Saturday, August 30, 2014

Back to School Sale!

School's starting up again, and we moms are back to the old PTA work, with all the frustrations and fun that entails. Just to keep everyone smiling, and to remind us that things could always be worst, I'm offering a special deal on the first Pismawallops PTA mystery!

From today through Sept. 10, buy  Death By Ice Cream for just $2.99 at the Kindle store. And because I firmly believe in supporting other platforms, use coupon code PJ97S to get the same price from Smashwords, which sells all formats, including Kindle, Kobo and Nook.

Pismawallops Island is a quiet place where nothing much happens, even at the High School.  That’s how JJ MacGregor likes it.  So when a new member of the PTA threatens to disrupt the even tenor of life in the middle of Puget Sound, JJ insists they have to take a firm stand against her.  But when Letitia Lemoine shows up very dead in the freezer where there should have been 30 boxes of ice cream bars, JJ worries that someone might have taken her command too seriously.  Not the sort to sit back while other people solve her problems, JJ just can’t help asking a few questions.  But someone wants her to stop—and an acerbic sense of humor, insatiable curiosity, and carefully hidden dedication to duty lead her into more trouble than she knows how to handle.

Welcome to the Pismawallops PTA--a fun and exciting new mystery series from the author of The Ninja Librarian.

Because you can never have too much ice cream.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Trekking the Huayhuash, Part III

When last seen (here), we were settling in to what I believe was our highest camp. The next night, we would be at our lowest camp. The whole way between was downhill, so naturally we had to throw in a gratuitous visit to the highest pass yet! Yes, that's the kind of people we are. But it was worth it. We were up at the crack of dawn, extra early because various members of the party were doing various routes. Most of us headed out in the frosty early morning to climb San Antonio Pass, the highest point on our route (well, the highest was a bit off to the side of the pass where we found more things to climb. It was amazing to realize that we were up at nearly 16,600' and still able to do extra exploring!).
From Punta San Antonio looking back toward camp in the low meadow. Nev. Cuyoc dominates the horizon.
 What we saw from the pass--the setting for the documentary Touching the Void. We had hoped to spend a night up in there, but health limits kept our party on a little easier track. The husband and his nephew, however, opted to descend that side of the pass (with a guide, of course--they don't let you out of their sight!) and hike down the next valley to our camp. The rest of us skidded back down the side we'd come up.
Looking up the Sarapococha valley with Yerupaja straight ahead, Nev. Sarapococho and Siula Grande behind it.

Once we were down to the Huancapatay valley again, the walking was easy and pleasant, with frequent stops to look back and admire the mountain behind us. As usual, the area also featured many stone walls, of varying ages.
Looking back at Nev. Cuyoc as we descended the long Huanacpatay Valley.
After lunch the walk got less pleasant, as we had to make the second big descent. My knees were totally unhappy with me, but as usual, I survived. Down in the bottom of the valley active fields were terraced and marked off by stone walls. Unfortunately, we got to climb some of those walls, as the locals were using the trail for an aquaduct. After the steep climb down to the river, the hike down the valley to Camp 7,in the town, went on far too long; this was our longest day and latest arrival in camp.
We go down there, to Huayllapa just around the corner of the valley.
From our highest camp we went to the lowest, in Huayllapa at about 11,500'. It's weird to think of elevations like that as "low," but it felt it--lots of oxygen, so that I started out in the morning at a brisk pace despite the steep climb back up out of town. It was also weird to camp in the middle of town. We were on the schoolyard, I believe, and shared our space for a time with some kids playing football (soccer).

