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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: Iceline (Yoho National Park)

Posted by gck Tuesday, November 5, 2013 0 comments

Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 2265 feet

Here’s the beginning of my catch-up trip reports for the summer, beginning with three hikes from the Canadian Rockies. I was pretty bad about completing my trip reports for my two trips last year (did I really not post any? Looks like I’m further behind than I thought!). For now, I’m starting with the last hike of the trip because it was also the last hike I did (and did not write about) on my previous trip.


A lot of the hikes I do sell themselves pretty well through pictures. Iceline is not one of them. Last year when I was doing my hike research, I noticed that many people raved about Iceline. But when I looked at photos, I saw this barren wasteland with big chunks of ice and thought, "Seriously?!" On my Cirque Peak hike, I talked to a couple who had been going hiking in the area for many years, and they said Iceline was their favorite. So on my last day in town, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t end up being my favorite, but I did like it a lot, especially for its uniqueness. On this trip, having already done a summit hike and a lake hike, Mike and I settled on Iceline for the last day.

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left: Takkakaw Falls, right: moraine and interesting imprints in the rock

There are different trailheads that can be used to access this hike. We chose probably the most popular one, at the Whiskyjack Hostel. Many people park along the road, but we parked in the nearby Takkakaw Falls lot for a closer look at the massive falls before walking to the real trailhead. The falls are a popular drive-up destination.

Indian paintbrush  IMG_2633
left: paintbrush, right: trail sign with many options

People who love the Rockies tend to be mountain and glacier people, not forest people. A lot of trails in Washington will sit in the forest, maybe next to a babbling creek, for about two miles before starting the serious climbing. In Banff and Yoho, the beginning of the hike is switchback after switchback until you’re over the treeline. Fortunately, on this hike, there are views of Takkakaw Falls and surrounding mountains to look at as you go upwards (and Daly Glacier, which feeds the falls, quickly comes into view).

Emerald Glacier, waterfalls, tarn

Finally, the elevation gain calms down when you hit a moraine. (A moraine is an area of debris left behind by a glacier – in this case, the entire trail is moraine) Here, the Presidential Range is right next to the trail, the glaciers are practically at trail level, and the name Iceline makes sense. It’s impossible to convey the scale and presence of these things from pictures. From a distance or from pictures, all of the debris looks pretty boring. But there’s a lot to see up close. There’s actually quite a variety of rocks, and some of it had interesting imprints. (The Burgess Shale, one of the greatest fossil fields in the world, is located in Yoho National Park.) And even though the moraine looks all rocky and barren, some flowers still manage to grow up there.

IMG_2670_stitchYoho Valley, mountains (more detail)

One reason the Iceline isn’t a typical trail is that there is no destination. Not only is there no single standout sight, there isn’t even an obvious end. You can just keep on walking. The trail forks early on to head over to Yoho Pass and Emerald Lake, then forks later on to go to Lake Celeste and Laughing Falls. There are options to continue on into Little Yoho Valley and the Whaleback, and there’s even a backcountry hut out there for people to stay overnight. But most dayhikers do what we did – walk until it’s time to turn around. It seems like each section of the trail is separated by a small ridge, and when you climb over it, there’s a new surprise to see: waterfalls, a tarn, a view of a new mountain, etc.

Ground squirrel, waterfalls, panoramic views

I was surprised by how many people were hiking the trail this time (there weren’t nearly as many last year in early September). However, since there’s so much open space, it didn’t feel crowded. Hopefully this is a convincing description of the hike that makes it sound more interesting than barren wasteland! More to follow.


It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Posted by gck Sunday, November 3, 2013 1 comments

…NOT. People always think that rain is the worst part about Seattle weather, but it’s not true. Lack of sunlight is the worst part. During daylight hours, we already get a measly amount of sunlight coming through the thick layer of clouds that blankets the sky from October until June. It’s just rubbing salt in the wound to see complete darkness when we leave work each day. So while I was happy to get an extra hour of sleep today, I am more unhappy about this:


Oh well.

Snow and low temperatures in the mountains also means I’m done hiking for the year. I’ve been pretty behind on my blog entries, but I’ll have some catch up trip reports coming soon.

