Well, we’re back! Geardog and I finally completed* the JMT on 18 July 16.
2016 photo album link: https://goo.gl/photos/GnmJDygbtc4KdEcP8
JOHN MUIR TRAIL 2015
I’m going to turn 64 in a few weeks, and the trip was, uh, a bit tough on me. I was in pretty good shape, walking about 7 miles a day, mixed with a 17 degree inclined treadmill in my study, up until about 3 weeks prior to flying out, when I developed a massive shin splint on my left shin. So I stopped walking altogether, and thank God, that did the trick and it went away and hasn’t returned and I had absolutely no physical issues. Well sort of. On day 3, when we had just gone over Pinchot Pass, I hit some sort of “wall” and had zero energy, so we didn’t make that days goal, so we basically became 1 day behind. I’m chalking that one up to acclimatization.
We actually started our JMT attempt last year (August 2015), north bound, from about 20 miles south of Mt Whitney, at Cottonwood/Horseshoe Meadows. Unfortunately the Rough Fire in Kings Canyon NP was creating so much smoke, I had trouble breathing and combined with the hot weather, I was just dragging, so we bailed at our first re-supply point over Kearsarge Pass into Independence, Ca. We stayed for a few nights at the Mt Williamson Hotel before flying home. But we had fun and were determined to return and finish. Man, it was a long year planning and waiting and waiting.
note: I mention ‘north bound’ because the trail runs north-south from Yosemite Valley to the the summit of Mt Whitney, for a total of 211 miles. The popular starting point is in Yosemite Valley, however, that popularity has forced the NP to have lottery for permits, which are now extremely hard to get. There is also a lottery for permits to start at Mt Whitney. There is no problem getting a permit for the JMT at almost every other entry point/trail head, and I had no problem getting us permits to start our hike at Horseshoe Meadows, about 20 miles south of Mt Whitney. Also, add in 14 miles for going over Kearsarge Pass twice for our re-supply and re-start.
Above – Smoke view from Kearsarge Pass August 2015
Above – afternoon smoke view, below – same view in the morning (Independence, Ca)
This year (July 2016) we flew into Mammoth Lakes, Ca (again), stayed overnight at the Shilo Inn, then the following morning caught the Easter Sierra Transit Bus ($11.50) to Lone Pine where we picked up our permit and caught a shuttle ($80) to the Onion Valley forest service campground at about 9000′ where we camped for 2 nights to acclimatize ($20). The following morning we were up and over Kearsage Pass (again!), but this time the skies were clear and we were able to take lots of pix.(with no smoke and hazy skies this time).
Above – Kearsarge Pass July 2016
Hiking north bound we had the sun basically at our backs the entire trip, which was very nice. We walked about 10 miles per day, which is about my max.
The mornings were very cold, averaging about 38-40f every single day with a few mornings approaching 32f. Day temps averaged in the 60’s most of the time, peaking for a few hours in the low 80’s, then rapidly cooling off as the sun started its decent in the west.
Mosquitoes were a variable problem, huge at times, non-existent at times. I used Skin-So-Soft bug juice with picareden from Avon, which the mosquitoes just HATED! thank god. But I wished I had had a spray attachment to cover more skin area.
Our first resupply was at Muir Trail Ranch. They had a couple of cabins available when we walked in and Geardog was able to snag 2 nights, so that was nice. We were able to wash our clothes and eat some very good meals.
I wasn’t eating as much as I had planned, so I donated quite a bit to the ‘communal’ food bins.
By the time we got to Red’s for our second re-supply, the food I wasn’t eating was piling up so I tried to mail some home.
About 2pm at Red’s, I got a wild hair and jumped on the bus from Red’s to Mammoth in hopes of mailing a box home. HOWEVER, the bus took about an hour to get to the Mammoth ski upper area, where I had to catch another bus down the mountain to the town, then yet another bus, this time the free city shuttle to rush to the post office. I was told the last bus up the mountain to catch the Red’s shuttle was at 5pm so I was stressing big time! I walked into the PO at 4:05 and wouldn’t you know it, the mother f*ckers were CLOSED! GOD DAMN!
