14 February 2013

Silence on the blog, cheer in Norway

My dear readers, I shall love you and leave you! For a while. I am about to engage in a hike I trust will be wonderful. I'm all ready; my bag is standing proudly in the office, all 30kg of it. In two hours I'll take the train to London, sleep there a night, and continue my travels north the next day. I'm excited! When I get back I'll sure have something to blog about. Watch this space!

Large backpack well outside its comfort zone: in a modern office!

12 February 2013

Car repair

I am a blossoming car mechanic. Years ago I already prided myself in changing my tires and replacing a smashed blinking light when I had smashed the original one. But now I added another feat to this list! The last time I needed wing mirror repair, when someone had kindly kicked both off, I went to the garage and had them do it. One of my caving mates said it isn't very hard to replace them yourself, and he offered to help. But I wanted it done fast: a vandalised car attracts more vandalism. The garage fitted two shiny new mirrors.

Only months later I was again confronted with a dangling mirror; this time probably an accident. I decided to have a try myself. I phoned around to some local car scrappers, but none had the right type of mirror, so I ended up buying another new one. It's a bit silly: a 19 year old car with the newest possible mirrors, but well, what can one do.

What it was like first

Improvised repair

On Friday I googled how one replaces a wing mirror. Looked simple! On Saturday I bought my mirror. On Sunday I fitted it. It is quite easy! Even though it's awkward; the padding of the door, and the steering wheel, and all sorts of other car parts get in the way. But I have a mirror again, that doesn't need tape to stay in position! I did keep the old one; thanks to the tape, it is able to stay up. One never knows when the next helpful citizen thinks my car makes an excellent recipient for random frustration. I hope it won't be soon...
Step 1: getting the plastic cover off.

Step 2: getting the whole thing off. Looks very naked!

Step 3: putting the new one in!

11 February 2013

Customised backpack

What caters for the majority might not cater for me. I was very happy with my new backpack, but it still left room for improvement. And some of that room I now filled up! When I went testing the pack I was carrying so much stuff I had to strap things to the outside. But the manufacturers clearly think an 80+ litre pack doesn't need that! So the sides had straps; that's where tent poles and snow pegs and foam seats go. But the top and bottom didn't have much; there were two loops on the top, but what does two loops do? One needs four! So I set out to attach more trappings. And rings to dangle things from. And I added an emergency whistle. And now it's a properly Margonised pack. I look forward to using it!

Strap fitting on the bottom now allow a tent or something to be attached there.

 The top had two fittings, seen here; I added two so I can strap something to the top too. 

I always like to keep my camera ready; I had in the past tied it to the chest strap, but then it falls off as soon as you undo that strap. One strategic karabiner solves that!

 In case of room scarcity I often keep my mug and bowl dangling from the outside. I fixed a split ring to allow that, and I drilled holes into my cutlery, so that can dangle along! I have too many memories of hearing the call "dinner ready!" and then spending too much frustrating time looking for my spoon.

I'll bring big gloves; too big to reasonably fit inside my jacket pockets. So I attached a mesh stuff bag to the waist strap. I can put them in there if I don't need them!

10 February 2013

School art

I can't stand it when municipalities decide to have the inside of their pedestrian tunnels decorated by primary school children. It happens a lot! I've seen it in both the Netherlands and the UK.Why have people, who don't (yet) have the eye-hand coordination, the training or even the talent to produce anything that would be of interest to anything other than close relatives, who may have quite a penchant for being sentimental about such efforts? Just wait a while until these kids have developed some skill, pick the most talented ones, and THEN let them decorate public spaces. They don't need to be professional artists; talented and dedicated school kids can make a lot of art worth looking at. As Plymouth University proves!

Some of the corridors of the building that houses my office are now is use as exposition space for secondary school kids who have chosen a curriculum that involves art. And a lot of it is really good! I'm not very familiar with the UK school system, so I don't acquire much information about the academic level of the maker from the labels beside the art works, but all of them are secondary school kids of some sort. I'm quite impressed! I've selected a few. Maybe some more people will be impressed when they see this!

