What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Last Year): In Washington

Oregon gives way to Washington. BTW, this, all this last summer stuff, was part of a homelessness-inspired road trip I took in 2014. My house in Pittsburgh sold way faster than I meant for it to sell and — well anyway. Starting June 8th or something I was on the road. Went from Pittsburgh to Norman to look for a place to live, then drove up to Utah (by way of the Colorado posts I’ve posted) for my niece’s wedding, then down to San Diego. From SD, I had to fly back to Pgh to defend my thesis, then I flew back to San Diego and started driving north. Ergo: Eastern Sierras, State of Jefferson, then Oregon, then this post.

Also, driving from Bend up to Hood River is a really nice drive.

After crossing the Columbia on a bridge, I camped somewhere and then went to look at some cave where people in the nearby town used to visit to get ice. Because there’s year-round ice in this cave. It’s a real thing.

Trout Lake Ice Cave

There were also some natural bridges around there, but they were odd and green and maybe not quite as dramatic as the ones in Utah. Here:

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Last Summer: Bend, Bachelor, and Broken Top

I had never been to Bend before since I skipped out on the family reunion that had been there. There’s less threat of golf when visiting solo I think.

I went to a really good Thai place there and had the Kao Soi:

Apparently the restaurant was called Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats. There weren't many eats on the menu though.

Apparently the restaurant was called Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats. There weren’t many eats on the menu though.

The very next day, I drove up to Mt. Bachelor to see what there was to see and go on another famous day hike. It’s not a bad drive.

Taken from the road that goes to Mt. Bachelor.

Taken from the road that goes to Mt. Bachelor.

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I Know What I Did Last Summer: Eastern Sierras

I had planned to do this Thousand Islands Lake hike and had permits for it and had borrowed my brother’s bear canister. I didn’t go, though — I think I got sick instead or something. Probably from that stupid too-fancy sandwich place in Bishop, the one with the world’s worst parking lot.

Somewhere north of Bishop.

Somewhere north of Bishop.

But anyway, camped for a couple nights, went on a couple day hikes. Extremely hot, extremely crowded. Note to self: never Sierras between June and September. There: done.

These hikes meant so much to me, I don’t remember what they were called. I don’t *actually* know what I did last summer. The Thai food in Bend was excellent, though. Eventually. After spending six hours stuck in traffic in South Lake Tahoe. A few days after. Etc. Never South Lake Tahoe on 4th of July weekend.

Here are photos taken on hikes in the Eastern Sierras about which I recall no further details: Continue reading

Mills Lake Hike and Rocky Mountain National Park

This happened a long time ago. Before I did my dissertation defense. Before my niece even got married. A long time ago.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a National Park located in Denver. There are a ton of people since in Denver (fine, “in Denver”, where “in” means less than 90 minutes away). The Mills Lake Hike was one I found out about online. It was pretty good. Get to the trailhead early to ensure parking and that the way up the trailer won’t be in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I stayed at some campground just outside the park. It cost $26 because it’s in Denver.

Here’s the payoff from the hike:

Mills Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

Nice, right? I think it’s probably the highlight of the whole park.

On this photo, I think the horse’s head should be crossed out:

No Horses Sign

And somewhere along the way you see this:

Alberta Falls at RMNP

I think it’s called Alberta Falls. There’s no better angle without a helicopter and wires. Sorry. They should have angled the waterfall differently, I agree.

I actually remember thinking it was a great hike three of four weeks ago or whenever it was I actually did itt. I’m just a little jaded right now since I’ve been outside for the last week and seen a lot of mountains and lakes. Tomorrow I will see more mountains and lakes. We’ll see how disappointing they are. Here’s another photo of Mills Lake sort of with some mountains behind:


There was an ice field you had to walk across close to the lake. I got to the parking lot by like 8:30 or so. No problem finding parking and not too crowded on the way up. On the way down, all of Denver was on its way up. And most of Denver is part of one of a variety of youth groups. Then some dude commented on my hat so he could get to his punchline about how dumb it is for Under Armour to make pink camouflage underwear for girls.

