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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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TR: Gothic Basin and Foggy Lake

Posted by gck Sunday, December 30, 2012 0 comments

Distance: 10 miles
Elevation gain: 3500 feet
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

I did this hike back in late September while the fires were raging all over Eastern Washington. Bob wrote up a trip report, which gave me an excuse to be lazy and work on my Canada trip reports instead, but now, over a month later, I have to think back and remember this hike. I “hiked” the Big Four Ice Caves trail years ago, but this one was my first “real” hike on the Mountain Loop Highway. As I drove down the road, I saw a bunch of other hikes that I easily recognized by name… Lake Twentytwo, Mount Dickerman, Vesper Lake… I always thought of the Mountain Loop Highway being a longer drive than it actually is. Will definitely have to explore more of this region next season.

IMG_8171  IMG_8195  IMG_8211
Left: always reassuring to see an “EXTREME DANGER” sign at the beginning of a hike
Center: waterfalls and fog
Right: gentian on the trail

The directions say that parking is at Barlow Pass, but you can actually get closer to the trailhead by parking near Monte Cristo road. This closed road is the beginning of the trail and also the path to the Monte Cristo ghost town, an old mining town that’s a popular family destination. Both trails are quite popular, so it’s a busy parking area and lots of people at the beginning of the trail, which follows the closed Monte Cristo Road. There’s a sign that says “EXTREME DANGER AHEAD – DO NOT ENTER” and is meant for cars, but it’s still not exactly what you want to see when you start your hike!

IMG_8522  IMG_8557
Left: Hazy mountains, including “Red Neck”
Right: Pacific giant salamander on the trail!

After the split from Monte Cristo Road (the sign might be for “Weden Creek Trail”), the trail starts going upwards with a vengeance. It’s shaded, at least, making this climb more bearable on a hot day. Once you start coming out of the trees, the views start. If you have any visibility. We didn’t, thanks to a combination of low fog and haze from the forest fires blazing all over the state. Fortunately, there are both near and far views here. The far views cleared up a little bit on the way down, enough for me to dub one peak “Red Neck” because it looked like a red version of Volcanic Neck. The near views included flowers – lots of gentian, which I don’t recall seeing on other hikes I’ve done – and small creek waterfalls that fell in pretty patterns.

IMG_8354  IMG_8516
left: Foggy Lake and Del Campo Peak
right: Weden Lake and Sheep Gap Mountain

This rocky section of the trail is where things get nasty. There are some steepy, slippery, rocky uphill segments that are easy to fall on. There’s also a rock face with no good footholds that requires some arm strength to make it up, especially if you’re short like me. The campsites in the basin are lovely, and on other trails, I might think to myself, “It would be nice to backpack here to have more time to explore the area.” But definitely not on this trail. I had a hard enough time not falling down with my daypack, and I did not envy the backpackers at all. Some of them looked pretty miserable.

Once in the basin, there’s a good deal to see. You can walk a short distance and look down at Weden Lake. There are also tarns scattered around, including a sizeable one that has been nicknamed “Foggy Tarn” because some people assume it’s Foggy Lake and stop there. We bumped into one such couple, who fortunately overheard us talking and realized that they were just at a tarn. The tarns and basin are beautiful, but it would be a real pity to do all of that hard work and miss out on Foggy Lake, which is not much further but is far more striking, especially with Del Campo and Gothic Peaks in the background.

IMG_8492  IMG_8477
left: “Foggy Tarn”
right: fish-shaped tarn

On a sunny day, the colors of Foggy Lake are dazzling. We probably hit the lake an hour too late to get the peak color for that day, but it was still really beautiful. There are many places around the lake to sit and enjoy your lunch, and people who are in much better shape than I am can continue to climb Del Campo or Gothic for even more stunning views. We followed a different trail through the basin on the way back, passing other tarns along the way. The landscape is very fragile, so it’s advisable to use existing trails instead of creating more.


The difficulty and trail condition make this hike not one of the more pleasant ones I’ve done, but it’s worth it to get to the rocky, stark landscape of Gothic Basin, the likes of which aren’t easily accessible by day hike in Washington.

Book Review: Running the Rift

Posted by gck Saturday, December 29, 2012 0 comments

RunningTheRiftRunning the Rift by Naomi Benaron

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Recommended for: runners, people who read about social issues, anyone who does not know about the Rwandan Genocide

Book 9 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
Imagine that a man who was once friendly suddenly spewed hatred. That a girl who flirted with you in the lunchroom refused to look at you. That neighbors who shared meals with your family could turn on them and hunt them down. Jean Patrick Nkuba is a gifted Tutsi boy who dreams of becoming Rwanda's first Olympic medal contender in track. When the killing begins, he is forced to flee, leaving behind the woman, the family, and the country he loves. Finding them again is the race of his life.

Spanning ten years during which a small nation was undone by ethnic tension and Africa's worst genocide in modern times, this novel explores the causes and effects of Rwanda's great tragedy from Nkuba's point of view. His struggles teach us that the power of love and the resilience of the human spirit can keep us going and ultimately lead to triumph.

My review:
This is one of those books where the setting is probably more important than the characters and plot. It’s why I picked up the book in the first place, and I was not disappointed in the portrayal of Rwanda during the time of the genocide. I never watched Hotel Rwanda or learned about any of this in school. It wasn’t until an unrelated documentary I saw at SIFF mentioned the Hutus and Tutsis and the part the Belgians played in their relationship that I started reading about this.

