Look back: February hiking

IN my experience so far, January is usually the worst month when it comes to real hiking. It’s usually around zero, which means the uncomfortable mix of snow and mud. There were a few years when mid-February was quite a cold wave – 2006 comes to my mind, when the temperature remained around -20°C day and night for great part of the month, the lowest temperature here in the city being around -25°C during day. Or it’s not as cold, but there’s cold and strong wind. The unpredictability means that for hikes planned by the club, it’s usually short walk near the city where it’s not that hard to make some last-minute adjustments. And it was long before I decided to go out alone in this month.

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Book review: Dragon Justice

Third book of the series I am reading now, happening some time (roughly 2 years I believe) after the end of second book. While one might think that getting rid of Warrick and his schemes would bring peace, in lack of large troubles small troubles will go to the front.

This book happens in Horne, the kingdom where Warrick resided and schemed from (and that now has the Rider’s HQ in one of its remote parts). Simon and his mother, crippled by debts, are forced to serve corrupt and greedy lord Bastian and Simon himself is bullied and abused by the lord’s son, Broederick.

Simon’s situation gets slightly better when the town’s blacksmith takes Simon under his care, teaching him not only useful craft, but also the basics of self-defense, which eventually forces Broederick to look for another victim. Unable to let anyone else go through that again, he eventually intercepts him in another rape attempt and after castrating him on the spot, runs away knowing that the corrupt lords would give him little hope for fair trial.

While he manages to escape, he ends up with pretty much nothing in place usually inhabited by roracks and eventually gets to bond with a dragon hatchling in situation where he’d have trouble taking care for himself.

After weeks and months in wilderness, he eventually goes close to a town and on the way, saves a trader from the ambush of thieves, his situation getting slightly better from the reward, but as soon as he is among the people, he faces the harsh contact with reality: Bastian has put up a bounty for his return, high enough that many would be willing to die trying.

As Simon faces coming fools and enemies, the Riders eventually learn of the situation and send some of their own to help and train Simon while also sending others to protect Simon’s mother and the blacksmith from Bastian’s revenge.

Trouble only arise as Horne gets to the edge of revolt with the nobles wanting more power while the King refuses to let any go from his hands and with the roracks rampaging on the borders, it threatens to endanger more than just the greedy pride of nobility. Eventually, the Riders get everyone involved to their headquarters to force a cooperation and find a solution for the trouble, while also bringing justice to Simon’s case – no spoilers for the outcome.


Read date: 8.-13.2.2018
Goodreads / Amazon rating: 4,2 / 4,0
My rating: 85%
Length: 314 pages (kindle edition)


Truth is, I expected the end to get a bit more messy, and the problems of potential civil war spreading to more than just one kingdom. The part where Simon is on the run with his hatchling is similar to book one in some parts, while getting much tougher on him – while Delno was almost 30 with experience with war and some savings for the start of his journey, Simon leaves with just his life and what little he managed to learn in the meantime. Also, it was nice to see some old faces by the end, and Rita is still so over-protective of anyone underage, not just the three kids she adopted by the end of second book.

Walker among skiers

The last Wednesday got us some intense snowfall (took around 10 hours and was enough to get quite some snow even in the cities) and so I was decided to go to the hills on Saturday. It took me some thinking to choose the best destination – while I had my preferred pick, I was not really sure I’d be able to do it if there was a lot of powder snow and considered going somewhere else, option I eventually tossed aside for now.

Photo taken from the train some 20 minutes before getting off (~9:10)

When I usually keep closer to home on winter hikes, this time I was to a bit further away and so my preparations were at similar scale as the hardest summer hikes and maybe more than that. I took food that would last me for 24 hours in the worst case and even headlight in case I’d not manage to reach my destination before dark, which fortunately did not happen.

Birch at the ski slope

The main reason I did not back away from my original plan was that I planned to use paths I know, at least in summer. Well, I make mistakes, and this time I made one just one kilometer after starting. I did not notice the turn of the path I knew was “somewhere around here” and instead of going around, I walked right up the ski slope. While ski slopes are quite perfect for going downhill, they are the worst possible way to walk uphill.

 

Good part was that it was side branch of the main ski slope that was not being used much, at least at that moment. For a while, I followed a guy that had mountaineering skis and just used these to go up (I presume to then go ride down somewhere away from the slope).

With heavy breathing and actually surprised how well it went for me (I was not really sure about my condition as the last time I went for serious hike was in late September), I eventually managed to reach the slope’s ski lift mid-station quite fast, even overtaking the guy on skis half-way through the slope. Finally there, I returned to the originally intended path.

Walking up a ski slope, not the best idea…

Back at the trail

From there on, I enjoyed some solitude. I presumed that those going for cross-country skiing on the main trail up there just used the ski lift to save them of the ascent.

The forest’s upper end

Since it was supposed to be around -10°C during the night, I hoped that most of the snow will be frozen through enough to carry my weight on foot (fortunately my weight is not much for an adult). In that, it turned out that I was right.

Shortly after, I was once again surprised how well it went. Short distance from the photo above, the main trail connects, and I was meeting many skiers on the trail. For the short while the path went straight or a bit downwards to the pass, they were faster than I was, and some even surprised what am I doing there in just boots…

The situation changed drastically when the path started ascending to the highest peak of this portion. It’s not that steep, but I guess going uphill on cross-country skis is not that efficient. In the ascension, I was overtaking them easily, to which one woman commented something like “seems he made a good choice not taking skis”.