In other news, I finally got a new camera! The Canon EOS M dropped low enough in price to make it worth buying. I might regret it once I see all the Black Friday deals, but I didn’t want to wait that long because I need to figure out how to use the camera properly before my trip in December. Sadly, I didn’t get the camera before my last hike, so instead, I’ve been practicing on my cat, who hates it.


He’s an attractive subject to photograph, though! And trickier than hiking scenery because he doesn’t want to stay still.

IMG_0006  IMG_0039

Yeah, I guess this was just an excuse to post cat pictures. More content coming up soon!

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TR: Cascade Pass/Cascade River Road Washout

Posted by gck Tuesday, August 13, 2013 0 comments

I still owe trip reports from the Canada trip, but this weekend was so exciting that it seems like I need to get to this one first.

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left: North Cascades National Park sign
right: hike options from Cascade Pass trailhead

We chose a really bad weather weekend to camp in the North Cascades. Thursday night was fine, but thunderstorms started while we were sleeping Friday night and were intermittent through the rest of the weekend. As of Sunday morning, these storms were just annoyances that got our stuff wet and interrupted dinner, but that was about to change really quickly…

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left: rocks and low clouds above
right: rocks and low clouds below

We got off to a late start because of rain in the morning and breaking down camp. Getting to the trailhead took longer than I expected. We had to head back west about 30 miles to Marblemount, then there was another 23 mile drive east on Cascade River Road. The road was pleasantly paved for 10 miles, then the rest was primitive road, but it was in better condition than other forest roads I’ve experienced. It’s a very pretty drive, full of beautiful trees framing the road, creeks and waterfalls, and at the end of the road (and the trailhead for our hike), a great view of Johannesburg Mountain and its glaciers. There’s a picnic area there, which is a nice stop for people driving up for the views.

IMG_3277  IMG_3291
left: USGS marker at Cascade Pass
right: Cascade Pass

Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm is supposed to be an amazing hike. On a nice weather day, it’s easy to see how it would be. However, we got hit with low clouds that didn’t let up at all on the way up, only affording us brief glances at Johannesburg Mountain and Cascade Pass. Monotonous switchbacks with nothing to look at are really boring! It’s just switchback after switchback heading up to the pass, but they’re pretty long and not that steep. Cascade Pass was very pretty (prettier than my camera could capture). We ate there and listened to a ranger talking to people. It didn’t feel like this was enough and there was still time in the day, so I suggested that we press on towards Sahale Arm and just hike as far as we had time for, hoping that we’d hit the views down towards Doubtful Lake. The name should have tipped me off.

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left: pretty pink flowers
right: pika!!!!

We started climbing what the book promised would be “800 feet in one mile” when things started to look ominous. A group of people came back towards us, making it pretty clear that they had turned around before their destination because of weather conditions ahead. At first I thought that they might have been mistaken, since we’d been seeing the low cloud layer all day, but the thunder put an end to that thought. I did get a glimpse of a pika (also checking out the weather?) before we turned around. It didn’t take long for the rain to follow the thunder. We had three pieces of rain gear for four people, and one of my brothers was in cotton, so I gave him my poncho and immediately got drenched. Then lots of hail started falling and probably pieces of ice with it because all of my exposed skin was stinging from the assault. I had to keep reminding myself that this hike was my idea. Fortunately, the lightning was pretty far away, as it had been during our camping nights.

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left: brothers on the trail after the first thunderstorm
right: Johannesburg Mountain with glaciers and waterfalls

Once we made it to Cascade Pass, the rain had stopped and we were even seeing some blue sky. I wondered if we should have just continued, since we would have gotten wet no matter what. But the second thunderstorm followed not long afterwards, this time with a heavy downpour. The switchbacks section had many trees, but they were tall and thin and useless for sheltering us from the rain. Finally, a bolt of lightening immediately followed by a clap of thunder so loud that I covered my ears got me pretty scared, and I told my brothers to descend as quickly as possible without injury.

