Sunday, February 17, 2019

Hiking the John Muir Trail

Note: This post is set up largely for my own planning. Expect updates, but feel free to leave comments in the meantime. 

As a native-born Californian who spent many summers of his childhood roaming around the wondrous national parks and state parks of the Golden State, it has been a lifelong dream of mine to hike the John Muir Trail. This 212-mile trek cuts through some of the most pristine and gorgeous scenery the Sierra Nevada Mountains have to offer, and it's the holy grail for California hikers (well, arguably including the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from the US-Mexico border, through California, Oregon, and Washington, to the US-Canada border).

This is something I thought about doing for years, but living — well, working — in Korea and Hawaii made it difficult to really do. But with plans to move to California in 2020, I have set my mind to shoot for doing this in late summer 2021. And that means I have to start preparing. This blog post is the organization of my thoughts and plans, from where to go, what to do, what to buy, and what to prepare.

I've actually been on both ends of the John Muir Trail. The northern end is Happy Isles, in Yosemite Valley, a trailhead for numerous day hikes, including Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, along with Half Dome, as well as the long back way to Glacier Point. I've done all of these (though I was too short to feel confident about using the cables at Half Dome, so only went about a third of the way up); my dad and I actually encountered a wild bear in the back country on the way down from Glacier Point, when I was probably about thirteen or fourteen years old.

The other end of the JMT is Mt Whitney, the highest point in the US outside of Alaska, about 14.5K feet. I've been there twice, both times as a teen, and the thing I remember most about it is how thin the air was in the last segment, after Trial Crest at 13.6K feet. When I move to California, I may be living at an elevation of 6K feet, so I'm hoping that will help me acclimate. I will also be doing local Southern California high-elevation hikes, like to Mt San Gorgonio (11.5K feet) and Mt San Jacinto (10.8K feet), accessible from the Palm Springs tram, and which apparently has a thriving grove of Giant Sequoias I should see. Although I run three miles a day five or six times a week, training is a big deal for this venture, and I'm already looking into how to do it.

Depending on how fast you go, or how much you want to take in the journey, it typically takes between ten and twenty days, with most folks shooting for two weeks (these folks writing for SoCal Hiker took a leisurely three weeks, described in a nicely laid out series). You've got to pack food for that journey, along with other essentials, but there are several places along the trail, isolated cabins or towns that come close to the trail, places like Red's where you could mail yourself new supplies (for a fee), as well as shower, get a hot meal, and sleep in a bed. Places like the Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), Red's Meadow, Vermillion Valley Resort, or Tuolumne Meadows.

There's a lot to think about, which I will map out in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

When you're out in the middle of nowhere, you've got to think about what to do with the things civilization takes care of for you. That's input and output, if you get my meaning. I've got a load of questions about what to get in terms of these.

  • water filters
  • cooking devices
  • trail-ready bidets
  • sleeping bags
  • shoes
  • food
  • water pants (?)
  • insect repellent
  • hat to protect from the sun
  • solar recharger
  • Kindle?
  • GPS-capable satellite phone?
  • maps
What am I missing? 

Additionally, I've got to worry about permits, when to go, whether to go southbound (preferred) or go northbound if that's the only way I can get permits. Should I hike it alone, or find someone to go with? How should I get to which place I'm starting from (Happy Isles or Whitney Portal) and/or the place where I'm finishing? 

Loads to think about.


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