High Sierra Bliss

You hike how many miles a day? by yourself? how about the bears? you did pack a gun? did you have places to stay along the way? weren’t you scared at night? you carried all that on your back? ohhh and the going to the bathroom thing, what happens with that?

Ahhhh the similar string of questions from the unbelieving… I now embrace and welcome such questioning. You see I love to talk outdoors, the benefits, and the excitement and adventure of it all. Last summer I solo hiked the length of the John Muir Trail and then some. I created a helpful John Muir Trail tab in the blog menu that features my JMT journal entries, maps, tips, mistakes, photos, video, resupply, gear, and observations along the way. The information below is what is on the new web page all designed to entertain, inform, and hopefully motivate.

Hey readers, do you have a JMT experience you would like to share? Stories or tips?

Northbound on the John Muir Trail
July 22 – August 5, 2012

The John Muir Trail is traditionally hiked southbound and stretches 211 miles from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney. It passes through 3 national parks, climbs over 9 major passes, rises up to the highest peak in the lower 48, and leads the hiker up and down extreme changes in elevation. It is what backpackers say is the finest mountain scenery.

The John Muir Trail - July 26 - August 9 2008
JMT – July 2008

This was my third time hiking this trail and every time the experience is unique and amazing. July 2008 I hiked southbound with my family in a low snow year. It was warm, buggy, and beautiful.

The next trip in early June of 2011 was another animal due to a record high snow year. My husband, son, and I hiked northbound through deep streams, icy passes, and trekked through endless miles of snow. I would describe it more as an expedition rather than a backpacking trip. The trip was scary, courageous, and required teamwork. It was a life changing trip. I often recall events from that snowbound 2 weeks and smile BIG.

Muir Pass - June 2011
JMT – June 2011

In contrast, last winter the Sierras recorded a record low snow year. It was a great to embrace this range in less threatening conditions with no bugs, no snow, and no life-threatening stream crossings. Why did I hike northbound? Soon after getting on the trail I found out that hiking south to north is the classic direction. I was called a purist by many hikers I met. But for me I loved having the challenging high passes at the beginning of the trek and felt a sense of solitude and rhythm on a very popular trail. On the entire trip I met only one couple and a group of ladies on an organized trip hiking northbound. Also, I prefer the dramatic steep approaches characteristic of the south-facing passes in contrast to a slow slog up the north facing ones.

Glenn Pass - July 2012
JMT – July 2012

Traveling solo gifted me with the luxury of making last-minute choices. I found that when I was dead dog tired at the end of the day, or cold, or hot, or sweaty, or wet, or sore I would just go to the next step and not worry. I carried my burden and was the only one to hear my complaints. Soon I simply stopped the silent whining and just was on the trail. It worked for me. Because I was hiking against the JMT hiker traffic I was able to meet interesting and important people who gladly shared their stories and lives. I just love this hiking community. I was solo, but not alone.

What I do know is that no matter the conditions or time of year this trail is challenging and unpredictable. Threatening weather can surround the hiker in minutes and the steep ascents and descents are tough in snow or on rocky trail. Worth it? Oh yes. Time and again during this hike I prayed and promised I would be back to take on the beast once again.

Route Northbound:
Additions and variations:
-total miles added with this route about 35 miles
-hiking days 13 with 2 layover days (I took 2 unplanned zero days at Vermillion Valley Resort and a zero day at Tuolumne Meadows because I needed a Half Dome permit from the ranger station)
-trip started at Horseshoe Meadow Trail Head, went up over Cottonwood Pass to reach the PCT, camped at Crabtree Meadow and day hiked Mount Whitney (I am partial to this area and can’t get enough of the Foxtail Pines and granite and JMT permits are also easier to get from this trail head)
-after leaving Red’s Meadow I hiked the PCT High Trail and I recommend this (the trail has stunning views, spring water, and aspens, only drawback, the trail is dusty from frequent use of horse packers)
-after leaving Tuolumne Meadows I detoured west off the JMT after Sunrise Camp to climb Clouds Rest (gotta climb it)
-climbed Half Dome before sunrise from the JMT (a MUST DO)

View all gear, clothes, technology, and food I use on Pinterest:
Rockin’s Gear on Pinterest
Note: At the beginning of this trip my trusty Steripen water purifier of 3 summers failed. The rest of the trip I drank water directly from springs and select streams.

