21 May 2008

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Well the idle wankers in LOStat were still on strike/holiday by the time I tried to fly home, so I took the first two flights and ended up in Amsterdam. From there KLM recommended that I fly to Oslo and take the night train to Bergen. I agreed, it was that or fly to Newcastle and take the ferry – an 8 hour train ride seemed strangely preferable to 26 hours in the company of pissed up Geordies so I opted for that.

Once they had changed my flight it was straight to the inter-web thingy and try to get a train ticket. Obviously the ones for that day had long gone, what with the strike and all that, but there was one at 8 am the next day. So I booked on it and then called Spencer to tell him I was going to be in the big O.

Arrived in Oslo, no luggage which was no big surprise. Actually it was a blessing as they could then delivery to Bergen for me, rather than me having to cart it across the country on the train. Came out of Oslo S station and there was a junkies convention in the plaza beside the station. Hundreds of them milling around looking sad and pathetic in a mildly threatening manner. Very strange, I’m not sure if its just because I have been in Bergen so long but seemed to be a real abundance of tramps and beggars all through the city. Depressing in one of the world’s richest capitals. Headed across town and meet up with Paul, Bruis and Shaun. We went for Tapas, drank some beer, bull shitted and drank some more beer. All in all a pleasant evening.

Following day I was up early, got my train and settled back for 8 hours of great scenery. And that’s about all I can say about it – it was 8 hours of fantastic scenery. Felt a bit weird to be looking at snow after a month in the desert, but the sun was shinning and the views were great. Normally I would be belting across the country at 30,000 ft and the whole thing would be over in 50 minutes and here I was passing though it and getting a much better chance to see it and even feel it. Everyone should do it, from time to time

Arrived back in the big B 48 hours after I left SLC – the sun was shinning and it felt good to be home. The girls were very pleased to see me and I was very happy to sit on the terrace and drink in the view

20 May 2008

LO Stat - Doing it for the brothers

The Norwegian airport workers union (LO Stat) is on strike! Throwing the entire country into chaos and leaving thousands of people, including me, stranded.

I have always been a big fan of a strong labour movement and proper pay and conditions for everyone. A living wage and decent working conditions are a basic human right that are tragically still denied to millions of people globally. But lets get a grip, Norwegian baggage handlers don't work in sweatshops in South-East Asia or even in McJobs in the US or UK. They live and work in the country that has one of, if not the, highest standard of living in the World, they get better pay and more holiday than any of their contemporaries world wide!

Now you might argue that a strong labour movement is what has brought them to that enviable position and while that is probably true, there needs to come a day when you say "we have a good life, lets get on and enjoy it" maybe even focus on a serious and worthwhile cause (there are many such as this) , rather than playing student union politics and pissing thousands of ordinary people off.

Is it a coincidence that the strike coincided with the national day? Maybe they needed a strike so they could go and stand in the rain and wave a flag? Maybe they are just fuckin idle, useless, over-privileged, spoiled, pampered, tossers who would not know a proper days work if it bite them.

Whatever the reason I am sure your brothers in the sweatshops of the Far-East are right behind you in your quest to work even less and earn even more...

19 May 2008

Hiking in a wetsuit and other desert adventures

Student field trip went really well, great bunch of students, good fun and hard working. They left on Tuesday morning after a moderately big night in the Tavernacle (SLC) which saw Jonny and I dancing YMCA to some dualing pianos - I guess the videos will end up on youtube soon enough!

Once the students left Katharine arrived for a few days holiday. Spent the first day shopping etc in Salt Lake before heading down to Moab to play. Rented some bikes from Poison Spider and then headed up to the Slick Rock trail. I have done it before - well actually I have pushed a bike around it several times. I am sure there is a market for T-shirts that say "I took my bike for a walk around the SRT". This time managed to ride a lot more, got around in 3.5 hours even with a broken chain, a knackered ankle and no appendix, maybe it was the appendix that was holding me back! Anyway we had a great day.

Then headed into the San Rafael Swell and camped in Calf Canyon. The Swell is one of the true remote parts of Utah and ever since I first went climbing there in 1995 I have loved being their. Its incredibly dramatic and really beautiful with deep canyons in the blood red sandstone. It was great to be able to share it with K, we got a fire going, had a tin foil dinner and Andy turned up in his monster truck at 1am.

