Where will the future lead?

Q1 Review of my plans for 2014

It’s easy to write New Year’s Resolutions at the start of the year, then write about them at the end of the year, and wonder why you didn’t lose weight, save money, or do that thing you wanted to. Basically, taking one step after another into mediocrity and suppressed ambition.

It doesn’t have to be like that, and the first step was to write some things to do.

I published a extensive list of things I wanted to get done in 2014 towards the end of January this year, this is a review of how I’m doing.


Pass my driving test and take lots of post-test tuition.

  • I took a practical test. Failed it. (Justifiably – I don’t mind)
  • I’m comfortable driving and have another test booked in.
  • I’m still planning to continue lessons after I pass.

Learn a new sport (or several)

  •  I took one (day long) beginners, introduction to snowboarding class.
    • I need to book another one, and build my confidence and control.
  • I haven’t gone any further with any others, but windsurfing and kayaking currently appeal more than the others at the moment.

Skills I’m trying to develop:

Photography

  • I’m not sure I’ve made any super-progress yet in developing my style. I’ve taken photos, sure, but I don’t feel I’ve pushed myself and I don’t feel I’ve come up with anything “amazing” yet this year.
  • I need to get outside on grit and take more photos of climbing.

Climbing

  • I feel like I’m making progress here, slowly but surely. I recently set a personal best by seconding the main, overhanging, wall at MCC – a big personal milestone.
  • I’ve done some outside (in the dark!), but not enough – clearly the summer evenings will make that easier.
  • I’ve got my eye on a couple of books about climbing (which I’ll probably buy in the next few months when I feel I’ve time to read them) which should help me develop various bits of theory surrounding advanced ropework and multipitch climbing.

Mountaineering/Hiking/Walking

  • I’ve not done as much as this as I’d wanted to do, primarily because the weather has not been compliant.
    Chrome Hill (from Parkhouse Hill), Peak District
    Chrome Hill (from Parkhouse Hill), Peak District
    • A wet, windy and miserable weekend in Wales
    • A very windy, cold weekend in Patterdale
    • A gentle day hike near Ambleside in the Lake District.
    • A sunny day in the Peak District gave access to  Chrome & Parkhouse hill – the Peak’s best “mountains”.
    • A very wet and windy week in the Cuillns of Skye, I did get up some mountains in Skye, but not as many as I’d have liked.
  • I’d have liked to go winter camping in Jan or Feb, but the lack of snow kind of ruled it out.
  • I realise I really quite liked the idea of winter camping, and am considering the viability of snowshowing, igloo building, and reducing pack weight using a pulk to help carry supplies into a basecamp somewhere.
  • I have a new book on winter mountaineering that is thorough but not patronising which I’ve been absorbing piece by piece, but a lack of winter conditions has been slowing my reading of it.
  • I need to set some plans and challenges for the summer – maybe a set of backpacking weekends? For some reason, I don’t have maps of Snowdonia, so I should probably rectify that…

Public speaking

  • I did put myself forward for several public speaking opportunities, but I didn’t follow them through well, and I’ve not put my heart into it.
  • I really want to speak about my time in Kyrgyzstan, and I’m thinking of weaving a 15 minute narrative and then trying to put it into a Youtube video, but it’s tough.

Systems Engineering

  • Apart from some really boring system maintenance…
    • setting up better backups for this website,
    • setting up a FreeNAS box with ZFS so I can backup other stuff properly
    • upgrading my network, slowly, to gigabit, so it is not so slow
      • next step is a GPL-hating MicroTik modem-router thing.
  • …I’ve not done any(?) engineering that I’m particularly excited by.
  • Oh, I changed my WordPress theme too, but I’m still not really happy with it.
  • This is something I’m not going to push – when something I want to do arises, I’ll do it.
    • To start with, finding a WordPress theme that doesn’t suck would be good.

Marketing

  • I read some good books about advertising, and thought a great deal about advertising. I still can’t think creatively about concepts or come up with visual puns as easily as I’d like to be able to. I’ll come back to that soon.
  • I’ve got some interesting books about design, and interaction and user interfaces which… (I guess?) counts as fits into marketing. I’m planning to read those soon.
  • I’ve got some fun projects to think about, but I should probably not talk about them here.

Programming

  • I think I’m going to try and learn Ruby/Rails. I’d like to be able to build a very simple web app, and since I know (basic-level) HTML, I don’t think that’s unrealistic.
  • I pushed myself almost all the way through http://tryruby.org the other day – remembering lots from the last time I tried.
  • I’m going to try it again soon – and then see if I can push myself through the codecademy ruby courses whilst building something simple in Rails.

Lose weight

  • I’m doing… ok… on the weight loss front. I’m currently somewhere between 12 and 12 & 1/2 stone, probably a good stone heavier than I’d prefer to be.
  • It’s not directly related to weight loss, but I recently started following the NHS couch-to-5k jogging plan, partly to provide moral support for my jogging partner aka girlfriend, and partly to get fitter.
    • weirdly, I actually found myself slightly enjoying it.
    • that remind me, I need to go running!
  • I’m not doing so good at being super-sensible with my diet, if I’m to drop that extra stone, I’m going to need to step up there.

Blog More

  • This WordPress design doesn’t make it easy to see, but I’ve been doing pretty good at pushing out blog posts – things I’ve actually taken time to write about something interesting.
  • I’ve been trying to publish things I think could be interesting.

Read more.

  • I’ve been doing well here. I’ve read a number of books, and what’s more, I’ve even published a number of sets of notes of some of the books I’ve read.
  • I’ve got a massive stack of books to read, and a lot of enthusiasm to read them, so hopefully I’ll continue along these lines just the same as I started.

Socialise more.

  • I did hold a social gathering, it didn’t really work as well as I’d hoped, but that’s fine.
  • Some of the reading I’ve been doing, is probably likely to influence precisely how I do this, but I’ve not thought it through properly yet.
  • I’d like to organise some more gatherings in the near future, so I guess I need to just go and do that.
  • I’ve not done so well about finding more new social groups to meet every week – more like once a month – I think I need to make sure I get out there and make contact with different various groups I have disparate contact with.

