31 May 2016

Self-made man

I read something in the newspaper. A review of a book. It had something to do with gender roles I think. I don't remember, but I do remember the reviewer mentioned a certain Norah Jones had studied gender roles better in an earlier book. Now that sounded interesting. I immediately ordered it. And read it rather quickly! No classic this time, but that's alright.

I am interested in gender roles. I am a woman with rather male-leaning habits and preferences and a growing eye for differences between males and females in society. I am very tired of the male gaze in movies, I call people out when they speak of women as if they're inanimate objects, I see how female staff are treated differently than male staff at university, my neck hair stands up when women say their husbands are babysitting their own children, and so on. I am upset by the treatment women (and other non-white-Christian-straight-males) tend to get online. Not all of this is equally objective and testable. Subjectivity does sneak in; most of us die with the gender we were born in and will get little experience of either being there when only people of the other gender are around, and will never experience what it is like to be treated like the gender we don't have. Sometimes I could imagine one might be tempted to blame unpleasant interactions not on one's own failings but on unfair treatment due to one's gender. But I think that's a minor factor; I do believe people really do get treated differently.

This lady puts things to the test. She fabricates a new identity as Ned, a bloke, and explores a few male bastions of her choice. She tries a male bowling club, visits strip clubs, she dates as a man, she joins a monastery, she works as a man, and joins a male support group. She does not become a man, but she manages to pass for one, and in that way she at least finds out how man behave if they think there are no women around, and she finds out what it is like to be treated as a man. That's going a lot further than most!

I found it very insightful. She starts out a bit suspicious of the men; how loutish would they be in her presence? But she soon gets a lot of both empathy and sympathy for men. Not that she becomes uncritical; she starts seeing difficult patterns that seem to result from the typical differences between men and women, which are detrimental to both but hard to change. She also sees the different ways men and women behave, but she starts seeing the pros and cons of both. She can also confirm for sure that at least she gets treated very differently depending on whether people think she's a man or a woman. Several times she fears the response upon revealing her true identity, but more than once she finds out being some sort of hybrid (a women the men have got use to seeing as a man) is welcomed; then you can span the best of both!

During her exploits she is never discovered, but there are two environments where she chooses not to reveal herself. And in the end she has a mental breakdown because she has been faking things for too long. I enjoyed this book! It's rather American but that didn't bother me too much. I recommend it to anyone, whatever their initial thoughts on gender roles are. I dare say everyone would read something new in this book! Unless they've done a similar experiment...

29 May 2016

Climbing, caving, rescuing: all the same

When I came to Wales, I found a caving club through the recommendation of a lady from the North Wales Caving Club. That club operates a bit too far east for me, but she pointed me in the direction of the Thursdaynighters. She is also a member of the regional cave rescue team. I ended up in that too. Through the Thursdaynighters, or more specifically through Phil, I then got introduced to Clwb Mynydda Mon, the club with which I mainly climb but also hike.

Then one of the climbers, Ika, came along on a trip with the Thursdaynighters. Then Eifion did the same. Then Edwyn first showed up at a cave rescue session, after already having expressed interest in the climbing club. As he hadn't been there on Thursday he hadn't met Eifion to discuss, but I had, and he was comfirmed welcome.

 Playing with the Larkin Frame during the May cave rescue training

On Monday, at the quarry we'd climb in, I realised I had brought a barbecue but no lighter. I texted Edwyn to bring one if he showed up. It turned out he had forgot all about it, but that this reminded him!

We had come to Bus Stop Quarry, where many of the routes are trad, difficult or both. After a bit of searching we found one route that looked feasible. A small group split off to seek another. I then went off with Tony, who had appeared a bit later, to look for yet another route. You can't have too many people on one route; that's boring! But the guide book was incomplete and inaccurate and we mainly just scampered fruitlessly around. And while we were doing that I saw an Edwyn-like silhouette.He had shown up! I made sure to introduce him to Tony and Eifion. Then he helped us find a route, and when Tony and I started climbing it (I had not climbed anything yet, and Tony only a route that was too easy) he helped ligth the barbecue. I hope he joins us for real soon!