Running the Rift wasn’t on my original list for the Around the World challenge since it was published after I put my list together, but once I saw it mentioned on GoodReads, I knew I needed to add it. I’m still hoping to read a book for this challenge that doesn’t portray Africa as a violent, war-torn place, though! This book didn’t go into a lot of the history behind the genocide, but it did show the way things led up to it and the attitudes of the people. It was interesting to see how things went from the bullying of Tutsis to outright genocide. Having read this, I have become more interested in learning about the history and facts, and I purchased the very cheerfully titled We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories From Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch to read soon.

The premise of the novel is a good one: an aspiring runner trains for his Olympic bid in the midst of the racial tensions in Rwanda. It’s definitely a book for adults, but it reads like a young adult novel, with a quick-moving plot and not a lot of description or character details. I also felt like the very end wrapped things up pretty abruptly. To me, these things are not deal breakers, and I still found it to be a very good read. I had enough investment in the characters that the losses were strongly felt. I was angry for Jean Patrick when he was mistreated, happy for him when he succeeded, and afraid for him when he faced unknown dangers.

Definitely recommended, especially for people (like I was) who are unfamiliar with the Rwandan Genocide.

Book Review: The Oracle of Stamboul

Posted by gck Friday, December 28, 2012 1 comments

OracleOfStamboulThe Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Recommended for: people who enjoy magical realism

Book 8 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
Late in the summer of 1877, a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, and Eleonora Cohen is ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth. "They had read the signs, they said: a sea of horses, a conference of birds, the North Star in alignment with the moon. It was a prophecy that their last king had given on his deathwatch." But joy is mixed with tragedy, for Eleonora's mother dies soon after the birth.

Raised by her doting father, Yakob, a carpet merchant, and her stern, resentful stepmother, Ruxandra, Eleonora spends her early years daydreaming and doing housework—until the moment she teaches herself to read, and her father recognizes that she is an extraordinarily gifted child, a prodigy.

When Yakob sets off by boat for Stamboul on business, eight-year-old Eleonora, unable to bear the separation, stows away in one of his trunks. On the shores of the Bosporus, in the house of her father's business partner, Moncef Bey, a new life awaits. Books, backgammon, beautiful dresses and shoes, markets swarming with color and life—the imperial capital overflows with elegance, and mystery. For in the narrow streets of Stamboul—a city at the crossroads of the world—intrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem. Eleonora's tutor, an American minister and educator, may be a spy. The kindly though elusive Moncef Bey has a past history of secret societies and political maneuvering. And what is to be made of the eccentric, charming Sultan Abdulhamid II himself, beleaguered by friend and foe alike as his unwieldy, multiethnic empire crumbles?

My review:
My opinion goes with the majority on this novel. I wanted to love the novel, but I only ended up liking it. Michael David Lukas is an excellent writer, and he sets a mystical mood with his beautiful descriptions of the city of Stamboul and little touches of magic that fit into the world perfectly. The pacing is pretty slow, but it felt right to me, and the characters were interesting enough.

Many people complained that “nothing happens,” which I agree with. This wouldn’t have been so bad in another book, but with this one, it seemed like something should happen. The advertised description of the novel is “An elegantly crafted, utterly enchanting debut novel set in a mystical, exotic world, in which a gifted young girl charms a sultan and changes the course of an empire's history.” So there’s this incredible little girl in an amazing city dealing with powerful people. The plot should be epic. But there is absolutely nothing epic about it. In fact, as I saw that I was getting near the end of the book, I was puzzled because this was the point where it seemed like a big adventure should be starting. There could have been another 400 pages of story, and I probably would have liked that more than the ending the book got instead.

Book Review: Norwegian Wood

Posted by gck Thursday, December 27, 2012 2 comments

NorwegianWoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Recommended for: fans of character-based books

Book 6 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

My review:
There are books I want to review and books that I don’t want to review. This one falls into the latter category, and I’m writing one because it’s a book for the Around the World challenge. I liked the book, but I don’t have anything interesting to say about it. I saw the movie before reading the book, and the beautiful visuals left me with a stronger impression than the text, even though the film had clear flaws.

There are cultures that I feel an instant kinship with and cultures that I struggle to understand. The ones I struggle with aren’t necessarily the ones that are the most visibly different, but the behaviors and sense of humor just don’t quite mesh with my own. This is, of course, a massive generalization based on low exposure, and the Around the World challenge provides an opportunity for me to change that.

The Japanese culture is one of those “weird” ones to me. And reading this book, a bestseller in Japan, doesn’t change that. The characters are weird, especially in the sexual sense. Maybe they’re weird in Japan, too? Either way, it doesn’t clear things up in my mind. Weird characters are interesting to read about, but I felt distant from the characters and unable to really connect with them. The exception to this was Naoko’s retreat from the world into a a sanatorium. This was probably my favorite part of the book, and I felt like I wanted to be all sad and hidden away from the world, too. Ah, returning to the teenage mindset!

Murakami is a beautiful writer, and I’d like to read more of his books. I also think that rereading this one would bring out things I didn’t get in a first reading, and I hope to do a reread soon. One quote remained with me from the film, and it is the same quote (in a more verbose wording) that stands out in the book:

“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature, but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”

2012 in Reading

Posted by gck Wednesday, December 26, 2012 0 comments

I’ve been a pretty lame blogger for the second half of this year. I meant to do Holidailies this month to catch up on the backlog of posts I’ve been meaning to make, but some yucky home water leak issues have eaten into my work and personal time, and then all the holiday stuff had to be done… now I’m relaxing in Indiana for a few more days before heading back real life, and hopefully I’ll get some stuff queued up while I have the time.

