Czech Climbing

July 14, 2008

I recently took a trip to the Czech Republic and Croatia to go climbing.  Before leaving we had trouble finding good information on climbing in the Czech Republic in English so I thought I would write up a summary.  This will be followed by a section on climbing in Croatia.

Before leaving we tried to do some research on climbing in the Czech Republic but we could not find an English climbing guide.  This should have been our first clue that perhaps the Czech Republic wasn’t the end-all-be-all in the European climbing scene but we missed it.  We flew into Prague with some limited information from with the idea of finding more when we got there.  We found a climbing shop in Prague and asked asked about good areas to climb, we got a guidebook and some maps to Adršpach from them and took off.  Adršpach is a beautiful place that has tons of amazing looking stone pillars but the rock is very crumbly sandstone and therefore no metal protection is allowed, instead you are supposed to use knotted slings.  In case you don’t know that is a length of webbing or cord with a large knot tied in the end that is used as a nut or stopper.  We thought the routes would have some bolts as knotted slings aren’t the most versatile of protection, but when we arrived we found that bolts were almost non-existent and the ones that were there were very rusty.  This meant the only way to protect the routes was top rope, and you couldn’t get up to the top of many routes.  I suppose you could use the bolts but they were very sparse (maybe three on a 90 ft route) so you would be very run out on very rusty bolts.  Also, many of the rock towers are worn smooth so even routes that are marked as 5.8 have almost no holds, I can only figure that the routes are very old and the holds have been worn off or torn off over the years.

It is a large area and there was a lot of evidence that it used to be a very active climbing area (log books on top of many of the stone pillars and lots of rusty protection) but we were unable to find any decent routes in the 5.10-11 range or any way to protect a route besides top rope.  The area is so big, many of the older routes are not climbable (worn smooth), and the guidebook was so poor we concluded that if you did want to climb there you would have to hire a guide or get a local to take you around.  All in all it is a beautiful area that is fun to visit, but if you want to climb I would head elsewhere, like Croatia.

Victory for Zim!

July 14, 2008

The PhD qualifying exam for biomedical engineering at Wayne State is a five week long crucible of pain.  You are asked to write a grant proposal on a topic you are not familiar in four weeks without getting feedback from your peers or faculty, you are however allowed to interview experts in the field.  In short they are asking for the impossible: it is nearly impossible to write a grant in four weeks, practically impossible to write a grant on a topic you aren’t intimately familiar with, and completely impossible to write a good grant without having it reviewed by colleagues.  Putting all three together is a recipe for mediocrity.  It is extremely frustrating to know that something isn’t right but not having the time or expertise to do it right.  It is by far the hardest thing I have had to do so far and I would rather write another Master’s thesis than have to retake the qualifier.

Because of this it was with great relief that I recently found out I passed the qualifier.  I didn’t pass initially, I was asked to do a 10 page follow up report which took another week extending my time invested in this monster to six weeks.  This was followed by three weeks of nervous waiting as the slowest grading process in the history of the world took place.  The good news finally came through late Thursday night.

My emotions have run the gamut during this, from disappointment and anger when I found out I didn’t pass initially to elation on Thursday night.  Most of my friends have had to listen patiently on the phone while I railed about how the test was written, designed, and graded.  The reason I didn’t pass initially was simply that I thought I had clearly stated an idea in the proposal that was actually entirely absent.  Unfortunately the solution to this type of problem is to have colleagues read and comment on your grants which I was not allowed to do.

Most of what I have said over the last few weeks about the exam has been venting over my frustration and anger due to my inflated sense of entitlement and the possible wasted effort.  Now that I have calmed down my largest criticism of the test this year is also what I thought was good about it, the question was open ended.  This was great as it allowed us to choose a topic that is in our field of interest so the 200+ hours we spent on the exam won’t be completely wasted.  This was also terrible for two reasons, it allowed some of us to misinterpret the question (causing myself and others to almost or actually fail) and it setup a situation where members of the committee didn’t know much about a student’s chosen topic.  If the student misses a key technical concept in a paper they are relying on no one will catch it as they are not experts in that field.

It is over and I passed, what a relief.

to Skoda, verb: to drive recklessly

July 4, 2008

The great eastern European road trip is over, from Prague to Split and back again with stops in between.  Overall, more than 1500 miles covering a good chunk of Eastern Europe.  I would say renting a car is a very good way to see Europe, it is quite economical (even with the expensive gas and rental fees) and lets you easily go to out of the way places that most tourists don’t make it to.

For our trip we rented a Skoda, it was a little 4 door wagon with absolutely no power.  For comparison when I got back and started driving my 4 cylinder Toyota Corolla I was surprised by its pep.  The speed limit on most of the highways is 130 km/hr, so of course I tried to cruise at around 140 km/hr.  Getting up to this speed in the Skoda took a little effort, the Skoda was only about 1000 rpm from red lining, and it seemed like we were going really fast but it was only 10 km/hr over the speed limit, and every Audi and Mercedes on the road was still passing us like we were standing still.  Upon returning home and looking at the conversion I realized that 140 km/hr is 87 mi/hr, meaning I was cruising at 87 and sometimes getting up to around 95 mi/hr which might explain most of the painful noises our little Skoda was making.  The scary thing is the expensive cars were still flying by us, they must have been cruising at around 100-110 mi/hr.  If I ever move to Europe I guess I need to buy an Audi, BMW, or Mercedes as apparently that gives you license to drive however fast you want.

We also discovered that a big “L” on the top of your car means you are a terrible driver.  The first time we saw this (but not the last) was in Poland so we dubbed them “Learnskis”.  We decided they must be drivers ed students as that was the only explanation we could come up with for their insistence on driving less than 30km/hr all through town.  If you are ever driving in Europe don’t get stuck behind the Learnski.