Next day we did a couple of routes, I seriously suck at climbing cracks but I got up everything ok with just the right amount of swearing and whinging. Then in the afternoon we decided to climb James Tower (aka the light bulb). Its called the light bulb because it looks like one - that simple. Three pitches, 5.10a/A1, should have been ok except this is a desert sandstone tower!

So I dispatched my crack climbing machine and he disposed of the first pitch with only a moderate amount of grunting. I then failed hideously to flash it and ended up upside down! It was the rucksac - I swear! Got up the first pitch with a tight rope, onto a great, very exposed belay with a nice view of the horrendous, run-out off-width that was the second. Luckily my crack climbing machine did the job again, although he was not quite cruising by this stage. Still he sent it and it was my turn!. Horror show, all sorts of nasty thrashing, swearing, skin loss etc. Eventually found I could climb the face much easier (only about 11b!) and struggled up that way.

Then it was just the bolt ladder of the last pitch to the top and we were standing admiring the view and whopping - only the 5 party in 2 years (according to the book in the ammo can) and another desert tower under our belts.

From their we drove down to the lower San Raf. for further adventure. Rounded a bend in the dust cloud to find Andy's truck hanging off the side of the road. Strangely reminiscent of the other day except he was just standing there with a huge grin on his face! He extracted himself and we drove on to meet a very worried German (Toby) at Goblin Valley. We were at the Goblins for sunset and K and Toby loved them! Andy told us how his eldset son just goes mad in the place. I can understand why.

We camped again and next morning drove for another hour on old Uranium roads deeper into the southern part of the Swell to canyon a slot called Sagers Hole. This part of the world is so remote and the scenery and atmosphere are stunning, but its tough country, those old miners were seriously hard!

Parked up and got ready. A cursory glance at the map suggested a 1 mile hike to the canyon entrance and given that the Canyon was supposed to be filled with water, I opted for a wet suit to protect my appendix op-scars which are still not fully healed.

A piece of advice - in fact two! First, look at the map properly, the walking in was about 6 or 7 miles and up a pretty steep hill! Secondly don't hike in the desert in May in a wetsuit!

Eventually found the entrance and dropped in. It was fantastic, very, very narrow and winding. Everything a slot canyon should be, requiring you to turn sideways and breath in, just to get through. After about an hour we found the first absail (but no water) which was dispatched expertly, even by K and Toby who had not done much before! They were in for a crash course in absails as a further 19 followed, getting progressively bigger and bigger. They did a great job and by the end of the day were pros.

The trip was everything a canyon trip should by, narrow slots, absailing, climbing out of holes with human towers and super beautiful, with some stunning geology. Only thing that was lacking was that all the promised water was gone. All the pots except a very few were dry! It made for an easier trip by made my wetsuit position even more ridiculous.

We found and rescued a mouse from one pot. The poor fellow was so hungry/dehydrated that when we dropped in he just came right up to us and let me pick him up. I put him in an empty water bottle then released him further down the canyon, probably to get eaten by a snake - but you have to try!

Dehydration was a serous theme of the day and even without the hike in a wetsuit the others were also running out of water. By the time we got back to the main canyon with the river in it everyone just wanted to drink the whole thing!

Long hike back to the car and it was dark by the time we arrived having dodging a rattler on the trail. All pretty knackered, it was a long and excellent day. Drove out to Green River and said goodbye to Andy and Toby. Andy was heading back to SLC and Toby was off to ride the white rim trail.

Headed to Moab with dreams of a nice bed and a big breakfast, called the Red Stone Inn to say that we would be arriving late and they informed me that they had sold our booked room. Utter, complete, total wankers! I had booked the room, given my card and told them that we would be late in. They claim they had tried to run the card and it failed - bullshit, it worked in the gas station in Green River and it worked later that night in Price. They just sold the room because they could - scum. Never stay there!

It was now midnight and there were no rooms in Moab or even Green River! Ended up driving to Price and getting in at 1am.

The following day we had a slow start then drove across the Uinta Basin to Grand Junction so that K could join her Statoil fieldtrip. Really nice road trip and great to be able to have a mental image to apply to a large, blank chunk of the map. After Grand Junction I drove on to SLC. A total of 700+ miles in a day!

