Sunday, 1 February 2015

Joining the ranks of those smeared by Luboŝ Motl

Through an interaction on the Physics Stack Exchange, I got the honour of a blog post by Luboŝ Motl.  I had never heard of the guy, but I have since realised he is somewhat known.  He has articles about him on Rationalwiki, Wikipedia, Skeptical Science, and Sourcewatch.  Long ago he wrote a clever paper on string theory.  Harvard was impressed and took him in, but he didn't stay there.

His personal attack puts me in good company:

I read he occasionally has the tendency to remove replies, so I am adding a copy of my replies to his post here.

My first reply to his post:

Hello there! Thank you for this amusing post. I feel honoured that you went to check out my (15 year old) home page and my (not so old) PhD thesis for discussion material. At least you're not misquoting me in that part, like you do where you attribute particular scientific views to me in your first paragraphs.

I didn't realise until now that I didn't get my PhD thesis for scientific contributions, but for my political activism. That's why I had to show my socialist party membership card at my defence, of course¹! And somehow I must have misunderstood my colleague scientists whenever we were discussing politics over coffee or lunch. Clearly we all agreed, for if politics are not approved by the Party, Greenpeace, Ted Kaczynski, and the pleasant postgenderists of Deep Green Resistance, one will never get succesfully passed the panel during a PhD defence.

And oh, the crime of linking to other people's work in the introduction of my thesis! "A bogus ecological paper" (better known as the 4th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) indeed compiles a vast body of science attributing climate change to human activities. I do apologise for not replicating all this science, but being a parrot and accepting the main conclusions as they are. After all, citing other papers implies the inability to think critically and independently. By the way, did you use "ecological" as an insult here?

And clearly, modelling the climate is very simple. More uniform surface temperatures, less extreme precipitation. That's why we don't see intense rainfall in the tropics, because temperatures are relatively constant there. Clearly, a more uniform global temperature means we can finally use those classroom models with an isothermal atmosphere. Great! See also

I look forward to our next focussed discussion on elements of physics of the climate system. Perhaps you would like to contribute to the Earth Science Stack Exchange <>? It might be contaminated by "dishonest left-wing extremists" already, join before it's too late!

best regards,
Gerrit Holl.

¹One friend who did his PhD in southern Germany had to declare he had never been a member of the Communist Party, in order to get admitted as a PhD candidate. I guess this university cannot possibly produce climate scientists?

To this, Motl replied:

The problem isn't that someone who is a communist or a socialist or environmentalist activist or another crap like this gets a PhD in a scientific discipline.

The problem is that PhDs in your discipline are being distributed for these political attitudes - which also means that no one *else* can get it.

That's why your degree is just a joke and I certainly don't recognize it.

I was going to let this one slide, but then a friend asked him to back up this claim with evidence.  After some back and forth he ended up replying with an essay by the well-known anthropogenic global warming denier Lindzen (Wikipedia).  That was his first contribution that did not contain any personal attacks — and Lindzen is somewhat more polite than Motl (who is personally acknowledged in Lindzens essay), so I decided to post my opinion on Lindzens essay:

Thank you for the reference. Indeed an interesting article, which I would call a mixture of a personal essay and a collection of anecdotes. I have read the main part, but not the appendices. Some comments.

Firstly, the main allegation that you cite from it (that climate scientists are hired for their political allegation) is not supported by statistical evidence. Statisticas evidence which would be a statistically representative survey of political preferences by climate scientists, compared to political preferences by other scientists, and by the general public. Then one could calculate the statistical significance of the difference. Instead, Lindzens paper rather cites a few examples of climate scientists who are also active in the environmental movement. It automatically assumes that they then got their scientific position because of their environmental activism. It does not address at least two other possible explanations: (1) They became environmentally active because of their scientific findings, or (2) They chose to research climate science because they were worried about the environment. The paper ignores climate scientists who hold conservative points of view — personally, I know quite a few of those, but I have not made a study out of it.

