal it rolls up small in your sack. Oh, and a hat. Booze, of course, a minimum two bottles of something. Caving gear should :ideally consist of Lifas and a cotton, yes cotton, boiler suit. In PVC you sweat like a pig, and then freeze when you stop. Carbide. Spare batteries.. and a Peetzl head torch for camp. Oh, yes, toilet paper
For the basic
trip you don’t need any SRT gear. We carried it and added totally unnecessary
weight. How to get there? Well, you can
is controlled by the numerous groups who are working in the Holloch. You need
to make a personal contact and make arrangements for a visit, someone needs to take
you in. The entrance is locked
and gated. You might just find your way to the Biwaks, but route finding ‘aint
exactly a piece of cake. Winter is the ONLY safe time to go in the cave. Even
then it can flood. A few weeks before we went a party was trapped.
We’ve been offered a trip and our own area to explore for Xmas/New Year 89. A party of eight or so. Interested? Contact Hugh, Anne or Andy.
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