Finger locks and toe jams
Ryan Cerf crushing Crime of the Century (5.11c)

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to check the notifications on my instagram and have the American Alpine Club feature my photo of Ryan Cerf cranking on Crime of the Century (5.11c) in Squamish.


Regram from @tsherrygeo of "Ryan Cerf cranking and crushing his first 5.11." Crime of the Century in Squamish. #aacgram

A photo posted by American Alpine Club (@americanalpine) on Feb 18, 2015 at 5:50am PST


Taking this photo was a lot of fun. Matt Macatee and I climbed up Penny Lane and then made our way over to where we could rap to the Crime of the Century Anchors. He continued down to the ground and I stayed on the ledge, set an anchor and safetyed in. I pulled up and coiled my rope so that it would be out of the photo. Ryan led up the pitch, cranking away while I fired off tons of photos. I was using my Nikon D-7000 and Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: 16mm, f/13, 1/2000 sec. exposure, ISO 1600. It was a bright day.

Matt Macatee working through Crime of the Century.
Matt Macatee working through Crime of the Century.

Matt Macatee attempted the route after Ryan and didn’t make it in one go. He got to the top with one fall and a nemesis to return to. I rappelled down and Sabrina and I both tried Crime of the Century on toprope. It’s thin, and pumpy, and we weren’t placing gear!

Sabrina on Crime of the Century
Sabrina on Crime of the Century
Me getting worked on Crime of the Century
Me getting worked on Crime of the Century

Old Trails: Hiking Up The Tufa

Hotel-Sized Tuffa, Namibia

We pulled up to the farmyard and stopped at the fence causing the cloud of dust to catch up and swirl past the gate towards the house. We got out, research permit from the Namibian Geologic Survey in hand, walked to the fence and waited. After a couple minutes passed a white farmer with a shaven head and sporty sunglasses stepped out of the house and approached us. We explained we were geologists from McGill University in Canada and asked permission to hike to the tufa, pointing across the graded dirt road which acted as Namibia’s highway system. I don’t remember the farmer saying much, if anything. He nodded, and went back into the farm house.

Recently, I started the gargantuan task of reorganizing and backing up all of my photos. This led me to dig through some archives and to revisit photos that I have not shared with many people. When we visited this tufa I had not yet been introduced to the sport of rock climbing. Looking at these tufa photos now, I see lines, unclimbed, begging for someone to clean and send. We didn’t climb the tufa, we hiked around. Here are some photos from that hike.

Hking through the grass to the tuffa.

After stopping at the farmhouse we pulled off the highway. Christie, my advisor, insisted that she needed a nap and waved us towards the tufffa while reclining the driver’s seat. We crossed the wire fence and made our way into the waist high grass. That two hundred meter walk through the grass was one of the most stressful moments of my life. There are snakes in Namibia. Pofadders, Cape Cobra, Black Cobra, and Black Mambas frequent my field area. At least when we’re out on the hill slopes there is less grass and we can see where we are stepping. Tanya, Ben, and I were all nervous and let out big sighs when we exited the high grass.

Namibian waterfall!

The tufa was gorgeous, huge, and loomed overhead. Yellow-green slim covered wet rock where water dripped down. A little waterfall ran sprinkled and slid over the tufa, collected in a pond, and trickled away in a stream that disappeared into the desert.


We stepped to hike around and up the tufa where we got a special treat. Diamictite. B-E-A-utifully deformed diamictite. Diamictite is a rock that is a mix of rock clasts in a muddy matrix. These diamictites had since been deformed, shown by the elongate stretched, clasts.


We turned and continued upward, following black plastic pipes that ran from some unseen spring above us.

Hiking up.

The hiking was steep, but not strenuous. Before we knew it the incline shoaled and we began topping out over the tufa. The top was like a geologist’s dream. A folded cap-carbonate could be seen on the mountainside framing the valley before us.


We paused to look back towards the car, where our professor lazily dosed, probably dreaming of pseudotachylyte and fault gouge.


Our tufa foray wasn’t over yet, we followed the stream that had built this tufa up. It takes time to build a deposit like this. Calcium carbonate precipitates from the water. We saw breccias too. Head-sized, angular clasts of limestone that had once been shot down the stream, maybe during a rainstorm, only to now be cemented in the tufa.


Outside of the stream we spotted more folded limestone.


The breccias become the tuffa, cemented in the streambed. Other rocks, with the power of water pushing them forward, polish and erode the surface of the cement. Ponds between trickling streams form. Desert life revolves around water. Where it is abundant so is life and green.


Big tadpoles swam in the ponds we passed. I saw something unexpected in the desert: a bullfrog, quietly crouched near submerged rocks.

Namibian bullfrog

What other treasures would we find hidden in the hills? The only thing to do was follow the water.


Finally we reached a point where the stream cut into rocks. To continue following it we had to leave it for higher ground. Unfortunately we hadn’t come prepared for canyoneering on this hike. Ahead and below us we caught glimpses of caves and pools hidden in tufa slot canyons.

DSC_1821 DSC_1834

We ended the hike at this crystal blue pool. The water looked amazing, but strange yellow algae covered the surface of every rock below the water. Swarms of black water bugs oscillated in the turquoises liquid. We tossed a small rock in and watched as they scattered to the edges of the pool, then swam back into pulsing mosh pit.


