WY-Gannett Peak

Summit Date

August 3, 2019

Party

Ryan Cragun and Tom Triplett (with logistical support from Mark Woolley, who almost made it)

Trip Report

Eighteen years after completing my first state highpoint (Utah’s King’s Peak), Wyoming is likely my last state highpoint – #49. While not the highest state highpoint, Wyoming is the longest hike as state highpoints go and is in very rugged terrain. As a result, we had to put a fair amount of planning into this hike.

Pre-Hike

The three of us met on July 31st to do a final gear check after having communicated for months about the equipment we would need. We were generally well-prepared for the hike with the relevant technical gear (e.g., harnesses, rope, helmets, ice axes, crampons, gaiters, crevasse rescue equipment, etc.). Tom had not picked up a few food items, but we were otherwise ready.

We also had a plan for the hike. Based on various trip reports, it looked like the “easiest” route (no route for Gannett Peak is easy) was the Glacier Trail from the east, entering through the Shoshone National Forest. Those trip reports also suggested that the hike was about 25 miles one way; 50 miles round trip. Thus, we had planned to hike about 10 miles per day, give or take a mile or two, to make for 5 good days of hiking.

Day 1 – August 1st

After a little debate about what time we were going to leave from Northern Utah for the trailhead, we eventually headed out around 5:30 am. The trailhead is just outside of Dubois, WY, which was about 5 hours away (see map below).

We stopped at the Wal-Mart in Evanston to pick up a few supplies along the way. We also had to make an emergency gas stop in Farson. We thought we’d have enough gas to make it to Lander but it seemed unlikely. Luckily, a gas station had just opened in Farson, otherwise, we probably would have run out of gas about 10 miles outside of Lander, which would have been a rough start to the hike.

We arrived in Lander around 10:30 where we topped off the gas. Mark picked up a fishing license. Tom stopped by an outfitter to pick up some crampons (the ones he had ordered hadn’t arrived). We then grabbed some lunch before heading to the trailhead, which was about an hour and a half outside of Lander. The turn off is about 4 miles outside of Dubois, WY and then roughly 9 miles on unpaved but well-groomed trails.

There were about a dozen cars at the Glacier Trail trailhead when we arrived. The weather looked great while we finished getting our packs ready. A family from France showed up just as we were getting ready to leave. They kindly snapped a photo of us before we hit the trail:

(left to right: Mark Woolley, Tom Triplett, Ryan Cragun)

Per my Garmin watch, the starting elevation was 7,598 feet. We left the trailhead around 12:50. The trail starts by working its way up and over a ridge, crosses a river, then continues along some fairly rocky terrain for about 2 miles. Miles 3 and 4 are in Bomber Basin, which is pretty level and has several wide, beautiful meadows. We got caught in a brief rainstorm here that forced Tom and me to pull out our raingear for about 30 minutes. Miles 5 and 6 are some pretty serious switchbacks that increase the elevation quickly. At the top of the switchbacks, things level out for a little bit and you actually have a little downhill to a stream crossing where we stopped to pump/purify some water. After crossing the stream, it’s a slow steady uphill across a meadow and plateau that just keeps going and going. It’s a solid couple of miles on that plateau (at least 1 1/2 until you reach Arrow Pass). You cross a pass that my watch said was at 10,850 feet and is above the treeline. After that, you start a slow descent back into another valley.

The plateau to Arrow Pass that never ends!

Mark goes to the Wind Rivers (the mountain range that Gannett Peak is part of) every year with family, so he had warned us about the bugs. They weren’t horrible, but they were bad enough in the lower valleys that Tom and I had already put on our bug head nets and gloves to keep them off us. We were also wearing long pants and long shirts. Above the treeline, the bugs were not as bad. That fact gave us an idea – why not camp right at the treeline on the other side of Arrow Pass to minimize the bugs? We could see from the pass that the trail dropped down into the trees just before dropping steeply in elevation. We could see some spots that looked like they would work.

Just before we got to the pass, we also ran into two other hikers – Jason and Joe – who were busy flying a drone. Jason was carrying a 75 to 80-pound pack with tons of camera gear. We stopped to talk to them for a bit then continued toward our desired campsite.

Sure enough, as we approached the treeline, the bugs started back up. We worked our way to the left of the trail and eventually found a spot that was nestled at the top of the treeline and was nice and flat to set up camp. We quickly set up the tent, got a fire going, and cooked dinner, which was dehydrated meals in bags. Mark also informed us that he wasn’t feeling very well. He had a dry mouth and felt like he was going to throw up. That wasn’t a good sign.

After dinner, Tom prepared his bear cannister while Mark and I set up our bear hangs before turning in for the night. A light rain started just as we were climbing into the tent.

Per my watch, we started at 12:49 and did 10.22 miles over 6 hours and 40 minutes. Here’s a chart of the elevation gain:

Elevation chart on Day 1.

Day 2 – August 2nd

Thinking we only had to cover 10 miles on day 2, we didn’t rush to get ready in the morning. We got up around 7:00 to 7:30, made breakfast, and slowly broke camp. We didn’t head out until 8:54.

From where we camped, the trail drops pretty steeply into a valley filled with mountain lakes. Mile 2 put us at Double Lake. Star Lake was at mile 3. Just after mile 4 we could see Honeymoon Lake, which you can see from the trail, but the trail doesn’t get very close to it. Just after you see Honeymoon Lake, there is a series of switchbacks going down. This drops a lot of elevation quickly.