After the hike, I drove through the rest of the park. Given that it’s located in a major metropolitan area, the drive over the crest of the park (parks have crests now) was conducted in heavy midday traffic and looked like this:

The top of RMNP

Vorwärts. Immer vorwärts nur.



Climbing Pikes Peak (in a Car)

Pikes Peak is super-close to Colorado Springs. It’s a 14,000+ peak to which you can drive. It is the highest elevation to which I have ever driven. It’s sort of like a toll road operated by the NFS.

Whichever of those peaks is the highest, that's Pikes.

Whichever of those peaks is the highest, that’s Pikes.

At the edge of civilization before you start climbing up to the pass toward where the entry booth is located, there’s a gas station+barbecue place. I used their restroom and bought a rice krispie treat there. The bathroom was the better of the two experiences.

  •  19 miles from the toll booth to the top (IIRC).
  • Somehow takes about an hour-plus to get up there.
  • Most people driving up it are totally reasonable, but it only takes one Minnesotan without the self-awareness to use turnouts to ruin everything.
  • Which is how it takes an hour-plus to get up there.
  • I get a little dizzy and light-headed at 14,000 feet.
  • Also my fingers get a little numb and tingly.
  • There are a lot of hairpin turns.
  • They tell you to only ever use first gear on the way down.
  • Halfway down there’s a checkpoint where an NFS employee tests the temperature of your brakes and if you’re over 300, they make you stop. Mine were 293.0 degrees (Fahrenheit I hope).
  • Here are some other photos:
Backhoes on the road also slow the procession.

Backhoes on the road also slow the procession.





Probably enough.


Whistler-Blackcomb: A Huge Ski Resort

Here are some things I did at Whistler that I’d never done before:

  • Skied a glacier. Unless I did that in Switzerland and just couldn’t see it well enough to recognize that it happened.
  • Rode a T-bar.
  • Hiked up a hill to get to a put-in spot.
  • Skied in Canada.

All these posts are magnum opuses until I start typing.

Skied there January 9th and 10th. The majority of people with whom I rode up chairs were Australian. It was unsettling. The first time in my life I ever encountered Australians was on a ferry between Brindisi, Italy and somewhere in Greece back in 1990. Around 2 o’clock in the morning, having loudly chatted up every college girl on the ferry (the Australians were a bunch of guys), they drunkenly ascended the ferry’s mast until the boat’s crew started yelling at them, possibly threatening to shoot them if they didn’t come down. That remains my enduring image of Australians. Apologies to the decent Australians of whom there are likely several.

What else?

Blackcomb was way better than Whistler. At Blackcomb it was pretty easy to scout out where you were going before you went there, whereas at Whistler I never seemed able to get to the runs I wanted. Despite this, every lift dropped me off at the same dumb place. Except for the one lift that went up to the peak. Plus Whistler had more wind, seemed more crowded, and had a huge lineup for getting onto the gondola.

Magnum opus.

The first day I was there I skied Blackcomb. They didn’t open the Alpine areas until about an hour after the lower lifts started turning. Then I had one interesting run on the Glacier chair, replete with about six inches of new snow and a bunch of exposed boulders. After that, I went back up and then rode the T-bar up to the glacier, except that it doesn’t actually take you to the glacier, you still have to hike some to get to the glacier despite the fact that the glacier is in-bounds and somewhat popular.

Fortunately, walking through Grindelwald in Switzerland had taught me that it’s possible to walk up to a mile in ski boots without dying. Without dying immediately, I mean. Now having walked a mile in ski boots, I will eventually and certainly, though perhaps not imminently, die. It’s the imminence that’s salient here as well as the non-causal nature of the correlation.