The climb from Huayllapa to Tapush Punta the next morning was never steep, but it went on a long time, and lower down grew hot (to me) in a hurry. At a stream crossing I finally couldn't stand it any longer, and my husband snapped me wringing out my braids after a head-dunk in the creek.
Climbing 3000' or more up from Huayllapa to Tapush Punta was hot work. Sometimes you just have to go soak your head.
Once we were out of the deep Quebrada (valley) Milo and up into the Q. Huatiaq, the views improved and the air grew more comfortably cool.
There was an easier way up.  Nev. Raju Collota dominates the end of the valley; we cross a pass out of sight to the left.
This might have been anywhere on our treks. We saw lots of sheep, though this was the only flock with such tiny newborns. An adorable fuzz-ball with wobbly legs!
Sheep. There's an ever-renewing supply. I'm guessing this guy was only a day or so old.
By the time we reached the broad, flat Tapush Punta, it was not only very alpine, but the cooling breeze had become the sort of wind that prevents lingering. Good thing we'd had lunch a little lower down (another proof our guides knew what they were doing)!
Approaching Tapush Punta.
Leaving Camp 8 the next morning (and it was farther along than I'd wished, making another long day with a long climb and some uncomfortable descending), we climbed immediately--and fairly painlessly--to our last pass, Llaucha Punta. Our guide led us to a viewpoint a bit above the pass, where we could see the entire heart of the Huayhuash.
All our favorite peaks, from Llaucha Punta, or a little above.
We weren't the first to be there, and maybe not the first to think we could use a little divine help to finish the trip!
Cairns and prayer flags? Llaucha Punta.
As usual, the pass was windy, so we dropped to a nice lunch counter for our snacks. It was a short day, though a substantial descent, so we were in no hurry, with lots of resting and reclining going on.
Snack spot below Llaucha Punta. The boys, reading and resting. They read pretty much the entire Game of Thrones series on this trip. Thank goodness for e-readers!
We stopped for lunch within sight of Camp 9, but why hurry, when the views are like this?
Lago Jahuacocha and Nevadas Rondoy and Jirishanca.  Camp is just visible in the valley at the far left of the photo.
The late afternoon light down in camp was some of the best we'd gotten, and the still creek meandering out of the lake and across the meadow reflected the peaks. We had time for plenty of photography as the sun faded.
Evening reflections.
Our final morning, some of us rose early to add a 4 or 5 mile dayhike to the day's mileage. We went up the valley to the glacial lake below the peaks, climbed the moraine (not too high, but always steep!) and watched the sun rise behind the mountain. All that before breakfast (a true miracle for those who know me; I did eat a couple of food-like bars). The color of the water is due to glacial silt.

The author and our guides at Solteracocha just before sunrise.
After a late breakfast (I think it just about killed the boys to wait) we had a 10-mile hike to the end of the trail. The first several miles were easy, following a pipeline trail, until we had to descend in the usual painful fashion about 2400' to the town of Llamac. We could distract ourselves by watching the vegetation change from alpine to agrarian and semi-desert (saw lots of cacti and then agave on the descent).
Century plant (agave).
Our final night was spent in Llamac, which had the advantage of giving us access to showers of a sort and an early start the next day on the road to Lima (about 9 hours from there). Once again I had to suck it up, hold on tight, and just try not to freak out as we wound back down, then up, then down the narrow and winding roads.

Totally worth it.
Traversing the pipeline trail to Llamac--a last look at the mountains.

Next: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Special price for Death By Ice Cream!

School's starting up again, and we moms are back to the old PTA work, with all the frustrations and fun that entails. Just to keep everyone smiling, and to remind us that things could always be worst, I'm offering a special deal on the first Pismawallops PTA mystery!

From August 30 to Sept. 10 you can get  Death By Ice Cream for just $2.99 at the Kindle store. And watch this space for a coupon to get the same price from Smashwords, because I firmly believe in supporting other platforms.

JJ MacGregor likes the peaceful life on Pismawallops Island, volunteering with the PTA at her son’s high school and enthusiastically boosting Brian’s Cross-Country and Track teams.  She doesn’t even mind that her long-distance marriage hasn’t got much life.  But she does mind that Island newcomer Letitia LeMoine is disrupting everything.  And maybe she loses her temper a little about it.  But when JJ shouts that Kitty Padgett, PTA President and her best friend needs to “do something” about the pushy outsider, she only means she needs to have a talk with her.

When LeMoine shows up dead where there should have been thirty boxes of ice cream for the Friday afternoon fundraiser, JJ starts to worry.  Will Pismawallops Police Chief Ron Karlson think someone took her advice too seriously?  Or even that JJ herself took direct measures?  JJ can’t help herself—she starts nosing around after some answers.  Besides, anything beats thinking too much about the other disaster that has overcome her: her husband has apparently tired of living 2000 miles apart and has filed for divorce—and wants to claim their son.

