John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail is a 210 mile uninterrupted wilderness trail through the High Sierra backcountry. In July-August 2010, Rob and I hiked the entire trail in three weeks. We began in Yosemite Valley and finished at the top of Mt Whitney. One of the few non-essential items I carried with me was a small notebook and pen. Below is my trip journal, as written each night from the trail.

Day 0: Backpackers Camp – Yosemite Valley
We drove here from Lone Pine where we stayed last night. We left the other car at Whitney Portal. Hopefully it’ll be okay for a few weeks on a steep hill (I think I applied the parking brake… did I?).

We dropped off some of our food in some bear boxes at Tuolumne Meadows on the way in. Picked up our permit at the office in Yosemite Valley and ate lunch at the Ahwahnee. It’s a beautiful building, but I wouldn’t call the food exceptional. In all fairness, we were eating at the bar, not the main restaurant.

I took a swim in the creek next to the backpacker’s camp, but thunder in the distance cut my swim short. We watched the clouds roll in over Half Dome and wondered how many people were still up there. Excited for tomorrow. And we heard a small rockslide!

Where we didn’t stay… the Ahwahnee Hotel.

Day 1: Yosemite Valley to Cloud’s Rest Junction
First day. The first few miles were steep. Thunder hit as soon as we reached Little Yosemite Valley even though it was only 11:00am! We walked pretty slow. As we exited LYV, a couple of park rangers were stopping people on the trail and telling them not to climb Half Dome. We told them we were headed to Mt. Whitney, not Half Dome, and they let us pass.

We set up camp somewhere past Clouds Rest Junction. Two other pairs of backpackers camped near us. As we were walking away from our tent to make dinner, Rob nearly stepped on a giant rattlesnake! It let out a bit of a warning rattle and continued on its way. We heard more thunder all afternoon. Between the storms and the snake, we’re off to a bit of a rocky start.

Day 2: Cloud’s Rest Junction to Sunrise High Sierra Camp
The hike here was brutal, but we made it to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. We found an awesome tent site with a view of the meadow. The mosquitoes here are relentless! We heard this was a bad year for them. A lot of other backpackers have mosquito nets over their heads. We’ve resorted to covering ourselves in DEET and the lemon eucalyptus repellent we picked up at REI.

Big gray clouds rolled over us all day while hiking. I’m really glad there was no more thunder/lightning. The sky finally cleared up and the view is gorgeous.

​We are at 9300’ and I definitely feel the altitude. Rob cooked dinner for himself but I couldn’t really stomach anything. I’m looking forward to two relatively flat days ahead. I think we’ve each killed 100+ mosquitoes so far. They are pretty slow.

Day 3: Sunrise High Sierra Camp to Tuolumne Meadows
​Almost all downhill today! It was a welcome relief. We woke up about 7:30am but didn’t leave camp until 9:30am. Today was our first 10+ mile day and the views were incredible. It was a little strange to arrive at Tuolumne Meadows and see all the cars, people, and kids eating ice cream. And we’ve only been the woods for a couple days!

​We had burgers from the grill and we bought ice cream and beer at the general store. We bought IPA 395 from Mammoth Brewing Co. Rob’s quote of the day: “IPA 395 is juniper-y great!” We mailed a couple of post cards home. The first three days have gone by fast. Tomorrow should be another easy day. 197 miles to go!

Day 4: Lyell Canyon
​Woke up late last night to somebody yelling: “BEAR! GO AWAY BEAR!” I guess the bear went away. It did return early this morning though. We woke up to more yelling followed by horns and whistles. I looked out of the tent to see a huge bear galloping through the backpacker’s campground. Unfortunately it was WAY to cold and the bear was WAY to fast, so I was unable to extract myself from the tent to take a photo.

​We were up early and out of camp by 8:30am. The camp was very full with backpackers and bicycle campers – but a lot of people were gone before us. We picked up some breakfast at the grill and grabbed our “resupply” from the bear box in the Lodge parking lot. Glad it survived several days in there.

