Mt. Whitney Hike

Mt. Whitney Hike

***I wanted to document some past hikes/trips that I’ve taken.  I actually wrote the following shortly after the hike (way back in 2001).  I made some minor edits to the text but overall they are my words from 16 years ago. ***

It all started while I was still at school. During spring quarter of my freshman year at Northwestern University, my dad sent me an e-mail asking if I would like to participate in a hiking trip.  He informed me that the trip would be to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.  Other aspects of the trip comprised of the group being made up of five individuals.  I was the only one under the age of fifty.  The other group members included my father, my uncle, Mr. I-fu Shih, and Mr. Hsu.

To prepare for this hiking expedition, our group held practice hikes at a nearby mountain.  Mount San Antonio, a.k.a. Mount Baldy, is the third highest peak in the southern California area.  With a peak elevation of 10,064 feet, our group traversed this peak once as an entire group.  However, each member individually climbed the peak at least twice, sometimes three times, in his own separate groups.  These climbs were to help ensure that we would be in shape and ready for hiking the many miles of Mount Whitney.  There are four different trails one can take to reach the top of Mount Baldy.  I have taken two of the four routes.  The first route requires taking a chair lift to the start of the trailhead.  From the trailhead, the peak can be reached in 3.7 miles with an elevation gain of around 2,000 feet.  The other trail is considerably more difficult.  With an elevation gain close to 3,500 feet, the trail continuously climbs upwards, pushing my body’s limit.  That trail has a length of 4.3 miles.  A separate hiking experience I had to further my training occurred while on vacation in Alaska.  One of the expeditions offered at Juneau was a hiking trip.  I decided to take this expedition to help keep myself ready for hiking in the wilderness.  One other preparation tool I had been taking advantage of was that of running.  I would jog at least a mile everyday for a few weeks prior to our trip to Mount Whitney.

A few days before the trip, which was from August 31, 2001 to September 3, 2001, I bought a hiker’s backpack.  We also purchased a shirt that helps alleviate the dampness that perspiration causes.  Packing started on Thursday, the day before our departure.  Items that were brought included: a knife, a small flashlight, a pair of gloves, a baseball cap, a rag (to block the sun from the back of my neck), ziploc bags, a thin mat, a rain coat, clothes, and approximately four liters of water.  Also attached to my pack was a sleeping bag and also the fabric of the tent.  My approximate estimate is that the pack weighed approximately twenty-five to thirty pounds.

That night I became quite pensive.  I began thinking about the dangers of what we were about to undertake.  I realized that there existed many hazards on the mountain.  I had read a report of previous accidents and rescues that took place on Mount Whitney.  I began to get quite worried about our safety.  My father assured me that in case of such dangers as lightning, we would immediately turn around to safety.  Still, I felt as if there was some danger involved and had to deal with it in my own way.

The following morning I woke up around 10:00 a.m. and headed to Target to purchase a battery for my camera.  I was not about to let this opportunity pass up and not have any pictures of the wonderful scenery.  Around 11:30 a.m., Mr. Shih and Mr. Hsu showed up and we loaded the Tahoe.  Then I drove us to pick my father up and then we went to pick my uncle up.  We took the 210 freeway to the 14.  Then we took the 395 freeway and finally ended up in the city of Lone Pine, where the population is approximately 2,000 people.  We stopped by the visitor center and looked through some material about the mountain.  We also inquired about the weather and were told that the past few days had been clear and pleasant.  Our group then checked into the Best Western and settled in.  Mr. Shih and Mr. Hsu went to the Ranger station for Inyo National Forest and picked up our permits.  Permits are required on the mountain because the National Forest Service has limited the number of hikers per day on Mount Whitney.