The explanation of the exposition

08 February 2013

Antisocial neighbour

It must be quite a high-ranking nuisance among urban people. An antisocial neighbour! They can make your life very, very uncomfortable and there isn't much you can do against them. And I have had issues with my downstairs neighbour for a while, but things got worse this week.When I moved in in 2009, I noticed the neighbour would often have his music on so loud that my mugs were rattling on my coffee table. I tended not to say anything; I had been used to quite something in Amsterdam. And I quite cherish good relationships with neighbours; I won't act the grumpy neighbour lightly. But if I asked, he would turn the music down. And he even once prevented the theft of my bikes. But he was a weird one; he had blocked out all sunlight from his apartment. He tended to not show any sign of being around for months at a time; not sure if he wasn't there or was just hibernating, or something like that. He tended to smell of alcohol. In the beginning he was very eager to engage socially; I wasn't. I have friends of my own, I am busy (he isn't; he tends to be jobless), he isn't my kind of guy. And at some point he turned. It was around the time Hugh started visiting a lot. I'm not sure if that was a coincidence.

The first time things went wrong was when I bought my new bed. When we started assembling it, we found out that was a very noisy business. It couldn't be done in a quiet way! And well, one needs a bed, so we pushed on. The neighbour came up to complain; I explained what the situation was, and that it would only take a few minutes more. But later that week I received notice from the city council someone had complained about me, regarding noise. What? Rattling-mug-loud-music neighbour complains about one night when I spend less than an hour making necessary noise? That's not very chivalrous. When I phoned the lady from the council she mentioned he had also complained about that I get up early and walk through my house, and that that wakes him up. He had never mentioned that to me. The council lady said she knew how noisy these buildings with wooden floors are, and she also said the sympathy of the authorities lay with those who get up early for work, even if that means they make sounds. Even if that wakes up their unemployed neighbours who could otherwise have a lie-in every day. The whole situation was ludicrous!

I was upset about all this. I had avoided being fussy over his noise because I like having civil relations with my neighbours. But instead of appreciating that, he nailed me for the first sound I made. From now on I would not accept his sounds anymore. The game was on.

And it became a broader game than I thought; some time later I had to check my meter readings. The gas and electricity meters are downstairs, in the hallway. He immediately came storming out of his door, claiming I had cut off his electricity. I didn't see that coming! Baffled I showed him the switches: all on. If his electricity was down it must have had a different cause. He stormed back.

When he later had his music very loud and I knocked on the door, he often wouldn't even answer the door. And this week it was very loud again; after a while I decided to bang on his door, even though I don't like having anything to do with him anymore. He didn't answer, again, so at least that saved me the confrontation. But by the time it was past my bedtime I decided to try again. I made sure I knocked really loudly. So loud that the dog of the other downstairs neighbours started barking, and its owner stuck her head around the door. She said he wouldn't hear me anyway. But the door opened.

I asked if he could turn the music down. He looked at me with contempt and said "no". Just that. So things have deteriorated again. The police doesn't deal with such things, the council only deals with it if it persists for weeks. I think I'll contact his landlord. I have found out who it is. Not sure it will help. I'll be glad to be out of there in a few months' time. And then I can only hope he doesn't do the same thing to the next tenant! And I'll be a bit more careful in picking an apartment in York...

I taped our encounter. Who knows if it comes in handy. I didn't point the camera at him, though; that might be a bit too provocative. I'm only a small girl after all, and he's an alcoholic with little to lose. So the footage isn't of very high quality, but it does illustrate the unpleasantness of the interaction!

06 February 2013

More hike preparation

What does a meal normally consist of? Starch, fresh vegetables, and cheese. In my world, at least. When you go hiking the fresh vegetables become less practical: they wither, freeze, get squashed... so you get a few dried ones and compensate with meat. Meat gives taste and energy! But this time I'll be in the veggie group. So no such luxury. Now what? I figured I could do one meal with magical ingredient pesto. That makes everything tasty! But that left another one. Noodles are nice and quick, but how do you make noodles tasty and nutritious with only dried veg? The answer is: satay sauce. But you can't buy that in English supermarkets. So where to go?

I found out we have a late-opening Asian supermarket in town. My saviour! They do sell powdered satay sauce, though not the type I'd prefer, as it isn't the "add water" but the "add coconut milk" variety, and that's a hassle, but it's better than nothing. And they had dried pak choi, mushrooms, sea weed, water chestnuts... I bought a selection. And they had veggie satay skewers! But experience has taught me not all of that is palatable, so I decided to make a try-out meal of my new purchases.

