Welcome to Wummer

I spend the weekend in the Cairngorms, the national park located in the northeast of Scotland.  I packed my crampons and ice axe in hope of snow.  There was no snow.  I hiked in my baselayer and went for a swim – it’s technically still winter, but it felt like summer… hence the title: Welcome to Wummer

Such was the weekend.  We departed from Edinburgh at 6pm Friday night and drove up through Pitlochry to Kingussie where we all stayed in the Woodlan House, a uni owned house with a kitchen and real beds!  Luxury!

Saturday morning was an early start with bags on the bus by 7 AM.  Naturally, because of my bad temper in the morning and general dislike of humans prior to 10 am, I set my alarm for 5.15 AM.  I got up and immediately went to the kitchen to make breakfast and have at least three cups of heavily caffeinated tea.  I had a nice 45 minutes of quiet before the rest of the 50 some odd people woke up.  By 7AM, with boots and gaiters on we were loaded into the bus to be dropped down the road at Glenmore Lodge.  We had a long day ahead of us with a 18 km hike up to Bynack Mor, down a bit, over and a up Cairn Gorm, and then down again.

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It was really lovely.  The temperature was cold but not terrible, the wind was bearable, and you couldn’t have asked for better visibility… you could have asked for a bit more snow. Especially considering I had thrown my crampons in my bag.

My anatomically fucked up knees even held out all day until we reached the summit of Cairn Gorm.  Increased stretching and yoga has definitely been helping, but there is only so much you can do when they already do not articulate correctly.

I was glad I got the chance to get out of the city and walk however.  Women’s Marches all over the world in solidarity against the general anti-woman feel of the new Trump Administration were being held on Saturday.  While I had been unable to join the walk that day in Edinburgh, I focused my walk in the Cairn Gorms about moving forward and what steps I would need to take to continue to be a positive, supportive member of society.

Saturday night we returned to the house and Tuva, Erling, and I cooked dinner.  We’ve been collaborating on the past few meets for Saturday dinner because 1) it makes cooking easier and faster and 2) we can split the supplies and actually make more food than we could have if we all made it separately.  We decided to go all out and brought along diced lamb, feta, tomatoes, spinach, pita bread, and tzatziki for a feasting fitting of Athena.

The next day, my knees were a bit sore and Tuva had a cold so we planned a bit mellower day starting early again at 8 AM.  I woke up again early so that I could have my tea in peace.  Our walk was planned through the forests around Glenmore, through the reindeer reserve, past a loch, and then back to the ski center car park to get picked up.  When we stopped at the loch most of us jumped in for a swim.  I use the term ‘swimming’ rather loosely for when I got into the water it was more of a run in and scream.  It reminded me a lot of my track and field days when I would have to take ice baths after practice.

And that was the weekend.  It’s back to classes now, I had an Archaeology lecture, Medieval Europe tutorial, and a Roman Empire lecture today.  Tomorrow I have a Medieval Europe lecture about the power of the papacy and another Roman Empire lecture.

 

 

lads hit london town

It was a spontaneous trip planned through a group message of mostly cat gifs and pictures of Ryan Gosling.  It ended with me crying over old things, dropping my toothpaste down the toilet, and hitchhiking pigeons.

*drum roll please* Welcome to the recount of ‘Lads Hit London Town.’

On Saturday, I booked a cheap flight down to London to meet up with Ellie, Caitlin, and Sophie.  All three of them live around the area.  I flew into Gatwick by 4 pm, hopped a very humid and crowded train to Victoria Station to meet up with Elie and Caitlin.  From there we walked past Buckingham Palace (Yes, the Queen was in.) through Trafalgar Square to Chinatown for dinner.  It started to drizzle while we were walking.  By the time we got to the restaurant, we were soaked.  I had a huge plate of noodles, devoured them all, and felt much better.  After dinner we walked to past Big Ben, Westminster, and the Houses of Parliament, then to Waterloo station to catch a train out of London to Caitlin’s.

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Lads hit London. (Feat. Bong bong bong.)

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The next morning we started bright and early as we had planned to go to Oxford to meet up with Sophie.  My morning started extra exciting as I dropped my toothpaste in the toilet pre 8 AM. We took the train back into the city and grabbed the Oxford Tube (a bus not as the name would suggest a train).  Unaware that ‘no hot food’ does not include ‘hot drinks’ like it normally does in America, I forced myself to down a large latte in five minutes before boarding the bus.  I later learned that you could in fact bring drinks on the bus and I hated myself for the entire hour and half ride.

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By the time we got to Oxford I was glad to be on cold, unmoving, ground.  Sophie picked us up at the bus stop, we stopped briefly at her house which was built in the 16c (and omg it was so cool).  I rushed to the bathroom because, again, I was stupid and downed a large coffee in five minutes.

We then travelled into Oxford.  Oxford is such a pretty town, and is definitely dominated by the University.  We went to the original Blackwells bookshop and then trekked over the Pitt Rivers Museum.  The Museum had shrunken heads and swords.  After the museum we stopped for tea and snacks at one of the older Church buildings in Oxford, boasting to have been used since 1230.

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That evening, we returned to Sophie for dinner and watched the new iTV Victoria series.  We only intended to watch an episode or two, until we realised that actual bae Albert did not appear until episode five… so we marched on.  The next morning we took the Oxford Tube back to London.

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Back in London, we took the underground to visit the British Museum.  I was especially excited about visiting, as it has been a place I have wanted to go for a few long time.  It’s a bit silly, but I’ve got this old postcard from the early 1900s featuring the exterior of the Museum.  It has people walking in out of the museum on it with horse and carriages waiting like taxis in front.  I’ve kept this postcard with me for a while, keeping it on my desk next to other old postcards of places I would like to go or places I have been.

Walking inside of the museum I was overwhelmed.  I knew the museum was large, but it never really dawned on me just how spectacular the collection is.  The first gallery I entered was the Egyptian gallery and I was greeted by the giant bust of Ramses II.  The Rosetta Stone lay just beyond.