01 Whitney from Afar
View from our motel in Lone Pine

Since it was around dinnertime, we went and ate at a local diner and talked about the hike.  From the city of Lonepine, Mount Whitney is quite visible and I took a picture of our formidable task.  After dinner we returned to our motel rooms and double-checked our supplies.  A slight problem was found because we had many items that had a scent.  Any objects with a scent must be placed in a bear proof canister, of which we only had one.  Therefore, the items that had a scent, we asked the motel to store for us, for we were to return to that hotel on Sunday night, September 2.  After checking our gear one final time, our group turned in for the night.  That night was filled with restless sleep.  My mind wandered from the hike to the camping.  I envisioned such calamities as falling off of the side of the cliff.  Eventually I did end up sleeping for a good six or seven hours.

Everybody woke up around six the next day.  We prepared everything we had and placed it into the car.  We had a light breakfast of cereal and muffins, provided by the motel.  The fourteen-mile drive up to the trailhead proved to be a nice relaxing trip.  We drove through the Alabama Hills, famous for being the set of old western movies.  Upon reaching the trailhead, we parked the car and unloaded our packs.  Each of the five members carried a hiking pack.  We all stopped at the sign at the head of the entrance and took a group picture.

21 Group at Trail Head
From left to right: Uncle Chen, Mr. Shih, Me, Ba, Mr. Hsu

The time was approximately eight o’clock when we started from the trailhead.  The trail started off relatively easy, with a nice well-beaten path.  There existed a few switchbacks and we crossed two creeks.  Finally we made our way to Lone Pine Creek which required walking along logs that had been placed for hikers to cross the wide creek.  When we reached the first creek, we stopped to take a breather.  I had not realized how much harder it was to hike with a heavy load on my back. My shoulders had already begun to hurt and we had only traveled about 0.8 miles.  We ended up taking some rests on the switchbacks.  This gave me the opportunity to look back and see a spectacular view.  I could see straight down the valley (that had long ago been carved by a glacier because of its “U” shape).  My vision was unimpeded and I could see the winding road that had taken us to the trailhead.  The day was gorgeous with not a cloud in the blue sky.

25 Looking back toward Lonepine on trail
Looking back at the valley where we parked

I knew the only way to get past the pain was to continue on and hopefully get acclimated to the pack.  We next stopped at Lone Pine Lake (well, where the turnout to Lone Pine Lake was).  We decided to eat out lunch there.  Lunch consisted of an apple and a Nutrigrain bar.  I trekked the 0.1 miles to the lake to see what view I could get.  Once I reached it, I first noticed the clarity of the lake.  The reflection off of the lake was stunning.  I could clearly make out the trees and the outline of the mountain just by looking at the water.  I pulled out my camera and took some shots.

First lake 2
First lake we came upon
First lake 3
Nice reflection

After a good half-hour rest, our group continued up some more switchbacks.  Soon, my father and I came to a clearing and we found ourselves in a small valley walking next to a beautiful meadow.  I noticed how there were many small tributaries of a creek traversing its way through the meadow.  I became entranced by watching the water move its way over rocks and through the green vegetation.

07 Meadow (near outpost camp)
08 Ba in Meadow (near outpost camp)
Ba in meadow

09 Meadow (near outpost camp)

On the other side of the meadow, we made another stop at Outpost camp.  Outpost camp is situated 3.6 miles from the trailhead and is 10,360 feet above sea level.  From Outpost camp, we hiked another 0.7 miles until we were at Mirror Lake (at an elevation of 10,640 feet).

10 Mirror Lake.jpg
Reflection lake

Just above Mirror Lake was the last place that provided tree shelter and shade.  The last tree on the Whitney Trail is not far above the lake.  After passing Mirror Lake, we hiked among boulders and rocks until finally reaching a breathtaking sight: Trailside Meadow.  Right next to the path, I saw a waterfall that trickled down into lush green shrubs and flowers, with a creek running straight through.  Located 5.3 miles from the start of the trail, our group felt it was best to rest here.  It seems as if our group took many rest breaks, but I feel that we pushed ourselves and followed a strict timetable for making it to Trail camp.  Upon leaving Trailside Meadow, a steeper incline followed with a few switchbacks and then finally, after much agonizing, we made it Trail Camp at 4:30 p.m.

