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Terror or Beauty? Wadi Rum rock climbing in 2017 November

Sat, 2017-11-11 15:32 - Wadi Rum from high on Jebel RumWadi Rum from high on Jebel Rum
I had the most memorable trip to Wadi Rum, Jordan for desert-rock trad climbing in 2017 November. We were lucky to stay in Bedouin's place, and had a great cultural experience. Climbing was interesting, but involved some epic and horror. Let's find out…

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Don't take it or don't leave it – rubbish and tissue in the mountain

Can we leave "bio-degradable" rubbish in the mountain? How about used tissue?
My short answer is no. Here I am looking at the issue and argue why.
If you love outdoors (I presume you do like I do, as you are reading this!), please think of respecting the environment, leaving it as rubbish-free and unpolluted as you would like to find and enjoy!

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Peru/Andes 2018 Expedition

At 2:30am. On Alpamayo. At the lonely and marginal belay with our last and only snow stake, to which I had just climbed down 60 metres with no gear in between after an attempted lead.

“No, I couldn’t find any in-situ gear at all, there is no ice but just soft snow…”
“How could we get down then?”
“…climbing down? That is the only way, unfortunately… There is absolutely no gear.”
“We can’t proceed, can we?”
“No…”
“Why? Why! What’s wrong? We were in really good pace! Why does this happen?!” (almost weeping)


An international team of friends of five of us went to Cordillera Blanca of the Andes, Peru in July 2018 for 4 weeks of expedition. We climbed mountains up to 6000m via technical routes. It was a fantastic experience, even though we had many failures and it was a hard work. This is the record of our expedition.

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Review of 40-50L rucksacks for alpine climbing 2018

Rucksacks are in a way the most troubling gear to choose, not because there are so few to choose from, unlike most other climbing gear, but because there are so many! Yet not a single one would be perfect. It is partly because the use varies so much, and different sort of activities demand different types of rucksacks, and partly because some demands are inherently contradictory, such as durability and (light-)weight.

After all a rucksack is just a bag on your back, and so you may argue you could manage whatever you have, as long as its volume is adequate for your use. It is true to some extent, but it is the same as claiming top climbers could climb an E1 with wellies. Yes, they could, but will they if they have a choice? No. Can they climb an E8 with wellies? No.

Rucksacks are arguably the second most important gear after boots or shoes in (alpine) climbing or mountaineering, as you use one all the time on your back often for hours continuously. That means the difference in rucksacks determines whether you can enjoy every moment or you suffer every second. Given you do climbing for fun ultimately (if type-II) and not for the sake of pain, to get a right sack is very important.

Also, with a wrong rucksack, your climbing ability and hence safety in mountains are marginalised, too, compared with otherwise.

Let’s get it right.

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Story of gravitational waves — how it is propagated

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Artist's impression of merging neutron stars by ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser (CC BY 4.0)

The last two years have presented one of the most significant events in physics in my lifetime, that is, direct detections of gravitational waves and solid observational proof of the source in the most recent event. They are, as far as I am concerned, rather unexpected, and are very exciting to any one. Immediately before the most recent discovery, it seemed a strict embargo was in place for one of my friends, an astronomer. An institution-wide embargo is rather unusual, and it implies how exciting the news would be, and it was, as it turned shortly afterwards.

Here is my bold attempt to make a summary of the story of gravitational waves — what is significant and what is the implication?

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Risk of Yosemite Bowline Knot

Yosemite Bowline knot is one of the most popular variant of Bowline knots used by climbers, notably for the harness tying-in point. However, there is a significant risk for the knot. Basically, a tiny bit of mistying, or even just a bit of wiggle during a course of a day, could cause a serious weakening of the strength of the knot. Here is my video to demonstrate the point — risk of Yosemite Bowline.

Here is the detailed background, followed by some …

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What happened in the high-school group's avalanche accident in Nasu

On 27 March 2017, a group of high-school students in Japan lead by teachers encountered an avalanche near the Nasu ski-resort, and 8 people (7 students and 1 teacher) died, and 40 were injured. Here I discuss what happened and how from a viewpoint of the winter mountain activity.

Although there are still many things yet to be known or reported, the overall picture has been established fairly well by the time of writing. I here present and discuss the facts which are certain and which are deduced to be likely, separately.

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Scottish Sea-Stack Attack 2016

Sea stacks are often special or even dream objectives for rock climbers. The sharp spire soaring directly from roaring sea offers a great adventure. Why?