I’ve also learned that wherever I ski this year, the conditions will be imperfect. At WB, the snow was pretty good, the coverage was not great, and the visibility was fine for the first hour on Thursday and parts of the afternoon at Blackcomb on Friday, but otherwise pretty bad. Skiing down Blackcomb Glacier, for instance, was probably an amazing experience, I just couldn’t see it to know for sure. I think this, though, has been stated by all people who have ever skied at WB: the terrain is awesome, the snow is pretty good, and the weather is kind of terrible. It wasn’t rainy-terrible, just flat light-terrible. Rainy-terrible might have been better.

Also, the place is huge, so while there may have been locations that were not flat light-terrible, learning of them was problematic and, even had I learned of them, they may have taken an hour and a half to reach. Asking the Australians on the lifts whether they knew of any such locations was unproductive.

Super-tall ski hill, though. The resort claims 5,280 feet from lodge to peak, which is kind of crazy. The cool thing is that this means there’s potential for some long runs. One downside is that it takes a real long time to get from the lodge to the peak — at Blackcomb, this required taking the one gondola (which is at the parking lot that’s above the lodge, actually, so this is sort of cheating) up to the Excelsior lift, taking the Excelsior lift up to the Glacier lift, taking the Glacier lift up to the T-bar, then taking the T-bar up to the place where you have to hike to get to the top of the glacier.

You have to hold on tightly, it turns out, and things get steep at the end. On the T-Bar, I mean. What a weird conveyance: I can see why they’re not allowed south of the border. God bless America!

Also, the way Australians pronounce “glacier” is wholly unacceptable. And the arrogance with which they do it!

Even the beginner chairs here are long, though. The Wizard chair at the true base of Blackcomb rises like 2,400 feet — basically two Blue Knobs high. Seven Springs only claims 900′ elevation (and I kind of think they’re stretching the truth a lot to get there).

WB has the friendliest, most helpful ski resort employees I’ve ever encountered. On the one hand, for the C$109 a day it costs to ski there, they ought to. On the other: well, yeah, but they actually are that good. A lot of them were also Australian, but apparently culled from the more polite part of the country.

The second day there I started at Whistler, but I eventually got tired of its confusingness and bad visibility (though the conversation with the lift stranger who sold his entertainment software company to Disney was the best I had at the resort). I went to the bottom for lunch and got cheap by-the-slice pizza in the village. Apparently food in the village can be considerably cheaper than on the slopes. Then I went back to Blackcomb since it was better.

Here, then, are a bunch of photos from the two days:

Lineup for the Glacier Lift at Blackcomb.

Lineup for the Glacier Lift at Blackcomb.

Lift view of THE ALPINE.

Lift view of THE ALPINE.

Some fresh snow, with rocks.

Some fresh snow, with rocks.

Nearing the end of my historic T-bar ride.

Nearing the end of my historic T-bar ride.

Hiking from the T-Bar to the glacier.

Hiking from the T-Bar to the glacier.

View of some rock from the cat track above Blackcomb Glacier.

View of some rock from the cat track above Blackcomb Glacier.

Apparently the snow on top of the glacier looked like this.

Apparently the snow on top of the glacier looked like this.

Exiting Blackcomb Glacier

Exiting Blackcomb Glacier

I couldn’t see during the whole Blackcomb Glacier situation, but it was still pretty cool. At the end, you hit the tree line and things flatten out. You can expect to have to pole your way through the last bit. Still, pretty cool.

Somewhere at Whistler, a horizon.

Somewhere at Whistler, a horizon.

Heading up the Peak Express lift at Whistler.

Heading up the Peak Express lift at Whistler.

Kind of seems like the chair might not clear the rock here is all.

Just that seems like the chair might not clear the rock here is all.

The top of Whistler Peak looks like this.

The top of Whistler Peak looks like this.

The this thing at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

The this thing at the top of 7th Heaven Express.

Sometimes I wonder at the wisdom of visiting different ski resorts every time I go skiing. I mean, probably part of the reason the Whistler side seemed bad was that I’d spent the entire previous day getting to know Blackcomb and it seemed unfair to again have no idea where I was or where I was supposed to go. I’m looking forward to skiing the same ski hill twice some time this year. I’m not sure when, but it should probably happen.

