Monday, May 28, 2007

Free Canadian Digital Topo Maps

Someone just sent me a link to a source of free Canadian digital topographic maps scanned at 300 dpi. (BTW It seems strange that the government has to scan paper versions of maps they printed in the first place. Couldn't they do a more direct conversion?)

You need to know the map id, but you can get that from an online index.

I use Fugawi and Etopo maps and they're more user-friendly, but they are only 150 dpi and they tend to be out of date (and they cost money) In the past sometimes I have ended up getting the paper maps and scanning them myself but maybe now I won't have to.

You can also use the on-line government Toporama, but compared to Google Maps/Earth it is pretty bad.

What I'd really like is if the government would provide free vector versions of the maps. When they announced that they would discontinue printed paper maps they said they would provide free vector maps on-line. But this seems to have gotten lost when there was so much outcry and they decided to continue with paper maps. Personally, I'd rather have the digital ones!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

May long weekend climbing

We had originally planned to go to Skaha, a climbing area near Penticton, but at the last minute the weather forecast changed our minds and we decided to go to the Needles in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Apart from the weather it was a long weekend in Canada, so Skaha would likely be busy, but it wasn't a long weekend in the States.

It's about 1100 km which took us about 12 hours. We left early Wed., but didn't go quite all the way the first day, stopping at Hidden Valley campground just past Deadwood. The campground was open, but we never did find any staff. We ended up slipping our fee under the office door. It was a nice spot. We even had some deer wander by our tent.

The tent, however, was not pretty. When I packed I grabbed the three man tent but the two man poles. Needless to say, that doesn't work too well. That's one of the problems with having collected so much gear!

The next morning we drove the rest of the way to Custer, went for breakfast at the Songbird Cafe, picked up some groceries, and then drove up to Sylvan Lake. The other two times we've been to the Needles we've stayed at the Sylvan Lake campground but we found it closed - it didn't open till the next day. So we ended up staying at Fort WeLikIt Campground just outside Custer. It was nothing special but it was fairly empty and therefore quiet. And the bathrooms and showers were clean with lots of hot water.

The first day we sport climbed (bolted routes) in the "outlets" at the end of Sylvan Lake, starting with a few routes on Youbet Jourasses and then moving over to the west end of Inner Outlet and the north face of Lakeview. Nothing too hard, but it was a good warm up. (For me anyway, since I haven't been climbing since our fall trip to Red Rocks. Shelley has been climbing in the gym.)

The next day we decided to do Diagonal Traverse, a classic three pitch trad route on Outer Outlet. It's rated 5.6 but it seems a lot harder. We've done it before - it's a fun climb. It follows a crack/flake that cuts diagonally across a steep, sometimes overhanging wall, making for good exposure! I took the first pitch. It's the longest and you have to be careful with your gear placements or the rope drag can get pretty bad.

I have a bad tendency, especially when leading, to want to jam my body into cracks and chimneys because it feels more secure. But it makes it really hard to move! Several times on this route you have the choice of keeping one leg in the crack, or else keeping both hands on the edge and hanging over. You can guess which I tend towards!

The first belay is bolted, just after a tricky step across a gap, protected by two old pitons. Shelley led the next pitch which is a short traverse under a roof. According to the guidebook this is the crux. It is a little scary under the roof with sparse footholds, but there are good holds for your hands. You have to build your own belay at the end of this pitch but there are good cracks.

I led the last pitch which goes through a break in the roof and up into a chimney. It's another awkward few moves but then the chimney is easy and soon you can break out right and up onto the summit. The bolts are set up for rapping down the other side so it's not the best belay, but it works.

Unfortunately, although it was only noon, the afternoon thunderstorms were rolling in. We didn't fancy being on the top of the needle in lightning so we descended right away. It's a long rappel (you need two ropes), much of it free hanging. The last part is down a narrow chimney - one last piece of awkwardness!

Our standard rack is plenty on this route - a set of wired nuts, Camalots from .4 to 3, and some hexes (Wild Country Rockcentric Hexnuts). You don't see many people using hexes these days but they're a lot cheaper than cams, lighter, and there are lots of times when a passive hex is more secure than a cam.

