31 October 2016

Lots of fun in the dig

Digging is rather addictive when it's going well! And last week I had better things to do, and I wouldn't have wanted to be down there given what the alternative was, but I was glad this week I could go back. The last time I had got a bit stuck (metaphorically, fortunately) at the squeeze; it was so difficult and uncomfortable (if not painful) to go through, it did not motivate to go in and make progress. But there were positive signs! Miles had mentioned he would be in there in the afternoon, and I hoped he would make the opening bigger. He's got a breaker and access to explosives, so it should be feasible. It would set me up for a lot of rapid progress!

For the other dig we needed scaff; both Phil and Mick had some, and we would have to take it up. David wasn't looking forward to lugging it all up, but I suggested we recruit Miles. He tends to drive up, and then bringing scaffolding poles is a trifle! But Miles said he currently did not have a suitable vehicle for the steep and uneven track up, so he couldn't help us. Oh well! We have hands.

The Anglesey contingent arrived at a deserted parking lot. Oh dear! No Miles vehicle there. That meant he either had managed to repair a vehicle, or that he wasn't there at all. What to do? Our dig really really needed that squeeze widening, and for that we needed a breaker. David had his; I figured I should carry it up, as there would be no point being there if we had none. There was the risk I would carry it for nothing if Miles would be in there anyway, breaker and all. I decided to take no risks. It meant I would be heavily laden; I would have my usual stuff, plus the very heavy breaker, plus a scaff bar (doing my bit for the team), and I also carried SRT kit as Miles had mentioned a cable needed retrieving from a level above our digs.

We walked up, and saw Miles' Landrover there. Good news! Even though it might mean I was carrying that breaker for no reason. We went down; from the top of the pitch I could hear the generator, so I knew stuff was happening. I left the breaker with the generator and went through to our dig. That was an unusually luxurious thing to do: Miles had installed festoon lighting in the level, and at the dig he had an iPod (other music carriers available) playing ska. Spiffing!

I found Miles trying to get rid of a dangerous-looking rock at the entrance to our dig. It wasn't budging! We decided to support it instead. Then we needed to make a plan for attacking the squeeze. We decided on trying to use the breaker to make the step lower. Miles would take the first turn. I couldn't really see what he was doing but he handed slabs of rock back to me from time to time; that was encouraging! After a while he withdrew and I tried to get through. It was a lot easier now! But I still couldn't turn around. I handed a few rocks back, trying to make the space a bit bigger. Then I went out, turned around, and went back in; we'd try to chip a bit more off the edge, and that was, in theory, best done from the inside. Practice was a bit more complicated; I could not position myself in such a way I could easily do this. With combined forces we made some progress anyway.

Miles uncomfortably chipping away at the squeeze

In order to get from just beyond th squeeze to further down, one had to get past three annoying rocks. I wanted to get rid of these, to make it easier to proceed. I lugged one out, and handed it to Miles; I assumed he could just slither to the squeeze, accept the rock, and bring it out. The sounds he made while doing something like that were suggestive if it not being so easy. For him, there was another squeeze! He decided to do something about that. He started drilling holes for explosives while I tried to get the other rocks out. One I managed, by pulling it loose, passing it past my body, and kicking it through the squeeze with my feet. The other one wouldn't move. I went to the far end and had a look. Not sure where to go next! But clearing out some more rocks would help. And from now on, that would be easier.

I crawled back out and showed Miles a picture of the end of the passage so far. He was making good progress with the drill holes, so I figured I'd come out, eat an apple, and wait for him to be done. Soon he was; when all was ready for detonation we had to retreat. I figured I'd retrieve the aforementioned cable from the level up; Miles went to the other dig to warn the others he'd blow stuff up.

I went up the rope I had never before noticed. Nice to see a new part of the place! And the slope went up to some scenic manway, which lead to some roofing shaft-like passage. Cool! The cable was easily found and I came down. To my surprise, lots of people awaited me. I thought the people in the other dig would dig forever! But I'm all happy with an early end.

