Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fieldwork trip to Old Man Range

We were able to get away with doctoral student Jay for two days of fieldwork in the Old Man Range.  It's an interesting place - a high rolling expanse right off the main highway to Queenstown with views of the Southern Alps.  It doesn't look like much from the road, but once you get up there it's high and wild - another trick of the New Zealand light.  Here is some info. on the Kopuwai Conservation Area.  And a DOC brochure on the area here.

Here is the Kopuwai tor, also called Old Man Rock and The Obelisk:

There are many similar smaller rocks in the area.  This particular rock is the biggest, and right next to a giant transmitter tower.


Catherine working:

Jay and Catherine working:

I worked, too - most memorably trying to dig eight foot-deep holes in essentially impenetrable alpine soil/rock.  The next day I went for a hike to Nicholsons Hut:

It's a moderately popular ski-touring destination.  The area reminded me of Wyoming:

Roaming at will, as usual:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

NZ: Caples, Greenstone, Routeburn, and (a bit of the) Rockburn Tracks

I started going through my photos, and created a massive set (113) at my Flickr site.  I'm not up for writing diary-type entries on this trip given (1) it takes too much time, (2) there were a lot of people out there with more intense and interesting itineraries, and (3) it was a bit too much to see too quickly.  Well, at least the photos look pretty good - it's almost hard to take a bad photo in southwest New Zealand.  For example, this is from the campground in Te Anau I stayed at before going backpacking - just a quick shot before I was really awake:


The highlight was getting up above the Hollyford Valley on the Routeburn Track.  The reason so many people hike the Routeburn is to hike that long ridge on a good trail - it's totally unique for New Zealand.  It was clouded in, with clouds rushing around in every direction, and I put my pack down to get something out.  I turned around, and there was this:

It was awesome, and within fifteen minutes a front came screaming in, the views were gone, and it was raining.  I've never seen a storm move so fast - ever, anywhere.

I also really enjoyed the Greenstone Track - it was definitely in my comfort zone of fast, easy hiking in a valley that looked like home:

Complete with hundreds of cows:

But we don't have extreme swing bridges at home:

Or forests like this:

The Caples Track was odd - it's known as a pretty rough climb/descent, but the DOC was blasting in a very wide new trail.  They airlifted in two backhoes, and they were working away - taking time to blow up rocks from time to time:

I was unclear on the purpose - someone told me it was to make the Caples Track the standard "return" back from the Routeburn, but it seemed like an extreme decision.

It was a social trip - I spent time talking to other trampers every night.  The best conversation was with a Polish-Australian man that delved right into travel philosophy (never book ahead, I'm wasting my time with too much mileage on standard "tourist" routes, etc.), economics/fiscal policy, the Australian mining bubble, and more.

After three days of hard hiking, my lingering foot injury was bothering me, and I was able to take an easier day on the Rockburn Track.  This felt a bit more like real New Zealand tramping - an example of the trail:

The blue marker in there is for a line of rodent traps - helps to keep the outbreaks down.  I got to the Rock Burn Hut, but it had been partially crushed by trees five days earlier:

There had been a guy sleeping in there, but he was unhurt - I can only imagine the surprise.  I set my little tent up on the Dart River for a slow day of enjoying the sights:

But not the sandflies - here congregating on my backpack:

I couldn't get a good photo of the Rock Burn Chasm, an incredible little gap through which the river flows maybe 150 feet below:

Some guided people in duckies (they call them "funyaks" here) arrived to enjoy said Chasm:

And I in turn enjoyed watching the jet boats zip up and down the river.

The next day I had my best view of the entire trip on the van ride to Queenstown:

If you ever have time to make it to Glenorchy, New Zealand (on a clear day), you won't regret the trip.

I spent my last night of the trip wandering Queenstown.  It's wildly effusive in a really unique way - a whole town acting sloppily drunk, but polite at the same time; fashionable yet thrown together.  It felt right - I didn't think I'd like Queenstown, but I really did.  Then it was back to Dunedin on an early bus, my camera battery ran out, and it's time to think about how to get back up into those mountains again.

