August 2008 Archives


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Last day, last crazy activity, Having spent one day in wet suits and 2 days in climbing harnesses I suppose it made sense to combine the two. In our swim gear and lycra thermals and with wetsuits strapped to our backs we hiked for 1.5 hours up alongside the River Carol's canyon. Then we had lunch, kitted up - wetsuits, climbing harnesses, helmets and walked own to the river - sitting in it to acquaint ourselves with the 7.5 degree water! Then it was of down the canyon. Apart from just striding or swimming through the water there are 3 "moves". First is the abseil. We did 2, each about 10 - 20m, with via ferrata type traverses to get into position. Then down the abseil, usually alongside a waterfall. Only difference to a normal abseil is that the rope stops about 2ft form the bottom - you just let it run through the figure of eight and fall into the water! Next up is the slide, just cross you arms and just ride the water chutes down - usually with a dunking in the next big pool. The final move is the jump. In this case they ranged from 1m to 10m - I did two of the 5m jumps, Ruth did up to 3m. As you plunged into the pool you felt like you sank deep into the water until the bouyancy of your suit brought you back up to the top.

After about 1000ft of descent we got to the bottom of the canyon. The day is billed as the best of the week, but in some ways I, and I think a few others, thought it was a bit brief. Being in the canyon was wonderful and we had too many too long walks around the "boring" bits. It would have been nice to just stay in the water the whole way down, just wading or swimming or small jumps or chutes. Forget the macho jumps, just enjoy the canyon!

Via Ferrata

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Les Escaldilles - Llo

Probably the most physically demanding and un-nerving thing I've ever done (ditto Ruth). We had the options of the AD or D+ route (it goes F/PD/AD/D/TD/ED - although one web site I've found say the routes there are PD and TD!) - either way we did the hardest! The route climbed 259m in a length of 800m as it went diagonally up this big rock face. There were basically 4 types of terrain/pitches: a very few bits of walking/easy scrambling where you needed little protection, lots of traverses where you were using natural small rock ledges and grooves but with some sort of metal handholds, a few corners highly exposed where you had to step around to the next traverse, and finally a number of vertical climbs of 5m - 20m where you had metal rungs  which were sometimes obliquely spaced. The AD and D+ shared all the top 2/3rds. But the D+ start included a 20m overhanging vertical climb with a sloping wooden plank at the top - which looked flat from below but was a complete nightmare when you got to it. Ruth was pretty much pulled up this bit by the instructor  (she rapidly fell out of love with via Ferrata, but after about the 1/2 mark really got into her stride and enjoyed it). I thought I'd never be able to raise my right arm again my muscles felt so burnt out (and we were only 1/3 the way up). Protection was by two slings and carabiners - but you clipped these onto a fixed metal cable which was only attached (and so would stop a carbiner)
every 5m or so, so from the vertical climb you' slide 5m before the carabiner stopped, and then the sling had about another 5m of shock absorber built in so you'd then fall another 5m before you stopped!

Just to add to the fun most of the fixing points where you had to unclip and clip form the line (one carabiner at a time of course) where right on the crux moves! All this was about 60m above ground level - straight down. I thought exposure was going to be a problem, but you were so focussed on just trying to hang on and get up the only chance
you had to look around (and take photos) was on the easy bit. Needless to say we were all very relieved when we got to the top!

Once back at the town we soaked in the hot tub for an hour or two and had a cafe and crepe at the local Salon de The.

Canyoning tomorrow then home, but after today it should be a doddle
(assuming I've got my strength back and I'll be giving the water jumps
> 5m a miss anyway!)

Mountain Biking

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A really nice ride, 17km, a bit on road but mostly forest and hill tracks through horses and cows and cowbells, with just enough roughness to get the adrenalin going and put the training into practice. I'd guess about 1000m of descent (we started at 2100m). Lunch in the small Spanish town of Lilvia (there's a Spanish enclave around the town which is about 1/2 mile from the real Spanish border as apparently it declared that its town charter overruled the Treaty whereby this bit of Spain was ceded to France). We got back to the hotel about 3ish and all the younger kids have been sat in the hot tub (its now 5.20!), so Ruth's had a good afternoon anyway (mountain biking not really being her sport!).


65km/1h30m bus ride down to the River Aude for the white water rafting.
Wet suits, helmets, and lifejackets and a paddle. 6 to a boat, plus a
guide.First 5km were Grade 3 rapids, but obviously not exciting enough
for the guides so we played games like practising man (or in our case
Ruth) overboard, capsize drills and all being made to climb to the top
of a 10' rock and jump into the water and swim across the river. Then
we had 2 km of Grade 4 rapids where there were several 2-3' drops where
the raft just plunged down into the water - Ruth at the front squealing
with delight. We also rammed a good few rocks when the front of the
boat would just fold up and throw Ruth back! This last section was
canyoned with the high road wall on one side (the road about 20-30'
above) and a high natural cliff on the other side. Quite stunning.


