31 October 2015

From on top of the mountains to inside

The Swamphike ended on Wednesday. That meant going inside a mountain the day after! We'd go and have a look at a part of our pet mine Cwmorthin that's so rarely visited it still has lots of original hobnailed bootprints. That was nice! We made sure we balanced on the tram rails in those parts of the tunnels that indeed had those. We want them to stay there for others to admire too! And there wasn't an awful lot to see otherwise, so it was a short trip. Suits me!

 We found a strange variation on the birthday cake near the entrance

One of the levels held part of a hobnailed boot

 And the famous bootprints!

I didn't get to see my bed early, though. The night got a bit longer due to David and Paul wanting to stop at the local kebab shop, and to David's car having technical issues. But that's life I suppose. And still after so many visits (since 2013 only; weird, that) much time still seeing new parts of Cwm is great! We passed several other bit I had never been. Can't wait to go back!

From hike to office

On Friday I was in the field with the students. At 5PM I left the students and went to see my friends. Around 2PM the next Wednesday I said goodbye to my friends, and drove straight to the office. I took off my soaking socks and shoes and got to work. The students had been sending me the data they collected since Saturday, and I had told them to send it in no later than Wednesday, the day I would emerge (dripping) out of the mountains. The next Monday I would have to give them a one hour lecture on using the collated data to produce a scientific report, and I wanted them to have a chance of having a look at the data beforehand, so they could come prepared with questions if needs be. But that meant not losing any time. The office was waiting!

Nobody complained about the fact that I appeared in the office after having only washed in streams and lakes for five days. I got my nose down and started compiling. That did require some mailing up and down as not all the students had presented their data in a way I found unambiguous, but I made good progress. At about 6PM I drove home. Enough collating; now it was time to hang out my wet clothes and tent, and put away my hiking kit! And have a proper shower.

I had to spend the Saturday in the office in order to have done all the plotting I wanted the students to do, to know in advance what issues they would encounter. I could anticipate on that in my lecture. It was a hitting-the-ground-running return to working life but I pulled it off. If that is what it takes to be able to take 4.5 days off to hike with friends then that's well worth it!

28 October 2015

Zomphop 2015: Snowdonia

It should have happened last year but didn't. It happened this year and it was fab! Better late than never. I'm talking (clearly, as whoever can read this can also read the title of this post) about the Swamphike which should be annual! And this year I live in such an amazing environment it isn't hard to pick a magically beautiful route. So I had.

There was some complication due to the student field trip, but by 5PM I was on my way and only minutes later I was in Bethesda where we met up. It was good to see everybody! And we had a bonus: this year a gentleman by the name of Sløtl joined. He had been in the same year as me during our earth Science studies in Amsterdam, starting in 1994. A while ago! He had heard a lot about our autumnal hikes and had wanted to join. He would fit in like a glove! Or something.

We jumped into the cars and set off to Llyn Ogwen. I had planned to park at the very western end of the lake but space was limited. We then probably should have driven on to the far eastern edge but I wasn't that switched on. We parked in the middle! And after a bit of faffing we set off. The hike began!

My bag was very heavy. I was carrying the usual stuff, but also a tent big enough for me and Viking (he carried the poles, pegs and ground sheet, to be honest), a stove, pots and pans, fuel, the first aid kit and a (plastic) bottle of booze. And my share of the food. Maybe a bit much! And also a reminder I should really buy a new and lighter sleeping bag. But we'd sort weight out the next day. For now we just wanted to get going as the sun was setting.

We went up along Afon Lloer, just keeping climbing until we found a nice place to camp. We pitched the tents (and the Tarp, under which Roelof slept) and sat down. It was great to have a beer (the others had brought some from Bethesda) with a view with old friends! We looked upon the road through the valley and Tryfan on the other side. Great! And although we had pitched a tent I decided to sleep outside. It would be great to open my eyes in the morning and see a mountain! And I didn't sleep very well as at first I had creatures clamber over my face and later it started drizzling, but the whole opening eyes in the morning thing worked. And then it would really start!

The view in the morning

After breakfast (porridge!) I gave away another fuel bottle and lugged the bag onto my shoulders. It was still very heavy! And we were headed for the Carneddau, with their highest point of 1064 m, while we had only slept at 550. Oh dear. Soon I knew I really should get rid of some weight but I figured it could wait until lunch. But that was a bad idea. Roelof noticed and inspired me to give my tent to Henco who was running up the slopes like a mountain goat. Then I felt a lot better!

Ready to start!

