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This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.



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I’m a Mountaineer!

Posted by gck Thursday, July 7, 2016 0 comments

I’ve kept this blog going in some form for many years, but it seems like I’ve really neglected it over the past year, which is something I’ve been lamenting recently. I’m hoping to step up my posting activity this summer and maintain it moving forward. (P.S. Thanks to Google and Microsoft for working against each other to make it so Windows Live Writer no longer works with Blogger. That wasn’t annoying at all.)

Over the years, I’ve gotten more and more into hiking and backpacking, and I’ve also found that I enjoy both as solo pursuits. I take reasonable safety precautions when going out alone, but I also knew that I was sorely lacking in knowledge in areas like navigation (obvious to anyone who reads my trip reports), which was becoming more of a blocker as more and more off-trail travel ideas found their way onto my list.

A number of my friends have taken alpine climbing classes and recommended them, but I haven’t (yet) had the desire to do anything technical. But when I saw that the Mountaineers also offered an alpine scrambling course, I started seriously considering it. After waffling over the commitment for awhile, I finally signed up for alpine scrambling through the Everett branch, which was slightly further than the Seattle branch but was recommended because of its smaller group size and closer community. As a bonus, the field trip dates all lined up so none of them fell during SIFF.

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Practicing ice axe arrest skills

The course seemed like a small commitment – just 5 classes and 3 field trips – but the extra requirements made it a bigger thing. I also needed to complete basic navigation, wilderness first aid, a stewardship day, and three additional scrambles (one rock, one snow, and a third of my choice) to graduate. At this point, I’ve done everything except stewardship (which I have scheduled for later this month with a group at work) and two of the additional scrambles.

Basic Navigation
This was the first out-of-the-classroom thing I did, and I felt like I learned a lot. We first had a few hours of lecture, where we went over things that I’d already read in Freedom of the Hills, with a few paper exercises. My math brain took to all of it really well. The remainder of the class was practicing in the woods with map and compass, and it felt like an accomplishment to reach our planned destinations. I still think I lack some general intuition/common sense when it comes to where I’m going, but after this class, I feel a lot more confident in my ability to get there.

Wilderness First Aid
This was a tough one. Two full weekend days in a classroom, then an evening of scenarios practice. Good information, though, and I feel like I know some things that might be useful in an emergency situation. The tough part will be remembering everything over time, and I plan to return as a volunteer patient for future scenarios sessions to get a refresher.

13147781_10207894042862200_4408893854606778009_o (1)Awesome leaders and fellow students at the top of Huntoon Point

Field Trips
We had three field trips, a rock field trip near Leavenworth, a weekend snow field trip at Mt. Baker, and an experience field trip at Alpental. All of them were fun, but the snow field trip was by far the best experience for me, both in terms of interacting with the group and gaining knowledge. I’ve always been really tentative on snow, going out of my way to active avoid running into it. After learning snow travel techniques and ice axe arrest, I feel more confident now, and I even did a few early season hiking trips where I traveled through significant amounts of snow. I really did not want to throw myself down a snow slope head first for ice axe arrest practice, though! We had sunny, gorgeous days so the views were magnificent, and staying at the Mountaineers Lodge was nice and cozy. After that trip, we felt more closer as a group, and I hope I’ll have the chance to hike or scramble with other people from the class again.

Shuksan and Baker from Artist Point

My first priority after SIFF ended was to try to get my snow scramble out of the way before too much snow melted. I joined a scramble to Buell and Barrier Peaks (near Mount Rainier) with a leader from the Tacoma branch. It was great to meet some new people and successfully summit two peaks in one trip!

Coming back from Buell & Barrier Peaks, trip report here

I’m looking forward to a summer and fall full of more hiking adventures. Stay tuned for August Hike-a-thon, when I’ll be hiking like crazy and trying to raise some money for the trails!

