May 18, 2015

Sister time in LA

My sister came back into town last week, so I've been a little busy running around with her. For the most part, we've been eating, but we've squeezed in a bit of studying (less than a month to go!) along with some good ol' California fun.

Of course, we've had to schedule around the sudden rainy weather and intense humidity, but overall it's been pretty good weather. Compared to what most people go through (sudden snows and tornadoes sprinkled across the US?), I really can't complain.

We had a little outside barbecue over the weekend, followed by a hike in Griffith. On another day, we went bike riding from Santa Monica down to Muscle Beach. It's the first time I've ever biked along the beach, but it's something I'd definitely want to do again! My dad and I rode tandem while my sister rode my bike -- note for next time, wear lots of sunblock.

And do not ignore the chest area because I came away with a really gnarly sunburn.

To top off the weekend, we feasted. Most importantly, I made a shrimp boil for the first time! It was surprisingly simple -- I was inspired by a YouTube video I had come across during the week and had been thinking about since. I used tiger shrimp that we got from a Vietnamese market on the way home after church, and let me tell you -- that texture is unreal.

If I may, to quote my sister: "It's almost like the texture of lobster meat."

Paired with crabs and good family time, I nearly worked myself into a food coma. And by nearly, I mean I am typing this as I'm dozing off.

Sorry for the short post! I haven't been lugging my camera around, and the next few weeks are going to be super intense for me. I may be around in little bits and pieces -- but Hawaii is happening next month! I can't wait to experience that soon, and to take all of you along with me.

It's going to be fun. It's going to be epic.

Thanks for being patient with me!

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May 11, 2015

Overnight in the Inyo National Forest

Once we got down from the peak of Kearsarge Pass, we got around to setting up a fire and getting dinner going. That meant collecting water, wood, and unloading our backpacks with the abundance of food we had all brought along. We split up and got to helping prepare camp for the night -- most importantly? The fire.

So what was I put to doing? Collecting water (needless to say I would have been pretty useless when it came to the fire..though it's on my list of things to finally do for myself one of these days!). I went over to the little creek by our campsite and filled up a Platypus for our water bottles.

Those things are gold -- they're foldable bags that you can fill up with water. The nozzle is a filtration system, and it's the lightest thing ever.

Once the bottles were back to full, we all plopped down next to the fire. They don't joke around when they say that sunset in the mountains brings two gifts: sudden cold and gusts of really intense wind. We were starting to feel the breeze pick up as the temperatures continued to drop. I made sure to put on all my layers and my gloves and waited for food.

Our contribution was budae jjigae, which you know our family loves to bring along for hikes. While it was quite heavy on the way up, nothing beats hot and spicy soup when you're cold to your bones and you're exhausted.

So for me, it was worth the extra weight. But then again...I wasn't the one who carried the food. So. Maybe I'm not a good person to ask, ha!

As the sun bathed the mountains in light, we ate and joked around the fire. As night fell, everyone started to trickle back to their tents in search for sleeping bags and a little bit of quiet time before dozing off to sleep.

I waited around for hot chocolate and to take a couple of photos of the stars. Unfortunately, I was once again without a tripod and my fingers were so cold that they were shaking against the camera. I didn't get very many shots, and even fewer that were decent.

I ran to the tent after this shot (in complete darkness, mind you!) and buried myself in what I thought would be a warm sleeping bag. To my dismay, our tent was not equipped to deal with the howling winds -- and my sleeping bag was not enough to keep me warm.

That's when the altitude started to hit me as well, so I shivered against wind blowing through the tent with a massive headache and prepared myself for what may have been the longest night of my life.

My dad also couldn't sleep and was aching all over, so we prayed for our spirits and our sanity to just make it through the night so that we could make the trek back down in the morning. By the time it was 2AM, we were ready to throw in the towels and just run down in the dark.

I watched the moon bathe our tent in milky light as I waited for a sliver of sunshine.

When it came, I cannot tell you how unbelievably happy I was. We crawled out of our sleeping bags and into the sweet morning -- mountains reborn in liquid gold. I grabbed my camera from my backpack, which had earned itself a layer of frost overnight. The lens was a little stuck and kept fogging up whenever I tried to take a shot.

But who could blame it? I felt like that camera lens all night -- too cold to function properly, but chugging through in hopes of a little warmth to soothe the soul.

My dad and I broke down the tent in record time and had all of our stuff packed before the others had made their ways out of their tents. We were ready to bounce.

I went over to the creek to do my morning routine, only to find that it had frozen over with the thinnest layer of ice. That should give you a pretty good idea of how cold it was that night! Definitely not a night for camping. Not at all.