One of the things that I’ve done so far in Indiana is read my 40th book of 2012, meeting my GoodReads goal for the year. I posted about this on Facebook, and one of my friends asked me what my favorite book of 2012 was. I gave a short answer (relative to what was in my head), but it gave me the idea for this blog post.

Some statistics (because I love numbers)

  • Number of books read in 2012: 40. Number of books read in 2011: 35.
  • 3 of these books were read as audiobooks.
  • 22 (approximately) were read on my Kindle and 25 read as physical books. Physical books still win. Let’s see if this holds true next year.
  • Total number of pages: 12191, down from 13877 in 2011. Interesting – even though I am reading more books, I am doing less reading.
  • 3 of the books were published before 2000. Most of the books read were published in 2010 or later.

Sources (with overlap)

Arbitrary genre breakdown (with overlap)

  • Historical Fiction: 11
  • Young Adult: 10
  • Contemporary Fiction: 6
  • Chick Lit: 6
  • Fantasy: 4
  • Literary Fiction: 3
  • Memoir: 3
  • Thriller: 1
  • Non Fiction: 1

Highlights and Lowlights

  • Favorite book of 2012: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Interestingly enough, the only non-fiction book in my list. I have a hard time finishing non-fiction, but if one can hold my attention for that long, it’s usually really good.
  • Favorite fiction book of 2012: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I wasn’t alone in this opinion; the book won the Orange Prize for Fiction this year.
  • Most disappointing book of 2012: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Note that this wasn’t the worst book. Just the one that least met my expectations. I thought I’d really enjoy it, with the hiking and soul-searching themes. But it really was not what I wanted it to be.
  • Honorable mentions: The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen – This story about an expat in Saudi Arabia who learns that her husband has taken a second wife after years of marriage had characters that felt genuine to me, and the descriptions of the country were beautiful. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – Lovely literary fiction about a girl who learns about life, love, and loss as the earth’s rotation slows. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple – Wickedly witty chick lit that has particular appeal to me because it focuses on its setting, Seattle. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – The stories of flawed characters in vivid places swept me away into their worlds. Watership Down by Richard Adams – Bunnies!! Reading this “favorite book” of several friends of mine has motivated me to read more of people’s favorites in January.

Hoping 2013 is another great reading year!

Book Review: Wild

Posted by gck Sunday, November 4, 2012 0 comments


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Genre: Memoir
Rating: *** (out of 5)
Recommended for: Fans of Eat, Pray, Love, book clubs

Back-cover summary:
A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

My review:
Lots of hype around this one. I expected this book to be two things:

1. A hike journal
2. A wise memoir of a life-changing experience

I found this book to be neither one of these things, and the disappointment colored my reading experience.

Let's go with the hike thing first. She set the tone with me when the first scene in the book had her throwing a boot into the wilderness. Yeah, okay, she's freeing herself from her shackles or whatever, but I'm sorry, what I see is someone littering in the forest. The account of the actual hiking part wasn't nearly as much of the book as I expected. Sure, in depth trail descriptions probably wouldn't have been that interesting to most readers, but there still could have been a lot more than what was there. She gave numbers for the miles she hiked, but that's not extremely meaningful for people who have never backpacked before. I never really felt the length of a day. I did like her description of Crater Lake, but Crater Lake wasn't the only big, beautiful thing on the trail. Why didn't the Three Sisters get the same treatment? Or the other lakes she passed? The towns definitely got more description than the natural features, and the men she met probably got more page time than the towns!

That's fine. I was half expecting Eat, Pray, Love with some hiking, anyway. But the problem is that I didn't connect with Cheryl Strayed's problems at all. It's also unclear exactly how she changed on her hike. Obviously, between the beginning of the book and now, she matured into someone who has successfully married and had kids and has learned to stay away from heroin. But I couldn't see how she learned any of that through her experience on the PCT. I know the author is just being brutally honest when she recounts her past behavior, but it's still hard to suppress the "How could you be so stupid???" thought that came to my mind way too frequently.

Criticism aside, there were some good parts of the book. It was easy to read. When she actually wrote about hiking, I liked it. There's a scene with a horse that is disturbing and powerful. And I think the book might be good for some readers, getting them to think about breaking their dependence on others and attempting their own solo adventure, big or small.

I haven’t done any long distance hiking, but I did a short backpack on part of the PCT in Washington last year. Maybe a longer segment will happen next year? Solo? We’ll see!

EDIT: I found a Youtube documentary about a novice backpacker’s trip on the John Muir Trail. Though in video form, this is the sort of thing I had originally hoped for in Wild. Definitely worth watching! This is part 1/3.

Book Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Posted by gck Friday, November 2, 2012 1 comments


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathon Safran Foer

Genre: Contemporary Fiction (can I add a genre called “weird”?)
Rating: *** (out of 5)
Recommended for: People looking for a unique book, fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Back-cover summary:
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.

My review:
This is another one of those books written in the voice of an interesting kid. Earlier this year, I read Room, written in the simple voice of a 5-year-old trapped in a room with his mother. And of course, there was the autistic teenager solving a mystery in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In this book, the narrator was Oskar, a 9-year-old boy who thinks like no 9-year-old I've ever met. I initially thought that he sounded like the autistic teenager, with his quirky ideas for inventions and how he would talk about giving himself bruises when he couldn't deal with what was going on. Others have described him as "precocious," but I don't think that really explains his unique voice.