Tom and Ryan with Honeymoon Lake in the background.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, we were running short on water (we hadn’t pumped since the day before). We found a small stream and decided to pump there and then have lunch. It was around mile 5 for the day and wasn’t a great spot. The mosquitos were really bad. Had we continued for another mile, we would have hit a great spot on the side of Dinwoody Creek (marked on the map below) that has beautiful views of the river and nice places to sit, plus fewer mosquitos and plenty of places to filter water.

Stop here for a break. It’s beautiful and the bugs aren’t as bad!

After lunch, we continued on, eventually crossing a river at Down’s Fork.

The trail was pretty flooded at this point, which meant some creativity in trying to avoid the water, but it was generally doable. From then on, the trail largely follows Dinwoody Creek, which is a beautiful, glacial river.

Just before mile 10, we found a spot where the creek widens and flattens out. It was late in the afternoon at this point and we were hot. Right at that spot (marked on the map on day 4 below), there is a nice, sandy beach on the side of the river. When Tom saw it, he immediately decided he was getting in. He stripped down and walked through the river. The side closest to the trail is only ankle deep, but on the far side it gets deep enough to dunk yourself under (maybe 3 1/2 feet). It’s freezing cold, but a good break on a hot day. (NOTE: There is a trail here that stays close to the river. Don’t follow it. Stay close to the mountain. The one that stays close to the river eventually goes into the river. The actual trail skirts the side of the canyon and avoids all the marshes.)

Stop here for a swim or a bath. It’s cold, but refreshing!

When we hit the 10-mile mark, we began to wonder how good the descriptions of the trail really were. We should have been about 5 miles from the summit of Gannett Peak at that point (we had gone 20 miles), but we couldn’t see the peak or the boulder field where we were supposed to spend the night. We had marked key indicators on our maps and Mark was using All Trails on his phone and could see that we still had miles to go. Given how Mark was feeling (and I was getting tired), we were getting a little worried. At 11 1/2 miles, we saw a camp across the river. We paused there and Tom went to see what it was. It’s an outfitter camp called “Camp Cowboy.” They take people up the mountain on horses. We found out from them that they had clients who had summitted that day. They camped at the boulder field, got up at 5:00 am, and made the summit by 10:00 am. But they didn’t tell us how far the boulder field was.

With the weight of the packs bearing down on us, we continued on. We crossed mile 12, then mile 13. By that point, it was close to 5:30 and both Mark and I were getting tired. Tom was willing to keep going, but it didn’t seem likely that we were going to make it to the boulder field that day.

As luck would have it, around mile 13, we took a bit of a wrong turn that walked us right through a beautiful campground. It was on a rise that had great views of the canyon. On the top was a ring of pine trees in a circle about 30 feet in diameter with a very nice, level spot for a tent. We eventually decided to make camp there for the night and came up with a plan for the next day.

Given how Mark was feeling (still quite sick), he had decided he was not going to try for the summit. Tom and I would leave most of our gear at the campsite with Mark and take just our technical gear, food, and water, and try to summit as fast as we could, returning to the camp hopefully in time to break camp and do a few miles back out on day 3. We couldn’t tell for sure at that point, but we thought the base of Gannett was only a couple miles away, which would go quickly with light packs.

So, we set up camp quickly. While Mark cooked dinner, Tom and I emptied our packs and repacked them for our summit attempt. We enjoyed a nice dinner, got everything situated, then hit the sack.

We covered 13.67 miles in about 9 hours. Below is the elevation chart for the day and the map:

Elevation chart for day 2.

Day 3 – August 3rd

The plan for our summit attempt was to get up early (5:00 am), head out by around 5:30, and move quickly. Thinking we only had a couple of miles to get to the base of the mountain, we figured we could be on our way up by 7:00 or 8:00 at the latest. We figured we could make it to the top in 2 to 3 hours, then get back off the mountain and ideally be back to our camp by early afternoon, late afternoon at the latest. We laid all of this out to Mark, who had our Garmin satellite communicator. He could start worrying if we weren’t back by 6:00 pm. We didn’t think it would take us that long to get back to our camp.

We were wrong.

We got up at 5:00 and headed out at 5:36. We made good time. We did our first mile in 26 minutes (just 229 feet of elevation gain), the second was just 24 minutes (150 feet of elevation gain). But we still were not to the boulder field. The third mile took us another 26 minutes (341 feet of elevation gain). At that point, we had crossed a couple of rivers and were climbing.

The fourth mile was 30 minutes with 417 feet of elevation gain. By the end of the fourth mile, we could finally see the boulder field.

We were way off in our estimate. The base of the mountain was about 5 miles from where we camped.

After 4 miles or so at the base of the boulder field.
The boulder field from above it.

Hopping across the boulder field took us close to 40 minutes. We paused to figure out a route up the mountain as well. Luckily, we spotted four climbers on the mountain working their way up a chute, which showed us where we needed to go. But we had no idea how they got there. We studied the mountain for a while and figured out a route that seemed to align with trails we could see, but it was definitely not the standard route up the mountain.

Tom on the glacier just as we were headed up to make our switchback. The summit is behind him.