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left: hourly ranger meeting
right: supply-bearing helicopter

We made it back to the trailhead without incident, and I was waiting in line for the bathroom to change into dry clothes when someone casually mentioned that a bridge washed out on the road and we might be here for many days. Uh, what?! We changed and decided to see what was going on, but we didn’t even make it out of the parking lot before being stopped by someone who told us the same thing. So we went back to our parking spots and stayed in the car, stepping out during breaks in the rain to see if anyone had any updates. It became clear that we had no evidence that anyone on the other side of the washout had knowledge that it had happened. Later in the evening, someone figured it out and radioed two rangers we had seen on the hike that day, and they rushed down to take care of things. They got people counts and phone numbers of contacts who needed to know that we were stranded, and they also made sure that everyone had enough food and water to make it through the night. Only one group didn’t, though many people had no dry clothes or sleeping bags/blankets. Our food supply was pretty meager, but it was enough to get us through, and we were well equipped otherwise.

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left: Cascade River Road Refugee Station
right: waterfall along the side of the road

Once it got dark, we pulled out chairs and sleeping bags and looked up at the stars. It was way colder here than at the campsite the nights before, but the view was amazing. So many stars, Milky Way visible, and we spotted some stunning meteors from the Perseid shower. Sadly, clouds coming in didn’t let us keep the view for as long as we wanted. We waited in our (warm) cars for the first round of clouds to pass, but the second round came in pretty quickly, accompanied by a few drops of rain, so we called it a night and settled in for some quality car sleeping. We had two cars because David couldn’t come up until Friday night, which seemed wasteful before but came in handy for sleeping because we each got a front seat.

IMG_3397  IMG_3458
left: culvert and washout before repair
right: temporary road a few hours later

The next morning, the rangers started holding an hourly meeting on the half hour to give us any updates and answer questions. These guys were really great about taking care of things and keeping everyone calm. However, the morning news wasn’t great. They knew we’d be here for at least the first half of the day, and it was possible that they’d figure out a way to shuttle people out but not cars. Daniel and I took a hike down to the site to check it out. It was a little over a mile from the parking lot, but it was pretty steep downhill, which made it unfun coming back. There were people on the other side examining the situation, and they also threw over some crucial supplies – toilet paper. All of the rolls made it across! You can see one roll toss in my video below. When we got back, the ranger gave us a positive update: the ETA of getting us out WITH our cars was 5-7pm! Still looked like the twins were going to miss their flights, but at least we wouldn’t have to spend another night out there.

Video: washout site, supply transfer, and washout repair

After lunch (and by lunch, I mean some BBQ chips and half of an energy bar), all four of us walked down to the washout site again, since we’d heard they had started construction around noon. The walk was a pretty one, with several waterfalls and creeks and views of Johannesburg Mountain. Some people had started harvesting salmonberries and huckleberries along the side of the road, too. We missed seeing the supply helicopter land at the parking lot with a drop of food, water, and medicine, but we did see it circle the washout site a few times. We watched the construction vehicle pick up logs and debris and dump it in the washout, and a dump truck full of rocks also filled in some of the area. By the time we started walking back, the vehicle was able to drive over to our side, and by the time we made it back to the parking lot, we were being told to pack our cars because they’d be ready for us in 15 minutes. The temporary road probably took only a little over 3 hours to complete, which is amazing. The helicopter drop included sandwiches, which tasted like the best thing ever.

more pictures from the washout

And now we’re all home, safe and sound. Sounds like storms were pretty crazy all through the Cascades, and we heard about the mudslides that took out a section of Highway 20 where we had just driven the day before! This weekend was a lot more adventure than any of us had bargained for or care to repeat in the near future, but at least there were high points and a good story to tell. Thanks to the amazing rangers and other people involved in getting us out of there! I was really impressed by how well things came together.

TR: Thorp Mountain

Posted by gck Monday, July 15, 2013 0 comments

Distance: ~8 miles
Elevation gain: 2300 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

With lots of sun forecast for the weekend, I was tempted to do another Teanaway summit hike (remember Bean Peak from last year?). But because I’m not in great shape right now, I opted for an easier, slightly more shaded option from my list so we could be pan fried instead of deep fried.

It would have been easy to drive right by the “trailhead” for this hike if other cars hadn’t been parked there already. You have to look closely for a small gated road off to the right where the road widens a little. However, if you miss it and drive all the way to the end of the road, there is a shorter, steeper fisherman’s trail that takes you to Thorp Lake. It’s not a bad option, as the first part of the trail isn’t incredibly interesting anyway.