Travel as much as is appropriate

  • I spent Easter in Edale, but I feel it’d be a stretch to count that as travel, and then ignore the number of times I’ve travelled around the country for work.
  • I considered a last minute camping trip to Svalbard, but after considering the pros, and particularly the big white furry cons called “hungry polar bears”, I decided that perhaps Northern Scandanavia might appeal more later on in the year, or maybe Scotland.
  • I think I’m going to upgrade my ‘large’ tent to a Terra Nova Quasar – a four season tent that should be able to take strong winds and rain without making me nervous…

And there you have it – that’s where I’m up to..

See you in July for the next review!

Gorse blooms in Glen Brittle

Looking back at our trip to the Cuillins in Skye.

On Saturday, after a blistering 12 hour minibus journey, I arrived back  in Manchester from a week in the Black Cuillins of Skye.

Gorse Bushes in full bloom!
Gorse Bushes in full bloom!

It was a memorable trip, and by the second evening I thought it was all over – I was in great pain and could barely walk.

In my socks, I’d excitedly tried to run to otherside of the hut, and had managed to kick my little toes on my left foot on the leg of a wooden bench. Hard. About 3 of my toes on my left foot hurt like hell, and instantly I could tell it was serious.

As I hobbled to bed in pain, I wondered what one does if one breaks one’s little toe, and concluded that most doctors would prescribe rest, painkillers, and would helpfully suggest perhaps not repeating the experience if possible.

The next day, I woke up and found I could barely walk. Swallowing Ibuprofen and warding off suggestions of herbal potions, I asked our friendly medical doctor whether the intense pain meant it was broken – to which I got a shrug and a smile.

Fortunately, it turned out not to be broken, and the subsequent day, I took myself up Sgurr Dearg, to look at the Inaccessible Pinnacle. The cloud level was about 3-400m and hadn’t risen significantly since we’d arrived, however it didn’t seem to be raining significantly, and the wind had dropped to manageable levels.


Before I left for the Cuillins, I wrote this (new emphasis added):

I’ll be taking a Garmin GPS with me – not for navigating (we want to be navigating visually), but for returning in poor visibility and avoiding navigation errors. The narrowness of the cuillins, and the slightly magnetic Gabbro they’re made of, means that compass bearing can’t ever be fully trusted, and so the GPS will give a lot of confidence.

The Black Cuillins stand out for me, as one of those mountain ranges that deserves significant respect. A navigational error of 10m in the Peak District, possibly might mean wet feet but realistically is consequence free. A 10m navigational error in the Black Cuillins stands a good chance of meaning you try and scramble down a 30m cliff.

My GPS and OpenStreetMap generated map showed the “easy”, “path”, up Sgurr Dearg. At least, what little existed in terms of path, was available to me in relation to where I was. I picked the route up Sgurr Dearg, specifically because the route was relatively well traced on OpenStreetMap, and should be easy to find (up the ridge on path between Eas Mor and Loch an Fhir-bhallaich).

Kick steps down this snow in a gully of death? I say no!
Kick steps down this snow in a gully of death? I say no!

And off I went! Several times when I felt like I’d lost the path, I pulled my Garmin out, walked 15m in one direction and found the faint ‘path’ I was supposed to be following.

The descent was a bit more hard work (to Belach Banadich (easy) and then down to Coire Banadich(complex)), the route/”path” finding was more involved (Q: Do I walk around this sketchy-looking snow, or do I risk kicking down-steps into it without an ice-axe if I fall? A: Walk around) but after several attempts at following the GPS down different parallel gullies I was able to scramble myself to the path in the valley without too much faff.


When I got back, I took off my boots, sat down, and almost straight away, I heard a call over the walkie talkie radios.

The late group's route card
The late group’s route card

Another group, with several friends in it, had been climbing Amphitheatre Arete (mod/diff) near the Cioch Buttress in Coire Lagan. The time they originally expected to be back by was rapidly approaching, and, as they told me, they were still abseiling down (having turned around at ~3pm).

It was 7pm. They told me they expected to be back by 10pm but if they weren’t, it might be time to call Mountain Rescue.

With nightfall expected around 8pm, tentatively, I asked whether there was anything we might be able to help.

“Well, if anyone was really generous and wanted to walk up here (the visibility is really bad) and help us work out where we are, then that’d be really generous and we’d be grateful – currently we’re above a big cliff that’s longer than our rope so we’re going to try and find a way around it.”.

Two of our group had been climbing in that area a few days ago, and we agreed to walk up there and try and find them. I wrote a note documenting the radio call, wrote a route plan, grabbed a walkie-talkie and briefed the other members of our group the situation, whilst the guys somehow grabbed a stove to make tea and a large quantity of food.

They also grabbed their climbing gear, by as we turned on our head torches, 45 minutes into the walk-in to our destination, we agreed that 5 climbers stuck up a cliff was worse than the 3 that already were. We would go to the bottom of their crag and help try to guide them down.

It was dark by this point, with thick mist that reduced visibility to 10-20 metres, and bounced headtorch beams straight back at you.

As reached a reached a point roughly parallel with the climbers, we took a bearing on the GPS for where we thought they might be, and left the safety of the path into the thick mist.

See full screen

We headed across the valley on a faint path, then started up the hillside where we though they were. After a while, (we could hear and see nothing), we decided to shout and see if they could hear us. An echoing shout came back… to one side…. so we traversed that way. We knew from the radio that they were still descending, and so we periodically shouted until it sounded like they were directly above us, and then headed straight up the hill.

For comparison: 'good' misty visibility in daylight!
For comparison: ‘good’ misty visibility in daylight!

This was probably the most difficult point. In daylight you can look 10-30m away and choose the easiest possible route up a scrambly hillside. In thick mist, with head torches bouncing back off it, you’re stuck with what you can see – and so the scramble went through bits of streams, through boulder fields, up scree-ish slopes. It was unpleasant and with every step I was making a conscious thought – can we reverse this in these conditions?

Eventually, we got the bottom of some wet slabs, and very sensibly, the lads reeled me in and suggested it’d be unwise to go further. If we turned off our head torches, we found we could occasionally see sweeps of a powerful torch, high, high above us.

We setup watch flashing headtorches up in that direction – we could see their lights directly yet – just the light of their torches occasionally as it swept above a rocky outcrop.

