“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” John Muir.
Having finished thru-hiking the Colorado Trail, which some consider the best of the Continental Divide Trail, I’ve been looking for a new challenge for 2015. It seemed only natural to contemplate the John Muir Trail (JMT), considered by (the same?) some as the best of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The JMT runs approximately 220 miles from Yosemite National Park south through the Sierra Mountains and Kings Canyon National Park to Finish at Mt Whitney. Most people hike in that direction and that’s my plan as well.
Above and beyond just backpacking through mountains, the JMT brings with it a whole new set of challenges. The trail crosses the highest spot in the continental United States (14,505 ft) at the summit of Mt. Whitney. There are plenty of bears and they apparently are fairly well educated in taking food from campers. This isn’t my only source of information, but if you recall from the cartoons, Yogi Bear was “smarter than the average bear” and quite often got food from humans.
Logistics are difficult as well. Once on the trail, stopping in town for supplies is not much of an option in many locations. In fact, once past the Muir Ranch at mile 109, the only way to resupply is to have made arrangements earlier to have supplies brought to you by a horse or mule pack train. Not an overly cheap option I’m sure. Just having supplies held at Muir Ranch costs $70, not including the postage to get it there.
The biggest challenge starting out however, has been the bureaucracy. Unlike the Colorado Trail, where I adjusted my starting time up till the last minute and just showed up and walked, there are permit requirements for the JMT. In addition, with the trail being extremely popular, scoring one of the limited permits is not something you can do as an afterthought. The best approach is to fax a permit application form to Yosemite EXACTLY 24 weeks in advance of when you want to start your hike. Even doing this and planning to start after Labor Day, my first three requested options were all denied. On my fourth attempt I was successful. However, the available permit I got does not allow me to start at the beginning of the trail in Yosemite Valley, but 21 miles down the trail at Tuolumne Meadows.
So, in order to actually “thru-hike” the trail, things get a tad complicated. My initial thought on a plan is as follows. From Yosemite Valley, I’ll take the bus to Tuolumne Meadows that arrives there at about 10:30 AM and day-hike 21 miles back to Yosemite Valley. Since it will be September, I better bring a flashlight. On the bright side, I’ll be walking mostly downhill. After a 1,000 foot climb, I’ll be dropping nearly 6,000 feet. The next day, provided I can still walk after pounding downhill, I’ll take the bus back to Tuolumne Meadows and start heading for Mt. Whitney.
Now that I have the permit, some additional planning/purchasing can begin. The permit itself talks about the starting area, “Bears have been successful in getting food from backpackers in this area. Bear canisters are required.” Despite the verbiage sounding like the bears actually walk up to campers, verbally threaten them and take their dinner, I’m assuming a bear canister will indeed protect my food. I will be researching options as it appears that a canister can be either light or cheap, but not both.
In addition, I see there is a regulation against pooping on Mt Whitney. Apparently, if you “go” on the mountain, it needs to be in a bag (paper or plastic?) and carried out with you. I’ll be researching which freeze-dried foods best cause constipation.