On the Carneddau it was windy, foggy and cold. We found one still spell we used for a little break. Sometimes a sliver of view revealed itself. If it did the result was great! But most of the time our gained height did not mean gained enjoyment. Underneath Foel Grach we had lunch; it was quite clear then. We could see all the way to Holy Mountain! But as soon as we got up to move again the fog was back. Luckily we would soon descend. The path by which we would do that didn't materialize, but Roelof got his compass out and lead the way anyway. At one point we decided not to follow; he walked straight into a swampy patch and vanished up to his thighs. Luckily Viking got him out! And that was the end of his dry socks but as that was as bad as it got it was actually quite funny.

 Henco admires the absence of view

The wide view during lunch

A shelter we found just under the top. Well blended into the landscape!

Viking pulls Roelof out of the swamp

When we had dropped down to some 700m we got out of the cloud. A lovely valley stretched out before us. The sun even came out! The Carneddau are rather spectacular but this was nicer. Roelof changed socks and we moved on. There was no path but we could see where we were headed. We saw the quarry and I wanted to have a look at the ruined buildings. From the buildings the old tramway lead down the valley; as I expected, that turned into the path. A nice one! This was a day of nice contrasts. The autumnal stillness of the afternoon- with some sun, even!, was welcome after the wrath of the Carneddau. And after a while, the broken reservoir dam came into view. We made sure we got water from a nice stream, and then we scouted for a camping spot. And we chose one right beside the dam! Why not.

Coming out of the clouds and into the valley

Changing socks in the sun

Walking towards the quarry 

Approaching the dam. Pic by Sløtl

We pitched the tents again and four of us went for a bath. I didn't go all the way into the water but I did enjoy it. What a place for a shower! A big empty valley and only the sound of a high waterfall. After the bath we had a snifter. I had brought some Icelandic moss booze. Very tasty! And soon followed spiffing dinner. Butter chicken! Without chicken, but it was still magnificent. Soon after it was bedtime. After a disturbed nigth and a heavy hike I was tired!

Elaborate cooking

 Atmospheric camp site

The next morning it was foggy again, but not too much. After a breakfast under a tarp we set off again, on to Llyn Cowlyd. It looked on the map like a simple skip to the next valley but the path vanished and we had to do quite some soggy bushwhacking. But why not! And we got there. The plan was to walk to Capel Curig and from there onto the slope that leads to the Glyders, but that was clearly rather ambitious. Plan B was go to the Pinnacle Cafe and make a plan. Everyone was keen on that!

Path gone!

 Skilful map reading

 Autumnal scenes

We negotiated the gentle path down, with its many soggy bits, and the well-meant but badly executed bridges over the worst bits, and got to the shop/cafe. I bought whisky and bara brith, and Henco bought coffee as we feared Roelof had miscalculated how much of that we needed. Panic over!

We were now all hungry, so instead of the originally envisaged scone we all went for a full scale burger. Nice! Then we bought a few more beers, as we had decided to skip Glyders and Snowdon and all these peaks as you don't see anything from them anyway. Instead we'd head into the Gwydyr forest. We had really enjoyed Llyn Eigiau so we aimed for another lake; Llyn Goddionduon this time. Well-fed and relaxed we scampered that way. The route took us over cute little forest paths. And soem full-scale logging roads. And the lake was nice! It had flat spaces for tents and pesky robins. And soon the lake proved itself a lovely bathroom. This time I even swam a few metres. It was that nice! And that in mid-to-late October. And after the bath we got lovely Viking pasta. And the Red Arrows did a fly-by (honest!) What more can one want!

 Viking, Henco and Sleutel's nose. And some whisky. Good times!

The next morning we first got some more water and then we walked pretty much straight to Ty Hyll. I had driven past it so often, and it looked very nice, so I was glad to have an excuse to finally visit. And I'm always willing to drink some more coffee! And finally all the others could eat scones. And the house even had a resident robin who hipped around and added to the already rather twee environment. Nice! And after we'd finally extracted ourselves we followed the river, admired Swallow falls, and then headed up the hill. It was great to see a "danger, old mine" sign about every meter. And the woods are rather confusing so we took a convoluted route. But why not! And by the time we reached the curve in the road from which you have a great view on the Hafna mill we were hungry enough for lunch.

 In the Gwydyr Forest

Walking along the river. Pic by Sløtl

Admiring Swallow Falls. Pic by Sløtl

 From that point there should be a path down, but it wasn't there. We just took one that went in a different direction. That way we ended up (by accident, honest!) at Parc. Parc is very accessible so I suggested we go in until the water would get too deep (which is a few tens of metres at most). Viking and Henco thought it was a good idea! The rest didn't like this mining malarkey one bit. Oh well. I later showed Roelof another mine entrance, which in my book also counts as accessible, but he looked at me in horror and asked "you would go in THERE?". Maybe my standards are odd.