Another reason I was so keen to visit was that the British Museum has, in it’s collections, many artifacts taken (or stolen, depending on your viewpoint) from building on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.  When I visited Athens back in March of 2015, I had given a report on the Temple of Athena Nike (a small temple located by the Propylaea near the entry of the Acropolis which was dedicated to the goddesses Athena and Nike).  However, many of the original friezes and stonework were not located in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.  While I had seen the building and some of the more famous pieces such as ‘Nike attending her shoe,’ I had not seen the major friezes that has adorned the exterior walls of the temple.

In the British Museum, I actually stumbled upon them rather unexpectedly, but was glad that I did.  While, to be fair, I wish that I had been able to see the pieces in Athens with the rest of the structure, I was glad to have been able to see them at all.

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This sentiment could also be said of the Parthenon Marbles.  Two years after visiting the Parthenon in Greece, I was able to finally see the surviving friezes and metopes.  The marbles had been taken by Lord Elgin in 1801.  Seeing the marbles in London was more than a little controversial for me considering the circumstances that surrounded their original departure from Athens.

As an archaeologist, I have always felt that it is my duty to uphold and respect the cultural heritage of the cultures I study.  This extends to the rights of autonomy over artifacts.  However, I do understand that at the time of their removal, Greece was on the cusp of their Wars of Independence.  The Acropolis was severely damaged over the following decades, with the Parthenon itself taking heavy hits from cannonfire.  It cannot be certain, what the fate of the marbles would have been had they remained in Greece… but at least, then, having them removed and taken to London seemed to be the best option in the sake of preservation.  Now over 200 years later… it has become a point of contention between Greece (who despite being facing economic collapse, has spend large sums of money developing and building a new museum to house the marbles) and the UK.

While personally, I would like to see the marbles return to Greece… I can understand the worries of the academic community.

Other highlights of the Museum featured the famous Sutton Hoo ship burial which many people relate to the time of Beowulf and the Lindow Man.  The Sutton Hoo burial is an Anglo-Saxon ship burial dated to around the 7c AD.  It was a truly incredible find as it links fact to fiction, archaeologists were able to lift portions of Beowulf that correspond to finds in the grave… drawing into greater question the text’s legitimacy as a historical source and not just an epic poem.

Lindow Man was one of the Iron Age bog bodies discovered in England.  I’ve written quite a bit about him through essays, high school science projects, and on exams.  This was again, a situation where I had turned the corner and stumbled upon him.  It honestly took me a little bit by surprise to see him there before me.  I had looked at plenty of photos of Lindow Man but to see him in person… I could still see the red of his hair and the stubble of his mustache, arms twisted in a sleeping position.

Like I said, the British Museum was a little overwhelming for me.

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From there we said goodbye to Sophie and Caitlin.  Ellie and I traveled back to her house for dinner.  The next day, Ellie and I travelled back into London for a day of shopping and more site seeing.  We ate lunch and then hiked up to the Royal Observatory.

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The next day was back to Edinburgh.  Ellie and I caught the 11 AM train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh.  The train ride was very calm and honestly, so much better than flying.  The train did a brief stop in York… and then about twenty minutes later, the train conductor announced: ‘Could the person who brought the crate of live pigeons with them please return to Coach D to collect your pigeons.’ You could honestly hear the collective WTF across the train.  I assumed then that the situation had been taken care of… until two train attendants said that no one had come to collect the pigeons and it was assumed that they had been placed on board the train in York.  A crate of live pigeons was left unattended on the train.  The conductor called ahead to Newcastle, however the station was unable to take the pigeons.  We continued onto Edinburgh (passing Bamburgh Castle…more on that site to come) … where I am assuming the pigeons were taken from the train.

And that was the end to my trip to London.  It was really wonderful to see my friends and have them show me some of their favourite places in their hometowns.  Also a big thank you to Ellie, Caitlin, and Sophie’s families for allowing us all to stay at their houses along our escapades.

I’m back in Edinburgh relaxing after my yoga class ready to get back to University on Monday.

‘Twas the Night Before Classes (+ Scotland Soundtrack 15)

And here we are.  Fresher’s Week has officially ended (thank God).

The last part of this week has been a bit busy, we went to The Cobbler yesterday for the EUMC Fresher day hike.  It was actually a wonderful day out, the visibility was great and I think I actually got a bit of a sunburn.  Knees/asthma are sucky as usual so I’m not going to be the first one to the top … but I won’t be the last!

Since I’m on Committee this year, I helped move the Fresher’s up and down the mountain while answering any questions they might have about the club.  It was honestly a really enjoyable day.  It was nice going back to The Cobbler after last year’s trek up and see how much I’ve improved on the mountaineering front! (Fun with writing this blog is being able to look back things I wrote about.  I’ll try to link the repeats, if nothing but for the embarrassment of Fresher Kennedy.)

I’ll include some photos below of the trip.

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Today, I had another busy day at the National Museum of Scotland.  I’m part of their youth volunteer team and we are currently working on putting together a tour for the museum.  Our general idea for the tour is to present the history of young people to today’s young people.  For instance, most Roman soldiers were actually a lot younger (15-20 years old) than what is depicted in films like Gladiator.  Russell Crowe was 52 at the time of filming.  (Now side tangent: I think aging him up made a better film bc tbh I don’t really want to watch a gritty history film about a whiny 15 yr old boy.)  We’re also looking at The Teen Queen Sensation Mary Queen of Scots and The Mid-Twenties Crisis’ Bonnie Prince Charlies.

But, tomorrow! Classes.  Well… a class.  All I’ve got tomorrow is my Archaeology 2A Lecture. And honestly, that’s how my entire week is.  I’ve got on average two hour long lectures a day with some bi-weekly hour and half long practicals and tutorials mixed in.  I do have three 9ams so that’s gross.  And Tuesdays will be a little gross with a 9am Archaeology practical and then nothing until my Modern Scottish History lecture at 3pm.  Not complaining though, because I mean I don’t have any room to complain. I’m in Scotland studying archaeology.