​The walk through Lyell Canyon was flat and relatively easy, despite the extra weight in our packs. At lunch we stopped and swam in the river. I shouldn’t say “swam”. We stood in the frigid river and splashed water onto ourselves in a weak attempt to shower. We also had a delicious lunch of crackers and cheese that we had picked up at the general store.

We originally planned to camp at the end of Lyell Canyon, but we decided to try and climb upwards to 9700’. Lyell Canyon is famous for bears and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of camping there. We also, erroneously, thought the mosquitoes might be less aggressive if we were up out of the canyon a bit. My stomach was really upset (thank you junky breakfast) and the climb was not fun! But we made it to the Lyell Fork Bridge and found a campsite amongst some other backpackers. The campsite was pretty, but the mosquitoes attacked and we retreated to our tent quickly after dinner.

Looking towards Donahue Pass

Day 5: Donahue Pass
​Made it over our first big pass today! Donahue Pass is 11,000’, but it didn’t feel quite as bad as climbing out of Yosemite Valley. As soon as we got over the pass, the scenery changed into what I would describe as “high alpine” landscape. It was beautiful with lakes and meadows and mountains. We stopped halfway down and had the rest of our crackers and Dubliner cheese. We made it to 1000 Island Lake where we originally planned to camp. It was windy and we still had some energy, so we pushed on to Garnett Lake where we found a great tent spot with a lake view. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll make it Red’s Meadow. It’ll be another 10+ mile day, but I think I’m starting to get used to it. I’m pretty sore, but I was able to eat dinner today! We had instant mashed potatoes and gravy – yum!

Day 6: Garnett Lake to Red’s Meadow
​Today we made it Red’s Meadow! We awoke around 6-ish and we were up eating our hot chocolate and oatmeal by 7:00am. Rob fussed with packing his backpack while I did some laundry. The hike today was dusty and a little less impressive than the past few days – mostly because we were in a forest the entire time.

​After a lot of uphill followed by a long downhill stretch, we made it to Devil’s Postpile National Monument. Suddenly there was tourists, with strollers, and little kids everywhere. We snapped a few photos and continued on to the campground. Halfway there, to my horror, I remembered that I had done laundry that morning. I had underwear drying, strung to my backpack for everyone to see. I was upset that Rob hadn’t reminded me. He thought it was funny.

​The backpacker’s camp is pretty weak. It’s basically three regular car camping sites, with half a dozen groups trying to camp there (including at least one Boy Scout troop). Our tent has a small footprint, and we managed to set it up in some bushes very close to the other sites, but there are a lot of people that will be camping in the nearby meadow tonight. We were a little disappointed with the accommodations, but the hot showers made up for it. Red’s Meadow has showers fed by hot springs. Unwittingly, I went into the hottest shower room. It was burning, but it still felt good.

​We ate dinner at the Mule House Café then split a beer and had ice cream. Good times. Tomorrow we’ll hike another 10 miles – we’re only about 3 days out from Vermillion Valley Resort where there will be more showers and beer.

Day 7: Red’s Meadow to Purple Lake
​This morning we woke up at about 5:30am. We managed to pack everything in a huge hurry – we knew the Mule House Café opened at 7:00am and we wanted to beat all the other people there. We got there at 7:03am and snagged a couple spots at the bar. The place was packed within a few minutes of our arrival. Rob had eggs, hash browns, sausage and toast. I had bacon and french toast. It was a breakfast that powered us through the all-uphill climb to Duck Creek where we planned to camp. Once again, we decided to go further and made it all the way to Purple Lake. We met a nice couple camping there. They had also come from Red’s Meadow, but it had taken them two days. The woman said she was doing the JMT to Kearsarge Pass for her 60th birthday. Impressive!

Purple Lake isn’t actually purple, but I wish I had tricked Rob and told him it was. This morning we walked through burned trees (forest fire in the early 1990’s I believe). This gave way to forest, then more epic views. Tomorrow we will try to get over Silver Pass. I’m feeling a lot stronger, but Rob’s quote of the day is: “My legs hurt.”

