North Palisade 2021

September 2, 2021

Back in 1991, as part of my “Summit all the California 14Kers Before Turning 30” quest, I was part of a group that spent several days just west of the Palisades Crest, climbing Mt. Sill, Polemonium, North Palisade, and Thunderbolt. When I look back on some of those photos, I wonder what I was thinking…unroped on super-steep snow-filled chutes, 4th class mantle moves with 1500ft below my feet, damn.

Doug Virtue and Jeff Muss

Thirty years later it was time to re-visit that area, mostly because Jenna wanted to summit North Palisade as part of her California County High Points list (it’s the high point for Fresno county). But this time (totally handled by Schmed) we brought a full set of climbing gear. It was also a very dry year, which meant no snow in any of the chutes. So all we had to worry about was crossing talus fields, ascending/descending loose crud, and falling rocks.

Jenna was finishing up her summer at the USDA predator research facility in Logan, Utah so she drove separately to meet us at the Mountain Rambler Brewery for lunch (highly recommended). We then headed up 168 to the South Lake trailhead, packed our gear, and hit the trail. The Bishop Pass trail covers some beautiful country, as it works its way past lakes and across creeks.

In about 5-6 miles we reached Bishop Pass, at a bit over 12,000ft, and camped at a small lake nearby.

The next morning we got up early and climbed Mt. Agassiz, just a short distance east of the lake.

And for reference, here’s a picture of Chris on top of Agassiz back in 1991…

We then returned back to our campsite, packed up, and headed XC to Thunderbolt Pass. We decided to camp right at the pass, which wound up being the right call, though it did mean a 400ft descent to get water.

The next day we packed up our climbing gear (and not enough water) and continued southeast to the start of the “LeConte Route”, which ascends the large chute between the middle and southernmost cliffs at the base of the southwest face of North Palisade. As you might guess from the above description, the route up North Palisade is a bit convoluted, at least if you want to keep the level of difficulty to class 4. Mostly you wind up climbing steep, loose chutes, punctuated by the fun of the catwalk.

The catwalk is a ledge that connects two chutes, and is the key to this “easiest” route.

Jenna on the catwalk (on the way down)

After climbing most of the chute that you reach following the catwalk, you come to a point where it narrows, and you have to bypass two chockstones in order to reach the U Notch (low point on the ridge in the photo below).

We were about to start this challenging portion of the route when it became clear that we had run out of time – it was 12:45pm, and we still had 700ft of vertical to go. So we called it, and started our descent. We got back to water at 7pm, reached our camp at 7:30pm, and had just enough daylight to enjoy dinner AND the bottle of cab that Schmed had schlepped all the way in from the car. That was some good wine.

We spent the night, then did a fast hike out the next morning, reaching the car by 11am. We enjoyed another meal at the Mountain Rambler in Bishop, then Schmed & I drove home while Jenna headed up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, spent the night at the Barcroft research facility gate, jogged up to the summit of White Mtn (another 14Ker) the next morning, and drove to Nevada City that afternoon. Oh, and she wants to try North Pal again this fall. To be young again…

Sierra High Route Hike 2021 – Canyon Country

August 29, 2021

I’ve been picking off segments of the Sierra High Route for several years now, and decided that the northern-most section (aka “Canyon Country”, which lies between Tuolumne Meadows and Twin Lakes) was this year’s goal. Dave White had done some of the SHR with me in previous years, and it wasn’t hard to convince him to join me for this year’s adventure, which would start July 19th, 2021.

By reversing the route and heading south-bound, we could climb Matterhorn Peak with our friend Schmed, and he’d be able to facilitate a shuttle, by driving separately and giving us a ride from Bridgeport to the trailhead for Horse Creek near Twin Lakes and Mono Village.