Just to complicate JJ’s life, Brian is in the throes of first love—with Kitty’s 9th-grade daughter.  Everyone but the kids thinks they are too young, and Brian isn’t pleased with limits on their relationship.  Nor is he happy about the divorce, especially as it is showing him the Dad he thought he had is something a bit different.  Worse, love must be in the air, because JJ finds herself more and more attracted to Ron Karlson, and the feeling is pretty clearly mutual.  But she can’t do anything that might interfere with the custody battle brewing, and must continue to keep love at bay.

Kitty does her best to distract JJ from both murder and domestic crises, as they realize that there was something the dead woman failed to leave behind her: any sign that she had begun work on the Yearbook, a project she’d insisted on taking over.  There is only one week to the deadline, and Kitty wants JJ to concentrate on that.  JJ is game, but not giving up her sleuthing.

Fueled by strong coffee and espresso brownies, JJ and Kitty attack the giant Yearbook project, and keep looking for the killer at the same time.  JJ raises more questions than she answers, and makes a lot of people annoyed, but someone thinks she’s a threat, because attempts are made both to frame her and to kill her.

In the end, the detested Yearbook project provides the key to both the murder and a grotesque abuse of power, and JJ puts almost everything together.  The gaps in her vision of the crime nearly cost her everything, but Kitty and Brian keep a pair of level heads and ride to the rescue in the nick of time.

Pick up your copy during my special back-to-school sale starting Saturday! 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Middle Grade Review: Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine


Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Publisher: Philomel, 2010. 224 pages
Source: Library

For Caitlin, an 11-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder), the world is a confusing place. Her tendency to see everything in black and white, to take everything said literally, and an inability to read peoples' faces, make it hard for her to understand the world. And now her brother Devon, the only one who could explain things to her, is dead in a school shooting, and she and her father need to find a way to heal.

This was a moving book. I was drawn to it in part because there's a fair amount of Asperger's in my family, and it's interesting to see how it is depicted, though of course you can't take a story like this as a guide. But the first-person narration is wonderfully done, and Caitlin's difficulty in understanding the world feels very real (and the trouble idioms give her is a good reminder for anyone who deals with non-native English speakers, too).

I think in some ways what I appreciated most about the story was the way in which it showed us both that Caitlin was actually trying very hard to learn what she needs to know ("Your Manners," "Look the Person in the Eyes," etc.), often without fully understanding what it is she's being asked to do. And despite her efforts, we see equally clearly (even through her often bewildered reports) that she constantly frustrates the adults in her life. Though some of those adults do better than others at understanding her needs, I was glad that none were painted as dreadful people, just people with greater and lesser understandings of the narrator and her issues.

In the end, Caitlin does manage to find her way to "closure" for herself and her father, which is meant a good start on healing. And they bring their shattered community along with them when they find it.

Another good book for helping us understand the different people around us, as well as just a compelling story for it's own sake. I'd recommend it for children and adults alike, especially those who interact with people on the Spectrum.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed Mockingbird  from my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mystery Monday Book Review


Title: Still Life
Author: Louise Penny
Publisher: St. Martin's, 2005
Source: Library

Three Pines is just a quiet village not far from Montreal. But when a beloved member of the community turns up dead, the Surete sends in Chief Inspector Gamache to solve the problem. A first look suggests it's just a tragic hunting accident, but Gamache just has to look farther.  Despite the detective's official standing, this is a cozy, relying as much on the villagers and Gamache's instincts as police procedure.

This proved to be a very well-written mystery, with largely likeable but human characters, and a sufficiently complex plot that avoids the obvious killers. The setting is wonderful--the small Quebecois village sounds beautiful, and is populated with folks I hope to get to know better in future books (I took a sneak preview of the next book and it does look like we come back here; I was a bit worried, since I don't see how the Inspector can keep getting cases in such a small place. . . ).

Language, writing, and presentation of the culture all seem to me to be top-notch, and there are plenty of moments of very good writing and several thought-provoking lines. Also several laugh-provoking lines, some of them being the same. My favorite was "we should all eat what we kill. That would put an end to war."

The main sour note for me was provided by one of Gamache's investigative team, the rookie with an attitude. I kept wondering exactly what she was doing there, especially as we are shown inside her head from time to time. I wanted a little more resolution of her story, instead of what felt like just using her to make a point about Gamache. I should also note that the book does use an omniscient--or nearly so--perspective, allowing us to see from the perspective of many characters. This isn't necessarily bad, and is handled well enough to prevent confusion. For better or worse the shifting perspective makes the book more about the whole village and less about the detective.