Friday, January 18, 2013

First real NZ backpack

I'm back from hiking tramping the Caples Track, Greenstone Track, and Routeburn Track.  I started to head up the Rockburn Track as well, but I was burned out and turned around after spending a night at the hut (crushed by trees).  BURNED OUT.  Get it?  Anyway, I'm in Queenstown, soaking in the effusive (but somewhat sloppy) energy.  Back on a bus tomorrow to Dunedin.  I can't post photos here, but will do so in the near future.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Antifragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The NYT could have just stopped at the headline: “You AreAll Soft!  Embrace Chaos!”  That pretty much sums it up.  I heard Taleb on a Bloomberg podcast, and thought it was interesting that a guy who hates the media was on Bloomberg.  The interviewer asked him a question about Sandy Hook as a black swan event.  The only possible response was “way too soon, and actually, that question will always be too soon” – but instead he launched on a circuitous answer that ended up getting cut off.  On the book:

-Conditioned state reading.  I read “The Black Swan” while backpacking the Arizona Trail.  I enjoyed reading Taleb’s ideas at night and then pondering them (to my limited capacity) during the day.  Taleb was heavily influenced by the ideas and writing structure of Montaigne, and in turn that association reminded me of my experience of reading Montaigne’s Essais while semi-marooned at an abandoned Alaskan homestead.  The Essais remain my favorite book, which made me like “The Black Swan” perhaps more than I would have otherwise.

“Antifragile” doesn’t stand up to “The Black Swan,” but neither did my reading experience – I was sneaking in a few hours after work and family, on the flight here to New Zealand, etc.  It’s possible I would have enjoyed it more if it had a summer release and I could have taken it on my Pacific Crest Trail hike.  Or not – my experience seems to reflect that of the professional reviewers.

-I read “The Black Swan” when I, like a lot of people, were interested in the story and practice of the 2008 crash.  Since that time, I’ve lost interest in very big frauds in lieu of very small ones.  I don’t find it that interesting that people will scheme to make millions of dollars – that makes perfect sense.  It also makes sense that someone who has nothing and is hungry will scheme to feed himself.  But what about someone who isn’t hungry, doesn’t even really need the money, and risks devastating consequences anyway for a few hundred or thousand dollars (or nothing)?  I think this is why I like the Cohen brothers so much – their art is those stories.

-Taleb expounds what he thinks is his thesis at the end of the book, and proudly states that every sentence flows from that thesis.  Which demonstrates to me that he truly did not have an editor involved (and indeed, he puts editors in a negative/pejorative column of one of his tables [Table 7]).  However, the real thesis appears early on: “Alas, men of leisure become slaves to inner feelings of dissatisfaction and interests over which they have little control.”  Clearly, Taleb is much, much smarter than me, or you, or really pretty much everyone (except that he’s clearly wrong about quite a bit in this book, and even I can tell).  He’s made a lot of money.  Why does he sound so angry and disconsolate?  Hasn’t he learned from history (and Montaigne) that no one likes a sore winner?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NZ: Silver Peaks Track/Route

I took a hike to Jubilee Hut, ABC Cave, and the new Philip Cox Hut.  It started out as a short hike just up to Pulpit Rock and the high points, but eventually grew to an 10-hour (largely fun) trek.

The range:

Looking down towards Cave Creek/Jubilee Hut:

Cow traffic jam:

Looking up Yellow Ridge:

A little stormy:

ABC Hut:

I didn't know the word "gorse" prior to coming here - see here.  It's prickly, and it takes over the trail:

Crossing the Waikouati River:

It's a dramatic area shoehorned between the rolling central Otago farm country and the mainly-volcanic coastal hills.  Here's a DOC pamphlet describing the area.  More photos here (I paid for a Flickr account so I suppose I should be using it).  I saw two backpackers who had stayed the night at Juibilee Hut, but otherwise had the place to myself.

From what I can tell the hike up and over the ridge and down the Devil's Staircase to Jubilee Hut is the standard intro hike for the Otago University Tramping Club.  Still not used to the word "tramp" to describe hiking.  For example, this would be the "poor man's tramp" from Dunedin - doesn't sound so good.

Monday, January 7, 2013

NZ: Catherine's trip to Te Anau/Milford Sound

Sure enough, it was sunny and beautiful for Catherine's trip to the west coast:

On Mt. Burns:

Milford Sound!

Near Queenstown:

Road to Remarkables Ski Area:

And a dead opossum on the Remarkables road with a cigarette in its mouth:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

At the Otago Museum

This is from the kids' question/answer bulletin board at the Otago Museum.  Most of the answers are straightforward science - this one not so much:

It reads:

Q: Why do dogs and cats hate each other?

A: Hate is an emotion experienced by humans, but not spies working for opposing agencies C.A.T.S. and D.O.G.S.  They may feel fear, intimidation and hunger though – who can say?  Spies are difficult to read and harder to get to talk!

NZ: Doctors Point

Catherine is coming back with sunny Milford Sound photos that will put mine to shame.  In the meantime Will-J is still exploring the nearby beaches.  The weather was extremely dynamic today - it has rained maybe six times to far, alternating with brilliant blue sky.

There was a guy surfing out here by himself when we arrived.  I was told by another local that the currents are strong here and there are sharks - so I guess he knew what he was doing.

I was really impressed by these sea arches - we hiked through to another beach (only available at low tide, apparently).