Below is a photo of the summit from the top of the boulder field. I drew in two routes. In green is what we think is the standard route up the mountain. It heads to the left, cuts around a just of rock, then works its way up to a ridge before getting on the glacier and working its way up the chute and over the bergschrund (snow bridge), then following the ridge to the summit. In red is our route. We cut up the face, crossed a snow patch, then ended up on the glacier. We roped up and put on our technical gear and did a switchback up the glacier. Just as we were finishing our switchback, two guys came up the ridge on the standard route and passed us. It’s much faster to climb the rocks on the ridge.

Follow the green line up. You could follow the red line down if you want to glissade on the glacier.

Where the red and green lines meet, it’s time to get on the snow. You cut below the sharp, jagged peak there and then work your way up the first chute which is where the bergschrund is. Basically, there is a crevasse at the bottom of the chute that is often covered with a snow bridge. When we crossed it, the snow bridge was really soft and had almost melted all the way through. If it melts all the way through, getting over this spot would be quite challenging.

Me by the bergschrund. Tom shot this while standing on the snow bridge.

The chute is also quite steep, probably a 70 to 80-degree grade in spots. We short-roped our way up it. After we made it to the top of the chute, we followed a fairly clear trail that tracks to the top of the snow just below the ridgeline. You have to cross a couple of vertical ridges running down the mountain, but from the top of the chute, it’s pretty much a long, slow hike about another half mile to the summit, which you can’t actually see in the photo above (it’s hidden behind the snow-capped part of the mountain).

While we made good time before the boulder field, after the boulder field, our time slowed dramatically. The rough terrain and elevation really slowed us down (plus, we didn’t bring enough food – a few packs of gummies, some M&Ms, and a few granola bars). We finally arrived at the summit around 1:00 pm.

From our camp to the summit was 7.5 miles, 4,410 feet of elevation gain, and it took us 7 hours and 20 minutes. Here’s the elevation chart:

My obligatory panorama on the summit:

And Tom’s traditional handstand:

We chatted with some folks on the summit for a bit, ate a little food, and took a break for about 30 minutes. We snapped photos and I even got a signal on my phone, so I texted Mark that we’d be late and texted my wife that we had made it.

Summit photo with me (left) and Tom (right).

Then we headed back down. My watch was almost dead and I didn’t have anything to charge it, so I didn’t track our time back down, but we did pretty well considering how technical it was.

Tom just above the bergschrund on the way down. We short-roped this section.

We did take advantage of the fact that we had been on the glacier already and slid down a few spots:

That helped. But I was moving pretty slow on the boulder field on the way out. My reconstructed knee (ACL) was hurting and I didn’t want to aggravate it. We made it to the end of the boulders around 5:00 and had 5 miles to go to get back to our camp. It didn’t help that the upper valley is so beautiful that I stopped a few times to take pictures and videos:

We made pretty good time, but still missed our 6:00 pm deadline for when Mark could start worrying. We got back to our camp around 7:20. Mark had a fire going and quickly cooked us dinner as we described the adventure.

Our campsite was great. Occasionally, however, our fire decided to do its own thing.

Meanwhile, Mark had a nice, relaxing day exploring the area. By the end of it, he was feeling much better:

Mark at the campsite enjoying the scenic views.

Day 3 total distance traveled was 15 miles – 7.5 to the summit and 7.5 back to our base camp.

Day 4 – August 4th

Having a better sense of the route, we knew about how much hiking we had to do the last two days. We figured we didn’t have to get up super early and had to do about 11 miles on day 4 to get to Double Lake, where we wanted to camp. We ended up getting up around 6:30 and broke camp around 9:00 am.

The upper canyon is definitely the most beautiful part of the hike:

A couple of miles down the trail from our camp we returned to that beautiful spot in the river and took a bath – our first in nearly 4 days.

It’s too small to tell (on purpose), but that’s me, all the way across Dinwoody Creek, naked, slathered in soap, taking a bath. It was freezing cold but felt amazing to get clean.

We made pretty good time on the way down, stopping just a couple of times to pump water. We even made good time up the switchbacks by Honeymoon Lake. We made it to Double Lake by about 3:30, which was the goal.

Mark brought fishing gear and wanted to try his luck fishing. By 4:00, Tom had taken refuge in the tent (the bugs were really getting to him at this point).

Mark and I went out to see if the fish were biting. I actually followed Mark out without him knowing. I figured it would be a nice view while I read a little on my phone and shot some photos of Mark fishing.

Mark fishing on Double Lake

But that all changed on Mark’s second cast. I heard him grunt on the second cast and asked him if he’d caught something. That’s when he told me he caught a fish on his first one but had already let it go. He caught a fish on his second cast, and third, and fourth. Basically, the first 20 times he cast his line, he caught a fish about 16 of those.

Then, for the next two hours, it was about every third cast we caught a fish. Mark got tired of casting and asked me to cast. I was enjoying the view:

Panoramic view of Mark fishing on Double Lake

But I eventually agreed and ended up catching two of the three fish we kept and ate for dinner.

Our catch!

While we were excited to have something other than dehydrated food for dinner, we didn’t fully think this through. We had a way to cook the fish (on a flat rock on the coals of our fire), but we didn’t have a plate. Enter flat rock number two. Also, Mark broke out his fish seasoning, which he hadn’t told us he brought with him. The mountain trout was amazing!

Tom enjoying his fish.