 The manway with artefacts

Miles had bought a thingy which was pretty much just a box with two thingamajigs you could connect a wire to, and a button on it. For setting off his explosives in style! Before he's just connected the wire to a random battery. And now he handed it to me; I got the honour! That's cool. I connected the thing up and when all were ready I pressed the iconic button. A satisfying "FFOOM" followed. Done!

I though we'd head off but David wanted to try out his breaker, which had seen repair of which he wasn't entirely sure if it had been successful. While he did that I saw Llion head towards the dig. Not without me! Together we inspected the results. That rock was now dust! We went back.

Soon all were done and we headed for the exit. I asked why so early; David explained they all hadn't wanted to be behind the first collapse when the blast came, so they had basically been chased out. I hadn't thought of that! Worked well, though.

On top of the way out I had a small discussion with Llion about why both Dutch and Welsh are better than English, but then it was time to go out entirely. Another exciting night! They rarely come this good; company in the dig, and music as well, exciting progress, blasting, rope work, new terrain, and an early-ish end. Perfect!

30 October 2016

No more forams

It took a while, but I've sorted through all the forams our master students Ben and Zoe collected for their projects. There were a fair few of them: Zoe collected about 3700 of them, and Ben no fewer than 8300. In an ideal world I would not have to do this, but well, the world isn't always ideal. Now they should be consistently analysed according to a given taxonomy. A bit later than I would have liked, I can now start looking at what it means! And time is running out. That contract of mine won't last forever...

Organised microslides

29 October 2016

Confusing climbs

I'm still climbing! I don't mention it very often here, as I rarely take pics while doing it (logically) and it seems little newsworthy. But I still do, still enjoy it and make progress. I often climb with people a lot better than me, and that helps! They go up difficult routes and tell me I could do the same. And then I try it. Sometimes it turns out they are right. Sometimes it doesn't, but then they tend to encourage me and give advice until I do.

Until quite recently I considered any grade 6 hard, but a few weeks with the big boys changed that. I might now warm up on a 6b. But one 6b is not the next 6b; last time I did start by leading a 6b and I was fine; then I even lead a 6c without breaking into a sweat. But then I wanted to do a 6a+ but failed utterly. I couldn't lead it at all. Then Tony (which I was climbing with and who can do almost anything) lead it instead, so I could try on top rope. I fell out about 10 times! But he and Ron (who is more into coaching than into climbing himself) talked me up it. I got there! Next time I want to try to climb it clean. If I have done that, I might try to lead it. That would be an achievement! And that 6c was probably mislabelled.

That route had taken a lot of me so after that I could not do anything hard anymore. I thought I'd do one last 6 of sorts, but my muscles were tired and that had caused my head to be weary and I changed to a 5. That was enough for the day! Back next week...

27 October 2016

Swamphike 2016

A highlight of the year is the annual swamphike! Last year it was changed a bit, due to me overestimating the distances we'd walk, but it was great anyway. This year I had planned a more southerly route; more in the Blaenau Ffestiniog direction. It's magical there! And often very, very wet. How would this year be?

After the MATLAB session I biked home and got ready. I changed into my hiking clothes and did some last packing. Then I heard knocking: the first car with friends had arrived! On a bright sunny day! This was starting well. The next batch followed fairly close behind.

It was great to see everyone again! I know Roelof and Viking from my fresher's year at Physics in 1993, and Henco and Sleutel from the one at Earth Sciences in 1994. A long time ago! I forgot when Maaike made her appearance (through Henco) but that's also a very long time ago by now. Now complete we got ready altogether: some people changed, we made some last decisions on what to bring (three sets of cooking pots? Nah), my kitchen was emptied of lunchables, and we made a final decision on route. We texted Erik (another 1993 physicist), who would come later, which train station he would have to get off at and then we could go. Erik is famous for his bad jokes, but we noticed immediately that Sleutel was in top shape in that regard, and we would not have to do without at all.

