30 April 2016

Don't climb

I had spent one weekend on my PGCertHE. The next one, I spent one day on my Milankovitch talk. Chores had been piling up! This weekend, I spent all of the Saturday on my trip to Manchester and its extensions. That left the Sunday; I wanted to finally get around to some of the things I hadn't for a while. I started out joining Guy & Kate walking the dog, and later went for a run in the dunes (without camera). Both was lovely! It was a marvellous sunny day.

Pi looking handsome at the shore of Menai Strait

I then did some chores such as washing my hair, doing laundry, removing lots of splinters from my fingers (who had got there during my scramble on the hill the day before), ordering things I needed, phoning my mum, cooking for three days, etc etc. But the day ended before I was done.

The next day the club would go climbing at a rock I expected to be quite similar to the previous one. In other words: one that was too easy! I decided to bail out. I'll wait until a) I don't have much on (not likely), b) the go climb at a more difficult rock so I can climb on top rope and still be challenged, or c) after May the 21st; I registered for a trad climbing course so after that, I migth be able to lead such climbs. That introduces a lot of challenge, and would make an easy rock interesting!

The evening I did not climb I spent learning MATLAB, googling cake recipes (this will be explained later), booking trips home, waxing my washed hair, and reading a letter my sister had written. An evening well spent I'd say! And when will I climb again? Not sure! I hope soon.

29 April 2016

Milankovitch for school children

I had spent a lot of time preparing my talk on how the irregularities in the orbit of the Earth influence our climate. Then the day came I had to present it. I had to get up rather early; it's a 1:40 hour drive, according to Google Maps, if nothing goes wrong. I wanted to have some time to account for traffic jams, loo breaks, and/or getting lost in Manchester. I left at 6:30! Luckily, the roads are empty then. I was glad to have left early as my satnav thought it was not a 1:40, but a 2:30 hour drive. Oh dear! Luckily it wasn't true and I got there in good time. I quickly found the building, went in, and found the organiser. I checked my talk, and uploaded an animation I hoped I wpould have time for. Then I could sit down and wait to be introduced.

The venue (on the left)

It wasn't very busy; it seemed that this year, the timing wasn't too good for the schools. Oh well! It's about quality. My lecture went well, but I struggled to get a response from the audience. Nothing new there, but as the must have been the nerdier kids in the various schools, it could have been better. Oh well. Maybe in that sense, being the first speaker wasn't ideal; maybe they'd loosen up in the course of the day...

After I was done, a gentleman called Ernie Rutter took the floor; he spoke of landslides in general, and then about Mam Tor, a rather scientifically interesting one, in particular. I had never heard of the thing but I learned something!

Then there was a coffee break. I had hoped lots of students would come to me with questions, but only one did. He asked about Snowball Earth; a topic I had not talked about, nor had intended to, but that the organiser had sneakily added to my talk title. That was a quick discussion! Nobody wanted to know about studying in Bangor. The best thing was that at the end of his talk I had asked Ernie a question; he didn't know the answer, but now one young man came up to me. He had done a project on the topic and knew the answer. Great!

Then we went back; now it was time for a talk on metamorphism by John Wheeler. He was very engaging! I haven't done metamorphic geology since the mid-nineties so it was nice to brush my knowledge up again.The day was closed by Charlotte Jeffery Abt, who was essentially giving a talk on historical geology. I like that. Then the day was done!

I figured I might walk into town, munching on a sandwich, but that changed. Another Mancunian who had attended, Kate Brodie, asked me if I'd join for lunch. Well that sounded nice! I would. The locals dropped soem stuff off in their offices while I admired the displays I found in the hallway, and then we were off to the Kro Bar.

Nice displays in the Geology Department 

I figured I might as well just eat hot lunch there, and use my packed lunch as dinner. Good idea! It was nice to have a chat with the others, even when the topic of conversation seemed to creep back to metamorphic geology rather often. 

It was half past two when we left. I got back to my car and drove back. This time the roads were less empty! It was around 5PM when I got to where I had decided I'd stop on the way back, to get some fresh air. One of the hills next to the A55 looked nice but I'd never walked it. Now I could! I quickly got out of my dressy shirt and into some more appropriate kit. I didn't bother with changing trousers or shoes. It'd have to do! It was a beautiful late afternoon.

The view fromt he hilltop

An old winch house on the left; this one is rather conspicuous from the road. Now I've properly seen it! 