Just as we were finishing up dinner, the temperature dropped a good 20 degrees and we realized a storm was blowing in. We quickly cleaned up our camp, doused the fire, set up our bear hang with the remaining food, and got into the tent. Sure enough, a good storm blew in. The rain wasn’t too heavy, but the heaviest on the whole trip and the wind was pretty strong. My super light, 3 man tent held up well. It was only about 7:30 when we got in the tent, so we ended up playing Risk on Mark’s phone for about an hour (Tom won) before going to bed.

Total mileage for the day: 10.38 miles in 6 hours. Here’s the elevation chart:

Elevation chart for day 4. The sharp incline is the switchbacks by Honeymoon Lake.

Day 5 – August 5th

We also didn’t plan to rush to break camp this day knowing that we had to do about 11 miles or so to get to the trailhead with most of it being down hill. But none of us were sleeping that well on the mountain, so we ended up waking up around 6:00 am (Mark and I are usually up before that at home as well). We broke camp at 7:30 and made pretty good time. It took us just 5 hours to cover the 11.26 miles from Double Lake to the trailhead. Here’s the elevation chart:

Elevation chart for Day 5. The peak is Arrow Pass.

We were off the mountain around 1:30. We drove straight to Lander and stopped at Gannett Grill for lunch. Here’s our route on Day 5:

Concluding Thoughts:

First and foremost, people need to realize that this route to Gannett Peak isn’t 50 miles round trip. If you add up all the miles, it was 31.39 miles from the trailhead to the summit (that probably includes about 1 extra mile of me pumping water and such while my watch was tracking distance). The distance on the way out is probably a more accurate approximation of the exact distance since we didn’t stop as much: 29.14 miles. In other words, the eastern approach to Gannett Peak via the Glacier Trail is really 60 miles round trip, not 50 miles. To do this in 5 days, comfortably, you should plan to hike at least 11 to 12 miles the first day (to Double Lake) and the same distance the second day (to the boulder field). The boulder field is a nasty place to camp. Unless your into rock falls and no vegetation, it’s not particularly beautiful, though it is surrounded by imposing mountains. I’d suggest camping at the boulder field on the second night, summiting the morning of the third night, then hiking down about 5 miles to our campsite to enjoy the views there. Then the hike out is about 11 miles each of the last two days.

If you’re into fishing, definitely take your fishing gear. Double Lake was incredible. Most of the fish were really small (maybe 8 inches), but we managed to catch two 12 inch fish and a 10-inch fish that we enjoyed for dinner. It still wasn’t a meal, but two fish probably would have been for me.

I hope my description of the route up the summit is helpful. We screwed that up and it would have probably saved us 30 to 45 minutes or more and probably cut some distance off our ascent.

Obviously, the lighter you can pack, the better. I was carrying a 55-pound pack for all but the summit day. That’s too much for me. If you can get your pack to 40 pounds, you’ll be much happier. We ended up hiking out food, but we probably should have eaten it.

That leads to my next point. I was running a calorie deficit the whole hike. While I snacked and ate three times a day, I was burning a lot more calories than I was consuming. I started the hike weighing about 165 (usually closer to 164). I ended the hike at 155. I lost almost 10 pounds. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I should have eaten more.

Finally, visiting all of these states to hike state highpoints has been quite the adventure. I’ve spent weeks of my life on this and thousands of dollars. But it has been worth it. I have amazing memories and crazy stories. I’ve secured friendships and made new friends. It’s been a remarkable journey.

Letter to the Editor – Gun Control Laws

Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court opposing a state constitutional amendment banning assault weapons on Friday, July 26th. That was two days before a young man opened fire at a festival in California, killing three people and injuring a dozen more with an assault rifle he purchased legally.

AG Moody’s opposition appears to be rooted in the definition of an assault weapon based on the magazine capacity. Why a hunter would need more than 10 rounds in a rifle or shotgun to take down a deer or turkey is beyond me. Perhaps there are some really terrible hunters out there. My neighbor is a hunter and he would mock anyone who required 10 rounds to kill a deer. Forcing gun owners to have to reload after 10 shots doesn’t seem to be particularly onerous… except when they are shooting people. Which is precisely the point.

The latest polling data suggest that more than 60% of Americans want stricter gun control laws. People are dying because politicians are unwilling to act (or stand up to the gun lobby). Ashley Moody, the Florida Attorney General, is refusing to let the people of Florida express their views on assault weapons.

I’m so frustrated with politicians and gun laws that I have taken to replacing what they say with what they really mean. President Trump said on July 29th about the Gilroy shooting, “We grieve for their families.” What he really means is, “We don’t care about these families.” And that’s what AG Ashley Moody is saying about the people killed at Stoneman Douglas High School and the people killed at the Pulse night club and the people killed at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Politicians who oppose stricter gun laws don’t care about people dying. If they did, they would do what the American people want.

Restarting KDE’s Plasma Shell via Konsole (command line)

As much as I love KDE as my desktop environment (on top of Ubuntu, so Kubuntu), it does occasionally happen that the Plasma Shell freezes up (usually when I’ve been running my computer for quite a while then boot up a game and begin to push the graphics a bit. Often, I just shut down when I’m done and that resets everything. However, there is a quick way to shutdown and restart the Plasma Shell that will bring everything back up.

