Monday, 31 December 2012

Adiós 2012

I'm just about to go to a "Maskarade" party in Sydney for New Years eve and thought it would be a nice time to reflect on the year that's been and maybe look ahead to 2013.

2012 has been a big year of change for me; my first year of full time employment is now behind me. I was a young man fresh out of university keen to take on the world, I felt driven and highly motivated. I thought that given the opportunity I could jump into most any field and do impressive things. I thought money wasn't very important, just an essential by-product of the working world today. In engineering I thought there was the correct way to do something and the wrong way and never any middle ground.

The most exciting change would have to be Sarah moved in with me. We have been most happy together doing all sorts of trips throughout the year. I'm currently writing this from Sydney where I've spent Christmas with her family. Flatting in Christchurch has continued to be a great experience, have meet more neighbours this year and have had great initiatives such as themed meal weeks - "Mexican week" will have to be repeated next year!

Adventure wise 2012 couldn't have started better, for new years I was on the summit of Mount Aspiring, a mountain I'd wanted to climb for a very long time. A far cry different from tonight which promises to be one of the most spectacular new year fireworks shows in the world. Over the last year I climbed other mountains with friends including Mount Philistine and Mount Rolleston. I went on just a few tramps this last year, Mount Lyford, Griffen Creek on the west coast, Twalk, a bush ball (featuring cray fish and guitars), another trip up Castle Hill Peak along to the gap. 

Had a few more relaxed holidays with Sarah out to Hanmer Springs and Castle Hill Village. I still did some mountain running through the year including half of the St James while two friends were training for the Kepler Challenge, and running through the Routeburn (again). I went downhill skiing more times than I can remember, but not enough back country touring. 

Kayaking still took up many weekends - both going out paddling myself and teaching whitewater kayaking (that was how I met Sarah in 2011). My time as President of the University of Canterbury Canoe Club came to an end after three years. My favourite kayaking trip for the year was flying in to the Taipo with about 20 others and the club raft. I may have broken my boat a little on the top section but it was a really great day! To replace the void from leaving the kayak club committee I've joined the Canterbury Land Search & Rescue group and have attended a few very good training sessions thus far.

This last year has transformed me from idealistic youth to pragmatic adult. I think more about the future and value my friends and family all the more. My interests haven't been purely technical or outdoors. My adventures are becoming more thought-out and safer as a consequence.

I was especially happy to receive positive feedback on my technical ability; having been promoted to a Tier 2 - Systems Engineer at Dynamic Controls; and having source code committed into the Python source tree was another big technical milestone for me. My major technical learnings this year would in javascript, I've really embraced Data Driven Documentation with the D3 library. I've been learning very basic Spanish online at duolingo and took a cryptography course from Udacity.

I've learnt that my own time management is pretty ad hoc. As my responsibilities at work increase I need to become better at estimating how much effort a task will take me - and then deliver to that schedule! I started out working really long hours and then burning out or losing interest. I've learnt to break the uni habit of extremely long nights working on a problem; rather to put the problem aside, cycle home, have a nice evening and come back refreshed and with fresh ideas in the morning.

I've learnt more about teaching in this last year having taught another two Introduction to Python courses. More people who learn in different styles and have different needs when learning. I continue to think that "one day" I'll take up teaching full time - whether that is at the university level or late high school I don't know. I've learnt that absolutely everybody makes mistakes, goals always change, and communication is the key to avoiding and overcoming problems.

My people skills have always been strong but I'm still hesitant to put myself out there in front of my peers. I spoke publicly at the New Zealand Python Conference but didn't present at either of our company's engineering symposiums. That said I differentiated myself more behind the scenes by really promoting innovation within Dynamic. I pushed hard for a "Hackathon" similar to what Yahoo, Google, and Facebook do, I pitched this to the engineering boss and the CEO and it evolved into an "Innovation Day". The day came together towards the end of the year and was a real success with brand new prototypes and ideas.

It has been interesting working with such a diverse range of people, I'm lucky enough to have people helping me on a few projects and I'm really embracing the guidance role with some new graduates. I plan to work more closely with my mentor at work to ensure I'm not too distant or too hands on.

Yesterday I went sailing on a prototype 18 foot skiff in Sydney Harbour which left me bleeding from six places. Today I drove a 2012 Audi TT RS in sports mode including testing out the very aggressive launch control. Actually looking ahead can wait for another day, I'm still too busy living in the moment.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

First Aid


I got a sharp reminder about the importance of first-aid skills while skiing at Mount Lyford yesterday. It was a gorgeous day, not quite enough snow but there were some really nice runs. It was Sarah and my first time using rope tows and “Nut Crackers” but we both seemed to get the hang of them fairly quickly and enjoyed the short runs they had on offer.