Saturday we climbed Spire Two in the Cathedrals, another three pitch trad route. It's rated 5.7 but I'd say it's easier than the Diagonal Traverse. It even has a summit register you can sign :-) Again, an early start was a good idea since we got chased off the top by the imminent arrival of thunderclouds.

Our old guide book was Paul Piana's Touch the Sky from 1983. It covers a lot of ground, but not in much detail. The descriptions tend toward being cryptic. Luckily a new guidebook had just been released: The Needles by Zach Orenczak and Rachael Lynn. Despite a lot of goofy pictures it has much better descriptions and diagrams. Unfortunately it doesn't cover the Sylvan Lake area.

Our last day we climbed at Moonlight Ridge - a small group of needles with a large number and variety of routes. We ran into a group of climbers from Regina there. We'd known they were coming out but with our last minute change of plans we hadn't had a chance to let them know we'd be there. The group included some beginners so it was fun to see them tackle real rock and even trad routes, after only having experienced the gym.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rain Drops

Yesterday, when I was walking to work, I noticed some beautiful purple flowers with rain drops on them. Then I remembered that I had left my camera at home.

This morning, it was dry and the flowers just didn't have the look I had liked so much. But it rained a bit in the afternoon and I was able to take some pictures with the rain drops. It doesn't hurt that purple is one of my favorite colors.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bike Ride

I finally got out for a little longer bike ride (Google map). Only about 30 km, but that was the longest I'd done since last summer. Long enough for unaccustomed hands and butt to start going numb. I ride all winter but just commuting around town. I won't be keeping up with Larry's workouts - I only managed to average about 20 km/hr despite good road and not too much wind (but on a mountain bike). Wind is the Saskatchewan equivalent of hills for cycling - a 50 km headwind across the bald prairie can make for a tough workout!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

River Paddling Sights

Obviously, the baby Canada Geese have hatched.

And the pelicans are busy fishing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tadpole Progression

When I paddled down Beaver Creek on Saturday I explored a cut off oxbow of the creek and discovered some frogs eggs. It was a mass about the size of a grapefruit floating in some weeds. It seemed too large to be produced by a single frog. I decided to take a small number of the eggs to observe them developing. Here is the progression over about 3 days:

I got a lot more tadpoles than I had expected. Depending how big they get the tank may not be big enough for them so I may have to return some. From research on the internet I have offered them some goldfish food. So far they don't seem to be eating. The other recommendation was to boil lettuce to give them. When I was a kid I used to catch tadpoles and watch them develop into frogs (or toads) but I never found any eggs.

Busy Beavers

When I was walking to work the other day I saw a beaver swimming upstream towards the weir. Usually you see them at dusk rather than broad daylight, and usually they are quite shy towards people. But this one seemed to be on a mission and was ignoring me and the parking lot and people above. When it reached the concrete apron of the weir it climbed out of the water, walked around the weir, and slid back into the water. There is an island just upstream of the weir, maybe that's where it was headed.

I only had my small Canon SD700 IS with me with a 4x zoom. I wished I'd had my Canon S3 IS with it's 12x zoom. Of course, the reason I had a camera at all is because the SD700 is small enough to keep in my pack all the time. (My last 4 cameras have been Canon's. Partly this is just because I'm familiar with them now. But Flickr's numbers show that Canon has become very popular.)

It's good to see the beavers are still around. I wonder why they choose to live in town? You'd think the people and noise and pollution etc. would drive them away.

No doubt some people view them as a nuisance. They can certainly be destructive. Here's some of their handiwork from beside the outlet of Beaver Creek:

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

More Signs of Spring

I heard something rustling in the dry leaves and saw these garter snakes alongside the train tracks just behind where I work. There were at least two snakes in the mix, maybe more. I tried not to disturb them but they seemed to be preoccupied anyway. Normally garter snakes would slither away as soon as you got anywhere near. I suspect they were mating, although I never got a good enough look to be sure. Garter snakes give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. (As I found out first hand one childhood summer when a largish one that I had caught turned out to be a pregnant mother and produced many baby garter snakes.)