In KDE Plasma Shell 5.10+, the command to kill the Plasma Shell is:

kquitapp5 plasmashell

In KDE Plasma Shell 5.10+, the command to restart the Plasma Shell is:

kstart5 plasmashell

In earlier versions of KDE 5, the commands were:

killall plasmashell
kstart plasmashell

Linux – Music File Naming Conventions

I have been collecting music files for decades, like a lot of people. My total collection includes over 10,000 tracks. When I built my own NAS recently, I decided it was time to do a careful audit of my music as I hadn’t organized my music in a very long time. In the process, I realized that I had to decide on a clear naming convention system for my music.

Music File and Folder Naming

There are some tricky components to this. Assuming you want all of your music in one main folder (not everyone does), the next question is what level of folder comes next. I’ve typically used the Artist as the next folder, so the folder structure looks like this:

MUSIC -> ARTIST
Written slightly differently:
[MUSIC]/[ARTIST]

I typically use software to manage the renaming and also add the information to the tags at the same time to make this easier. In the process, I realized that the structure above should really be:

MUSIC -> ALBUM ARTIST
Written slightly differently:
[MUSIC]/[ALBUM ARTIST]

The reason it should be “ALBUM ARTIST” rather than just “ARTIST” is for albums that have multiple artists. Albums with multiple artists can get really messy if they aren’t organized by the ALBUM ARTIST, which I usually tag as “VARIOUS ARTISTS,” which means the multi-artist albums all end up in a folder called “VARIOUS ARTISTS.”

However, using “ALBUM ARTIST” can also be advantageous when the album is primarily by one person but they have a guest artist on one or two tracks. Using the primary artist as the “ALBUM ARTIST” solves the problem of the separate tracks being organized in a different folder.

The next level below ALBUM ARTIST is the ALBUM TITLE, like this:

MUSIC -> ALBUM ARTIST -> ALBUM TITLE
Written slightly differently:
[MUSIC]/[ALBUM ARTIST]/[ALBUM TITLE]

This structure generally works for most artists and albums to keep things relatively organized. The next issue is the naming convention for the song files themselves. I don’t think this part matters as much, but I have seen different approaches. Some seem to think that including the name of the artist and the album in the name of the file along with the track number and title of the track is necessary, like this:

[TRACK #] – [ARTIST] – [ALBUM TITLE] – [TRACK TITLE].[file extension]

Alternatively, since the file itself is organized within folders that indicate the artist and album, others use the following convention:

[TRACK #] – [TRACK TITLE].[file extension]

This results in shorter names for the files themselves. I’m not sure that there is a better or worse approach. However, including the artist and album title does run a higher risk of running into a character limit for a track (on most operating systems, files can only have a 255 character name).

In light of the file name length concern, I have opted to go with the second, shorter naming convention. Here’s an actual example from a recent album purchase:

[Music]/[The Head and the Heart]/[Living Mirage]/01 – See You Through My Eyes.flac

Finally, there is also the issue of multi-disc albums. I used to put the different discs into separate folders. Now, I add the disc number at the beginning of the file name, like so:

[DISC#]-[TRACK #] – [TRACK TITLE].[file extension]

Organizing and Naming Software

The software I have used for quite some time for playing my music, Clementine, has had some issues with recent releases, leading me to switch to a forked version called Strawberry. However, as I’ve worked with both of these, I’ve come to realize that their ability to manage ID3 tags and lookup up metadata and tag information is problematic. As a result, I’ve switched to using Picard, that relies on MusicBrainz directly (the other two have implementations of this that are buggy in the latest versions of the software).

Picard also does the best job of actually filling out all of the information in the ID3 container, pulling in as much information as possible. As I result, I’ve switched to using Picard for tagging my music.

As for organizing the files, I switch back and forth between having Clementine/Strawberry organize the files (when I import them, I do this), but when I complete the tag information in Picard, I often have Picard redo this just to make sure everything is organized correctly.

Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 10)

This was the last day of our Europe trip. We enjoyed one last breakfast on the cruise ship before disembarking. We went straight from the cruise ship to a guided tour of Barcelona, visiting two sites we had not visited at the beginning of the trip: Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia.

Our guide drove us to Park Güell where we spent a little over an hour exploring the park. Debi was particularly impressed by the Modernist architecture and design of Gaudí that incorporated so many elements of nature and tried to blend in with nature, like this tunnel designed to look like a wave:

Toren surfing a Gaudí wave at Park Güell.

Pretty much everywhere you looked there was something amazing to see with stunning attention to detail.

Toren and Debi at Park Güell.

I shot a photosphere in Park Güell but it doesn’t really do the park justice:

After Park Güell, we headed to La Sagrada Familia, the famed, unfinished, Modernist church of Antoni Gaudí. A friend had recently visited Barcelona and told me that she was overwhelmed by La Sagrada Familia when she first saw it. Having visited lots of churches, mosques, and synagogues, I was skeptical that I would have the same experience, but rounding the corner the first time I was close to it, I was genuinely impressed. The soaring towers and the contrast with the surrounding city are stunning:

The two finished facades were both fascinating to explore. I could have spent a lot more time just taking in all of the architectural details:

Debi and Toren in front of La Sagrada Familia.

But the exterior facades were nothing compared to the interior. Walking inside for the first time and seeing the soaring, vaulted ceilings with the amazing pillars and supports was breathtaking. Perhaps the most beautiful building I had seen previously, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, paled in comparison to the brilliance of La Sagrada Familia. Everywhere you looked there was something fascinating to see. The colors, the shapes, the design, all were truly marvelous. I’d love to spend an entire day inside the building watching the colors shift and exploring every detail.