Late in the afternoon, immediately after a ski race with some friends, Sarah and I had left our jackets an the bottom of the rope tow and were doing laps skiing down in the sun in our tee shirts. I was on the rope tow admiring Sarah ski quickly down the soft snowy slope. She aimed towards the bottom of the rope tow, hit the small gully pretty hard and was still recovering as she needed to duck under the rope. She must have tangled an arm over the rope which spun her off course into the “Emergency Stop” button mounted on top of a waratah. She crashed into this waratah with her knee taking the impact. Having seen the crash I jumped off the rope tow and skied (rather quickly) straight back down to make sure she was okay.

She had some minor rope burn on her elbow and shoulder and was a bit disoriented. One of her friends was there as well so we both sat down and comforted her. Sarah said her knee was sore but the burns on her arm were worse. She stood up to show us her knee was fine, but felt queasy so sat back down. Her ski pants were unmarked at the knee and after seeing her tight under-armour long johns we didn't force the issue to actually see the knee. Holding snow on her burns and generally treating for shock with warmth and food was the treatment given.

This post is partly to remind myself, and possibly as a trigger for you the reader, the importance of doing a full check after an accident, remembering the patient may well be distracted or unable to tell the seriousness of injury.

After 20 minutes of sitting there the ski patroller joined us and gave her some water which did wonders. After some discussion she felt up to the challenge of going up the rope tow. It was at about this point I noticed I'd broken one of my ski bindings when I got off my skis in a hurry. Que an amusing ride for me holding onto one ski and attempting to balance on top of the other while being pulled up a rope tow. Reunited at the top of the rope tow we skied very slowly back towards the base – more because of my incompetence on one ski than Sarah going slow!

After an even more difficult pommel ride we made it back to the ski resort. Dumped our skis and went in to see about some first aid. We quickly discovered that Sarah's knee was completely ripped open. The patroller was really good, quickly cleaning the laceration and putting about eight butterfly stitches across it. Plans changed immediately from a destination of Hamner to Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department. Been there a bit too often lately! 

Six hours and six stitches later we leave the ED and call it a day. Next outdoor first aid refresher that comes up has my name all over it.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Mount Aspiring

So Queens birthday weekend and I'm in Christchurch feeling a bit under the weather, what rubbish! Since I have no chance of getting out doing anything exciting this weekend I thought instead I'd write up an adventure I had at the very start of the year.

Alice, John and I met up in Wanaka after Christmas for an attempt at climbing Mount Aspiring. Two of my flatmates Mon & Oli were in Wanaka for rock climbing and tramping as well. Pouring over maps and discussing logistics at our camp site we decided on our adventures.
How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains! ~John Muir

There was some overlap for the first few hours of tramping into Aspiring Hut before splitting ways as Mon and Oli went to cross Cascade Saddle and make their way towards Queenstown. As we arrived at Aspiring hut a mountaineer was waiting for his helicopter ride up to Bevan Col. Naturally we made fun of each other - he laughed at us for walking such a long way in, and we laughed at him for being lazy. Still we left precise instructions with him regarding exactly what size steps we would most desire for the route up to the summit.



Our route took us further up the Matukituki valley and we camped where French Ridge meets the valley floor at Pearl Flat. Camping involved hours of running away from sandflies. An early start followed, us dumping anything we didn't want for the next day, including tent, and stashed it into the forest. Continuing up the valley we had breakfast at Scots Biv and had lunch at the end of the tramping - the very head of the West Branch of the Matukituki. The way up from there didn't look clear, but I had done this before. A steep scramble got us up to Matukituki saddle. I proceeded to get us a touch lost by siddling east to early onto steeper and steeper rock.



 More steep scrambling on our route eventually saw us up to Bevan Col where we could finally see our objective in all its glory! We stopped there for a while admiring the view, contemplating routes and generally getting excited.

To get to Colin Todd hut from Bevan Col the Bonar glacier has to be crossed, this glacier travel meant roping up and getting the ice axes out and trudging through the snow in the sun. Counter intuitively this is excessively hot work.

At the hut we found a crowd of people, twice as many people as bunks! Luckily the guided groups had tents and everyone seemed to give preference to those of us who had walked up, I wasn't going to argue with that!



It stayed light until around midnight and my third of a bunk wasn't as comfortable as I'd have liked so I didn't catch any sleep before the alarms went off just before 3am. I think it didn't get properly dark until my alarm went of.

