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Thru Hiking the John Muir Trail | Maps, Permits, Adventure

Thru Hiking the John Muir Trail | Maps, Permits, Adventure

John Muir Trail Overview

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is one among the hottest through hikes in North America, with greater than 10,000 individuals trying the hike annually. The path runs by way of extremely lovely and distant terrain in California’s Sierra Nevada vary, masking 211 miles from its southern terminus atop Mt Whitney — the tallest peak in the decrease 48 — to Yosemite Valley, and winds its approach via three Nationwide Parks: Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite.

thru hiking the john muir trail 17Splendor whereas climbing the John Muir Trail. All pictures on this Trial Report taken by Kara Kieffer, not essentially in chronological order.

The path might be hiked both north to south, or vise versa, nevertheless it’s generally thought-about that a southbound hike (SoBo) is the official path. The typical hiker will take three to 4 weeks to finish the path, with most hikers beginning between late June and early September. The recognition of the JMT, mixed with its brief mountaineering season, signifies that some individuals wait years to get a allow by way of the Yosemite lottery system.

I hiked the JMT in 2017, a yr of report snowfall — that is my Trail Report.

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Exploring the John Muir Trail

Journey Particulars

John Muir Trail Report

My Plan

Earlier than We Even Began:

A greater title for this part may be — “How every plan we made for the JMT fell apart and we still had the perfect hike anyway.” Undeterred by the Yosemite lottery — a system which is usually thought-about to be a tad arcane, poorly defined, and usually a ache in the butt — my boyfriend and I dutifully utilized for our John Muir Trail permits in January 2017, a full six months earlier than we hoped to start out our hike. And, towards all the mathematical odds, we have been rewarded with a allow. Our John Muir Trail hike would start at Lyell Canyon in Yosemite Nationwide park at the finish of June! We have been to hike the basic SoBo route.

After which it snowed. Epically. All season lengthy.

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Whilst April rolled round, the snow stored falling in the Sierras. This meant a June start-time was simply not potential, so we utilized for an additional allow, going the reverse method. And once more, we received authorised, although this allow just isn’t almost as troublesome to get. This time we might begin our through hike in late August, going northbound from Cottonwood Move, which added 17 miles to the 211-mile path. We have been each so completely happy to have one other shot at the JMT that the additional distance, and path change, didn’t matter. Our plans lastly appeared to be set.

Then, because of some mixture of madness and hubris, we determined to roll the cube, only one extra time. Why? Two sensible causes: getting a special allow would shave off 17 miles off the PCT that we’d each already hiked a number of occasions, and it gave us a bit of wiggle room in our schedule since we’d now have decrease complete mileage. It was extra of a “nice to have” than a deal breaker, and we have been feeling fortunate.

At eight a.m., three days earlier than we have been scheduled to start out our hike, we rolled as much as the Japanese Sierra Interagency Guests Middle — residence of California’s most requested allow, the Mount Whitney In a single day – which is yet one more means one can hike the JMT NoBo. Our solely probability of getting this allow was to hope that anyone had canceled theirs final minute.

When the ranger handed us our allow he stated, “You folks should go buy a Powerball ticket, today is your lucky day.” After almost 9 months of planning we’d gotten the actual allow we needed to hike the John Muir Trail northbound, with none further miles, 24 hours earlier than we might begin our through hike.

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Extra Than Simply Displaying Up:

In the months earlier than we began the John Muir Trail each my boyfriend and I backpacked, so much. Between February and August, we went on a mean of three backpacking journeys every month. That’s roughly 21 backpacking journeys for these of you counting.

I personally tackled a number of long-time objectives, together with a solo weekend through hike of Joshua Tree Nationwide Park’s 38-mile lengthy California Hiking and Driving Trail, in addition to an unofficial FKT (Quickest Recognized Time) of the 53-mile Silver Moccasin Trail in simply over 33 hours.

The objective of those journeys was twofold. The primary was to construct our health and get our our bodies tailored to spending days on the path. The opposite cause for all of this backpacking, except for the proven fact that backpacking is superior, was the probability to check out all our gear. I knew the John Muir Trail can be extra bodily taxing than I might really put together for, so it was necessary to dial in all the parts I might management earlier than leaving. The very last thing I needed was to get on the path and understand that my footwear brought about blisters or my pack rubbed my shoulders uncooked.