Lindzen also claims that "corrections" (to models or measurements) are always in the desired direction. His evidence, again, does not hold up. He presents a number of _examples_ where indeed, there was a correction in the direction he describes. He ignores the fact that there are also many examples where data were corrected in the opposite direction. Again, evidence for such a claim would require a representative sample of all climate science, to establish statistical significance. A collection of anecdotes (sometimes referred to as "cherry-picking") illustrates only that such corrections exist (and he does admit that those are "probably legitimate corrections"), not that they prevail over other corrections.

Then he cites his experience that his papers are criticised. This is true, but hardly evidence for his claims that "attempts to deal with the science of climate change objectively have been largely forced to conceal such truths". It shows that his papers are controversial (note that I am /not/ claiming that it shows that his papers are wrong. I'm personally an observer. I might contribute to work affecting the historical satellite data record. In either direction.). If a paper is controversial, I find it reasonable to expect others to read not only the original paper, but also the responses and the replies to the responses. Whether it's Lindzen, Svensmark, or one of the other scientists who posits that substantial evidence for (anthropogenic) global warming remains to be seen.

P.S. It might make for a more pleasant discussion if the tone of your contributions had the same civility as the tone of Lindzens contributions.

I know I've wasted too much time on this already, but the more I find out about Luboš Motl, the more proud I am to be honoured on his blog ;-)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

5 September: Spectacular Jonas Shoulder and an accident at Jonas Creek

I wake up to a beautiful morning at the Waterfalls campground.  I head off along the trail, through a beautiful forest with frequent views to the increasingly spectacular mountains.  Soon I pass by an old warden cabin.  Halfway to the Jonas Cutoff campground I meet a group of hikers heading the other way.  Another day during which I'm not alone...

After a break at Jonas Cutoff I head up on the steep slope to Jonas Shoulder.  Soon I leave the forest and the landscape becomes open.  The view back toward Le Grand Brazeau with Poboktan Mountain becomes increasingly impressive.

One observation that really strikes me in the Canadian Rockies is how close the vegetation line is above the treeline.  The treeline appears to be at some 2200 metre, similar to in the Alps.  But already at 2400 metre, there is no vegetation growth of any kind.  The alpine tundra zone appears to be very narrow.  I wonder why that is.

The last section to Jonas Shoulder is on a trail through the small stones, what the Swiss might call "Verdammte schießhufe", except the trails here are easier than in the Alps.  When I finally reach Jonas Shoulder, I am overwhelmed by the spectacular view.  For many kilometres, the Jonas Pass valley is above the treeline, with hanging glaciers dropping dozens of streams that collect to the (doomed) Jonas Creek several hundred metres below me.  And with such a great day.  Today I have decided that I will secretly do random camping in the Jonas Pass area.  I didn't want to stop already at Jonas Cutoff — too early — and it's too far to continue all the way to Four Point.  I practice leave no trace ethics, so I believe it should be fine.

From Jonas Shoulder, I've seen a nice little lake just on the other side of Jonas Creek.  It's off the trail but I think it should be fine to go there.  The NTS map has the trail crossing Jonas Creek and then heading up to Jonas Pass on its left bank, but this appears in disagreement with the actual landscape.  After having descended the steepest part I head off the trail toward Jonas Creek.

Jonas Creek is a medium-sized creek.  Should be possible to step from stone to stone to cross it, I've done many creeks like this in Sápmi.  No problem.  One step into the river.  Good.  My shoes are still watertight, they're relatively new, this is in fact the first major hike I use them for, having bought them in Norrköping.  Next step.  Just a few steps and I'm across.

When I'm in the middle of the creek, I step on a stone and my foot slips.  A second later I find myself lying in the stream.  Or rather, my backpack is lying in the stream and I am lying on top of it, relatively dry.  As soon as I can I take the backpack off and rise.  Then I notice that my photo camera is lying in the water and my GPS-receiver is floating down the stream.  I quickly grab my photo camera — completely soaked — while I run with my backpack to the shore, no longer caring about wet feet.  Then I run down along the water hoping to retrieve my GPS-receiver.  It was actually floating.  After a little while I notice it lying on a stone, turning as a thin layer of water is flowing below it.  Miraculously, it is still working.

The same can not be said for the camera.  Trying to switch it on or off results in scary noises.  I can see nothing through the viewfinder.  The lense is completely fogged up.  There is water in the system.  Everywhere.

