November 2011

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Trip Date: Oct 2, 2010

Participants: Max Bitel, David Carne, Jeff Ross, Geoff Zenger (reporter)

Difficulty: 4.  Mostly sustained 3rd class with exposure, but with a couple of 4th class steps that many people would want a rope to safely ascend.  It is harder than most of the “difficult” scrambles in Matt Gunn’s book, and it is recommended that you complete many of them, or have an outdoor rock climbing background, before attempting this route.  If you follow the slabs direct to the summit instead of exiting at the end of the couloir, then there is substantial 4th class on the route.

Report: For this blog’s first trip report, I’ve decided to post a trip report from the vault, so to speak, from one of my favourite scrambles of the past few years.  Max and I would return with Saravie and Brittany the following year to repeat the ascent, with some route modifications.

Max and I had talked about climbing the Crater Slabs route on Crown for at least a year prior to our ascent, but each time we had planned on climbing it the weather turned and our trip had to be cancelled. Lucky for us, after a miserable September, early October brought a few days of sun to dry out the slabs so we quickly arranged to attempt the route.

I awoke Saturday morning to a grey sky of low overcast and a call from David to inform me that my ride to the base of Grouse would be late. David, Max, and I ended up not arriving at the base of the grind until nearly 8:30, by which point Jeff had been waiting for us for a full half hour. We were unsure of whether it would be better to approach the crater slabs from Lynn / Hanes valley or from Grouse, but we decided on the Grouse approach after a friend told us that a couple weeks earlier he had some difficulties crossing Lynn creek. Another concern was that although the day was forecast to be dry and it had been dry all week in the city, online satellite precipitation maps showed that it had been raining lightly during the night in the vicinity of Crown mountain. It would turn out that there is little foliage in the couloir or on the slabs, and so although the forest was wet, by mid-day the rock was bone dry.

Upon seeing the crowds at the base of the grind and the BCMC trail and figuring that we had no reason to rush, we started up the grind and headed for one of the trails that leads directly up to Dam mountain in order to avoid the crowds. We reached the peak of Dam around 11:15 and took a break to eat lunch. Soon after beginning the descent from Dam to Crown pass, we encountered a group of German hikers who thought that there were bears on the ridge to Goat, and we were advised to not proceed. Not seeing any signs of bears, we ignored their advice and proceeded down to Crown pass and into Hanes valley. As we began the descent, the clouds finally cleared and gave way to sun, leaving us with perfect scrambling conditions.

While descending into Hanes valley it looked like it might be possible to avoid descending all the way down until the talus slope that descends from Crown pass intersects the one coming down the valley from the summit of Crown by traversing the slopes at the base of the rock wall on the left. Not sure of whether the traverse was feasible or not, Jeff, Max, and I sat down as David went on a scouting mission to investigate. Some ten minutes later we could hear the words “go down” echo through the valley and we got up to head down to where the two talus slopes intersected. Not knowing what happened to David and apparently no longer in vocal communication range with him, we waited at the bottom for him, and were finally ready to begin our ascent of Crown from deep in Hanes valley at about 1:30.

To reach the Crater Slabs, you ascend the slope from Hanes valley leading towards the summit of Crown, always following the left-hand wall. After 20 or so minutes of ascending from the valley bottom, we reached the beginning of the Crater Slabs route proper, where the route starts up a narrow rock gully with a small creek running through it. Until this point, the route is a straightforward hike, but from this point onwards the route steepens significantly, and although the gully is mostly 3rd class, there are a number of class 4 sections that many people would be uncomfortable ascending without a belay (especially when wet). The rock is generally of good quality, although friable in places. The most difficult step of the gulley is right at its end, where there is a short near-vertical wall that needs to be ascended to reach the main slabs. Once the slabs are reached, downclimbing the route to retreat would be significantly more difficult than continuing upwards.

Our original intent had been to follow the main couloir most of the way up, and to traverse right out of the couloir onto a bushy ledge, and to ascend from there straight up to the summit of Crown. However, we missed our turn off from the main couloir, and ascended it all the way to the top, where it connects with the regular Crown hiking trail about a hundred feet below the summit. This is fairly easy, although near the top there is a lot of loose rock, including some larger boulders. Our only scare of the day happened when a large boulder was sent down the couloir and sent an avalanche of rocks down the gully between where Max and I were climbing. Another feasible option would be to traverse out of the main couloir to the lower angle slabs below the Camel and to approach the summit of Crown from the base of the Camel. All of these variations are quite similar in exposure and angle, and any one will provide for a great day of scrambling. From the base of the gully at the top of Hanes Valley to the summit of Crown via the Crater Slabs took about an hour and a half.

We reached the top of Crown sometime between 3:15 and 3:30, where we found sizeable crowd of hikers eager to learn about the route that they had watched us ascend. We left the summit around 4:30 and hiked down to the gondola in beautiful light and cool, crisp autumn air, arriving at the chalet just as the sun set, a bit before 7pm. With its long line of enjoyable scrambling and its proximity to the city, this route is highly recommended.

Verdict: 3/3.  A must do for the experienced coastal scrambler


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Calling Out For You!

Although I’ve watched the Swedish TV adaptations of Steig Larsson’s books, reading Calling Out For You! (note the exclamation!) by Karin Fossum was my first foray into the so-called New Wave of Scandinavian Crime Fiction.  The story of Jomann, a lonely middle-aged man who travels to India to find a bride, and two investigators, Skarre and Sejer, who are tasked with finding the perpetrator of the bride’s brutal murder on her arrival in Norway, it is a tale of sinister greys.

