Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Best 10

1.Loner, 2. Thumb in the mouth, 3. Boat, 4. Lotus dark, 5. Sairam lake - Violence, 6. Wavy Sands, 7. Four Horse men, 8. Curiosity, 9. Waiting in the rain, 10. One legged

Sunday, July 29, 2007


My wistful and recurring dream of canyoneering turned into reality at Matacanes. State of Neuvo Leon (Mexico) is home for innumerable canyons, for its blessed with Sierra Madre Oriental and Occidental ranges of mountains. Matacanes is one among them with an estimated hiking distance of 11 kilometers consisting two rappels of about 25 meters, leaps as high as 15 meters, a couple of sliding chutes, much swimming and wading in the churning green waters and some descent.

Matacanes is located south west of Monterrey. Take the Cola de Caballo road, off the highway to Tampico after Santiago downtown. Park your cars and get on the truck of Geoaventura, the adventure organizers. It takes another two long and tiring hours of journey on a 4WD truck. The dirt track of the mountain is extremely rugged, rough and risky, a high clearance vehicle is recommended and 4WD is a must. The Sierra Madre unveils her beauty mystically as we drive along the dirt road, the verdant green mountain ranges are are illuminated by the mild morning sunshine. Vivid birds, bugs and butterflies entertained us.We reached the tiny yet pretty town Potrero Redondo. On the outskirts of this town we were given the much awaited breakfast consisting of muffins, oat biscuits, bananas, oranges and juices. We were asked to fill "Thou shalt be responsible for thy death" forms, given helmet, rappelling harness and PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and few energy bars for lunch. Another half hour on a rocky terrain brought us to the place where we started our trek. We trekked for an hour before reaching the first jumping point.

The first jump was a tiny one of about 2 meters, but the interesting thing about it is, it is a "Point of No Return". The first jump leads to the top of the 25 meters waterfall, the Lagunillas Cascade. The sight from the top is an awe-inspiring one. Time to harness up, rope around the bolt anchor, start rappelling down. The guide standing on a platform at about three fourths the height disconnects the rappel and you gotta jump from about 4 meters down into the lake. A 25 meter swim would get t you to the shore. What follows this is an exotic travertine riverbed with fresh cold green waters and beautiful foliage. The river is sandwiched on both sides by humongous mountains giving rise to a picturesque landscape consisting of limestone drippings and shale rocks. There are few tiny jumps and under rock crawls before the canyon narrows down and takes us to the mouth of a gigantic cavernous opening - Matacan de Arriba.

It was time for second rappelling. There are anchor bolts in the middle, right and left of the entrance. Its a 20 meters fall, disconnecting into a pool. The cave that welcomes us with this descent is cold and dark, mostly composed of calcite. The next jump is a unique and a scary one, Jump of Fate, it is called. Imagine standing on a rock, all you see in front is a dark and hollow void and you have to jump into the pitch black nihility. A faint glow of the water fall next to you and its sound are the only beacons to guide. This 3 meters jump was truly a spine chilling one, after which a narrow chute guides you along to a pool lit by faint light of the opening.

After the cave there are a series of interesting jumps of ranging from 1 to 3 meters. We encountered a gigantic rock under which there was a heavy water spirt. Meticulously we crawled and we climbed a high rock. The scene from the top is an unforgettable one, deep bluish green waters churning and roaring its way between two narrow rock walls and the best part was that we had to jump into it. Without a second thought I sprang off the rock, it was the tallest jump till that point. The currents carried me effortlessly and the river became more lull as it flowed. As we slid and jumped and dived and hurled ourselves into the river, we reached the second highest jumping point.

It was a straight 10 meters fall, but the risk was the parallel rocks on the opposite side, the space for jumping was very narrow. It has to be an absolute vertical jump, straight down. Any angle at take off would land you on the rocks ahead with dire consequences. Uno, dos, tres...I was bubbling down the river before even experiencing "in the air" feeling. A few chutes followed that jump and a bigger one was waiting for us.

We reached a platform for the next leap and this was the scariest and most risky one among all. I stood on the platform and gazed below and what the ... Instead of seeing water, my eyes first fell on the huge rock bulging out from where I was standing and water is far ahead. The conversation with the guide was
Should I jump from here?

But I see a ro
ck there
The rock is only in the mind, not there.
I was a bit impressed by what he said. Without much thinking, took a run-up, jumped off the rock, into the water...a perfect landing!!!

To make the chute more exciting, the guides queued us up in files of 5, with legs stretched, the person in the front holding the legs of the one behind him/her. Exciting as it was supposed to be, the flip side, all our noses were clogged with water till the brains. After easing out the annoyance, we trekked a further ahead before we paused. Here the guide said "There are two paths you may take, one for the brave, one for the chickens". He said that to filter out men from boys, for in a few minutes we were encountering the highest jump in the canyon. It was 15 meters tall, risk free, adrenaline generating, courage demanding jump. The currents were not as strong as previous jumps but the height alone was the killer factor. The leap was quick, easy and exciting for me but was still not satiable. I saw the guide doing a more sportive jump on the other side...taking a long run-up and tossing into water. I could not help myself from doing that and it was a cool one...4 steps and toss yourself in the air!!!