TR: Green Mountain

Posted by gck Wednesday, June 24, 2015 0 comments

Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 3100 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.
My GPS tracks

IMG_6024 IMG_6026 IMG_5471 Left: Llamas reduce conflicts between users
Center: Suiattle River (from Suiattle River Road)
Right: Glacier Peak Wilderness sign

The Suiattle River Road opened up late in the season last year after being closed for a number of years after storm damage. This restored access to the Green Mountain trailhead, and I was eager to do the hike before word got out and all of Seattle started to pour into the area. When I told my brothers that we were going to drive 20 miles down a road that has been washed out by a storm before, they were dubious and reminded me that we do not have good luck with river roads. But it was a 0% chance of rain, so we were okay. The river itself is quite beautiful, and it was tempting to just go swimming instead.

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Left: Tiger lily
Center: Western Pasqueflower
Right: Lupine on the trail

Cars were parked down the road when we arrived, and I was afraid that the crowds had begun already. But people were spaced out pretty well on the trail, and we got enough solitude. There’s not much of a lot at the trailhead, so once this trail gets popular, people may end up having to park pretty far down the forest road.

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Left: Butterflies
Center: Glacier peak and wildflowers
Right: Butterfly

The first 1.5 miles isn’t terribly interesting, mainly switchbacks through the forest. The grade wasn’t that steep, but for me, it was the first hike of the summer after months of almost no exercise, so I struggled. There has definitely been a good amount of trail maintenance done since the road reopened because other than a few minor blowdowns and some overgrowth later on in the hike, the trail was in perfect condition.

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Left: Trail and Glacier Peak
Right: Green Mountain – the shaded section is the summit/our destination

Once the trail exited the woods, views started immediately. And there was (appropriately) lots of green stuff. The trail was always visible but sometimes partially obscured by overgrown foliage. I wasn’t paying much attention and ended up stepping in a few holes where the trail was uneven. This section reminded me a lot of the Crystal Peak trail, with the long switchbacks facing a mountain range and a volcano.

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Left: A pond with a happy dog in it
Right: Western pasqueflower and Glacier Peak

Flowers didn’t seem like they were at peak, but we got a nice variety: tiger lily, columbine, paintbrush, lupine, and more. There were also lots of butterflies – more different types than I’ve seen on a hike before. Most of them would fly away before I could get a photo, but we found a cluster of the blue-violet butterflies I saw on the Bean Peak trail, and they were more cooperative.

View from Green Mountain

Much to my dismay, the trail headed downward (I was not happy to see this part of the trail on the way back). Our destination, the fire lookout at the top of Green Mountain, finally became visible. Before this, I had no idea which peak we were actually climbing because everything was green and there were plenty of high points. There were some ponds here, the first and only major water source we passed, and a dog from a nearby party happily jumped into the water.

Glacier Peak 

To get to the top, we had to go up steeper switchbacks with the sun beating down, and finally we reached a ridge leading to the lookout. The views here were spectacular, with mountains all around and the Suiattle River valley leading up to Glacier Peak. Peakfinder wasn’t very informative with these mountains, and from my pathetic peak knowledge, I could only name Glacier Peak, Sloan Peak, and a mostly cloud-covered Mt. Baker. Later, I found a partial panorama with labeled mountains.

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Left: Sign about the restoration of the Green Mountain fire lookout
Right: Green Mountain fire lookout

The lookout was locked and is obviously still being actively restored. There were lots of boards in the area, and the viewing platform on the outside was missing on one side of the lookout. There were a number of people at the summit, but we found a non-busy area on the cliffy side of the fire lookout and enjoyed our lunches. It was surprisingly chilly and I put on my jacket, which I hadn’t expected to use. We stayed up there for awhile, dragged our tired bodies down the mountain, and woke up with extremely sore legs the next day.