Photo at the ‘Keprník’ peak (1423 meters)

I took a short 10-15 minute break at the peak, hoping that some of the clouds might go away and allow me to see further, but the opposite happened, so I went on. The descent was quite fast as well. It changed after reaching another pass, after which the path goes on a side of the next peak instead of over it, and the narrow path was quite uncomfortable with all the snow, regardless of what kind of gear were people using.

This part of the trail ends at a place that once hosted a chalet and chapel, but they were destroyed in fire I believe 3-4 decades ago and due to the harsh terrain they were not replaced (though some plans appear every few years).

These days, the only thing here is the small structure looking a bit like chapel that covers the spring there (welcome in summer). This time, as visible on the photo, it was a bit covered by the snow.

Anyway, after another very short break, I continued. The trail changes here from narrow path to wide one, leading towards the ski resort that is some 3,5km away from it and easily reached by car. That fact makes the path overused in summer as the terrain is easy and many people just go to the spring and back.

Fortunately, it’s not that overused in winter, or at least it was not that day. Going from there was relaxing and quite easy as the road’s width made passing others in both directions not an issue. Eventually I reached the last stop of my hike.

‘Červenohorské sedlo’ ski resort

There, I took a bit longer break, having a hot mint tea in one of the restaurants there before going for the descent. For the train I wanted to catch, I had almost 2,5 hours, which was definitely doable unless the terrain would be awful. Again, knowing the path in summer, the only risk would be that it would be completely unused and I’d need to push my way through.

Fortunately, it turned out to be mostly the opposite and the 6 km on continuous downhill trail was quite easy. Enough that I made it much faster than I expected, and managed to catch a train an hour earlier than I presumed.

To sum it up, it was really nice day even with the lack of sunshine, but knowing myself, it was probably better as snow reflects light very well and intense sunshine in snow-covered mountains can be almost blinding even with sunglasses.

Trees by the road

Recently, an article in newspaper took my attention. Since 1752 when the queen of Habsburg empire made the decree, lines of trees were planted around the roads. This had several reasons: it helped with orientation, it prevented erosion of the road (which, at that time, differed vastly from what we know now) and it gave at least partial shelter against the elements to those using the road.

During both world wars, these trees by the road were often left to their own fate and lack of care was problem ever since, despite the fact that they could have their own role even today.

Picture credits: Radosław Drozdziewski (taken from Wikipedia)

Over the years, climate changes made some trees far too vulnerable. Roads became wider and transport faster. While planting trees right next to the road was good in 18th century, it’s not so good today. Partially because their roots can disrupt asphalt, and because the road itself limits their growth. Partially because crashing into a tree is potentially deadly accident. And lastly, because salting roads during winter is not really healthy for the trees.

Yet, many of the positive aspects still preserve. They can act as partial shelter, disrupting the wind, giving pleasant shade in summer and being important landscaping element. Due to how roads and traffic works these days, those who care for the roads say that the optimal distance from the road is (based on allowed speed) 3 to 7 meters, compared to 1 to 1,5 meters used in 18th century. Yet, the buffer line where the land belongs to state (or district, or whoever owns the road) is usually 3 meters, which means planting the trees would need to be done on private property, if they were to be in safe spot…

There are issues, but it seems that landscaping that worked 250+ years in past can still work well in present time. That is, if the choice of tree respects the conditions.

Hike on a rainy day

While the weather is at least decent on most of my hikes, and probably over half of them has weather close to perfect, there are times when my luck just runs out. Sometimes that means just gloomy and misty weather, which is the best of the bad possibilities, but sometimes it gets to outright rain. If it’s my own plan, then I might just delay it, but if it’s during a longer stay or just an event I signed up beforehand, then I just go and take some shorter route, but go anyway. As we say here, there’s no bad weather, only bad equipment.

In the past years, November was usually safe bet for at least gloomy weather if not rain. Compared to the shining colors of early autumn, it usually gets sad in that one month. It’s probably the reason why I have the least photos made in November.

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Book review: Dragon blade

Following from my previous read, I went on to the second book pretty much right away. It picks up pretty much where the first ended. With Warrick’s first attack thwarted by the end of first book, the situation changes and Delno starts putting his plan together for bringing peace to the world, even though it’ll not be easy.

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Fantasy thoughts: King’s closest

I was thinking a bit about what kind of people would a king (or sovereign with any other title) surround himself with, to rule the land and to achieve his own goals. That would most likely depend on personal priorities, someone bound on expanding the borders would probably have many strategists among those to listen the most.

Even in calmer times, one would probably have representatives of the army and the diplomats to take care of any trouble, or to prevent it if possible. Those interested in expansion by force would probably hire engineers to create weapons of destruction, while those that would want to build new cities would consult architects.

To deal with the everyday life of the land, I’d say that they’d need someone to relay the problems of common people because it’s always better to solve them before they get out of hand; and representatives of the nobles, who could be tempted to conspire together for a change in leadership, if they felt they are not treated as they deserve.

Of course, the ruler’s personal goals and interests would have a significant role, for which I’d borrow example from history: Rudolf II (wikipedia) of Austrian monarchy (born 1552, crowned 1572/1576, dethroned 1608, died 1612). He was a collector of arts and curiosities and supporter of alchemy and astronomy, and so he brought several experts in those fields to his closest circles.