All in all an awesome couple of days in the desert, biking, climbing desert towers, camping and hiking serious slot canyons. I love Utah.

14 May 2008

Friday13th May, unlucky for.... me!

Its exactly one year since I thought “skydiving, what can possible go wrong?” and ended up with a broken leg. It’s been the dominant theme of the last year of my life and its still not right.

It all started when, in the middle of the student field class, I was arranging all their day off activities. It was the usual selection of biking, jeeping and rafting. The climbing contingent were sorting themselves out. While I was playing travel agent I thought, “I’ve done all this, twice and then some; I need something different”. And as if by magic I drove past a sign saying “Skydive Moab”. I decided there and then that a tandem skydive over Canyonlands was just what the doctor ordered.

I called them up and the guy said that they had availability the next day, but there were three conditions: 1) was I over 18 – yes no problem; 2) was I less than 200 lbs – no I said I wasn’t, more like 210. So he asked if I was fit and I said yes and he said it would be fine. We never got around to the third thing…

Next morning I was pretty psyched so I headed to the airport. Signed away my life and paid some cash. Met my instructor who was a small Canadian guy (very small!). I made some comments about him being pretty small for a big guy like me but he just laughed and said it would be fine as long as I did what he said. He also pointed out that I since I was big, if I/we couldn’t hold a stable position once we left the plane, he’d pull the chute and we would glide around for a long time…

We climbed into the plane and the flight up was fine, nice views but a bit windy. Then it came to jump and we sat in the door. I was really excited, not at all scared just really psyched. We jumped out and the wind was howling past. I managed to get and hold the fly position and I could tell that the instructor was pretty happy, I think he had expected a having to wrestle a big whale in the sky.

The free fall was awesome, I loved it, then he pulled the chute and we glided in. We chatted a bit as we came down and he pulled a few twirls, he seemed really pleased with himself.

We came in to land and we were coming in fast, I would say too fast but I am not an expert. I let my feet down thinking they would skip the hard ground and I could come in on my arse. The next thing I knew I was face planted into the ground with matey boy and all his weight on top of me and my ankle hurt like hell.

Instant reaction was that I had sprained it and I was thinking about all the hassle that was going to create for the upcoming field season. I lay there going fuck, fuck fuck… not because of the pain but because I didn’t have time for a sprained ankle.

He got off me and said “hay buddy, that was a bit of a rough one, are you ok?”. I said I had sprained my ankle and I needed some ice before I could drive back to town. By this stage he was standing up and I could see by the look on his face that I was not going to be driving anywhere for a while! I looked down and my left foot was totally folded under. I was fucked.

I tried to get him to film it, figuring that if I was this messed up I might as well get something to put on youtube for a laugh, but he refused and kept pointing the video camera at my face until I said I was ok, probably some sort of insurance thing! Then they hauled me into a van and drove me off the airfield while the next lot of costumers looked on in a very frightened and sceptical way. I guess this sort of thing is not good for business!

At the hospital they x-rayed it and confirmed what I already knew – it was fucked! Chatting to the doc he told me they had a score sheet for broken bones by activity each year. I was the first sky-diver (oh the privilege!). So far this year they were on 6 mountain bikers, 2 climbers and 48 ATV riders. Rednecks rule! They then reset the dislocation; knocking me out with the weirdest, most unpleasant drug I have ever been given. It was really scary; I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was drowning. I tried to shoot out convinced I was having an allergic reaction but then I blacked out. Came around in an ambulance on my way to Grand Junction.

Had another op there and time passed in a bit of a blurr until Tor came to rescue me. Was told not to fly for a week so I went in the field sitting in the back of Turid’s car and pointing at things that she should go and measure.

Fly home a week later, the builders were still in my house and if I had known then what the next year would entail, I might just have topped myself then! But then you have to think this is only an ankle, people do much worse things to themselves all the time and get over it, its not that big a deal . but by god it felt like it…

11 May 2008

Holy Sh!t - That was close!!!

Running the student field trip for the last few days, all going well, nice bunch of students, not especially wild but pretty hard working. We had a good couple of days up in the Book Cliffs and now we are staying in Moab.

