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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!