Also: the drive up there was sort of interesting. I stayed at a cheap hotel in Squamish, which is about half-way between Vancouver and Whistler (about 50 minutes from each). The road from Vancouver to Squamish is very twisty, is always either going up or down, and seems frequently beset with fog and hard rain. It was dark the first time I drove the road and, having already been driving for four hours from Tacoma by the time I got there, the twists, hills, and fog made it an irritating drive. The way back was in the light, though, and it’s an amazingly pretty stretch. Shannon Falls coming down right next to the highway is stunning. No photos though. Sorry. Was trying to get down to Vancouver before rush hour got bad. Just meaning to indicate that it’s worth trying to avoid driving that highway at night.

So — yeah. BTW, Whistler was my first stop using my Mountain Collective ski pass. The pass cost $379 and gets me two days skiing at each of WB, Mammoth, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Alta/Snowbird, Jackson Hole, and Aspen. IOW, regular blog readers may have to endure further such reports. Or just not read them I guess. You’ll survive either way — for a time.





Skiing Mt. Baker on New Year’s Day

This blog is apparently now mostly about chronicling my experiences of skiing badly in as many places as possible. OTOH, at least it has a theme.

I grew up in the Seattle area, but had never been to Mt. Baker before (for skiing). I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that what I saw yesterday was not Mt. Baker at the peak of its powers.

Paid: $56.10 for some reason.
Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 9/10
Weather: Partly sunny very early, then high overcast most of the rest of the day.
Would Return?: I mean, I wouldn’t go out of my way *not* to return.

I went to Baker because it was the only place within three(-ish) hours of my annual holiday headquarters in Tacoma that was “fully open”. Although I think that of all ski resorts in the world, Baker is probably among those for which you can least easily gauge its openness by open trail percentages. Plus there were a couple trails that, once you were there, weren’t actually open. Snow was firm, eventually softening up on the intermediate slopes (Chair 8), but never on the steeper pitches (1 and 6). Fortunately, there were a lot of soft-enough bumps on the intermediates on Chair 8; unfortunately, there were also a lot of neophytes trying to snow plow down them.

I was also surprised by the boarders here — it reminded me of the 1990s, but not in a good way. Every off-load, I was having to take evasive action to avoid the snowboarder pile. In numerous places it seemed like a flash mob of boarders had decided to reenact The Day After the Battle of Gettysburg. I know this was during the kids’ winter vacations, but it was much worse than skiing on 12/28 at White Pass last year. Given that there were no lift lines and there were plenty of open parking spaces, the skiing felt oddly crowded.

That said, the views were great (see below) and, IMHO, the views alone make Baker worth visiting (one time anyway). The lifties were exemplary (except in getting people to clear away from the offload area). Despite the paucity of snow throughout the west, the hazards here were minimal and easily avoided. Weather and visibility were both very good. Lodge food was neither extraordinary nor expensive — a tradeoff I was more than happy with. Parking-to-lift was among the best ever (parked at White Salmon, second row, very easy access to the ticket booth and then C-7).

Had good on-lift conversations the few times chair sharing happened. It seems like I get my best perspectives on life, activity, and aging from 60+-year-old random lift strangers; good job, whatever your names are.

Some photos (all from about 9-10:30 AM):







If I ever were to get into back-country skiing or had someone willing to show me the ropes at Baker, I’d probably need to go back. The out-of-bounds you can see from the chairs looks amazing. However, given the practicality of it being 3+ hours away and the occasional oddness of the on-piste offerings (I got the impression that the lift layout may have been designed by Pittsburgh-based city planners), with decent snow and weather conditions and given my skiing preferences it would be hard for me to justify Baker over the easier access to Crystal. For the “laid-back and local” feeling, I think I preferred White Pass’s relative politeness and self-awareness (perhaps Yakima County does a better job of controlling its youth than does Whatcom).

But, whatever, it was fun.