Overall, I consider this a very promising first book in a new (for me--I realize the book has been out nearly a decade) series.

For mystery fans who like a good village and a good plot.

Full Disclosure: I checked  Still Life  out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash, Part II

Ah, I have my computer back! You know what that means: you are in for another unmercifully lengthy account of trekking, with photos. Just to start you off, the first part of this trek is here. Go ahead and read it, or even better, use the "Photos and Travel" page link above to see the other posts on our trip to Peru. Go ahead. I'll wait.

My previous Peru post ended somewhat abruptly at the evening of the 3rd day, mostly because my computer crashed. So we resume our trek on the morning of the 4th day. We woke to clear skies and cold temperatures, and began hiking early enough to enjoy the still air.
Lake Carhuacocha enjoying the morning calm.

As usual, the clouds gathered around the mountains early, but never completely obscured them. We hiked up to the head of the lake, feeling very close to the mountains. Just to give it the perfect Lord the Rings feel, there were horses grazing in that meadow at the head of the lake.

Me, trailing along after the guys. Photo by Dave Dempsey
Climbing ever higher (and higher, and higher. . .) we passed a series of three beautiful emerald glacial lakes. The third, barely visible in the distance, had hunks of ice floating on it, and as we climbed away from it we were treated to a demonstration of why, or how. A modest section of snow and ice fell from the glacier above, streaming down the cliff in a temporary waterfall (snowfall?), and crashing into the lake. We were sorry to be too far away to see what kind of wave it made, or how much of an iceberg, as even across the valley the roar was impressive.

Lakes Quesillococha, Siula, and Gangrajanca nestled below Nev. Yerupaja and Yerupaja Chico (Siula Grande is out of sight to the left). The icefall was into the farthest, barely-visible lake.
As always, especially when we've climbed a steep and rugged 16,000' pass (Siula Punta) and then descended 1600 foot-pounding feet, we were glad to see our camp in the distance, though there were some moans about just how distant it appeared to be. We could also see the next day's (mercifully short and easy) climb ahead, a longish but mild ascent to Portachuelo de Huayhuash.
Huayhuash camp. Ours was the one in the background, barely visible as red and yellow specks beyond the stone corrals.
Next morning, as we climbed from our camp, we could see the mountains that had been just hidden from us. When we crossed the Portachuelo de Huayhaush, we also crossed back out of the Amazon drainage to waters that flow to the Pacific. (We crossed the divide with our first pass way back, and had been traveling down the east side of the range, crossing the headwaters of the Amazon River). It was an easy climb, made more challenging for me by a touch of, um, internal distress. I notice a dearth of photos (comparatively speaking) from that day's hike.

Looking over Huayhuash to the Nevadas Jurau.
 Our fifth camp provided us with a great treat--short on spectacular scenery, it more than compensated by having a hot springs! We didn't expect much, but it was in fact the perfect hot tub temperature, and our tired muscles appreciated it no end (I also appreciated a chance to at least thoroughly rinse my hair, as even I have a limited ability to immerse my head in glacial meltwater).
Steam rises from the pool in the early morning chill.
The sixth day had us back to serious climbing, headed for Punta Cuyoc, the highest pass on our main route.
Approaching Punta Cuyoc (at 4950 meters--16,330'--the highest pass on our main route).
Now we're looking at the west side of the range again.
Atop Punta Cuyoc, looking at Sarapo, Siula Grande, etc.
I just had to get a little higher--I was thinking of trying for 17,000', but the climb was a bit farther and steeper than I wanted.
The whole range from above the pass.
But I did take the obligatory selfie! Note the amount of clothing I'm wearing. Though it was sunny, it was windy and not that warm. I shed layers when climbing, but had to put them on as soon as I stopped. I took this photo somewhere around 16,400'.
Self-portrait at my high point--which I thought would be it, but in fact was topped the next day.
On the way down the pass, Second Son startled a vicuña off of the trail, and we were all able to spend some time admiring this wild ancestor of the alpaca. That evening, she (or another) could be seen happily grazing with our burros.