The next good jump was a mandatory one before entering the cave. An easy 8 meters jump into a darker place with stronger currents. We waded along the profuse stalagmite walls and overhangs to the mouth of the cave Matacane de Abajo. The guide welcomed us to the cave...
This is the cave of drowned. Three have drowned till now. It is pitch dark and has many vortexes, if you get caught by chance, try to swim to the right!!!

The entrance of the cave had a chute which led to the deep stream. We swam and shortly we could see the faint light of the opening. We were calling out names of each other to make sure we are still not drowned. The cave was dark, narrow, cold and short. The ferns at the end of the cave reflect the light from the outside and gives a greenish glowing feel just before the exit. It looks absolutely marvelous, you feel as though there are green lights underneath. The headroom is very low, of about a foot at the exit. The second cave experience was a memorable one...a mixture of scare, excitement and amazement.

Another stretch of teeny-weeny jumps and chutes followed, after which we see the signs of civilization. We saw few backpackers camping close to the river and finally reached the road on which we trucked during morning.

A truck carried us to back to Hacienda Cola De Caballo hotel, next to which the dinner was arranged. We were so madly hungry that we grabbed tortillas from the oven straight and hogged it. Dinner consisted of sumptuous chicken roast, beans and rice. We engorged till we were full to throat.

If you have a day to spare, 150 dollars, tonnes of stamina, loads of courage, appetite for adventures, fear of heights, desire for risks then Matacanes is the place you gotta hit.

Map of Matacanes (credit: Christopher E. Brennen)
ACA Rating: 3C IV
Hiking time: 8-10 hours
Distance: 11 kilometers
Equipment: Helmet, harness, rope, PFDs, rappelling device

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Limping Leopard

Stability is one of the most important USPs of Mac systems. But I feel sorry to say that their latest cat Leopard is badly wounded and painfully limping.

It all started when a friend of mine offered me a copy of Leopard (Developer Preview version) to try out. I was a lazy goose to backup all my data and install it afresh, I did an upgrade over the strong and steady tiger. This left both the cats in their half-lives, there by making the system annoyingly and irksomely unstable.
The cats started having a death-like sleep. Only a restart could wake the system from sleep, despite fiddling around with pmset and sleep image file.
The time never got updated unless its clicked on.
Most programs crashed.
I decided that its not a great idea to encage both cats in a single cell and decided to knock Tiger off.

Leopard was not agile and fast as expected, though it was an eye candy. Desktop looked a lot nicer. It boasted of Spaces which the Linux X-managers had decades before. But what hit me worst was the incompatibility of programs, even the ones designed by Apple!!!

Aperture worked madly erratic on Leopard. The image in the viewer disappears leaving behind a dashing black patch on screen, many a times it crashes for unknown reasons and software update fails. It gives a Microsofteque error message when it finishes downloading the update "The update could not happen, the file was moved to trash"...err...what file? who moved it to trash?

Blogging or composing could make you go crazy. The text gets garbled into ugly characters as you type more than half the line width. Refreshing does not happen, newly typed characters are not displayed and correcting mistakes is the most tedious task, for you don't know what letter is being deleted.

Firefox crashes when Flashgot is integrated with it and you try to download a file.

Drag and drop a file in Finder, the application mysteriously vanishes and reappears, just like one of those famous explorer crashes.

CDs with slightest scratches will not mount, it pops out with equal enthusiasm as I push it in with.

I only hope the non-developer preview version of Leopard lives up to its name.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Macro - Ain't an easy job

After paying an exorbitant sum (including shipping, import tax) finally I laid my hands on a sexy, black, strongly built Macro lens. For the interested few, its Canon 100mm/F2.8 EF Macro USM. And for the uninitiated it means its a lens meant for taking extreme close-up photographs, with a fixed focal length of 100mm. By the way, it could also be used for portraitures.
What is the big deal about Macro lenses and Macro photography?
The USP of a macro lens is "1:1" reproduction ratio or life size focusing. In other words the smallest object that could be photographed that spans the area of the photograph will be of the same size as that of the sensor. So this allows the lens to focus the subject at extreme proximity (0.31m in this case) to the subject. If you have a detailed look at the lens barrel, you can find markings "1: 1, 1.5..." You get 1x magnification when the focus ring is set to 1:1 (manual focusing). This lens also can be focussed at infinity too and hence it can be used as general purpose lens too.

Being my first encounter with the lens I assumed that it is as easy as shooting with any other lens I had. I was egregiously wrong, macro photography is a very challenging genre. The first herculean task was getting the right focus. Even the minutest movement destroys the focus, a tripod would be of great help. But the bigger problem I faced was subject movement due to breeze. I was trying to shoot a blade of grass with water drop on it and it took nearly 5 trials to get a shot with desired focus, either I moved or the subject moved when I didn't. I was so down and dirty when I was shooting the grass that I felt every inch of my body will suffer from RSI if I shoot more macro.

