Archive for July 2009

Observing Report 20th-22nd July 2009 (Jupiter and Io)

Posted by on July 24th 2009 in Astrostuff, Observing Reports

Observing reports have been neglected a bit for a while now while I've being commissioning the observatory. This process has included:

  • Getting the mount drift-aligned so that its axis of rotation is aligned as closely as possible with that of the Earth;
  • Setting up the Shoestring EQDIR to control the mount via planetarium software on the laptop;
  • Setting up the Logitech Cordless RumblePad 2 as a wireless hand-controller;
  • PEC training - measuring the inherent periodic error of the mount gearing to allow the software to compensate for it.

Anyway, Monday night was the first time I'd used the place in anger, so to speak. There had been rain (see here) and there was still a fair bit of patchy low cloud around, but the seeing was reasonably good. I decided to have a peek at Jupiter. It's quite low in the southern sky just after midnight, so there was always going to be a fair bit of atmospheric dispersion to mess up any imaging, and some hazy high cloud didn't help either, but I needed to give it a go to "prove out" the mount alignment and stability.

I shot just the one .avi file with the webcam on a general setting, needing the image shape and drift rather than any great detail. Happy that the mount setup was satisfactory, I decided to process the .avi as a check of the webcam's performance. The resulting image is  below:

Io emerging from behind Jupiter, with Europa a bit further out

I was pleased to have captured Io right on the limb of Jupiter, but I've made a right botch of the planetary processing, which isn't surprising bearing in mind the settings used for capture. Even so, it proved that the webcam is still up to scratch.

Given the choice of reprocessing or shooting more video, I went for the latter. The next night I was set up in good time, ready and waiting to take advantage of any gaps in the clouds. There was a particularly clear half-hour during which I managed to shoot eight good two-minute .avis with more specific settings. After the usual software jiggery-pokery, I've managed to get the images from the best .avi stacked and processed reasonably well, certainly better than any that I've done before. Here are two versions of the best stack, the only difference is in the amount of sharpening. Feel free to let me know which one you prefer:

Jupiter and Io version 1 - average sharpening


Jupiter and Io version 2 - more sharpening


Next I've got a different challenge - getting the DSLRs set up on the mount for some widefield shots of the Perseid meteors, which are on show from July 17th to August 24th, with the peak on August 12th. The possibility of getting decent pics all depends on the weather, of course.

Coniston Fells Wildcamping (again) – Part 4 – Beating the Odds

Posted by on July 23rd 2009 in Great Escapes, Wildcamping

 After the pageload is complete, click on any of the pics in this post to see bigger versions in the Shutter Reloaded lightbox-style image viewer. *

It was 04:30 when I was woken up by strange noises just outside the tent - something was trying to get in. I turned over slowly and peered through the mesh of the door-panel, expecting to see a hedgehog, or maybe a badger, but all I saw was a snout and tongue being pulled back from under the edge of the flysheet. The owner stayed put while I reached for the camera, and even while I unzipped the inner and fly, but as soon as I tried to get a shot, the thing (and another smaller version of it) was off like a shot. It was a couple of deer, I've no idea what sort, taking an unhealthy interest in the remains of the previous night's fish risotto.

I looked around. The rain was now a light drizzle, and it was windless again. The area around the tent was now a bit marshy and was dotted with the tracks of many deer. Mindful of the association between deer and ticks, I stayed out of the long grass and bracken as much as possible while visiting the cat-scrape.

A quick breakfast followed, and to loosen the legs I walked a circuit of the reservoir while supping a brew. The sky was telling me to get packed up and away, but I was going to get damp anyway so I took my time striking camp.

Eventually I was off again. Following the paths was easy, but a fair amount of bracken-dodging was necessary, there being quite a few ticks on the fronds just waiting to hitch a ride on my clothing.

Soon I was at the top of Holme Fell...

The top of Holme Fell

from where there was a fine view of the place where I'd camped:

The quarry reservoirs from Holme Fell

I spent some time wandering about on the top, taking a few pics when the drizzle slackened off (which wasn't often). Considering the small stature of the fell, the views are quite extensive:

Towards Windermere and Latterbarrow

Ivy Crag


Low Tilberthwaite


Coniston Water

Sunlight from the east, rain from the west and wind from the south all conspired to create this colourful scene:

Interesting weather

Then it was time to go. With the weather alternating between sunny spells and heavy showers, I skirted the north side of Ivy Crag to join the path down though the Usk Gap...