We radioed through to our base (who’d setup a listening post) with our position from the GPS, explained we thought they were several hundred metres above us, and that we had limited audio and visual contact. If they did call Mountain Rescue at this point, at least Mountain Rescue would know exactly where to go.

And we waited – the guys made tea, we watched their headlights slowly bob into view, and counted them off one by one. Communication between our team was really important – we’d put on all our layers, and drunk the now tepid tea we’d made for the others, and tried various ways of staying warm (including dancing).

Finally, we got a call from the group above us letting us know they thought this was their last abseil (we’d heard those words before) but we strained our eyes up and tried to imagine figures attached to the bobbing lights through the dark mist.

Eventually (around 11pm), one by one, they made it down the abseil to the bottom of the wet slabs where we were. The guys had made some more tea and so (expecting them to be frozen), we pushed the tea into their hands, and questioned them about warmth. They gratefully accepted the tea, but apart from being varying degrees of exhausted, none of them were showing any signs of hypothermia.. Certainly they appeared warmer than we were!

We radioed through to base that they were safe, but at this point our radios were running out of battery, and so whilst the most important basic information got through, our longer plans for our return did not.

We didn’t know what was below us on the slope, we only knew the route we’d come up was safe, so rather than taking a GPS bearing for the path, we were forced to micronavigate back along our GPS trail from the route up. If you want an idea of something that isn’t fun, micronavigating down scree-ish/bouldery/steep scrambles, with 30 metre legs between where you are and when you have to stop to configure your next GPS waypoint (take a bearing).

Being up there without a GPS would have been terrifying – it was definitely the conditions when you could quite easily almost walk off the edge of a cliff without seeing.

Eventually, we made it back onto the path – and just a 40 minute walk to the hut… arriving back at 12:40ish or something. We’d been able to radio through some ETA’s to the hut once we were on the path, and like super-legends, they had amazing hot food ready for the tired climbers and rescue team when we got back.

All’s well that ends well, and we were all happy with the result – most importantly everyone home safely – but also reducing the risk of a prolonged ordeal for the climbers, a great deal of worry for everyone else in the hut, and, potentially, a spurious call to MRT.

What the climbing guidebook said...
What the climbing guidebook said…

If it were to happen again (and to be clear, I don’t want to have to navigate in those poor visibility conditions again), I think I could have communicated better with the hut team (they weren’t aware that hypothermia had been fully ruled out).

The climbers maintained that they weren’t actually in trouble, just the descent took much longer than they anticipated – even given they started 5 hours before nightfall, and estimated they abseiled ~10 pitches on their 60m rope. Possibly they went off route, or possibly they were closer to the top than they thought when they turned back – we’ll never know for sure.

What I do know, is that calm and professionalism of everyone involved – including the bravery and teamwork of the two guys (whom I had only known for a few weeks!) – and the patience and responsiveness of the hut team, contributed massively to making sure everyone got home happily.


Several days later, I decided to see if the main Cuillin ridge from Sgurr Banachdaich to Sgurr a Mhadaidh was possible in the weather conditions. This is a Grade 3 scramble – and is one of the trickiest and most committing parts of the ridge.

I set off with a less experienced group of 4 (including me), via Coire Eich, to the Sgurr Banachdaich summit. This is supposed to be the easiest Munro ascent in the Cuillins, and I can well believe it – it’s largely a slog up scree. In our case, in thick mist above ~400m.

Looking down Core Eich with the best visibility of the week!
Looking down Core Eich with the best visibility of the week!

With the OpenStreetMap maps I had loaded on my GPS, we found the winding paths through the scree and got to the summit without incident.

So we decided to give the ridge a go – and here the OSM coverage ends – the ridge is just too narrow, too rocky, to even attempt to mark a “path”. In addition, simply routefinding through scrambly bits of boulderfields becomes a challenge – given the thick mist.

At one point, we had to skirt below an icy old snow field on top of a scree slope, but above a steep misty gully. For every step between the boulder stepping stones on the scree, we sent small rockfalls into the vertical gully below. After passing that somewhat terrifying section (clearly Grade 3), we made it to Belach Thormaid.

From here, we tried to find a route to Sgurr Thormaid. I can read now, that I made an error and followed a ‘false path’ and tried to skirt round down on the left side, rather than somehow going up to the right. Fortunately, we made the wise decision, given the conditions, ability levels and difficulties in route finding, and retraced our steps (not without drama – the rockfally bit was twice as bad the second time round) and made it back to Sgurr Banachdaich, and returned back down Coire Eich.


I think (in complex and scary situations) I’d prefer to hike on my own, than with less experienced people whom I’m effectively responsible for making sure are within their ability zone.

Window Buttress and the direction of Belach na Banachdaich with Sgurr Dearg in the mist behind, from Coire Banachdaich
Window Buttress and the direction of Belach na Banachdaich with Sgurr Dearg in the mist behind, from Coire Banachdaich

The Cuillins are mountains with such a complex and unforgiving topography, that to navigate safely, you need to have studied the route incredibly thoroughly. Guidebooks, different flavours of maps, asking people, photos, crag diagrams can all massively help you – but given the distances are so short, yet the mountains so spikey, this is what one needs to do.

Being able to navigate visually only is likely to make things slightly easier – at least you may be able to route find more easily, and there will be fewer opportunities to misnavigate, but these mountains should be given a lot of respect, even in good visibility.

OpenStreetMap definitely meant better navigation abilities and GPS+OSM is a winning combination in mist made my life considerably easier and more enjoyable.

I think I prefer the solitude of solo hiking when that much is at stake, because my own mistakes don’t impact others in the same way, and I had a better understanding of what I’m not capable of.


Eas Mor with Sgurr Dearg and even Window Buttress covered in cloud....
Eas Mor with Sgurr Dearg and even Window Buttress covered in cloud….

It was a jolly fun trip – despite the dramas and relatively little time on the mountain, I had a very relaxed time(!) which was just what I wanted.

It’d be nice to go back in better visibility, and perhaps (with the right people) in full winter conditions with good visibility – I’m sure there would be several fun routes within our reach.

I thinking of maybe going as soon as the midges die off, or perhaps later in the year.