I sound like a broken record, but I am so glad to be back to classes.  I want to learn more things and study more cool stuff.  I can’t wait to see what sort of stuff I’ll get to do with my Osteology class!

So yay.  Second Year! Enjoy the jams.

Waterford

Hello everyone! I am writing this post from my lovely new flat. (Well really not new, it was built in the 1850s.)  I’m nearly moved in with just a few more things yet to arrive.  Dad, I promise I’ll post some photos when I get it done! No need to fret over messenger. ❤

Just a quick catch up:  Mom and I flew from Kansas on Saturday afternoon.  We had a short layover in Newark and then a direct flight into Edinburgh.  We arrived Sunday morning.  By Monday afternoon we were yet again at the Edinburgh airport to hop a flight to Dublin, Ireland.  We landed in Dublin and then took a car to Waterford.  Mom had an appointment to teach a few classes at the Irish branch of her company in Waterford.  I tagged along to see the Viking stuff.

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Quick history on Waterford.  Founded by the Vikings in 914 AD, Waterford is considered Ireland’s oldest city.  From then until the 12c it was ruled by various Viking kings.  The most famous of which was Ragnall ua Ímair (ruled in the 10c).  He famously built a still standing stone round tower known as Reginald’s Tower (more on that later).

In the 12c, the city was besieged by the new ruling class of England, the Anglo-Normans.  (After the battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror created a great court with a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Norman leaders.  By the 12c, the Anglo-Normans were the mix of the pre-existing Anglo-Saxons and the Normans.  The Anglo-Normans are by most part the ancestors to today’s English population.) The siege was led by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke or how he was known in da clubs – Strongbow. (This nickname was in reference to the fact that his armies, like most armies of England and Wales at the time, consisted of longbowmen.)  Anyway, Strongbow with help from other Irish kings looking to get rid of the Norse outsiders took the city.  By 1171, King Henry II visited Waterford (becoming the first English monarch to do such) and gave it royal charter.  The city even got it’s very own cathedral built.   However, Waterford continued to have many cultural ties to their Viking history.  Especially in locally produced artwork which followed in the Hiberno-Norse style (a mix of Irish and Norse motifs).

Waterford continued to be an important port for England.  During the 14c Edward III built upper floors and established a mint in Reginald’s Tower.  Many English coins were produced there.  It also served as a sort of English embassy to Ireland in the later 14c and 15c.  It was so important that during the 15c, Waterford actually fought off two attacks from pretenders to the English throne who thought taking Waterford would win then the support the English in Ireland.  The more interesting being the one of Perkin Warbeck who claimed to be Richard, the younger son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville who infamously disappeared in the Tower of London.  Many people believed he murdered by his uncle Richard III in order for him to take the throne. (Personally, I believe ‘lil Richard probably didn’t die in the tower and lived the rest of his days in comfortable exile.)

Anyway, the city resisted the attacks and Henry VII (Henry Tudor, father of Henry VIII, who won the throne from Richard III in 1485 (read: kicked his ass on the battlefield)) gave the city a cool latin catchphrase: Urbs intacta manet Waterfordia. Meaning – Waterford remains the untaken city.  Cute.

From the 16c onward the city continued to do some cool stuff like make crystal vases but it’s out of the middle ages and doesn’t include longbowmen or direct descendants of Henry V so I’m a little meh on that time period.

Whew.  Got that.  History – it’s cool.

Okay. Now here’s what I saw and did.  We flew in late Monday night and by the time we got to Waterford were very hungry.  We grabbed a pint and a meal at The Reg, the pub directly beside Reginald’s Tower.  It was awesome.  We stayed at an older hotel right on the boardwalk in the city center called the Granville.  The next morning, Mom went off to teach her class and I stayed behind in the city to look at the various sites and museums.  I ate breakfast around 9:30 and then was off.

Waterford has three major museums in what is known as the Viking triangle (the original Viking settlement was surprise! in the shape of a triangle and located surprise! were the museums are now.

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The first museum is Reginald’s Tower.  The first level was built in the 10c as part of the settlement’s defences.  The two upper floors were added in the 14c and 15c to accommodate more defences/prison in times of war and a mint in times of peace.  The tower was super awesome.  It was amazing to be able to see all the stonework and some of the artifacts found around and inside the tower were on display inside.  This included bodkin arrow tips (probs from Strongbow’s army) and Viking brooches.  You can see the later additions to the tower on the outside in the different colors of stone but also because the windows get bigger.  The later additions were added during times the tower was not used for defense purposes and as a general rule ‘you can put how ever many/big windows you want if you don’t have to worry about invaders coming in through them.’ Also can I add that I’m still not used to seeing hella old stuff in the middle of a modern city.  It’s super jarring, like I looked out of the windows of a 10c tower and saw cars.

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The second museum was the Medieval Museum.  It starts by walking down the steps of a 12c turret into in the basement which was actually a 12c storage room and wine cellar.  (And yes, I was already crying by this point.  It didn’t help that the museum had put a copy of one of my favourite paintings in the turret.)  The next level featured artifacts from Waterford’s Viking and English past.  AND!  It had the only intact longbow ever found in either Britain or Ireland.  I almost screamed in the museum.  You could actually see the worn notch and eventual crack on the side of the bow where the arrow would have been notched (the crack was honestly the reason the bow survives today because it would have been discarded before being worn out and broken in battle).  The museum also had a lot of trade charters from various kings of England including a few from my precious son, Edward IV <3.  This museum also housed ‘The Great Charter Roll of Waterford’ which is a document created with the sole purpose of keeping Waterford’s monopoly on the medieval wine trade. But, this document is supes important because it features not one but two portraits of Edward III created during his reign!  It’s rather rare to find a portrait created during a reign.  I cried a lot here.