I ended up walking around for two hours. Nice! But then I figured I'd go on, past the supermarket, and then home. With this day out of the way things woudl be a little more relaxed!

27 April 2016

Make the trip round

A long time ago we had had a look at a small nice mine. That was only my third trip with the Thursday Nighters.We had found a lower entrance and an upper entrance; between the two, there was an almost featureless, steep slope. The features it did have were soem holes. We figured if we stick metal pegs in these we can just climb on those and make it a round trip! And that had been on the "to do" list for a fair while, but now, finally, we cwould get around to it. The time was right: it would be a sultry evening, so a trip with lots of walking to and from the entrance in the beautiful landscape, and not so much time spent underground, was a good idea.

Getting there was a chore; I had a car full, and the road was steep. When some sheep crossed a steep part just in front of me I had to stop, but the car struggled to do a hillstart on such a gradient. Even with only me in it. The rest of the road it complained. I was getting worried. Instead of changing clothes we first had a look at the engine! David found nothing amiss. I kept my fingers crossed!

I had made sure this time I was not in my furry suit + caving suit. Way too warm for the walk up! It was quite pleasant to scamper around in some hiking trousers. When we  got there soon the pegs were in place! And immediately, Simon was on them. The top peg was still a bit below the top of the slope, but a sling hanging from that peg sorted him out. He was up! Now he could put a rope in place for the less daring and/or athletic.

Simon making his unaided way up

Not all were less daring and/or athletic; Edwyn had an Edwyn moment and decided he didn't need any pegs or ropes or whatnot. He just free-climbed the edge. It looked scary but he did it!

 Edwyn doing an Edwyn

When the rope was in place I went up. I had my hand jammer on it. I'm not Simon! And when I was up I waited for Don who shot up, and then checked the available passages, which weren't many.

Me on the slope; pic by David

The others seen from above

I then went back to see if anyone needed some talking up. Nobody did! Paul was struggling, but it was later disclosed he wished people to just shut up and let him get on with it if he does. As I only found out later I did hurl some encouragment, upon which David started to hurl discouragement at me, which all didn't improve anything but which was soon afterwards resolved. In the meantime, other Dave did the trip in th eother direction, as he expected fewer queues that way. He was right!

I then figured I'd go out. I did. Noboby followed. I climbed back down, but just then the others approached (of course). I went out again, and checked a half-flooded passgae I had explored the previous time, but of which I didn't remember what I had found. This time I found newts! A nice surprise.

When we were all out we first just enjoyed the nice views but then we went back. Early enough for a pint in the Ring! And the car didn't complain any further. It had probably just been me. Anyway; a good night overall! And we've given North Wales the smallest round trip it's ever had...

25 April 2016

Advice to others

It's always easier to see how others should live their lives. Distance can make things clearer. And, as well, if it's someone else's life you can just jump to conclusions without being distracted by the inconvenient complexity of life. But still; looking at other people's lives long enough will one day take you past a mirror, and you may be able to see yourself better as well.

Sometimes you read sad stories in the newspaper, like the one about the young tory activist who killed himself last year. His entire life seemed to revolve around politics, but he was bullied within the party and he saw no way forward. He lay down on a rail track. It seemed so sad, but also so unnecessary; he was still so young, he could have broken out of politics, and started elsewhere with a clean slate! And I know; if your life is such that is causes mental illness, as I assume was going on here, then the illness can do the thinking instead of the person. The way forward then just can't be seen. But still it is sad. Still I don't think it was inevitable.

I have been in science now my entire adult life. I started as a fresher in 1993, got my MSc in 2001, my PhD in 2007 and since then I've been postdoccing. The job market is very difficult; there are few jobs in science, and if you've been a scientist all your life, who will hire you on anything else? They can take their pick from people with relevant experience. So every time my contract expires I get anxious. Will I find another job? A nice job? Any job? Will I die under a bridge, destitute and alone within no time?

But then, what would an alternative universe me think of it if I lost faith? I am healthy, enthusiastic, well-educated; I'll be fine. The person who thinks the tory activist could have turned his life around would think I could turn my life around. I'm a bit like the cartoon alcoholic with the little angel on one shoulder who says "go home, have a cup of tea, have an early night" and a devil on the other, who says "don't be a bore, it looks nice there in that pub, and the beer there is good!", although my devil says I'll never find another job and the angel says I'll be fine.