Then we caught the bus back to the start point and had lunch. For the
afternoon we got thicker wet suits, bigger lifejackets, flippers and
our "hydrospeed" - a cross between a float, a board and the prow of a
ship. You put your arms into it and clench your hands then lie down,
most of your chest on the float. Then you do the same route as we did
in the rafts but with nothing else to protect you from the rocks. You
go in groups of 6 again with the guide leading the way - although often
when she fell back to check on people Ruth ended up leading the way
through the rapids once put on the right line. Needless to say you got
pretty battered as you hit or bounced off rocks- the worst being the
ones below the water line which passed under the float but caught your
knees! Also often when you tried to flip your flippers the water was so
shallow you just cracked your knees on the bottom. After the first 5km
about 1/4 of the group opted out of the Grade 4 section, but Ruth was
determined to do it. The second section
was a lot rougher, the big drops just pushing you right under water -
but we all came through it, tired and bruised. Ruth immediately
declared that she wanted to do it again - but luckily that wasn't an
option. My only real injury was right at the end when following Ruth up
a steep dirt slope to the car park she dropped her paddle and I stopped
to try and pick it up but slipped and came down hard on the top of my
leg - it still hurts!

For supper we went to one of the recommended cheaper resaturants
(generally everything seems expensive) but they did a good Prix Fixe
for Euro 13 with a salad starter, galette and crepe. Just right. Ruth
and I bought the french version of Harry Potter in the bookshop and
spent supper trying to translate it - I think we're four pages in!

Gorges de la Caranaca

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Nice first day. Simple continental breakfast then out to the boulangerie and charcuterie to pick up lunch, and a market stall was just setting up with fresh peaches too. About a 40min drive down very windy roads to the Gorges de la Caranca. We then did the 4km round trek climbing about 500m, mostly in the shade since the gorge is both deep and heavily forested. At one stop there was a small rockface which had been bolted. Simon (the guide) asked Ruth if she could climb up to the second bolt, which she did and then traversed across whilst he spotted her. Was good to see how confident and professional she was moving on the rock, running her hands over it for the holds. Then one of the older boys was goaded into trying it, he almost got to the second bolt but then fell off, Simon only just controlling his fall! Needless to say no-one else wanted to be shown up by a 12yr old girl! On the return leg the path is cut straight into the rock (in the photo of Ruth you can see it on the far side of the Gorge) with huge drops and no railings (just a rail on the inside to hold on to!). Then lunch and then on to the Bain de Saint Thomas, a thermal hot springs which feeds three shallow swimming pools and the water is 36 degrees. Very relaxing.


Video report from the Guardian on the MOD Grand Challenge which was won by Team Stellar/Cranfield using a mix of robotic aircraft, helicopters and mini-tanks.

Virtual ROTW - Chilas

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Today they were pushing on to Chilas, probably only passing through Gilgit. From Chilas though they should be able to see Nanga Parbat in the distance.

The Wall in SL

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The Wall in SL

As my Twitter stream shows I watched The Wall production in SL. Quite stunning and really began to show how a virtual world can be used for performance.

I've uploaded some photos to Flickr.

Virtual ROTW - Karimabad

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eagles nest hotel

Actually not a Google Earth/Flickr photo but from the hotel web site where they are staying - the Eagles Nest, nestling in the hills above Karimabad/Baltit in the hamlet of Duikar. The hotel is just by the Ultar Glacier, and has a fine view of the Lady's Finger peak.

I actually spoke to Deb for 60 seconds on the phone to sort out a bank issue. She says that despite initial reports saying they may have to stay 2-3 days in Karimbad whilst the road is cleared from a landslide they should now be able to move on tomorrow.

This gig is awesome.

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Virtual ROTW: Karimabad

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Haltit Fort that Deb mentions is just visible on the side of the mountain.

Waiting for Jo at BHX

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Not two days of sun in a row!

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Virtual ROTW: Taxkorgan

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Stone City in Tashkurgan (塔什库尔干)

Didn't have any idea why they'd be stopping here til I saw the photos.


Taxkorgan in Tajik means "The Stone city"
It was so named because the Stone City is just 100 meters away from Taxkorgan Tajik
Autonomous County,
The history of the City can be traced back to Han Dynasty about 2000 years ago.
It was the Capital City of the Puli Kingdom,one of the 36 states in Western Region
under the jurisdiction of Han Dynasty.It had small scale at that time.It had been gradually
expanded during the Wei and Jin Dynasty. After Tang Dynasty had united the Western
Region,The Pamirs military office were set up here.At the beginning of The Yuan Dynasty
,the people went in for large-scale construction to build the city.During the Guangxu's reign
in the Qing Dynasty,The Puli Office had been set up and the City was restored once again to
to the scale we see the present day.

