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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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. Quvenzhan√© 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.

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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!

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