My contract will expire in some eight months. Time to start to panic! But so far I don't. I'm listening to the angel. I'll be fine!

24 April 2016

Outdoor climbing

Climbing halls are a lot of fun, but they basically are only plan B. Outdoor climbing is much more fun! I re-started climbing in the middle of winter, and then it is cold and dark and generally wet after work, so if you want to climb then you'll have to go inside if you don't want to be terribly uncomfortable, but it's spring now. Things are different!

One of the club people mailed around in the weekend that the forecast for this Monday looked good enough. Excellent! We gathered somewhere out of town, shared cars, and went to Llyn Padarn. A beginners' rock was situated at its northwestern edge.

Estimating the height of the rock, using Tony as a ruler

Planning routes

This rock was not bolted; we were here for trad climbing. Not all of us do that; I, for instance, never have, and to be honest, I would have given it a go, but this club does things a bit more by the book, and I should first do a course in this art before I trust my life to self-invented kit placement. There were a few more like me; that meant we first had to rig some top-ropes, which is a bit of a faff in a rock that's not bolted, and that doesn't have a plethora of cracks and nooks to place nuts, cams, etc in.

While we rigged it I was simply enjoying the view. What an amazing place this is. But we had come here for climbing! When the ropes were in place I had a go.

The view

It was a bit disappointing; the rock was far from vertical and I just ran up. I'd almost have done that without a rope. No challenge at all! It was better for the trad climbers; it looked easier than it was.

Later it got slightly better when I was sent up to remove the kit from the wall; that at least can be a bit challenging. Sometimes the gear gets a bit stuck. And it was a lovely evening, and the company was nice too.

 Simon placing some kit

When the light started to fade we started to de-rig the ropes, retrieve all the kit, get it all sorted again, tidy up the ropes, eat some quiche Lydia had brought, and by the time we had done that the light was pretty much gone.

Biking back was nice in the sultry evening. I should prioritise getting myself on a trad climbing course! Until that's sorted I do not intend to go back to that rock, as pretty as it is...

21 April 2016

Cloud Atlas

It's a book from this very millennium, so it could at best be a modern classic. But I read it! I am engaged in a long-term project trying to read the books that have made a big impact on the world; the last one was Ulysses. Cloud Atlas can't boast on anything like the status of that tome, but it came recommended by Roelof and that makes it enough of a classic for me. I started reading on my way to Norway.

I had little idea what to expect. Roelof had explained it first moves forward in time, from the 19th century in five steps to an unidentified future, and back again. That sounded strange but it worked. I liked how the various tales were connected; rather elegantly, I'd say. I liked some of the chapters better than others; it starts out rather modestly, which I like, with the main character just ambling around a bit, waiting for things, exchanging small talk. My kind of story line! The second chapter, in the early 20th century, isn't too spectacular either. I had a bit of a scare when, compared to the first two chapter, the thisrd one which plays in the seventies turns into a bit of an action movie with all sorts of things that go bang and boom and splat. From there on, the calm level of the first two chapters is never equalled, but it was still fascinating.

The author doesn't show you such a long time line for no reason, of course. There is a clear message in the book on what's wrong with society. It isn't forced down your throat, though. Having finished it some week ago I am still pondering how it all hangs together. Not technically; that's quite flawless. But how the various characters carry the story. It's a good thing if a book keeps you thinking!

I know a film was also made; this did not come recommended to me, but I have read that in it, the same actors keep on coming back, in all the various time periods. I liked that touch! The book did not suggest such a thing to me but it sounds like an elegant addition.

If I manage to live many decades more I might find out if this book will make it into the ranks of actual classics. Do I think it should? I'm not sure! But I'm glad I read it.

19 April 2016

Back to Milankovitch

My favourite timescale is the Milankovitch timescale. My PhD was about things happening on that timescale; it's the timescale of tens to hundreds of thousands of years. A lot has been happening at that timescale! But not everybody might be familiar with who Milankovitch was and why he has this order of magnitude of time named after him.

Milutin Milankovitch (Милутин Миланковић) was a Serbian scholar who was the first to properly link the changes in the Earth's orbit (caused by gravitational effects of other celestial bodies) to climate cycles. Back in the days, ice ages came and went at the rhythm of the changes in the tilt of the Earth's orbit (every ~40.000 years). Since some 800.000 years ago, the have been coming and going at the rhythm of changes in the Earth's orbit's shape (every ~100.000 years); it never is entirely circular, and the more ellipsoid it is, the more climate is variable. The rotation axis of the Earth also wobbles, like a spinning top; that has effect too. Milankovitch was the first to calculate the effects of these orbital variations on the Earth's energy budget. Since then said orbital variations are known as Milankovitch cycles.