The quarry

Simon on the diffucult bit

You're in Wales or you're not: the tongs used on the BBQ

The route that we picked looked easy, but would cause a déjà vu. I got to just underneath the top anchor but struggled to get to it. I felt rather exposed! In the end I gave up and asked Tony to finish it. And he struggled too! Just like the previous time. Then Simon gave it a go and managed. By then I was full-time busy with the barbecue. I wouldn't climb anything else that night. Next time I might get more done! And it will be someone else's BBQ turn.

Aside from the climbing, it's quite nice the climbers, cavers and rescuers blend so much! The climbers make excellent cavers as they are so agile and clambery; Edwyn is so agile and clambery it would be a waste for him not to climb, and the rescue team needs people of all sorts, but of course the agile and clambery would be extra useful. And I get to see nice people more often! And I have now developed the habit of speaking Welsh with Edwyn, and I already did with Eifion, so even my language skills benefit. Everybody wins...

26 May 2016

Snowdonia Half Marathon

I hadn't done a race in six months! I had tried to; I had registered for the Anglesey half marathon but then the snow hike came in between. So when a nice and scenic race came up in late May I thought I should seize the opportunity. It was the Snowdonia Half Marathon; a bit of a grand name for a race that skirted the outer borders of the national park, but hey, these people want to sell, so you can imagine a grand name helps. The route looked nice!

The forecast kept changing. From some rain to a lot of rain to no rain back to some rain. Oh well! I drove there in nice weather, parked, and got my number. Then I just sat underneath a tree until the race would start. A few minutes before it did it started raining rather heavily! Oh dear.

The scenic bridge of Llanrwst

 At the start, just before the race

We set off. The race started rather steeply uphill! I took it easy. I did not want to rush anything. I had never run such a vertical half marathon on the road. And even a rather flat one can be gruelling if you run too fast

It kept raining, but not annoyingly hard. And the route was nice. We started on small country roads I didn't know.After a while we came to Llyn Geirionydd, which is next to one of "our" mines, and along which I had walked with both my sister and the swamp hikers. I got a bit hungry and ate a gel I had inherited from Gordy. I trust that brings luck! From there we went uphill again, to Llyn Crafnant, which I had also done with both my sister and the swamp hikers. There, briefly, the route went both ways on one road, so I saw the first three runners blast past. When I got there the second time I saw the stragglers struggle on.
 On the way to Llyn Geirionydd
Along Llyn Crafnant 

By about 10 miles I developed a stitch. That's always annoying! But what can you do. I kept running. Soon I reached Trefriw. I knew that right behind it was the infamous hill of the route! You would get an extra medal if you managed to run up all the way. I didn't intend to; I thought walking it might give me an opportunity to get rid of the stitch. But when I slowed down to cope with the steepness I felt it subside anyway! Good! So I kept going. Around me, pretty much everyone was walking. I could do this!

I got to the top. From there it would be pretty much all the way down. Some of it went rather steep. I'm not good with that! Mildly downhill is nice; gravity does all the work. But I'm not one to thuder, out of control, down a steep road. Oh well!

 Coming close

I looked at my watch. Finishing within two hours looked possible! That would be nice. I normally run half marathons way within that boundary, but as said, this was barely a normal half marathon. Two hours would be great!

I had some energy left to leg it on the final, flat stretch. When I got to the finish I saw it was about eight seconds beyond the two hour mark. But I had started at the back of the pack; I probably came over the starting line more than eight seconds after the signal! So I probably made it! I high-fived the blokes in front and behind me and collected my T-shirt and medal. Medals! I had deserved two! Rather spiffing.


The two medals

I got back to the car and drove off. Along the way I remembered I quite often end up with a dehydration headache after a race, so I parked somewhere to drink a flask of tea. I knew I would probably get distracted by practical matters and postpone drinking. Back home I checked whether the results were in yet. They weren't! I would have to exercise patience...

PS The results came in at around 6PM. My time was 1:59:31; within the two hour mark, indeed! Good job. And I was just within the fastest 40% of the total field. Not bad!

24 May 2016

Take a climber down a small mine

The Thursdaynighters and the climbers are merging! The previous month, we had had Ika of the climbing club underground. Climbing man Eifion had heard that, and wanted to come too. Of course he was welcome! His first underground trip wouldn't be too spectacular; Paul had found a slate quarry in the Gwydyr forest hardly any of us had heard of, let alone been to. It wasn't likely to be big, but it sounded interesting. That was our goal this week.