At such extreme close-up the Depth of Field is very limited and hence the aperture needs to be closed down to a great extent. For such small apertures, your shutter speeds will not be hand holdable which results in many blurred photographs.

But I must confess that the lens is a kick-ass one. It beats the shit out of other lenses when it comes to sharpness and details. Professional macro shooters may feel, I'm a novice after reading all the problems I faced. There is absolutely no doubt about me being novice in macro, so I accept your criticism. Here are first few photographs I clicked:

Man behind lens

It feels good to occasionally appear in front of lens, that too in a candid manner like this one:
Thanks to Loco Var for sharing this one, though its highly photoshopped, I loved the composition and timing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pico Perico

Monterrey is surrounded by numerous mountains, thereby claiming fame to being home to many adventure sports. After half a dozen of visits to Chipinque, we decided to venture into a different hiking project. It was time to explore Pico Perico...Parrot Peak, the second highest in the Cerro de Las Mitras range.

At 6:30 on a pleasant Sunday morning we kick-started our trekking. The trailhead is situated in the residential area and is guarded. Initial stretch was an easy one, rocky pavement wooded on both sides. We maintained normal pace, even though some older men overtook us. After about an hour long gait, we reached stone bed. This is where many relax and return, we relaxed but didn't return. Stone bed gives a glimpse of city below, blocking most of them with woods below.

The trail ahead is a painful one to hike. The loose scree makes the climb terribly difficult - every step you advance, you slip-down two. Its advised to maintain decent distance with the guy ahead, for the slipping stones may slide down and hurt you. We tried taking the edges, which made our life a lot easier. We struggled for about an hour or so when we were done with the screes, we rested our bottoms for a moment and proceeded.

We now were trekking inside the woods, which was a lot cooler, a lot easier than those darned slippery taluses. We walked along the rocky mountain with metal wires for aiding the altophobics. We came to the mouth of the cave, lit up our flashlights and entered. The caves were dark, cold and was composed of stalagmites. I was surprised to see numerous artistic Mexican graffiti inside the cave. There are multiple paths inside the caves, few of them ends leading nowhere, few requires extreme care. A wrong step may end you hurt down and deep in the darkness. Coming out of the cave was like a winter to summer transition within seconds. We found one cave containing water, it it was refreshing to gulp down that ice cold, sweet mountain water. All our tiredness lessened magically after freshening ourselves there..

As we passed on the mountain ridge appreciating the picturesque landscape on one side, we encountered yet another, least anticipated, scree!!! Cursing it wholeheartedly we started the painful ascent. An easy jungly ridge followed and rocky screes again. Keno assured us that it was the final one. What followed that was the most exciting part of the trek. A 10 meters vertical, class-4 rock climb aided by chain. I must confess it was not an extremely difficult one that would fetch me Guinness record or something, but it was the first time I climbed such a thing and I was overly excited about that. Rocks had many cuts and curves which eased the climb.

Some more climb, we reached a flat place which was more like a prelude to the peak. The view was spectacular. Monterrey city on one side, the white shale mountains on the other stretching till eternity.

A final class-4 climb was what we were left with. It was highly stimulating and picturesque than any part, a walk on the thin rock formation with steep falls on both sides. Rocks were cluttered with thorny cactus and other bushes. A wrong step would land you about 200 meter down without any effort and hope. We were on summit finally. For a person like me who cannot afford to hire a chopper for aerial photography, Pico Perico is an alternative option. It gives a breathtaking aerial view of the Monterrey, city on one side, white mountains (La Huasteca) on the other, its neighbours Piloto, Lobos and Apache on east and Piramide and Cuauhtemoc mountains on the west. There is enough place for a couple of tents at apex. Its cluttered with grit and gravel, shrubs and cactus. Many bugs and butterflies inhabit the place. A notebook and pen are kept inside a safe in case you get poetic by the vista.We relaxed, had our breakfast which didn't even reach our stomachs, clicked few photographs and started the descent.

As is the case, descent was scarier, tougher, more slippery, tiring and demanded much more attention and care than ascent. We slowly, like babies descending stairs, climbed down those steep rocks with the aid of hands and butts. Keno taught me an easy way to deal with those treacherous, slippery taluses. Rock skiing he calls it. Just jump over those loose gravels, try to balance and slide down, if you lose balance try to fall back, else you will roll down without much effort but with lots of blood. It worked well and saved much time. Descending along the rocks with chain aid was smooth and fast. My left knee started crying its heart out (twice ligament torn),by the time we were down. By 3:45PM the mission was accomplished, we were at the gates.

A great workout for your calf muscle, a mild adrenaline rush, dark and scary caves, rock climbing thrill, nature watch, nature or aerial photography, top of the world or walk on the clouds experience....all packaged into one...Pico Perico.