2022, July, Fluorite, Knappenloch, Weisseck, Lungau, Salzburg, Austria
In the Spring of 2022, work on an extension of my house kept me from looking for minerals. Having planned carefully, I made sure I would have several weeks in July and August to indulge my passion. As it turned out, during these weeks I made memorable discoveries, among the very best in my many years of mineral hunting.
In mid-July I visited the spot in the Summit Cleft where the year before I had made a nice find. This time I worked two meters away that dig. On the first day I was able to salvage very nice fluorites. The finds got even better on the second inspection. Due to heavy thunderstorms I had to postpone the next ascent. After several days the weather was again stable - this is an important prerequisite, since when working so deep in the cleft you don't notice any changes in the weather - I started my third tour filled with great expectations. Once cleaned, the pieces from the last tour were excellent and it looked like the find area could be even bigger. A fox crossed my path as I was driving to the Sticklerhütte at night. That made me happy; encounters with a fox also seem to be a positive omen.
But not this time, or so it seemed. It turned out to be very wet and cold in the Summit Cleft from all the rain. This made work at the site unusually difficult. The normally dry cleft clay stuck greasily to my hands. Using a heavy hammer proved problematic with so much slippery clay. There was almost no feeling when striking the hammer which in turn put greater strain on my wrist. I was soon soaked and despite the intense work, I was getting numb from the cold. Moreover, I couldn't salvage any more beautiful fluorite. Apparently, I stopped at just the right time on my last tour. Cold and wet, I left the Summit Cleft and warmed myself in the sun. What a letdown! I had imagined this day differently. It was only midday, but I lost my appetite for any further digging. I packed my backpack and prepared for the descent. Then in one of those inexplicable actions, for some unknown reason, I suddenly chose a different route for my descent. I hadn't walked this way for years so I was soon pleased with my choice. I hadn't descended far when I noticed a small ledge covered with rubble three meters away. There are countless places like this on the Weisseck – so nothing unusual – but I nevertheless felt drawn to it. I had to descend several more meters to be able to put my backpack down. With my cleft hook in hand, I climbed to the spot that caught my eye. Once there I began to remove the rubble with the cleft hook. After just a few scratches, I could see that a cavity was penetrating the mountain. I was able to fully insert my approx. 80 cm long hook and didn't feel any resistance. Here the rubble had to be removed over a large area! I descended to my pack again to get a better digging tool, which luckily, I had brought with me from the Summit Cleft. When I got back to the ledge, I started digging. With the new tool I was able to remove the debris much more quickly. I worked at high speed and soon I could see that the cavity was going further into the mountain. Now it was getting exciting! My thoughts returned to the fox - maybe the day was indeed destined to be lucky?
I aimed to clear enough debris to enable crawling in with my upper body to better assess the situation. As so often the case, the work took longer and proved more tiring than I had expected. The tool for excavating wasn't all that big and I also had to pull the debris out of the cavity. When I took a short break, I directed my headlamp into the cavity just in case I might be able to see something. Nothing! After about 2 hours the time had come: with headlamp and cleft hook in hand, lying on my stomach, I wriggled my way into the opening as far as my hips.
Final preparations to crawl into the freshly opened cavity
Once in the cavity I could see. At a depth of about one and a half meters, the rock descended from the ceiling to the ground. However, in the ceiling area I saw a narrow gap about half a meter deep sloping upwards into the rock. Shining a light into it, I could see blue-green fluorite at the far end of the cleft. The area where the rock moved from the ceiling to the ground was covered with larger boulders of limestone and a lot of rubble. In the area where my head was, the cavity veered a further half metre to the left. I couldn't tell how far the cavity went because of more rubble. I thought I could see traces of fluorite in this area as well, but I could be wrong because of the debris. I realized that I had found a new cleft and needed to completely clean out the rubble. I could not as yet judge how big this cleft was and whether there would also be fluorites worth collecting. Now I searched the cavity for another sign that was important to me and fortunately couldn't find any: there were no traces of chisel work to be seen anywhere. Therefore, it seemed to be a pristine, untouched cleft. I crawled out of the cleft and sat for a while to savor the feeling of having achieved a new find. At the same time, I considered how to proceed. I couldn't work the cleft alone that was clear, because the rubble had to be pulled out. I knew exactly who I ask for help. Michael Loidl and Anton Baier are the collector friends with whom I work on the Rucksack Cleft at Weisseck. Anton was away on vacation, so I decided to call Michael. I loaded my tools in the gap to show that she was occupied and headed home.