Confusion in the woods

Hafna mill. Pic by Sløtl

From the Hafna mill we got to the top of the hill and then a bit down. There was another lake that had caught our attention: Llyn Glangors. It was ludicrously beautiful so we decided to stick with it. It did mean we had to scout for water as the stream feeding the lake according to the map was dry. Roelof, Viking and me set off. It didn't look good! The next one was a suspicious-looking trickle. The second a bright orange little stream. The third and the fourth were no more than trickles either. And the fifth was finally just big enough to fill bottles with. The water was a bit yellow but it would have to do.

Our next lake annex bathroom. Pic by Sløtl

The view from this camp site. Pic by Sløtl

When we finally got back I figured it was time for a bath. Another swimmable lake! I felt lovely when I came out. And I came back to Henco already having started cooking the meal I had brought. Maybe he was hungry! But it was quite luxurious. It was a lovely evening.

The next day would be the last proper one. We wanted to end it in a pub! I thought of Tyn-y-Coed, so we had decided on a route past Llyn Geirionnydd and Llyn Grafnant, and then back into Capel Curig. It was a lovely day! We imagined ourselves in a Ravensburger puzzle many times. And at the northern tip of Grafnant we even found an old quarry. Three of us went in. Nice! Small but decorative. But we moved on. At the other end of the lake we were glad to enter open land again; by then we had seen quite enough of chocolate box forests. And it stayed chocolate boxy, but nobody complained.

Bonus mine!

Perfect holiday conditions

When we got to a strategic point we decided to scout for a camping spot, go to the pub, go back and pitch our tents, have dinner, and then go back to the pub. And we found a great spot! And then we did go to the pub. But once there the idea of having to climb the 80m back to the scouted spot was not so attractive anymore. After a few beers we decided to re-scout on the other side of the river. We found a nice flat field next to the river with nice autumn colours! No objection. So we settled down, and I had a bath. By then light was fading so I wasn't too scared of embarrassing the local population. And then we had lovely Henco rice. And then we went back to the pub!

We were all a bit tired, and quite used to early nights, so we didn't drink much or last long. But it was nice! Upon coming out we noticed it was raining, but we had already pitched the tents, so it didn't matter too much.

The next morning we got out of bed late. It was still a bit wet! After breakfast we packed all the sogging stuff and set off. The Dutch contingent wanted to have some time buffer for in case. The path was nice and autumnal. Things got more autumnal when we got out of the woods. The tramway back to the cars was rather exposed, and the weather didn't improve. But that was alright! We were all heading home.

Packing up from our last campsite 

The road back to the cars

Wet hikers

Group pic!

I thought we'd have to do the last stretch on the road, but there turned out to be a small path running parallel. That was nicer! But also festooned with ankle-deep water. I was resigned. Once back at the cars we decided there was time for lunch in Bethesda. We found a nice cafe. The mood was getting melancholy; goodbye was nigh! It had been a very good hike, as far as I was concerned! Lovely landscapes, lovely camp sites, lovely weather. A nice balance between wilderness and pubs/cafes. And good people of course, but that is always the case.

I don't see these folks very often but more than 20 years of history is enough to pick up where we had left off when I do see them. I'm not sure I would have envisaged us still hiking together as a bunch of 40-year-olds. But I'm glad we do! More next year! Hurray!

24 October 2015

Another day in the field

I love the mountains. I love teaching. Does that mean teaching in the mountains is the best there is? Well, not entirely. It's great, don't get me wrong. But field trips with students are hard work. There is the teaching, which you have to do on the fly, without a powerpoint presentation to remind you of things. And there is the issue of trying to get the students prepared. And the logistics. Will they all show up? What to do with those who don't? Can they all walk up the hill at a reasonable speed? Will they re-emerge after lunch? Will they all do intelligible measurements? Will it rain? Will it be so windy they can't hear me talk? Etc etc.

James asked me if I wanted to do the Ice and Oceans fieldwork again this year. I thought it might be a good idea. I might be able to get an idea of how to improve it, as in order to get my PGCert I have to improve something. Something to do with the Laugharne field trip would be another option, but there's no reason why one couldn't hedge one's bets. And as teaching in the field is hard some practice comes in handy. So I said yes!

As James taught the rest of the module there was a bit of uncertainty in who did what; who would arrange the rental cars? Who would register attendance? Who would find out if there were any students with medical issues? But nothing went particularly wrong.