“Skiing” the Swiss Alps, Grindelwald

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ski in the Swiss Alps so, naturally, this:

Was at a conference in Milan and have a friend who lives in Bern who had invited me up to his place for a couple days. Bern was great, his place was great, the food was great, people generally great, just that the skiing was:

Unfortunately only had two days to choose from for skiing and this was for all appearances the better of the two. Riding a train to go skiing was interesting, and I liked that there were people with skis waiting at every station through which we passed (and that all Swiss trains seem to have ski storage facilities at every door). All the fellow skiers seemed content to ski  the groomers, although this may have reasonably been a function of (a) poor coverage in the non-groomed areas and (b) high likelihood of getting lost in the ubiquitous miasma.

The urinals had soccer goals in them that I thought were cool:

Otherwise, though, it was mostly foggy. We skied the first half of the day on the Kleine Scheidegg side, then took the train down the hill, walked 15 minutes to the gondola, and went up to the First side. It wasn’t better, but it WAS slightly different. All the Talabfahrts were gesperrt, which seemed unfortunate given that there would have been some trees there to break up the flat light. Each lift seemed to have only one skiable run. The goulash soup in the one hut was pretty decent. Rental skis picked up in Bern were not well tuned. Had never been on chairlifts with the bubble screens before; they were cool, if maybe unnecessary on the given day (wind was no problem). It was good to see that Swiss snowboarders also like to make unpredictable stops and turns, made me feel more okay about being an American. Swiss German is unintelligible to me (I’m reasonably fluent in German German).

Here are more photos, because otherwise it seems like too bleak of a post:



On second thought, not sure those photos helped.

So, next time — yeah. I’m not sure a day like this gives any reasonable indications for how to approach skiing in the Alps next time. Next time try not to go when the mountains are beset with inescapable fogs.


Friday — Diamond Peak

I wrote all these up on the plane ride home. FYI.

Paid: $49 (Reno Sports Authority)

Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 9/10

Weather: Overcast with some eventual light snowfall.

Would Return?: Definitely

I’m probably just a sucker for ski resorts with lake views, but I loved Diamond Peak, despite its shortcomings and quirks. I liked the laid-back vibe. The unpretentiousness caught me off guard (I figured Incline Village’s hill would be  more uppity), parking was easy, and the random lift strangers were friendly and engaging. The skiing was also pretty good. Spent most of the day on Crystal Express sampling the diamonds with occasional forays on Lakeview. Snow was chopped powder most places, with some fun in-tree, un-tracked around Eagle Bowl and a few other gladey places elsewhere on the mountain

A little fog at the top of the express lift.

A little fog at the top of the express lift.

Looking up-run (this was "Lightning", I think).

Looking up-run (this was “Lightning”, I think).

View from the ridge.

View from the ridge.

View from the sort-of untracked.

View from the sort-of untracked.

I took these using my goofy video cam:

diamond-peak-eagle-bowl diamond-peak-liftline diamond-peak-view

  • Diamond Peak’s biggest shortcoming was pretty obvious: south-facing and with a lower elevation than some of its competitors, there were a lot of bare spots and some closed runs.
  • The views of the lake were fantastic; the lake is more than occasional scenery here, it’s a constant companion.
  • Visibility was tough up on the ridge before about noon, but got better during the day. Everything coming down off the ridge offered good visibility (even at the top).
  • I bought a sandwich at Wal-Mart in Reno on my way up so I have no idea how the Diamond Peak food is. However, I now know that the sandwiches at the Reno Wal-Mart are bland.
  • Crystal Express doesn’t ski as weird as it looked like it would from the map.
  • I liked that there was always something easy to bail out onto and something harder to bail back into on just about every run and gladed middle-ground.
  • The conveyor belt on-loading on Lakeview (and Lodgepole) was a new experience for me.

The place would probably start feeling small after a couple visits in a season, but I liked Diamond a lot.