Is it fixable?  I don't know.  I can only hope.  For now, all I can do is proceed.  It's still a sunny afternoon, I hang my camera outside.  The following days I do the same.  After a while the viewfinder is no longer fogged up.  Maybe it's going to be allright...

Thursday, 30 October 2014

4 September: Through Maligne Pass

This is the first morning I have for myself, and after the long day yesterday I decide to wake up late.  I take my food from the bearhang and cook my breakfast.  It's another beautiful day.  Maybe my first day without meeting people?

From the campground, I soon leave the forest and enter the alpine Tundra around Maligne Valley.  The lake and the mountains above remind me of Sápmi.  Even the sound of the birds does.  The trail is too large, though, to be a Sápmi one, except if it were at Kungsleden.  The trail is also too easy.  But the landscape here is really similar.

The backpack is still heavier than it's been in Sápmi.  In one way it is wilder here: there are bears and other animals who can be dangerous to humans.  That's why I have two bear boxes.  This makes my backpack heavy and very large indeed.

I take a break near the lake and then continue toward the passs.  An old woman hikes in the opposite direction.  “You're not a bear!”, she says.  That I can agree with.  I didn't expect to meet another hiker.  She is the third person I see on the 35 km since I've been on this trail.  It's not an empty trail at all.  It's the second time in my life that someone accuses me of not being a bear.  The previous time was several years ago, near Máttaráhkká.  Then I approached a woman picking berries.

The woman I meet now is 72 years old.  She has done the Jonas Pass loop and the Skyline trail, so now she has to connect the two, she explains.  Impressive to be still backpacking at this age.  Solo.

Hiking down from the pass, I soon enter the forest again.  Why is the forest shortly before the treeline in North America and the Alps dominated by coniferous trees, but in Sápmi dominated by birches?  Either way, the forest is still green here.  The larches/tamaracks have not yet started changing colour.

I meet two more people a bit further on, Polish girls.

The forest gets denser down to Poboktan.  Now I reach the intersection with the Poboktan creek trail.  The “Don't waste your time” guidebook describes this part as boring forest, “no matter what spin-doctoring biologists tell you”.  It's not the first time I disagree with this guidebook, that seems to be negative about most places I'm hiking.  And this is a nasty way to talk about biologists.

Originally I planned to stop today at the Poboktan campground, but it's a boring place.  Although I'm already tired I decide to continue to Waterfalls anyway.  Up through the forest and increasingly tiresome, but it's rewarded.  Again a day longer than I had planned, but the campground at the end is very pretty.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

3 September. Through Maligne Valley

In the morning I saw goodbye to the Swiss through-hiker.  He tells me again: you will be miserable.  What a prospect.

Turns out to be great.  The trail alternately leads through the forest and through meadows.  Sure, the meadows are somewhat overgrown, but it is still easy to follow the trail.  I've seen far worse trails in both Norway and Sweden, and even in Switzerland.  It's a sunny day and I don't get wet from the vegetation at all.  Where the trail leads through the forest it's even easier to follow, although there are some places where deadfall has blocked the trail.

Around lunch-time I reach the spot where the trail crosses Maligne River.  As warned by the Swiss hiker, the bridge is gone.  No problem, I will ford it.  I've seen worse.  Much worse.  I take out my sandals and my fording pole, and put my boots back in.  The size of the backpack — that has more volume than it ever had, due to the two bear proof food containers — makes this a challenge, but I finally figure it out.  Carefully I cross the gently flowing river.  It is approximately knee deep at deepest.  A serious ford but nothing problematic.

I eat my lunch on the other side and decide to try the satellite phone's calling function.  Until now I've sent one text message and one e-mail to Catherine, but we should have tested it before I departed.  We didn't.  I called her earlier to day but she didn't answer, so I try again now.  This time she answered.  Catherine is in France so I need to consider the 8 hour time difference between Jasper and Amiens.  She received my text message.  I did not receive hers, but it's OK.  It is great to hear her voice and to know my text message arrived.  I promise to send her another message tomorrow and hang up.