The first thing I found out was good. The pak choi, mushrooms, and sea weed are soft after only soaking in water for 2.5 minutes. The chestnuts weren't. (That turned out to take hours.) The second thing I found out was that if you combine the satay sauce with water, milk powder and thickening granules, it becomes recognisable sauce. Good! The third and fourth discovery weren't so good; the food wasn't really tasty (the sea weed and the skewers have to go; the pak choi and mushrooms are OK) and the chestnuts were still hard after an hour. But the sauce did wonders.

The result: it looks quite nice, actually! But it clearly needs improvement.

That all helped me in my dinner design: I have to think of some additional ingredients to compensate for the seaweed, the chestnuts and the skewers, and I have to go back for powdered coconut. And then try again. I'll be eating a lot of noodles the coming days!

Trying the kit

When I received the new pack there were only two weeks left to my travels to Norway. So it was vital to try it out soon! And to my delight, Hugh wanted to come along. His tent had only seen the northern hemisphere from a cupboard. This was the time to bring it out! So on Friday afternoon I gathered everything (well, almost) I would need in Norway. I wanted to know if the bag could fit all that. And I soon found out it couldn't! Even this pack will need stuff strapped to the outside. Although the manufacturers don't expect that: it doesn't have much possibility for strapping. I'll have to work on that...
The bag with all the kit - still stuff on the outside!

Because of space reasons I decided to leave my sleeping bag liner and my down slippers, but I made sure I still would have the proper amount of weight: I brought two litres of hot water and 3 litres of cold; much more than you would on a snow hike. And on a hike we don't carry a tent each. But then I would have not only the liner and slippers, but also more food with me.

I picked up Hugh, we went shopping (neither of us had enough food in store to cater for the weekend, and perhaps not enough fuel either), parked the car, and off we were! It was a very beautiful day. Sun everywhere! And the pack was heavy (I would later find out it was ~27kg) but it wasn't spoiling the fun.

The bag where it belongs. And lots of sun! Notice, too, the new jacket and new glacier glasses...

 Hugh meets a slightly skeptic horse

We walked for two hours and then had lunch. We spent almost an hour sitting in the sun, listening to a stream, and just talking. Very relaxing! And it was extra nice given that one can't take such good spirits for granted in times like these. But we hadn't come for conversation, so we loaded up again and went on. All still went well, although I never had much of a chance to keep up with Hugh. He had brought a full pack as well, for symmetry reasons, but it was much lighter, and even with no difference in luggage I can't keep up. When it went uphill I struggled. And the long stretch through the typical Dartmoor hummocky terrain was hard too. With so much weight on your back your balance is not as good!

Lunch in the sun. Very nice!

We picked a spot next to a stream to camp. It was still early; the sun was setting, but in early February that doesn't mean much. We just looked at the clouds, drinking whiskey, chatting away, until we got hungry enough to start cooking. And after a nice dinner it might only have been 7PM, but it was time for bed. I just tried to take some long exposure time pictures and then I went into my sleeping bag. Nothing like a 12 hour night after lugging such a heavy bag around!

A distant Hugh stands above the valley we chose for spending the night in



Sometimes I woke up that night, and I would hear the rain on the roof of the tent. That didn't bode well! But it sounded like only drizzle when I woke up at 8, and decided it was time to get up. When I emerged out of the tent I found myself in a large cloud of fog. But that didn't spoil the fun; we had breakfast, packed, and set off again, into the mystic-looking landscape. It was most atmospheric! And with less water in my pack I found it easier to keep up with Hugh, who navigated us spotlessly through the thick for, bach to the car. Which, to my sadness, had only one wing mirror left. Not again! No good news for the car, but pack had done its job! It's never very comfortable to carry such weight, but if you have to do it anyway, you might as well do it with a bag like this! I look forward to using it up north!

The next day the weather was quite different.