Yesterday was the day off so after a big night in the Rio they all went off to do their own thing, some biking and some jeeping and a few hiking. I hooked up with some guys who wanted to go and see upheaval dome - I have seen it on the satellite image and its one of the few places I haven’t been to out here. There is lots of discussion about whether it is a salt dome or a meteorite crater, I must admit that it looked like a salt dome to me and the "expert" who was with us seemed to agree, but maybe the jury is still out. Good to see a bit more of Canyonlands.

After that I headed off on my own to check out some other salt domes which Chris Edwards had told me about - they geology out here is stunning, there is so much variety. Headed up Castle Valley and took lots of pics. Brought back good memories of climbing the tower with Mark Shea and then a couple of years later with Andy F - happy days. Great sections, then I headed up Onion Creek. Had never been up there before and it was a wild place, driving on a dirt road, continually crossing a small river. The road goes down through the blood red Chinle in to the chaotic salt and then up out the other-side.

I had just turned around and was heading down the road for home. The road was loose with a big drop in to the valley the one side. A pickup came towards me and I pulled in to let it past. The guy gave a friendly wave and as I watched him pass me in the mirror he suddenly and without warning lost the back-end. His truck lurched and slide, just gripping by two wheels to the edge of the road - at that point I honestly thought I was watching someone die!

We both jumped out of our respective vehicles and surveyed the scene. He suggested he could probably lock the hubs and drive back on to the road, I suggested that was not the brightest thing to do - and maybe at least getting a rope onto and hooking up to my car could be a good idea.

Fortunately he had a towing strap and we hooked it up and tried to use the Mercury Mountain (luxury SUV - designed for posing around town and not being in the desert!) to pull him back on to the road. This failed and and at one point I was seriously concerned that his truck would tip and take mine with it - ah well it's only a hire car!

Then we spent an hour or so of digging with a canoe paddle, building up the road with rocks, excavating various bits of the underside that were breached and trying to tow again. We were getting there but not very fast.

Since this was a fairly well maintained dirt road and a busy canyon, it was inevitable that somebody else would come also sooner or later. The first people to arrive was a totally useless, fat bloke and his even fatter wife on a couple of ATVs. She was even carrying her little runt dog in a pouch. They contributed nothing, just stood there looking bemused and slightly annoyed that the road was blocked. The next guy to turn up, turned around very quickly and drove off, obviously didn't want to be involved at all - nice!

Then along came a super hero. Circa 70 years old, 5'6", huge belly, even bigger grey beard, driving a massive pickup truck. He got out, wandered around, had a look, wandered around some more. This guy did nothing fast, but did install a certain degree of confidence, was that him or his very big truck? Probably a bit of both.

Moving a speeds that would make the growth of an oak tree look quick, he took control of the situation, clambered very slowly into the back of his immaculate truck, took out a ball hitch, hooked up the towline and then with no effort at all, gently heaved the stranded truck back onto the road. Result!!!

Then he unhooked his truck, packed everything up and headed off at the same slow speed. What a man! This left me and my new found friend standing by the side of the road, slightly bemused and very happy. We exchanged details, I promised to send him some pics, he promised me a meal in his restaurant in Colorado if I was ever that we and we parted company!

Interesting afternoon - several lessons to learn there
1. Its very easy for a small slip to turn very nasty very quick - complacency kills!
2. Mercury Mountaineers are shit for towing!
3. Canoe paddles make good shovels
4. Having patience with very slow old people might just save your day!

10 May 2008

Life in Norway III - Running the Race

I love living in Norway and the people are great. However as an expat there will always be things that make you laugh/cry/tear your hair out - those are the aspects of the culture that are so different to the one you come from. Quite often they are there but difficult to describe or put a finger on and then something happens that hits the proverbial nail smack on the head...

I was in bar in Moab (Utah) last night with two Norwegian buddies and it came out that in the 1980's (and before) Norwegian school children ran races, just like everywhere else. But, and this is a big but, instead of giving a prize to the kid that came first, the teachers would add up all the finish times and then calculate a "most typical" time - they would then give the kid that comes closest to that a big prize! The race winner got nothing!

Its awesome - it sums up Norwegian culture so eloquently! Its all there in that short tale. Even better my Norwegian friends genuinely thought this went on everywhere else in the World!

06 May 2008

At home in the field!