View from Green Mountain (photosynth)

Movie Review: The Imitation Game

Posted by gck Tuesday, January 6, 2015 0 comments

This actually won’t be a movie review, it will be a soapbox rant because it’s just one of those days. First of all, I have to say HELLO to the Egyptian! It was my first time back in there since SIFF took it over. In current light of the Harvard Exit closing and the unknown future of some of the other Landmark theaters, I’m very, very happy to have the Egyptian still operating as a theater. 

The Imitation Game
UK, 2014
Genre: Biopic, Historical Drama
Watched: in theater, SIFF Egyptian 
Rating: **** (out of 5)

I gave the film a four star rating, which is probably a bit too generous, especially seeing that I gave The Theory of Everything 3.5. I felt like the two movies were similar in the sense that they felt really glossy, meant more for entertaining the masses than giving any deep insights. This was especially true with how a lot of Turing’s behaviors and interactions in the movie garnered somewhat cheap laughs. Still, I’m the first to admit that my tastes often fall into the mainstream, and I enjoyed the movie as entertainment.

Why take the bus over to Seattle, trek up Capitol Hill, and eat popcorn for dinner in order to see a film in the theater instead of waiting a few months to come out on Netflix? This was one of those evenings that highlighted how different the experience can be. First of all, I’ve been having trouble focusing (especially on films with subtitles) at home lately. In the theater, there is no Dragon Age in the other room to distract me. Secondly, it’s the interaction with the other moviegoers.

It’s a small world at SIFF. I saw Wild over the weekend (loved it – see, I’m totally mainstream) and I’m pretty sure “the lady who responds” was in the audience because I heard a few outbursts of assent (“Yes!”) during a scene where Strayed’s mother was giving good life advice. I was mentioning this to my friend, and then she mentioned that her pet peeve had come up in this movie – someone scoffing audibly when chemical castration came up. She said that it really annoyed her because it was someone looking down on a different society and feeling sooo much more enlightened, as if our society isn’t just as full of the sheep mentality.

Self-righteousness has been on my mind in the past few years. It’s what draws me to reading The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt, even though nonfiction and I are a hopeless combination. It’s easy where I stand to be pro-feminism, pro-civil rights, etc., but how many of us would even hold those views if we grew up in a society that didn’t accept them? We can hold our lofty principles from the comfort of our sofas and laptops, but how many of us have had those principles tested by fire? What attitudes do we condone or ignore that future generations will look back and scoff at?

Self-righteousness is a dangerous state of being. I say this as much for myself as for anyone else – if you find yourself thinking that you’re better than other people, it’s time to examine your blind spots.

Reading Goals for 2015

Posted by gck Wednesday, December 31, 2014 0 comments

I don’t really make New Years Resolutions, preferring to stick to shorter term goals, but reading is an exception to the rule. It’s been pretty cool to see my yearly reading grow through GoodReads reading challenges. After reading 45 new books in 2013, I decided to take my new book goal down to 40 and focusing instead on what I was reading. (I do want to do a goal of 50 one of these years, then 52… but it doesn’t feel right yet)

40 seems to be a good number. I’m not having to intentionally pad my reading with “easy stuff,” but I still need to be reading pretty regularly to keep up. 40 only includes new books, so my actual count is higher because of rereads. (1) My 2015 goal is to read 40 new books.


Revisiting Old Goals

In writing my post about my 2014 reading goals, I saw where I succeeded or failed, and I also saw that some goals were better than others for improving the quality of my reading.

1. Publication year. I didn’t do a great job at reading older books, but I’m not sure I would have enjoyed my yearly reading more if I did. I’ll revisit this at one point, particularly for reading “the classics,” but for this year, the main thing I want to ensure is that I don’t read as many books published in 2015! There’s too much good stuff from 2010-2014 that I haven’t read.

2. Non-fiction. I really, really want to do more of this, but I’m finding that putting a numerical goal just encourages me to read non-fiction that is easier for me to finish, like memoirs. So I will not have a yearly goal for non-fiction this year, just general intent. And I will probably take up some sort of month-long non-fiction challenge at some point.

