Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Half Days and Sliding Seagulls

Always look on the bright side of life?

Yep, that's me. I see the world through rosy glasses, my cup is half full - I am an optimist. But lately, things have been up, and they have been down. You see, I am one of the fortunate ones to have been recently hired to the Halton District School Board in Ontario as a day-to-day Supply Teacher. Although heavily despised by the existing lot Supply teachers, I was one of 240 hired to the Board, out of 2700 applicants. The pool of teachers is now quite large - many teachers are squabbling over a few jobs However, I have been quite successful in acquiring teaching jobs. I have made a few contacts in different schools and have only had a few non-teaching days.

Nonetheless, a lot of the teaching days I have had are half days. This means that the regular classroom teacher may have designated planning time, a meeting, a conference to attend, and are entitled to the morning or afternoon off only.

I see lots of positives and negatives in working this way.

I get half pay.

I get to sleep in.
Or, I get to beat the traffic on the way home.

When I work only in the afternoon, I like to use my mornings. This morning, I went for a run.

It was cold outside. Like, really cold. Like, frost on the ground kind of cold.
I hadn't run in a couple of weeks, so my legs were heavy.

I recently bought some winter running gear and could try it out.

The new gear worked! I learned that the long sleeved dry fit top has longish arms and little holes to poke my thumbs through. Bonus - the sleeves cover my gloves, meaning no chilly air flow up my forearms.
The tights are longish too, meaning my ankles stay snug.
My fluffy head band is wide and covers my ears. Bonus - it keeps my clip-on ear phones in place.

I ran on the sidewalk, and then took my route to a nearby park, where a bitumen path forms a track.

I discovered black ice.
I slid.

I now know what black ice is and will avoid it like, well, the black plague.

But do you want to know the best positive of all of this?

On my second lap around the track, a small flock of seagulls landed on the same black ice. And they slid and skidded, way worse than me.

Half days aren't so bad.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Favourite Place... for Fall Colors

I came here only once before. And loved it. I loved the fresh air,the shining sun, the towering trees, the leaf littered paths. I loved the way the air made me feel, allowing me to breathe deeply, to breathe fully. And the colors. The changing fall colors caught my eye. Once dark emerald leaves turned peridot green, amber and finally ruby red. I loved walking along the dirt paths, crunching the fallen leaves with each step.

This time, I came equipped with my camera. I wanted to capture the colours. I wanted to be amazed from my computer screen and one day, from a print. And I wanted to share it. My favourite place for Fall Colours is Dundas Peak, Hamiton, Ontario.

My favourite place for fall colors is Spencer Gorge Wilderness Area, consisting of Dundas Peak and Tew's falls. The Bruce Trail's side trail, coded by blue blazes on trees, marks the route from the carpark on Harvest road, all the way to Dundas Peak and beyond. The views are wonderful, extending from Dundas' Main St to MacMaster University and beyond. But I wasn't that interested in the views. They were nice, but the kaleidoscope of  burnt colours was more of a sight. 

And then there was a splash of sapphire. An elusive blue jay was hidden among the stripped branches. He stayed still for a moment. A moment long enough for me to lift my camera and click the button. And then he was gone.


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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Via Ferrata - Low's Peak Circuit

So we decided to amp up our Mount Kinablau experience, which you can read about here. And what is the best way to do that? By completing the Guinness World Record certified World's Highest Via Ferrata. Via Ferrata is Italian for iron road, which basically means a mountain route which can be climbed due to the positioning of cables, bridges and ladders. 

Mountain Torq is responsible for the ropes course, which at 3776 meters is the highest in the world, and is the first of its kind in Asia. The circuit was made more enjoyable by our lovable guide, Jon.

After our 2:30 am ascent to the summit, and a short one kilometer hike down, we were ready to get harnessed for the circuit. 

We completed a short course on the knots, ropes and pigtail hooks the previous day at Pendent Hut with our Mountain Torq guides. It was hard to be nervous with such crisp, clean air and amazing views. We abseiled down the face of the mountain, climbed down impossibly spaced ladders and even tightrope walked across a thin cable. All the while Jon was playing paparazzi, taking these fantastic photos of us, and the view. 

The circuit also includes an hour long hike through the brush, which quite frankly, I would rather have avoided. It was a good thing that we were told to keep our helmets on, as my legs buckled beneath me more than a couple of times, and then my knees didn't bend when I wanted them to, which resulted with my helmet hitting a branch, also more than a couple of times. 

After completing one more section, we were on our way back to the Pendant Hut, 9 hours after having woken early that morning. Then with jellied legs, a  mountain and the world's highest via ferrata conquered, we made our way back down the seemingly steeper stairs at record speeds, straight to Kota Kinabalu, and a much deserved massage. 

Conquering Mount Kinabalu

A trip to Malaysian Borneo is not complete without visiting Mt. Kinabalu. Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage site, is spread over 750 square kilometers and is home to Mt Kinabalu, which at 4095.2 meters,  does not make it on the highest 100 mountains list. Regardless, it is the 5th highest mountain in South East Asia.

My partner, Jeff, and I, hiked Jebel Toubkal in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains previously. We did it by ourselves, albeit with the guidance of friend of ours, Chris Hardy of Intrepid Travel. So when we were researching Mt. Kinabalu, we were a bit annoyed to read that we would need to employ the guidance of a local guide, on top of all of the other fees that were required. We are not at all opposed to paying our way, but considering hiking the mountain is a one way up, same way down kind of affair, markers every 500m complete with shelters, drinking water and flushing toilets, we were trying to figure out a way around it. So we ended up joining with four other hikers, splitting the cost, gaining the necessary permit, and going off on our own.

Beginning the ascent with a descent. 

The hike up is simple. You actually begin by going down, before going up.  The trail is made easy by the markers every 500 meters.

Markers like these are placed at 500m intervals.

The terrain differs from rocky steps, to muddy trails and stairs formed by tree roots. The weather differs also, from bright sun, to light rain, to misty moments. 

Break areas are frequent, making the hike easy for all. At parts there are also railings to hold for grip, which are much more useful on the haul down, rather than than hike up, especially if you weren't prepared and didn't bring hiking poles...

Jeff tries on the porter's wooden backpack containing supplies for Laban Rata.

We reached Laban Rata about 4 hours after commencing the hike at Timphoon Gate. The views from Pendant Hut, which is operated by Mountain Torq, were amazing. At 3272.7 meters, we were above the clouds. 

Above the clouds at Pendant Hut.

 We rested for the night, and then woke at a sprightly 2:30am for the ascent to the summit, in total darkness. Our headlamps came in handy as we followed the wooden stairs and ropes to the top.

We made it!

Three hours after leaving Laban Rata, we reached the summit! We were in time for the sunrise, which didn't come soon enough to defrost our freezing fingers and toes. The sun cast brilliant pinks and purples over the clouds below us. 

During the daylight descent we were able to look back and see clearly the route we had taken up to the peak. As the peak bathed in the sunlight, we made our way to the seven kilometer mark, where we began our Mountain Torq Via Ferrata Low's Peak Circuit, the highest Via Ferrata in the world, which you can read about here.

The descent was quicker, but more challenging. With lactic acid building in the legs, and a yearning to get down to the bottom as soon as possible, the legs were a tad on the shaky side. The intermittent hand railings helped to take the pain away from the knee joints, and also made it easier to 'fall' down the steps, knowing a barrier was there to hold on to. We passed the next lot of hikers making their way to the top, not envious of the descent they would need to make the next day, but jealous of the brilliant sunrise they would soon experience.