Despite finding Oskar's voice and perceptions to be interesting, I never really was completely engaged in the book, which made it very difficult to finish. Oskar's quest around New York City just didn't hook me. The sudden switches to the grandparents' stories were confusing, and I thought they were just plain weird, with nothing that I could connect to. I read this on the Kindle, and all of the illustrations and graphics were probably less powerful than they would have been in a physical book. I liked some of them, but some of them didn't really add much to my experience.

Seems like a lot of people really loved this book, and some people really hated it. I can't get onboard with either group. To me, it was just okay.

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Posted by gck Wednesday, October 31, 2012 1 comments


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Recommended for: Historical romance fans, book clubs

Back-cover summary:
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship - and innocent love - that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice - words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

My review:
I know I am giving extra points because of personal bias towards the subject matter. It was a pretty good read. I liked the setting the most -- 1940's in Seattle's International District and jazz clubs. It's also nice that the book shines a light on race relations at the time: Chinese vs. Japanese, the treatment of Japanese during the war, general Caucasian attitudes towards Asians, and attempted Asian assimilation into American culture. Reading the book motivated me to do some reading to find out more about Seattle's jazz history and the Japanese internment camps.

There was definitely a lot going on with the characters that was entirely too convenient, and some of the minor characters were pretty bland. The two characters that stood out to me the most were Sheldon and Mrs. Beatty. The author mentions in the interview at the end that they were his favorites, and that definitely comes through. (I didn't realize until the interview that the author was a man!) I also liked the challenges of the main character's relationship with his father. The father's behavior makes up probably the only moral ambiguity in the novel. Other than that, the good guys mostly do good things and the bad guys mostly do bad things.

Given the weight of the subject matter, it would be easy to pick up this book, have certain expectations about its substance, and be greatly disappointed. However, I enjoyed it as a very readable story set in a very interesting time and place.

TR: Alta Mountain

Posted by gck Tuesday, October 23, 2012 2 comments

Distance: ~10 miles
Elevation gain: ~3800 feet
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

This trip report is from mid-September, another trip up the Rachel Lake trail and up from there. The goal was to reach the Alta Mountain summit, but I didn’t get exact enough directions because I assumed the trail would be pretty obvious. This is a mistake I seem to keep repeating, but it always ends up okay in the end because I see something different, and I can always go back and see what I missed. It’s the I-90 corridor after all… not too far of a drive.

IMG_7750  IMG_7769
Left: what I’m told is “Chicken of the Woods” fungi
Right: fall colors

So much for an early start – rock blasting completely closed I-90 Eastbound near the pass until 8:30am, so anyone who woke up really early was probably angry. We hit it around 8:45, so the lingering traffic still slowed us down for a few miles. There were already quite a few cars at the trailhead when we arrived, including a loud group of teenaged boys that I dubbed “the Boy Scouts” that I was really afraid we were going to hear the whole way up. But we left before them and never saw them again. On our way back, we heard a loud group that we thought were “the Boy Scouts,” which was confusing because it seemed like they were going to spend the night. But it was actually a group of middle-aged Asian people, hah.

waterfall  IMG_8150
Left: same waterfall, different years/seasons
Right: small falls on Box Canyon Creek

I hiked to Rachel Lake in July of 2010. Last year in October, I did Rachel Lake and continued on to the Rampart lakes. So this trip marks the third year in a row that I’ve done the Rachel Lake trail. It’s a strong love-hate relationship – there’s a lot to love, a lot to hate. One of the things I love is how Box Canyon Creek follows the trail for a ways, giving pretty glimpses of waterfalls here and there. One of the things I hate? Mile 2.5-3.5 of the trail. The first few miles are pretty much flat, and you gain a lot in the next mile. Listen to the book description: “...at about 2.5 miles, the trail starts upward, climbing steeply as it gains more than 1300 feet in the next mile. That cruel pace is made all the more difficult because of the trail's poor condition.” From the lake, a trail climbs upwards, giving nice views down at Rachel Lake the whole way. Though it’s pretty steep as well, the elevation gain goes quicker and more easily than the creek trail up to Rachel Lake. Soon, we were at the top, and we took a right turn to head towards Lila Lakes and Alta Mountain.

IMG_7859  IMG_7958_stitch
Left: fall colors, looking down at Rachel Lake
Right: Lila Lakes, Hibox Mountain

For this hike, I figured that Alta Mountain was a popular enough destination that the trail up would be very obvious. For the most part, it probably is, but there is a crucial junction after the initial split that I didn’t know about. One way climbs the ridge of Alta Mountain, and the other goes towards Lila Lake and tarns. There are so many social trails on this hike that I’m not even sure where we missed this turn, and I’ve only deduced it by reading other people’s trip reports. I don’t think taking this route was necessarily a bad thing, though. We got some nice, closer looks at the beautiful Lila Lakes and a few tarns, and the mountain views were still quite good. Lots of great campsites in this area, all empty, but we met a number of backpackers heading up on our way out.