Keeping a close eye on the two-legged visitors.
We never learned the name of these lovely and cuddly-looking plants, so if you know, drop me a note. Of course, since they are some kind of cactus, we did NOT give them the hugs they seemed to demand!

Not as huggable as they look!
Most places the cacti were just fuzz-balls, but in this spot below Nev. Cuyoc, they were in bloom.
Cactus blossom

And our sixth camp, not far below 15,000' in a meadow at the base of Nev. Cuyoc. Rainstorms apparently over, we got some beautiful light as the sun went down, but no spectacular sunset clouds.
Camp 6, just under 15,000' at the base of Nev. Cuyoc.
I'll finish the trek next week! The farther I go with these, the harder it is to pick which photos to share. I've been a bit unmerciful, but have pity: I began editing with 2700 pictures! And that doesn't even count the ones my spouse took. . . What a trip!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction!

Yes, I really have managed to produce a short story. Really short, this week--only 650 words, but hey, I'm getting back into the swing of it. And I'll get back to the photos and Peru story in a day or so. It's been a busy week.

This story is a merging of two Chuck Wendig challenges. A couple of weeks ago he ran a random title challenge that sparked the story, and I finished it off this week and retitled it for the color title challenge.  The second title is from the original challenge.

Singing the Highway Blues

or, What the Highway Prefers

LeAnn clutched the wheel of her ’78 Buick, and kept her eyes on the road. It had been a long drive from Ely, and traffic was growing thicker. US 50 wasn’t the Loneliest Road in America at this end, and there were on-coming cars every minute or two. She pulled off the road at Grimes Point, where the petroglyphs were, just outside Fallon. She knew it was the last convenient bathroom before Donner Pass.

LeAnn didn’t like to stop at Donner Pass. The thought of what had happened there so long ago (even though it hadn’t happened at the Pass at all, but down below, closer to Truckee) haunted her, and she always thought the water in the drinking fountains tasted . . . odd. She didn’t want to wait that long anyway.

LeAnn didn’t even know why she was making this trip. The ancient Skylark didn’t need this kind of abuse, in spite of what her late husband had always said about needing to get out on the highway now and again to blow the carbon out of the cylinders, or something like that. But she’d felt compelled to come. Just to get into the car and go, maybe not stop until she could see the Pacific, except she needed a bathroom, and she had to buy gas.

Meanwhile, the sun beat down on the dark lava rocks that surrounded the restrooms. She thought about walking the trail and looking at the petroglyphs. She liked to wonder about the long-ago people who must have struggled to live in this place but still had time to chip their art into the stones. People who must have really wanted to make art, or leave a mark, or something, because this was not like spray-painting your initials on a wall. This took work. She started toward the trail, but a blast of heat hit her like a blow, and the road called.

The car had air conditioning, miraculously still functional.

Reluctantly, LeAnn got back behind the wheel and turned the key. The first blast of air was even hotter than that among the rocks, but in a minute it began to cool.

She needed gas. There was the new station by the freeway. She’d get a tankful there and it would take her almost to the coast. Surely that was why she’d come—to see the ocean again.

First she had to get through Fallon. It used to be a small town, LeAnn thought as she idled at a stoplight. It was well suited back then as anchor to one end of the Loneliest Road. But now—now the place was growing in all directions, but mostly it was growing a slick strip-mall chain-store look along the highway that she hated. She had the odd thought that it must have offended the highway, too.

At the second light, LeAnn glanced at the gas gauge. Dang, she’d not make it to the freeway. She turned on her blinker and pulled into a station on the next block, scanned her credit card, and filled the tank. It took so much gas to fill, and gas cost so much these days. She really shouldn’t be doing this. She tried to recall why she was. Something about the ocean? She liked the ocean.

Thinking about cool sea breezes and waves breaking on sandy beaches, LeAnn didn’t realize at first that she’d turned east, not west. When she noticed, she thought about turning around, but the urge to go west seemed to have faded. Besides, she was on the causeway and couldn’t do a U-turn there. She thought about home and kept driving.

