Friday, January 28, 2011

If you don't know anything about the EU...

Through work and studies I know lots of people who know an awful lot about the EU, (don't worry though - it doesn't necessarily make them weird, or bad dinner guests. Well, not in every case.) but that is very far from the norm. Because of all the areas where the EU has some influence - for good or bad - most people have some opinion on it, but unless you really don't have anyhing to do with your spare time, most people don't know much about how and why the EU is now as it is. I happened to hear an interview with Paul Krugman today; the subject was really the future of the Euro - where he could do his whole Nobel-winning-economist-thang. Obviously this is worth listening to in its own right, but on his way to making those points he gave a very decent, clear and concise history of the EU, and being on American radio - it was aimed at people who are even less likely to know about why and what the EU is than your average European. Well worth 10 minutes of any inquiring mind's time.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Haglöfs: design fail

Haglöfs have been around for ever in the Nordic region but are relatively new in the UK where they have garnered much praise. It's interesting that in Finland you can pick up Haglöfs gear in any high street sports chain - like Intersport -  whilst in the UK they have cleverly branded themselves as a niche, top-end brand like Arcteryx or Patagonia only selling in good outdoor shops. Despite buying most of my Haglöf stuff on sale in Intersport over the years, I really think they do make some great stuff but no one is perfect.

Branding is all important, hence having your logo on the velcro cuff tabs is a nice little touch isn't it? Well, no...

...not really! This exactly the type of thing in design that is completely obvious in retrospect but you miss before the failure. I note that my jacket must have been the original Vipers, because on the Viper II they have gone over to soft cuffs. Nevertheless, looking on Haglöfs' site, a number of their more expensive softshells made out of branded materials are sporting the accident-waiting-to-happen cuff design. If you were thinking of buying one of those jackets, its worth knowing that the cuff tab might break after only moderate use. And on the off chance that anyone from Haglöfs stumbles across this post - building a structural weak point into your design for branding reasons is not a good idea folks!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Helsinki XC

There is something quite special about being able to ski from your front door. It's not normal even in relatively snowy Finland. Currently on the quieter roads we've had so much snow and little thawing that they are just covered in a thick layer of packed down snow that is still white. No grit, no dirt, no ruts.
Life on the road
Hence, just pop on your skis at home and skate up the road to where the real prepared tracks start. My route takes me over a pedestrian bridge that crosses a motorway. It still amuses me skiing over the motorway, but perhaps I'm easily pleased.
At the ski area
Then down into the woods, and along a couple of kms of connecting track to the local, lit skiing area with its 1.5, 3 and 5 kms loops. The 3 and the 5 km tracks have amusingly steep hills that test out your willingness on skinny skis to just trust that your skis will stay in the tracks as you hurtle down desperately trying stay in balance whilst trying not to remind yourself just how unsuitable XC skis are for going downhill on!
Shroomin' the fresh groom
Today was perfect. The tracks had been groomed this morning and hardly anyone else had been out there. The sun was even shining brightly enough for me to wear sunglasses for the first time in 2011 - perhaps not quite worthy of a druidic festival involving dancing naked around some standing stones - but an important moment marking the passings of the seasons nonetheless!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Spikey things

Please pass this post by if you are amongst the 99.99999% of people in the world not interested in the comparative spike length of CT Nuptse and Grivel G12 crampons. And if you are in that 0.00001%, just rest assured you are very special! ;-)

Monday, January 24, 2011

When I'm 76 I want to be climbing like this...

Chris Bonington, 4 years short of turning 80, and here is tootling up Cascades de Lillaz (WI3+). Inspirational.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January ice climbing and hiking

Various pictures from being out and about in a snowy southern Finland. Skis, snowshoes and crampons have all been involved so far.

Cliff checking in Northern Vantaa.
There is lots of ice in unusual places but not much in normal places. This mission was a bit of failure in finding ice, and the snow was just crusty enough to hold your weight in snow shoes for a fraction of second before collapsing downwards. Some poet said something like "in winter, every mile is worth two" - he had obviously been snowshoeing on insufficiently crusted snow that day...

In France you have to pay a fine if you dress like this now, well at least if you are a woman and brown...
This was the end of last week and it was ferociously cold before the next warm front rolled in over the weekend heralding the slight thaw of the last few days.

Jody cruising the steeps
We went to Salo on Sunday - Angelniemi is pretty fat. I led the same line as in the picture above leashless, and felt unpleasantly like I was going to fall off near the top of the vertical. I reckon I'm climbing 80% leashless these days, but as soon as it hits 90 degrees, I back to the 90s with wrist loops cinched!

You can check out but you never leave... Big Toni, back ice climbing again after a few years of pretending he had given up - hurrah!

For the non-climbers: no, his left crampon isn't meant to be hanging off his boot like that!
There is an American chap, Dane - I guess that's not his real name, but who knows with Americans! ;-) who is doing sterling work on his blog and through various climbing forums pointing out that modern crampon front bails don't fit modern boots very well. The picture above is Toni having some 'compatibility issues' between his brand new Sportiva Nepal Evo boots and BD Bionic crampons. We were mainly trying not to laugh too much at this point and rather offer words of commiseration like "bummer, dude! So what's your plan now?" Toni once laughed at me for falling through the ice into lake, and I have long memory....

More gear woes
The Sportiva Baturas have gained a reputation for being brilliant boots to climb in for the first day or two until they start falling apart. Jody's pair above were doing their bit to keep up this rep with zip breaking. Fortunately Sportiva's Finnish distributors are doing the decent thing and having his boots returned to Italy to have the new and reportedly hugely more reliable zip put in.

Eärendel seconding.
One of the greatest things about climbing is that you always get to meet new, cool people and then instantly trust your life to them and ask them to trust you with theirs! So in the last couple of days I have had the pleasure of sharing a rope with Eärendel and Mia for the first time.

The little falls at the right end of Angelniemi. Jody leads.

Angelniemi mixed - "Ukkosmyrsky", maybe around M4 or 5?

Mia's first 'proper' ice lead - Solvalla
Today I climbed at Solvalla with Mia. There is a whole new easy ice line on the right edge of the crag that I've never seen before - this Mia climbed in fine style as her first ever ice lead where she placed all here own screws as she went. The main fall is now huge - way bigger that when I first found it in climbable condition maybe five years ago, and pretty soon you'll be able to do a direct finish as well with steep ice right the way to top of the cliff on the steepest part.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ice climbing and Brazilian economic history

Ice climbing and This American Life from Toby A. on Vimeo.

Yesterday I went and did a bit of moderate climbing on my own. I was listening to the ever brilliant This American Life on my iPod whilst doing so. If you have ever wondered why the Brazilian Real is called the 'Real' (as opposed to the 'fake'); or how the Fed makes and destroys money; then download the podcast, grab your ice axes and go, climb and learn.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

Hi all, and Happy New Year! Life changes, life goes on - I think this year I'll have more time for blogging, so hopefully if you keep dropping by from time to time there will be more regular random scatterings of my thoughts and photos to amuse, bemuse or annoy you.

Thought for the day: isn't it a bit depressing that we have to have the following entire section in bookshops nowadays?

But never mind, the world is still lovely at times. Here for your delectation is a delightful, wintery, English rural scene. The ducks waddled off just before I snapped it though, so apologies for the lack of suitable waterfowl.