Day 8: Silver Pass
​Today we walked 14.2 miles! It was difficult getting ready in the morning because there was ice on everything! I hate cold and I was grumpy for pretty much the first half of the day. It felt like I had hit some kind of wall. Did I really say I felt stronger yesterday?! Our first climb was really hard, and it wasn’t even Silver Pass yet! We took a break, ate some snacks, and then finally began climbing the real pass.

​I started feeling better and Rob started feeling worse. He was miserable the entire climb, but when we got near the top it was beautiful. There were a couple of lakes and we met a guy with a Swiss Entlebucher, which just FYI, is the cutest breed of dog in the world. Rob talked to the guy and I tossed a tennis ball for the dog. That cheered both of us up.

On our way down from the pass, the trail became crazy steep and crossed a waterfall (Silver Pass Creek draining Silver Pass Lake). We ran into a couple of backcountry rangers while we were taking a break at Mott Lake Junction. They checked our permits and mentioned how jealous they were of us.

​From there we continued the steep descent over loose gravel and large ankle-rolling rocks. I fell. Luckily nobody saw (except Rob). We almost made it to the Lake Edison Junction, but then disaster struck. Rob fell as we were attempting to cross a creek. His stuff was wet and his finger was broken! So we backtracked a couple hundred feet and set up camp. We made instant chocolate pudding which apparently required milk. It turned out fine with just water though.

​Tomorrow we will try to catch the morning ferry to Vermillion Valley Resort.

Day 9: Rest Day at Vermillion Valley Resort
​Made it to Vermillion Valley Resort. Had our free beers, did a load of laundry, and plan to rest all day today. We snagged two spots in the backpacker’s tent cabin. The mattresses are a bit grungy, but as long as nobody snores, I think I’ll sleep pretty well. Our tent mates consist of two other groups of three guys. The first three are from SoCal and we’ve been running into them on the trail since Lyell Canyon. They used to be a group of five, but two of them dropped out at Red’s Meadow. The other three guys are from England. They watched the film Into the Wild and decided to hike the JMT! They started the trail on the same day as us, and camped in all of the same locations, but we didn’t meet them until today! I guess they have been just a few hours behind us every day. One of them has a 60-lb pack that includes a chemistry book and an electric razor!

This creek seemed much easier to cross the morning after Rob fell in it.

Day 10: Leaving Vermillion Valley
​Today’s hike wasn’t the best of the trip. We had breakfast, paid our tab at the resort, and caught the ferry back to the JMT. We saw an osprey diving for fish on the way. We walked up up up on steep switchbacks for the first half of the day. Eventually it flattened out and the trail started following Bear Creek. The mosquitoes ATTACKED in full force. We found a pretty nice campsite. No other people around. Dinner was delicious – mac and cheese with sun dried tomatoes we scored from other backpackers who had too much food in their resupply at Vermillion Valley. We attempted to make vanilla pudding. Again it required milk, but the chocolate pudding had turned out fine with just water. Vanilla is apparently not the same. It turned into this half liquid, half gelatinous, transparent goop. Rob has two quotes of the day: “Gross blob!” and “Aaaaah mosquitoes!”

Day 11: Seldon Pass and Muir Trail Ranch
​Today was tiring. We slept nearly 12 hours last night. That gave us a good start to the day. We got up around 8:00am. Rob said it had been really cold in the night but I didn’t believe him until I got out of the tent and saw frost on everything. I guess I had been wrapped up pretty good in my sleeping bag. It took us a long time to get ready – we let the tent dry out in the sun and we were finally hiking by about 10:00am.

​We went up and over Seldon Pass (10,900’) without too much trouble. We both got really tired on the descent. We made it to Muir Ranch after an 11-mile day. We picked up our resupply and left some food in the hiker barrels. We met some guys from Michigan whose resupply packages hadn’t arrived. We left them with some instant couscous – they were pretty excited about that. We heard later that a number of people (including some of our tent mates from Vermillion and possibly the Michigan guys) ended up cleaning out the hiker barrels that day for their resupply.

