19 Days on the JOHN MUIR TRAIL

Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles

INTRODUCTION

The John Muir Trail in California is our #2 hike in the world.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Though I’d hiked almost every segment over the years, this was my first time hiking over 200 miles continually.

There are hundreds of excellent JMT Trip Reports online. For example, I enjoyed Jai’s joyful photo journal from Aug 11-30, 2021.

Rather than post a detailed day-by-day account, here I’ll simply recount some of my own HIGHLIGHTS.

If this page is too long 😀 … watch highlights of my trip in less than 5 minutes.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

FIRE & DROUGHT

Jai’s group finished one day before Forest Fire closures were announced.

We were lucky too. Aug 7 – 24, 2021. No closures. Haziest day was Aug 23rd near Whitney.

Climate change will — in future — increasingly make thru hikes of the John Muir Trail more difficult.

LIGHTNING

The other big worry on the JMT is afternoon lightning. This season Nicholas Torchia, 37-years-old, died after trying to take cover by leaning against a tree while hiking close to the John Muir Trail.

FRIENDS

For this adventure, I was happy to have my old hiking buddies Brian and Rocco join me for the first week.

Hiking with friends is more fun. But logistics more complicated.

Under my failed leadership in the past, we are known as the Backcountry Bunglers. AND we managed to bungle logistics again — though the hiking itself was superb.

We had Pacific Crest Trail 500+ mile permits rather than JMT permits. PCT are much easier to get. BUT require that you start exactly the day and trailhead on the permit. Also, you have to carry a print copy. Lessons learned.

Thousand Island Lake

Near Reds Meadows we made the short detour to Rainbow Falls.

And Devil’s Postpile.

TREES

Rocco is a student of flora and fauna. He particularly enjoyed the many kinds of beautiful (and weird) trees.

FOOD

When in town we felt obliged to CARBO LOAD in advance of our freeze dried future.

One of our favourite restaurants was Breakfast Club in Mammoth.

On the trail my dinners were mostly based on ramen, instant mashed potatoes and instant stuffing. REAL bacon pieces were one of my treats as were Jelly Belly.

FEET

Critical to a successful hike is footwear and foot management.

What worked best for me in the California dry heat was trail runners and Injiji toe socks. In fact, I left my usual Merrell Moabs in Mammoth after the first 5 days.

I cleaned and cooled my feet as often as possible during the day.

Mid-day I’d stop for about an hour to use solar power to recharge my devices.

CAMPSITES

In the Sierra Nevada there are plenty of opportunities to wild camp. Set up your tent anywhere not too close to water. … Unless it’s posted.

Late afternoon we had set up our tents … before noticing this sign.

It’s EASY to find fantastic places to tent. Actually.

SIDE TRIPS

Many on the JMT stick to the trail, unwilling to miss even a single official step. Not me.

I took 4 side trips:

  • Reds – Thousand Island lake on the PCT
  • southern Red Cone from Lower Crater Meadow junction
  • Goodale Trail to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) because the boat wasn’t running
  • Mt Whitney
southern Red Cone

VERMILLION VALLEY RESORT (VVR)

On past hikes I’d never made the famed side trip to VVR.

On arrival, the new owners welcome you warmly and offer a free cold beer.

I’m really glad I did VVR this time, taking a ZERO miles recovery day. I met more people there than the rest of the days combined. Found myself at the same table with PhD students and veteran thru hikers.

I stayed for the Saturday night all-you-can-eat barbecue. $26.

Due to drought and low snow fall the previous winter, governments had held back water from Lake Thomas Edison. When this happens, the ferry can’t shuttle hikers to VVR. It’s a half day extra walking.

For me it was well worth the side trip.

Lake Thomas Edison – DRY in 2021

I skipped the Ranch.

SUNSET, NIGHT SKY & SUNRISE

Highlights for one and all. Yet I’m disappointed I didn’t take more photos. I should have woken up more often to see the Milky Way.

PASSES

The story of the southern JMT is climbing a high pass every day.

I enjoyed it. By Seldon I was feeling fit. My feet were great. In fact, I was in the BEST physical shape for hiking at the end of 19 days. It would have seemed EASY to hike back north.

MUIR PASS

Weather was good — but cold and windy when I reached famed Muir Pass hut.

PEAKFINDER APP

Navigation is easy on the John Muir trail with most of the popular hiking apps.

I used Guthook and the free Maps.me app.

Another I really appreciated is the free PeakFinder app. You must download the regional data when online as there’s very little service on the JMT.

FIN DOME

Of many, many impressive peaks en route — including Whitney — my favourite was Fin Dome.

Fin Dome and Arrowhead lake

BOOKS & WHITNEY

The south gets higher and bleaker. I re-read DUNE on this section as it was appropriate to the environment. Hiking alone I was able to finish quite a few audio books, in fact.

Here’s the final push to the top of Whitney.

I was briefly the highest person in the lower 48.

Since the weather was good, I decided to have dinner atop the peak. Stay for sunset. It was very hazy.

A highlight, however, was walking down to Trail Camp on the far side of the mountain by headlamp and moonlight. My only night hiking of the trip.

Next morning I was up for dawn to enjoy my final morning on the John Muir Trail.

Whitney massif at dawn from Trail Camp

Finally down at Portal, we celebrated with the traditional burger and fries. Relived highlights with hikers whom I’d been walking with in parallel for many days.

A wonderful trip.

One Reply to “19 Days on the JOHN MUIR TRAIL”

  1. Sometimes I wonder how often I may have passed people I’ve seen online while out on the trail. I was backpacking Horseshoe Meadows to Whitney Portal with my daughter from Aug 11-16 this summer. Cheers.

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