As could be expected, Michael reacted enthusiastically when I told him of the find. Two days later we were very early at the site. Before we started work, I surprised myself when I said to him: "Either the cleft was cleared out in the Middle Ages, or we will find very beautiful fluorite here." We started the rubble work. At the beginning we were able to remove the rubble in the entrance area together. As we got deeper in this area, we worked one behind the other. The man in front cleared the debris in the entryway and scraped it back between his legs. The man behind carried the debris further to the rock edge, where it then slid away. We worked with this technique until the entrance area was big enough for me to crawl into. There I filled a cut-open rectangular canister with debris and Michael pulled it out to empty it. This work was very uncomfortable at the beginning because there was still so little space in the cavity. But after about a half an hour, things got a little more comfortable. Both Michael and I have previously used this technique for removing debris, so we were a good team and worked a relative fast pace.
The rubble is transported outside with the canister (Hunt).
As I worked I kept seeing signs of fluorite on the rock. However, no traces of fluorite were found in the rubble. In the meantime, I had turned to the left area. Here the cavity kept getting bigger and veered downwards. But so did the ceiling of the cleft, so it remained a tight squeeze. We worked our way deeper and deeper into the mountain, soon it was already noon. We were too fixated on the work to bother with a lunch a break. In a crouched position, I filled canister after canister, which Michael pulled out with a short rope. The cavity now continued steeply downwards with a gradient of approx. 80 degrees. Twice it looked like the cleft was coming to an end. But it was only the ceiling that descended in steps and underneath it went on again. More and more coarse blue-green fluorite was appearing on the walls of the cavity. It was badly affected by the frost and was easily scratched from the rock. The rubble we had removed so far consisted only of chunks of limestone and smaller debris. No clay from the cleft and no pieces of fluorite could be found in the rubble. I suspected that this is where the crystallized fluorite had fallen off and lay somewhere deeper in the debris. Or had the fluorite already been removed here? I couldn't see any chisel marks and dismissed the thought. This area had most likely subsequently filled with debris that had fallen in from outside. Now we were already three meters deep. In this area, a slightly larger gap burrowed into the rock.
In this area, the cavity pulled down steeply
When I dug deep enough to see inside, I shone my headlamp into the gap. There I saw the first crystallized fluorites with an edge length of up to about 4 cm. I was thrilled and informed Michael of this discovery. The gap was just wide enough to put my arm in. At a depth of half a meter, the cavity widened a little. From this area I was able to recover a detached piece of fluorite. In transmitted light from the headlamp, the piece showed excellent violet, blue, and green color. Excited, I showed Michael the piece. Now we were both in a jubilant mood because the color was really extraordinary.