3. Recommendations. Failed at this one and I don’t have a strong urge to pursue it again this year.

4. Books that I already own. This, and more of this. I have so many good books on my shelves that I haven’t read. In addition to setting a numerical goal for this, I’m also going to put a “tripwire” in – I have to have read certain numbers of books I own by specific checkpoints through the year, or I can’t read anything else until the number is met. This should help me be less tempted by the 2015 releases. (2) My 2015 goal is to read 24 books that I already own (rereads count). 2 by the end of January, 4 by the end of February, etc.

5. Rereads. This is great and I want to do more of it. Tripwires for this one as well. (3) My 2015 goal is to reread 10 books. 3 by the end of April, and 3 by the end of August.

New Goals

I think that even the subset of my old goals is a pretty good focus for me. But I’m bringing in some casual new goals just to see how it goes. Definitely less of a priority.

1. Indie publisher. I read so much mainstream, and I like it. But sometimes it all starts to blend together. At the end of this year, I picked up a copy of Does Not Love by James Tadd Adcox based on a blog review, and it was refreshing to read something written in such a different style. (4) My 2015 goal is to read 3 books published by an independent publisher.

2. Ignore the reviews. Goodreads is fantastic, but what happened to spontaneity? I used to pick out random stuff that sounded interesting at the bookstore and the library without consulting the voices of the Internet, and now I find myself reluctant to read anything with reviews much lower than a 4. (5) My 2015 goal is to read 3 books that I haven’t seen reviews for and haven’t previously heard of.

Do you have any reading goals for 2015? Here’s to an enlightening, entertaining new year of reading!

Kingston Getaway

Posted by gck Thursday, December 25, 2014 0 comments

A few weeks ago, I headed to the Kitsap Peninsula for a weekend getaway to recharge and see some beautiful places. I created a Sway with pictures and descriptions.

Point No Point Lighthouse

2014 Reading

Posted by gck Wednesday, December 24, 2014 0 comments

It’s the end of the year, time for all that “year in review” stuff and time to look at setting goals for 2015. For reading, I didn’t want to dive into 2015 goals before first examining how things went with the 2014 goals. And I decided to put together a somewhat lame viz to show how things went. (I just don’t have the energy to make it better right now)

All of this will lead into how I choose my goals for 2015, which will hopefully be my next post (unless I somehow get on a viz kick and churn out a hiking year-end summary post first). But I’ve got two more books to read in the meantime…

TR: Chair Peak Lake

Posted by gck Monday, September 22, 2014 0 comments

Distance: 13 miles?
Elevation gain: 4000 ft?

IMG_3611  IMG_3612  IMG_3226
Left: I-90
Center: Denny Creek
Right: tree fungus

I spend a lot of time looking things up, and over time, I’ve accumulated a list of hiking destinations that I “stalk.” These are all hikes that are beyond my current ability, many involving off-trail navigation and long distances. Chair Peak Lake is one I’ve watched for a few years. The difficulty was a big factor: it was a giant boulderfield past Melakwa Lake, which wasn’t a short hike on its own. The lake doesn’t get much sun and doesn’t even melt out completely every year, and I didn’t want to do the long slog just to see a snowfield. This year, the stars aligned. I was in the right condition to manage the hike, we had an unusually warm summer, and I had a sunny Saturday available. Sure, I had to run a 10k the next day, but tomorrow is another day?

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Left: Keekwulee Falls
Right: Melakwa Lake

Started hiking a little before 8, which is super early for me, but it’s a good idea for the busy hikes on the I-90 corridor. I got a good parking spot (cars were parked way down the road when I got back) and the trail was very quiet. I made good time up to Melakwa Lake, reaching it around 10. The Denny Creek waterslide and Keekwulee Falls were nice sights along the way. The steep switchbacks heading up to Hemlock Pass still kick my butt. The water color was really nice in the morning, definitely the prettiest I’ve seen it. I walked to another solo hiker at the lake, and he said he was heading towards Melakwa Pass, so it made me feel better that someone would be ahead of me.