The day started in fine form, with a drive from Nevada City to Bridgeport, some (expensive) beers at the Bridgeport Inn, and then a fast drive to the trailhead in Schmed’s 911. We were fortunate that the smoke from the Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe was blowing north-east, and not impacting us (other than choking on smoke while switching drivers near Minden). But the weather had been threatening, and the start was pretty wet.

But the weather soon cleared, and even with our 2pm start we were able to reach camp near the end of the established trail along Horse Creek.

The next day we continued following Horse Creek up to Horse Creek Pass. There had been some discussion online about veering right earlier to pass below a pinnacle near the headwall, but that seems wrong – we did wind up forking right when the faint use trail headed left up a talus field, but that was past the obvious pinnacle. We dropped packs at the pass and started the relatively easy slog up Matterhorn Peak.

Interesting bit of trivia, The Dharma Bums describes Gary Snyder‘s climb up this same peak, and Gary lives just outside my town of Nevada City.

Ken & Dave at summit of Matterhorn Peak

After that Dave & I parted ways with Schmed, but not before posing for a photo looking south down beautiful Spiller Creek Canyon.

From here it was easy meandering through fields of beautiful wildflowers, until we had to cross talus and ascend cliffs (via narrow benches and loose chutes) to reach Stanton Pass, visible in the above photo between the two obvious summits on the skyline. It felt easier than Roper’s description of class 2-3, but that was because we were climbing up, versus working our way down the cliffs.

Looking north from Stanton Pass

What followed next was a super bone-headed move on my part. I blindly assumed the lake we could see from the pass was our destination (Soldier Lake), and made a rapid bee-line descent for it. When we got there, we found (a) other people, (b) no good campsites, and (c) that we were actually at Return Lake. Thankfully Dave didn’t hate me, and was in favor of continuing our day until we could reach Soldier Lake…and that was totally worth it. After a long day, dropping packs at a beautiful campsite with a perfect spot for swimming is good for the soul.

The next day we headed south-east down to the bottom of Virginia Canyon and up the other side, passing through some interesting forested terrain – not common on the Sierra High Route, which tries hard to stay right at timberline.

Dave and the circle of life

At Shepherd Lake we had a view of our next objective, Sky Pilot Col, which is just to the right of the small peak in the middle of the gap.

What came next was an un-fun climb very loose, steep, and sketchy scree to Sky Pilot Col. For those of you doing this same route, you really, really want to head to the broad saddle located just north of the high point that’s immediately north-east of Sky Pilot Col (left of the small peak in the middle of the photo above). Once you reach that saddle, there’s an obvious use trail which traverses below the high point over to the col. What we did instead was follow rocks towards the right (west) side of the col, which eventually became unstable, steep, and unsafe. Definitely the least fun part of the trip. I imagine Roper never reversed this part of his route, which is why he described the descent on this same slope as “not technically difficult”. I could see it being kind of fun to scree-ski down, but the reverse sucked.

We then made the easy descent past “Secret Lake” down to Cascade Lake.

We found some tents set up right next to the eastern shore (is there such a thing as a Citizen’s Backcountry Fine?). Note that you soon enter into the Harvey Monroe Hall Research Natural Area, at which point camping isn’t allowed – so if you want to camp, do it in the band that’s between 50 and 600ft south of Cascade Lake.

We continued past the “cascade”, over a small ridge, and down to the easternmost of the Conness Lakes.

We almost made another critical mistake by attempting to continue due south up some class 3-ish cliffs just past that lake. Luckily we saw two hikers heading down the ridge just west of the lake, which provided a much easier way to gain the east ridge of Mt. Conness. There was some unpleasant up-and-down while traversing east to get to the flat pass & ridge above Saddlebag Lake, but after that it was an easy walk south down slopes to Maul Lake.

Descending to Maul Lake
Nice spot for lunch

Continuing south past Spuller Lake, we encountered the area Roper describes as “a white, slabby section with a few class 2-3 problems”. This wound up taking longer than expected, as we were contouring while repeatedly down-climbing into a slot, then up-climbing the next ridge. We met a father-son duo who were finishing up their through-hike of the SHR, which sounds like an epic adventure.