Eifion is one of the people I tend to speak Welsh with; he's a patient man, and a proud Welshman. I never speak Welsh with David; I tried to initiate such a few times in the past, but that tended to end in him mocking me (in English) so I had acquired such a dent in my Welsh ego I had never recovered from it. And now we would share a car with the three of us; I had the idea this might help! Surely he'd join in when Eifion and I would naturally converse in Welsh. But no. He refused and spoke English only. Pity! I hoped a nice side effect of having Eifion around would be more Welsh practice. Oh well. I'll have to speak Welsh with him in private.

We drove in Eifion's car (mine struggles; it lacks power and height on this bumpy, steep country road!) to where we'd meet up; we were early, and we showed him the mill of Hafna first. Having Eifion there turned out to have another, unforeseen, advantage; packing my bag I realised I had left my sandwiches in the office. I tend to have a warm lunch on Thursdays, and have my dinner (sandwiches, of course) in the mine. But not tonight! I would have to go hungry. Except that Eifion gave me a packet of nuts and raisins! A life saver.

Once we were all there we walked along the forest track to where the mine was roughly supposed to be. We did some drippy and brambly bush-whacking until we came up an indicative spoil tip, and then a very nicely manicured path. Hm! That would have been an easier approach. But from that path we soon saw the entrance. It looked like something from an action movie! Jungle and gaping holes and dangling vegetation. We went in. Clearly, people did that more often; there was a fireplace near the entrance.

 The entrance

 The entrance form the inside

We scampered around a bit. At some point I ended up scampering to the far end with Corin. It wasn't big but it was fun! It pretty much was an elongated mine in a cliff face, so every now and then a gaping entrance flooded green light into the chamber. I went back around the outside; not a good choice, as the landscape was made up of big rocks with so much moss on them you couldn't see where you put your feet. When I came back to the others I found David who asked me if I had lost my guest. Eh, maybe! I went to look for Eifion again. Then we all went down to where I had been with Corin. David took some pics.

Pic by David

We then went back to where we had started. Paul and David along the inside, and Efion, Simon, Jay and me along the outside, but this time over the path. Corin was nowhere to be seen. When I reached the path with Eifion the others had vanished. Oh dear! We walked closer to the entrance chamber when we noticed smoke. Lots of it! Where would that come from? Then I remembered the fireplace, and Corin. That must be the answer! We went back to that chamber where indeed he had a cosy fire going. We sat down, waiting for the others. We all sat there for a bit longer; a fire is rather mesmerising. But then we went back to the cars. Along the path, this time. And we had a pint on the way back! That doesn't happen very often. But with such a small mine you get that. Next time we'll have to bring Eifion somewhere bigger!

Pic by David

22 May 2016

Not finding the connection

In January I found a small hole at the bottom of a shaft. You could see it went somewhere, but the hole was too small to get through. The shaft would be a terrible place from which to try and make the hole bigger; abseiling it was already a pain because there was a tree in it, in which the rope kept getting tangled, and the shaft had lots of loose stuff that would fall down when someone descended. Any other person down there would get that stuff on their head as there was nowhere to shelter. It would be better to get to that hole from the comfortable-looking other side! But how would one get there? There was one obvious option: from the nearby open stope. I wanted to go and see. I suggested a trip a few times, but it never happened.

I figured a different approach was needed. I suggested a date to Edwyn, with whom I had dropped the shaft in the first place. We would just find a date convenient to us both, and then see who wanted to join! Not too many people; you can't move fast looking for a passage with many, and if we would get to the dig, there would be little space. When we had set a date I asked Phil and David if they wanted to join but they were otherwise engaged. The two of us, then!

I had a very pleasant surprise when I arranged the details with Edwyn. He told me to text when I left home so he would have coffee ready when I got to his place; we would set off from there. People giving me coffee in the morning make me very happy! And it took me only two attempts to find his place (read the bloody email) so soon after 8AM I was having a lovely mug in his garden. Not a bad way to start the day. I also got introduced to his wife and the cat. All good!

We set off and got changed. We had brought two ropes, but we left the long one in the car for now. I didn't expect us to need it, and it's big and clumsy, and we were parked close to the stope of our choice so we could easily go back. Of course this meant we would need it.

We dropped down to a little platform  inside the stope, and soon after decided to change the rigging. We dropped further down, but we soon noticed none of the levels further down were very laterally extensive due to collapsed false floors, but the stope seemed to just go further and further down. Time for the long rope! We went back to get it and re-rigged. 