I love and used Halfmile’s printable on-line maps. They have just the right amount of detail and information needed. Quite a few hikers stopped me along the way for directions and landmarks that were missing from the Tom Harrison Map-Pack they were carrying. I also used my i Phone with Topo Maps app. The maps are easy to download before a trip and cell service is not needed for the locater to work. LOVE.

Information is my friend. I scanned select pages from the Wilderness Press guidebook “Southern California Pacific Crest Trail” and Elizabeth Wenk’s “John Muir Trail the essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail” and added them to my Evernote i Phone app. At the end of the day, I read from the pages while cozy in my tent.

I resupplied at:
Vermillion Valley Resort, Red’s Meadow, Tuolumne Meadows
This trip was planned just a few days before I left. When I hike this route again leaving from Horseshoe Meadows Trail Head going north the following would be my ideal resupply:
-Kearsage Pass (hire horse packer to drop resupply at Charlotte Lake or have good friend bring food in)
-Muir Trail Ranch (I would stop here and not Vermillion Valley Ranch, it is closer, has hot springs, and the days of food to carry is evened out a bit, caution, I have heard hikers complain that the service is less than friendly)
– Tuolumne Meadows (I would skip mailing to Red’s Meadow and just stop to eat at the cafe)

Trail Journal:
If you have followed me for long, you know that while hiking long trails I write a daily trail journal on my i Phone using WordPress app. I post directly from the trail when I have cell service. For the most part, the High Sierra does not have service. With AT&T I did receive service at the Mount Whitney windows facing Lone Pine, all of Bear Ridge and surrounding area of Edison Lake, Red’s Meadow and surrounding Mammoth area, at the top of Half Dome and in Yosemite Valley. I posted the following entries from those areas.

JMT Campsite and Peak Locations on Google Maps – Click red marker to bring up a pop-up window with the link to blog entry and photo from that section of trail

John Muir Trail video created using videos taken on my iPhone and the app iMovie

View all John Muir Trail photos on flickr


  1. Wow, this is a wealth of information. It makes me want to get out there and hike the JMT. Maybe someday I will, and when I do, I’ll refer back to this post.

    • I am with you, winter has not really even begun and I am ready to shoulder a pack. 🙁 It is my hope that just a couple of things on the page might help others in the planning of hiking the John Muir Trail or another long trail. I just know you will hike the JMT in the future.

  2. Thanks for creating the JMT tab on your blog–great resource! I’ll be going back to it often as I plan to hike the JMT the first time this coming summer. If that doesn’t work out due to time constraints, I’ll hike the High Sierra Trail instead. Have you hiked the HST? Judging from what I’ve read of your blog, I’m thinking you have.

    • Kyle, The JMT does take a chunk of time and will always be there. Hopefully a few things on the page will be helpful in your planning. I have not hiked the HST from end to end largely because challenge of car shuttling. I have hiked most of the trail and surrounding areas entering from the east and west sides. You can read a trip report that has a good portion of the trail here: http://wp.me/pME6r-pP . Happy trip planning. A great pass time in the short days of winter!

  3. Wow! How exciting! I’m so envious. Love the JMT. I’ll enjoy reading all the details on your blog and looking at the photos on Flickr. Thanks, bill

    • Bill, I have backpacked for over 20 years and I don’t think I could ever get used to the beauty of sheer awesomeness and diversity while on this trail. We are truly lucky to have the opportunity to capture such loveliness with photography.

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