We weren’t the only people who ended up this way by accident. We met a guy heading back who said he’d been trying to reach Alta but couldn’t find a trail up and then ran out of time. The trail lead up to a saddle between two peaks, and we weren’t sure which one was Alta. (I clearly did not learn my lesson with Labyrinth) The trail quickly died in one direction, so we headed for the other peak (which was also the one that we could see people on). I believe this was a legitimate way up the side of Alta Mountain, but it seems more difficult and dangerous than the real way. The trail got spotty pretty quickly, then we ended up climbing up a talus field and found the trail again. I was leading the way, and I got to a point where I realized that it would be really easy to slip, and if I slipped, I would die. It was just a short segment, but it was enough to make me pause. The others were unenthusiastically lagging behind, and it was close enough to the turnaround time that we all agreed to head back. The summit will have to wait for another year. We lucked out with the views anyhow – with all the fires going on in Eastern Washington, people have had hazy views pretty far west, but I guess the winds were blowing the right way for us that day.


Hunting season has begun, and that weekend apparently marked the start of high hunt, when deer hunters are allowed up in some of the wilderness areas. I was a bit surprised to see people coming up in camouflage, carrying rifles. Not exactly sure where the deer were hiding up there. Maybe it’s time to get a neon orange hat. The hike down from Rachel Lake was brutal. The steep downhill part wore down my knees and the last 2.5 miles of flat, boring hiking wore down my patience. Overall, this trail is completely worth hiking, though, for some of the best views I’ve seen on the I-90 corridor. However, I think the next time I try to summit Alta, I will take the backdoor route and avoid Rachel Lake for a change.


TR: Mirror Lake

Posted by gck Saturday, October 20, 2012 0 comments

Distance: 3 miles to Mirror Lake, ~5 miles to the tarns
Elevation gain: 800 feet to Mirror Lake, ~1200 feet to the tarns
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

This was from a trip back in August. Definitely behind on posting these trip reports!

I was pretty time constrained on this hike, so I decided to stick to the I-90 corridor in order to use my time to do more hiking and less driving. Since school hadn’t started for most people yet, I wasn’t terribly excited about dealing with crowds at Talapus and Olallie. Instead, I decided to hike to Tinkham Peak via Mirror Lake. I didn’t pay enough attention to the directions for where the boot path to the peak split from the main trail (big surprise) so I did not end up climbing Tinkham. Instead, I accidentally stumbled upon the trail to my backup plan and spent a lazy hour or so lounging around some beautiful tarns.

IMG_5658  IMG_5672
Left: Cottonwood Lake
Right: Mirror Lake

The “not paying attention to directions” thing started well before I began the hike. The directions seemed pretty simple: Take FR-54 (Kachess Lake Rd) from I-90, turn right after a mile onto FR-5480 and go ~7 miles until it turns into a road that is no longer drivable, then park. Simple, right? Well, a few miles in, 5480 intersects with FR 112 and you have to unintuitively take a slight right to stay on 5480. I went straight. The road seemed kind of rough at first, but it did “continue up a hill above Lost Lake” as the book described, so I kept driving… If your normal life is too tame for you and you’ve been seeking thrills through skydiving or Craigslist dates, let me save you some money and suggest an alternative: take an average sedan up FR 112 until your tires start spinning and you can’t drive up any further. Then you’ll realize that you’re on a steep and narrow, cliff-adjacent, barely-one-lane road with no cellphone reception. True story. After pulling out my GPS, swearing about being on the wrong road, imagining my car plunging 500 feet down into Lost Lake, and freaking out a little, I managed to coax my car past the tricky spot to a turnaround point. Going down was just as nerve wracking. I think my next car is going to be a Jeep.

View of Silver Peak and other mountains

Mirror Lake is a fantastic hike/backpacking trip for families. It’s only 3 miles round trip with 800 feet of elevation gain (2 miles if you have a high clearance vehicle and can drive up to the true trailhead… but only two giant trucks managed to make it). I think hiking the forest road up to the trailhead might have been the most difficult part of the hike. Then it’s only half a mile before you get your first treat: the average-looking Cottonwood Lake. There were two fishermen with rafts when I got there but no one else around. It remained quiet as I walked up the remaining half mile to Mirror Lake. It’s not the most scenic hike I’ve done, but there were some flowers on the trail that kept it from being too boring.

Glittering turquoise tarn (lunch spot)

There were people at Mirror Lake, but at this time of day, they were dispersed enough around the lake that it still seemed very quiet. There are a lot of nice-looking campsites scattered around the lake. Since this lake is on the PCT, at this time of year there are a lot of thru-hikers passing through the area and would probably have some great stories to tell. It was too windy for Mirror Lake to live up to its name, but it’s quite scenic with dark turquoise water and Tinkham Peak in the background. Definitely as pretty as Melakwa Lake or Mason Lake, which are far more difficult to reach. On my way back, around 2pm, there were definitely more people on the trail and I didn’t bother swinging by the lake. Lots of people hauling their toddlers up. Not sure there were enough sites to accommodate them all.

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Pretty colored tarns

After walking around half of Mirror Lake, I kept moving, thinking I was going towards Tinkham Peak, but I ended up on a trail to a magical place with little teal-colored tarns. One or two parties were there, but no one was at my tarn, so I got to eat lunch and relax in the sun by myself. There were a bunch of fish jumping in that tarn. A nice way to finish off an easy lake day!

Movie Reviews: Trishna, Payback, The Color Wheel

Posted by gck Friday, October 19, 2012 0 comments

Still super behind on my blog posts! I’ve got book and movie reviews to write and hike reports to post. But now that our Seattle weather has turned sour, hopefully I’ll have more time to update. These are movies I saw during the summer. Funny enough, all of the films in this list were free. Trishna was a free advance screening, I used volunteer vouchers for the two at SIFF, and the Color Wheel was a free ticket that came with my NWFF membership.