Soon we arrived at Mine Shaft Pass, which left us with only a short section of easy XC to get to the northern end of the Great Sierra Mine, with its various shafts and crumbling cabins.

Soon after that we were descending to the northern-most Gaylor Lake, via an established trail. I was surprised at the number of people we started running into on the trail, until I double-checked the map and saw that this lake was just a short hike from the eastern entrance of Yosemite Nat’l Park.

The trip was almost over, though we did get a bit more XC from the lakes seen above down to the lowest of the Gaylor Lakes.

From here it was trail all the way to the Tuolumne Meadows market, and our 4pm YART bus trip down to Lee Vining. We got one final swim in the Dana Fork before returning to civilization.

At the market we met a number of PCT thru-hikers who were waiting to take the bus, due to trail closures caused by the Tamarack Fire. One guy decided to try his hand at hitch-hiking, and the rest of the group provided lots of useful input (“Take off your sunglasses! Look them in the eye! Dance!”).

We had a great dinner at the Whoa Nellie Deli, then spent the night at the El Mono Motel, caught the Eastern Sierra Transit bus back north to Bridgeport the next morning, and drove home.

A few lessons from this trip…

  1. Sometimes a bust-out should be coordinated. Both Schmed & I packed in beers for our first night, which made the next morning a bit harder than it would have been otherwise.
  2. Don’t trust anyone’s way-points. I had downloaded part of the SHR track, which felt a bit like cheating. And that almost bit us in the butt, when we almost tried to scale some cliffs just past the Conness Lakes to reach an incorrectly-placed pin.
  3. It’s more of an adventure to reverse the SHR, since Roper’s descriptions wind up being pretty terse for south-bound. But the real point is that the difficulty assigned to terrain is highly dependent on whether you’re heading up or down.
  4. You get hurt after you finish the hard stuff. Dave ripped off a toenail after we reached the real trail by the lower Gaylor Lake, when he hit a rock while walking around barefoot.
  5. Driving a bit further to make the shuttle easier is worth it. We should have dropped a car in Lee Vining (versus Bridgeport), as we could have skipped the last night’s hotel and driven home after dinner.

Documentary Night

March 21, 2020

My wife has belonged to several book clubs, sometimes more than one at once. And every month I would watch the drama unfold, about how the book sucks, or she won’t be done reading it by the next meeting, or it’s her turn to pick a book but she’s not sure what to recommend, or the next meeting is at so-and-so’s place which is hard to get to, or she’s hosting the meeting and needs to come up with tasty appetizers.

It all seemed very exhausting and not much fun. Over dinner one night (OK, it was June 3rd, 2014) with three friends, we decided that a guy-appropriate alternative was to watch a documentary every month – no prep time, and since we all lived in different cities, it would be a virtual event (no food prep, no pre-event cleaning, nothing but net).

Since that fateful dinner party we’ve watched 57 documentaries, plus 2 stinkers we aborted – more on that later. It’s been a great way to regularly stay in touch, and the group has grown steadily over the years to 27 members. In case it’s useful to others, below are some details about how it works.

The Movie List

It’s all on this Google Doc. The first three columns are the event date, who picked or is picking the movie, and the movie title with a link to a review, typically on Rotten Tomatoes. Column D had scores from the one time (back in 2017) we decided to review past movies and pick everyone’s top 5.

Column F has a list of contenders, which is useful when it comes time to pick the next movie. Column H was used for to remove movies from the list of contenders, but as the group has expanded, we’re not so worried about ensuring nobody has seen it, as that’s rarely the case. Instead, when the movie email goes out, if too many people respond with “seen it, skipping” then we’ll reconsider the pick.

When someone new joins the group, I’ll ask them if they want to pick movies. If they say yes, I add them into the rotation (column B), usually two months out, so they have a chance to watch some movies and get a better sense of what might work for the group.