Unveiling the Astrocube

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About 20-25 years ago I found a copy of any early home programming magasine called the Liverpool Software Gazette. In it was the listing a programme for the Apple II for Stargate - an app which let you view the starts near the earth as a 3D cube - or even watch the night-sky from Sirius. I didn't have an Apple, but did have a BBC Micro so I rewrote it for the Beeb and released it into the public domain. A few years later I bought an Atari ST an rewrote it again.

And now I've brought it bang up to date in Second Life. The Astrocube on Daden Prime is a big 3D box within which we can plot astronomical objects in 3D. We've already got it loaded with closest stars, brightest stars and exoplanets. The one I really liked though was the 100 closest galaxies. It gives a real sense of a) the distance between the galaxies and b) the huge galaxy clusters which are out there.

We'll be posting a video to YouTube and a URL shortly.

Andy why, after 20 years and the Internet is my best source of data still the star atlas which came with GDWs Traveller 2300AD RPG?

I can remember speaking to Prof Warwick about this and some other interesting applications of the "technology"about 9 months ago - interesting to see it now maturing.

Karakul Lake

Warning: Stunning scenery approaching as they head south from Kashgar into the Karakoram. That is Mustagh Ata 7546 m in the distance. Check out the panoramic photo.

Virtual ROTW - Kashgar

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Sunday Market Kashgar

They made it! Unfortunately they missed the Sunday market (above) which was what most of the schedule was predicated on :-(

irkeshtam.jpg Still no news since they were refused entry to China on Friday. Hopefully they got through today - but in the mean time here's some shots of the truck park which is the Irkeshtam Pass. Trucks waiting at Irkeshtam on the way to China

Camping in Torrential rain

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sary tash

Of all the new places I've learnt about this trip I think that Sary Tash is the best. 3000m up in the Pamirs (the Roof of the World mountains), this small village sits on a vital T junction between the roads North to Osh and Uzbekistan, South to Karakul and Tajikstan, and East to Kashgar and China (the way the team is heading). Of everywhere it appears to be the place that still exhibits spirit of the Silk Road and the Great Game. The Lonely Planet guide even says its still rumoured to be on the major smuggling routes in and out of Pakistan to the south east.

Virtual ROTW - Osh

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Zicht over Osh vanop Salomons troon

Osh has this wonderful peak - Sulayman Mountain - looming over it. Next it's south into the Pamirs - the Roof of the World mountains.

MAGIC Interactive Map

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UK Government public GIS system, some interesting data sets and good resolution rural mapping
Tracking the surf ready for our surf school this weekend

Not wonderful, but probably OK to test our paddling, and Sunday looking better.

Suddenly drowning in things to do

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Martian Rumours

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Some interesting rumours running around about what Phoenix may or may not have discovered and which has been so far held back from the water announcement. I'd guess it will end up being very technical, but you never know....

SpaceX Falcon Fails

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Pity that Falcon failed for the third time. Mind you I still can't help feeling that rockets like this are very C20 and by now we really ought to be onto the spaceplance versions such as the X prize winner (and soon to be Virgin Galactic) SpaceShipOne and the WhiteKnight 2 carrier vehicle (unveiled last week):

The video from the second failed launch is a great view of what its like going into space as a rocket - complete with stage and fairing separation. Pity it never made it to orbit either.


Deb said that they were heading off to see the Shah-i-Zinda Mausoleum complex today - which includes the Stairway to Heaven set of steps.

Found it. It's in the short section that plays as they play on the beach at Herne Bay (really Sandbanks/Studland in Dorset).

Are there somewhere oceans
Rivers still run down to
Oceans deep and briney blue where china clippers soar

Are there somewhere oceans
Boys still run away to
Flying fishes jump for joy and the roaring Forties roar

Are there some where dreamers
Drifting on the high road
Are there somewhere caravans, approaching Samarkand

Are there somewhere dragons, leprauchans and centaurs
Unicorns and Camelot and Never-never land

Registan place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

What place more evocative of the East is there? For me the cult-ural reference will always be the line from the theme to Dominick Hide (the best BBC SF ever):

Are there somewhere islands?
Over the horizon,
Hidden by the morning mist, forever out of reach.

Are there somewhere islands?
Where the coco ripens
Wild canaries in the palms, a foot print on the beach

Are there somewhere mountains?
Talked about is whispers
Himalayas, mountain men never dared to climb

Are there somewhere mountains?
Where the tiger dances
Hillsides sweet with temple bells, half as old as time

(weird, just played it through and can't find the Samarkand reference, will have to watch the DVD tomorrow to find where it is - the finale version obviously has different verses!)
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