As difficult as it was though..I have to say, that morning was beautiful and possibly worth it.

The creek actually froze over! And I cracked it. I picked up pieces of ice and felt like a kid experiencing something for the first time.

Everyone was too cold for breakfast, so once the last members of our group were ready to go, we started off for the bottom of the mountain. We reluctantly took our jackets off, knowing that we'd warm up on the hike down.

It didn't hurt that the sun felt like fire against the icy wind. Day and night, fire and ice. Somebody please play me the Game of Thrones theme song, here.

Once again we all went at different paces, so we waited by the big lake again for everyone to catch up. The sun felt so good, but we couldn't stay still for too long. Or, at least, I couldn't stay still for too long. I had to keep moving to keep warm, and my main priority was to get back to the car as soon as possible.

Coming down looked like a completely different hike On the way up, we had all struggled and concentrated mostly on getting to the top and the weight on our backs. On the way down, everyone looked infinitely happier and healthier. We had a bounce in our step and took the time to actually look at our surroundings a little more closely.

In the morning sun, it all looked a little dreamy.

After a few hours, we were finally at the bottom. We waited for our group to all catch up and headed to get breakfast at a diner in the nearest town. Soon enough, everyone climbed into their respective cars and we drove back towards Los Angeles. Most everyone slept in the back, but my dad and I drove while laughing about how intense that night had been.

And how happy we were to be going home.

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May 7, 2015

Kearsarge Pass

Right after we set up camp, we all squeezed in a little snack before grabbing our water bottles and setting off for the mountain peak. It was all very exciting and extremely tiring at the same time -- I had never been so high up before. It would be my first time stepping foot onto a mountain peak. The trade-off? The altitude was nearly 12,000 feet and without any time to really acclimate, it was tough on my body.

I had trouble breathing as soon as we left camp and every step felt heavier than before. It kind of felt like trying to exercise when you're out of shape and everything feels so labored.

But, to be honest, I don't think I would have traded that experience for anything. It was tough, but it made getting past the climb so much sweeter, and the views that much richer.

On the way up, the first notable thing you see is a frozen lake. It's a heart-shaped lake that sits between the mountains, very much covered in ice. If you remember from last time, different from the bodies of flowing water that we had seen earlier.

As you hike up, you pass by another frozen lake, deeply set in between mountainous terrain. It's really humbling to be up that high and see these areas practically untouched, existing as they would otherwise.

When you're up so high that there are barely any trees, where there's still snow and frozen lakes in May, it kind of takes your breath away.

And not in the way that the altitude does (ha!). As wonderful as these sights were, nothing compares to what Kearsarge Pass looks like.

It's a place that makes you want to sit and either laugh or cry at how small you are, and how big this world is. The ridges reminded me of Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf has Pippin light the beacon in Minas Tirith to summon the Rohirrim. You watch as the beacons are lit one by one until they reach Aragorn in Edoras, who then busts through the doors and is like "I HAVE A MESSAGE."

Obviously all of that is super accurate.

Kearsarge Pass is a little bit special, for a couple of reasons. While I noted some of the reasons it was special to me earlier, the pass in itself is really cool.

It separates the Eastern Sierras from the Western Sierras. To one side you have the Sequoia National Park, and to the other you have Yosemite National Park. Nestled in between is where the pass leads -- Kings Canyon.

The space between is literally untouched. Paths don't lead you all along that small lull, exploring more frozen lakes. It feels like you are dancing on the top of a mountain range, quietly tucked away from the rest of the world.

And that's an amazing thing to feel and think about.

And here I am, standing on the John Muir Trail, which also (for that portion) serves as part of the Oregon Trail. Can I just tell you how ridiculous that was? How accomplished I felt in that moment?

For people who do a lot of adventurous things, it might not seem like a big deal. I didn't even follow the path all the way, I just paced in that little stretch of rocky road, buzzing at the fact that I was standing there. That I was walking along such a famed path.

It's not something I ever thought I'd really experience. At least, it's not something that I thought I'd ever have to work for. And for this, I worked hard. I hiked for hours and pushed my body further than I had before.

The reward was so unbelievably worth it.

We spent a little bit of time there, but the winds picked up and the sun was beginning to set. We had to make sure we got down before dark, not only because we didn't bring our flashlights with us, but because of what's called the sunset winds.

If you've never experienced it, you are lucky.

But more on that another time.

For now, I'll leave you here. The next set of events was what made this trip difficult. Altitude sickness kicked in, along with the effects of being ill-equipped for how cold it got at night.

Have a great weekend!

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