Movie Selection

We have a general convention that the movie has to be available via either Netflix or Amazon (not necessarily Prime, but that’s better). We’ve made a few exceptions, for example if it’s free on PBS then that’s fine.

Total length should be less than 2 hours. From what I’ve seen, shorter usually is better, as documentaries that are significantly longer than say 100 minutes feel like they could be shorter with better editing.

After a run of depressing documentaries, it’s a good idea to pick something a bit more light-hearted. There are plenty of significant, serious and urgent issues in the world. But not every documentary needs to be the down-bound train.

Managing Members

We use Google Groups, and directly invite people. The invite message looks like:

Hi xx,

Welcome to the group!

We watch movies on the second Thursday of each month.

Beer call is at 6:15pm (Pacific) via Zoom (<zoom link>). You should have this app downloaded & working in advance, of course.

The movie starts promptly at 6:30pm (Pacific). Don’t forget to mute your mic while the movie is playing.

We usually hang out for 15-20 minutes after the movie discussing it (longer if it pisses Jono off, like after “Inequality for All”).

If you’d like to get added to the movie picking rotation, let me know!

— Ken

PS – See <link to editable Google Doc list of movies> for a list of documentaries we’ve seen, contenders for future months, and movies that have been black-balled.

This also will have your name & date for when it’s your turn to pick the movie, if you want in on that action.

Video Conferencing

Initially we used Google Hangouts, but even highly trained MIT engineers had trouble figuring it out. I’ve heard it’s gotten better. We also tried Skype, but that failed when we got to more than 5 or so people. In the end, Zoom has been a win. I’ve got a paid subscription that I use, so we don’t have any weird time limits on the video chats.


When we first started, we’d try to pick a night that worked for everyone. This became an administrative nightmare, as someone would have a conflict, and we’d be proposing alternative dates, and waiting for responses. At the end of 2017 it became so painful I stopped trying, and we missed a few months.

Eventually we decided to make it the second Thursday of every month, come rain or shine, regardless of who could or couldn’t make it. This has worked well, though our Valentine’s Day meeting was controversial.

I usually send an email reminder to the person picking the movie on the Sunday before the meeting date, and then send out a general email (via the Google Groups mailing list) to everyone on Tuesday. This looks something like:

Hi everyone,

Drinks at 6:15pm Pacific, movie starts promptly at 6:30pm.
The movie (recommended by xxx) is “Little Dieter Needs to Fly”.
It’s 74 minutes long, and available on Amazon.
See you soon,
— Ken
PS – The Zoom meeting link, as always, will be <zoom link>

The Ripcord

Twice we’ve watched documentaries that were just not doing it for the group. Via Zoom chat, it’s pretty easy to express opinions during the movie, and if the majority of attendees aren’t feeling it, we’ll call an audible and switch to something else. So I usually have a movie in mind that I’m pretty sure will work as a fall-back.


I’m sure I’m forgetting important details, but the above should be enough to help you start your own group, if the spirit so moves you. Enjoy!


Recovering from a VMWare Fusion Friendly Fire Incident

September 1, 2017

Yesterday I’d just completed a painful migration from an old Macbook Air to my new Macbook Pro. I went old-school manual due to the amount of cruft Migration Assistant had loaded the last time I used it; I guess after 10 years it was time to start fresh.

For one of my final tests, I launched VMWare Fusion (version 8.5.1) on my new Mac. It prompted me to enter my password, so it could “adjust some settings”. Which I did. Big mistake.

After about an hour of a spinning beachball, I force-rebooted the Mac. When I logged in, I got a dialog box saying my Library folder had to be repaired, with a Cancel and a Repair button. Clicking either of these immediately showed the same dialog again.

