Walking Distance #10 | Sing Peak ft. Yenyen Chan & Jack Shu

In this episode of Walking Distance presented by The Trek and hosted by Blissful Hiker (Alison Young), we dive into the formation of the National Park Service, and the backcountry chef behind Yosemite: Tie Sing. Sing, a Chinese-American working in the early 1900s in the midst of intense hostility towards Asian-Americans, persisted through working for national parks. Known as the “gourmet chef of the Sierra” and “the philosopher of the Sierras,” Sing Peak in Yosemite National Park is named after Tie Sing. To tell Tie Sing’s story, Blissful Hiker is joined by Yenyen Chan, a Yosemite Ranger, and Jack Shu, former Superintendent of California Parks and Recreation.

Blissful Hiker covers the history of Asian-Americans in America’s National Parks, efforts against Asian-American hate, and how we all can pay homage to Tie Sing today.


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1:04 – “Scenery is a splendid thing when viewed by a man in a contented frame of mind. Give him a poor breakfast after he has had a bad night’s sleep, and he will not care how fine your scenery is.” – Stephen Mather

2:45 – Background on Tie Sing, the Chinese-American backcountry cook who made early excursions into future national parks possible in the early 1900s.

Interview with Yenyen Chan

3:20 – What was Tie Sing like?

4:04 – Tie Sing was an American who lived during a time of intense hostility towards Asian-Americans; they persisted and found jobs where they could, usually at hotels and road crews that benefitted national parks.

5:22 – Two roads built by Chinese-Americans through Yosemite are the Tioga and Wawona roads; the Tioga Road connects the valley to the east side and is the highest road in California.

6:35 – Tie Sing was the chef for the US Geological Survey, which spent a good deal of time in the backcountry. Mather recruited Sing to convince VIPs that a National Parks Service needed to be created, but also to inspect the route for the John Muir Trail.

8:32 – Robert Sterling Yard, a friend of Mather, was hired to chronicle the journey of the National Parks. He wrote about Tie Sing and his extraordinary cooking.

10:03 – Tie Sing knew how important meals with VIPs were. He contributed in a way that influenced their decision making, by writing them personalized notes at their place settings.

12:17 – Tie Sing had already made his mark before impressing the VIPs. In 1899, the chief geographer named a peak after Tie Sing on Yosemite’s park boundary, called Sing Peak.

Interview with Jack Shu

13:30 – Jack Shu worked as the Superintendent of California Parks and Recreation, and was board president of the Cleveland National Forest Foundation. His career has been about encouraging large institutions such as the National Park Service to tell more inclusive stories about heritage.

14:00 – Shu points out that institutional change is difficult, especially with institutions that are revered and have storied histories already. Shu wasn’t entirely aware of Tie Sing or the stories of other Chinese-Americans, but decided to get involved. He designed an annual pilgrimage to Sing Peak, which he plans to dedicate a decade of his life to leading.

16:22 – The hike to Sing Peak requires two nights out, with a height of 10,500 feet and rock scrambling at the end. Both Jack Shu and Yenyen Chan have climbed the peak every year of the pilgrimage.

18:14 – Shu even helped a 70 year old woman summit the peak, who had never backpacked before, named Gladys Wong.

19:46 – In late April, Congress passed an anti-Asian hate bill, in response to the uptick in violence against Asian-Americans. The legislation will help the Department of Justice expedite review of hate crimes and perform public outreach.

21:58 – This summer, Yosemite will open an exhibit of the original Chinese Laundry buildings in Wawona Village. The story of the group’s park in making the park will be on display, including Tie Sing.

22:44 – Several Asian-American hikers are raising awareness of diversity on the trail and confronting Asian American hate, all while they’re hiking iconic long-distance trails.

24:44 – Keep in touch about your experiences as a hiker – and what you might like us to cover on the podcast. You can write us directly at [email protected]

25:27 – The pilgrimage pays homage to Tie Sing with a potluck dinner at the end of the hike where everyone tries to outdo each other, with different themes every year.

Mentioned in this episode:

Following the Spirit of Tie Sing – National Parks Conservation Association

Beyond Gold Mountain: Yosemite’s Chinese American History – Sierra Club

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About Alison Young

Alison Young, aka Blissful Hiker, is a former host and producer at American Public Media and professional flutist. She’s thru-hiked New Zealand’s Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail, as well as long trails in South America, South Africa, Europe, Pakistan and all over the US. In her podcast Blissful Hiker, she shares personal essays from the trail along with collected sound. Her goal in life is to hike until she drops.

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