 Moss, fog and naked trees together create a mysterious atmosphere

05 February 2013

New toy - size DOES matter

Give someone more space and they'll fill it up. Works with houses. Works with backpacks too. At least, that is the public perception. I had been looking for a BIG backpack for a long time, but everyone I mentioned that to said it would only lead to bringing more stuff. Well, no! I have had my lovely 65+15 backpack (a Lowe Alpine Appalachian) for many years, and it's a great pack. But when I go on a snow hike I have to hang all sorts of things from the outside, and that's a pain. Winter hikes require thick sleeping bags and large amounts of clothing and fuel. That fills up one's bag quickly! And it is always more than you can fit into a 65 litre pack. A large pack migh simply be able to accommodate all of that. But really large packs are hard to come by. I had never seen anything satisfactory in the shops...

 A picture from the snow hike in 2010: all sorts of things strapped to a dangling from my pack!

I bought a 90 litre pack when I was 14; it served me for a long time, but when I finally bought the Low Alpine I realised how unnecessarily uncomfortable I had been for all these years. The bag didn't fit well! And that matters. I kept the big bag for a while; it did very good service when I was living in students' accommodation, and we shared toilets with 13 (or was it 14?) people.And someone has to buy the toilet paper!

With another winter hike approaching, my quest for a large, but better, pack intensified. And then suddenly I got an email from a cave rescue colleague. MacPac offered mountain rescuers (we are a subcategory of those) all sorts of equipment at reduced prices. Including backpacks of up to 90 litres! Now we're talking! I immediately ordered it. But it was out of stock. Then I wondered if the 80 litre pack was just 80 litres, or 80+something, like most packs. But the guy dealing with the offer had gone on holiday. Then a lot of confusion followed, but in the end I received my shiny new 80+20 pack. Yay!

I hope it does what I hope it does. I looked at my old snow hike pictures; I found one where I have my crocs and a snow shovel and a down jacket and a plastic bag with something and a fuel bottle and my eating bowl and lord knows what else strapped to the outside. It is a pain to arrange all that. And even with all that on the outside, it takes some violence to fit the rest inside. And the last hike I even sustained tendonitis in my right arm; try packing the maximum amount of stuff into a pack with one hand! And then strap all sorts of things to the outside! This time I hope I can just throw things in. And in a way, this bag comes too late: this coming hike we might have some luggage sleds, and these can hold much more stuff before they become cumbersome. So I might well have the opportunity to give some of my kit away to the sledgers. But still! I will first have to get that bag to Norway. I'm glad I have it! And now it was time to try it out!

The new pack!

04 February 2013

Pepperdon mine

New venues everywhere! We had only done Little Duke two days before Pepperdon mine was on the list. The mine, the terrain around it, and, most crucially, the house that stands there, had changed hands. Somehow the club had found out about it, and received permission from the new owner to come and visit. A description of how to get there was sent around. So I set off with Paul. The description included white railing; some time spent on Google Maps streetview had taught me exactly where that could be found. But the houses this lead us to didn't seem right. Some driving up and down the road followed, and some ringing doorbells. In the end, some friendly lady pointed us in the right direction. On the way there we saw many more instances of white railing...

When we got there we met one early club member, and the owner, by the name of Jeremy. A while later the rest followed. Soon Jeremy lead us up the hill, to the highest adit. It was a bit wet, and didn't go far, but it was nice. Nice enough for Dave to take many pictures; by the time we got out almost everybody had vanished. Luckily people with torches are easy to find in the dark; we saw Jeremy waiting for us at the next entrance. This next adit had some nice features: high stoping, two winzes, one of which deep and dry, and to be crossed on pipes that lay over it, and one flooded and adorned with a long-dead sheep.

My trying to see into a higher level in the second adit
 Crossing the dry winze

What you see when you look down it

When we finally emerged out of that one, it had become hard to detect any people, but we knew the last entrance was right at the house, so we headed for it, and were just in time to see everybody else emerge from it. We got into this one too; it was the wettest, with water coming up to the waist, and coming out of the walls and ceiling in several places. This provided some nice photo opportunities. When we got out we changed in the shed (it was raining), thanked the owner, and set off to the pub. A mine of his own; the lucky fellow! I would be interested to drop that dry winze, although I could imagine it only leads to flooded passages...

Water coming out of the wall in the last adit

And water coming out of the ceiling. All pics by Dave.

03 February 2013

Little Duke

I'd known about Little Duke for years. regularly, this venue would appear on the club trip list, but it would always also disappear. Now I think I know why.