Based on this thread, it looks like there’s a really nasty bug in Fusion, where on Mac OS X 10.12.5 it somehow (by following a symlink?) changes the owner of everything on your Mac to root. That includes your user’s home directory. which makes the Mac unusable. I know the thread implies this is a very unlikely situation which also required a corrupted disk or some other problem, but I think that’s a bunch of hooey.

I wasn’t about to start over, so after several false starts, I wound up following this procedure:

  1. Boot the Mac in “single user mode“, by holding down cmd-S during startup. I had to select an account to use, but I didn’t enter a password – seems odd.
  2. This boots to a terminal UI, and after a few minutes the various startup messages ended. The fun part is that it’s using full resolution for the display. We’re talking 3 point text on my Macbook Pro. I’ve never felt so old, as I pretty much had to take off my glasses and press my nose against the screen to read anything.
  3. The terminal displays some helpful hints about what commands to run next.
    1. The first one is /sbin/fsck -fy, which checks your disk for corruption issues. That command was fine, and completed without issues.
    2. The second one is /sbin/mount -uw /. Unfortunately on Mac OS Sierra you have to provide a filesystem type parameter (-t fstype). I tried -t hfs, but that no longer works. After a fair amount of searching I found that Sierra uses the Apple File System, which I guessed was type “apfs”. Running /sbin/mount -t apfs -uw / worked, and my disk was now mounted.
  4. At this point I could list my home directory files via ls -l /Users/kenkrugler/, and I saw that they all had their owner/group set to root:wheel, which was wrong.
  5. I tried to fix them up via chown -R kenkrugler:staff /Users/kenkrugler, but this failed with an error about “kenkrugler” not being a valid user.
  6. This question on Super User explained that Mac OS X uses Directory Service, not the /etc/passwd file for keeping track of users. But when you’re booted in single user mode the Directory Service isn’t running. Luckily I found a folder that hadn’t been converted, which showed me the user as “501”, which is the raw id.
  7. Running chown -R 501:staff /Users/kenkrugler/ took a while, and reported a number of issues with files that couldn’t be changed, but in general seemed to work.
  8. Running exit returned me to a regular boot of my user, which worked.

So now I’m back in business, after only a few hours of pain and suffering.


Cindy’s iPhone Starter Kit

February 5, 2016

It’s Cindy’s birthday, and she’s all grown up now with her very own iPhone.

After consulting with my own personal Apple Genius, I’ve come up with a list of apps that Cindy should purchase using the iTunes gift card we got her for her birthday. I’ve broken these down into a few different areas…

Word Games

Health & Fitness

Hipster Stuff

Useful Apps

  • Yelp – find good stuff nearby
  • Google Maps – sometimes better than built-in map app
  • Todoist – To-Do List/Task Manager

Happy iPhoning, Cindy!


Sufferfest at the Banff Mountain Film Festival

April 6, 2014

Every year we travel to Downieville to watch the Banff Mountain Film Festival movies as part of their annual tour. Downieville might be their smallest stop in the world, with a theater that seats about 200 good friends. It’s an hour drive on windy roads from where I live in Nevada City, but once we’re there it’s always a fun party, including the annual intermission frisbee-fest.

This year my favorite film was The Sufferfest, featuring Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright. You might remember Alex from all of movies and articles about the crazy free solo climbs he’s done, but Sufferfest is a different kind of adventure – he and Cedar climb all of the California 14ers, biking between the peaks.

What made it extra cool was that Schmed & I climbed these same peaks 20+ years ago, as part of a goal to summit them by the time we turned 30. And we also biked part of the way up White Mountain on our way to Barcroft right before Schmed’s knee surgery.

During the film they showed a shot of the register box on the top of Polemonium Peak, which I’d hauled up and installed in 1991. The register has a sad back-story. In 1988 Robin Ingraham was climbing with his friend Mark Hoffman at Devil’s Crag #8. A talus chute slid during their descent, and Mark went over a cliff. He was still alive, so Robin made an epic hike to get help (from back country ranger Randy Morgensen, see The Last Season) , but Mark didn’t survive the night. As a tribute to Mark, Robin started making summit registers, and I wound up getting a box from him for Polemonium.