The car and the road settled down together smoothly, and LeAnn relaxed. Maybe this was just what the highway wanted—a single car, driving the breadth of Nevada. The road was, after all, lonely. A little company was all it had needed.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Non-Fiction Review: A Higher Call


Title: A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II
Author: Adam Makos
Publisher: The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2012. 392 pages.
Source: Library

This book tracks two pilots, one American and one German, up to and away from an amazing encounter over Germany. While the encounter forms the center of the story, the book in fact is a thoughtful account of the German Air Force though the war.

As noted, this book is about much more than a single 10-minute encounter between to planes over Germany. The author freely admits to having begun the project with a strong bias against the German pilots, or anyone who fought on the German side in WWII, and an assumption that all Germans were Nazis. But his research forced him to recognize the human beings on both sides, and in the end it was the German pilot whose story he most wanted to tell. In the process, he tells the story of the German Air Force, at least from one perspective. Along the way he learned that good men fought on both sides, that many never joined or supported the Nazi party, and that once the bombs started falling, it didn't seem to matter so much who was right or wrong--they just wanted to protect their homeland.

As a result, the book isn't exactly what it advertises to be--the central incident takes up only one (admittedly gripping) chapter--but it is well worth reading. When we follow Franz Stigler from boyhood, seeing his love of flying develop and lead him ultimately to the air force and to flying fighters, we also see how many ordinary Germans disliked and distrusted Hitler, who had essentially run a coup, claiming complete control with a party that had won less than half the vote (and then abolished elections). It's not hard to understand Franz's anger when his brother is killed. Then we see him gradually sickened by the death and destruction, until he finally fails to shoot down Charlie Brown's US bomber, though it's so shot to pieces he could have taken it out with a pea shooter.

The book reads like a novel, though it is clearly well-researched. I enjoyed it, and appreciated learning more about the other side, being reminded that there are always humans on both sides of a war.  It is well-edited (though I found one typo :) ) and has little in it that doesn't need to be. Technical details of planes are kept to just what we need to know, and most characters who are introduced in any detail prove later to be important to Franz in one way or another.

For all fans of aviation and/or WWII literature.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed A Higher Call  from my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Trekking the Cordillera Huayhuash, Part I

Slowly but surely, I'm making progress through the 2700 photos or so I brought back from Peru!  I posted reports on the first trek we did, in the Cordillera Blanca, here and here.

On finishing our first trek, we retreated to Huaraz for two nights and a day of recovery (and a little shopping). Somewhat refreshed, we headed back out to the Cordillera Huayhuash for our second trek. Naturally, this involved a long (4 or 5 hours) bus ride deep into the mountains on terrifying dirt roads that switchbacked down into and up out of deep valleys (because that seems to be what roads in Peru do). While other members of the party ooohed and ahhed and took pictures out the window, I concentrated on not getting carsick, as I hadn't been able to find my motion sickness pills that morning. (I had, of course, put them somewhere logical, and did find them days later). It is a testament to the skill of our driver that I neither threw up nor panicked on the drive.

First glimpse of the Huayhuash--before the pavement ran out.
We drove all the way to our first camp, to give ourselves a second rest day (some members of the party were sick and needed it). While most of us helped set up camp, our boys proved that teens are still kids--they found a box, hauled out their multi-tools, and turned it into a boat (or at least a barge) to run the rapids on the creek.
The Rio Llamac, not too far from its beginnings. Pretty tame, but still too much for the experimental craft.
The next morning we started for real, with a climb to our first pass (Cacananpunta) at 15,500'. Since we'd been hit the evening before with a storm that dumped rain and hail on camp, it wasn't any surprise that the pass had fresh snow on it.
Cold enough for ya?
Once over the pass, the hike was pretty easy, though, and ended in camp at Tuctupampa, near Lake Mitucocha, nestled under the face of Nevada Jirishanca, at over 20,000' (the mountain, not the camp).  Camp was in a very pretty valley with a meandering stream, which proved to be very deep--too deep for bathing in! That didn't stop us from enjoying the view.
Tuctupampa valley