UK, 2011
Genre: Drama, Romance
Watched: in theater, Pacific Place
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

When I originally saw the film list for SIFF 2012, Trishna was one of the films I was most excited to see. An interpretation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles set in Rajasthan – sounded beautifully tragic, right up my alley. I was out of town the first weekend of the festival, and all of the screenings fell during that time. I knew it would come back to the theaters, so I waited patiently and read the reviews coming in. I was happy to get a free pass to an advance screening over the summer, but I had also lowered my expectations for the film, which was a good thing. I haven’t read Tess of the d’Urbervilles so I didn’t need it to be faithful to the book, but I did not like how the character of Jay was interpreted, something of a cross between Angel Clare and Alec. He is portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic character in the beginning but quickly morphs into someone who makes Trishna’s life miserable. Her metamorphosis from being naïve and happy to being bitter and sad happens just as quickly, so when the end events occur, it is jarring and incomprehensible. The reactions in the audience that day indicated that I wasn’t the only person who was surprised. Still, this is a visually gorgeous movie. Rich colors, beautiful scenery, all living up to my expectations. I just wanted a bit more out of the story.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
UK, 2012
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Watched: in theater, SIFF Uptown
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

After seeing one of the Slumdog Millionaire stars quietly suffering in a luxurious Indian hotel, I went mainstream and watched the other Slumdog Millionaire star luring British retirees to stay at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where everything was great! Or was planned to become great… soon. This is a pleasant, feel-good movie with a stellar cast and lovely shots to introduce the viewer to India. No huge surprises or revelations, but it was an enjoyable film to watch.

Canada, 2012
Genre: Documentary
Watched: in theater, SIFF Film Center
Rating: **** (out of 5)

My friend Alexis was interested in this film, and I was glad she mentioned it to me because I would have ignored it completely. Payback is a documentary version of Margaret Atwood’s book by the same name, and it interweaves a handful of stories with Atwood’s readings, all focused around the idea of payback. The biggest criticism of this film seems to be that it isn’t focused towards one solid conclusion, but I found that this actually left a lot to talk about after the film, which is what films like this should seek to do. There was a story about a man who had the right to kill another man if he or his family ever set foot off of his property, bringing up topics of revenge and forgiveness. There was a story about the migrant workers who grow and harvest the tomatoes that America is dependent on, bringing up the idea that we owe a debt to these workers that is far more than what they are paid. And there was a story about the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, powerful images that I had all but forgotten as the years passed, about the debt that we are racking up against nature. There’s one about prisoners and the idea of the debt against society. Definitely recommended. Watch it with friends and have a chat afterwards.

The Color Wheel
USA, 2011
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Watched: in theater, Northwest Film Forum
Rating: **** (out of 5)

Another Alexis recommendation, this time a strong one – this was one of her two favorite films of 2011, back for a reprise at the Northwest Film Forum. I agreed that this film was a hidden gem and exactly what a successful independent film should be. It was quirky and not at all mainstream in the sense that when I laughed, it was at things that were surprising and nonformulaic. The two main characters are siblings with a can’t-believe-it’s-actually-functional relationship, and the female deals with the aftermath of a dysfunctional romantic relationship with an older man. When the siblings attend a party, it turns into a social misfits vs. “mean people who are still mean” encounter, sort of like a high school reunion nightmare. All of these relationships are easy to relate to in some way. Ultimately, it’s hard to sum up why movies like this are great, so this is as good as it’s going to get.

TR: Minotaur Lake and Labyrinth Mountain

Posted by gck Thursday, September 27, 2012 0 comments

Distance: 3.5 miles to Minotaur, ~6.5 miles to Labyrinth
Elevation gain: 1850 feet to Minotaur, ~2700 feet to Labyrinth
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

In mid-August, I decided to do a lake/summit to take advantage of the views that the sunny weather would yield. I love Highway 2 hikes, but they have deceptively long drives to the trailhead. This one was a few miles past Stevens Pass, plus about 8 slow miles on forest roads of the “cliffy variety” – pretty disconcerting when you realize you’re on a one lane road with only a few feet between you and a cliff. The trailhead is at the end of a road off of Smithbrook Road (FR 6700) and surprisingly requires no special pass for parking.

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Left: the trail after it left the Forest of Pain
Right: Minotaur Lake

I suggested the Gold Creek trail for people who hate elevation gain but don’t mind distance. If there are people who feel the exact opposite, Minotaur Lake is the trail for you. It’s only 1.75 miles to the lake, but it starts out by gaining about 1200 feet in less than a mile. Super fun, let me tell you. Not only is the steepness terrible, this section is also extremely boring. The forest does at least keep you shaded, but it’s sparse and unscenic. As I made my way up, I was thinking to myself that there was absolutely no way I would recommend this hike to anyone.

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Left: looking down at Theseus Lake
Right: creeks, alpine meadow

I knew from reading trip reports and trail descriptions that after the grueling mile, there was a short reprieve as the trail left the forest, but then it would climb again. Here, it started looking more like a hike. There were some wildflowers, a small tarn, mountain views looking back, and fields of what look a lot like huckleberry plants. Could be a nice hike in berry season. I guess I’ve gotten pretty jaded because when the trail started going up again, I expected it to do so for way longer than it did, and I was completely surprised when I hit the lake. Suddenly, the hike felt a lot better – I hit the lake way earlier in the day than what I’m used to. Took some photos here and kept going, wanting to make the summit before lunchtime.