The pools were gorgeous, but so were the rocks. I’ve always been fascinated by structures in rocks, whether tectonic or diagenetic in origin. The limestone structures influenced their surficial weathering and thus the growth of lichen.

Limestone structures


Time to head back. Christie had sent us up here to check out the tuffa and examine the diamictite, but we’d all become mesmerized by the pools and the life around them.





I don’t remember which way we came down from the tufa. Nor do I recall if we trod through the waist-high grass or followed the stream to the road. I think at that point I was overwhelmed by the beauty of a little desert treasure.



Friday Rocks #43: Mega Ptygmatic Folds

Mega ptygmatic folds
Mega ptygmatic folds

The above photo is taken from a field trip in 2010 to Death Valley and surrounding mountains / desert. This stop was Monarch Canyon. We (the students) are standing at a cliff edge, looking across a gorge at the opposing cliff wall. That’s the best scale I can give you for this. It’s huge, it’s awesome.

Friday Rocks #42: Mylolisthenite

Charlevoix mylolistelite
Charlevoix mylolistelite

The injecting mylolisthenite (pale-green rock filling fracture) was created during a meteor impact. It can be found near Charlevoix, Quebec (19T 407510.00 m E, 5260539.00 m N). Find out more about the Charlevoix impact crater in an old upsection post.  Mylolisthenite is a fine grained breccia which contains various clasts in a non-melt matrix (differentiating it from pseudotachylite).

Friday Rocks #40: Pseudotachylyte Injectition

Pseudotachylyte injection.
Pseudotachylyte injection in the Homestake Shear Zone, Colorado

Fault pseudotachylyte is formed during an earthquake. The coseismic slip on the fault frictionally heats the surrounding rock and forms a melt. Rapid cooling of the melt forms a glass-like, dark rock, pseudotachylyte. A combination of the dynamic stresses imparted on the wall rock during the earthquake and dynamic pressurization will allow the melt to enter fractures in the wall rock.

In the photo above pseudotachylyte is the thin, black rock. The injection is at a 90 degree angle with the main pseudotachylyte vein.

Year End Wrap

Well the year is winding down so I thought I would give a little recap of some highlights.

Jess and I are planning our winter Southwest roadtrip I think I’ll have to let her drive a bit. It might get dangerous with me at the wheel. Are you taking a holiday road trip? Don’t forget to bright a geologist. Remember to be the more accurate, it might be necessary to decelerate:

I was conducting what has been called x-mph geology, where x is the miles per hour one is driving; this time I was doing 70-mph geology. Geology at seventy miles per hour (or 70-mph geology) is generally much less detailed and often less accurate than geology at 20 miles per hour (20-mph geology). And it turns out that if you slow down to about 5 mph or less, you can almost complete a rock report on whatever iron-stained jasperoid or copper-stained porphyry you happen to be driving by, and the speed is almost slow enough for the geo-type in the passenger side of the truck to lean out and grab a sample.

Are you looking for that perfect holiday gift for your geologist friend? We’ll maybe a roadside geology guide for that roadtrip route will do the trick. While we’re on the topic of books, two of the best books I read this year are 52 Things You Should Know About Geology and 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics. These books are collaborative collections of two page essays. The format is a bit “chose you’re own adventure” and encourages skipping around. Both books should be suggested reading for first time grad students and some specific essays should be required reading. Specifically, “Presenting… your career” by Tony Doré, “The trouble with seeing” by Evan Bianco, “Five things I wish I’d known” by Matt Hall, and “Simplify everything” by John Logel are good places to start. I can’t wait to re-read my dog-eared and underlined copies, but first I need to start the latest edition: 52 Things You Should Know About Paleontology. Also, the layout and cover art of these books are elegantly simple and makes an amateur typography nerd smile.

Another book I really enjoyed was The New American Road Trip Mixtape by Brendan Leonard. Brendan writes the blog Semi-Rad and shares stories, satire, and criticism on outdoor adventure culture. Seriously, it’s one of the funniest blogs out there. There’s everything from flowcharts about what to do if there is a cute girl at the climbing gym to  love letters to helmets to thoughtful introspection on the meaning of adventure. And don’t forget: GO TO THE MOBILE.

This year I started sharing field photos with the #FridayRocks hashtag. Over the years of doing geology, class field trips, fieldwork, conference field trips, etc. I’ve taken a lot of photos. I’ve been posting the particularly awesome ones. If anyone has photos of rocks they’d like to share, please shoot me an email with the photo and description.

Here are some of the most popular #Friday Rocks:

Soft sediment deformation from Point Lobos, California

Soft sediment deformation at Point Lobos, California
Soft sediment deformation at Point Lobos, California

Asbestos in Serpentinite and Blueschist

Asbestos in Serpentine and Blueschits
Asbestos in Serpentine and Blueschits

Reactivated Thrust Faults

Reactivated thrust fault in Niobrara Formation, Colorado
Reactivated thrust fault in Niobrara Formation, Colorado. Photo by Tim Sherry

Fault Core Shale
IMG_20140620_062152Microfaults in Sandstone

Fishmouth Structure

Fishmouth structure
Fishmouth structure

There’s plenty more! Click here to see the rest.