Where will the footprints lead next?
Where will the footprints lead next?
Eas Mor, Glen Brittle

Destination: The Black Cuillins of Skye

The Black Cuillins are probably the longest sustained alpine-style ridge in the UK, found in Skye, Scotland, they’re very spiky and dramatic.

In 2012, in March, our trip to Skye was beautifully sunny and hot. So much so that we went swimming in the rivers and sea.

Last time round, I still thought of myself as very unfit, and inexperienced. I’d only say my confidence has increased since then, but I’ve also demonstrated my fitness to myself and grown my confidence in travelling over exposed ground. Last time, the only Munro I summitted was Sgurr a’Mhadaidh via An Dorus – and I distinctly remember being on the top of this narrow ridge of rock, looking down at everything else. I remember looking around and noticing there was a lot of empty space between us and anything else.

Path to An Dorus - the scree slope
Path to An Dorus – the scree slope

This time, we’re going to stay in Glen Britle for 6 days, and the weather conditions are unlikely to be anything as like last time. MWIS doesn’t cover the Cuillins in a great deal of granularity, but I’m looking and hoping for reports of relatively little wind and precipitation. I’m also looking for a greater than 50-60% chance of cloud free summits – the Cuillins are one of those places where visual navigation is really the only way of doing things safely, and everything else are just aids for if/when you get stuck in cloud and need to return. The local regional medium term weather forcast looks damp, but ok.

SAIS doesn’t have an outpost in Skye either, but the latest Torridonian reports are positive, and the reports for the rest of Scotland also show a low risk. Obviously, conditions change, and we’re probably best placed to observe them. Significant new snow, or significant rises in temperature at altitude, are probably the biggest obvious atmospheric things we can be aware of that could cause problems. When it comes to actual avalanche avoidance, there’s a lot one can do on a snow slope to predict whether an avalanche is likely. From the SAIS observations in Glencoe and Lochbar, I think the conditions are likely to be snowy at altitude – mainly icey wet snow that has refrozen. Somewhat slippy to walk on, but ideal for crampons and not prone to movement.

If only the snow would freeze all the scree slopes solid please, and not exist anywhere else – that’d be lovely. ;)

Obviously all excursions and outings are weather dependent, and I’m travelling very well prepared for the conditions I’m expecting – Scarpa Manta B2s & G2 crampons, Ice Axe, down jacket, are packed.

I’m hoping the weather allows us to get up Sgurr Dearg/In Pin, Sgurr Alisdair, Sgurr Nan Eag, Sgurr a’Mhadaidh, Sgurr Banachdich seems straight forward, but the standard route looks boring, so it might be an option for the first hike.

I think my climbing buddy would like to have a look Am Basteir’s tooth so we’ll take a look at that and maybe Sgurr a’Ghreadaidh too.

I might see (conditions permitting) if I can do a camping excursion from Glen Brittle up to one of the high corries… Probably one of the 3 closest ones. *shrug*

The Black Cuillins of Skye
The Black Cuillins of Skye

The Cuillin range is particularly interesting, as it one of the places in the UK where the 1:25,000 Ordance Survey maps just aren’t adequate. The 1:12500 Harvey’s map enlargements of the ridge, are considerably better, but no use alone. I’ll also be taking the excellent SMC Cuillins guidebook and the Skye Cicerone guide.

I’ll be taking a Garmin GPS with me – not for navigating (we want to be navigating visually), but for returning in poor visibility and avoiding navigation errors. The narrowness of the cuillins, and the slightly magnetic Gabbro they’re made of, means that compass bearing can’t ever be fully trusted, and so the GPS will give a lot of confidence.

However a GPS device can only tell you where you are in terms of a long/lat reference – if you don’t have a map for it to overlay that position on, then it’s useless.

Thus, over the past few months, I’ve been working to improve the OpenStreetMap coverage of the Cuillins – from the various data sources available – 6 inch maps from the 1800s, Ordanance Survey open data releases, and Bing aerial photography, and thanks to the kindness of some guy in Germany, this data is now available for your Garmin GPS (and is loaded on mine!).

Scree Slopes of Coire Lagan, below the cliffs of Sgurr Sgumain
Scree Slopes of Coire Lagan, below the cliffs of Sgurr Sgumain

Like when I went to Kyrgyzstan, I’ll be taking my Spot satellite pager device and will periodically fire off A-OK’s which will go out via Facebook and twitter. It’s not the same level of remoteness though, and though there will be mobile signal on the top of the mountains, we will also be carrying walkie talkie’s.

Spot will tell you my GPS position at the time I fired off the A-OK and I’ll mark the exciting and tricky bits of scrambles, and summits with custom alerts, saying they’re exciting.

I figure you might like to see where I am, but SPOT uses Google maps which are a bit rubbish in that area, so you’ll have to find a way to use the SPOT co-ordinates with this rendering of OSM: http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/black-cuillins-skye_4548#16/57.2007/-6.2260 perhaps you can hack the URL?

For next time I go away, I want to use the Spot API (go look – you may be able to hack something? *shrug* that pokes the co-ordinates auto-magically into the umap-osm thing – or at least, provides neat links to show where I am on a better map.

Anyway… Time for me to get packing! I’m excited! I hope to return with stories, and photos! :)

The bridge in Glen Brittle, with Sgurr Alisdair in the background
The bridge in Glen Brittle, with Sgurr Alisdair in the background
Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013

Try not to be amazed, confused and maybe a bit tearful, when you read my plans for 2014

My first plan for 2014 is not to use upworthy-style headlines to drive people to my blog again, but since you’re here, why not take a glance?

Over the past few years, I’ve tried to make plans for the upcoming year.

Read over some of my plans for the coming year from 2013201220102009 – all guaranteed to make me cringe, and you giggle.

For 2014, there are various things I’d like to do: (in no order)

  • Pass my driving test and take lots of post-test tuition.