My plan to make todays hike less long than the hikes of the previous two days fails.  I considered to stop at the Mary Schäfer campground, but somehow manage to miss it completely.  The next campground is hours further.  There are plenty of meadows.  It is a great hike, not at all miserable as the Swiss hiker warned for.  He also said that, unless in emergencies, it's not possible to camp outside the campground.  I disagree, the meadows look great.

I stop at a meadow as nature calls.  As park regulations prescribe, I have a trowel to bury my poo.  I hike into the bushes, put my shovel into the ground, rotate the handle.  And now I'm holding only the handle.  So much for plastic.

Having a short hike going only to Mary Schäfer didn't work.  The next campground is marked in the guidebooks as Old Horse Campground.  I thought it would be an "ordinary" campground named Old Horse, but it is in fact very very limited in scope.  It's only 3 km to the next campground, Mary Vaux, so I decide to continue.  I'm very tired by now and promise myself not to make such long days anymore.  I got up at 7:00.  I finish hiking at 19:00.  And my backpack is still very, very heavy.

At Mary Vaux

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

2 September: From the busy Skyline to the quiet Maligne Valley

Waking up at the Curator Campground, it is wet and cool.  There is some rainfall turning into wet snow.  I am among the first to get up, but by the time I'm eating my breakfast the picknick tables are full of people preparing their morning meal.  People are discussing their plans.  They don't like the weather and decide to head down to the valley.  I don't.

Soon after people have started hiking, the weather clears up and remains sunny and dry for the next hours.  Through the fresh snow, I climb up to Big Shovel Pass, then down through the meadows to Little Shovel Pass.  It is a beatiful day with a beautiful landscape, and great white powder on the mountains.  The snow has melted by lunchtime, as it should at this time of the year.  The weather is still well-behaved.

Big Shovel Pass

Curator Mountain

Near Little Shovel Pass

Mono Lake
After Little Shovel Pass the trail starts to descend.  It is still a very good trail, and I still meet many people, around 30 per day.  As I get closer to the Maligne Lake trailhead, the trail gets even larger, as I pass smaller sights and am close enough to the road for day trip people.  Soon after Mono Lake I reach the trailhead, and, after a short break, I head straight onto the Maligne Valley trail.  From here it's 33 km to the Maligne Pass.

From here, the trail is small.  It has been officially decommissioned.  When I first learned that, I was worried.  Would I still be allowed to hike here?  Turns out that I am.  But the caveat: bridges may be out.  Bear poles may have fallen down.  Deadfall will not be cleared.  Trail might be overgrown.  And the person at the phone said I would almost certainly be alone here.

Within 5 minutes I meet a Japanese tourist.  He tried to hike to the first campground and back, but didn't find it.  Oops.

Indeed, the trail is smaller.  Much smaller.  It is still easy to follow, though.

I have a waypoint at the Trapper Creek campground, where I will spend the night.  The waypoints from Dustin Lynx's book on the Great Divide Trail are useful, although I've had to reprogram them all, as when I finally finished to enter the 40 or so waypoints, I noticed I entered them using the wrong datum.  Oops.  Now the datum is corrected.  Yet when I arrive at the waypoint, there is nothing.  Not a trace of a former campground either.

I put down my backpack and start hiking forward.  The Japanese tourist didn't find the campground.  Will I?  I follow the Trapper Creek down.   I'm more than a hundred metre beyond the waypoint now.  I decide I will hike until the bridge, then give up and camp randomly.  This is not recommended, but as this trail has been decommisioned, it is permitted now.

Walking across the bridge, I notice a tent.  So much for being on my own here.  I fetch my backpack and head to the campground.  A lone bearded man is sitting in front of his MSR tent.  He introduces himself as Roland from Switzerland.  He is 70 years old and has been hiking for 2 months so far, from the Canadian border.  He hikes from south to north.  I hike from north to south.  So, we exchange or experiences.