File:Milutin Milanković.jpg
Milankovitch in his earlier years
The way I summarised it above is a bit concise; there is much more to it of course. And it seems that A-level students in this country, who do geography, need to know all this. The teachers, however, may strugle a bit with explaining it all, so they called for help from universities. Last year they had sent an email out to call for help; Jaco took up the challenge. This year, however, he is otherwise engaged, so someone else had to do it. It ended up being me.

I took the opportunity to both brush up and enhance my knowledge on the topic. In my first year's lectures I get 50 minutes to do climate cycles; this time I can do a whole hour on Milankovitch cycles alone. Jaco smuggled in some more cycles, but I have chopped htese bits out; more time to go into Milankovitch, in detail. It's interesting to do; there's always more to learn! And this is of eternal use to a climate scientist. But it's a lot of work too. I spent the entire Sunday at it, and my day job is also making sacrifices. I am in a way glad they asked me to submit my slides by Thursday; then I can't work on it anymore on Friday, and get other things done!

I hope the audience on Saturday is responsive. I hope it'll be nice! And then on Sunday I will take the day off!

17 April 2016


I've lived in North Wales for two years and I had not climbed Tryfan yet. The time often isn't right; in order to do it safely, it has to be reasonably good weather. In order to do it justice, the top has to be out of the clouds. It probably has to be a weekend otherwise I'm working (although I have been known to make exceptions), but if it is good weather on a weekend, EVERYBODY wants to climb Tryfan, so then you have to get up early to be able to park near the base.

It had been a long week, and I had spent the previous weekend working on my PGCertHE. I wanted some fresh air and some nature to recover from that! And then, on Friday, I saw the weather forecast. It was going to be spiffing! I figured this may be the time. I sent an email around to the other climbers to see if anyone wanted to join, but nobody was available. Well, on my own is fine too! I did do the honourable thing: I told someone where I would be going and what time one should start worrying about me. Tryfan kills people!

The next morning I got up at 6:30. I stepped out of the house and saw the mountains in a fresh cover of snow. I knew some snow showers had been forecast, but this was a full cover! Oh well. I decided to pack crampons and my ice axe, and just see hoe it would go. If it looked dangerous I could just turn around and hike elsewhere.

I parked at 8AM and set off. There were a few more people! Good, as I didn't know the route, and figured it may be extra difficult to find with all that fresh snow on top. In the beginning the path was evident, but at the nearest steep bit it became more ambiguous. I bumped into some blokes who were even more uncertain that I was. But we found the way on. It reminded me of Store Blåmann; another very iconic mountain I left rather late, and which requires some scrambling. Not a bad association at all!

A sunny start! View from the north slope to where I parked

 Happy selfie

At some point I overtook the blokes and got to a big flat. I saw no footsteps. I wasn't sure if I saw a path. Some bloke I had seen lower down on the slopes was a bit less hesitant and legged it up. He seemed to take an alright route so I followed. Later something similar would happen; I wasn't quite sure where to go, but I heard voices; I took a chance and headed for them. Success; the owners of the voices were clearly on an established route! I followed. It got rather clambery here, and things were made more tricky by the snow. Sometimes you couldn't see where you put your feet of where the handholds were, but it was OK. At some point the bloke before me struggled and decided to try another route. At that point, some other climber appeared too. He scampered up where the other hadn't managed, and he pointed out some handholds to me, so I did too. We teamed up for a bit; he was a chap called Robert, from St Albans. That's almost London! I am priviliged to be able to do this a few miles from my house.

The looming hulk of higher Tryfan

Funny quartz nodules

 View into Ogwen Valley

We clambered on. Soon we saw the top! The most difficult bit was clearly over. And it wasn't very sunny, and it was windy, but the clouds were high overhead and the views were unimpeded. A good day! At 10:30 we got to the actual summit where three blokes were taking pictures of each other. They also took ne of me! Nice of them. The summit has two big rocks on it, and tradition has it you have to jump from one to the other, but I figured that was a non-snow tradition. I think I was correct; I saw nobody attempt this today!

Things get more vertical higher up

The summit! With a seagull on Adam or Eve (the two iconic rocks at the top)

View north from the summit: gloom!