​After repacking our bear cans we got back on the trail and walked another mile or so. We found a campsite near the river. It’s pretty loud so hopefully I’ll be able to sleep. Our packs are really heavy now, so tomorrow might be tough. This food has to last us the rest of the trip, and mileage-wise we’re halfway.

Day 12 – Evolution Valley
​Rob’s quote of today: “I got one with the ninja grab!” That’s right, he killed a mosquito by grabbing it with three fingers out of midair.

​We got another late start today. It was hard for me to sleep last night because the river was so loud. I’ve been sleeping over 10 solid hours every night for most of the trip, so it’s unusual to feel a bit sleep deprived. This morning we made banana walnut oatmeal and hot chocolate. I did some laundry while Rob packed up the tent. Finally we hit the trail. The first few miles were through the forest, but soon we entered Kings Canyon NP. We cross a few bridges (over Piute Creek and the South Fork San Joaquin) and we pretty much stayed in valleys following water for the entire day. Eventually we reached Evolution Valley and followed that to the base of Muir Pass. We found a wide, open campsite with view of The Hermit. There are a lot of people camped on the other side of the nearby creek, but we seem to have this spot all to ourselves. Less than 100 miles to go!

Day 13 – Muir Pass
​Today we tired to actually get up when we woke up so that we could get an earlier start on the trail. We had a delicious oatmeal creation with crushed Oreos in it (Rob’s concoction). We began hiking by 8:00am (pretty good!) It was all uphill for the first 8 miles. We climbed Muir Pass. It was long and tree-less but the views were epic. We snapped some photos at the Muir Hut on top. It was built by the Sierra Club in the 1930’s and dedicated to John Muir.

​The descent was gnarly. I rarely use that word, but that’s what it was. We crossed lots of snow patches and snowmelt runoff. In one place, there was no trail, just a rockslide. Luckily some people resting there told us which direction to head in.

​We stopped to eat dinner at an unnamed lake at 10,800’. There were scientists there, counting yellow-legged frogs! We had seen a few of the frogs on the way up over the pass. Rob was pretty excited because he had looked for them with his work a few months ago, but had never seen one before. The lake we were stopped at was apparently a restoration site. The non-native fish in the Sierras (which is to say, ALL the fish in the Sierras) eat the frogs. I guess they eradicated the fish in this lake to restore the frog habitat.

​After dinner we hiked a bit further and found an epic campsite with a waterfall view at 10,300’. It’s pretty nice here.

Day 14 – Worst weather so far…
​We got up early this morning. It was easy hiking for most of the day. We still had about 8 miles of descent to do from Muir Pass. This was followed by 3-4 miles of gentle uphill hiking as we slowly made our way towards Mather Pass. We paused at the Le Conte Canyon Ranger Station to fill out the register. There was one other thru-hiker that got there before us today, and several from yesterday.

​We followed Palisade Creek as we ascended. The trail was very overgrown – this must be one of the lesser-traveled portions of the JMT. Come to think of it, we haven’t seen very many people in the past couple of days.

​We hiked all the way to the base of the Golden Staircase. We found a site in a wide, open area next to boulders, but we sat there for a while before pitching our tent. The clouds were rolling in and it was getting darker and darker. We watched the sky for about an hour and I finally decided that I didn’t feel safe being in such an exposed site if there was going to be lightning. We retreated a quarter mile, into the trees and found a clearing. Unfortunately the mosquitoes here are horrendous. It started raining as soon as we pitched the tent, and between the rain and the mosquitoes we got inside the tent with no dinner. Once inside it really started pouring with thunder and lightning. Rob has spent most of the evening flicking mosquitoes off of the tent while I write. Hopefully the weather clears up tomorrow – I wouldn’t want to be up on Mather Pass in a thunderstorm. We are about two-thirds done with the trail. It’s beautiful, but I’m looking forward to a shower. Rob’s quote of the day: “All mosquitoes must die!”