Edwyn dropping the open stope

With the longer rope we got to a platform. It looked a bit iffy, but it seemed to lead off to one side. Edwyn went exploring while I took some pics. When he confirmed it went I followed. We passed a passage going off in the right direction, but we scouted ahead first. Soon Edwyn scampered down a slope of which he loudly wondered if he could get back up. If Edwyn hesitates, I am well advised to not go there! I could go and get a rope in case he'd need it, but I can't climb things Edwyn finds hard. I waited for him.

By this time we were getting hungry. Edwyn suggested getting something to eat, but I first wanted to look into the promising passage. It didn't lead off into the right direction for more then some two meters, but it did go to where Edwyn had been, while avoiding the tricky slope. Success! And there seemed to be a passage further down. Edwyn checked first; he came to a lower level from which you could see an even lower level, but the rope didn't reach and even Edwyn didn't want to free-climb that. He did scout out a level mid-way which yielded a nice bang box. But we wanted to go further down so we needed the long rope! We decided to have something to eat, and then Edwyn would try to just free-climb out of the open stope. If he managed he could get the long rope; no need for it if we could just clamber out.

A nice cart, behind the hole that lead further down

 The bang box

He set off. The climb started with a slippery bit. He came sliding down several times, but that sort of stuff doesn't stop him. It was a bit unfortunate he once came down, bringing a tree with him, and I was standing so close I had to fend the thing off. With my sprained thumb, of course. Oh dear. I had only recently recovered so much I could change gear (on my bike) normally again with that hand. This would probably set me back a few weeks again! I must be getting old when injuries take that long to heal.

Edwyn came very close to the top, but there it became impossible. He slid down again safely. We would just go up the rope we had in the traditional way, re-rig in this stope with the shorter rope, and then drop this next floor. And so we did.

The stope Edwyn had tried to climb and which we now wanted to rig was in a chopped-down wood. The trees best positioned to rig from we chopped down so low they didn't give enough purchase. There was a tree left with some two meters, but that wasn't in a particularly good position. The stope below it was full of pendant trunks, but Edwyn just chucked them down with panache. That allowed us to go down safely. The rope turned out to be just long enough!

Edwyn freeing up the stope

We came down in a muddy stope. We explored one way; it went. And it didn't just go; it went to a chamber with two impressive headframes. Two headframes? That looked suspiciously like the two headframes of the next mine down. Wait a minute...

We had not found a connection to the shaft, but we had found the connection to the through trip. That's something! The through trip involves some wading through deep cold water and then a slog uphill. If one rigs our pitches beforehand, one can come out this way, avoiding both the water and the slog! So success, in a way.

We explored the other direction too. Nothing interesting there. And time had flown. Trying to drop the stope elsewhere was a bit much for such a sunny day, so we headed back up, de-rigged, and walked back to the car. No passage to the shaft found, but a good day was had! And now I was keen to get out of my stuffy suit. Soon we were back at Edwyn's, where we contemplated our day a bit with another cup of coffee. Edwyn's wife then provided the cherry on the cake by bringing out ice cream. We could go back one day and drop that stope absolutely everywhere. We'll see! But for now my curiosity was satisfied, and I was happy to file this project for now and return to our proper dig. Let's see where that takes us...

20 May 2016

Another mountain off the list

Snowdonia has many of these empty valleys, with maybe some sheep, and generally some remains of mining, and not much more. I can't get enough of those. One of the first I admired was the Croesor Valley, when I was visiting north Wales with the PCG. We walked along most of the valley to get to the entrance of Croesor. I was quite impressed by this silent valley (even though it has a road in it, and a tiny hydropower scheme) and all the scars in the landscape from the mining. I had been back a few times; David had once pointed out the mountain on the other side: Cnicht, and that it's a nice walk over its ridge.

Croesor is a fair drive. For undergroundy reasons we do it, but then we're car sharing. If I go walk a mountain in a weekend I tend to stay closer to home. But time is running out and the south is amazing too, and moreover, I want to take the swamphikers there this autumn, and it's good to scout ahead. So when another weekend approached with an amazing weather forecast I decided to do Cnicht. And walk back along the other side of the valley.

