Monday, July 25, 2016

Reading a hiking trail for your skill level

The hubs and I just returned from our annual vacation aka hike-a-thon. This time, we went out on a limb to Switzerland to visit the Bernese Oberland. It was GORGEOUS!!!

Ricky on the Eiger Trail

As an event coordinator, it was a scary leap of faith to leave the planning to a tour company to book our hotels and plan our hikes. We were provided a rough topographic map and detailed description of our hike, but we quickly found out this was not enough to prepare us. Hence today's post is about how to read a hiking trail for YOU.


We live in Georgia where what we call mountains are considered small hills to people who live in the Rockies. For example, Arabia Mountain is typically considered a moderate trail.
Distance one way: 1.29 miles
Approx. elevation gain:150 ft

The slightly longer Panther Creek Falls trail is classified as a difficult trail.
Distance one way: 4.71 miles
Approx. elevation gain: 600 ft

Compare these two hikes to a difficult trail out west like Mono Pass in Yosemite:
Distance one way: 3.7 miles
Approx. elevation gain: 900 feet

The average elevation gain of Panther Creek is 127ft per mile while Mono Pass clocks in at 243ft per mile. Both rated as 'difficult', but offering very different experiences.

Once hikes hit the level of difficult to strenuous, it's a crap shoot. Here's a great example two hikes rated as strenuous with very different feels:


Vernal Falls in Yosemite  Iceberg Lake in Glacier
Top of Vernal distance RT: 2.4 miles
Elevation gain: 1000 ft
Iceberg Lake distance RT: 9.7 miles
Elevation gain: 1275 feet

The average elevation gain for to Vernal Falls is 833ft per mile, a drastically different hike than the average elevation gain of 262ft per mile for Iceberg Lake.  What am I getting at here? My point is that you need to look beyond a hike's rating to determine if it's right for you.

Know Your Distance vs Elevation
I lead with those numbers so you understand my thoughts when I say this: hike ratings are meaningless. I don't consider walking 9 miles flat a strenuous hike. I can do distance all day. When you start to sprinkle in some elevation, you have my attention. But that's me! I've gotten moderate hike suggestions from people who causally mention a 2,000ft climb as a small challenge because that is their normal.

The hardest and most critical lesson in hiking is to learn your distance vs elevation max. No one can tell you but yourself. That baseline is critical for knowing what kind of hike you're about to get into.

Find the Elevation Profile
The most important piece of hiking information to me is now the elevation profile that illustrates how steep that climb is and how long it lasts. Topographic maps are another great option, if you have a good one and are skilled at reading it (I'm meh). See for yourself in these two examples from Jagat Jora Jaal.

Topographic map of Half Dome hike

Elevation profile of Half Dome hike

For our last vacation, we had the distance and elevation gain listed on all of our hikes if we didn't take any shortcuts, an okay topographic map, and the amount of time estimated for the hike. It's a start, but not the whole picture. Here's what I mean.  So one day we have great hike with a few small climbs spread out and the next day we're hiking straight up the side of a mountain face when I could have taken the train that's only 20 feet away. Be better than me; demand an elevation profile. 

Know Your Audience
If you can't find any information on a hike before tackling it (a rare event in the internet age), take a moment to reflect on who is providing you the information. Us Georgia folks are not use to mountains. Our trail ratings reflect that with almost any elevation gain on a trail earning it at least a moderate rating. I saw children running up mountains in Switzerland that I struggled to crawl up. Locals compare to what they know so its your job to scale a local's perspective to your experience. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Light it up! - Color changing wig flower for Princess Serenity

Blogging has taken a back-seat to cosplay construction this spring. I have a lofty goal of completing my Princesss Serenity cosplay (that fully lights up) by July 1. I'm a few days from goal and feeling on-track enough to take a break to blog a bit about it.

I hope to cover all aspects of this dress creation, but for now I'm starting with the simplest part. Sailor Moon's Princess Serenity often has a flower in her hair in manga and fan art. I wanted lots of lights and saw the flower as another opportunity.

Project Materials used:
Supplies needed:
  • Alligator clips
  • Soldering iron
  • Solder
  • Vice
  • Wire cutter
  • Wire stripper

New to electronics? I got my gear from Adafruit in Ladyada's Electronics Toolkit. Gave me everything I need for a great price.

The Build
Essentially, I sewed a neopixel attached to a Gemma into a flower. I'm not an electronics expert so I'm going to drop yet another link back to Adafruit. To learn all about neopixels, read their full guide.

I started by hooking up my gemma and neopixel via clips to work out the coding on the lights.

Wires everywhere! The neopixel hooked up to the gemma.

There's plenty of resource code in the Arduino library for color changing. I had to work out (with the help of my computer science husband) what colors I wanted to cycle and how fast to cycle them. I went with a six color rotation: blue, pink, purple, green, orange, white. Each color stays for around 5-7 second before taking another 5 seconds to shift to the next color.

The colors and timing is completely by feel. I spent around an hour tweaking both until I had a combination that I liked. I wanted it to shift fast enough that someone passing by would see the change, but slow enough that it doesn't look like a rave on my head. 

Flower color and placement testing.

Next, I started to sew/pin things into place. I knew I wanted the gemma on an outside petal so I could easily turn it on/off. The neopixel placement required more finesse. It can't go directly in the middle and shot out as that would just blind people. I conclude to put it towards the 'bottom' of the flower and shoot up through the petals. I sewed and cut the inside petals into better positions for the light. 

With positions marked, I took it all apart to solder the neopixel and gemma together. I ran the wire from my marked positions to get an idea for length, then added an inch. I don't want the wire too tight; I want it to flow.  

Flower with neopixel sewn in and gemma outside. Those are the thin, flexible wires from Adafruit.

The perk of using gemma and neopixels is that they are made for wearables, so you have these large pads you can sew though. I sewed the gemma and neopixel into place using the holes I did not solder. 

Gemma - sewable and small!

The gemma unit is on the 'top' of the flower. To hold down the petal hiding it, I used a small strip of velcro. The neopixel sits on the bottom of the flower. The wire to the pixel is all white so I can run it through the flower petals without bring attention to it. It meant for keeping careful track of things when soldering!

Wig Attachment

I feel like it's cheating on a Usagi wig as I knew I had buns that I could wrap the unit around. Another cheat was a lot of fan art with pearls wrapped around the buns. My theory was to make the flower a chain in a bracelet. I would hide a side release buckle behind smaller flowers to allow the unit to clip around the bun. 

The hair bracelet is embroidery floss with pearls and two small pink flowers, each near the larger white flower. One of the pink flowers hides the buckle I use to snap it in place.

My original plan was to make the battery unit a part of the bracelet with more flowers hiding it. However, I underestimated the weight of the coin batteries and had to make it a separate piece (but still attached because of wires and power - duh!)

I glued two more pink flowers on the top of coin battery pack to disguise it, then did a sew/glue combo on the bottom to attach a hair clip. The batteries now clip into my hair as extra decoration.

From the back, battery pack  helps to hide my natural hair color while powering the flower. 
The final result is a hairpiece that is sure to light up the night!