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The third museum was located in the old Bishop’s Palace. It featured stuff from 16c to present day.  I really enjoyed looking at the collection of Waterford Crystal here – the city is rather famous for that.  Also they had a small exhibit about Thomas Francis Meagher who was born in Waterford but later emigrated to the United States and was a Brigadier General in the army during the American Civil War.

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From there it was mid-afternoon and I was starving. I walked around the city to find a place to eat and found a small cafe in People’s Park (the large park in the center of the city). I had a bowl of soup because it was getting chilly and rainy. After that I made my way back to the hotel to meet up with my mom and get a car back to Dublin for the flight back to Edinburgh.

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So, that was my day in Ireland!  I’m back in Edinburgh now and like I said continuing to move things around in my new room and get organised for this year.  I’ll post some photos of my room when I get it finished.  I’m very excited for all my classes this year – lots more history and afternoons spent in the University’s bone lab!

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view of the boardwalk in waterford.

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this gem.

 

 

 

Schela Cladovei Excavation 2k16: Part I

Woah.

I’m back in Edinburgh after spending the last three weeks in Romania on my first archaeological excavation.

Just to recap: the excavation was based in Schela Cladovei, a Mesolithic/Neolithic settlement on the banks of the Danube in southern Romania (basically on the border between Romania and Serbia).  Located in the region known as the Iron Gates, Schela Cladovei had been a primary location of fishers and early farmers.  Other history in the region included battles between the Romans under Emperor Trajan and the Dacians were Trajan built a pontoon bridge across the Danube #nbd.

So here goes the longest blog post ever. I’m actually going to split this into two parts.  This will be the boring  ‘this is what I did part.’ Part two is the touchy-feely ‘I’m going to cry about old things’ part… coming soon.

The trip started out on May 21.  A group of us flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow and then onto Bucharest (the capital of Romania).  Our flight arrived at 12:05 AM, with the train to the city centre at 8:40 AM.  It was a long wait. (Read: I spent 6 hours sleeping on a plastic chair in the Bucharest airport and it wasn’t even a nice chair. It had one of those annoying hand rails between each chair and they were attached.  Like who does that?)

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Finally when the sun came up we got to a smaller train station and boarded a train that would take us to Gara Nord, the central station in Bucharest.  From Gara Nord we took the 10:40 AM train to Drobeta Turnu-Severin, the larger town near Schela.  The train was a six hour journey through southern Romania.  Everyone was super tired and tried to sleep, but it was really hot and stuffy on the carriage so I got maybe 2 broken hours of sleep.  The train was also delayed by 2 hours.

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However, we finally made it to the dig house in Schela.  I had hit the ’24 hours of travel’ mark long, long ago on the train so I went right to sleep.

Our first morning of the excavation started with a quick lecture about the logistics and history of the site.  Then we walked down to the river so uncover the site.  We removed polystyrene blocks and tarps to uncover the trench.  The trench was a large square divided into metre squares, five long (509, 510, 511, 512, 513) and five wide (Q, R, S, T, U).  Those metre squares were then divided into four labeled from left to right (A, B, C, D). So squares would be labeled for example Q509A – row Q, metre square 509, box square A.

The trench had a mixture of dark soil and yellowish soil.  Dark soil is an indication of a ‘feature’ basically archaeological terms for ‘something did something here to disrupt the soil.’ Yellow soil is the undisrupted soil.

We started excavations the next day.  Our daily schedule started at alarms at 6 AM.  We left the dig house at 6:50 to be on site at 7:00.  We set up the equipment and worked until 8:30.  Breakfast was brought to site by a local Romanian woman who lived near the site.  It consisted of really, really, really, good fried egg bread and usually some meats, cheeses, and spreads.  A few days we got warm loaves of bread.  She also brought really good coffee that definitely was strong enough to snap anyone out of being tired.  We worked until 11 AM and then took a break for water/food/sunscreen until 11:30.  Then we went back to work until 1 PM.

The weather in Romania is really humid this time of year.  It’s also really hot with temperatures reaching 32C.  We started early to avoid working in the hottest parts of the day.

After returning to the dig house we had a break for lunch/showers/sleeping until 4.30 PM.  At 4.30 PM, we started cleaning our finds from the day or sorting dry finds.  This was a really fun part of the day because often times when you excavate you can’t really tell what you find because it’s so covered in mud… you just know that you’ve found something.

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Dinner was a 7 PM.  It was usually cooked by the same woman who brought breakfast to the site.  After dinner, everyone usually just went back up to the rooms to chat and relax before going to sleep.  The days were very long and often everyone would be asleep by 10 PM.

We had Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday off.  Usually we hung about on Saturdays and would go into town for shopping trips on Sundays.  We actually went to the cinema one weekend to see the new X-Men film.  It was still in english but had Romanian subtitles.

And then the day repeats for three weeks.  It was awesome.

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It never got boring though.  We learned how to excavate, wet sieve, do floatation, take levels, and work the EDM.  Each day different people were doing different tasks.  Excavation involved working in the trench.  Our task for the 3 weeks was to dig 5 cm down from level 19 to level 20.  Wet sieving used a pump and  drum to pump water from the Danube to wash away mud from smaller finds like tiny bits of bone and pottery.  Floatation works similar to wet sieving except that you have to use two sieves to collect fine pollen or seed particulates that would have just been floated out of the drum.  For this we worked with a archaeo-botanist from the University of Belgrade in Serbia.  In August, she will return to Bucharest to analyse the samples.  From the sample she will be able to tell what sort of plants (both wild and domestic) grew in the area.  Taking levels involved working with the dumpy level to tell how much deeper you would need to excavate.  And lastly, the EDM is used to the set the crosses of the squares to make sure that the trench remains consistent.

Besides the dig we got a chance to go out and see parts of Romania.  During our last week we spend some time in the Old Town of Drobeta where we got to see a 16c Romanian Castle.

