Elevation Calls for Off-the-Grid Adventures

Nestled in a sprawling valley inland from the Pacific Ocean, Irvine CA, location of Advantech’s US headquarters, sits at 56 feet above sea level. On a clear day looking north from Irvine, one can see enormous mountain peaks a bit more than 50 miles away. These include Mount San Antonio (which locals call Mt. Baldy) at 10,066 feet, and Cucamonga Peak at 8,862 feet. They are training grounds for adventures planned hundreds of miles farther north.

In 2016, Ween Niu, Advantech North America’s General Manager, was a founding member of the Advantech Backpacking Club. (His nickname among the group: “Mountain Camel”.) ABC’s first official trip was three people heading to Inyo County for three days and two nights. Since then, ABC has grown with more Advantechers joining outings each summer.

“It’s not enough fun if we just hike on trails, so we plan on cross country routes for wonderful, unforgettable memories,” says Weipang Liu. “On our third outing, Mineral King Loop in Sequoia National Park, we didn’t see other people for two days off-trail. We climbed rough terrain, first over small boulders, then bigger, then huge ones, before rejoining the trail headed out.”

Preparing for the challenge

In September 2019, ABC went on its biggest excursion yet: a six-person hike to Yosemite’s Half Dome in an epic four-day, three-night adventure. Ascending Half Dome, with its elevation of 8,839 feet, calls for some preparation. ABC started with local physical conditioning outings.

“I’d been to Yosemite many times, but never on a 40-mile backpacking trip with climbing up Half Dome included,” says Fred Flores. “We’d heard about these adventures from Shawn Jack, and about barely surviving the trips. After discussing the itinerary, we started doing local training runs to get in shape. Of course, everyone thinks they’re fit at sea level. But once we started training at higher elevation, I quickly saw how out of shape I was. Going up Cucamonga Peak had my legs in spasms once I got home. Going up Mt. Baldy the next week was better since I was getting acclimated to the elevation.”

For a four-day outing, it’s essential to pack essentials without carrying extra weight. Six hikers gathered at Shawn Jack’s house, checking gear and food and balancing packs one last time before piling into Shawn’s full-size SUV.

Arriving in Mammoth, the hikers dined at a restaurant and slept in a motel before heading to the East Yosemite entrance the next day. Here, we see the group ready to go at the trailhead.

Four days on the trail

Day 1 offered an introduction with a 12-mile hike. “The views were beautiful, but the hike was strenuous,” says Flores. Out front was Gus Molina, getting far ahead of the group before they opted for a shortcut closing the gap. Flores continues, “I was never so happy to take off my boots! It was an early night to bed after a meal of ramen noodles and Vienna sausages.”

Day 2 brought another 13 miles of hiking, “brutal” as Flores describes. “The highlight was a mid-day stop at Merced Lake while we waited for everyone. It was hot, and the cool mountain water gave us an enjoyable break.” At day’s end, the planned base camp had no water. Despite how tired and cranky everyone was, they pressed ahead a few more miles to find a spot with water. “After a great meal from Weipang (Camp Chef), we settled down to enjoy a nice fire. The moonlight was soothing – even more so with some good Scotch provided by the Chef.”

Day 3 was the ascent. Half Dome features the final part of the climb on a cabled path moving up its massive rock face. The group left their packs at base camp for the 5-mile climb, carrying only water and light snacks. “At first, we were going at a fast pace without packs,” says Flores. “Approaching the summit, crowds were starting to form. It looked like a line at Disneyland. It was a slow climb but worth the view!” At the summit, Ween shared some wisdom with the group, saying “we have to earn the experience to really appreciate the beauty.”

After a short rest, it was time to descend. “A lot of people in front of us were afraid of falling on the way down, making it slow going,” Flores shares.

A steady cascade of discarded water bottles rolled down Cable Trail as well. “By the time we got back to base camp mid-afternoon, we were out of water, too.” Flores notes he must have been very tired the night before. After finding water, Ween helped move Flores’ tent to the other end of camp, “so my snoring would scare the bears away.”

Under a full moon that last night, the group enjoyed dinner and a campfire. They rose early on Day 4, carrying less weight on the trail pushing back to the trailhead. “We were on a mission to get to Shawn’s air-conditioned Escalade,” Flores remembers.

Reflecting on experiences earned

With everyone safe and happy, it was time to reflect on the journey. Flores finishes his thoughts: “We all asked why we tortured ourselves this way. But I’m glad I’ve shared tough situations on hikes with the team I work with every day, and I appreciate the beauty of the nature we see. It makes me want to push myself harder, for myself and this team.”

“It’s so quiet and peaceful in nature,” says Liu. “I finally have time to really think and talk to myself in the mountains. There are other benefits, like our traditional group meals. Ween buys dinner the night before, lunch the day after, and a barbeque restaurant after party when we return to work. I really like the feeling and encourage more Advantechers to join us and experience these moments.”

“I love it because it’s the only time the entire year that I can be off-the-grid,” says Jack. “Getting away from work, getting away from our devices, and yes, even getting away from family for just a bit. It’s really the only time I can be ‘alone’ and truly reset. It’s hard, it’s difficult, yet it’s beautiful and peaceful being in nature. Being with everyone on these trips is awesome too!”

More off-the-grid adventures lie ahead. King’s Canyon National Park is the next planned destination for ABC, when group outings in California are permitted again. The next trip is sure to be special, and we look forward to more legendary stories of adventures at elevation.

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