I set off early. There were only two other cars in the parking lot when I got there. I scampered off in the direction of the path to Cnicht; in a landscape like this you don't need to keep a map at hand. Walk along the road until you find the path to Cnicht and then just follow the ridge until you get to the top. Easy! I had decided I would walk to the top of the valley, to the remains of Rhosydd quarry, and decide there if I would go back over the old tramway, which I had walked before, or whether I would go back over Moelwyn Mawr, and if so, if I would add Moelwyn Bach to the trip.

The clearly indicated start of the path

Cnicht in the distance

I barely saw anyone. A man came the other way from the peak of Cnicht. While climbing it I realised that when you're Dutch, you are at risk of being earwormed by "Sinterklaas" songs when you tackle a mountain like this. Weird!

When I reached the top I admired the amazing view. One of the things I saw was a small figurine on the lower peak beyond. When I pushed on I found this, and two other, figurines; three dapper walkers who were having a coffee a bit beyond the top. The top itself gave amazing views over the wide surroundings, including the spoil heaps of Croesor, Rhosydd and Cwmorthin. And probably a few more. The three people below the top were admiring it too. They were quite chatty and I joined them for a cup. Nice people! But when the coffee was consumed we went our separate ways again. I went on, to the path that would lead me to Rhosydd.

Amazing view from the top: the spoil heaps of (ltr) Cwmorthin, Rhosydd and Croesor all in view! 

The lower peak

I quickly lost it. These paths in Snowdonia are not always there! Over rocks, through swamps, down streams and past industrial heritage I picked my own way to the distinct ruins of the Rhosydd buildings. It wasn't practical but the views were amazing. The Rhosydd ruins are quite something on their own. I had once gone up the incline rather than into the adit, after our wet adventure, so I knew where the path started. I went a bit up, and then decided it was time to ditch my jumper and the legs of my zip-off trousers. I also applied some sunscreen. Not enough, I would later find out!

Rhosydd from a distance

I decided to go over Moelwyn Mawr. The path could be seen from a distance. No navigation prizes here! And I figured the top of that mountain might make a good lunch spot. And so it did! After reaching the triangulation pylon I sought a place out of the wind. With a view on Moelwyn Bach, the sea and everything in between, I ate my sandwiches. A look on the map showed me that by enthusiastically scampering onto the Moelwyn Mawr ridge I had accidentally decided not to do Moelwyn Bach. That's OK; it was a fine walk as it was!

 I never really found out what was so dangerous about it

Twll Mawr, part of Rhosydd, in the landscape

Me on the top

While I was eating a figure appeared. It was Janet, from the climbing club! That's funny. And she was followed by many others.

After my lunch I packed up again and went on. The map didn't show a path; there was one, anyway, but lower on the hill it seemed to vanish. I picked my own way. Trying not to scare any sheep any more than unavoidable I walked through the fields, until I got to the little country road I had had car trouble on only weeks before. That was only a stone's throw away from the parking lot. Loop fulfilled!

 The sea

Back in civilisation

When I came home I realised I should have applied the sunscreen not only to my arms and legs, but also my head. Oh dear. Oh well; the next day I would go underground, so my skin could rest!

18 May 2016

Back to the dig

Cwmorthin is big. Our dig is small. What often happens is that we go into Cwmorthin, either to go to our dig or to do something else, and that we then end up splitting up. Some going to our dig; some doing something else. I had been in the "something else" group for two trips, and had stayed at home for another. It was time I got back to the dig!

We had no other plans, but as said; the dig is small. Moreover, on the parking lot we were accosted by a couple who were looking for the Thursdaynighters. That's us! The man had seen on our forum we would be gathering there and then, and that all were welcome, so he had decided to join. I suppose his wife would go for a walk or something; it was a beautiful night. I don't think he had SRT stuff with him so couldn't go to our dig. We showed him where we would descend, and then we parted ways. Paul, who's not keen on SRT on any day, would lead the party of non-diggers.

We started to chuck the last scaff bars we had brought along into the chamber below; then we followed ourselves. The drop is ready rigged these days; I hadn't been down yet. I liked how it was done! And when down I started to ferry the scaff bars to where they would be needed.

The dig looked good. The men had started to make a triangular passage, protected by scaffolding. If we would backfill it, the risk of stuff falling down and crushing us would be quite reduced. But we first had to add some pipes. We set to work!