So, very dejectedly, and looking like a homeless person, filthy, unshaven, I start the series of buses back up the mountain. Then trail magic happened. The nice lady bus driver of the bus to Red’s volunteered to mail the box for me! I asked her to stuff the contents into a ‘if it fits, it ships’ priority flat rate box($18), gave her $25 and crossed my fingers. Well, I received the box just 2 days after returning to Virginia! THANK YOU TRAIL ANGEL!!
The weather was terrific. Walking north bound was great, sun never in our eyes. We walked down the ‘golden staircase’ instead of up (joy!) and down the north side of Donahue Pass into Yosemite which was a royal bitch, so glad we were not going up!
I will say this, huge crowds on the JMT. Geardog made a game of counting the number of folks we passed while walking, the daily tally was always approaching 100!
When at Red’s, the neighboring little forest service campsite area, which I guess is the de-facto PCT/JMT hikers camp, quickly filled up creating a crowded mess. About 25-30 tents crammed into an area of 4 small adjacent campsites. The good part, the campground host didn’t bother to collect the fees. But instead of staying 2 nights, we stayed just 1 night.
This year I brought tons of sun block and was able to hike mostly in shorts and a tee shirt. The trails are covered with a pulverized powdered dirt and at the end of each day my legs were absolutely covered in grime and I needed to wash every night in a stream, where we both took the opportunity to wash out socks, shirts, hats, pants, whatever needed to be rinsed.
But since we made camp almost every day between 2-3, we had plenty of time to dry our stuff before the sun dipped below the towering ridge-lines.
We would mill around till about 6, eat, then retire to our tents, generally about 7pm. I surely needed the long rest.
We got up everyday at 5am, packed up, ate breakfast, then hit the trail promptly at 7am. We took a short pause for a snack about 10am, then had about an 30-45 min lunch around noon. Geardog could have easily covered 5 more miles per day, but I was spent after about 10-11 miles and needed the rest; I’m just getting too old for this shit.
Of note were the swarms of mosquitoes that hit us at most every stream crossing during the middle segments. If we stopped to change shoes, we were swarmed. On the other side, we were swarmed. If possible, geardog would cross over any log that was felled over the creek, and there were many. A few were quite an act of death defying balance! At one point I even reminded him that we were in the middle of no where and I didn’t like him taking these ‘unnecessary risks’, but a risk to one person, may not be to another, but thank goodness, he never fell. Sometimes, I would plow through the stream in my trail runners and just let them dry out.
I want to mention that although the trail is somewhat crowded with JMT’ers and PCT’ers, you are really isolated and out in the middle of bum-f*ck Egypt. Once you get away from the trail head, you reach a point of no return, if someone gets injured. You either keep marching forward or backtrack to your trail head or try to get to a new trail head or possibly a distant ranger station. The trail heads are no bargain either, 20 miles at least in any direction, likely over an un-maintained trail and more than likely over a remote pass…good luck. And once at the trail head, you are still 20 miles from the nearest town. Another option, a distress satellite beacon, which alerts rescuers to your grid coordinate. Geardog had one. I made him show me how to operate it, in case he fell off one of the logs he was tip toeing across (sure, if I could recover his pack from the raging torrent!)
One thing about the JMT, you can’t carry all of your food, you will need to resupply, and NP regulations now require everyone to carry all their food in an approved bear canister. The largest of these can only hold about seven days of food (if you’re lucky and are good at cramming).
We carried 6 days of food from Horseshoe Meadows then resupplied first in Independence, Ca, going the 7 miles one way over Kearsarge Pass. We then carried 6 days from Onion Valley, the trail head below Kearsarge Pass, to Muir Trail Ranch. Then we carried about 5 days of food from MTR to Red’s Meadow Resort (this is where I had the bus tragedy). From there we carried 5 days of food to get us to Yosemite Valley. Our original schedule had put us into Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite on a Sunday when the PO would have been closed or we could have sent 2 days of food there and carried only 3 days of food to Tuolumne Meadows. As it turned out, our earlier delay had us arriving at TM when the PO was open, but by then it didn’t matter. At TM I caught the bus back to Mammoth due to the plane reservations for 2 days later, I wasn’t sure I could make it back in time. Geardog, a much faster hiker, went for the Valley, and made it back to Mammoth in the nick of time!