This piece from the side gap got us in cheering mood
The cavity was too narrow to be able to salvage fluorite quickly. But this find gave us new strength and we eagerly dug deeper into the cavity. Half a meter down, about three meters from the entrance to the cleft, a head-sized lateral bulge came to light. In this area, cleft clay was present for the first time. I could feel crystal faces beneath the clay. Since this discovery was at the lowest level, I had to dig at least 40 cm deeper into the ground to examine the spot better. Canister after canister was pulled from the cavity. After a short time, another crystallized bulge came to light. I informed Michael of the new discovery. It was three o'clock in the afternoon. We had been digging for over eight hours. Michael suggested salvaging fluorite from those two locations and then go home. The temptation was great to accept this proposal. But I wanted to go even deeper into the mountain and therefore suggested to Michael to dig for another half hour and then to recover the fluorite from the rock. Michael agreed and so I continued digging at high speed. I wanted to find the detached fluorites. But there was still no sign in the rubble. Now we were already four meters deep. The ceiling of the cavity was now a little flatter backwards. The rubble reached up to the ceiling here. When I cleared the rubble at the top, a cavity was revealed behind it. I shined my headlamp inside as best I could. The cavity pulled back at least a meter, but apart from rubble I couldn't see anything exciting. I eagerly removed as much debris as possible over the next few minutes. The more rubble I removed, the more the cavity spread down. I could already see the first crystallized fluorites on the sides. That sight caused my heart to rejoice; I was now sure that this would be a great find. Excited, I informed Michael of this new discovery. We mobilized our last strength and invested another half hour to uncover this area. In the front part of this section of the cavity I had removed so much rubble that it was possible to chisel the first fluorite from the rock. I wanted to salvage at least one nice piece for each of us as a reward for this busy day.
After more than 9 hours of intensive digging work, the chiseling work began. My feet looked into the new cavity
It wasn't that difficult to salvage the first pieces because the limestone in this area was relatively soft. When I backlit one of the pieces with my headlamp and showed it to Michael, we were both speechless. All of the fluorite glowed with a beautiful intense outer zoning and an inky blue to blue-green center. If I moved the fluorite, then the color of the fluorite would change. Wow, we had not expected such extraordinary quality.
After almost 10 hours of work the first fluorite comes to light
Mike, a young collector from Lungau, came to us about an hour ago and helped us with the last rubble work. It was now very late, so we couldn't continue working that day. We shared the salvaged pieces on the spot and quickly descended into the valley.
While I looked at the freshly recovered fluorite with Mike, Michael had the opportunity to examine the site for the first time after almost 10 hours of intensive work
The freshly recovered piece of fluorite, 8.3 x 8.3 x 5.4 cm
Two happy faces after a very intense day at work
The next day I was back at the site. Michael had to work, and Toni was still on vacation. I was already looking forward to work because I knew that today was going to be a very special day. I had already seen some grown fluorite the day before, which I wanted to salvage today. For this job I had brought along a couple of suitable chisels. Full of excitement I crawled into the cleft to start my work. During the rescue I took my time and thought about how I wanted to work best. I was very calm and enjoyed every moment, because such an experience is a rare gift. The salvage of the first fluorites worked exactly as I had imagined. The fluorites were already partially detached. In other areas they were firmly attached to the limestone. It was precisely in these areas that I had to be more patient with my chiseling work in order to be able to salvage the pieces undamaged. I had already salvaged three nice pieces in the first hour. I crawled outside to be able to look at them in peace. It was a joy to sit here high on the mountain this early morning, enjoying the view and at the same time holding such beautiful wonders of nature in my hands. By early afternoon I had salvaged enough nice pieces. With the well packed fluorites I descended into the valley overjoyed.
A freshly recovered fluorite in the first sunrays of the new day
The cleaned piece from that day
For the next three days, three of us worked at the new site. Toni was back from vacation and Michael had taken a few days off. Now it was a question of removing further debris from the cavity. As best possible in the narrow cavity, the rubble was carefully scraped forward, where it could be reached with the hands. The cavity gradually widened downwards. We tried to remove as much of the limestone rock as possible by chiseling to create extra space. During this work we were able to salvage beautiful fluorites, which were gradually exposed. All fluorite had grown on the rock and had to be carefully recovered. The detached fluorites I initially sought still were not to be found.
Another beautiful piece sees the light of day
Additional fluorites were recovered
Recovery of a large fluorite
On the second day, when there were three of us, the cavity was finally cleared out enough for me to crawl into. It was very narrow in the cavity, so chiseling was out of the question. But I was able to carefully remove more debris from the back of the cavity with my hands. In a small container I passed the rubble to the back, which Toni took from me. Michael pulled the debris out outside, which when cleaned yielded fluorites; he also documented our work. So we all had enough to do. The cavity I was working in now was up to 70 cm wide and about 2 meters long. It was crystallized all around with fluorite with an edge length of up to about 5 cm. There were some crystallized bulges in this area. The fluorite was particularly easy to salvage. It was not yet possible to judge how deep the cavity went. In the back area, the ceiling pulled down steeply. As I was removing more debris from this area, small pieces of wood suddenly lay between the debris. Puzzled, I removed more debris. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a relatively large mining iron with a piece of the wooden handle in the rubble.