 Me on the summit

I had a coffee with Robert, and then decided to walk a bit around, to get the view from all sides. Then I set off. Down tends to be trickier so I got my axe out for stability. I would go down via a detour, along a lake west of Tryfan. The route was smoother and thus easier than the way up. Good! I made good progress.

Shortly after I started the descent the sun came out again

At the lakeside I had some lunch. It was a bit weird; there was snow all around and fresh hail was falling. This was mid April at less than 600 meters! Oh well. I moved on. When I got to the break in the slope the weather got better, so when I reached its bottom and saw some grassy bits in the sun next to a nice waterfall I had lunch part II. It was so nice!

 My lunch lake
Waterfall on the way down

The weather got so nice I ended up relaxing a bit!

I then did the last stretch. It was sunny and pleasant! And still early. I got back to the car just after 1PM. A successful day!

15 April 2016

New terrain and new people, again

Last week we had a climber join us underground. This week we had two divers. Last week we scampered off in some arbitrary direction we had not previously explored; this week we would go back to have a closer look.

The walk up. Pic by Rich. 

 The scenic lake. Pic by Rich. 

We took a different way; we had seen familiar terrain from below, and we figured going down there would be more efficient. So we did! That is, most of us; three didn't like the look of this new route and went the old way.

When we got down Simon and I could not resist checking out some so far unexplored regions, but we soon saw the others. Most had overshot the hole in the wall we should go through. With Andy and Edwyn I went down while Simon went to fetch the others.

When we got down we were a bit limited in our activities; I had the rope, but David had the hangers, nuts and maillons we needed for fixing that to the bolts in the wall. No problem; we had Edwyn, and he doesn't need a rope. He just clambered over the crumbly rocks into the two side passages. Dearie me! He always gets away with it, though.

I am less bold; I attached the rope to a rusty ring in the wall and went into the right passage, which had the bolts in place. At least I could go and have a look that way! I didn't try the left passage as there was no ring and/or rope at hand to make that less dodgy.

 I am having a look at the next bolt. Pic by Rich. 

David arrived, and we could go and properly bolt the place. I ended up doing that. In hindsight, maybe not such a good idea; I only had a belay belt on, with cows tails, which means that if I would have fallen off the ledge I would not have fallen far, but only have had my bare hands to get myself back up. I think it would have been OK; the wall would provide footholds, but still; maybe better in full SRT kit. That I am writing this the day after proves nothing serious went wrong.

Did anything at all go wrong? No! I bolted the place, went across, had a look at the amazing footsteps in the level, and the blockage one encountered rather soon in the level thus entered, which I didn't like the look of. David and Andy had a bit of a prod; in the end, they didn't like it either. Time to go back! But this time I wasn't at the sharp edge of things; David de-rigged. In full SRT kit.

The blockage at the end

Pristine miners' footsteps

My elegant rig

By then, the others had scampered off to see the drill we had seen last week. We went straight to the exit. We got there before the others, of course, but the wait wasn't long. Altogether it had been a long night; the new ground was deep into the mine, we had two newbies we showed the interesting bits in between too, and anything involving bolting and rigging takes a lot of time. But it's always nice to explore a new place!

 The way back up; in this pic, however, Jay is going down. Pic by Rich

12 April 2016

PGCertHE postponed

It's good to sometimes be a student; that reminds you of how human it is to do things like not read all instructions, or relying on hearsay rather than official information. And I am a student; in order to do my PGCertHE I had to register as one. And as I have to do assignments and upload them I end up with the same sort of questions as my students do. What should I write? What is the word limit? When is the deadline? And sometimes that goes wrong.

I sometimes find the course manual rather vague. We have to, for instance, write both a "Reflective Learning Statement" and a "Reflective and Evaluative Account of Teaching". These are two entirely different things, and that has nothing to do with the difference between teaching and learning. You really need to spell out the course manual to get an idea of what is meant, and that idea is still not robust enough to my taste.

We also have to comment on to what extent we have addressed, in our portfolios, the various aspects of teaching, such as module design, lecturing, giving feedback, being inclusive, etcetera. But one of the aspects we have to address is "acknowledging the wider context in which higher education operates and recognise the implications for professional practice". Is that entirely unambiguous? No, I didn't think so either. I didn't ask about this, though; the question is so inherently vague I will just address it in a way I see fit. 