As I would leave straight after the trip to go hiking with my Dutch friends I drove myself. That way I could scoot off as soon as the fieldwork was over. James and the other staff would see to it the students would be delivered back to the main campus. And there was a LOT of staff! We had two new lab technicians for whom it would be both nice and useful to get them introduced to the trip. We often call on the likes of them to help out. And we had a new PhD student who would be working on related stuff. But all these were too new to have registered as university drivers so we needed three drivers in addition to me and these three. More staff than you can shake a stick at!

When all arrived on the parking lot I suggested we'd set off. The drivers were still sorting out parking tickets but I figured the staff would outrun the students anyway, so I set off with the latter. But they were quite a fast bunch! Oh well. I waited until all were at the site and started introducing the topic. I showed the students how to use a compass, told them how and where to measure and set them off. And realised soon I hadn't been clear enough. Oh dear. Fortunately James knows exactly what is expected of the students so together we went along all the little groups and set them right.

 Students as little pixels in the field (and a random walker)

After a while all groups were done, so I gathered them all to do a bit of a debrief. Spontaneously a helicopter appeared. I waited until it left. And then it came back. And hovered above our site. No way I could drown out a chopper! I made the call to go back to the cars and debrief there. That worked! Then we were off to Llanberis for lunch. I was hungry!

The helicopter as a small light dot in the middle of the pic

After lunch we went to the beach for some clast analysis. I explained how you measure the angle of a clast with a compass-with-clinometer and screwed that up a bit. One is fallible after all. And then set the students off again! And then I checked all groups to see if they were making enough observations to make the measurements useful. Sometimes students forget to note down crucial stuff and then they are measuring for the cat's fiddle. This time I managed to nip a lot of such absentmindedness in the bud! And after a while many students were done. And some were getting cold and one was getting sore. Call it a day or wait for the slow ones? I was tempted to do the first. And then the students all started to gather anyway. I gave in! And delivered the final spiel. I did call onto James to add to what I said. It would be a waste to not draw on his spiffing treasure trove of knowledge! And then we could go.

I gave all the staff a hug and got to my car. I announced my ETA to my hiking friends and I was off! A reasonable day in the field!

I enjoy the landscpe on this trip. And I tend to enjoy the students. I had a switched-on bunch again! And I had tried to already establish some improvements from the year before. Then I had run around plotting the student groups on the map and taking the names of all students in these groups. Now I gave all of them a map and had them plot themselves on it, and write their names on it. Delegation is a good thing! And it worked! I got all maps back with the requested information on them. Excellent. I could imagine doing this again next year (for PGCert reasons); it's only going to get better!

23 October 2015

Swotty kid gets certificates

Bangor University prides itself on being the most bilingual university in Wales. I suppose that means it's also the most bilingual university in all of Britain. The Vice-Chancellor, who is from Northern Ireland, has made the effort of getting his Welsh A level. And the university aims to educate many of their staff to do the same.

In order to give some recognition to those who do make the effort of tackling this rather difficult language, the university had organised a ceremony for staff who had passed a Welsh exam in the past year. This ceremony, of course, took place on October 15th; this is the (for foreigners rather inexplicably) named Shwmae/Sumae day, the national day for celebrating the Welsh language. Sut mae, which gets abbreviated in many ways, means so much as "how are you?"

I went. It was nice to hear the VC give a short speech in Welsh. He did read from a sheet, though! My Welsh teachers told me he shouldn't have. His Welsh is good enough. But he got nervous. It clearly happens to the best! And then we got our certificates. I was the swotty kid who got two.

All university staff who came to the ceremony to get their certificates, with the VC in the middle (with tie). Picture from the learn_cymraeg Facebook page

After the ceremony I had a small chat with a chap who was in a Welsh class I had left in the meantime, two people rather heavily involved in PGCert and such things, and my current two Welsh teachers. I also got interviewed as my two diplomas made me an easy target for a position as poster girl. And then it was time to head back to the office.

My spiffing teachers: Jenny, with whom I practice conversation, and Elwyn, who teaches the course I'm in. Picture from the learn_cymraeg Facebook page

I should be back next year with my A level. But that takes a lot of effort more! We'll see how it goes!

21 October 2015

Down with the PCG

Every year the PCG comes to North Wales. This year I had forgot all about their visit, as the emails concerning this trip all ended up in my spam box. Luckily, Dave reminded me of it. I gave him some suggestions on where to go (I have inside knowledge now) and said I'd be keen to join them on a weekend trip.

I phoned Dave on Friday night. He figured we could do a nearby lead mine the next day, and I thought that was a spiffing idea. We met up in Capel Curig.