The mining iron in the original find position, crystallized fluorite can be seen in the background
With disbelieving eyes, I held the mountain iron in my hand and then relayed the news on to Michael and Toni. At first, they didn't believe me, but when I passed the relic on to them, they too were speechless.
The mining iron was photographed again before it came out of the cleft
We knew this was an exceptional find. We documented the find in detail with photos and took a close look at the entire cavity again. And really - we could see scuff marks. But they were so old and weathered that we hadn't recognized them before. As happy as I was about the find, I also realized that I would no longer find the detached fluorite specimens I was looking for.
The mining iron outdoors with some freshly recovered fluorites
We put the mining iron aside, well packed, and concentrated on our work again. Only on the descent did we have more time to talk about the mining iron. It was only now that we became more and more aware of how extraordinary this find was. There is an old written record in the form of an edict from 1661. The ruler and Archbishop Guidobald Graf von Thun ordered his subjects to expel the “Welsh” crystal seekers in a rather bold manner: “The four miners who worked in the Zederhaus on Weißegg 4 rifles are to be sent so that they can defend themselves against the violent attacks of the Welsh ore and gem seekers and the orderly from Mosheim (Moosham im Lungau) has to grant the miners all assistance.”
„Den vier am Weißegg im Zederhaus beschäftigten Knappen sind 4 Büchsen zu schicken, damit sie sich der gewaltsamen Angriffe der wälschen Erz- und Edelsteinsucher erwehren können und hat der Pfleger von Mosheim (Moosham im Lungau) den Knappen alle Assistenz zu gewähren.“
The mining iron with small sintered fluorite splinters in front of a particularly beautiful fluorite specimen
We had all heard of this writing about the miners on Weisseck. We suspected beforehand that no mine had been operated there, but that the miners worked the natural, sometimes large, clefts. But until now no sign of mining work had been found at Weisseck Mountain. We found in 2001 at the beginning of the work in the Summit Cleft “Kienspan” (elongated wood shavings that was used for lighting). But it could also come from a later time. If this mining iron came from around the time this edict was written, then it was around 360 years old. Now, of course, the question arose as to why the “mining iron” remained lying there and why work was not continued there. Perhaps the miner had too little oxygen at this depth and in this narrow cavity and it was simply too narrow to be able to mine fluorite with a flame using “Kienspan”? In any case, the mountain iron must have been there for a long time, because small pieces of fluorite were sintered onto one side of the mountain iron. The finding point of the “mining iron” was about at a depth of about 5 meters. This means that at that time the cavity had already been cleared out at least up to that point and had subsequently been completely filled with rubble.
Gradually we got deeper into the cavity. There was a large bulge on the right side. Here the fluorites were particularly well protected and were not injured by the falling debris. Cleft clay was also present here, which additionally protected the fluorite. A few fluorites had detached in this area. Over time, sinter had settled on these pieces, giving the pieces a very special appearance.
Detached fluorites with sinter
Fluorite with intense translucent colors and beautiful sinter deposits
Another beautiful piece with almost snow-white lime sinter
On the next tour I was on my own again. The day before we had removed so much rubble that I was able to salvage further pieces that day on my own. First, I salvaged some very nice fluorites from the protected large bulge area on the right side. Again, I took my time with the salvage and considered every procedure. With luck and carefully planned work, I was able to salvage all the pieces as I had imagined.