16 Ba & I in Trailside Meadow
Ba and I in creek

Trail Camp is located 6.3 miles into the trail.  It is also at an elevation of 12,039 feet above sea level.  Up until this point, the highest point I had ever climbed was Mount Baldy, at an elevation of 10,064 feet.  Therefore, upon reaching this area, I was amazed that I had handled the hike so well thus far.  However, my body definitely felt the effects of the arduous hike.  Finally, we set up our tent and started to put our sleeping bags into the tent.  I felt very lethargic.  Another dilemma came up when we realized that not all of our food and trash would fit into the canister.  Eventually, some of the members in our group decided to bury it and hope that a bear would not come.  Luckily, no bears showed up.  That night’s sleep was not very good.  We squished five adult males into the single tent.  The ground was hard and uncomfortable.  I had to constantly move the dirt beneath me so as to get better cushioning.

18 Group next to Tent at Trailcamp
The group at camp
19 Mountain view from camp
View of the top from camp

Because there is not much to do once the sun sets at that altitude, everyone was in their tents and trying to sleep by seven or so at night.  This created a slight problem because I had not been accustomed to sleeping at such an early hour.  However, my body told me that I was ready to rest.  We all had to put on our long johns because the temperature had dipped quite a bit.  My estimate is that the temperature hung around the lower 30s for the night.  I tossed and turned the entire night.  Once I had to get up and upon exiting the tent, I realized the brightness of the moon.  The moon lit up most of the camp with its glow.  Throughout the night I continued taking sips of water because the high altitude causes your mouth to get dry.  Eventually I did get about two hours of continuous sleep and then we had to get up.  The time was about 5:30 a.m.  Luckily, no bears came and we dug up our food and trash and put them in our packs.

16 Sunrise from above camp.jpg

At 6:10 a.m. or so, four of us began our hike.  Mr. Hsu had become quite sick during the night and did not feel he could continue on our hike.  Therefore, the four of the remaining started our trek.  We started out traversing 97 switchbacks.  I was still half-asleep at this point.  These switchbacks took us 1,738 feet in elevation in just 2.2 miles.  Probably the hardest part of the hike, I contemplated whether we would be able to reach the summit at the rate we were hiking.  However, I knew that this was a trip that had taken much planning and I did not want to fail.

20 View of Trail Crest
View from Crest Trail
21 View from upper trail
View from Crest Trail

At the beginning of the switchbacks, I found a nice steady pace to hike.  However, I soon found that I had set my pace too quickly and became tired.  Therefore, the rest of the way up the switchbacks took an agonizingly slow and painful process.  After only two or three switchbacks, I would have to take a break to catch my breath.  By this time, Mr. Shih had continued ahead of us because he was the one in the best shape.  My uncle had stopped to take a break and have something to eat.  Therefore, my father and I made our slow but steady way up to the Trail Crest.  After two hours (8:15), we reached the Trail Crest (13,777 feet in elevation).  Two other men were at the crest as well, one of them coming up from behind me.  One of them let us use his sunscreen and told us how we had just traversed the most difficult part.  I asked him how many times he had summited Whitney and he said he had already done it twice.  We thanked him and continued on our way, now hiking on the opposite side of the mountain.  Thankfully, since it was still early in the day, the sun had not risen high enough in the sky for there to be sunlight shining on the trail.  The trail started to descend at first until it met the John Muir Trail (9.0 miles).

17 Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

From that point, the summit is another 1,015 feet in elevation covering two miles.  While walking along this trail, mostly over rocks and boulders, I kept thinking about when we would turn around.  I realized that if we were caught still trying to make it to the summit at too late of a time, then our hike to get back to the trailhead could fall into the night and darkness.  However, I also had to deal with the gorgeous view that I had from the trail.  We were now overlooking Sequoia National Park.  There were many lakes that were far below us and they were beautiful.  I also had a chance to see the Western Divide.

