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.
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:
- June 24 – Going In
- June 25 – Microspikes on Logs
- June 26 – Way Wet Feet
- June 27 – Teamwork
- June 28 – Lady on a Rock
- June 29 – What?!?! Snow Storm and Deep Water
- June 30 – Temporarily Misplaced
- July 1 – Waterfall Cool Off and Boot Skiing\
- July 2 – What Downhill?
In 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.
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 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 trail” and 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.
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)
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)
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
|Backpack||Gossamer Gear Gorilla||23||lightweight, supportive, comfortable|
|Pack Liner||1||fits nicely in pack|
|Shelter||ZPacks Solplex Tent with stakes||17||Light and stormproof|
|Polycryo Ground Cloth||1||lightweight and does the job|
|Sleeping||Zpacks 10 degree with Draft Tube||24||Warm & comforable Buy one size longer than your height|
|NeoAir XTherm||15||Warm comfort|
|Kitchen/Food||Jet Boil Sol Ti||8||fast boiling, small canister = 22 boils|
|Cook-N-Coozy Solo||1||a little oven|
|Long Handled Spork||0.5||long handle is perfect for zip-lock bags|
|Open Country Cup||1||handy measuring marks|
|O.P. Sak (Odor Proof)||2||love the 12 X 20 size|
|Hydration||Sawyer Mini Filter||3||the best filter I have ever used|
|Sawyer Pouch - 2 liter||1||buy a 2 liter bag for longer trips|
|1 Smart Water Bottle||2||fits on Sawyer Squeeze|
|First-aid/Hygiene||First-aid kit||3||*see content below|
|Tolietries||10||*see content below|
|Potty bag||3.5||*see content below|
|lavender, peppermint, melaleuca||0.5||multi-use powerful meds|
|Swiss Army Classic||1||twizzers actually work|
|Duece of Spades trowel||0.5||get the brightest color|
|Clothes in Pack||Marmot Essence Jacket||5||beads up nicely with long sleeves, great colors|
|Houdini Wind Jacket||3.5||essential for layering|
|TNF Etip gloves||1||Lightweight and warm|
|MH Ghost Whisperer||7||warm and very light, love the hood for sleeping and cold days|
|Pat. Cap. 1/4 Zip||4.5||My fav for years|
|TNF flash tight||3.5|
|Injinji Midweight Crew Toesocks||1.5||no toe blisters and wear a very long time|
|Patagonia Active Hipster||1||dries quickly, fit great|
|Misc.||Rite in Rain Journal||2||waterproof, great size|
|maps w/data pages in ziploc||3|
|sit pad cut from foam pad||1||DIY essential|
|Lumix LX7 Camera||7||love the wide angle|
|FlashAir WiFi card||transfer pics from camera to phone|
|iPhone 6||5||navigation, blogging, video, phone|
|Otter Box Case||1||durable and slim|
|Mini Tripod||1||small, lightweight|
|StickPic||0.5||easy, simple pole mount|
|Anker Astro 6700mAH Charger||4.8||Dependable, 2 or 3 full charges|
|Umbrella||8||sun and precipitation protection|
|Sea to Summit Bug Net||0.5||Works|
|Weight Summary||BASEWEIGHT (oz)||185.8|
|w/o food & water||BASEWEIGHT (lbs)||11.6|
|Items Worn||Marmot Shirt||Gotta love plaid|
|Sage Convertible Pants||fit great, offered in lengths|
|Dirty Girl Gaiters||great dirt and sand protection|
|Columbia Sun Gloves||easy to get on and off, don't show dirt|
|La Sportiva Bushido Shoes||buy at least a size up, love them!|
|Insoles - Custom|
|Injinji Midweight Crew Toesocks||no toe blisters and wear a very long time|
|Buff Scarf||sun scarf, headband, beanie|
|Vibrating Alarm Watch||No more stress not hearing an alarm|
|Patagonia Active Hipster||favorite for years|
|Fizan Poles||compact, strong, lightweight|
|Extra Gear/Snow||Snowline Lite MIcrospikes||9||Recommend highly|
|Petzl Summit Ice Axe||13||Grip when you need it|
|Dexshell Waterproof Socks||3.5|
|Extra Gear/Bear||Bearvault solo||32|
|Ursack S29||9||bear protection for non-regulated areas|
John Muir Trail 2012 video created using videos taken on my iPhone and the phone app iMovie
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.