We drove to Beddgelert and parked the cars. We were early enough to be able to make a good start on the route! We walked along the river, where I had been with my father and stepmother too, and walked on through Nantmor, to Bwlchgwernog, and onwards to where the path crosses Afon Dylif. From Bwlchgwernog the path was stunningly beautiful. The early evening light was magic and we were all very happy.

The first camping spot

We pitched at the river, with a view on Cnicht, which was our target for the next day. The river provided a bath and we had lovely nasi. It was spiffing! Even when Maaike tried to set herself on fire with my camping stove, which admittedly has a bit of a penchant for producing large yellow flames. Oh dear. It's getting on a bit. And I was only just warm enough in my sleeping bag later that night; oh dear, quite uncharacteristically, I had taken "travel light" a bit far. Don't underestimate the mountains!

The next day we got up in a beautiful morning and headed for Cnicht. One small shower passed when we were approaching, but that was the last rain we'd see for a while. From the top, the views are amazing! And from there we headed for Rhosydd; of course we lost the path somewhere along the way. It did not lead, to some disappointment, to Roelof doing his party trick of vanishing up to his thighs in swampy goo, but one can't have it all. We had lunch among the ruins. From there we passed Cwmorthin; I saw a vehicle there, which meant Miles was in there. It's cool to be happily hiking along while knowing exciting stuff happens deep inside a mine!

Group pic on the summit of Cnicht 

Preview of some of Maaike's analogue pics (she's an old school photo geek)

I hoped to get to the Diffwys tramway for the night; the views from there are lovely, and there is water and flat space. With that in mind we did not stop in Blaenau. We did pass a sheep somersaulting down a cliff, but it stared at us defiantly when we expected it to lie there all mangled. What certainly was mangled was a terrain between Tanygrisiau and Blaenau. The public footpath went over some terrain you expect in a Mad Max film, with car wrecks and other waste and signs of fire. Weird! Soon we lost the path entirely but with some delay we managed to get to Blaenau anyway, where two of the men bought some beer. We ignored the pub (we're all old!). The final ascent was deemed trying. Roelof wanted to end up at Llyn Du Bach, but there weren't any good spots, so we went for the tramway after all. The lake served as a (very very cold) bath. It reminded me of its underground neighbour! After that, it was great to drink a beer while watching the sunset. What a trip! And I borrowed a jumper from Henco so I was snug for the night.

The funny wasteland near Blaenau

 The sunny tramway we would camp on

 The view from the lake when we were bathing

The next morning started a bit flawed as I noticed I had two ticks on my leg. I don't like ticks! I suspected the bath in the lake (with my clothes layed out on the heather) as the culprit. Hmm. I removed them with my pinchers. But then we had breakfast with a view and all was well again.

The next stretch was lovely. We walked to Llyn Bowydd, which impressed all with its mirror-like surface, and then followed the tramline to Cwt-y-Bugail. Everybody was happy to have a look into the two pits. Great! And then we walked on. Soon we entered a forest; this wasn't the best part of the trip, but hey ho. The initial plan was to go to Roman Bridge to pick up Erik, who had run out of days off so had to join us later, but we had time to spare so we contemplated a pub in Dolwyddelan. That meant: staying in the woods for a fair while. Upon reaching the village, though, we noticed both pubs were closed. A pity! We did find a playful dog, though, that threw a squeeky toy at us through the gate, and wanted to fetch it. So cute!

Panorama of Llyn Bowydd

 Negotiating the woodland

We had a drink in the local Spar (one has to make do etc) and went off to Roman Bridge, admiring Dolwyddelan Castle along the way. We weren't quite sure when Erik would arrive; we initially thought he'd arrive by train at 16:30, but he had said he would come by bus, but we didn't know what time. We just went and hoped for the best. We had hardly settled down when he appeared. Brilliant! This was almost a pre-mobile arrangment that worked perfectly. And this meant we had some daylight together; time to walk out of this cultivated valley, and back into the wild.

