Northbound on the John Muir Trail

Overview

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

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. Here are the links to the 2011 JMT trip:

Muir Pass - June 2011In contrast, 2012 the Sierras recorded a record low snow year. It was 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 2012Traveling 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 a 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.

Maps, Guidebook, & GPS

I love and used Halfmile’s printable on-line maps and GPS track. 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 iPhone with a GPS app. My favorites are Gaia and Viewranger. Guthook’s JMT Guide app and Halfmile’s PCT Maps app are also very popular options. The maps are easy to download before a trip and cell service is not needed for the locator to work. LOVE.

Information is my friend. Before the trip, I scanned select pages Elizabeth Wenk’s “John Muir Trail the essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trailand added them to my Evernote iPhone app. Google Drive app would also work nicely. At the end of the day, I read the upcoming details for the next day while cozy in my tent.

Resupply

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 Trailhead going north the following would be my ideal resupply:

When I hike this route again leaving from Horseshoe Meadows Trailhead 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)


Permit

The permit system is complicated and stressful.

Northbound permits out of Cottonwood Pass (my favorite) and Whitney Portal: Inyo National Forest Wilderness Permits

Southbound permits from Yosemite Valley, go to Trail to Peak website for complete set-by-step instructions: JMT Permit Application (updated for 2017)

 

Route Northbound

Additions and variations of this trip from the traditional JMT route:

-total miles added with this route is 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 to secure a Half Dome permit from the ranger station).
-the trip started at  Horseshoe Meadow Trailhead, 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 trailhead)
-stopped at Blayney Natural Hot Springs near Muir Trail Ranch, a huge treat
-after leaving Red’s Meadow I hiked the PCT High Trail and I recommend this (the trail has stunning views, spring water, and aspens, the 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). You will need a permit. Get one at the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger Station.


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

 


Gear

CategoryItemWt.Notes
BackpackGossamer Gear Gorilla23lightweight, supportive, comfortable
Pack Liner1fits nicely in pack
ShelterZPacks Solplex Tent with stakes17Light and stormproof
Polycryo Ground Cloth1lightweight and does the job
SleepingZpacks 10 degree with Draft Tube24Warm & comforable Buy one size longer than your height
NeoAir XTherm15Warm comfort
Kitchen/FoodJet Boil Sol Ti8fast boiling, small canister = 22 boils
Cook-N-Coozy Solo1a little oven
Long Handled Spork0.5long handle is perfect for zip-lock bags
Open Country Cup1handy measuring marks
O.P. Sak (Odor Proof)2love the 12 X 20 size
HydrationSawyer Mini Filter3the best filter I have ever used
Sawyer Pouch - 2 liter1buy a 2 liter bag for longer trips
1 Smart Water Bottle2fits on Sawyer Squeeze
First-aid/HygieneFirst-aid kit3*see content below
Tolietries10*see content below
Potty bag3.5*see content below
lavender, peppermint, melaleuca0.5multi-use powerful meds
Swiss Army Classic1twizzers actually work
Duece of Spades trowel0.5get the brightest color
Clothes in PackMarmot Essence Jacket5beads up nicely with long sleeves, great colors
Houdini Wind Jacket3.5essential for layering
TNF Etip gloves1Lightweight and warm
MH Ghost Whisperer7warm and very light, love the hood for sleeping and cold days
Pat. Cap. 1/4 Zip4.5My fav for years
TNF flash tight3.5
Injinji Midweight Crew Toesocks1.5no toe blisters and wear a very long time
Night Socks1.5
Patagonia Active Hipster1dries quickly, fit great
Misc.Rite in Rain Journal2waterproof, great size
Petzl e+LITE1lightweight
maps w/data pages in ziploc3
sit pad cut from foam pad1DIY essential
Lumix LX7 Camera7love the wide angle
FlashAir WiFi cardtransfer pics from camera to phone
iPhone 65navigation, blogging, video, phone
Otter Box Case1durable and slim
Mini Tripod1small, lightweight
StickPic0.5easy, simple pole mount
Anker Astro 6700mAH Charger4.8Dependable, 2 or 3 full charges
Umbrella8sun and precipitation protection
Sea to Summit Bug Net0.5Works
Unshoe4.5Minimalist design
Weight SummaryBASEWEIGHT (oz)185.8
w/o food & waterBASEWEIGHT (lbs)11.6
Items WornMarmot ShirtGotta love plaid
Sage Convertible Pantsfit great, offered in lengths
Dirty Girl Gaitersgreat dirt and sand protection
Columbia Sun Gloveseasy to get on and off, don't show dirt
La Sportiva Bushido Shoesbuy at least a size up, love them!
Insoles - Custom
Injinji Midweight Crew Toesocksno toe blisters and wear a very long time
Buff Scarfsun scarf, headband, beanie
Trucker Hat
Sports Bra
Vibrating Alarm WatchNo more stress not hearing an alarm
Patagonia Active Hipsterfavorite for years
Smith Sunglasses
Fizan Polescompact, strong, lightweight
Extra Gear/SnowSnowline Lite MIcrospikes9Recommend highly
Petzl Summit Ice Axe13Grip when you need it
Dexshell Waterproof Socks3.5
Extra Gear/BearBearvault solo32
Ursack S29 9bear protection for non-regulated areas

 

Photos/Video

View all John Muir Trail photos on Flickr

John Muir Trail 2012 video created using videos taken on my iPhone and the phone app iMovie

 

Trail Journal

If you have followed me for long, you know that while hiking long trails I write a daily trail journal on my iPhone 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 received 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.

Click to view my JMT daily trail journal