Finally we came to a point where we were directly behind the peak.  I was wondering if we were going to attempt to climb up the boulders directly to the summit or follow an easier path that wound around to the other side and slowly went to the top from there.  It turned out we followed the path and after another long hike (or what seemed like a long hike) I saw the hut.  From that moment, I knew that we would make it.  Upon reaching the hut, the time was 10:10, exactly four hours after we had left Trail Camp.  I went and signed my name in the register that is next to the Hut.  Then I went and sat on a boulder and looked 360 degrees.  The weather was clear and I could see in all directions.

24 Shih Ba Me at Top25 Whitney Sign

So this is what it feels like to be on top of the lower 48 states.  However, it didn’t really sink in that I was on top.  Mr. Shih, my father, and I took a picture next to the sign indicating the peak and the elevation.  Mount Whitney sits 14,496.811 feet above sea level.  I felt proud that I had made it.  I have to admit that throughout the trip, up until this point, I had felt as if I would not reach the top.  When we left camp that morning, I had said in my mind and out loud that I would stop at the Trail Crest because I was not feeling good enough to make it to the top.  However, I happily proved myself wrong.  I was especially happy that I had done this with my father.  He showed me a lot by his will to succeed.

20 View from Top
View from the top
21 View from Top
View from the top
22 View from Top
View from the top
23 Hut built by Smithsonian at top
Hut at the top built by the Smithsonian

We made our way down at 10:30 a.m. and reached Trail Camp by 1:30 p.m.  We then packed up our tent and everything and set off for the trailhead at 2:30 p.m.  I did not expect to make it to the bottom as quickly as we did.  We reached the trailhead at 6:00 p.m.  Going down the trail is quite challenging as well.  It is not as easy as some would think.  The pack that we carried still weighed a great deal and parts of the trail were quite treacherous.  We had to watch our steps so as not to fall and injure ourselves.  Luckily, I hiked with two ski poles and they help tremendously when you have to walk downhill with a heavy pack pushing you forward.  We then drove to the motel and stayed another night, driving home on September 3, 2001.

The trip took us two days.  Our hike eventually covered 21.4 miles (10.7 miles each way) and an elevation gain of over 6,000 feet.  The hours spent on that mountain will be something I will remember.  However, I take a lot more away from the mountain than just pictures and stories.  Mount Whitney showed me that I have a lot more inside of me than I presumed I did.  I never expected to be able to accomplish what I did.

It’s amazing how far technology has come in terms of digital cameras and such.  I didn’t use a digital camera for this trip and ended up scanning in pictures.  Some photo credits also belong to Mr. Shih.



Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, and last day in Tokyo

Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, and last day in Tokyo

Even though I was under the weather and tied to being close to a bathroom, the show had to go on and our trip wasn’t going to just end (even though I had fleeting thoughts of telling my wife to go ahead and I’d just go back to Tokyo and hole up in a motel until our flight home).  I’m glad that I pushed forward and finished off the trip.

From Kyoto we hopped on the Shinkansen again and continued our trip westward.  Our destination was Itsukushima, or Miyajima Island, which is located just off the coast of Hiroshima.  We initially thought we’d stop in Hiroshima first prior to heading to the island.  However given the time of day when we arrived in Hiroshima, we altered our plans and decided to go to the island first and would check out Hiroshima on our way back to Tokyo the following day.  To get to the island you need to take a ferry.  Strangely enough there are two competing companies but they operate right next to each other at the ports.  One of the ferries is operated by JR and since we had the JR pass, we could ride for free.  It was a very short trip (10 minutes) to get across the channel.


As we approached the island, we sailed right near the large Torii gate that sits in the middle of the water.  I managed to snag a few shots even though it was quite foggy.