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We also took a boat trip down the Danube to see sites that had been flooded when the two hydroelectric dams (Iron Gate I and Iron Gates II) had been built.  The dams are actually one of the reasons why Schela is so important, because it is one of the few sites that has not been submerged by the rising water levels.  ALSO! Hi, fellow mountain climbing friends… don’t know how clear the photos are but the Iron Gates are home to some cool looking limestone walls that probably would have some great climbs.

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We also stopped at a cave that had been used by the Austro-Hungarians in the 19c as a border fort between them and the Ottoman Turks.

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We left the dig house on June 10 and took the 9:30 AM train back to Bucharest.  My flight back was at 5:10 the next day and there was not a day-of train that would have gotten us back on time.  So we decided to spend the evening in seeing Bucharest.  Bucharest is a really cool city, but it’s very contradicting.  The Old Town of Bucharest resembles the streets of Paris is its grand buildings, but you can definitely see leftover Soviet buildings.  Remember: Romania was part of the Eastern Bloc until the Romanian Revolution in 1989. However, walking the streets of Bucharest you can really tell that Romania has pushed to become more Western and remove any trace of being a Soviet Satellite.

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Also side note: in Captain America: Civil War, Bucky is hiding out in Bucharest.  There were, unfortunately no Winter Soldier sightings.

Our travels back to Edinburgh where a tad stressful with a delay in Bucharest that pushed our flight in Heathrow to a bit of a sprint.  But, we made it back.  When I got off the plane in Edinburgh the temperature was 12C with a heavy rainy overcast.  It was glorious.

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It was a lot of hard work and the weather varied (I GOT TO SEE THUNDERSTORMS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 7 MONTHS I AM ALIVE!)  but I really enjoyed my time on site.  Finds included a variety of pottery, stone, and both animal and human bones (more on human bones later…).  It was a really incredible time and cannot be more thankful for this opportunity.  I am so excited to see what the next three summers have.

Okay. Stay tuned for a really awesome post about a super cool find that I had the chance to excavate!!! Tears ensured.

(Also side note… I realised that I’m wearing my black and white striped shirt in a lot of these photos… I swear I showered and did laundry!! I’m not a gross human.)

Spain Soundtrack

When I travel I try to always have music with me, it makes waiting at the airport/not having to talk to people on the flight a lot easier.  I also find it cool to listen to songs after a trip and remember all the cool stuff.  Anna Sun by WALK THE MOON is one of the those songs that whenever I hear it, I always think of my trip to Italy in 2013.

And because I’m lazy, I usually just end up listening to the same songs on repeat for a whole trip.  For Spain, that happened with Bleachers’ album Strange Desire.  

So here’s my Spain soundtrack!

¡Escalada De Roca!

Around the beginning of February, I was talking with a few mountaineering friends (who were, as I was, admittedly very intoxicated).  Great start to a story, I know.  They were discussing their upcoming trip to El Chorro, Spain in April.  Having never been to Spain before I started to ask questions about the trip.  It was a sport climbing trip over Spring Break to a small rural area outside of Malaga in Southern Spain.  A lot of club members were going, both old and new.  They asked if I was going, but I said I wasn’t quite sure… seeing as I didn’t really know how to sport climb.

But, I thought about it for a couple of weeks and late February I booked tickets figuring that if I wanted to learn how to rock climb I had to start somewhere.

For non-climbers reading this, my experience with rock climbing so far had only been top-roping at the CSE (the University gym).  Top-roping is when you are tied into the rope from the top anchor.  I had never climbed outside before or lead.  Lead climbing is when you are tied in at the bottom and bring the rope up with you and clip into bolts, or in the case of Trad, gear as you go.

By booking the trip, I knew that I needed to not only buckle down and finish my essays but train as well.  For the next couple of weeks, I worked on my climbing, took a course with a few friends to learn the basics of outdoor leading (bolt clipping and making an anchor at the top so you don’t lose gear), and bought a rope.

On April 5, a few days after I submitted my last essay for the year I packed everything in my Grandpa’s old USAF parachute bag (which by the way is a little bit of a hassle to move but great for packing everything) and set off for Spain.

I couldn’t be happier with my decision to take this trip.

Everyone stayed in a small B&B/campsite called the Olive Branch.  It’s located in a great central spot with a 5 minute walk to the nearest craig and 25 minutes to the farthest.  It was a great spot for everyone to come back to in the evenings and cook dinner or just hang out.  They even had a small library and on my rest days I found a worn copy of a Bernard Cornwell book (a great historical writer, if you haven’t read his stuff… I recommend Azincourt.  For obvious reasons.)  In the evenings everyone gathered around for drinks and cards, it was honestly a great time getting to meet new people and getting to know friends better.  I learned how to play a lot of new card games… and lost a lot of them.  One game ended with the loser having to jump into the icy cold pool at 1 AM… that loser was me.

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yo tent home for 2 weeks

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this is how you dry the laundry you wash in the shower

Being a sad, pale, albino teen I got terribly sunburned.  Actually that’s an understatement I got absolutely fried.  However, because of my enrollment in Albino Survival 101 I very early on identified the wondrous and wild Aloe Vera plant.  I looked ridiculous cutting up plants and then rubbing the inner goo all over myself… but guys, seriously it was either plant goo or imminent death.

But on to the climbing!

My first day out on the rock was, honestly, a little nerve wracking.  The walls at the CSE are only around 8 meters while the smallest climbs in El Chorro are 10 meters.  I started off slow, gaining more confidence as I moved upward.  And like I said, everyone has to start somewhere.

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I can say though that pole vaulting definitely had gotten rid of my fear of heights.  Looking down from my climbs, I was never nervous from the height… in fact I found being up high sort of exhilarating.  Maybe it’s because I’m a short human.

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To try to recount all my climbs over the past two weeks would be a little silly… and honestly I don’t think I can remember all of them.  But here’s a few of my favourites.