First, the original and archtypal goal of climbing is to go high, perhaps up to the (locally) highest point, and preferably somewhere unreachable without climbing. In the UK, Napes Needle in the Lake District is the first recorded climbing in that respect, that is, climbing for the sake of it, rather than a means of training for bigger objectives like Himalaya. Sea stacks are of course an ideal objective, being independent and eye-catchingly distinctive.

Second, sea cliffs usually add a dimension of excitement and often risk (or challenge) and difficulty to deal with in climbing, such as the tide. To climb above (possibly) crashing waves feels certainly exciting! Unlike most sea-cliff climbing, to top out to complete an ascent is not the end of the game. You will have to descend, usually by abseiling, and then perhaps to negotiate the sea and/or tide to get back to safety.

Third, most sea stacks are off the beaten track. Climbers can enjoy the solitude, as well as the excitement due to its commitment.

Not to mention, those pros serve at the same time as cons, or added risks. Sea stacks were formed as a stack with a good reason, that is, the rocks are not the most solid, even exacerbated by the harsh coastal climate. Famously, a British climber Paul Pritchard has suffered a serious injury due to a rock fall during his attempt of climbing The Totem Pole in Tasmania, which left him in haemiplegia. The challenge to climb a sea stack should not be underestimated.

As a mountaineer, I love climbing peaks and pinnacles that are unreachable without climbing. In Peak District, where I learnt trad climbing, Rivelin Pinnacle was one of the big objectives in my early climbing career. In the Lake District, High Man in Pillar Rocks, which is technically the only mountain in England inaccessible without climbing, was once very high in my wish list. So was Inaccessible Pinnacle in Isle of Skye. Terrier's Tooth in Chair Ladder, Cornwall, which finishes at the top of a little pinnacle, was good to climb for the same reason, albeit the pinnacle is not very significant.

Then sea stacks naturally draw my attention. However, I have climbed only one stack so far — The Souter in Scottish Border. It was good, and better than Rivelin Needle, Terrier's Tooth and alike. Nevertheless, I know it is nowhere close to the best that Britain, or practically Scotland, can offer. There are many sea stacks in the coast in Scotland; among those, the so-called Big Three are, Old Man of Hoy in Orkney, an Old Man of Stoer and Am Buachaille in the far north-west Highlands. They are the biggest major sea stacks in British Isles, with Hoy being the tallest at 137m (n.b., see the note in the main article).

The fact all of them are remote from major areas in Britain means the logistics are not easy for most people, including most Scots, let alone those from the south. The Scottish weather is anyway not renowned for being mild or dry to say the least, and the north-west coast tends to be the worst in Scotland. That means even if one makes everything else in the logistics right, it is fairly common they are turned down by the weather. As such, the level of commitment and effort is high in the Scottish sea-stack climbing. But the reward must be all the higher, if one suceeds.

The southerner Michelle has never climbed any sea stacks before, and decided to come up north to attack sea stacks for a week in September with me. The plan is hopefully to climb the Big Three or a part of them, depending on the weather and our progress, all via the standard (easiest) routes. Most pitches being VS or below, which is within Michelle's leading grade, she would lead some pitches or maybe alternate leads. But if things get tough or serious, I would take the lead. Just 10 days before the week, I had taken a seriously bad fall, which put me on bed for a couple of days. Fortunately, I have recovered just enough to make it in time, with or hopefully without pain killers.

So began the game.

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Best alpine-climbing month in Chamonix 2016

The fun in mountains depend so much on the weather. We all know that, but despite uncertainty we must try. You may get a lot some year, and not much in another. In Chamonix I had the best in autumn 2010, and then the worst in summer 2014.

When Rob interested me in alpine climbing in August in Chamonix, I wasn't so sure of what we can get done. The thing is, due to the climate change, it seems August has become increasingly unsuitable, particularly for snow and mixed alpine climbing in recent years. We nevertheless went for it, joined by our friend, Simon.

The outcome — Fantastic!!

It has turned out to be my best climbing trip to Chamonix. A dump of snow early in the season (which has even claimed some lives in early season due to an unusual amount of snow), followed by a quite stable sunny weather during our stay, offered us the arguably best conditions imaginable for August.

There are far too many to write all of our climbing experiences, but here are a few highlights…

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Tips for safer scrambling

Scrambling is an activity that is often regarded as exciting, yet not as serious as proper climbing, and as a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoor.
But is it really safe, or safer than climbing?
Here I give a list of safety tips for scramblers, from beginners to experienced.

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