IMG_0643  IMG_0705
left: Thorp Creek
right: Mount Rainier

The first part of the trail is old undriveable forest road, with a crossing of Thorp Creek that is the most significant (but not problematic) crossing of the hike. The real trailhead forks from the road, with signage that could be easy to miss. I would like to point out that despite my track record, we did NOT get lost on this hike. There were many points where I could have made a mistake, but all of the decisions were right this time! For the most part, I followed the advice from another report I read: “When in doubt, go left.” The real trail is pretty flat for about a mile and overgrown in spots. I’m so traumatized by my experience in Northrup Canyon that I now associate “Eastern Washington” and “lots of green stuff” with rattlesnakes, but I don’t think this is one of those places, thank goodness.

Kachess Lake and wildflowers

It would be easy to dismiss the bottom part of the hike as boring. However, there were butterflies and flowers around us and sounds of birds chirping and the creek trickling. The trail was in great condition, not too rocky and not rooty at all, so it was a pleasant, almost magical walk down. All of the flowers in the world couldn’t mask the heat on the way up, and we found ourselves stopping at each shaded area for a drink of water. Also, a horse died by one of the creek crossings in 2011 (and they closed the trail for the rest of the year). One couple we passed had seen the bones, but we missed them.

upland larkspur  IMG_0807
left: upland larkspur
right: trail with lots of wildflowers

After a bit of going upwards, we found ourselves at the junction to Thorp Lake. We decided to save this for the return trip, and I falsely assumed that we were close to the top. In fact, there was still quite a bit of climbing to do. Past the lake, there’s a junction for the Kachess Ridge trail that can be taken for a longer loop hike. We also hit a few minor snowfields. Nothing dangerous, but one guy in front of us got a little too relaxed and slipped and fell into a big puddle. A short distance pass the Kachess junction, there’s a viewpoint with views down to Thorp Lake. At this point, there’s also a small trail on the right that heads upwards, which is what the guidebook says to take. The puddle guy went up for awhile and decided that it was too minor of a trail to be the right one, so he continued on the main trail. We followed, which was the right decision. The side trail is probably shorter, but we saw some people coming up where it met with the main trail again, and they said it was really steep and hard to follow at times. The main trail isn’t easy by any means, but it’s well-maintained and gives gorgeous views of Mount Rainier, Kachess Lake, and tons of wildflowers – we saw lots of paintbrush, lupine, daisies, etc.

Thorp Mountain fire lookout

Of course, the views got better with every switchback we climbed (convenient excuse to stop for a photo break) so we were in decent spirits when we finally saw the lookout. There weren’t many cars at the trailhead when we started and finished, but it seemed like we met everyone at the top. It’s a reasonably large summit area, but good seating is limited. We did get a nice lunch spot when a couple conveniently vacated. The fire lookout wasn’t open, but you can stand on its balcony and take in the views. Mountains all around! One of the distinct ones is Mount Stuart… the naming of the rest is left as an exercise to the reader. You can see in greater detail in a Photosynth I created. Beautiful 360° views!

Thorp Lake

It was hard to pry ourselves from the views, but we eventually made our way down. There was a bit of confusion at the Kachess Ridge trail junction – “Thorp Lake” is the right way to go, but the actual turnoff for the lake comes at a later junction. The lake is a short detour off the trail, so short that it doesn’t make sense to skip it. There are a bunch of campsites near the lake, including a few group sites, one of them massive enough to hold a few boy scout troops. The sites on the other side of the lake looked really nice, and there were people swimming and floating in their own personal sections. For a holiday weekend, it did not seem too busy. It’s also reputed to be a decent fishing lake, and one person mentioned that they’d caught a small trout. The lake itself reminds me of Mason Lake – pretty in the right lighting, average-looking otherwise, warm enough for swimming.