Once we were onshore, we rang up one of the proprietors of the ryokan and within 5 minutes our host drove down to pick us up.  One thing I immediately noticed is that the streets were impossibly narrow and all the vehicles on the island were essentially shrunken versions of full size cars.  At one point we walked past the island fire department and it was cute because they looked like normal fire trucks (well normal for Japan) but were miniaturized versions.  Many of the streets only fit one car’s width so if two cars were trying to go in opposite directions on the same road, one of them would inevitably have to pull off into a small alcove to let the other pass.  Normally in the US, having to do that would create some frustration as people are in such a rush to get everywhere.  I noticed that the Japanese people do it happily and don’t mind so much.  Another cool feature of their cars is that when they stop the let someone pass, the vehicle’s engine automatically cuts out (reduces emissions I bet) and then restarts when they are ready to go again.

It was a short 5 minute drive to the Watanabe Inn, our ryokan for the night.  A ryokan is very similar to a bed and breakfast in the states.  They had capacity for I believe 5-6 rooms accommodating 2-4 guests per room.  We were lead into our room and given time before the Kaiseki-ryori dinner.


After getting settled into our room, we decided to take a quick stroll before dinner.  Right outside the ryokan leading up the mountain is a large shrine, Daisho-in.  The temple was actually closing for the evening but we managed to explore it briefly.


With some time still before dinner, we walked back down toward the water where the large Torii gate is.  While on the ferry earlier, people were walking right next to the Torii gate due to low tide.  By the time we walked over (maybe 1-2 hours later), the tide had already come in and you couldn’t access the Torii gate without a boat.


On Miyajima island, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of Sika deer.  While the deer are not “tame” per se, they are not afraid of people and will come right up to you (looking for food).  The Miyajima visitor guide says not to feed the deer and that they will eat anything (including paper and the brochure from the visitor center).  I read some other online articles later that the deer are in fact starving because they are “domesticated” and don’t know how to forage for their own food anymore.  I don’t know who to believe sometimes.


A Kaiseki-ryori dinner is a multi-course dinner that was originally served for traditional tea ceremonies.  Even though my gut was still not cooperating, I was not going to miss this probably once in a lifetime experience.  To really immerse ourselves, we changed into the Yukata kimonos that were provided with the room.  They also had traditional japanese socks (Tabi) – the two-toed socks that go with the Jika-tabi (the shoes you think about when you imagine ninjas) (here).

The dinner was served on the first floor and each room had their own table to maintain some privacy for the guests.  Dinner consisted of multiple courses of both seafood (fresh fishes) and some terrestrial animals (steak).  The tempura was so light and crispy that it was great.  I also noticed that the Japanese like to serve their rice by itself.  The rice is quite tasty so maybe they don’t like to cover it up with other foods.

While we were eating, the inn employees turned down our room by setting up our bedding.


They encouraged us to take a walk down to the large Torii Gate in the water again as it is lit up at night.  One thing that really struck us was how quiet and peaceful it was to walk through the streets.  Once the last ferry leaves in the early evening, the island becomes very quiet.  At night, they light up the Torii Gate as well as the big floating shrine, Itsukushima Shrine.


To finish off a magical experience on the island, we took turns taking a bath in a traditional Japanese Cypress tub.


The following morning we walked around Itsukushima Shrine and had a traditional Japanese breakfast.


We then hopped on a speedy boat that would take us right to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  Since it was relatively early in the morning, we had the boat all to ourselves.



The boat dropped us off right next to the Atomic Bomb Dome.


The dome is the remnants of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a building that was not completely destroyed by the atomic bomb blast.  It is a symbol of peace.


We walked over to the museum and proceeded to become depressed while learning about what went on when the US decided to drop an atomic bomb on a highly populated area.  I wasn’t sure how it would impact me to walk through and learn all this information.  I’ve become quite cynical and jaded but seeing, hearing, and learning of what truly happened had quite an impact on me.  It moved me more than I would have thought.

We hopped on a bus and then took a Shinkansen back to Tokyo for our last night in Japan.  We checked into the Dormy inn in Shibuya.  The famous Shibuya Crossing is located right outside the train station so I grabbed a few shots of how crowded it really was (the pictures don’t do it justice).