Here’s me installing it back in 1991…


And proof that it’s still there, from The Sufferfest movie…


Good to see it’s still in place, as many of these registered have been vandalized, removed by rangers, or stolen over the years. There’s an article written by Robin Ingraham in 2008 about the history of registers in the Sierra Nevada, for those interested. What’s interesting to me is that Robin is strongly opposed to any mention of registers online, as he feels this gives would-be thieves more information about what to steal, and how. My views on this have evolved into treating registers more like prayer flags, which are left in place to fade as the years pass – I think historical records should be copied, but the originals left on the tops of peaks. If they get stolen, or water-damaged, or struck by lightening…that’s part of their story too, and someone will have to start a new register.

Project Vote Smart Rocks

October 25, 2012

I got a letter recently from Project Vote Smart, thanking me for being one of their original supports (beginning around 1990 or so). They also sent a nice pin.


But what I really like is being able to go to their web site during this gnarly election process and find real data about candidates, instead of having to sift through the endless commentary that floods the news.

I realize they’re a small voice compared to all of the Super-PACs that are pouring money into races & ballot measures, but they also are one of the few rays of light I can find in the political landscape. If you’re a voter who likes to make their own decisions instead of voting the “party line”, I’d strongly encourage you to support them.



Can Ken Climb Aconcagua?

September 2, 2012

Schmed & I have decided to attempt Aconcagua this December.


Which doesn’t leave much time for travel planning, setting up Big Data training in Buenos Aires, finding mule packers to help get gear up to base camp, and (most importantly) implementing a training regime appropriate for getting to almost 23,000ft.

We’re planning to make it a business-climbing-vacation trip, which means the family flies to Buenos Aires in mid-December, and we spend two weeks exploring the city and surrounding areas.

Grandama Dierker’s Button Collection

April 10, 2012

I grew up in southern California (Whittier), which is pretty close to Knott’s Berry Farm.

Back in the 1960’s, this wasn’t yet a typical theme park filled with roller coaster rides. There was a nice old-time feel to the place, with chickens and peacocks wandering around the parking lot.

We’d visit regularly, and every such trip included a viewing of The Button Collection.

My grandmother lived in Filer, Idaho and collected thousands of buttons over the years. Eventually an aunt finished off the collection and donated it to Knott’s Berry Farm, where it’s still on display.

Interesting dates in computer programming

July 15, 2011

Everybody knows about the Linux “epoch”, as in January 1st, 1970 UTC.

Some people might remember the original Mac OS equivalent, which was January 1st, 1904. From what I remember back in the day, Jerome Coonen picked that date (instead of 1900) because it simplified the leap year calculations. And using an unsigned 32 bit value for seconds meant that Macs could handle dates up to 2023 or some point way in the future.

Then yesterday I came across the MUMPS/Caché “$h” date format, which is described as:

This format returns the date as the number of days since 1st January 1841, and the time as the number of seconds since midnight.

I was speculating with my friend as to why they picked 1841, and guessed that this was some convenient date (similar to the Mac 1904 choice) that was before the birthdate of the oldest person they could imagine being in the system, back in the 1960s.

After turning to the Source of Truth (Wikipedia’s article on MUMPS), it seems like our guess was correct. James Poitras explains why he picked this odd date:

I remembered reading of the oldest (one of the oldest?) U.S. citizen, a Civil War veteran, who was 121 years old at the time. Since I wanted to be able to represent dates in a Julian-type form so that age could be easily calculated and to be able to represent any birth date in the numeric range selected, I decided that a starting date in the early 1840s would be ‘safe.’ Since my algorithm worked most logically when every fourth year was a leap year, the first year was taken as 1841. The zero point was then December 31, 1840