Las Cosas de Lucas (5+) This one was an easy climb up the right side of the rock.  I really enjoyed the bridging and crack climbing aspect of this climb.  Plus it was really awesome to get a photo from the top.  Everyone agreed this was ‘the Narcissus climb.’  This craig was also just really cool… you had to walk up stone stairs built in the 1500s to get there. #historyyyyyy

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El Beso de la Flaca (5) This climb was a higher than than other ones that I had previously done and had a lot of different holds and moves.  But, this climb was memorable because of the caves that you had to crawl in and out of to clip bolts (read: embrace your inner cave creature).  It was a lot of fun getting up to the caves and looking out at the view.

Geisha (6a) This was one of the first 6a leads I did on the trip!  It was another crack climb with a small flake.  This was probably my favourite single pitch route of the trip.  This climb was extra memorable as just as I finished the crux and made it to the anchors to rethread and lower-off, it started to downpour. I was soaking wet while trying to work with the rope to get down!

Solo Afeitar (6a) This was a really enjoyable slab climb.  It was one of my first experiences on a slab and I found trusting the small holds a little tricky at first, but I felt like I got the hang of it.

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Lluvia del Asteroides (5+) My first ever multi-pitch!  I seconded this climb with Sam (yet another EUMC friend) (meaning I followed up/removed gear).  This climb was one of my favourites of the trip.  At 250m and 8 pitches (although we did it in 7), it was highest climb I’ve done to date.  To say that it was a step up from the indoor 8m wall at the CSE is an understatement.  I remember looking down off this climb and thinking ‘holy shit that’s high,’ but I was so taken aback by how beautiful Spain was that being that high up didn’t really bother me.  All the pitches were different from each other so I got to try a little bit of everything on this climb.  Topping out on this climb was one of those experiences you remember for a long time afterward.  It was a lot like how I remember so vividly standing on the top of the Duomo in Florence looking out over Italy.  I kept thinking how lucky I was to be in Spain and to be experiencing such a beautiful day rock climbing.

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250m up!!

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the big frontales wall, the multi-pitch is the center rib to the left of the big cave.

I flew back to Edinburgh on the 18th so I decided to spend my last day to visit Malaga. Craig, Chris (More EUMC friends YAY!), and I took the train from El Chorro to Malaga early that morning.  We got to see the Cathedral, a 10c Moorish Castle that had been built on a Roman Amphitheater, and eat fresh fish from the big local market.  Despite having been in Spain for two weeks, we had all really just been camping out in the middle of nowhere and hadn’t really gone into any Spanish towns.  So, I was glad to have had at least one day to experience a bigger Spanish city.  From Malaga I took the train to the airport and then waited there for my flight.  I arrived back in Edinburgh around 1 AM (my flight was delayed by 2 hours….) and finally made it home by 2 AM.

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All in all it was a fantastic trip and I am so grateful I was able to have this opportunity. I cannot wait to see where my climbing goes in the next three years at university!  I hope to get more into Trad climbing soon.  At the end of the day, that’s how I treated the trip.  I took each day as it came and just enjoyed being out on the rock with my friends.  I pushed myself to climb harder but I made sure that I was still having fun.  I ate a lot of food and fully embraced the Spanish siesta.

One thing I learned over my years playing competitive sports (between tae-kwon-do, softball, basketball, track, and cross country) is ‘that if it’s not fun then why are you doing it?’  This was especially true in the case of softball were I pushed myself to continue even when I no longer enjoyed the sport.

That’s why when I came to university I decided to finally give myself a break.  Competitive sports were a great way of learning valuable life skills like being a teamplayer, setting goals, etc.  I am so grateful for the opportunities I gained through them, but I knew that my time with them had come to an end.  I just didn’t feel like competing anymore.  I felt like I don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore.  I just have to do what makes me happy.

Which, I think is a pretty positive outlook on life and one that I am happy to continue with.

As for now, my dad is currently visiting me in Edinburgh which is awesome because I haven’t seen him in four months!  My 19th birthday is in 8 days!! For my birthday, I’ve finally decided to get my tattoo done.  Exams are quickly approaching with my first one the day after my birthday.  And then next month, it’s off to excavate Neolithic skeletons in Romania.

I guess that’s all for now… jeez this was a long post to write.

Innovative Learn Week: Part II

Two words.

Medieval. History.

Yesterday was a fantastic day full of travel, history, and lots of walking.  I traveled to Stirling with two EUMC friends, Sarah and Gregor, to see the Castle, Wallace Monument, and the Battlefield of Stirling Bridge. (I’ve included some Wikipedia links just for some quick info if you might not be familiar.)

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The day started early with a quick coffee run around 8 AM and it was to Waverley Station to catch the train to Stirling.  Waverly Station is a prime example of a Victorian train station.  It was really neat, the US really doesn’t use the train system as much as the UK so it was fun to try a different way to travel.

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We arrived in Stirling and walked through the town to get to the Castle.  Stirling is a pretty small town but it has a really rich history.  During medieval Scotland it was the stronghold of the Kingdom of Scotland and was considered to be the ‘Gateway between Highland and Lowland Scotland.’  Edinburgh was often subject to English rule/closer to the Borders and was often influenced by early Medieval kingdoms like Northumbria after the fall of Old North Kingdoms, especially the Gododdin.

A map by Matthew Paris made in 1250 that show Stirling to be the dividing line connecting almost two separate land masses together. The upper part of Scotland is even labeled Scotia Ultra Marina which is Latin for Scotland Above the Sea.  Just a wee orientation to the map, the two walls are the Antonine (Upper) and Hadrian’s (lower).  Edinburgh on the far right by the Antonine Wall.

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The castle is build on a standard crag and tail formation, similar to Edinburgh, which just means a big flat rock with a sloped esplanade.  These are pretty standard for Scotland and were created when volcanoes were erupting all over the place in that crazy time period before the archaeological record.  As far as a castle goes, it makes the perfect fortified spot.

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(zoomed view) from castle rock.  the battle field of stirling bridge is in the foreground and the wallace monument is in the background. 

