"Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain... Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall - it's great when you stop."

Chris Darwin

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Scream of Stone

 Shot on 2009-10-09 Photo taken.Licensed under: Public Domain.

Scream of Stone .

All mixed up!

Eiger Obsession

 Shot on 2009-10-09 Photo taken.Licensed under: Public Domain.

There seems to be quite a few movies and books popping out in last two years covering the historic, and in many cases tragic, events on the north face of Eiger.

I've mentioned The Alps: Climb of Your Life already earlier. Now I finally got around ordering North Face as it became available in Blu-ray. When searching the net to find out where to order it, I also tumbled on The Beckoning Silence , based on a book by Joe Simpson (yes, the very same one who Touched the Void). Both movies deal with the same tragic event on 1936 when Adreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz, who joined forces with Austrian party of Willy Angerer and Edi Rainer while on the face, were trying to put up a highly coveted first ascent. They failed and the entire party was killed at different times during their retreat attemp. Nordwand (aka The North Face) is a drama movie based on true story but with some fictional elements injected into it, while Beckoning the Silence appears to be documentary.

The same event, together with many other early attemps, the first ascent, and the ascents that followed are all described in "The White Spider" by Heinrich Harrer, himself a member of the first ascent party (and later famous for Hollywood movie "Seven Years in Tibet"), considered a classic piece of mountaineering literature.

History of climbing gear

"Just before the rocks separating the Second from the Third Ice-field, I looked back, down our endless ladder of steps. Up it I saw the New Era coming at express speed; there were two men running - and I mean running, not climbing - up it." With these words describes Heinrich Harrer the significance of the modern crampons during the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger.

I recently tumbled on an interesting article about the Nut Museum, which contained quite a bit of information about the development of trad pro. As it was interesting read, I though to throw together some pointers to various articles describing the history and development of climbing gear.

Climbing photography

No matter how finely sculpted the hindquarters of your climbing partners is, having their buttock have a central part in your climbing photos is bound to get old. So there are plenty of tips and trick of how to avoid the dreaded butt-shot.


I've been frustrated with the driving instructions of quite a few climbing topos. No matter how good the verbal instructions, you just can't beat the map. However, if the map is rough, it can be even more frustrating than the verbal description.

If you have schematic map and not all of the roads are marked, figuring out which ones are marked is nearly impossible unless the map clearly identifies which roads are marked using either (or both) the road name and/or number.

Don't even consider drawing any map as a raster image. Vector is the only way to go for scalability and editability. If you need it as a raster image, fine, export it into a raster format of your choice, but don't ever consider drawing the map as a raster image.

My take on the best way of drawing maps is to draw them in scale. By far the easiest way of doing this is to use real geographic map as a guideline, then draw a vector map over it. Very easy to create scale-accurate maps this way. Using layers available in all remotely good illustration apps, it's even possible to easily create different versions of the same map within same image. This is very handy e.g. for different language versions and for different scale versions. Granted, vectors scale nicely but if you downsize a large map to very small size, there's often so much detail, that you just can't read the map any more. Not to mention that text needs to be certain size in order to be readable.

Furthermore, in the current era of GPS navigators the GPS coordinates are valuable help as well.

To ease the pain of drawing multiple maps, use symbol sets for common symbols.

Trad tips

I've tumbled on few interesting articles recently, mainly on trad climbing.

Dark chest of wonders

Web can be treasure chest for climbers searching for maps and information about the climbing destinations. Google maps is a good resource in planning. However, their maps don't offer sufficient details for mountain areas. Furthermore, when zoomed in into greatest detail, their maps cover only small area.

Google doesn't allow users to save a map for offline use either. This is easy enough to circumvent by taking a screen capture though. However, if you need a larger area than what fits into screen (or viewport if viewing embedded map), then you are out of luck. Well, sort of. This can be circumvented just as well, simply by:

  1. Taking multiple screen captures
  2. Stitching them together in image editing application

Depending on the number of screen captures required, this can be a very painful process. There are some tools to automate the process when working with Google Maps though, search and you'll find.