So we got up and quietly had our breakfast outside to avoid disturbing people. That good intent was somewhat shattered as we had to clamber through the hut getting ice axes, crampons, and other tools ready for our climb. None the less just after 3am we set off. The first couple of hours was very dark and very cold. With the rather big drops on either side of us, I really didn't enjoy it much until the light crept out a few hours later.

As we were climbing the first knoll, we happened to stumble upon two climbers in their bivy bags, sleeping en route. They got up in the glare of our headlamps, packed up and were away in the space of two minutes!

The only time we used the rope was for an abseil down onto the northern glacier in the pitch black. Not being able to see the bottom, and not knowing if we would be able to find a route back up on our return made this abseil more frightening than it should have been. The loose cascading rocks didn't help much either, the rope got stuck as we pulled it through so Alice (being the bravest), freeclimbed up the rotten rockface to rescue our rope. An old Maori saying goes:

"Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you"
As dawn approached life just got better and better. I was awakened as the sun emerged; I went from being in a constant state of fear, pumped full of adrenaline, to enjoying the prospect of a fun lightly laden day of rock hopping.

With the sun up we made much quicker ground. I took turns at finding our route, some of the butresses forced us one way or the other - and some we could go straight over. The going was reasonable, we were pretty confident to climb without ropes the whole way unlike some of the other climbing parties.


The time flew making our way up the ridge and before I knew it we were in the sun on top of Mount Aspiring enjoying the first day of the year! Alice busted a few choice moves on the chilly peak before my camera decided it was too cold. 


Climbing down off the snow cap we saw another few teams making their way up through the rocks. We took shelter in a bit of a rock biv for breakfast - gingernuts featured highly. With the sun now up proper we took off our jackets and embraced the easy scramble down. The whole way back was not as smooth sailing as I'd hoped.

We decided to take "the kangaroo patch", a moderately steep section of snow above the bonar glacier that allowed a more direct route back to the hut - skipping point 2151. We were making great time, so we decided to take our time and practice pitching down the snow even though we were all feeling fine with just walking down it.


It was lucky we were pitching because on the second or third pitch, John had just removed the top anchor when he slipped. I was belaying from a bucket seat in the snow backed up by my two ice tools. It seemed John was trying to self arrest but it just wasn't doing anything he kept gaining speed in his slide down towards the rocks and glacier below. The ice axe buried deep in the snow as a runner that was halfway down the rope popped out without seeming to offer any resistance. Alice and I shared a very frightened look as he slid past us. What he pulled behind him was perhaps the most scary thing for me. The point where all of his momentum would be transfer unto me via our rope was swiftly approaching. Alice was putting all of her weight on my two ico tools, thankfully buried deep in hard snow. The weight came on and yanked me out of my bucket seat before I knew it. Unadulterated fear shot through me as I hurtled away from the mountain. The force of John's tumble and now my added weight was transfered to my ice tool anchor, and thank everything they held.

After recovoring my feet, I lowered Alice down to him. There was a trail of blood from snowburn and in total he had fallen/slid about 80m. I managed to locate a few items that had come out of his pack - and luckily found his glasses where they had come to rest meters from a small crevace. Alice and I both felt horrible, we had both stopped to put our jackets back on before we went onto the snow, and Johns injuries would probably have all been prevented if he had too. So crucial to note what team members are doing or not doing.



While we were uncertain of just how much injury John had taken, he seemed fine to travel so we traveled glacier style back to Colin Todd hut for first aid treatment. After a few hours of recovery for all of us we decided that we were up to following our original plan of heading over the quarterdeck and down. John had lost one of his bottles and I hadn't bought a very big one so our main concern for crossing the Bonar glacier was actually having enough water! It was unbelievably hot, especially when you take our rather heavy packs into consideration. It was many hot hours before I took this photo looking back to Mount Aspiring from the Quarterdeck.



From there it was a quick decent down to French Ridge Hut for dinner. John's shoulder wasn't ideal so Alice and I took "all the heavy stuff". Somehow we decided to continue down and in the dimming light we decsended to Pearl Flat where we had stashed the tent. Alice and I decided that going lightless was more extreme so we actually left our headlights tucked in our packs until right down at the valley floor. No I can't explain why.


Packing up our camp at Pearl Flat the next morning (after my first sleep in 40 hours). spreading out and having a rest at Aspiring Hut before driving south to Queenstown to meet back up with Mon and Oli at Ferg (of course).



And that ladies and gentlemen was my sweet new years adventure!

More photos from this trip are in my facebook album here. Here is a map of our route, or view Aspiring Trip in a larger map.