We had Phil that night; he's an engineer and doesn't quite dig through collapses for a living, but he's the closest we have. We measured some spaces we wanted to fit a pipe in, cut them to size on the spot, and put them in position. When we had a bit of a wall we started to back-fill it. That freed up some space too; a bit of a bottleneck for this dig! We are working in a small level, and putting whatever material you pull out of the dig somewhere can be trying.

I kept an eye on the time. We would meet the others at 10. And that was rapidly approaching! But when Phil and Don were done progressing the dig (I was mainly an assistant) David wanted to see what had been achieved. He took his time. And I didn't want to leave before I had seen it too! Then we left.

Coming up the pitch was a pleasure. It didn't even require a chest jammer! We were out in no time. And in the chamber we would meet the others we found Paul and Jay. Andy and Rich were allegedly scampering up the incline; I decided to go and have a look. I hadn't been myself!

When they saw me they started to come back down; they had got bored with waiting but clearly, the wait was over now. I had time to scamper to the top before I followed them down. When we got out the moon was out; I love that! I did my usual thing of switching off my light and hanging back; I love that valley in moonlight. And once back at the car it turned out we had a veritable overdose of cake; it would be Don's birthday the next day, and pretty much everybody had brought cake. We'll save some for next week!

A miner had written his name on the ceiling: Ellis Jones (only Ellis on this pic). Not easy to photograph! 

16 May 2016

MATLAB success

It's done! And yet it is not. I wanted to do two parts of a student assignment in MATLAB; that's done now. But I'm clearly not done with MATLAB altogether. The assignments work; one had a sort of bug that turned out to be caused by me underestimating how many decimal points I needed somewhere.The other one was done, but then I realised I had coded it in a way that gives too much away to the students. It railroaded them! But I managed to re-code it so they had to come up with a certain solution themselves. Success!
 What is still to do? As it is now, I have done the one assignment in such a way that I calculate averages in excel and feed the excel file into MATLAB. Of course MATLAB can calculate averages itself. But what needs averaging comes in triplets of columns of unequal size, and the results need to go to a specific place, and coding all that is a pain. I want to do it but it's more faff than it sounds!

The other thing I want to do is do a third part of the assignment in MATLAB. It is now done in different software. And the procedure (multivariate statistics) is rather complicated and thus difficult to code. But I have some time! The students go into the field next month, but only do the assignment after the summer...

14 May 2016

Another climb

Climbing was only getting better. After the first outdoor climb, the first outdoor sport climb I would now have the first outdoor sport climb executed in good health. I looked forward to it!

We got to the crag and kitted up. I think I had established my reputation as impatient the week before. Nobody seemed to mind! I tried to be composed and wait for the right moment. I didn't have to wait too long. Simon started to lead a climb on the right; the climb on the left had been described as hard. I volunteered for leading the one on the right.

It went rather well. I got up quickly! Until I came to an overhang. There I just didn't manage to free up a hand to place a quickdraw. I didn't want to overdo things! I had Lydia lower me again. Eifion volunteered to finish the job. He started off, but before even reaching the first anchor he already decided he didn't like it one bit. We needed someone more daring! That left either Ika or Tony. In the end it was Tony who did the honours. And he struggled! Blimey if he struggles I am chanceless. But now at least it was rigged, and others could second it.

I did the next climb up, which was rigged. That was quite easy! I got to try one of the slightly harder ones too; I did get up it, but struggled at one point where flowstone (we were climbing on limestone this time) made any potential footholds very slippery. I was glad I wasn't trying to lead this one! Then it was a bit of a wait, alleviated by some barbecue activity, until the route furthest to the left became available. Tony lead it, and I tried to follow. Forget it! I couldn't get past the first obstacle.

By then the only route I hadn't done was the one I couldn't lead. But Lydia was by now keen to leave, and my stuff was still in her car (including my mountain of newly-bought kit). I didn't want to climb until she had left, so as not to keep her waiting. But everyone was already getting out of their stuff! Lydia said I should just do it and she'd wait; Eifion was still in his harness so he belayed me. I got to the point where I had struggled to lead. And now I couldn't even follow! After a few minutes of struggling I gave up. Well; I have still some challenge left there! Maybe I do better next time...