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This sort of confusion makes me do two things: first; revisit my own instructions and check whether I am really as straightforward as I think I am, as the people who wrote the above probably also thought they were being entirely clear; and second, I ask. It always bothers me if students clearly don't know what is asked of them, but then don't ask me. So I asked one of the coordinators about the difference between a Reflective Learning Statement and a Reflective and Evaluative Account of Teaching. That helped!

And the hearsay? The aforementioned coordinator had told me the deadline for submisison was April 21st. It isn't; it's the 11th. When did I check? The 8th. So that was too late. I was still in the middle of reflecting and evaluating! So that has reminded me of the need to check official information. And it means I will have to submit in autumn. Which in a way is OK; these weeks I have plenty to do. I have two more normal lectures, a very special lecture coming up, several meetings, some marking of student posters and presentations, and a dentist appointment in addition to my day job. I won't have to be bored!

10 April 2016

Even more new people underground

Once in a while we take someone new underground. Sometimes it's a one-off. Sometimes they become hooked. Sometimes they come from Canada every now and then. And it was that time again! Paul brought a Canadian along; a chap we had taken into Cwmorthin last autumn. We would do that (or something similar) again. So when during the Monday climbing session one of the ladies mentioned she would be quite interested to come along, I mentioned this week would be a good week. A good starter trip with not much need for specific kit and not too many mine-specific challenges with narrow spaces. loose rock and rotting wood. And she agreed!

Ika, as was her name, did indeed show up. All together we walked to the entrance, where we split up. Some of us would continue with our dig. Simon would join Paul who would bring Paul's visitor Dave, and me with Ika to a rock drill deep inside the mine. I felt a pang of disappointment when many others would end up doing rope work, exploration, and hard work while I would do a leisurely stroll,but then I thought about the number of people in a rather confined space, and the chance of people getting in each other's way and annoyed with each other, and I figured it was maybe better this way.

We moved along familiar territory. We didn't move very fast as that just isn't Paul's and Dave's way. Dave also sometimes stopped for pictures. Ika was getting impatient! And I am rather susceptible to such myself. Although I was very happy to be shown a hole high in a wall that didn't seem to be on the map; that sounded like an excellent new project!

We moved on and at some point we got to some passage I was not familiar with. There was a rope! And it lead to a ladder and then another rope and another ladder! I went down. Simon and Paul followed. I was surprised Ika didn't; she's a climber, some scampering along ropes and on ladders won't intimidate her. The three of us scampered straight ahead. And then to the left. In the end we got back to familiar terrain. We didn't want to keep our mates waiting too long so we turned back, but along the way Simon and Paul scurried through a hole in the wall. Not without me!

We got to a flooded chamber with some bolts that Simon had placed years before. One of the passages leading on seemed to go to a collapse that, when cleared, would give access to otherwise inaccessible terrain. Cool! Maybe yet another project?

We went back and moved on. We didn't have much time left! Soon we were at the drill. It struck me how cool it was. I had seen it before but it still impressed me. A nice thing to be preserved!

The drill on its mounting

When we had seen it we had to go back; we would meet the others in a specific chamber by ten. We got there only minutes too late; there was no sign of them. I decided to go look for them. Fortunately, on the way I heard a sound and came across Phil. They were coming up! Good. That way we could go out and return to the cars. And home. Ika had had a great time but she had mentioned she is on my side when it comes to bedtime: early is good! I hope she comes again, and not only because she may then join my fight for reasonable leaving times...

07 April 2016

Blow it up

Our dig had stirred up something. We had brought Go Below's Miles to see our progress, and he had been bitten by the digging bug. Immediately he started to build a permanent rig to our dig, and thought of more blockages to get through. One was a lot higher up: there was a passage there with a rock in it that was only marginally smaller than the passage itself. Quite a sight! We had been there the year before but I didn't mention it in the blog. He figured if he could get rid of it he could get past.

If you have Miles, by the way, you also have a big Range Rover and a key to the gate. So we combined forces: we'd help him with his exploding business and he'd help us get some scaffolding to the entrance. We'd need it to shore up our dig; you don't want loose stuff to slide into it. Especially when you're in it.

We loaded up at Mick's. Then we went off to the usual parking lot where Miles greatly enjoyed showing us all his explosive kit. Which came with a license, in case anyone wonders. He had made some spiffing charges!