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Left: summit register with Theseus and Minotaur in the background
Right: USGS marker

Theseus Lake is right next to Minotaur but 500 feet down. There are numerous viewpoints down to the lake as you head up the east side of Minotaur, and the trail down to Theseus was also visible. It’s a steep fisherman’s trail like the ones I end up on when I go backpacking, and I made a mental note of this as a potential future destination. I saw a group of people planning to camp at Minotaur on my way out, but only one group went down to Theseus. Speaking of people, I’d expected a trail like this to be quite popular, but I think I saw about as many people as I do on trails in October! Saw no one on the way up to the lake, then two at a Theseus viewpoint and two more at the Labyrinth saddle. After that, saw no one until I went back down – the ridge walk and summit were all mine to enjoy in private.

Video of a plane flying through and the view from the summit

Once you get around Minotaur, there are lots of trails that lead up to the top of Labyrinth. When trying to do something like this, it’s good to 1) be able to follow a trail and 2) know where you were going. However, I proved that even if you meet none of the criteria, it’s still okay for this hike. The area is so open that it’s really not possible to get completely lost. If I’d realized which one was the real summit, I would have taken a quicker way up. Instead, I followed a trail towards the saddle, aiming for the false summit (it does look taller!). So I did a little more scrambling than I needed to, but it really wasn’t much. Most of this stuff is walkable. I got tired with all the ups and downs on the ridge that I almost decided to stop, but I found some energy after sitting for a few minutes and then made it to the true summit, signing my first ever summit register! I sat and stared at Glacier Peak as I ate my lunch. A few fighter jets were going through the valley so I got to see a nice airplane show, too. As with any summit, it’s 360 degree views. Mountains all around, Minotaur and Theseus below, and perhaps the Skykomish River in the distance.

View of Glacier Peak

I expected to be a lot quicker going back down because I took a more direct path from the summit (instead of heading back to the saddle) and because down is just easier. I ended up losing the trail and having to backtrack a number of times so I hit the lake later than I would have liked. Then the steepness of the Forest of Pain took some time, too. It was so steep in places that my feet would slip from underneath me and only my poles kept me from planting my butt onto the ground. As I was heading down, I saw a dog coming up. Moments later, a guy followed… with an artificial leg. And an overnight backpack. Kudos to him. I no longer felt like whining after seeing that.

Looking towards the summit from the saddle

I still don’t know if I’d recommend Minotaur Lake on its own as a day hike. It’s too long of a drive for a short and brutal hike. But combined with Labyrinth, it’s completely worth it for probably one of the easiest summits in the region with two lakes thrown in as a bonus. I’m certain I will repeat this hike in the fall one of these years.

Movie Reviews: Moonrise Kingdom, The Intouchables

Posted by gck Wednesday, September 26, 2012 1 comments

Started this blog post a few months back, but I never got around to finishing it. After SIFF 2012 ended, I maintained my excitement about the movies for awhile! I caught a Studio Ghibli film as part of the volunteer appreciation party (the other option was Eden, which I didn’t want to rewatch so soon), then did a SIFF-style back to back watching of two festival favorites at Pacific Place. Since then, I’ve been seeing movies in spurts here and there, particularly things that I missed at the festival and have gotten wider releases since then.

Moonrise Kingdom
USA, 2012
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Coming-of-Age
Watched: in theater, Pacific Place
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

Wes Anderson! Wes Anderson! Everybody loves Wes Anderson! Well, everyone except me, I guess. I didn’t even recognize the name, and when I looked at the other movies he’d made, I hadn’t seen most of them and I disliked the ones I had seen. However, I really enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom. It was so charming, with great child actors and lovely 60’s setting and coloring. So much to enjoy here… Edward Norton as a scout master, Tilda Swinton as “Social Services,” the whole New England setting, etc. It’s not a film that blows you away, but you’ll quietly fall in love.

The Intouchables
France, 2011
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Watched: in theater, Pacific Place
Rating: **** (out of 5)

Second highest grossing movie of all time in France. Highly praised at SIFF. The description didn’t sound all that appealing, but the trailer makes it clear how funny and heartwarming this film is. I didn’t realize until the end that it was based on a true story, though it did seem like there were probably a lot of artistic liberties taken with it. Overall, I enjoyed it and laughed, but I didn’t get the strong emotional connection that I’d need to give this a higher rating.


Beasts of the Southern Wild
USA, 2012
Genre: Drama, Coming-of-Age
Watched: in theater, SIFF Uptown
Rating: *** (out of 5)

Two huge sold out screenings at SIFF, highly hyped all over the festival circuit. It sounded like my thing – coming-of-age, set in Louisiana, fantasy elements. But from the trailer, I couldn’t understand why everyone was calling it the best movie of the year. The representative image everyone else uses is Hushpuppy running with sparklers, but I feel like that presents an inaccurate summary of the film. The image I’m using speaks to me more. Strong, determined characters living in a dirty and different world. There were things I liked about it. Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy is a great child actress. My strong reaction to the conditions the residents of the Bathtub live in reminds me that I do live a sheltered life. But overall, the movie isn’t enjoyable. Every adult in the community is an alcoholic, and Hushpuppy’s father is a violent one. It’s tough to see the kids in such deplorable conditions, even though they seem to enjoy their lives. The fantastical aurochs make for interesting images, but I didn’t relate to them as symbols. Finally, the shaky camera is pretty extreme. It gave me slight motion sickness, and my friend who is more prone to motion sickness felt like throwing up.