Treasure trove

I'm hooked on climbing now. I want to not just be able to sport climb, but also to lead trad climbs. That requires kit! And there is club kit, of course, but it can be nice to just have some stuff oneself. I thought I'd have a look on eBay if someone might be flogging some second hand stuff. I know there are risks involved in trusting your life to kit of which you don't know the history, but I don't want to spend a fortune on new kit. My next job may be in Vanuatu and then what use is trad climbing kit?

To my happy surprise, someone was selling of a whole lot of loot with a starting price of £100. It contained two backpacks, a rope, two harnesses, two pairs of climbing shoes (not my size), two pairs of crampons, an ice axe, a whole lot of nuts, hexes, a few cams, quite some quickdraws, five (!) belaying devices, some karabiners, two chalk balls and a chalk bag. A bit more than I bargained for, but one can always sell unwanted items on. I wasn't counting too much on getting this; I was the first bidder, but well, most things that look like a bargain a few days before the auction ends stop being bargains a few minutes before the end. But to my surprise, nobody else bid on this lot. Maybe all local climbers already have everything!

The man selling this stuff lived in Penmaenmawr, a stone's throw from the A55. We would pass this on the way to our next outdoor climb. Fortunately, it was convenient for the chap to have me pick all up along the way. The stuff looked good! And the chap was nice.

When we got to the cliff we'd be climbing the others heard of my treasure. It looked like I could flog all I had no use for off to them of mate's rates! I mentioned among the lot was an ice axe, and I already have an ice axe; one of the ladies didn't and offered me £10 for it. Deal! So the kit mountain was getting smaller and my bank account bigger; this is going well!

Getting home I tried on the smaller harness; it fit better than my own. That's 8 years old and has been in use as a climbing, glacier-hiking, and caving harness. Maybe time to retire it! I should go through the rest and see what I want to get rid of, what is of use to my climbing/caving friends, and what can go straight back to eBay. And who knows, maybe climb a trad route with my own gear soon!

The whole stash (except the ice axe)

13 May 2016

Saturday morning scamper on the Watkin path

I felt good again, and the weather forecast was OK! I decided to head into the mountains. I had been reminded of the Watkin Path, one of the paths going to the summit of Snowdon, a lot recently, and I had reason to believe it was beautiful. There are between six starting points of official paths to Snowdon, by the way; I've only summited from one of them (via two different routes though), and have started from two more. I live straight North of it so had never got around to approaching from the south. But now I would. The closest I had come to the Watkin Path was running up to Bwlch Cwn Llan, from which you can see some of the path. I was struck by how pretty it was!

I started early, as the tourist season has started and parking lots fill up really quickly. It was raining; maybe that would keep the paths rather quiet. I started off on my own, but when the landscape opened up I started to see little dots of people on the path before me. And it was beautiful! The mountains were majestic, but adorned with the silenced remains of an industrial past. An incline here, a ruin of a building there. Lovely!

The glamourous start of the path

 Among the trees

 Out of the trees, into the valley

The path went past a spoil heap of an old, and small, slate mine. This was what had struck me from Bwlch Cwm Llan. It was great! But it was getting busier. I overtook quite some people. The landscape was very dreamy, as it was hazy, and vague ghost-like mountains were only just visible on the horizon. It was stunning but I couldn't capture it with my camera.

Lliwedd looking menacing 

After not much more than two hours I was on top of my route. I did not intend to summit this time; I wanted to walk back via Clogwyn Du, and that way you don't have to. I did not see the point of scampering there and back only to end up where i had been before. I found a rock in the shape of an armchair and had a drink. It was raining again; I did not linger. I went south again; the route was a lot more well-trodden than I had imagined. OK with me! I was in it for the views, not the physical challenge.

Having a cuppa

The patgh over Clogwyn Du

The way down flipped between sun and rain. It was warm! I was quite sweaty. When I got close to the slate quarries of Bwlch Cwm Llan I sat down for lunch. On the ridge I had sometimes stopped to listen to the silence, only broken by some birds, but not much later a helicopter had appeared, and it had hovered low over Lliwedd, and now it noisily hovered over Yr Aran. Not so paradisical, but these guys need training too. I bet that was what it was, anyway.