First, Dave P and Lionel arrived. It was good to see them! A few minutes later, Dave and Julian appeared too. We were complete! It was a nice small group. Good for an SRT trip. But first: coffee in the cafe. It was nice to catch up!

We got to the entrance and rigged the pull-through. The first drop doesn't get you anywhere spectacular, and things weren't improved by something dead making the whole level smell unpleasant, but we couldn't move swiftly on. The rope didn't pull through! Dave went back to sort things out. It was a lot of faff but we sorted it in the end, and could move on to the next pitch.

Dave P descending

This pitch gets you to the top of a platform, with ladders going off in two directions. One leads to a cart, where we did a nice small photo session. The other one leads to the way on; three ladders get you further down. When you step from the level with the lowest ladder into the main chamber you get a nice surprise; the biggest wooden ore chute I am aware of. Everybody was very impressed! And many pictures were taken.

The main chamber

From that chamber many short levels lead on, and one long one; to explore that, one needs to crawl. Nobody was very keen, so we went down the winze. And from there we went back up a different route with ladders and hand lines; that way you can come to one of the attractions of the mine without the crawling. A car wedged at the bottom of a shaft! One of the men even recognised what type of car it was.

The famous car

We then went down and out. Dave P had clearly had enough as he legged it, while we lingered a bit more; Dave had more pictures to take. When we got to the junction with the clack valve the men went wild. More pictures were taken! And then we ventured into the level to the left which leads to a very big stope. More pictures! As both moving beyond this stope and going in the opposite direction at the junction leads to wet underwear we skipped that, and went out, hoping to find Dave back.

 Admiring a launder

We did find Dave, still inside; he had just advised some unprepared people to go out. When we came out to we had a chat with them; it was a couple of which the man was a historian, interested in mining heritage. They were glad to see us, and they seemed to visit the southwest fairly often; they may join the PCG more often. Then we washed our kit and changed. Finally we shook off the couple and went to the pub for a swift half.

It had been a great day! All had been impressed by the mine, and two of the men had enjoyed the SRT practice (be it only going down). And I was glad to have seen some old friends. Especially Lionel who hadn't changed a bit, and Dave, who had! He hadn't acquired the moniker "big Dave" for no reason but he had clearly started stepping up his game. When we walked to the entrance, uphill all the way, he was in the avant-garde! I hope they come back next year and that he's continued on this trajectory! We might have to call him Athletic Dave then. Spiffing!

15 October 2015

Interview panel

When I started my job here in Bangor, the lab I use was run by a chap called Brian. He retired soon afterwards; Guy took over the job. But then one of the other technicians retired too and Guy started working full-time on absorbing this chap's knowledge before he'd be gone. So we got Jess. But Jess was engaged to a Canadian and they intended to go back to Canada after her bloke would finish his MSc. And that day came nigh. So we needed someone else yet again! And as I am one of the main lab users I was asked to be a part of the interview panel. I had been in the room during interviews, asking questions and presenting my opinions to the actual panel, but this was the first time I was actually expected to take the decisions.

Making a shortlist was more work than I had anticipated! On Monday I was given the document containing all the CV's and application letters by all the candidates. Soon after receiving this 169 page document I had to go off to be observed on the mainland. I also had a meeting scheduled with our new PhD student. And after that I had a meeting with Jenny to practice my Welsh. But I was expected to have a shortlist first thing the next morning. Oh dear. I was poring over CV's until 11PM. I distinctly disliked this task; of the 15 candidates, I knew four. I don't like having to reduce actual people to cold hard scores on selection criteria. It's easier if you've never met them! Not all acquaintances made it to my shortlist.

When I met with James to come up with a shortlist we had picked different people. We discussed a bit why we disagreed and then came to a compromise. Four people to interview by Friday!

There was a lot going on that week so I only finalised my set of interview questions sitting at the top of a winze in a lead mine. I had rushed ahead so had some time to think.

On Friday the denouement came. We started interviewing a chap who couldn't be physically present; we struggled a bit interviewing him initially as James couldn't get the sound working on the Skype call. We found a way around that, though, and thereby the interviewing took off. We only had half an hour per candidate so we barely had time to breathe between the interviews. The third candidate was quicker, somehow, so we had time to run off and get ourselves a cuppa before we'd see the last candidate. And then we were done. James called Jess in, who had shown all candidates around in the labs.

This is what the job interviews looked like

James and I both had two favourites and two runners-up. Only one person featured on both our favourites lists. So that would be the one! Jess was also impressed by this candidate. And he hadn't gone far by the time we decided, so James managed to retrieve him and offer him the job right away. Success! Soon the nice part of the process will start: working with this chap!