As usual, it frosted heavily overnight, and the clear morning soon began to gather clouds. We took a detour to the lake, to get a better view of the mountains.
A lake half full of tules, and a mountain flirting with a veil of misty clouds. Not a bad morning.
The sharp-eyed kids spotted a fossil in a trailside rock, and we soon found we were surrounded by reminders that these 20,000' peaks used to be a sea floor.
Sea food, anyone?
The weather held pretty nice as we climbed on up and over Punta Carhuac (also called Yanapunta) (15,300'). A bit down the other side we stopped for lunch, while the mountain views were still great. Below, Eldest Son is watching with both interest and trepidation as Juan, our amazing cook, lays out lunch. Meals were often a challenge for ES, whose Asperger's syndrome gives him a lot of strong feelings about foods, but he ate a lot of things he never could have at home. Hunger is the best sauce, as Miguel Cervantes said. Or, as we say in our family, must be the altitude!
Looking at Nevada Yerupaja and waiting for lunch.
The big treat for the day was a field full of biscachas--relatives of the chinchilla, looking rather like rabbits with squirrel tails. They were the main wild mammals we saw, though we did see Andean foxes on a couple of occasions (at night, so no photos).
I like the tails--they look like fiddleheads.
Our camp at Lago Carhuacocha had incredible views of Nev. Yerupaja and the north side of Siula Grande (featured in the documentary movie Touching the Void).  It was also where we were as we listened to Brazil's futbol team lose spectacularly to Germany. Since the broadcasts were in Spanish, we couldn't follow them, but every time we heard that annoying "gooooooaaaaaaaal" yell, we'd holler, "quien?" and our wranglers would answer glumly, "Aleman." A bit of weather gave us a great sunset, a scenic end to our third day.
Not our dining tent. Limited camp space made this a camp we shared, along with the football (soccer) news.

I had intended to cover one more day in this post, but my computer is on the fritz and it's too much work to access all my photos off the back-up just now, so this will be the end of Part I. You can expect at least two more posts for this trek--the mountains and the scenery are worth it anyway!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Middle Grade Review: Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor  

Title: Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor
Author: Julie Anne Grasso.  2014, 135 pages
Source: Free review e-book

When his favorite cousin Kat disappears from Enderby Manor, 10-year-old Frankie Dupont, sleuth-in-training, is on the case. He has to deal with dubious and devious characters at the Manor, not to mention the bumbling Inspector Cluesome, before the final dramatic race to save Kat in time.

This was a fast, fun read! Frankie is an engaging character, and the story is well plotted to keep the interest of even reluctant readers. There is just a touch of the absurd, with just-over-the-top characters, and a dash of fantasy.  I went into this expecting another realistic kids-and-school type book, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was something a little different. The book does require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but as the story develops and moves farther from the every-day, that becomes very easy.

The book is well edited, and illustrated with fun line drawings that depict key moments in the story. My main reservation is that Frankie has an awful lot of chutzpah, and I kept waiting for him to stumble. Things went just a little too smoothly for him, I think, but that is in part due to the short-and-simple nature of a book intended for younger middle-grade readers.

Kids who enjoy mysteries (I was going to say Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys, but I might just be showing my age a bit) should enjoy this. Some might be a bit put off by the fantasy elements, but as many will probably be drawn in by them, given the popularity of fantasy just now.  I would class this as early-middle grade, for kids maybe 8-10 or 11, and probably very good for reluctant readers as it is written fairly simply and moves fast.

Full Disclosure: I was given a review copy of Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor by the author, in exchange for my honest, not my favorable, review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Science Fiction: Second Star, by Dana Stabenow


Title: Second Star
Author: Dana Stabenow
Publisher: Ace, 1991.  208 pages.
Source: purchased ebook 

Star Svensdotter is in command of the first self-sustaining (almost) space colony, and she is committed to keeping it safe and getting it ready for the first round of colonists. She's pretty good at fending off human threats, but that may not be the only kind out there.

Given the 1991 publication date, it's no wonder that this book has some interesting historical anomalies (a lot has happened in those 23 years), but the story is still good fun space opera. As the somewhat retro (even for 1991?) cover suggests, this has the feel of classic SF of the Asimov-Heinlein era, which just happens to be the stuff I grew up on and loved.

The story starts a bit slow in some ways--there is probably a bit too much explanation and exposition and character development--but it moved fast enough into action to keep me engaged, and then picked up speed until action was coming at me like a field of space debris. I detected echoes of other books (though I can't actually put my finger on which), but again, nothing that distracted from the story.