Now for the castle.  There is evidence of fortification from the 13c onward but most of what remains was build by King James V, father of Mary, Queen of Scots.  There is a Great Hall, Palace, Chapel, and standard armories, kitchens, courtyards, etc.

We started at the front gate where there was an inner courtyard and then another gate, then another line of walls and then the final gate.  There was evidence of damage to the final gate that appeared to be from siege.  Roundish indentions into the stone round towers. Neato.

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Stirling Castle was especially neat that in many of the buildings they refurbished parts to how they would have looked using original materials and methods.  It was really well done and gave a true sense to the history of the place.  I think most people tend to forget that the ruins they are looking at used to be hopping centres of war, trade, and partying.

The Great Hall was a prime example of this.  They even re-did the outside of the building in the standard yellowish gold plaster (called King’s Gold) In fact, the 250 (yes 250) statues that James V commissioned for his palace were also once painted.  Really gives it more of a Disney feel than a Game of Thrones vibe, but more historically correct.

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The next stop was the Palace.  It also had been redone on the inside and offered a great look into how James V, Mary of Guise, and young Mary, Queen of Scots would have lived.

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A cool feature here were the Unicorn Tapestries.  The ones hanging in the Palace were remakes from a project that finished up a few years ago, but they had all been made in the original style using original techniques.  They were copies of the originals that are currently housed, surprisingly in the Cloisters at the Met in New York.  I’m sure you’ve all seen images of the Unicorn Tapestries, the most famous being the unicorn in the fence.  They are honestly really beautiful and some of my favourite pieces.

From there we explored the outer part of the Castle.  The weather was really fantastic and sunny.

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Once we finished up at the Castle we started the walk to the Wallace Monument and lunch.  We walked along the ‘New’ Stirling Bridge (built in the 1500s) that was next to the site of the battle.  It was honestly jarring walking next to the battlefield.  It looked like just a normal grassy lawn in the middle of the city, but in 1297 it was so much more.  It was the site where William Wallace AND Andrew Moray fought against a much larger English army. And call me a sucker for the underdog, but what the Scots were able to accomplish at the battle by outflanking the English and pinning then into them ox-bow of the river was quite a feat.

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the battle field of stirling bridge. 

 

We stopped for a quick lunch and then headed up to the Wallace Monument.  The Wallace Monument honestly looked like something out of Tangled.  It’s a huge Victorian stone tower on top of a hill overlooking the city of Stirling.  It was quite a climb to the top but it had some great views.  We also reached the top before the small rain showers hit.

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The tower also has a small museum inside that houses bae’s actual sword.  It’s taller than me and I don’t understand how anyone could lift it let alone fight with it.  Granted it’s a two handed great sword but it’s still very impressive.  I’m also probably a sucker for military history, but warfare was a HUGE part of how people in the past lived.  It determined everything from who owned what land to whom the queen or king was.  Honestly, up until the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, with the defeat of Richard III and crowning of Henry VII a kingship was equal parts martial and political leadership.

I’ve learned it is also is one of the few ways to look back into driving mindset of the common-man.  Every able-man was often required to fight for their monarch, and sure a lot of them were conscripted but a lot of them believed in the causes they were fighting and dying for.  It also shows the unity of a historical kingdom  in that it’s common people were willing to fight for a cause much, much, bigger than themselves.  Stirling Bridge is a prime example of this idea.

From there we headed back to the train station to catch a train back to Edinburgh.  We had off peak tickets so we had to wait a bit.  Stopping in at Tesco’s we bought some donuts to eat at the station.  I’m so glad the UK has Krispy Kreme.

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It was an absolutely fantastic day full of a shit ton of history.  I got to see so much, it’s amazing to finally be here after 18 years of just looking at things in books.  I think it gives a really gravitas to the site.  It’s something that I’ve studied and now being here can understand it better.

And, I glad to have had this week off.  I finished my Archaeology essay this morning and just need to go back and edit it.  I like to finish things a bit early so I can shove it away for a day and come back when I’m not so bogged down in writing.

So anyway, that’s my weekly geek out.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild, Wild West

Oh cool, another Kansas themed title pun.

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This weekend was spent wild camping (hence the title. lol I’m so funny.) between Creag Meagaidh and Aonach Mor in the West of Scotland.

It was a pretty fun weekend, but very cold and snowy.  I got to go on some good walks and see some fantastic views.  The weather this weekend was okay on Saturday, but very windy.  The evenings were pretty chilly and since it was wild camping, the tents weren’t on great ground.  But it was a great experience – if a bit cold.

Friday night we drove out from Edinburgh, luckily the club was able to rent a car so Gregor (EUMC friend) drove.  I called shotgun.  The club stopped in Pitlochry for food as usual and then we carried on north and west.  Once we reached a small shoulder on the road and turned off.  Unloading the bags from the cars and minivan, we set off to find a campsite around ten o’clock..  It was a little boggy Friday night.  We pitched tents quickly using what decent ground we could find and then everyone went to sleep.

Saturday morning, I got up around seven because I was a keen bean who wanted to get moving.  But it was also really cold and I was very unmotivated to get out of my tent.  The day plan for Saturday was to do two summits near Aonach Mor… we quickly had to change that plan.

The first approach was quite good, the view was fantastic.  But the wind picked up as we started the ascent – probably over 40 mph going up.  Everyone linked arms to make our trek a bit more stable.  I was just glad that the visibility was still good, the snow was blowing around by our feet, but we could still see everything in front.  We reached the summit and everyone burrowed down behind a drift to eat a quick lunch and then plan for the rest of the day.  It was decided that it was too windy to carry on and it would be safer to descend and do a different walk for the rest of the day.  The descent was a little bit windier with winds around 60-70 mph.

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Two of the committee members said to think of winds like pints, with 1 pint = 10 mph.  1-3 pints is fine, maybe stop after 4-5, 6-7 is probably too much, and by 8 you’re crawling.  I thought this was a pretty good representation of the day.