Well protected fluorites under a bulge in the right area
In this video you can see an exposed fluorite cube in the upper area. Luckily, I was able to recover this piece undamaged
One of my favorite pieces, freshly recovered from a protected area that you saw on the video, 5 cm edge length
The cleaned piece with intense translucent colors, 7.8 x 7 x 5.8 cm
After recovering those fluorites I still had time and was able to clear more debris in the back area. In the meantime there was also enough space that I could deposit the rubble on the side to remove it later when Toni and Michael had time again. I worked about where I had found the mining iron, only about 20 cm lower. The day before when chiseling, I had already come across a new cavity. Behind the almost vertical crystallized area there was another cavity. I tried to enlarge this area. During this work, pieces of rock came loose again and again and fell down in the rear cavity. I could tell by the sound, that these rocks were tumbling down over a ledge. According to the sound, the pieces were falling at least 2 meters deep. Naturally, I was suddenly overwhelmed with collecting fever. I now started working even more intensively. The front section was narrow, and the limestone was very hard here. As a result, my progress was very slow, and the work consumed much of my strength. Little by little this roughly half meter long area was becoming more accessible. The sound of falling debris grew louder. On that day I managed to enlarge the narrow area so much that I could reach in with my headlamp and see at least the upper area of the new cavity. I finished my work. Tomorrow I wanted to resume working here with Toni and Lasshofer Hans.
But fate had other plans for me. When I got to my car in the valley, I became cold. Despite summer temperatures, I had to put on a jacket. When I got home, I already had a fever. A positive corona test confirmed my fears. My defenses were probably weakened by the exertion of the last few days. Toni and Hans had to do the tour without me the next day. Toni continued to work on the spot and salvaged more fluorite. But he didn't manage to open the passage completely that day either. They didn't want to take away the experience from me. In the evening he informed me about the current situation and said I should be able to open the passage completely with an hour's work.
Toni with a particularly beautiful, freshly recovered fluorite
During the unintentional break I had time to think and allow my imagination to consider all variants of the size of the new cavity. Eight long days later I felt fit enough to dare a new Weisseck ascent. My son Lukas had come from Graz and wanted to help me with the cleft work for the next few days. Because of my illness, I took things relatively easy during the ascent. On the trek we were fortunate to enjoy seeing many sheep suddenly popping out of the thick fog and just as quickly disappearing again. As soon as I got to the cleft, I started to work. Toni had done good preliminary work. After an hour I had opened the passage wide enough that I could crawl through. First, I crawled head first into the passageway to get an overview. The cavity was completely crystallized. Fluorite had only fallen off in a few areas. The new cavity was big enough to crawl into. The cavity descended about two and a half meters at an angle of about 80 degrees. I couldn't see much more at first. I crawled out again, turned, and crawled feet first into the cavity. Cautiously, I slid down the chasm, which was over-grown with fluorite, until my feet reached the ground. Lukas had meanwhile also crawled into the gap and remained in the upper area. Together we admired the crystallized cleft. I held my lamp to a protruding crystal to show Lukas the fluorite in transmitted light. It was a very impressive moment for both of us; father and son were happy to share such an extraordinary experience.
Lukas in the upper area of the new cavity, almost six meters from the cleft entrance
After admiring, we then started recovering the fluorites. In the center of the cleft at the bottom was a crystallized rock outcrop. I solved these first by chiseling to protect them from further injuries caused by working in the cleft. Lukas had to bring the big piece to the surface alone. Maneuvering through this narrow, steep cavity resulted in bloody fingers, but he managed to remove the piece without damage. After that, I began dismantling those fluorites that were at greatest risk of damage. Lukas assisted me with the work bringing the salvaged pieces to safety. In the late afternoon we descended into the valley with heavy backpacks. During the descent, we were startled by a loud whirring noise: just a few meters above our heads, two young eagles performed daring flight maneuvers and then a few minutes later soared into the air and disappeared into the clouds. A fine conclusion of a day full of breathtaking impressions!