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Upper Melakwa Lake

I walked around the side of Melakwa Lake and found myself looking at Upper Melakwa Lake almost immediately. This was my third time at Melakwa Lake and I never realized that the upper lake was like TEN STEPS away. Grrrrr… it’s a smaller lake, but very beautiful and not nearly as popular. I followed a trail around the west side of the lake. It quickly disappeared, and I found a way up higher to a route that went through a boulderfield. There was occasional pink surveyor’s tape that reassured me that this was a indeed a route, but it wasn’t fun. I also hit some patches of trees that I had to shove my way through. Once I got to the other end of the lake, I looked over and saw a real trail on the other side, and I swore loudly.

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Left: heading up to Melakwa Pass, Kaleetan on the left, Chair Peak on the right
Right: One of the very few cairns I saw

I was higher than the trail, so I decided to keep going toward the pass instead of going down to meet the trail. This led to some extra tree hugging because I wasn’t able to get to the creek path through a tree section but otherwise wasn’t a big deal. The endless boulderfield was slow and tedious. The reason I was doing this as a solo hike was because no one would agree to go with me! On my way back, I saw two guys come from Upper Melakwa Lake, take a look at the boulderfield, and turn around. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be much elevation gain until near the pass. At that point, there was a cairn and a nearby path that went into the trees and steeply upwards. Kaleetan Peak towered above me on one side and Chair Peak on the other.

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Left: Chair Peak Lake
Right: Snow Lake

The view from the pass was amazing. The deep blue color of Chair Peak Lake stood in contrast with its rocky surroundings, and Glacier Peak and Gem Lake were visible in the background. The descent to Chair Peak Lake was REALLY steep with loose rock, especially at the beginning. There were still a few snowfields remaining. I poked at the first one with my pole, and it was hard ice, so I walked around it. The lower snowfield was unavoidable, and it was a direct slide into the lake if I slipped, but fortunately the snow there was soft enough to walk on without traction. I talked to a few solo hikers here, both doing the full traverse through to Snow Lake. One guy had received bad advice to stay high when going around Chair Peak Lake, and he was having a hard time up there. Walking close to the lake, as sketchy as it looked, was certainly the better route. It was easy to hear where people were because everyone would trigger small rockslides every once in awhile. One guy told me that going through to Snow Lake would probably be quicker than heading back the way I came, and he offered me a ride back to my car if I wanted to go out that way, but I decided that I’d save that for another day when I’d done more research on the route.

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Left: Creek “trail”
Right: Steep ascent to Melakwa Pass

I walked a little further to get a view down to Snow Lake. Apparently Harvey Manning described the Melakwa Pass route as “the connoisseur’s route to Snow Lake.” Between this and his insistence on taking the Snow Lakes route into the Enchantments, I’m pretty sure this guy is a masochist. Anyway, it was a far more peaceful way to see Snow Lake. I had complete solitude in my lunch spot, with a view of Chair Peak Lake on one side and a view of Snow Lake on the other. Incredible beauty and the feeling of wilderness on an I-90 hike.

Chair Peak Lake (Melakwa Pass in the back)

It was a long way back. I had to climb back up the pass, do the endless trek across the boulderfield, then hike with all the dayhikers from Melakwa Lake back to the trailhead. I took the correct path around Upper Melakwa Lake this time, and it was much easier. Talked to two guys who climbed Kaleetan that day (sounded like a fantastic view… maybe next time?). Made it back to the car by 6, way before sunset. It felt like a satisfying accomplishment to finish this hike, possibly the first time I’ve felt like a “serious hiker” for taking on a challenging route and maintaining a respectable pace. I’m also concluding that I’m a lakebagger over a peakbagger – seeing 5 lakes in one day was awesome. Now back to stalking bigger destinations! We’ll see what comes next…