Alas, we didn’t have all day, just about 30 minutes inside the church. Even so, I did my best to capture some of the amazing views:

The stained glass windows on one side of La Sagrada Familia

I’d really need years of additional photography training, hours of time, and probably better camera equipment to do this place justice. It was a moving experience to see this masterpiece of design.

After La Sagrada Familia, our guide drove us to the AirBnB we were staying in and helped us get checked in (some minor complications, but it worked out). We were outside of the main tourist area in some very nice apartments. As a result, we got off the beaten path a little and found a nice restaurant that served tapas:

Enjoying tapas in Barcelona!

Since we had skipped lunch, our tapas meal was like an early dinner. Some of the family had a very early departure the next morning to catch their flights home. Others had a somewhat later departure. Even so, we decided to walk down to the Gaudí buildings we had missed and spend a little more time enjoying Barcelona. We ended up stopping for smoothies and a hot chocolate that was like drinking chocolate sauce you’d put on ice cream it was so thick and rich. On our way back to the apartments, people were starting to set off fireworks as it was the night of a major festival in Barcelona, the festival of Sant Joan (Bonfires of Saint John) that celebrates the summer solstice. We also happened by a churro shop and stopped to enjoy Nutella-filled churros as our last meal in Barcelona:

Toren enjoying a Nutella-filled churro in Barcelona.

Finally, on our way back to our apartment, Toren was jumping posts, something he loved doing all over Barcelona.

Wrapping up: I would definitely like to travel to Rome, Cinque Terre, and the Amalfi Coast again with more time in each location to really appreciate them. I could also see myself vacationing in Barcelona when I just want a place to get away and relax. It was a busy vacation but we got to see and do quite a bit and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Linux – Fixing “apt-get” failed installation

Occasionally, when I try to install an update or install software via the console using apt-get, something goes wrong. To date, I have never had the failure of a package to install ruin my system. However, it isn’t uncommon after such an incident to get an error the next time I run apt-get. The easiest way to fix apt-get is to run the following command:

sudo dpkg --configure -a

The above command is the replacement for the old command in Debian-based distributions:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure --all

Almost every time I have run into an apt-get error, the above command has been able to solve the problem. It’s a useful command to have on hand if you’re running a Debian-based Linux distribution (like Kubuntu, my distribution of choice).

Europe Trip – Sea Day (Day 9)

Our last day on the cruise ship was filled with activities on the ship as we didn’t have a port of call. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the dining room then most of us went swimming. I took along a fantasy novel that I spent quite a bit of time reading. Debi went to the spa for a free session, which turned into a sales pitch for pseudo-science spa treatments.

At one point there was a call for participants in a belly flop contest. The announcer seemed to suggest that no one had signed up, so I went over to sign up. It turns out, there were 5 other people who had signed up, all of them rather large individuals (i.e., upwards of 220 pounds). I looked tiny compared to them, but I had a secret weapon: I can jump. Most of the guys had large bellies, but one was a big guy (6′ 3″) from South African who was ripped. I was the last contestant and managed to get some air and slap the pool very hard. It stung for about a minute but the red helped me win votes. I ended up taking second place behind the South African!

We also went to another diving show in the afternoon and several people went ice skating. We ended the evening with a family-friendly comedy show by the same comedian I had seen a couple of nights earlier.

Europe Trip – Amalfi Coast and Pompeii (Day 8)

Our fifth port of call was Naples. However, we didn’t actually spend any time in Naples. Instead, we took a bus through Sorrento to the small town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We stopped briefly to get some photos of Sorrento before continuing to Positano.

Debi and Toren with Sorrento in the background.

Positano was similar to the other villages in Cinque Terre, but the mountains here were even more rugged. Positano was also substantially larger than most of those towns, though Monterroso del Mar may have been similarly sized. It was really picturesque, with a beautiful waterfront and colorful houses working their way up to the cliffs.

Our tour bus parked in about the middle of the village in terms of elevation – about halfway between the cliffs and the water. Debi, Toren, and I quickly made our way down to the water and walked along the waterfront, taking some fun photos along the way:

We walked from one end of the waterfront to the other, enjoying the views.

Debi and I on the waterfront in Positano.

As I had done in the towns in Cinque Terre, I thought it might be fun to see the city from higher up. This time, I convinced Debi and Toren to join me. We moved up the town pretty quickly as we were pressed for time, going from the very lowest point in elevation, the waterfront, to just below the cliffs in about 20 minutes. (An estimate via Google maps suggests the elevation just below the cliffs is about 130 meters; another website put it at around 150 meters; somewhere around 400 to 500 feet above sea level.) On the way, I snapped a photo of Debi and Toren crossing a bridge:

You can see we’re getting closer to the cliffs at this point.

We did make it to just below the cliffs, but were running out of time to get back to the bus, so I snapped a picture or two and then we headed back down. We actually got back to the bathroom with 10 minutes to spare, but the line was huge, so we ended up getting back to the bus late (the only time we were late) by about 5 minutes. Everyone but our guide was cool about it. Our guide seemed bothered, even though I was technically there on time and told him that Debi and Toren were in the bathroom and were coming as quickly as they could. Oh well, no one will remember that but me and I only remember it because our guide was annoying about it.