The last time it appeared on the list I expressed my enthusiasm - I always like new mines! And it didn't go unnoticed. When the trip was (inevitably?) replaced by another, Rick decided he would want to go there anyway, so he sent out a call of his own. I would go to Little Duke!

We gathered with eight enthusiasts; four of us came from Upton Cross. Lionel had invited me and Hugh over for dinner the night before. It had been very nice! So all of us were cheerful but slightly foggy in the head.

While we looked for the shaft of our choice we saw some more holes in the ground. Interesting! But we found the desired one, and started rigging. This involved some interesting sights of me standing on Lionel's shoulders, tying the rope around a tree high up; that would make the getting in and out of the shaft easier.

Rick was the first to go down. He warned against dodgy timbers. I was next. It was a nice place! But the floor looked dodgy. As soon as Dave appeared too, he claimed it had collapsed a bit since the last time he had been there. We could still get across, though.

In the time it took Dave to come down I found a dead bat. I was afraid that we would step on it with our big boots; I decided to lay it somewhere else, out of the way. But as soon as I touched it it started to move! I didn't know what to do. It clearly was hurt; it hadn't been lying there for dead for nothing, and it had a bloody face. Should I shelter it or mercifully kill it? Dave stayed calm (as he always does) and said I'd better gently pick it up and dangle it from a convenient wall. I did that; sure enough, the little bat claws immediately gripped on the first irregularity on the rock. It hung there rather dazed; its wings were just dangling arbitrarily. Poor little thing! I also found  a much healthier-looking frog, but it would probably be more doomed than the bat if it stayed there. But what can you do? We went on. There was another pitch!

Finding the shaft in the woods

Dave coming down without his light on

Paul having come down slightly better prepared

Dave rigged it, but he wasn't keen on going down. He still suffered from his shoulder injury. Paul wasn't keen either; he didn't want to get wet. And Corinne bailed out; there was very, very dodgy timbering in the winze, and that's unnerving enough when you're used to it. So we only went down with a handfull.

 Corinne and Rick at the bottom of the first pitch

We gathered initially in a level just a meter or two above the half-flooded level. If you have to wait, you may as well do it dry! And this copper mine still had lots of copper in it; on every iron surface it tended to precipitate, which resulted in very pretty colours and shapes.

 Native copper precipitated on old rails

The level we gathered in 

When we were all down Lionel inflated the boat; we knew the lowest accessible level would have water in it. And we had a boat; might as well use it! He and I went into the level as far as it would go. Fun! I had a nervous moment when I realised that where the level got so narrow the boat couldn't go further coincided with the timbers being very, very dodgy. The only way of gettign out of there was pushing off against that rotting woodwork. But it didn't go wrong! I did decide to try and go back on foot; you're a bit more in control that way...

Me making my way to the timbered level behind me

When I came out we had started to go back up. Lionel, however, found out you could go the other way too (after a bit of digging); we tried that of course. That way we got a few more tens of metres of mine exploration fun. But then it sure was time to go back up. I was the last. When Lionel went up I had a look at "my" bat; to my delight he had by now decently folded up! He looked much better. I hope he makes it!

Being the last, I brought the rope and the rope bag up. When I reached the surface and clambered out, Rick asked me where the frog was. I had no idea! He said he had put in in the rope bag, and sure enough, he retrieved it. It happily walked into the forest! That quite looked like one successful rescue. I hope it was two!

01 February 2013

Something like a goodbye

Last weekend I had a great time with Hugh. We went to Lionel's on Saturday evening for dinner, which was very nice. We stayed the night there, so we could go directly to the Little Duke trip the day after. That was great too! You would almost think I'm good with relationships. But I'm not.

Things had been difficult for months. Many of the usual things went wrong: communication issues, over-interpretation issues, personality clashes... and if such things are not constructively dealt with they slowly but steadily chip away at a relationship. Until every little disagreement threatens to push all harmony out of the window. And that happened.

On Saturday morning we decided to call it quits. But to my surprise, I was still welcome to stay for breakfast. And we also decided to still go to the dinner with Lionel together. And down the mine the next day. And it was good. And it is still a sad situation; we had great times together, and it is sad we couldn't make it work. But it sure is the cosiest break-up I've ever experienced. Coming weekend we'll try out my new backpack together... I look forward to it!