Trees in the Usk Gap

which opened out above Harry Guards Wood to allow a fine view of Yew Tree Tarn:

Yew Tree Tarn

The junction of the path with the road near Glen Mary Bridge marked the start of a fair old road-walk back into the car, and it was going to be a grind in the now-constant rain. A few folk were driving away from Coniston, but nothing was going the other way, so the chances of a hitch were small.

As I rounded the corner at Nether End the last vehicle to go by, a white van, came back and pulled over - it was Steve. If he'd been five minutes earlier I'd have still been on the hill, and five minutes later I'd have donned waterproofs (for the first time in about five years) and he wouldn't have recognised me. It was pure chance that we were both on the same stretch of road during that ten-minute window - what were the odds of that happening? He was on his way home after having spent a wild, wet and windy night pitched at Goatfoot Crags. Needing no second invitation, I slung the gear into the back and accepted his offer of a lift back to my car. Cheers, Steve!

After retrieving my gear, we said our goodbyes all over again and he went off to the shops of Ambleside.

It goes without saying that the rain had stopped and the sun was nice and bright by the time I'd changed, packed and started the car.

I felt good, so good that driving home while dodging the suicidal feckwits on the M6 has never been so much fun.

Right, that's the end of the write-up. The may be a post-trip kit and route analysis sometime, but don't hold your breath.

Chimney-pots of gold

Posted by on July 22nd 2009 in Weather

We've been having our fair share of unseasonal weather here, but summer rain's not all that bad when it provides stuff like this, captured a few evenings ago:



Observant readers will notice the faint secondary arc outside the main one.

I'll have a play with it in Photoshop to see if I can drag out some more detail.

Coniston Fells Wildcamping (again) – Part 3 – More Roasting

Posted by on July 21st 2009 in Great Escapes, Wildcamping

* After the pageload is complete, click on any of the pics in this post to see bigger versions in the Shutter Reloaded lightbox-style image viewer. *

I sat in the shade of a boulder at the Fairfield col, supping tea, assessing the conditions and pondering the map. Well, the Xda Orbit to be precise - the more I use it (with MemoryMap loaded), the more I like it. It's not just that it uses the GPS to mark my position on the map, I like the way it tells me the direction of travel from that position as soon as I move away from it. And there's the huge amount of map data that can be fitted onto the tiny transflash/microSD card. And the internet access, which, signal permitting, can pull up Google Maps and the like. And...

Anyway, back to the assessing...

The thermometer was chucking out big numbers... up to 35C in the shade, and the lack of breeze wasn't helping matters. I took in 2 pints of fluids in preparation for the slog to the next known water-supply. Before getting there, there was the rather inconvenient matter of a fair bit of backtracking - a direct slog back up the grassy slope to Swirl How and a return down the Prison Band to get to a footing on Wetherlam...

Skiddaw and The Langdale Pikes from Swirl How.

Yet again I was surprised to have the summit of Swirl How to myself. By now I could see a small party of folk on the top of Great Carrs, but other than that the place was strangely devoid of people. Anyway, I pushed on back down the Prison Band, back to Swirl Hawse and started the pull up the slopes of Wetherlam, where the sun and lack of breeze dictated another stop as planned at the next watering-hole (NY 27995 00855, another possible wildcamping spot?):

Swirl How and the Prison Band from the Wetherlam path

With body, Platy and Aquagear bottle rehydrated from the peaty puddle, the walk up to the top of Wetherlam was a doddle. Compared to earlier, the summit was as busy as a supermarket car-park - at least fifty folk were resting their weary bodies up there. I waited a respectable distance away from the cairn, and made another brew and a meal while the summit cleared and the skies clouded over a little, offering some protection from the sun. Eventually I'd had enough, and after taking a few pics from the top...

Windermere from Wetherlam

Blea Tarn from Wetherlam

I made my way down the steep shoulder of Wetherlam Edge:

Looking down Wetherlam Edge to Little Langdale

to the neat little top of Birk Fell Man...

Birk Fell Man

before stopping for another photo-opportunity:

Looking back up Wetherlam Edge

The Langdale Pikes from Birk Fell Man

Taking the path off to the right, there was a steepish descent to a strange tree-guarded grassy platform which had great views over Dry Cove Bottom. If it wasn't for the lack of readily-available water, this would have made an impressive, if exposed, wildcamp pitch:

Trees guarding the platform

Another view of the platform

Dry Cove from the platform

The original plan was to overnight in Dry Cove Bottom near to Henfoot Beck, but it was only mid-afternoon - far too early to settle down, and I was in no mood to stop walking. Besides, any heavy overnight rain would probably result in a washout, so I changed the plan on-the-fly and decided to carry on and do part of the route that I'd planned for Sunday.