The salvaged rock outcrop from the new cavity, crystallized on both sides over the edge, 43 cm high
Sunrise with Lukas on another tour
One of many sunrises on the tours to Knappenloch - but this one was particularly beautiful
The fluorites of the new cavity was dismantled during the next inspections. My third son Paul and Lukas accompanied me during this time to be able to admire the new cleft. Michael, Michael, Toni and Hans were also there when time allowed and they didn't have to work. At the bottom of the cleft we were 8 meters away from the entrance. Fine rubble lay on the ground, small chunks of lime, also detached fluorite and in between a lot of clay. It was very tight in that area. The transport of the rubble became more and more difficult. The oxygen supply was often not optimal here and dangerous. The cleft continued downward. We laboriously dismantled a lot of the rock here because it was otherwise too narrow. By this time at the latest, we had become miners ourselves. After a few intense days we reached another cavity. This was rather flat and completely filled with clay. At a depth of about 10 meters, we finished this year's work at the end of August.
With Paul after another successful tour
This video shows the difficult conditions under which the fluorites were recovered. Considering that the cleft was completely filled with rubble and in some areas I had no enough space to turn. In the deeper area the oxygen supply was very poor and this made the work even more strenuous. If something had happened in the lower area, it would not have been possible to rescue the person due to lack of space.
A well-deserved rest during a strenuous descent
The fluorite found in this fissure reaches an edge length of up to 6 cm. The cube surfaces show a beautiful parqueted structure and are slightly concave inwards. The surface quality is strongly dependent on which area the pieces come from. The fluorites from the ceiling and side walls are generally of good surface quality, with a good gloss and marked by only light water etch. Many pieces from the ground area were severely modified by water, frost, and debris; these were difficult to recover because many pieces broke. The color of the fluorite is zonal, and goes from violet to blue, cyan, and green. The colors can vary in numerous shades and intensities. With transmitted light, these colors come into their own and the whole fluorite begins to glow. Due to the plastic structure of the crystals and the colored zonal construction, these pieces show a tilting effect when illuminated. This means that the fluorite will change color as you move it. Despite their intense color, these fluorites are transparent. The pieces coming from the ceiling area and from the side show the best transparency. Fluorites coming from the bottom and lower sides are very dark purple to almost black. Some fluorites have old contact marks from the debris. These contact marks are generally healed by water etching and show no fresh fracture surfaces. The pieces coming from the lower part of the cleft often show small individual intergrown blades of white barite and dark purple spots most likely due to low levels of radioactivity from an intergrown mineral. These two special features can be seen as a hallmark of this find. Like most fluorites from Weisseck, these pieces also have an alexandrite effect. This means that the fluorites show a different color under different light sources. For transmitted light illumination, I use an LED lamp with a higher yellow content. This is where the fluorites become particularly beautiful: they show a more or less intense cyan-blue color, which gives a particularly nice contrast to the intense violet. In daylight, the fluorites show an ink-blue color instead of the cyan. Due to the color quality and the plastic crystal growth, combined with a corresponding crystal size, these pieces are definitely among the best fluorites to date from Weisseck.
With this matrix piece, the colored zoning structure is clearly visible, 8 x 7 x 6.5 cm
„The Tree", a particularly beautiful matrix piece, 10.5 x 8.5 x 6 cm
Nice exposed crystal with 5.5 cm edge length, 7.9 x 7 x 4.8 cm
Another excellent piece I was able to salvage from the protected area, 13.3 x 9 x 6.8 cm
A piece with very intense colors and plastic crystal growth, 5.5 cm edge length, 14.5 x 8.5 x 7.3 cm
One of the most beautiful pieces from this find, 5 cm edge length, 21 x 18 x 10 cm
Another nice piece from this find, 23 x 14 x 10.3 cm
This beautiful play of colors is created by the hemispherical growth, the dark violet colored dots are most likely caused by slight radioactive radiation, 12.5 x 11 x 6.8 cm
Dark violet fluorite with intense edge growth, intense water etching and many intergrown barite crystals from the lower part of the cleft, 12.5 x 11 x 6.8 cm
Fluorite with colored zoning and beautiful etched structures, 5.9 x 3.5 x 2.9 cm
A piece with very intense colors and plastic crystal growth, 8.8 x 5.5 x 4.5 cm
Fluorite with particularly intense colors, 12 x 9.5 x 5.4 cm