From Positano, we took the bus back to Sorrento where our guide gave us about an hour and a half to explore the city. We walked down to the cliff edge overlooking the bay and took in the view, then found a nice place for lunch where I split a Napolitano pizza (cheese and anchovies) with my brother-in-law. I also tried the local beverage, limoncello, that had a very high alcohol content level. We all enjoyed our meals, I think, and followed up lunch with a trip to a gelateria:

Debi enjoying her gnocchi in Sorrento.

We made our way back to the tour bus and then headed to Pompeii where we got an archaeological guide who took us through the ruins. As I’m keen to do, I walked by the guide most of the time and peppered him with questions: Why was Pompeii so diverse? (Answer: It was a prominent port.) Didn’t anyone survive the explosion? (Answer: Yes. Some were not in the town when the explosion occurred; others were able to run away, but most were not.) Where are all the items they discovered in the ruins? (Answer: Almost everything is in a museum in Naples. Very few artifacts remain in Pompeii proper.)

Our guide seemed informative if a little impatient. However, I checked on a few of the things he claimed after the trip and he wasn’t always accurate. For instance, he claimed that the word “spa” derives from the Latin, salus per aquam or “health through water.” A little digging illustrated that is a backronym and was not an acronym invented by the Romans (the word “spa” comes from a town in Belgium). He also claimed that the roads in Pompeii didn’t have sewers underneath because they were built on tough volcanic rock, so they made the roads into the sewers. I’m a little more skeptical of this claim now, but it was cool seeing the ruts in the roads made by ancient Roman wagons.

I’m sure it would be fun to walk through Pompeii slowly with an actual archaeologist rather than a pseudo-archaeologist tour guide. And, I think the ideal way to see Pompeii is really to go to the ruins and then go to the museum in Naples that houses all the artifacts. Even so, I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii and it was nice to see the site in person.

We spent about an hour and a half in Pompeii and that wrapped up our tour for the day. We took a few minutes to get some drinks at the entrance of the site (lemon-flavored again, and very over-priced), then boarded the bus and headed back to the cruise ship.

Debi and Toren in the Forum at Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

Europe Trip – Rome (Day 7)

We also had a private tour in Rome. We were a big enough group that we needed two vans. Our guide and drivers were really amazing. We packed a lot into one day in Rome and couldn’t have done it without our excellent drivers (our driver was Nicola, who did an amazing job).

Our drivers picked us up in Civatavecchia, the port, then drove us to The Vatican, where we met our guide. We did stop quickly for snacks and a bathroom break on the way, where I got to sample Italian espresso, which was quite good.

My Italian espresso.

Knowing a little bit about religion, I knew The Vatican was its own country and had a sense that it was big, but I didn’t realize just how big. I also didn’t realize just how ornate and ostentatious it is. We rushed through several buildings (since we had a busy agenda), but all of them contained priceless artwork: statues, paintings, friezes, etc.

A shot of the ceiling in the Vatican Gallery of Maps.

We got to visit the Sistine Chapel, but no photos can be taken inside (I followed the rules, but not everyone does). It really is impressive. I pestered our guide with questions throughout the tour and, even though we weren’t supposed to talk in the Sistine Chapel, she was whispering quietly about what we were seeing. Given its central role in electing new popes, I was interested in where they burned the ballots. That particular piece of equipment was not in there; it is installed only when the cardinals are meeting, and the piping is set up at that time as well.

From the Sistine Chapel, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest Catholic Church in the world. This, too, illustrated just how much money the Catholic Church has and started me down a path of questioning with our guide that she probably doesn’t get very often. One of the more prominent features in St. Peter’s Basilica is a set of four columns in the center of the basilica made out of pure bronze. The bronze was stolen from pre-Catholic sites around Rome, particularly the Pantheon, melted down, then used in the construction of the pillars in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Catholic Church worked hard to erase the glory of the pagan era that pre-dated it and to build up its own status at the expense of history, much like ISIS has done by destroying ancient art and monuments from pre-Islamic times.

Steve, Rosemary, Toren, and Debi in front of the four bronze pillars in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican. The bronze was all raided from Roman buildings, melted down, and recast here.

Another illustration of Catholic syncretism was the co-opting of the obelisks from Egypt. The Roman Empire stole dozens of obelisks, which had been monuments to the sun god, and brought them back to Rome. When the Catholic Church took over, they mounted crosses on top of all of them, co-opting them as symbols of Christianity. A very large obelisk stands in the center of the courtyard outside St. Peter’s Basilica:

An Egyptian obelisk syncretized by the Catholic Church into a symbol of Christianity, in the middle of the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.

I’m sure I could spend several days at The Vatican, appreciating the art and architecture. I’m sure I would also thoroughly enjoy visiting the library and archives, the bank, and a number of other elements of Vatican City that most people would find of little interest. Given my background and training, I couldn’t help but find examples of syncretism throughout Vatican City.

Our time in The Vatican was relatively short as we had lots of other stuff to do. From The Vatican, we drove to The Pantheon, which is another brilliant example of Catholic syncretism. They took a beautiful building dedicated to the Roman gods and co-opted it as a Catholic Church. The dome is a truly remarkable piece of engineering that has stood for thousands of years.

From there, our drivers and guide took us to Trevi Fountain, which is absolutely stunning. Any decent-sized city that attracts tourists should learn from Trevi Fountain – build a beautiful fountain in a central location and people will flock to it. Trevi Fountain was teeming with people, but it’s not surprising that it was given how beautiful it is.