The crossing is what you see on a lot of movies including Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift and one of the Resident Evil movies.

Our final dinner in Japan was a delicious one.  I was still dealing with my GI issues but we took a quick walk over to this small Ramen shop, Ichiran.  You again buy tickets at a vending machine outside the restaurant and then wait until they have an open slot.  This ramen shop was interesting because you have your own little stall.  In front of you is where your food magically appears.  This was definitely one of the most delicious Tonkatsu ramens I’ve had before.


The following morning we went looking for a Japanese pharmacy to look for a specific type of probiotic that my sister mentioned was quite helpful.  We also stopped in a store to get some trinkets to bring home for people.


The Dormy Inn was nice because they had a breakfast buffet that we enjoyed so as not to be in a rush to get to the airport.  The room was nothing special to write home about but served its purpose.


And then it was over…we checked out and took the train back to Narita airport.  The flight back was terrible and I was in and out of the tiny plane bathrooms every 20-40 minutes.  Thankfully that whole situation has resolved.

Japan was a great trip, despite my illness.  We definitely want to go back at some time.



Hot dog (hamburger) buns

Hot dog (hamburger) buns

For the 4th of July, we decided to do the ultra-traditional hamburgers and hot dogs.  I decided I’d like to try  my hand at making hot dog buns.  I had previously made some burger buns from a random recipe I found online.  I didn’t realize that you can use the same formula for both hot dog and hamburger buns.  This time I found another recipe on a random blog.  For the most part I followed the recipe that was laid out (since this was my first time making it).  I amended it due to the fact that I don’t have a stand mixer and therefore have to do all my mixing/kneading by hand.  The recipe called for letting the dough rest in the fridge for up to 24 hours so I made up the dough the night before July 4th.


  • 500g All purpose flour
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp butter (can use butter as well)
  • extra oil to oil the bowl
  • 1 egg for the egg-wash

First I mixed up the flour, yeast, salt and sugar.


In a separate container, I whisked together the milk, water, and egg to create a yellow liquid.


I then combined the dry and wet ingredients and dumped it out onto the counter to do the slap and fold method of  kneading.  This was a fairly wet dough so the slap and fold method was probably my only shot at getting the dough kneaded to a proper stage.  After about 5 minutes of kneading, I then started to incorporate the butter in.  I had let cut the 2 Tbsp of butter into smaller pieces and let it come to room temperature.  This was a bit tricky as the butter would push out through the dough as I kneaded.  The butter started to warm up with my hands and the kneading causing the dough to become a bit oily but after about 10 minutes of kneading, the oiliness went away and the dough came together.  The dough ball was placed in a lightly oiled bowl and then refrigerated overnight.


The morning of the 4th (after about 15-16 hours of rest) the dough had about doubled.


I dumped this out onto a lightly floured countertop and rolled the dough out into about 16 inches by 7 inches.  I then split this up into 8 pieces (the recipe said to do 6 pieces if you were making hamburger buns).

I took each individual piece and folded it on itself and flattened it out into a rough rectangular shape.  I also made a few into round hamburger bun shapes.  Two of these I placed onto a small cookie sheet and put in the freezer.  You can take these out later and let them rise and then bake.  The remainder I placed onto a large parchment covered sheet pan to rise (around an hour).


I set the oven to 350 F about 30 minutes prior to the end of the rise (1 hour).  Then I baked the hotdog buns for 25 minutes (the original recipe said 15-20 minutes but I think mine were a little bigger so took longer…also may be due to the difference in ovens).


The inside turned out perfectly done.


I grilled up some hot dogs for lunch.


For dinner, we made some buffalo sliders with some corn.

Once it got dark, we walked over to a nearby park where you can watch a big fireworks display.  It was fairly crowded but we were still able to see fairly well.  The show lasted about 15 minutes.