A sheep guarding Dolwyddelan castle

The view from the eponymous Roman Bridge

The landscape in the low sun was stunning. Soon we also saw Snowdon in the distance, all cloud-free. We found a tiny quarry at the confluence of two streams and called it a day. We had another attempt at pitching tents on slate waste (one gets used to it) and the hygiene-minded went, of course, to the river. It was dark by now! And started raining.

I put on my new salopettes, but by then the rain had stopped. Erik produced an amazing (and heavy!) meal. Then it was bedtime again! I don't think we went to bed any later than 9PM any of the nights. Very nice! And with another person (Erik) in my tent I was very snug  and warm.

The next morning some early mist made the landscape extra dreamy. After breakfast we set off; I had planned this day loosely, as we were close to Nant Gwynant, and last year we had skipped Snowdon, and some wanted another try this time. If would have to happen now! So we would walk to the start of Watkin path, and then decide what we would do. But there is a cafe there, so we were drawn in and had lunch there. Even with the occasional pint! Very nice.

Remnants of morning fog seen from our camping place in Ceunant Ty'n-y-ddol

Decoratively crossing a bridge

Approaching Nant Gwynant

We decided to head for Cwm Bwlch Llan instead of Snowdon; the latter was just too far. So we walked up. A wind picked up, and by the time we got there we were blown out of our clothes. We sought shelter in one of the pits, with intermediate success. The pit had a waterfall with associated pool, facing west, though, so some of us had a nice bath and/or shower, in the sun! And in spite of the wind we managed to cook our last meal. It was amazing curry by Roelof. We also had three small bottles of whisky on the table; I  think this may be the first time we didn't manage to drink the booze, as little as it was. We're so old and healthy!
 Watkin Path
Our last camping spot

Amazing sunset

When we went to bed we were all lying in flapping tents; that didn't do much for our sleep, but all tents held. Viking and Roelof, who had pitched their tent on the windiest spot (as it was also the flattest) took it down immediately after getting up. A good idea! Henco and Maaike didn't, and their tent tried to make an escape. Oh dear.

 The scenery was a bit more grim in the morning

We wanted to walk back to Beddgelert pretty much as the crow flies, but with our big backpacks we caught too much wind, and changed our minds. The re is some fun in cross-countrying while almost falling over all the time but we didn't think it'd last. We went down the path heading for Rhydd Ddu. With a bit of a detour (but what a pretty one!) we got back to Beddgelert, where we stopped for lunch. It was almost over! Our cars were parked just minutes away.

 Roelof finds the strong wind hilarious

We drove back, and had a cup of tea at my place. We had some half an hour for the travellers to get ready to drive off. Then it was time to say goodbye! Sad, but lovely, as it had been such an amazing trip: amazing weather and amazing lanscapes, with amazing company! And no mishaps with health or material (not noteworthy, anyway). Next year again? But where will I live?

25 October 2016

MATLAB session

I was a bit nervous about it! If you change a well-tried assignment profoundly you can only hope all goes well. When I made my assignment a MATLAB exercise I booked in an hour in a computer room so the students could pop in and ask for help with any of the problems they might have run into. And then that hour came!

 Example script

Fifteen students (of 39) showed up. Two of these had not even accessed the assignment, in spite of me mentioning this would NOT be an opportunity to do the entire assignment. This was for asking help with issues encountered along the way! Those who have not travelled the way don't know what issues they may encounter. But those who expect all students to listen to such warning is very naive.

Most students came to do just what I had warned them against: make the input files for the scripts. What can you do. At least it was easy to sort out any issues! I answered some questions about the format of one of the input files (some students were taking random averages and making garbled files, allegedly because "someone had said" that that was the way to do it; not encouraging but at least I could sort them out) and one extra demonstrator we had hired for his knowledge of MATLAB sorted out a student who did not want to make an input file as I had instructed, but preferred to adapt the MATLAB script to using his file rather than the other way around. No problem!

I hope all goes well! When the hour was over at least these 15 were on their way, but there were still 10 students who had not started at all. I hope they gather sufficient speed later on! But I first had other concerns: it was time to go home and think of entirely different things. It was time to go hiking... watch this space!