IMG_1032  IMG_0660
left: catpacking
right: Western blue flax

We were standing around and getting ready to leave when my brothers both said, “Cat.” “What?” I said, confused. They repeated, “Cat!” and pointed behind me. There was a backpacker… with a cat in his pack. Most awesome thing EVER. Of course, I had to get a picture and ask a few questions. The cat is leashed, but he doesn’t run off without it (which is amazing!). He was asking other campers about fish, so maybe the cat gets fresh fish for dinner. Not sure about the pooping situation, though! At that point, we knew we weren’t going to see anything more awesome that day, so it was time to head down and get to dinner. Great day, and this hike is highly recommended as a good early season option!

View from the top of Thorp Mountain (more detail)

Book Review: The Language of Baklava

Posted by gck Sunday, July 7, 2013 0 comments

languageofbaklavaThe Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Recommended for: foodies

Book 15 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
Diana Abu-Jaber weaves the story of her life in upstate New York and in Jordan around vividly remembered meals: everything from Lake Ontario shish kabob cookouts with her Arab-American cousins to goat stew feasts under a Bedouin tent in the desert. These sensuously evoked meals in turn illuminate the two cultures of Diana’s childhood–American and Jordanian–and the richness and difficulty of straddling both. They also bring her wonderfully eccentric family to life, most memorably her imperious American grandmother and her impractical, hotheaded, displaced immigrant father, who, like many an immigrant before him, cooked to remember the place he came from and to pass that connection on to his children.

My review:
It took me a really long time to finish reading this… so long (almost 6 months) that I thought I might never finish. Even though I really liked what I was reading, I ended up getting hit by the same force that often makes me not finish other non-fiction books – without the hook of a continuous narrative, I drift away and it takes awhile to come back. There is exactly one e-book copy of this book available in the entire Puget Sound area and a few people on the waiting list each time, so I’d read for three weeks, wait a month and a half, then get back to it again.

But it’s worth it. Maybe another reason I couldn’t read continuously was that the writing made me so hungry that I’d put the book down and get something to eat! Not only are the chapters full of mouthwatering descriptions of food, there are also actual recipes of food that are related to the stories, for example: Bud’s Special Rice for Special Company, Barbaric Lamb Kofta, and Garlic-Stuffed Roasted Luxurious Leg of Lamb. This book is a food lover’s dream.

While food is surely the star here, the characters fight for attention, too. The reader really gets the feel of how it is to be a part of the author’s family. Bud (the father) is unforgettable with his boisterous manner. As a child of immigrant parents myself, I could relate to many of the experiences that the author described (though I think she got to eat yummier food!).

Book Review: The Dervish

Posted by gck Friday, July 5, 2013 0 comments

dervishThe Dervish by Frances Kazan

Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: *** (out of 5)
Recommended for: people interested in learning more about Turkey and historical events
Received ARC copy through NetGalley.

Book 14 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
The first Arab Spring: revolution and passion seethe and erupt in this action-packed romance during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire. Kazan's novel takes us intimately behind the veil, to see and experience the Ottoman world, to let us view, from the "other" side, how the cultural and political antagonisms between the Occident and the Orient of the past century look. There are no easy villains or heroes in this story. Only ardent, unforgettable characters. An American war widow seeks emotional asylum with her sister at the American Consulate in Constantinople during the Allied occupation in 1919. Through a cross-stitched pattern of synchronicity Kazan's heroine becomes a vital thread in the fate of Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) and his battle for his country's freedom. Based on firsthand accounts of the Turkish nationalist resistance, The Dervish details the extraordinary events that culminated in 1923 with the creation of the Republic of Turkey.

My review:
The Dervish tells of events leading up to the creation of the Republic of Turkey through the eyes of a Western artist named Mary Di Benedetti. There are a lot of historical details mentioned in the book. Having recently taken an online course on world history, it was interesting to me to see names I recognized from my class appear as characters in this novel. The descriptions of various places in the Ottoman Empire made the setting come alive for me.

Despite this (or perhaps in a way because of it), I didn’t fully connect to the characters and plot. There’s a lot of action and suspense, as Mary is intimately involved in pivotal events and constantly in danger. Some of it had me eager to find out what happened next, but sometimes the pace lagged and I got lost in the details. Mary has love and grief to deal with. I felt like the grief was handled well, but the love could have been left out and the story might have been stronger.