    • I don’t need or want a car in central Manchester, but I would like to be able to drive/hire cars for long trips.
    • I’ve taken about 30 hours of tuition in central Manchester in 2013, but haven’t sat my practical test yet.
    • I’m not really interested in it for the ‘reduced’ insurance premiums, and I think I’ll find motorways relatively similar to motorway-style dual carriageways.
    • My aims are to:
      • be a safe driver by having experience evaluating the complex and worst case road scenarios and thinking through the best course of action.
      • be able to park and manoeuvre with impressive precision.
      • get experience driving different vehicles (small vans, automatics, non-power steering, 4×4, trailers etc.)
      • get experience with less-than-optimal road conditions (snow, single-track, rain, night, steep hills etc)
    • I’ve booked my practical test in early February, so I’ll prepare for that, and we’ll take it from there.
  • Learn a new sport (or several)

    • This year I’ve learnt to climb. I wouldn’t say I’m very good, but I know enough basics to pass them on to other people.
    • Often people pose the question, “what would you do if money was no object?”. Well, I’d learn a new, exciting adventure sport (or maybe several). So that’s what I’m going to try and do.
    • I’m quite interested (at some point) in learning to:
      • snowboard
      • hangglide/paraglide
      • pilot/glide
      • jetski (without being a dick)
      • windsurf
      • surf
      • kayak (whitewater and/or sea)
      • ski (cross country and/or downhill)
    • Other stuff that is on the list but isn’t really as appealing:
      • skydiving
      • caving
      • horse-riding
    • For the moment, I’m learning to snowboarding at chillfactore in Manchester, and we’ll take it from there.
  • There are several skills I’d like to develop:

    Climbing indoors in Manchester
    Climbing indoors in Manchester
    • Photography:

      • I’m really pleased with what I’ve done in 2013, it’s been a big step up from 2012
      • I’ve started combining it with climbing, and I want to do more climbing/mountaineering photography
      • I’m hoping this year that perhaps I can take more landscape/action sports photos with people in shot.
      • I want to be better at framing and composition – specifically I want to break ‘the rules’ more – things like:
        • overexposing the sky on purpose
        • chopping off the top of peoples heads (just on photographs though!)
        • shooting greyscale
    • Climbing:

      • I’m really pleased how can far I’ve come since I started in March:
        • Indoors: I’ve led some 5+’s. I can currently top-rope some 6a’s.
        • Outdoors, I’ve done various little bits, but most significantly I’ve seconded a trad HS route.
      • This year, I’d like to:
        • Develop my stamina on overhangs (which are often within reach in terms of difficulty, but are too tiring).
        • Do more outside:
          • second more easy trad routes.
          • setting up some top ropes on easy climbs/grade 2/3 scrambles, to make fun scrambles better protected.
        • Improve my knowledge of different roping techniques, such as:
          • what to do if you drop your belay device
          • how to get down from high places
          • how to place simple gear on easy trad routes
          • how to setup a belay
          • do more multi-pitch trad routes
          • gain knowledge in snow related ropework and belays
    • Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013
      Descending Beinn Alligin, Torridon, 2013
    • Mountaineering/Hiking/Walking

      • I’ve done a lot in 2013:
        • Snow camping on Pennines, camping to Langdale, winter mountaineering in Torridon, backpacking in the Mammores, exploration/backpacking in Kyrgyzstan
        • Assorted day hikes
      • Whilst I’ve done some impressive things in 2013, I feel I got out less frequently in 2013 than I did in 2012. I’d like to spend more days on the mountains in 2014
      • I’d like to improve my micro-navigation skills.
      • I’d like to do more things in snow.
        • In Jan/Feb/March, I’m planning to do several days winter backpacking fun, possibly in Scotland.
      • I’m going back to Skye around Easter and am on standby to decamp into a tent in the Peak District at the first sign of a snowy weekend.
    • Public speaking

      Speaking at FLOSSK13 in Pristina, Kosovo
      Speaking at FLOSSK13 in Pristina, Kosovo
      • I’ve done various bits of public speaking in the past, this year I even ‘keynoted’ at the FLOSSK13 conference in Pristina,
      • I think I have what it takes to be quite good at public speaking – confidence, interesting anecdotes, and the patience to try and breakdown high level concepts into things other people can understand, all wrapped up in a compelling narrative.
      • I’d like to do more public speaking events, of all sizes, and I need to establish a way of doing that, and find a style and set of topics I’m comfortable with. I’m considering joining Toastmasters.
    • Systems Engineering

      • I quite enjoy making systems do things. In the past when I’ve been on holiday, after several days I’ve found myself designing scalable live video streaming platforms in my head.
      • In the past I’ve blogged about systems a bit, but I’d like to investigate and play with more tools and test them different situations.
      • In particularly, I’d like to become more familiar with Varnish-ESI, which is currently powering this blogs Recently Added Articles box (though not in a very effective way) and discover and play with more server tools like that, which can do exciting things.
      • I’d like to play with Varnish-ESI, Icinga,
    • Personalised mug at Barcamp Blackpool 2013
      Personalised mug at Barcamp Blackpool 2013

      Marketing

        • In 2013, I’ve spent a good deal of my time thinking about marketing, promotional and communication questions – from reading a book on crisis PR and blogging about epic customer service, to visiting 20+ conferences for work and getting personalised mugs into the hands of thousands of people.
      • In 2014, I’d like to:
        • improve my analytical skills in rapidly prototyping and iterating campaigns and pulling conclusions from from them.
        • find better ways to understand of the potential customers, so as to tailor things to them as best possible.
        • improve at identifying areas where the users see the most pain. and then optimising those processes to reduce wasted unnecessary steps (essentially applying the Toyota Way to web-service end users).
        • understanding and using ‘clever’ and perhaps underused strategies to create self-amplifying campaigns.
        • improve my understanding or how good and bad PR works, in industries I’m unfamiliar with.
    • Programming

      I'd like to learn to understand programming better
      I’d like to learn to understand programming better
      • I can write basic bash scripts, and in the past I’ve written trivial programs in PHP, C++ & Javascript.
      • For a long time, I’ve largely been only able to read/hack around with high level programming environments. Obviously this has lots of benefits and can get you a long way, but even a small, self-written bit of code added to an existing codebase which does something I need, would be a massive step forward.
      • My ambition here isn’t really to become a good programmer, but simply be more literate, and able to use tools better to get things done.
      • I’d like to
        • Meticulously go back through a basics book for a common programming language to make sure I understand the concepts that frequently occur correctly.
        • Make sure I under some basics in procedural programming.
        • Learn to use these limited skills to manipulate a library/existing codebase that does stuff I want.
        • Have a look round and see where I want to get to next.
  • Lose weight