Day 15: Mather Pass
​Rob’s quote of the day: “We walked a lot.” And that we did. We woke up real early and rushed to pack up our stuff. We skipped breakfast and made it out of “mosquito hell” in record time. We ascended the Golden Staircase and made it to Palisades Lakes where we stopped to make breakfast. There was a number of people camped there plus an entire mule train. We got water out of the lake for our breakfast – it’s probably the dirtiest water we’ve had so far on the trip. I did some laundry; we ate and then continued climbing Mather Pass.

​I could see little wispy clouds in the distance and by the time we got to the top they had turned into fairly substantial masses. Watching the clouds form made me want to get off the pass in a hurry. We headed down after resting only a few minutes at the top. I’m glad we did because it was a long descent and thunder broke out on our way down. We walked fast and made it to 10,400’ – the low point between Mather and Pinchot Passes. We walked about 12 miles today. We set up camp early around 3:30pm and soon thereafter the clouds cleared. Onwards to Pinchot Pass tomorrow!

Day 16: Pinchot Pass
​Every day starts out very cold, but we warm up fast as we hike. So we start bundled up, and then we have to stop and change into cooler clothes or take off layers. So today, I asked Rob if he was ready to stop and switch shirts. Upon hearing this question, Rob responded: “Maybe, but I don’t think yours would fit me.” He thought he was so clever; he wanted that to be his quote of the day.

​We were pretty slow to get started this morning. Today was particularly cold. I’m looking forward to hot weather when we return to Davis. Some other backpackers we talked to said they tried to stay warm by sleeping with their down jackets on inside of their sleeping bags. Climbing Pinchot Pass didn’t feel too bad. We stopped at the Bench Lake Ranger Station (which is really just a fancy tent) and asked about the weather forecast. The ranger told us it is supposed to clear up for the rest of the week. (Yay!) The top of the pass was pretty – we stayed and ate lunch. It felt like we walked downhill forever after that. I guess we did, it was about 8 miles of descent. We made it to the Wood’s Creek crossing where there are many groups camped, including more scouts. The crossing has the most awesome suspension bridge that I’ve ever seen (at least as far as hiking trail bridges are concerned). We are camped just a little ways past the bridge. Tomorrow we will attempt to make it over Glen Pass!

Day 17 – Glen Pass
​We made it over the pass! It was a beautiful hike… at least at first. We passed Rae Lakes where a lot of people were camped. After Rae Lakes the hiking got tough. Glen Pass was very steep and it looked like were almost at the top, but it was an illusion. I also ran out of water a mile or so from the top. And, despite what the ranger said, the clouds were rolling in again. Still, the scenery was epic and that kept us going.

​We ended up hiking all the way down to Vidette Meadow Junction where we pitched our tent for the night. Tomorrow we may try to take it easy, but Forester Pass is within range and we may just end up making it that far.

Day 18 – Forester Pass
​We did it. Four passes in four days! It was a 12-13 mile day but we made it over the 13,180’ pass. That is the highest that I’ve ever been. On our way down we left the JMT and took a cross-country route to meet up with the Shepherd’s Pass trail. Tomorrow we will attempt to climb Mt. Tyndall, and then continue back to the JMT. I think Forester Pass was one of my favorites, but it certainly was not easy. It took a long time to get to the top. Luckily the weather held up and hopefully it will continue to do so for just a few more days…

Day 19 – Mt. Tyndall Side Trip
​This morning was cold, but we expected that camping at 11,600’. Luckily there are no trees that high, so the sun hit us pretty early. We left our campsite set up, and started making our way towards Mt. Tyndall with just daypacks. The views were awesome and we snapped lots of pictures of both Tyndall and Mt. Williamson. We made it to about 13,000-ft before the climb got treacherous. We debated for a while, and finally decided to save our attempt for another trip. Next time I’ll bring climbing gear or actually research and figure out what the best route is before just showing up. In any case, the views made the side trip worth it, even if we didn’t make it to the top.