For the rest of the day we drove to Glen Nevis and walked to the steel bridge, a steel rope bridge that runs across the river.  A group went off to do a scramble and then I went with the group that was doing a nice calm walk – my knees were not doing too well with the cold.  It was a really gorgeous glen with a fantastic waterfall.  I was so tired from the busy week at Uni that I actually took a nap.

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Everyone met back up and we all went to Fort William to watch the Wales v. Scotland rugby match.  That evening we returned late and I made a quick dinner and went to sleep.

Sunday morning was cold.  A group left early to go climbing, but there was still a number of us at the campsite figuring out a route for the day.  But, no one wanted to leave their tents because it was, really, really, cold.

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Finally it was decided that we would drive to an area by Loch Rannoch and do a nice, calm route there.  It was a very gorgeous day despite being cold in the morning.  I could see for miles.  It actually warmed up a bit and the visibility lasted until we were nearly back to the cars.  My walking group got back early and so we packed up and waited for the climbing group to return.

Everyone packed up quickly and then we were on our way back to Edinburgh.  All in all it was a pretty fun weekend with some great vistas.

This week starts Innovative Learning Week, and I will be staying around in Edinburgh.  I am taking a Forensic Anthropology class on Wednesday where I will learn how to clean and 3D model bones.  Should be pretty humerous.  Some mountaineering friends and I want to plan a day to go to Stirling Castle and Walk the Moon (aka my favourite band in the world)  is here on Friday, but don’t know if I’ll be able to go because they’re American and not too many people here know them. 😦

But, as for now, I am just finishing my laundry from the weekend and airing out my tent in the pantry.  It’s quite a sight.

Until next time!

Bleowan Windas!

That’s some Old English for you that roughly translates to ‘effing crazy death winds.’ This is a good summary of my weekend up in Loch Tay.

This weekend,I took a Winter Skills Course at the Firbush Centre owned by the University.  Meaning home cooked meals, nice warm beds, and heating!  It was a great weekend full of a lot of information and fun people!

The centre is located on Loch Tay in the Trossachs National Park (Eastern Scotland).  Loch Tay is a really cool place with a bunch of archaeological sites.  Most famously are the crannogs, a sort of wooden roundhouse that was built on stilts over the loch during the Iron Age.  They have since fallen into the water but most of the contents inside are preserved due to the lack of oxygen fueling artifact deterioration.  There are also a bunch of old ruined croft houses and shielings.  A sheiling is a square stone house usually used by people who went up into the mountains during the summer months to allow for the animals to graze.

I didn’t get a chance to see the crannogs, but I did see quite a few sheilings during the weekend!  That was, of course, when I could see!  The weather this weekend was not great.  That is putting it lightly.  As many of you American readers are aware, the big storms that hit New York a few weeks ago have now made their way to Scotland.  We are now in the midst of Storm Henry.  I have never felt more betrayed by something named ‘Henry.’

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either a lime kiln or something else… archaeology! 

We drove from Edinburgh friday night and arrived at the centre around eight.  We ate dinner and then had a talk about Navigation.  We looked at the maps for the next day and talked through the routes.  The wind was really loud throughout the entire talk… and then the power went out.  Everyone at the lodge got out their head torches and lamps. The power stayed out for the entire night and into the next morning.  The window in my room overlooked the loch and the water was really choppy.  I was definitely glad to be inside.

 

But, regardless of the weather we still got to hit the hills!  Saturday was spent learning land navigation.  I learned how to read the contour markers on the map to find my location and how to take a read a bearing off of a compass.  Everyone in the group took turns leading the group to a spot on the map, mine was a small outcropping on a contour line overlooking a river.  I got a bit turned around, but I found my way through it.  It was really neat learning how to navigate!

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Not only is it a critical skill in mountaineering, but in archaeology as well.  Being able to not only read a map, but orient yourself makes excavation and surveying a lot easier.  Not to mention any skill that you can bring to an excavation is great.  My dad has actually been encouraging me to get certified in scuba diving so I can do underwater archaeology.  Side tangent: which honestly is a hella good idea and I should look into it because there is actually quite a few submerged sites around the UK.

Okay back to Saturday.

We ascended the ridge before the weather turned too sour, but by the time we reached a small ring contour the wind had picked up and it was nearly a white out!  We decided it was best to turn back and, of course, it was my turn to navigate.  My spot was a small bend in a river next to a large cluster of trees.  From the ridge I took a bearing and then set my compass.  I sighted out onto the cluster of trees, but it wasn’t always reliable because of the poor visibility.  The trees continually disappeared and reappeared in my sights.  It was a little nerve racking, but that is exactly why I took the course in the first place.

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one of the more clearer views of the day.

That evening was a short lecture about avalanches and safety while on the mountains.  It was a really interesting talk and I learned a lot.  Because, you know the biggest avalanches we have in Kansas is the snow that falls off the roof of the car when you open the door.

Sunday was a little bit better.  Most of the hail and rain had blown over and the visibility was actually fairly decent.  We went to the other side of Loch Tay to practice crampons and axe arrests.  Sunday was a lot of sliding in the snow and working with gear.  We also looked a lot at snow layers and tested which ones were stable and which ones were avalanche prone.  There is a lot of technical gear knowledge involved in Winter Mountaineering, but there is also a lot of practical knowledge about the landscape.  It was honestly a lot of fun.  I learned a lot.

My mountain skills have improved a lot since September.  I am slowly losing my Kansas mountain naivety – which is a good thing!  I am lot more confident with my feet and my knowledge of the landscape.  I honestly can’t wait to see where I am in four years!

On the academic side of the things, I am loving my classes!  I am currently writing my first essay which is a source analysis of Gildas’s ‘Ruin of Britain’ which is a 6c manuscript written by the Briton Cleric Gildas about the state of the British isles now the Anglo-Saxons have all moved in and, well… ruined it.