    • At the start of January 2013, I weighed 11 & 1/2 stone. I currently weigh 13 & 1/2 stone.
    • Losing weight makes Mountaineering easier (less weight on knees), it makes climbing easier (less weight on arms) and whilst it doesn’t make photography easier, it would leave more room for weighty camera gear!
    • I have enacted low carb diet, round two.
    • In 2014, I’d like to reach and maintain 11 stone, and then develop a sustainable lifestyle around that weight band.
  • Blog More

    • It’s super embarrassing that there are 3 months in this year where I didn’t publish a single blog post.
    • I don’t expect anyone reading to find it embarrassing, but I do – I enjoying writing blog posts. It’s challenging, and often very fulfilling to get my thoughts into a coherent shape..
    • I’d like to do a month of blogging again, but I don’t feel that frenetic “months of blogging”, with large gaps in between them, is the way it has to be.
  • Read more.

    • I grew up without a TV and when I was a child, before I had a computer, I ingested most knowledge through books. Then dialup came along, and suddenly, everything was a short-form article or video consumed  through a screen of distractions.
    • I am resistant to DRM-encumbered ebook platforms, but I enjoy dead-tree-style reading materials and have a great deal of books I’d like to read.
    • In 2014, I’d be very happy if I got through 24 decent length books from my “unread” shelf. I think its ambitious, but not unrealistic.

      Smoke and Lasers!
      Smoke and Lasers!
  • Socialise more.

    • Over the past year, I’d say I’ve done quite well at channeling and training introverted & extroverted sides for different tasks. I love my solitude, but I also enjoy catching up with friends.
    • Last autumn/winter, I held two ‘epic parties’, that were great, but on reflection aren’t going to be repeated. (Too large, too inpersonal, too disparate).
    • This year, I think I’ll try and arrange several gatherings, that are smaller in size, but more focused and perhaps easier to enjoy.
    • I’d like to try to perhaps aim to spend at least one day a week socialising with people who I don’t see every week – which is a great excuse to make contact with old friends.
  • Travel as much as is appropriate

    • I don’t have any particularly noteworthy travel plans, nor do I have particularly strong urges to go anywhere right now.
    • Most plans, I have tend to be semi-spontaneous, or preplanned and then rapidly executed when the occasion arrives.
    • On balance, I probably prefer solo-travel due to reduced communication requirements, and not feeling responsible for others’ welfare.

      Me and my fixer Jules in Kyrgyzstan
      Me and my fixer Jules in Kyrgyzstan
    • My current travel interests
      • Currently I’m interested in (historically) Russian/Soviet influenced areas (particularly Baltic states, Eastern areas of Europe and Central Asia), the Middle East and Northern Africa.
      • I have a personal preference to climates that don’t stray far outside ~-10C -> ~25C whilst I’m there.
      • I’m not a fan of painful insects (mosquitoes, midges, etc), parasites, viruses or large omnivorous animals (bears).
      • I prefer countryside to cities, cold to heat, cheap to expensive, obscure to well-touristed, quiet to busy, self-planned to chaparoned.
      • Selfishly, I prefer countries where a significant proportion of the population’s first or second language is English, Russian, French or Swedish.
    • I’d like to do more travel on a bike in 2014. I don’t really have an ideal bike for this, not that it’s stopped me before.
    • The chances are 2014 offers a few scenic tours of the UK, perhaps with one trip somewhere cool abroad, but if the opportunity presents itself, you’ll just see a blur as I grab my stuff and go!

And that’s it! I think that’s all my current plans and aspirations for 2014. What do you think?

Do you think I should be focusing on something I’m not?

Explain in the comments! :)

#TimOnTour Kyrgyzstan 2013 – Exploring Central Asia’s lesser known mountains

What’s going on here?

I’m on a two week trek, exploring a lesser known part of Kyrgystan, in central Asia. I’m publishing my location (with a Spot device) and that I’m OK, at regular intervals.

Where are you right now?

Back in the UK.

Where did you go?

Have a look at this map.

What do different update types mean:

OK/Checkin:

  • Just that I am at location and everything is ok. (Two thumbs up, absolutely ok, things are going great)

Custom:

  • Slept here
  • Lots of wow noises due to surroundings at that point
  • Summited something
  • Met someone here
  • Something of interest happened here
  • Repeatedly, over protracted period, with no intertwined OK/Checkin’s -: everything OK, but not ‘awesome’, no assistance required. Probably coincides with return to civilisation.

Note: none of these updates can mean I need help. There is a unique Help alert that carries that meaning and is dealt with separately.

Who is guy anyway?
Who is guy anyway?

How do you pronounce Kyrgystan?

“Kur-gur-stan”

Where is Kyrgystan?

Central Asia. South of Russia, West of China

What timezone is that?

KGT. +5 hours from BST

Who are you travelling with?

I’m going on my own.

How are you getting to Kyrgystan?

Turkish Airlines: Manchester to Osh, via Istanbul.

How long are you  going for?

2 weeks (30th September – 15th October)

My flights
My flights

Where are you going?

Osh for a couple of days, then down to Bakten province, and up the Karavshin valley, right up to the Jiptik (джиптик) valley.


Where I’m planning to go.

Why Karavshin & Jiptik valleys?

There are unclimbed peaks in the area which I plan to scout/photograph. In addition, the scenery is reputedly comparable to Yosemite but in my 300 page guidebook of Kyrgzystan (2011), Batken province was given just 3 pages, and the Karavshin/Ak-Suu area was mentioned in passing in just one paragraph.

Also, it’s the only state in Central Asia with no visas for UK-visitors.

The area is traveled but certainly not well traveled. Seems like enough reasons to me!

What are you aims?

Meet and understand the landscape and people of the Karavshin & Jiptik valleys.

Where will you be staying?

I will probably mostly be camping, though I may do a few homestays in yurts.

Is it easy to get there?