We headed back to camp, packed up, and hiked back to the JMT. We climbed up and over a smallish hill and soon Mt. Whitney came into view! We are almost at the end! We stopped for a dinner of falafel on top of mac and cheese. Sounds weird but we liked it. Rob did mention avocado though, and that had us dreaming about fresh food for a little while. We are extremely sick of energy bars and anything containing nuts. In fact, we met another hiker coming from Mt. Whitney – we unloaded several packets of peanut butter on him. At this point I’d almost rather starve than eat peanut butter.

We are camped for the night at Wallace Creek crossing. There are a lot of people around – I guess we’re getting close the Whitney Zone. We only have about 10 miles to get to Whitney, so tomorrow we should be able to sleep in and take it easy.

Day 20 – Towards Mt. Whitney
​Woke up early this morning, but we refused to get out of the tent until the sun finally hit it and it warmed up. We were pretty slow, but by the time we finished breakfast the tent was dry and we were able to pack up and hit the trail. We stopped for lunch at Crabtree Ranger Station. We picked up “wag bags” but hopefully won’t have to use them. It was strange seeing more and more people on the trail. We climbed to Guitar Lake and filled up on water.

It was early and we knew there would be a lot of people camping at Guitar Lake so we continued onwards. Also, I had done my research and knew there was some very exposed but sandy and flat campsites hidden in the rocks up higher. From Guitar Lake the trail climbed steeply up the side of Mt. Whitney. We were going at a pretty good pace and made it to the Whitney trail junction, about 2 miles from the summit. We had only seen one of the campsites that I read about, and it was literally on the trail. I was trying to figure out where the other ones might be, when Rob pointed them out. There are three sites just below the trail junction, but you can’t really see them on the way up. We did not see them until we were at the junction looking back down. We snagged one of the spots. I’m pretty amazed that nobody else has set up camp here and it doesn’t look like anyone will. We can see the junction from our tent. Tomorrow will be a short and easy hike to the top. We’re camped at around 13,400’ and the views are unbelievably epic. It’s our last night on the trail and it’s definitely the best campsite we’ve had. I’m really looking forward to that cheeseburger tomorrow!

Day 21 – Whitney to Whitney Portal
​We made it to the top! And to the end of the JMT! The views were awesome, the weather was awesome (despite the ice wind) and it’s hard to believe we hiked the entire thing!!​

We planned to get up around 5:30am this morning. That way we could get to the summit, return, pack our things, and get to Whitney Portal. We were up earlier than we anticipated. I awoke around 4:30am to the sound of trekking poles and voices as people began trickling up the trail from Guitar Lake. It was still dark and it was neat to see all the little headlamps making their way up the trail. We put on every single layer that we had, and made our way up the trail. It took us a little while to reach the top – I don’t function well at 5:00am. The sun came up and turned the mountain orange and soon we were at the top!!

We stayed there for about an hour. I took lots of pictures. We called Rob’s mom and we called to make a hotel reservation for that night. Then we headed down. On our way back to our tent we ran into several other people we had met on the trail previously, including the British guys! It was great to see that everyone made it. It was also funny to hear all of them express jealousy over whoever had pitched their tent in the campsites just below the trail junction.

After packing up, we began the long hike down to Whitney Portal. The trail became a total zoo. People, most with altitude sickness, were trudging slowly up the trail. It slowed us down a bit, but I was just really glad that I’m not crazy enough to climb Whitney that way. Coming from Yosemite Valley seems like the easiest way to do it.

As we got closer to Whitney Portal, a number of different day hikers asked us where we had come from and upon finding out, offered their congratulations. It’s a strange feeling to finish your vacation and have people congratulate you on it. But nonetheless, it was fun. The beers and burgers at Whitney Portal were great and very filling – we couldn’t even finish them.

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