I followed the path along the side of the Tilberthwaite Gill gorge and reached the road from behind the cottages of Low Tilberthwaite:

Low Tilberthwaite cottages

Although the sky was now completely clouded over, the air was still hot and still, so I had a five-minute breather next to Yewdale Beck while trying to figure where the RoWs (RsoW?) were on the ground. I decided that the path lay across fields from High Tilberthwaite to Holme Ground...

Holme Ground

and then up through gated woodland...

So, has anybody ever seen the fabled "Straying Please"?

to the two disused quarry reservoirs to the north of Holme Fell:

The larger quarry reservoir

Ivy Crag and Holme Fell

Although it was still only early evening, I pitched in the trees next to a swathe of Juniper bushes which gave off a most wonderful aroma. After roaming around for while I settled down to a meal and a brew just as the clouds gathered and the wind and rain started:

The pitch in the woods

Knowing that I was in a good place for an early-morning saunter up to Holme Fell, I hunkered down for the night before darkness fell, safe in the assumption that there would be no NT wardens about in such conditions. The rain during the night was constant, and driven hard by the wind, but the tent held firm and performed admirably. I had no trouble sleeping.


To be continued.

Coniston Fells Wildcamping (again) – Part 2 – Roasting on the Ridges

Posted by on July 20th 2009 in Great Escapes, Wildcamping

* After the pageload is complete, click on any of the pics in this post to see bigger versions in the Shutter Reloaded lightbox-style image viewer. *

You know that there's a great day ahead when the morning starts like this:

Moon over Brim Fell

The view down towards Coniston Water was no less impressive:

Cloud over Coniston Water

After a leisurely breakfast and the necessary ablutions I struck camp and wandered the hundred yards or so back up onto the path below the Black Sails ridge. While I was tightening my bootlaces a fellow wildcamper, Steve, caught up. He'd spent the night down at Levers Water and he too was heading for Swirl How, so we walked together for a while:

Looking back towards Levers Water

Steve's good with a camera, so good that he managed to get a rare snap of this strange critter:


The pull up to Swirl Hawse was a sweaty affair, with the sun strengthening and not a hint of a breeze, despite the warnings from MWIS. The view from the Hawse was simply stunning, the following pic doesn't do it any justice at all:

Great Carrs and Wet Side Edge from Swirl Hawse

We took our time going up the Prison Band, stopping often to draw breath and take pics:

Steve on the Prison Band

Looking back down the Prison Band towards Wetherlam

Having a breather

Before long we were at the summit of Swirl How. I'd expected there to have been more folk about up there, but we had the place and the views to ourselves:

Coniston Old Man, Brim Fell and Dow Crag from Swirl How

Steve's next objective was Brim Fell, so after a snack we exchanged contact details and went our separate ways. I took the track around towards Great Carrs, a top that I'd been to many years ago but in zero visibility and without a camera. I paused at the shallow col at the top of Broad Slack to nab some pics:

Great Carrs from the top of Broad Slack

Grey Friar from the top of Broad Slack

A few yards further on is a memorial to the crew of Halifax Bomber LL505 - "S" for Sugar. I'll let the pics do the talking:

From there it was a quick walk to the delightful top of Great Carrs...

The top of Great Carrs

from where there were great views down Greenburn towards Little Langdale...

Greenburn and Little Langdale

and back over Broad Slack to Swirl How:

Broad Slack and Swirl How

After a few minutes admiring the scenery and pottering about looking at the rocks, I set off again, down the easy grass slope to the west. I dumped the pack at the Fairfield col and walked on up to Grey Friar for a fantastic 270-degree panorama from Coniston Old Man around to the other Fairfield (the one above Grisedale Tarn). I took a string of photos to stitch together to make a huge panoramic pic of the scene but it didn't come out well, so you'll have to make do with a few single shots:


Goat's Hawse flanked by Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag

Harter Fell across Dunnerdale

Looking towards the other Fairfield

Looking back across the summit plateau to the twin tops of Grey Friar, I noticed a small tarn - the first reachable water I'd seen since leaving Swirl Hawse. If I'd known about it beforehand, I'd probably have pushed on the day before and spent the first night there instead. Unnamed and unmapped, it's a spot for a future wildie, perhaps?

Grey Friar's tops and tarn

I wandered back down to reclaim my pack and sat back for a mid-morning snack and a brew, made some notes and planned the rest of the day.


To be continued.