After the computing centre guys left I had two days in the field with some of my students, Christian, Turid and Toby. On the first day I spent the morning driving around the San Rafael desert with Turid, mapping and tracing the base Cretaceous flooding surface, then spent the afternoon in Woodside, looking at the NM Blackhawk. Great day in the field.

Saturday night we stayed in Wellington, which was is a very grim collection of shacks, south of Price. I had driven past the world famous “Cowboy Kitchen” thousands of times so we planned to finally check it out. Had heard good things about it back in the day but I have to say I was pretty sceptical, it’s a windowless bunker of a building and the signs advertising steaks, steaks and more meat, held little promise to me. But you have to try these things once, there is no subsitute for experience...

So how was it? Well if you are ever in Wellington and you see the Cowboy Kitchen and you are hungry – keep going to Price – Maybe you feel you need to check it out yourself but if you want my advice - don't bother! No charm, shitte service, bad 70’s d├ęcor and crap food. Well at least I know for sure now!

Next day headed up 9-mile canyon with Christian and we spent another great day, looking at the rocks, tracing stuff out, discussing what it means, solving problems and making sense of it all. The weather was perfect, the rocks great, a family of deer stood and nervously watched us and I looked around at the great scenery and thought – this is me! This is where I am happiest, in the field, doing good geology with friends. Even the crap restaurant and seedy motels just adds to the overall effect.

04 May 2008

What happens when you take 16 computer programmers to the field?

This was the question that somewhat concerned me prior to last week...

About six months ago, in a small mountain hotel in the French Maritime Alps, under the influence of a few glass of wine, I had offered my friend Petter, that I would take all his staff from the Norwegian Computer Centre to Utah for a field course. It seemed like a good idea at the time and since these guys write a lot of code and algorithms for working with geological data I figured they need to see some real rocks.

Petter has pointed out, quite correctly, that, in the intervening months he gave me several chance to back out, but truth be known, I was very happy to take them, they are a nice bunch and I am always keen to run trips out here. I was however very intrigued to see how they would get on, given that several of them don’t get outside much and exercise is something they do with their thumbs.

They arrived and I meet them in Salt Lake airport. Only one set of missing baggage, which by KLM’s normal standards is a major success. We spent the first morning in the Salt Lake valley and then drove to Price, doing all the usual stops. Lots of interest, especially in the fluvial stuff, so I was very encouraged.

Day 2 was in Woodside Canyon which is always one of my favorite stops. Spent the day trekking through shoreface and estuarine successions and they seemed to enjoy themselves. That evening things took a turn for the more bizaare when we headed to Green River and the famous Ray’s Tavern.

There was a storm coming in and huge dust clouds were gusting through the town. Under these sort of conditions Green River has a somewhat post-apocalyptic feel to it, like the set of a Mad Max movie. Some of our computer friends look a bit disheveled and it defiantly added to the feeling that the day of judgment was maybe just around the corner.

Then while in Rays the power went out and it took a while to persuade the staff there that they should bar-b-q some food for us, otherwise we would starve. Maybe seeing the hungry-norwegian/zombie look in some of the eyes persuaded them that this was a good plan. So they cooked us up some burgers and all was well

Next day at Bartlett, then Arches and finishing up at Dead Horse point, the weather wasn’t so great but the guys were in full swing and loving it. Increased the tempo even more with a trip to southern Canyonlands in 5 jeeps. None of the guys had ever done any driving like that before and although I had warned them, Elephant Hill blew them away. They quickly got the hang though and a great, if very cold day was had by all. The only downside was a total arsehole leading a ridiculous convoy of about 25 vehicles who took exception to us stopping to look at the geology and one busted wheel rim, thanks to Petter’s driving skills. As the guys pointed out, at least it was the boss that did the damage.

That evening meet up with Chris Edwards, an ex PhD student one mine who was running an Exxon trip. Had meet him in Price and we had shadowed each other to Moab. He was out in the Rio with his group and they were partying big time on the karaoke! I have seen the future of Exxon and its is questionable! Good night though.

Final day, and I had saved the best til last. Rafting trip down Westwater Cayon with my old friends from Crate. They did us proud. Good geology and the rapids were just the right size to be fun but not to scary. Everyone was very happy.

All in all that had a good trip and where a fun group to be with. And my stomach held up – which was a bonus!