No, it’s a bit of a ballache. Kyrgystan is 90% mountainous, but also, due to the Soviet Union days of Stalin, there are lots of enclaves and exclaves of various different countries in the area… and the main roads go through them. This means that to drive from Osh to Batken, I have to drive round Sohk, and Uzbek enclave (as I don’t have a transit visa), and the avoid the Uzbek border. When I leave Batken for Karavashin, I have to avoid or otherwise pass through the Tajik enclave of Vorukh…. and to go to the Karavashin area, I need a permit allowing me near the border, as it is close to the border with Tajikistan.

And that’s just the access issues.

Actually finding out everything above was also pretty challenging (and perhaps not accurate!). I don’t expect execution to be as simplistic as I explained.

I’m using a local travel company – Karavshin Travel – in Batken to help with a few things, but I’ve no idea how it will play out.

It wouldn’t be adventure travel, if I knew all the variables.

What are the dangers?

Have you done anything like this before?

Sort of.

I have solo cultural experience in Eastern EuropeBaltic StatesWestern Russia and I live next to Rusholme.

I’ve a good deal of solo trekking experience in England and Scotland and notably last year I spent 2 weeks backpacking through the northern Sweden, in the Arctic circle

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t speak English, even as a second language, how will you communicate?

The locals may speak Kyrgz, or they may speak Tajik, Uzbek or other central Asian languages.

Kyrgyzstan’s second official language is Russian, a foreign language I scored an A in, many years ago, at GCSE. I don’t speak Russian very well anymore, but I can read/spell out Cyrillic and, with the help of a phrasebook, I expect to be able to make myself understood.

Are you taking a satellite phone?
No. If you want to catchup, drop me message and suggest sometime when we can chat when I’m home!? Catchups are good. :)

What happens in event of an emergency?

In the event I require assistance, my SPOT satellite device will alert 10 friends/family who will probably then contact my travel company in Batken. They will look at the information available to them and make decisions on that.

Are you scared?
No. What is there to be scared of?

If you buy a car, but are too scared of scratching it to take it out of the garage, then there’s no point having such a nice car.

If you have a nice camera but are so scared of losing it that you refuse to take it to places where you’d want nice photos, then there’s no point having such a nice camera.

If you have a nice life, but you’re so scared of taking calculated risks that you don’t get to have fun, then frankly, what’s the point?

I see the world, not as a world of dangers, but as a world of opportunities.

I’ve written about this in more detail in two blog posts:

My prints of 1980s soviet military maps.
My prints of 1980s soviet military maps.

Is Google Maps the best maps you have?

Fortunately not. I’m navigating off a 1980 1:200,000 Soviet military map, that I have printed to A2 (each square = 4km), and several fragments of 1:100,000 that cover the same area. You can browse the maps with ease on toppomapper.com.

How bad will your withdrawal symptoms be through lack of internet?

Pretty bad… my hair may start falling out. Oh wait, it already is.

I’m kind of looking forward to it – last October I did 12 days in Sweden without internet.

How much does your rucksack weigh?

Too much.

18kg (inc camera, ex. water)

If you're Tim, this is the electronics you take, including spare batteries
If you’re Tim, this is the electronics you take, including spare batteries

What’s in your rucksack?

Kitlist

Surely you don’t need XXXX?

If I didn’t feel it was necessary, I wouldn’t be taking it. We may have to agree that we have different definitions of “necessary”.

What money are you taking?

Kyrgyzstan uses the “som”, which isn’t a very strong currency. I’m taking US dollars and some euros I have left over and am going to change them on arrival.

This doesn’t seem very organised, how long have you been planning this?

About 9-10 days from concept to takeoff.

Basically, I had been mis-counting my holidays, and so when I noticed the end of my holiday year approaching, I did a check, and rather than finding I owed holiday, I found I was owed about 2 weeks of holiday…

At that point, began the rush to find a way to make use of my time. After much thought, this was what I decided on.

This sounds very stressful. Wouldn’t you prefer to sit on a beach somewhere and have a casual beer?

I think by “stressful” you mean “exciting”. Having said that, I love beer and beach holidays as much as anyone else, they’re rarely “exciting” though.

No expense spared on food!
No expense spared on food!

Aren’t you vegetarian? Won’t that be tricky in Kyrgyzstan?

Well, for me, it’s a lot less tricky, as I’ve 22 years experience at it, but it’s true to point out that most Kyrgz recipes start with “first you kill your sheep”.

Being sufficiently polite and respectful is far more a concern for me than starvation – bread is an important part of Kyrgz culture and I’m certain I’ll find something to eat.

Why are you vegetarian?

It’s a long story. 22 years long, and I’ve summarised why in a previous blog post.

What will you be eating?

Whilst I’m in the mountains, I anticipate eating expedition food which I spared no expense in buying from a British supermarket. Food is a strangely polarising subject, and I anticipate no end of criticism for my choice to carry food from the UK.

How long will it take you to get your photos online afterwards?

I anticipate taking 2000-5000 photos, perhaps 2-6 hours video footage. I’d anticipate that only about 5% of that will be of interest to most people. Separating that 5% is time consuming and somewhat draining – 6 hours work in several stages. I’ll get it done, but it’ll take time and energy, both of which I won’t have. Expect a multiweek lag.

Who’s paying for your trip?

I’m entirely self-funded.

Are you receiving support from anyone?

Bytemark Hosting Logo
Bytemark Hosting are helping provide 24 hour response to alerts

My employer, Bytemark Hosting – has allowed me to hook my emergency SPOT alerts into the 24 hour s alerting framework, Mauve, that we use for monitoring servers 24/7.

When an alert is raised via this system, the oncall engineer is alerted and/or woken up, and goes and deals with the problem.

I’m very confident in my colleagues, and so, by hooking my call for help into Bytemark systems, my colleagues can help alert my ground-team straight away, so help can be sent straight away.

I’m very grateful for Bytemark’s support on this front – not every organisation would be comfortable with such a thing – so I really appreciate working with people who are happy to watch my back.

Any words of gratitude?

I’d like to thank my family, for their positive outlook on everything. It’s really been a great influence on me.

My awesome girlfriend Clara for happily letting me go off and do my own crazy things, and then happily suggesting we go camping in March in the UK. <!–more pukeworthy comments–>

John Proctor for suggestions and moral support and for his part in the Muzkol 2013 expedition with Jonathan Davey, which partly served as encouragement and inspiration. John’s other climbing buddy, Ed Lemon, also deserves a pint for map assistance.