Very well, I found out that Map+ has maps about Switzerland available online, that zoom in all the way to great detail (looks a lot like 1:25.000 at least for mountain areas). The downside is that their maps are available only through small vieport, therefore, tens, if not hunderds of screen caps are required to cover larger areas. Which makes the manual stitching process rather time consuming and very boring indeed. So I thought there needs to be a better way. The best I've found so far (best and good are very different things, though) consists of

  1. using screen capture application/add-on, that allows capturing of selection only to a file. For Firefox, e.g. Screengrab add-on is such a tool
  2. Import the files into image editing application of your choice as layers.
  3. Carefully align the layers. Some image manipulation tools have features to auto-align the layers or separate images. Such a features are designed for building panoramas and can be a great help in stitching maps as well. Unfortunately I had rather poor results with such features though, as they tend to crash when you throw tens of images their way. Furthermore, they tended to rotate and/or distort base images thus producing inaccurate results. If such a automation works, it would be a time saver though.

Another nifty Google service is Google Earth. It can be a great help as well in planning the trip as it makes it easier to visualize the area, therefore it can assist in trying to figure out whether it is feasible to get from place A to B. And playing with it is great fun too.

Pimping my camera

I regularly read Lifehacker which often has a great tips and tricks. I noticed they had an article about CHDK firmware for Canon point and shoot cameras, which lead me to another article about the same firmware. I had heard about that earlier, but back then it didn't support my Ixus 850IS. This has apparently changed.

CHDK is a firmware hack for Canon point and shoot cameras that bring quite a few new features to those cameras. Most interesting of those to me are the ability to shoot RAW and bracketing options for shooting images to be used as ingredients of HDR images. So clearly I needed to give it a go.

After uploading the CHDK, I managed to get my Ixus 850IS (aka SD800IS with Digic III processor) to shoot RAW images (CRW), but none of the apps I normally use seemed to be able to read those. Apparently the RAW files produced by CHDK are not compatible with Canon official RAW files, so conversion is required. This was a kicker. dng4ps2 is able to convert Canon cameras RAW files into Digital Negative (DNG) format, which is ideal for this purpose. As it supports Powershot SD800 IS, which is American for Ixus 850 IS, one might thinks that all that is required is to simply select that as a camera from Settings - Camera options and be done with that. One would be wrong. This produces the error message "Can't find camera profile for this file". After some digging out, I found the solution:

  • Do NOT select anything under Settings - Camera types
  • Under Settings - Camera options, choose "Powershot SD800 IS" and press "copy". Type "Canon DIGITAL IXUS 850 IS" as camera name and "IXUS 850 IS" as short name.

Unfortunately, dng4ps2 loses your camera profile when you close the app, so this step has to be done every time you start the app. Interestingly enough, the created profile seems to be stored in Windows register but it doesn't seem to have any effect whatsoever. Anyway, I can live with that.

XnView, RawTherapee and Gimp armed with Ufraw plugin are also able to read the files and export the files as tiff, however not to DNG. The same goes for Google Picasa, except that it can't create TIFF either.

I did some experiments with bracketing as well. I am using Allbest build of CHDK which has several extra photo operations, one of them being Bracketing in Continuous Mode. Following the guide Bracketing I managed to get it to work. Well, sort of. I couldn't figure out the way to get to the sub menu where I am supposed to be able to adjust the number of bracketed shots. Other than that it seemed fine. There are more advanced options for bracketing involving the use of scripts. To use scripts for creating ingredients of HDR images, see Make ANY Single-Shot Intervalometer into an HDR-Bracketing Script.

As RAW files always, and uncompressed ones in particular, are much larger than jpeg images, I went on bought new SDHC memory card. Only to find out that my memory card reader doesn't want to co-operate with such cards.

Climbing photography

While I am at it, I though to throw min few links to articles about climbing photography.

One of the issues of climbing photography is that especially in the mountain environment, cameras in general and compact cameras in particular do a rather pathetic job of capturing the full dynamic range of the nature. Luckily, this shortcoming can be remedied with HDR images. the big idea of HDR images is to shoot multiple shots of the same image with different settings, then combine the images into a single image that utilizes color information from the multiple shots.

Often there's only need to combine multiple shots into a single panorama photo.