He tells me that the next days, I will be miserable.  I will get soaked due to the overgrown and poorly maintained trail, and have to keep watching the ground in order not to miss it.  And later, he says, it will get worse; he shows me on the map the segment between Pinto Lake and Nigel Pass.  “There is no trail,” he says.  “I searched for the trail for five hours, but I gave up.  I met two other hikers who did hike it all the way, but it took them two days because of all the fallen trees.  It is up to you, but it may be best to hike out at Nigel Pass, hitch-hike to the Sunset Pass trailhead, and hike in to Pinto Lake, then continue from there to Saskatchewan River Crossing.”.  I ask him what his final destination is, if he's heading all the way to the Kakwa Lake provincial park.  That's a solid 200 km hiking from Jasper.  He says that due to the lack of resupply points, he will finish at Jasper; he blames it on his high age.  And then he will head east to do another month of hiking there, before returning to Switzerland.  Impressive.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

First day of hiking

1 September: Skyline day 1.  Maligne Canyon - Curator

I'm the first to get up in the fully booked wilderness hostel, with the alarm clock ringing at 6:30.  The hostel consists of a number of small different buildings.  A seperate one for the kitchen, two for sleeping, and two outhouses.  I cook and eat my breakfast in the main building.  The old MCR 221 Jasper National Park map is on the wall.  It's out of print and too large for a custom print at Everywhere Maps&Globes, so I didn't acquire it.  I only have the Banff one, MCR 220.

It's 8:00 when I head off on my hike.  After a kilometre or so I reach the Skyline trailhead.  The northern 8 km or so is a dull fireroad.  According to the opiniated guidebook "Don't waste your time in the Canadian rockies", one "must be crazy" to start on this end.  As I'm hiking up the fire road with my heavy backpack, I meet numerous other hikers, apparently coming down from the Signal campground just on top.  Many are Chinese.  One Chinese lady has an Arcteryx coat, and on top of that a transparent plastic raincoat.  Because, imagine if the beautiful Arcterix raingear gets wet!

View north from Signal Campground to the Athabasca Valley
 From Signal Mountain the trail branches off the fire road and soon reaches above the treeline.  Views are nice.

Trail to Tekarra Campground
 After the Tekarra Campground the trail heads up above the treeline again.  The campgrounds are all located in the forest.

Tekarra Mountain
 After Tekarra Campground, the trail heads up and passes over a ridge for several kilometres, before reaching The Notch.  Before I head up I take a break at a small creek.  As I take off my backpack, I notice that my raincover is gone.  I only brought my small raincover, because I couldn't find my large one.  The wind must have blown it off.

Near The Notch

 My destination for today lies over The Notch.  The Curator Campground.  Two other people are heading there from the same trailhead today, so during the day I often pass by them, and then they pass by me again, etc.  I also meet dozens of other hikers along the trail.  Camping is strictly on campgrounds only, and to get a spot on a campground requires early reservations.  I made my reservation three months before and got a spot — all campgrounds along the trail are fully booked.

Curator Lake

Camping at Curator Campground.  First night camping in The Rockies and first night in my Hilleberg Akto.
After a steep descend from The Notch I reach the Curator Campground.  I'm almost the last to arrive, but there is still a quite nice spot available, relatively secluded.  The campground has seven sites and there are around 15 people in total.  It has a small pit toilet, two picknick tables, and a system for hanging  food safe from bears.  That is going to be the pattern for the next week — although I will have company in the night for only one more night.  Fortunately.

Hanging food

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Canadian Rockies, part 1: train journey

An e-mail from VIA Rail the morning of departure:

Please note that train 1 will now leave at 01:30 AM from Toronto which is 3h30 hours later than originally scheduled. 

 Ah well.  Gives me some extra time to prepare.  Preparation for the trip has been hectic, because my return from Iowa City was delayed from Monday night to Wednesday morning — that's a 36 hour delay right there, on a 1000 km flight.  So the 3½ extra hours to prepare for the Rockies is not so bad.

Although the train starts in Toronto, we cannot enter the train early to sleep.  We'll have to wait.

Around midnight I take the subway downtown.  I need to check my luggage on the train — a suitcase and a backpack — and wait for the boarding calls.  The Canadian way.  While waiting, we don't sit at the platform, but in the hall below.  It seems very empty, only later I realise that by the route I took from the subway, I somehow bypassed the main hall and don't see where most people are sitting.  More waiting.  Finally, a bit after 01:30, the general boarding call is issues.  Up to the platform and down to the very end of the very long train.