TR: Colchuck Lake

Posted by gck Wednesday, July 3, 2013 0 comments

Distance: 8.4 miles
Elevation gain: 2200 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

Welcome to 2013 hiking! This is a few weeks earlier than I normally start hiking, but the weather was right and my mom wanted my brothers to spend a day away from their computers. I never fully caught up with my Canadian Rockies trip reports from last year! At this point, I’m not sure I remember enough to do full reports, which is too bad. I’ll have to do better this year.

I’ve started paying more attention to what hikes are good to do in this early season before the prime stuff melts out. This one melts really early – this year, people were reporting a snow free lake by the beginning of June! It’s a bit of a drive from the Seattle area, but it’s worth it. Note that no dogs are allowed in this area to protect the fragile environment. You can’t miss the multiple signs at the trailhead, but we encountered one guy who decided to take his dog anyway. Off leash, of course. The last time I did this hike was in October 2009... huge temperature difference! I’m also happy to report that I was in much better shape at the beginning of this season than I was at the end of the 2009 hiking season, which means that all of this work has some sort of lasting effect. There is still hope for me!

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left: Mountaineer Creek
right: mountain views

Colchuck Lake and Stuart Lake share the same trailhead and trail for the first few miles. The trail stays close to Mountaineer Creek (with a few crossings and two nice bridges so you don’t have to worry about getting wet) for about two miles, and this part of the hike isn’t very steep, and some sections are even flat. One of my brothers had done Poo Poo Point earlier this month, and after a mile of this hike, he was practically complaining that it was too easy. The trail spent more time in the woods than I remembered, and right now, there still aren’t many flowers. However, the creek has quite a bit of water going through it at this time of year, and it’s impressive to see and hear. I also noticed some sections with burned trees where last year’s wildfires made their mark.


Things get more challenging after the Stuart Lake trail splits, but there are also great views of surrounding peaks (that I am of course unable to name). It seemed like we kept going up and up, and all of a sudden I started seeing the blue of the lake peeking through the trees. A lot of lake hikes plop you right down at a nice lunch and viewing spot, but Colchuck teases you with partial views for awhile before you get to a place where you want to settle down. The lake is really large, with many places around the lake to sit down. Even though the parking lot was pretty full when we left and we encountered a number of people along the way, we still had our own space for lunch. We could see another group nearby, and they provided our lunchtime entertainment as one of the adults jumped in the lake to get a reluctant kid to do the same. By the way, apparently Colchuck means "cold water" in Chinook.

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left: hungry chipmunk
right: mountain goat!

We passed a group of people at the lake who apparently didn’t realize that they weren’t supposed to feed the wildlife. They were giving their kids food to hold in their hands and standing around with their phones and DSLRs, trying to catch a super-awesome shot of a bird eating out of a kid’s hand! Then they got an even better idea… why not put food on a kid’s head? The bait worked, and the kid said, “Ow!” as the bird pecked his head. But they didn’t get the shot, so they put food on his head again. Meanwhile, some hungry chipmunks went over to their backpacks and stole their nuts.


On our way out, someone told us that there were mountain goats in the area, and sure enough, I saw tufts of white fur caught on rocks and branches. I found two goats eating in a cluster of trees near the lake, but they were mostly hidden from view. A third goat ran briefly in sight, so I got my goat picture! I typically don’t see mountain goats on my hikes, so this was a real treat. I’m glad the “feed the wildlife” family wasn’t around.


I had it in my head that I wanted a view down towards the lake, and I’d planned on perhaps going up part of Aasgard Pass if I had energy and it wasn’t snowy. The weather was more cloudy than I’d hoped (so no brilliant turquoise water), but I still dragged my brothers to the south end of the lake. I followed the cairns in the direction of Aasgard and then went up a little bit of the boulder field, just enough to find a big boulder to sit on and take in the views. We saw a few people going up Aasgard that day, but Colchuck Glacier was more popular. The climbers were like little ants in groups of four or five, slowly making their way up the snow. Lots of people (who were fortunate enough to get lottery permits) were camping that night. The view of the lake in the morning before the afternoon mountain shadow would be pretty spectacular.

random video clips and pictures from my camera

Good start to the season! Hopefully lots more to come.