Coniston Fells Wildcamping (again) – Part 1 – Up Sam Bottom

Posted by on July 16th 2009 in Great Escapes, Shiny new kit, Wildcamping

* After the pageload is complete, click on any of the pics in this post to see bigger versions in the Shutter Reloaded lightbox-style image viewer. *

After the previous effort to walk these fells (see here and here), I was determined to get the job done this time. The weather forecast was a poignant reminder of the conditions during the last outing, but I've walked through much worse.

The weather was fine and hot, with just a few clouds here and there to frame the view. The drive up the road from Coniston to the old quarry car-park had to be interrupted to take in this fine sight of some of the target fells:

Coniston Fells Panorama

Beside the Walna Scar Road

I parked up in exactly the same space as before in the car-park near Timley Knott on the Walna Scar Road and, after getting kitted-up, started off along the winding quarry-road towards Boulder Valley and Levers Water:

The quarry-road

After a while I passed through the gap between The Bell and Stubthwaite Crag and onto the section where the path passes along a ledge beneath Crowberry Haws. From there, the views across the Coppermines Valley were impressive:

Looking towards Wetherlam

The Coppermines Valley and YHA

There was also a fine selection of flora and fauna next to the path:

Purple #1

Purple #2

The next stop was in Boulder Valley, to have a look at the famous "Pudding Stone" (the one on the left). OK, so it's a big boulder, but I wouldn't say it was anything special:

The Pudding Stone

Next it was up to the gap between Brim Fell End and Simon's Nick for the first sight of Levers Water:

Levers Water, with Swirl Hawse on the skyline

and a glimpse down into the darkness of the Nick:

The Nick

After the short stroll around to the weir to cross the outflow, it was time to take on some water and to grab a few more pics:

Levers Water again

Swirl How beyond Levers Water

From there it was a quick walk to the top end of the Water, where, after a brief look back towards Raven Tor...

Raven Tor above Levers Water

I took the path that leads up towards the col of Swirl Hawse. The grimness of the shaded scene above was amply compensated by the views of ground already traversed:

Another look back

After some heavy breathing, a stiff pull and a sweaty half-hour I was in position to pitch my erection in Sam Bottom, where I stayed until sunrise:

😯 😯 😯

The tarn with no name

A smaller tarn nearby

Pitched by the tarn

Another view of the pitch

And another

A final look back towards Coniston

Blue sky above Swirl Hawse

To be continued.

Hard as nails

Posted by on July 16th 2009 in Blog on Blog, Rambling on...

There's something satisfying about wearing sensible footwear on rocky terrain. Maybe it's the confidence that a stubbed placement won't result in a blackened toenail being forced back through the metatarsals into the heel-unit, maybe it's the protection and support that they afford when negotiating the sharp stuff or just running down screes, or perhaps it's just the knowledge that they're not being used to carry around 3kg of grit or soaked-in water that would negate the weight-savings of wearing Jessiehiker plimsolls (for further enlightenment, see here and here).

Personally, I reckon it has much to do with loving the smell of napalm Nikwax in the morning.

Scarpa SLs - Humvees in a world of Snatch Land Rovers

Scarpa SLs - Humvees in a world of Snatch Land Rovers

Awesome pics

Posted by on July 13th 2009 in Astrostuff, Blog on Site, Pics

For those of us with interests in photography, vulcanology and astronomy, I've found a site that ticks all of the boxes.

Just click on the following pic to be transported there (in a digital rather than a literal sense):

© Stromboli online, photo by Dr. Marco Fulle

© Stromboli online, photo by Dr. Marco Fulle

My thanks go to Dr. Fulle for his approval of the use of this thumbnail photo on my blog.

Coniston Fells Wildcamping puzzler

Posted by on July 12th 2009 in Great Escapes, Just for fun, Pics, Wildcamping

This weekend's wildie was excellent - a right mixed bag of variable terrain and changing weather. It'll be a few days before the write-up is ready for posting, so, to tide you over, here are a few shots of the two places where I pitched. As usual, there are no prizes for correctly identifying the locations, but it should be an interesting test of how well you think you know the fells around Coniston.

Friday night at a tarn with no name:

looking East...

and looking West:

Saturday night in the woods:

looking South...

and another from the water's edge:

Any takers?

Still Crazy After All These Years

Posted by on July 10th 2009 in Blast from the Past, Wildcamping

After several hours of frantic and fruitless searching for that one indispensable item of walking gear, I came to the conclusion that my 21st Century stealth-black Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap is destined never to be found.

All was not lost, however, as I'm a gear-hoarder of dubious repute. Off I went to the "saved for posterity" kitbags and pulled out my original cap, still resplendent in a subtle 1980s colourscheme:


I think even ptc* would be proud of this one!

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