Wrap-Up (for the Whole Trip I Guess)

The trip turned out to be phenomenal. I like spring skiing days and I liked getting to experience powder conditions that I haven’t seen since I decided to start skiing again last season. At the risk of igniting an east coast-west coast debate, by Monday afternoon I’d decided my next year’s ski trip destination wouldn’t be Vermont again after all. Even if Squaw wasn’t as transcendent as hoped, the trip overall was generally very nearly euphoric. I was mad when the lifts closed down every day and when I skied my last off Diamond on Friday, it felt like I was, I dunno, being sent back into some sort of dungeon or something.



Thursday — Squaw Valley

Paid: $60 (bought someone’s voucher off Craig’s List a month in advance)

Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 6/10

Weather: OVERCAST with light snowfall throughout.

Would Return?: Maybe

This was the big powder day of the week with it having snowed all day Wednesday. I heard from one random lift stranger that she’d had an even better time of it on Wednesday, in spite of the high winds and closure of the upper mountain, since there was plenty of untracked available and not many hardy souls there with whom to share it. On Thursday: plenty of souls. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper from I-80 to the parking lot. The gondola line (funitel line, whatever) was long in the morning and Shirley Lake and Granite Chief queues were no-doubt aggravating to the non-single. Visibility was very difficult and I ended up spending a lot of time on Shirley Lake where at least I could see while trying to figure out how to ski powder (only partially successful in both endeavors).

Top of the Siberia Express lift looking (I imagine) not entirely unlike Siberia.

Top of the Siberia Express lift looking (I imagine) not entirely unlike Siberia.

I like that the ski patrol is going after the guy before he's even fallen (or started downhill or gotten to the top).

I like that the ski patrol is going after the guy before he’s even fallen (or started downhill or gotten to the top).

Rocks, trees.

Rocks, trees.

  • Siberia Express had no line. Also no visibility on the top section. It’s worse than it looks here:IMG_4535
  • The shear number of chairlifts at this place is incredible. They seemed to start and end everywhere; around every corner was another chairlift (or two). For instance there are five lifts in the photo below (can you find them all??):
  • The rock outcroppings were cool. With those and the relative absence of trees on the upper mountain, I figured this must be what skiing in Europe is like.
  • Had lunch at Fireside Pizza down in the village on the hunch that ski resort food follows the same pricing principles as does dining at Disneyland. At least in this case it did – paid $18 (incl. tip) for a very good pizza and 32-oz. (!) soda in a glass (!!) rather than spending $15 for faster, price gougey-er, and inferior cafeteria-style fare. Would recommend. (Next time you’re at Disneyland, try the same strategy – you’ll see.)
  • As a service to fellow acrophobes, I’ll note that the Red Dog lift is the most fear-inducing lift I’ve ever ridden. There are a couple of long, *very high* gaps on that one and the relatively slow speed of the lift means that the shear terror wasn’t just fleeting.
  • Had been worried about needing chains for the drive up. Didn’t need them, despite Nevada DOT’s website stating that there was a chain check station on the 80 east of Truckee (the agriculture inspection station apparently had confused them).

Especially in the morning, the whole place had a sort of hyper-focused, manic air to it. I’m assuming it was all the expert-skiing locals who were super-determined to find the remaining stashes. No one was rude or anything, just – it wasn’t much of a kick back-and-enjoy vibe going on.

I talked to a lot of more-experienced skiers the following day at Diamond Peak and had a couple of them offer up criticisms of Squaw based on weather issues and lay-out.  I can see why expert skiers would love the place, especially on a powder day, but I sympathized with the criticisms. For me, I wanted there to be more trees to ski around and to help with visibility. I also wanted there to be something groomed somewhere so I could take a few relaxed runs once I got tired of feeling like half an idiot on the by-midday chopped-up powder on the blue squares. It’s not like I didn’t have fun – I had a great time at Squaw. I think I just expected it to be some sort of transcendent mega-experience and instead it felt somewhat compromised. Maybe I did it wrong. Maybe it was the cloud-induced seasonal affective.

Here’s another photo:

The way back home.

The way back home.