Old Goats
USA, 2010
Genre: Comedy
Watched: in theater, SIFF Uptown
Rating: **** (out of 5)

Each film festival, there are always a few sleeper films that don’t have a lot of reviews going into the festival, and by the time I hear the hype, the screenings are already over or I can’t fit them into my schedule. Then they disappear into obscurity because they were such small productions that they don’t get distribution. And it makes me sad. Old Goats was one of these from SIFF 2011. I was even more disappointed because they screened it for Best Of, but I wasn’t in town that weekend. A tiny, tiny production written and directed by Taylor Guterson (the son of writer David Guterson) with a budget of $5000 (!!!), this film didn’t even have a Netflix entry, much less a release date, so I was resigned to the idea that I would never get to see it. Imagine my excitement when it showed up on the SIFF Cinema fall program! Well, I finally got to see it, and I’m glad I did. Funny characters with strong personalities showing that retirement doesn’t mean that life heads downhill.

TR: Bean Peak via Bean Creek Basin

Posted by gck Tuesday, September 25, 2012 1 comments

Distance: 5 miles to the basin, ~7 miles to Bean Peak
Elevation gain: 2000 feet to the basin, ~3100 feet to Bean Peak
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

It has been a hot and dry summer for the Pacific Northwest, and the state of Washington is now paying for all of that sunlight by way of out-of-control wildfires. Back in August, when the good weather spell first began, we were thrilled with the sunny, cloudless weekends. That’s when I got it in my head to try this hike. According to my overambitious original plan for this trip, the report should have been titled “Bean & Earl Peaks.” Obviously, it did not go as planned. Lesson #1: Scrambling in the Teanaway is hard. Lesson #2: August is not the right month to be in the Teanaway. Not long after we did this hike, the nearby city of Cle Elum pretty much burst into flame. That’s about how I felt while doing this hike.

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Left: hiking in Bean Creek Basin
Right: gold and orange paintbrush

We followed the Bean Creek Basin trail for the first part of our hike. It’s a short trail, 5 miles round trip, but it’s no joke, gaining 2000 feet in this short distance. Fortunately, a lot of the climb during this portion of the trail is in the shade. Once we got out of the forested area, we started seeing the climbable peaks in the area: Judy, Earl, Bean, and more. Normally when there’s a swarm of stuff flying around near water, it’s a big group of bloodthirsty mosquitoes. But we got a nice treat at a creek crossing: dozens of small purple butterflies all fluttering around the same area. So pretty!

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Left: flowers of some sort
Right: some of the purple butterflies pretending to be flowers

We bumped into some WTA volunteers heading out from a week long work party and also found their campsite in the basin with lots of supplies. I read afterwards that they’ve been doing a lot of work to the Bean Creek Basin trail to route it in a way that is less damaging to the flower-filled meadows. Good job WTA! The basin was pretty with all the flowers, lots of paintbrush, lupine, monk’s hood, and more. We could see our destination and the trail leading up to it. The trail started as a pleasant, flat walk through the meadow and then suddenly turned into an incredibly steep climber’s trail. Then there was no trail, just a few miserable software engineers scrambling up a steep field of loose scree with some plants mixed in. At this point, the cloudless Eastern Washington heat had taken its toll on me and I was feeling nauseous. Managed to make it up to the saddle without vomiting by telling myself that if I threw up, there was no way we’d have enough water to replenish the lost fluids, and then I would just have to die up there. Fortunately, the mountain views were really nice from the saddle, and that cheered us up considerably.

Video of the butterflies

From there, we walked over towards the summit, bumping into a pair of older hikers who immediately put us to shame by pointing really far away and telling us that they had just come from there. Apparently on the way to Bean Peak, they’d climbed to the top of Volcanic Neck (the dark spot in the middle of the last picture in this post) and it was an experience they would prefer not to repeat again. After they left, we got closer to the summit area and things started to look pretty interesting. We managed, but it’s definitely the most technical scrambling I’ve done. Bob was regretting leaving his helmet in the car, and he still thinks that there’s an easier way up that we didn’t find. We’d both read a trip report of another party that had done this hike recently with chihuahuas, and Bob really wanted to know how the dogs made it up. (Went back and reread the TR afterwards: the dogs and one owner stayed a hundred feet or so below the summit)

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Left: Bean Peak
Right: stylin’ summit cairn

Views from the top were pretty fantastic. Looking back towards where we came, we could see Rainier and Adams. In the other direction, it was a panoramic view of Stuart, the Enchantments, etc. It would have been perfect if we could have had those purple butterflies from below flying around us at the summit. Instead, we got biting flies and flying fire ants (termites?). I will say, the view of the peaks is definitely more spectacular than what I’ve seen from the I-90 corridor. However, I think there are probably easier hikes in the Teanaway that might yield similar views.

View from the summit

We made the decision to go down rather than go for Earl, which ended up being the right decision. The ridge walk would have involved some ups and downs and there was more elevation gain to get back to Earl. We had figured it would take us less time going down than it did coming up, but that was definitely not the case for the section from Bean Peak down to the basin. The steepness and all that loose scree was a real pain going down. Once we were down at the basin, it felt like we were almost back to the car. Somehow the difficulty in the second half of the hike had caused my mind to block out the first. We still had 2000 feet to descend. Made it back well before dark, though.

We enjoyed pretty flowers and expansive views and worked really, really hard. My legs weren’t nearly as sore as I expected them to be based on how I felt on the hike, so in retrospect, I think heat and dehydration may have contributed greatly to the difficulty. Maybe I’ll revisit this area sometime when it’s cooler and tag the Earl summit!