I stumbled on this while looking for inexpensive ebooks to add to my Nook for our summer travels.  How could I pass up some 99-cent SF from a favorite mystery author?  Second Star isn't a piece of great lit, and it's dated as SF, but it's still a fun read, and there are characters I'll be happy to revisit in the 2nd and 3rd books of the trilogy. SF fans who want a good strong female lead will enjoy Star Svensdotter.

Full Disclosure: I purchased Second Star with my own money and of my own volition, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cordillera Blanca, Part II

Ready for another round of photos? I've made some progress through the collection, and I'm ready to resume the narrative, begun here.

When last seen, we were camped at Huillca with the alpacas (alpaca poop made a nice change from cow plops). The next day (Day 5, I believe) saw us (as usual) getting up in the morning and climbing up over a pass, with views to match. The (young) guys switchbacked up out of sight quickly, keeping up with Juan, our amazing cook and high-speed guide. This was a two-pass day, with an easy climb of Mesapata Pass followed by a longer and harder climb to Caracara Pass.
Climbing toward Mesapata pass
Mealtimes were something we really looked forward to. This particular bit of fruit wasn't quite what we were expecting, however. It's some kind of relative of a passion fruit, but we aren't quite sure what.
Here, take a closer look:
The fish-egg texture and crunch of the seeds were off-putting for some of us, though the flavor was good.

A fair bit of lounging about seemed an appropriate response to mealtimes, summits, and any of a number of other excuses. In fact, on a trip like this, when not actually hiking, lounging about is the primary activity. Staring at the scenery of course is what we'd come for, so it mades sense.
My son, my foot, and my brother-in-law, atop yet another pass

The sixth day, and we were descending to our layover near Alpomayo. We can see the glacial lake (thus the lovely turquoise color) behind the moraine. Once again, we see too that we have to go down. A long way down.
Lago Jancarurish and Quitaraju towering above, seen from Caracara Pass

Clouds kept hiding the peaks, but they also made for great light at sunset. Since this moraine had failed catastrophically in the 1940s, flooding the valley and washing out a nearly-completed hydro-election dam down on the Santa River, I did think a bit about where we were camped!
Alpomayo Camp at sunset.
After two nights in our scenic camp, and a dayhike to get a closer look at the lake, we had to move on. But we had great views behind us at the mountain, as we descended the deep glacial Quebrada Alpomayo past Incan ruins.
The Spouse reluctantly leaves the Most Beautiful Mountain in Peru.
 This was a tough day. After descending the valley for several miles, we turned and began a relentless 2000' climb to the first pass of the day, Hatun Ventuna. This was the point where various people's minor illnesses and fatigue began to show--the gap between the Tres Muchachos and the last of the old folks was huge! But we all eventually made the summit, and we had traded Alpomayo for a new set of stunning mountains.
 Of course, having rested on our laurels, and eaten our lunch, we had to drop several hundred feet and climb a thousand to the second pass of the day, Ventana. In between, we passed a little cove full of these giant lupins, native only to the Andes.

Finally, after a day that went on far too long for me, and just in time for afternoon tea, I reached our next-to-last camp. Tucked into a small area next to a dam, we shared our space with several buildings and a pair of trekkers from Colorado, just starting out in the other direction.
Lago Cuillacocha camp
 What the campsite itself lacked in aesthetics, the lake and mountains more than made up for when sunset moved in.
Sunset on Santa Cruz mountain Lago Cuillacocha
 The last two days were a long, long way down, into the valley of the Santa River. Even though we didn't have to hike all the way to the bottom, it was a tough descent!
Down we go, into civilization!
I can't let this go without giving some credit to the guys who did the heavy lifting--our team of 11 burros and a packhorse, not to mention the wranglers. They got to walk home when we were done, too, but without all the gear and coolers. Well, the two wranglers who took the donkeys back rode, but still--no horse trailers for these guys. So it takes two days to get home? Vamos!
Descending toward Hualcayan, where we were picked up to return to Huaraz

 The Alpomayo Circuit was an incredible hike, and inspired all sorts of responses from our group. . .

These two posts don't even come close to doing the trip justice, and my husband's photos are better. Even better, for those who really like good photography, will be my brother-in-law's photos, once he has them up on his website, (I just checked yesterday and they weren't there yet, which is no surprise given the size of the job!).

And, for those who want more: next week, I start the report on our second trek, the Huayhaush circuit.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014