Anita Wilczynska, my former trekking buddy from Morocco, for moral support & encouragement – it’s appreciated!

My sister & her partner for being part of our safety web – thanks!

My colleagues at work, and the building security guard for putting up with most of Amazon, being delivered to our office, for the past 2 weeks. ;)

Who’s influenced and inspired you?
Jessica WatsonLaura DekkerRobin Knox-JohnsonPete GossEllen MacArthurMike PerhamJoe SimpsonTom AllenTheodora Sutcliffe and Zac Sutcliffe, Alexis OhanianTim Moss

Both sets of grandparents’ own style of epic voyages and casual “jaunts” round unusual places.

Who are you raising money for?

Nobody.

Can I pay for your holiday?

I recommend giving money to your favourite charity instead. ;)

Howto access EZTV.it and FirstRow1.eu if you’re on Virgin Media, Sky, BT, TalkTalk, Be, Plusnet, O2, Orange or T-Mobile

You may be aware that in the last few days, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, O2, Be, Plusnet, Post Office broadband, Orange and T-Mobile and others started to block EZTV.it and FirstRow1.eu in the UK because of a MPA/FACT court order.

"The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." - John Perry Barlow's
“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” – John Perry Barlow

Why are they being blocked? The MPA – the US movie trolls industry body – and the ironically named “FACT” – the UK copyright trolls lobby group ordered the block in the high court. These are the same sorts of organisations that are happy the Pirate Bay got blocked.

The people responsible for the block are the BPI – only they can get a court to lift it. The Open Rights Group and UK Pirate Party are campaigning to end the blocking – joining those campaigns will be most likely to make the FACT and the MPA change their mind.

There are several methods to bypass the block, but let’s begin with the simplest way to get around FACT’s blocking – here are some links to some very straightforward proxies and mirrors you can use to get on the site.

Unblocking and accessing EZTV and/or FirstRow1 is really easy, here’s a bunch of proxies:

EZTV.it:

FirstRow1.eu:

A photostory: Bowfell and Crinkle Crags from Langdale

A walk up The Band to Bowfell via Climbers Traverse, then Crinkle Crags via Bad Step, descending back to Dungeon Ghyll.

The way up - The Band
The way up – The Band
Starting out on the walk
Starting out on the walk
Pike o Stickle from the valley floor
Pike o Stickle from the valley floor
Crinkle Crags
Crinkle Crags
On the way up The Band - Pike o Stickle
On the way up The Band – Pike o Stickle
Bowfell Climber's traverse
Bowfell Climber’s traverse
Bowfell from three tarns...
Bowfell from three tarns…
Descending the bad step on Crinkle Crags
Descending the bad step on Crinkle Crags
Langdale from Crinkle Crags
Langdale from Crinkle Crags
The bad step on Crinkle Crags
The bad step on Crinkle Crags
Langdale from the descentf rom Crinkle Crags
Langdale from the descentf rom Crinkle Crags

We parked at the National Trust car park at the Old Dungeon Ghyll.
More about The Lake District on Wikivoyage.

I shot with a Canon 5D mkII with a 50mm f1.8.

All photos are “Copyright Tim Dobson 2013″, and are licenced under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0. Please attribute “Tim Dobson / tdobson.net” wherever you use them.

A photostory: hiking in Buttermere

The valley bottom was rather muddy...
The valley bottom was rather muddy...
But much betterwhen we got up onto Red Pike
But much better when we got up onto Red Pike
We stopped past the beautiful Scale Force
We stopped past the beautiful Scale Force
We had fun scrambling the airy "big walls" of Haystacks
We had fun scrambling the airy "big walls" of Haystacks
And got great views down the length of Buttermere from the head of the valley
And got great views down the length of Buttermere from the head of the valley
Climbing Grassmoor via Whiteless Pike gave us great views of the valley below
Climbing Grassmoor via Whiteless Pike gave us great views of the valley below
Whilst the summit of Grassmoor gave us great views of Hopegill Head
Whilst the summit of Grassmoor gave us great views of Hopegill Head
...and Crummock Water in the valley far below us.
...and Crummock Water in the valley far below us.
Finally, a lamb grazes near fields of Bluebells in Rannerdale
Finally, a lamb grazes near fields of Bluebells in Rannerdale

We stayed at the Syke Farm Campsite in Buttermere.
More about The Lake District on Wikivoyage.

I shot with a Canon 5D mkII with a 24-105 f4.

All photos are “Copyright Tim Dobson 2013″, and are licenced under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0. Please attribute “Tim Dobson / tdobson.net” wherever you use them.

Postcards from St. Agnes.

Postcards from St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly.

What are you looking at?
What are you looking at?
St. Agnes at sunset
St. Agnes at sunset
Sea stacks make great scrambling material
Sea stacks make great scrambling material
There's no place like 127.0.0.1
There's no place like 127.0.0.1
Allegedly, before tourism took off, Scillies were famous for exporting flowers
Allegedly, before tourism took off, Scillies were famous for exporting flowers
It's almost like I set out to create a stereotypical desktop background
It's almost like I set out to create a stereotypical desktop background
Spend some time of the beach...
Spend some time of the beach...
Nice day for a sail!
Nice day for a sail!
Got to make sure you get back across the sand bar before the tide comes in
Got to make sure you get back across the sand bar before the tide comes in
A refreshing pint in the pub!
A refreshing pint in the pub!
That's all for now!
That's all for now!

We stayed at Troytown Campsite.
More about St. Agnes on Wikivoyage.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been there.

I shot with a Canon 5D mkII with a 24-105 f4 and a 50mm f1.8

Onwards (Teaser)

So basically, I may have slightly screwed up my travel times to Glen Coe, and been forced to sit around Manchester for a bit. I decided to put that time to good use.

This is an experimental teaser for Onwards. It’s the introduction, possibly the only scene – I’m unsure whether it’s worth taking it further.

Anyway, here it is, have a look, let me know what you think:

Onwards (Teaser)

Video by Tim Dobson
Music by Phil Rey – “Ravenswood Castle” (via Magnatune)

Onwards licenced under Creative Commons Noncommercial Sharealike 1.0 licence.