The sleeping car attendent awaits us and shows us where to go.  My upper berth is what is technically called a section.  During the night, it is a longitudinal bed separated from the corridor by a curtain.  The lower berth (which is empty) has a window.  The upper berth does not.  During the day it converts to a seat.  My home for the next 67 hours.

I ask the sleepin car attendent why we are so late.  The answer is simple.  Freight traffic.  The train came in to Toronto 10 hours late, and departs it 4 hours late.  OK.

The sleeping car ticket includes three meals per day and unlimited snacks in the lounge and activity cars.  Breakfast is served from 6:30 to 8:30.  Having boarded at 02:00, I'll miss the first breakfast.

I wake up at around 09:00 and get out to see where we are.  Sudbury Junction.  The delay is not getting any less.  For breakfast I take muffins and fruits in the observation car, where I spend most of my time.  We're in the boreal forest now, and will be so for at least another 24 hours.  I used to think the Swedish forest was empty.  And I used to think the Swedish train had tiny stops.  Some of these stops make Sjisjka seem major.

Ruel central station.  A typical Northern Ontario stop.
The train is slow and waits frequently.  The landscape is similar to Sweden, but emptier, with less forestry and considerably less cottages.  Trees, trees, rocks, lakes, trees, and more trees.  Feels like we're in the far north, yet we're only at around 50°.  My stay in the observation car is interrupted only for lunch and dinner, which are called in two sittings.  I end up in the early sitting, but it's slow food, so we don't actually start eating until more than half an hour after we arrive in the dining car.  The time is spent talking to other travellers.  Most are above 65.

The train has frequent and long stops to wait for very long and very slow freight trains.  I count more than 250 containers on some.  Most of it is grain from the prairies.  By following on the map where we are, comparing with the timetable, and being awed by the emptiness of the land, I thoroughly enjoy my day.

Second morning, Saturday 30 August.  Sioux Lookout.  That means we're 7 hours late now.  Still deep in the boreal forest.  By now I've been longer on this train than I've ever been on any (but it's not, and won't become, my longest train journey — that's still Kiruna-Ronda + 1½ day delay, although it is my longest scheduled train journey), and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.  Today we will leave the forest!

More lakes and hills, some steep enough so the track goes through a tunnel:

Between the stations we seem to make up time by going fast, but only to be stopped for 45 minutes waiting for another freight train.

Another small stop, Redditt, not to be confused with a popular internet forum:

And then, suddenly, around lunch time, we leave the forest.  For the past 36 hours we have seen only trees and lakes.  Not a single field, not even the tiniest patch of an odd fellow trying agriculture as far north as 50°.  And then, suddenly, just after leaving Ontario and entering Manitoba, we're on the prairies.  When you leave the shield, you leave the shield.

We have a 5 hour scheduled stop in Winnipeg.  It becomes much less, which means the delay is a bit shortened, but there is still time to explore the area around the train station a bit.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Bridge over Red River, Winnipeg

The Forks National Historic Site

And then we're off again, for the next segment: the prairies.  It's almost evening.  The prairies are a lot more interesting than I thought.  Just as it gets dark we leave Manitoba and enter Saskatchewan.

And I prepare for my 3rd night on the train.  We left Winnipeg with only a 3 hour delay, but now we're on 5 hours again.  And the next morning it will be 7.

Sunday.  Today we're supposed to arrive to Jasper by 13:00, but it's clear we're going to be nowhere near to making that.  Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta, too, look nicer than I'd thought.

In a curve, one can easily photograph the front of the train from the rear.

While we stop in Edmonton — the last major stop before my final destination — I receive a text message from the manager of the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Hostel where I have booked lodging for tonight.  My last-minute parcel (a Garcia Machine Backpacker's Cache Bear Resistent Food Container) has arrived and he picked it up for me and took it to the hostel.  Great service!

Not long after leaving Edmonton, we finally see the Rockies.  Now the ride gets really scenic.  I'm almost there.

Just after 19:00 MDT we arrive to Jasper, a little over 6 hours late and just a little bit too late for the visitor centre.  I wanted to visit it before heading off on my trip, but it'll have to be without.  Not completely as one should, but I have a long day tomorrow, and I don't want to mess up my schedule.  I had a great, great railway journey.  Now I'm in the mountains.  Now I want to hike.