Family selfie at the Trevi Fountain.

We grabbed some food while at Trevi Fountain as we hadn’t had lunch and still had a few more hours on our tour.

The next stop was The Colosseum.

I knew that the Colosseum was large and what it was used for, but I was still impressed when I walked in and saw the arena (sand) for the first time. It’s enormous. It could seat over 60,000 people. It’s a truly astounding piece of architecture.

Toren and one of his cousins pretending to be gladiators outside the Colosseum.

Our last stop on our whirlwind tour of Rome was the LDS Temple. Given that most of the family is LDS and the temple was recently dedicated, they really wanted to see it. Given my research interests, I was perfectly happy to go as well.

Strangely, the temple is located quite far from the city center in what appear to be suburbs. In fact, there is an Ikea right next to it. The location is definitely odd and there certainly were not as many visitors as there were at The Vatican. Even so, they have done a nice job with both the architecture and the surrounding landscaping. There are nice, understated fountains and gardens. It was very beautiful. The visitor’s center was nice as well.

We spent a good hour at the LDS temple and visitor’s center, then got back in the vans and headed back to the cruise ship.

That evening, I went to a comedy show with Steve and Scott (the twins). The comedian, who was pretty good, assumed that the three of us were gay as we were sitting together without any women around us. We didn’t disabuse him of that notion and got a good laugh out of it.

Thought on Rome… I’m definitely going to need to return to Rome with more time to explore the city. As our guide said repeatedly, Rome is a living archaeological site.

Europe Trip – Pisa and Cinque Terre (Day 6)

Given the size of our group (15 total), for some of our excursions, Rosemary booked private tours. This also meant we got to customize our tours and do precisely what we wanted. That was the case on our third port of call, La Spezia. Rosemary arranged for a minibus and our own tour guide.

The bus picked us up early and drove us straight to Pisa so we could see the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa. I remember seeing pictures of the tower when I was a kid and thinking it was funny. But seeing it in person is different. It really is a very large tower and the angle at which it is leaning forces a double-take.

Toren holding up the leaning tower of pisa.
The obligatory “holding up the tower” photo.

The guide company had arranged tickets for us to climb the tower. The two youngest grandkids were not able to climb the tower due to their age, so Rosemary stayed with them while the rest of us climbed the tower. You actually climb inside the walls. It’s over 200 steps but didn’t seem particularly challenging.

We got to spend a good 30 minutes on top of the tower. Here’s a photosphere from the top:

Toren on the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Toren on the Leaning Tower of Pisa

I did find it interesting that where the steps are worn varies based on the lean of the tower – people move closer to one side or the other depending on how the tower is leaning and that has resulted in deep grooves in the steps as a result. If you look closely, you can see the grooves in this short video of Debi going down the stairs.

We spent another 20 to 30 minutes at Pisa, walking around the church and taking photos. We then got back in the minibus and headed back toward La Spezia for the second part of our tour.

Apparently, the place to go right now in Italy is Cinque Terre, a national park with some villages that are right on the ocean. Not being up on the latest things to do, this was news to me. Our guide had arranged for us to stop in three towns in Cinque Terre: Riomaggiore, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. We got on the train in La Spezia and arrived in Riomaggiore in short order.

In order to make it to all three towns and get back in time to catch the cruise ship, we didn’t have a lot of time in each town. Since we hadn’t stopped for lunch at any point, in Riomaggiore, everyone decided to get food. I can go for quite a while without food and had some snacks with me anyway, so I opted instead to hike quickly to the top of Riomaggiore to see the view. I took a photosphere there:

I had to take a selfie, too:

Once everyone had food, we quickly headed down to the water and spent a few minutes there before having to head to the train station. While waiting for everyone to ascend the stairs, I bought some grapes that were amazing given how hot it was.

In Vernazza, a similar situation unfolded. Most everyone wanted gelato/ice cream. I was more interested in seeing the town. I, again, took off and climbed to the top of the town while they were getting ice cream, then headed down to the waterfront where I took this photosphere:

Once everyone else had their ice cream, they all headed down to the waterfront where we spent a little time enjoying the views and climbing on the rocks. We then boarded a ferry that took us to our last stop, Monterosso al Mare.

We had about 45 minutes in Monterosso al Mare. Debi, Toren, and I took advantage of the time to walk through the town, visit another Byzantine style church that matched Debi’s outfit, and stop by a few shops.

Debi and Toren matched this striped church in Monterosso al Mare.

We then took an alternate route to meet up with the guide that took us out and around a large outcropping that was quite scenic:

Toren with two of his cousins in Monterosso al Mare.

We ended up getting to the meeting place 10 minutes early. As we had made our way around the outcropping, I saw some stairs headed up and decided that I’d go as far up as I could in 5 minutes, then head back down so I wasn’t late. I tracked the hike back down on my watch:

As it turns out, 5 minutes was enough time to make it to the top where I found a monastery and graveyard. I didn’t have time to explore it all, but the first crypt I saw belonged to the Ferrari family, who own a large estate not far from Monterosso al Mare.

The Ferrari Family crypt in Monterosso al Mare.

From Monterosso al Mare, we took the train one last time and then met our minibus, which took us back to the cruise ship. We went to an ice skating show that night on the cruise ship. Yes, the ship has an ice rink.

One final note… I took my favorite picture of Toren and Debi on this trip in Vernazza:

Debi and Toren in Vernazza.