Manzanar to Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker

A poignant, at times humorous account of Japanese American life in California

In 1942, fourteen-year-old Hank Umemoto gazed out a barrack window at Manzanar Internment Camp, saw the silhouette of Mount Whitney against an indigo sky, and vowed that one day he would climb to the top. Fifty-seven years and a lifetime of stories later, at the age of seventy-one, he reached the summit. Part memoir and part hiker’s diary, Manzanar to Mount Whitney gives an intimate, rollicking account of Japanese American life California before and after World War II. As he wanders through the mountains of California’s Inland Empire, Umemoto recalls pieces of his childhood on a grape vineyard in the Sacramento Valley, his time at Manzanar, where beauty and hope were maintained despite the odds, and his later career as proprietor of a printing firm, all with grace, honesty, and unfailing humor. And all along, the peak of Mount Whitney casts its shadow, a symbol of freedom, beauty, and resilience.


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“An entertaining romp...He’s the closest writer in Niseidom to write like Charles Bukowski.”—Rafu Shimpo


“Equal parts memoir and hiking diary, the book's Owens Valley landscapes give way to tales about Umemoto's many lives: as janitor, dishwasher, skid row denizen, soldier, jeweler, and writer.”—Los Angeles Magazine


”A Nisei’s story of being confined in an internment camp during World War II and hardscrabble years afterward, interspersed with a diary of high-altitude hiking.”—Kirkus Reviews


“With both grace and humor, Hank Umemoto tells stories of resilience, adventure, and courage. His engaging memoir is a welcome addition to the literature of the Japanese American experience.”—Maggie Wittenburg, executive director, Manzanar History Association

About the Author

Hank UmemotoHank Umemoto was born in 1928 to immigrant grape farmers in Florin, a rural community near Sacramento, California. After his release from camp, he moved to Los Angeles, where he spent the first three and a half years living on skid row. After finishing high school, he worked to support himself and his mother while attending Los Angeles City College. During the Korean War, he served overseas in the army with the 38th Military Intelligence Service. After his discharge, he attended Cal State Los Angeles using funds from the GI Bill, then married, raised a family, and worked in a variety of trades and businesses. His jobs included gardener, owner of a jewelry store, owner of a mail-order business, and insurance agent with Cal Western Life. He eventually started a print shop and remained in the printing business for thirty-two years, until his retirement in his mid-seventies. He now writes for enjoyment during his sunset years.