On we went. At the entrance we all took two scaff bars and carried them in. Where they had to go was in the direction of where the bang would take place, so we carried them over the big collapse. Hard work I must say! These scaff bars were steel.
On the way to the entrance. Pic by Rich

Nice wetaher! Pic by Rich

Miles can drive all the way to the entrance. Pic by Rich

We left them near the Lost World and split up. There were too many of us to all go and watch (well... stay at a distance and listen to) the explosion. Some decided to get the scaff to where it had to be. I went bangwards.

We precariously got there. It was behind some stretches with hobnailed bootprints! We don't want to disturb these. But we'd disturb the rock.He had brought many of his Go Below guides, and one was a slight woman, who just slithered past the big rock and informed us that there are many more rocks behind it. Oh well! We got there now. Would be a waste to NOT blow things up. Miles brought out a big drill and started drilling.

MIles drilling, closely watched by one of his team

After a while he could put the charge in, fill the hole up with some clayey stuff, attach the long wire, and tell us to retreat. In a chamber at a safe distance we heard the hollow "boom". Excitedly we went to see! The gunpowder smell was promising. And the rock had nicely split in three; now even the not-so-slight could slither past and see. Indeed, many more rocks there! This would be a very big project if we would take it on. But let's first look at what the others were up to.

The Go Below people went towards the entrance to blow up a rock in the big collapse just for fun, while we the Thursdaynighters went to the Lost World, to see how the others were getting on. And they were getting on marvellously! Don had rigged some zipline to let the bars slide down, without danger, noise or damage to artefacts. Brilliant! They were just working on the last few batches. I took the opportunity to have a look at Miles' new rig that I hadn't seen yet. It looked nice!

We unrigged and got to the entrance. There we were greeted by another cloud of gunpower smell. The next, larger rock wasn't entirely plit but it would take little to complete this task. A nice practice session! But now it was time to get out and go home. Could we maybe get Miles ot blow a rock getting in the way of a through trip in Wrysgan too?

04 April 2016

PGCertHE making progress

Later this month I have to submit part I of my teaching qualification. It means i now spend quite some time both inside and outside working hours getting my portfolio in order. I have to write a lot of accounts on teaching I have done, teaching I have witnessed, workshops I have attended, and whatnot. It's more work than it sounds! But it is quite a pleasant thing to do. I'm also already planning my project for stage II. That stage involves more of the stuff you do in stage I, but also a big well-documented teaching change. I will use the June fieldwork for that. But for now I get to see much of my (home) office!

02 April 2016

Easter underground trip

This year, Easter was mainly for serious business, such as chores I had not got around to for a long time, and some work on my PGCertHE. But one underground trip would be in order too. As we had a day off we took the opportunity to venture a bit further afield, to the vicinity of Dolgellau. It's quite a drive but it would be worth it.

We got to the parking spot and started off; there were amazing surface remains to be admired. Then thinsg got challenging; nobody quite remembered to get to the entrance, and we ended up wrestling through dense growth and slithering over slippery tree trunks as we headed in the general direction of where the entrance would be. It even started to snow while we were making our way. Heavily! What a day.

Lovely surface remains

When we had clambered to the top of the spoil heap it became easier. Soon we were in! It was a mine with nice big chambers. It would take a proper photographer to do the place justice, so we assisted David. Pictures of smaller items were alright for all!

It starts snowing while we climb a spoil heap

We soon came to a drop that Richard had been very nervous about; it was a steep slope with a knotted double polyprop handline. He doesn't like handlines, but thanks to the knots he could use cowstails. All happy! 

A beautifully preserved winch

We scampered around a bit, and stopped somewhere for lunch. All very civilised. The place had big chambers but the place in general wasn't that big; after not that much time we were out. But there were more workings; it was just, again, an issue of actually finding them.


Hundred years old graffiti

We headed for an impressive waterfall. You could see the water vanich underground, but we couldn't follow it. The space was terribly crumbly and we were not keen on exploring all the recesses. We turned around. But there was more spoil on the hills. We headed for another pile. And the sun came out! Our third season of the day.

We found a few more entrances. David and I explored one that lead to a large room with a passage to an adit we hadn't wanted to enter as the water was deep and the bottom very soggy. This adit gave access to another chamber, with a tempting passage down. Not flooded! And it was bolted; somebody had made an effort for it. Interesting! Another adit further up didn't lead to much. And then we'd pretty much had enough. It was getting late!

Snow on the hilltops, sun on the pretty spoil heaps.