The view from Clogwyn Du

The slate mines of Bwlch Cwm Llan

The helicopter above yr Aran

From the saddle I walked down the mountain flank, ending on an old quarry tramway. The path moved away from it, but I wanted to see the top of the incline I knew this would lead to, and which I had seen on the way up. In ended up descending the incline, following the old tramway to the next incline and descending that too, just because I could. Then I was as good as back to the car! And by now, of course, the parking lot was filled to the brim. On the way back I drove past an impressive amount of cars with parking tickets. Good to be reminded of the consequences of not being early enough! And I had managed my usual trick of a mountain hit-and-run before an afternoon free for chores...

Approaching the top of th eincline with its drumhouse

11 May 2016

No mines tonight

I may have got away with climbing while not quite healthy, but going underground is an entirely different matter. That tends to not bring you home before midnight. And the trip we had in mind for this week sounded lovely, but also lengthy. We had some scaff pipes to lug around! I decided, with pain in my heart, to pull out. I suspected our late night last week had contributed to me getting ill in the first place. I can't cope with lack of sleep!

I wasn't the only one who couldn't come; Mick was off organising an air show, Llion was home with a sick child, Jay was on night shift, etc etc. It was unfortunate so many people were not there when hard work needed to be done, but it looked like all really had unavoidable reasons. The four who did show up were probably a bit bitter about being with so few; they were perhaps less convinced of the reasons offered. There was some so-called "banter" going on by email, in which work-shyness was suggested, which made me grumpy. Yes I'm not there to do hard work, do you really want to rub it in? I think I wasn't the only one feeling like that; Jay and Mick also piped up. They would swap any chance given.

Later I worked a bit later than normal, did some food shopping, and went home. After dinner I popped out briefly to chase a lovely sunset. Then I did what I figured would be the proper thing to do: read about Cwm, the mine the others were in. And I was in bed at a reasonable time! A Facebook post I found the next day suggested the others hadn't been home before 2AM; I had clearly made the right decision.

The next morning it also became clear the men had done splendid work; however, the reports came again with implied martyrdom. They had shifted the scaff a lot further than I had expected, but not an inch further than they themselves wished; there was no pressure on them to bring them to any specific location. So I was grumpy again. Don't come moaning to me about the decisions you make yourself!

So although I figured I had made the right decision I was left to contemplate why this situation got to me so much. Is it Calvinist work ethic, that makes you feel awful when you are not working hard, no matter what? Am I secretly scared people think I'm really shirking? Can I just not bear it if the others get all the fun? I am fine with not liking people complaining about what they brought onto themselves, but what was likely to be a misjudged joke rather than a passive-aggressive accusation should not bother me this much. I have to work on this! But first I had to work on my health. The early night did its thing and the next morning I did my first run since the dunes. Two runs missed! But I'm back in fighting form. That will first come in handy during the next outdoor climb, and then at the next underground trip. I will be back! There may not be any more scaff to move but I trust we'll do something worthwhile...

The nice sunset

My couch caving session

10 May 2016

Election here and there

Why do these Brits always have their elections on Thursday? By sheer coincidence this time elections fell on a Thursday on which I wouldn't drive to work for mining reasons, but that was exceptional. It did have the advantage of me biking to the polling station though. A meagre advantage!

Anyway; I got to vote four votes for the price of one; we were voting for the Welsh Assembly and the Police and Crime Commissioner. The former is a bit of a strange procedure; the Welsh somehow manage to AND have an assembly member representing every constituency, AND proportional representation. They do that by giving you two votes; one for your constituency and one for the whole region (North Wales in my case). I'm not sure how they do it but with these two votes they seem to be able to get the best of both systems. One day I should figure out how, and if it indeed is properly proportional!

File:Welsh National Assembly Senedd.jpg
 The Welsh Assembly building. Pic by Man vyi

The other two votes were for the PCC: you could give your first and second preference. Four crosses! Very satisfying. But even though I voted in quadruplicate for North Welsh matters, my thoughts lingered in London; there, the mayoral elections were between what seemed to be a thoroughly decent chap and an overpriviliged toff who had opened all registers of racism, prejudice, and fear-mongering in order to win. That just seemed more black and white than the Assembly, which would undoubtedly be filled with quite some Labour and Plaid, not too different from the last time. 

And it happened thus: Anglesey is still in the hands of Plaid Cymru for the Assembly, while Labour still is the biggest party overall. A bit disconcerting were the seven UKIP seats. The new PCC is again a Plaid Cymu man. But the more exciting outcome: Sadiq Khan won the London mayoral election! Yay!