Vividly conjuring an image of small town Norway, where everyone knows everyone, everyone knows something, and nobody wants to admit to knowing anything.  Without any apparent motive, the crime serves as the object through which Fossum is able to reveal the inner beings of the townspeople, each of whom turns out to be a deeply flawed witness.  Atmospheric and with an undertone of malice throughout, the book is a page turner from beginning to end as Fossum expertly elucidates a crime where unlike those on North American TV, in the end no explanation may be possible.

Verdict: 4.5/5

ISBN: 978-0099474661

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A Death In Belmont

The titular act in Sebastian Junger‘s A Death in Belmont is the 1963 rape and murder of Bessie Goldberg in Belmont, a quiet, white suburb of Boston.  There was no sign of forced entry and within a couple of days of the murder, the police arrested Roy Smith, a career petty criminal who had been hired to clean the Goldberg’s house on the day of the murder.  Tried on purely circumstantial evidence, Smith was convicted of murder, yet acquitted of rape, thus sparing him the death penalty, but still sending him to prison for life.  Later in life he became a cause celebre amongst many people, who lobbied aggressively for his commutation, arguing that had he been white, he never would have even been arrested.

Meanwhile, from 1962 to 1964, Boston was terrorized by the infamous Boston Strangler, and although the Goldberg murder fit the pattern of the Strangler, Smith was quickly ruled out as being the Strangler seeing as he had been imprisoned at the time of many of the attacks.  However, in early 1964, a victim identified the Strangler as Albert DeSalvo, and on his arrest, he confessed to being the Strangler, although his descriptions of the attacks contained flaws and doubts have always remained as to whether he was in fact the real Boston Strangler.  Fascinatingly, DeSalvo was once a contractor for Junger’s family, and at one point cornered Junger’s mother in their house, only to be deterred when Junger’s mother claimed that her husband was in the next room.  Thus Junger grew up knowing that the Boston Strangler had almost had his mother as well.

Junger does an excellent job at bringing to life the early 60s and vividly demonstrating how the dogmas and prejudices of the time shaped the investigation and prosecution of Smith and DeSalvo.  Through clear and crisp prose, he investigates whether it was indeed likely that Smith was not the real killer of Goldberg, and whether there is in fact reasonable doubt that DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler.  In the end, all he can conclude is that in the age before DNA testing, it was extremely hard for a case to be black and white, and that both individuals there is both strong evidence that they did in fact perform the crimes for which they were convicted as well as compelling reasons to doubt their guilt.

Verdict: 4/5

ISBN: 0393059804


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Chuck Palahniuk is well known due to the success of the movie rendition of his first novel, ‘Fight Club’, as well as his prolific output in the decade and a half since the publication of that book, but until this week I had never actually read any of his work.

Pygmy is an unusual book, both in style and content.  Written in Cold War movie villain dialect Engrish (“Fellow operatives already pass immigration control, exit through secure doors and to embrace own other host family people”), it is the tale of a young boy known as “Pygmy” who travels to live as an exchange student in America.  In America he is to carry out acts of terrorism, such as constructing a nefarious science fair project and spreading his “seed” into the seed vesicles of the mid west, all while attending religious services with his adoptive family, using his martial arts skills to become a local hero, and quoting the totalitarian leaders of the 20th century.  The leftist slogans and other quirks, such as the recitation of elements from the periodic table reminded me of Douglas Coupland, even if the events described are further from reality than what you’d find in a Coupland novel.

Although Pygmy is indubitably creative, the distinctive language used holds the book back and despite its originality, the plot itself isn’t very deep.  In the end the book never rises above the level of “pretty good”. Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile read, if only to see the unique mind of Palahniuk.

Verdict: 3/5

ISBN: 978-0385526340

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The ability to write code that works in a multi-threaded environment is an essential skill for any modern software developer, yet how to accomplish this is rarely taught in school.   This is the first in what will be a series of posts outlining common pitfalls of parallel (or concurrent) programming and their solutions.

Pitfall: “Wait without While”

Rule: All calls to wait on a lock must be surrounded by a while loop that tests the condition for deciding whether to wait on the lock.

To understand this rule, we can look at an example of the violation of the rule that I recently encountered in an open source library:

class Semaphore
    private int count;
    Semaphore(int count) {
        if (count < 0) {
            count = Integer.MAX_VALUE;
        this.count = count;

    synchronized void enter() {
        if (count == 0) {
            try {
            } catch (InterruptedException e) {
                throw Util.newInternal(e, "");
        Util.assertTrue(count > 0);

    synchronized void leave() {
        if (count == Integer.MAX_VALUE) {

At first glance, this class may appear to work properly as a semaphore, but under high load scenarios, it is possible for the assertion in the enter method to be triggered, even though both the enter and leave methods are synchronized.  The problem is that a thread can increment the count, notify one of the threads waiting on the semaphore to wake up, release the semaphore’s monitor, and still have another thread call the enter method to acquire the semaphore before the notified thread has the opportunity to acquire the semaphore’s monitor and wake up.

By replacing line #12 with the line while (count == 0) this race condition would be avoided. By using a while loop, if another thread acquires the semaphore before the notified thread is woken, the notified thread will realize that it still cannot acquire the semaphore and resume waiting for its opportunity.  This behaviour also demonstrates that the above semaphore implementation is unfair.

(Please note that there is no good reason to ever write your own Java semaphore like this any longer as Java has had an excellent java.util.concurrent.Semaphore since Java 1.5)

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