My base weight for this journey was 15.5 kilos, with 2.5 of these kilos coming from my bear canister alone. At this weight, I fall someplace between an Ultralight Backpacker and a Wilderness Backpacker. I went ultralight with a number of gear purchases, together with the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and my ULA Circuit backpack. However with different gadgets, reminiscent of my DIY 10-degree quilt that mirrors an Enlightened Gear Revelation, the toasty and sturdy Therm-a-Relaxation NeoAir XTherm, and a Sea to Summit Aeors pillow, I used to be extra targeted on consolation, figuring out that getting a superb night time’s sleep was value carrying somewhat additional weight. (These are all nonetheless fairly mild decisions, thoughts you.)

thru hiking the john muir trail gear spreadMy Gear Unfold for the John Muir Trail.

Moreover, each my boyfriend and I have been capable of hold our pack weight down by chopping out duplicate gear, resembling stoves, gasoline, and a photo voltaic panel. Having a hike buddy — higher referred to as a pack mule! — does wonders for lightening the load on an arduous journey like the John Muir Trail.

This shared load additionally meant we might go for a freestanding tent — the Huge Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 — which proved to be value its weight in gold for the a number of nights we camped on arduous Sierra granite, which might have made staking out a tarp tent almost unattainable.

thru hiking the john muir trail big agnes copper spur ul2 hv tent

The Journey!

Mount Whitney and the Starting

Simply 36 hours after our unimaginable allow luck, my boyfriend and I have been standing in our first camp of our John Muir Trail through hike, although it wasn’t technically on the path but. We stood at 13,600 ft watching a sundown so beautiful you might think about individuals writing songs about it. As we completed placing up our tent a light-weight snow started to fall. We couldn’t assist however snort at the impossibility of all of it. How might two individuals ever be so fortunate as this? (Emotions of euphoria are widespread when through climbing, as you’ll see.

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Retreating into our tent as the final of the mild seeped out of the sky, we set an early alarm for the subsequent morning: the plan was to to summit Mount Whitney in time for dawn. The official begin of the John Muir Trail — the prime of Whitney — was ready for us. Stated summit proved to be to be anticlimactic in the chilly morning, as there have been no views as a result of a persistent cloud financial institution. Typically you get up at the butt break of day and your plans for magnificence are foiled. Oh properly.

thru hiking the john muir trail mt whitney summitAt the summit of Mt Whitney.

We ate snacks, shivering into our layers in the summit hut, after which headed down. At decrease elevation the solar was out and the path started to wind north, the mild at our backs. We have been headed in the direction of Yosemite — we have been mountaineering the John Muir Trail.

Move After Cross

The primary a number of days of our journey fell into an identical sample. We’d begin the day descending into verdant inexperienced valleys, the pine timber rising up round us as tumbledown streams burbled previous, full of darting trout. Round lunch we’d begin to ascend, the timber shrinking again into the earth, the sky large above us. Our view was ringed by granite spires. We’d climb between these spires up and over a cross, navigating the occasional sketchy snow crossing, then drop again down by way of scree fields, clinging to the large sloping shoulders of the Sierra Nevada like lizards.

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Forester. Glen. Pinchot. Mather. Cross after move after move. All the time heading north.

At night time we’d bundle down into our tent beneath an unattainable variety of stars. The Massive Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 — with almost as many pockets and good design particulars as additional letters in its identify — had turn out to be our second residence and proved to be splendidly heat with two individuals inside.

On our eighth day on the path (out of 18, complete) we climbed from our excessive camp underneath Muir Move to the John Muir Hut, a number of miles away. The John Muir Hut is a small constructing inbuilt 1930 with an actual door and chimney that invitations you to take a break on a excessive cross; to ponder the path you’re on, and the way it was created. Sitting there, consuming snacks and listening to a gaggle of older hikers inform us how issues have been again of their day, we found that mountaineering tales are like fish tales: they solely turn into extra grandiose with time.

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Massive Mileage

Upon leaving the hut we determine to hike some huge mileage. A 19 mile day would get us right down to the San Joaquin River, condensing two days of climbing into one and assuaging some concern about operating out of meals. We spent the afternoon racing down loamy trails by means of dense forests. The sunshine grew lengthy and we realized we’d missed our final water supply — then ended up doing a 22 mile day, ending our longest day camped in an enormous group of individuals subsequent to the river.

Every day we moved the earth underneath our ft, climbing via terrain too superior to be absolutely captured in phrases, all the time shifting ahead. On day 10 we arrived at Vermillion Valley Resort the place we washed the filth from our our bodies after which wandered about, consuming, consuming, laughing, and sharing inane tales with a dozen fellow through hikers, most of whom we’ll by no means see once more.

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Past Vermillion Valley the path dips decrease and decrease all the time, heading to Yosemite. After which instantly we’re there, in Yosemite, our final Nationwide Park! The air there was heat and crammed with smoke, proof of the fires blazing throughout California. The path lastly leveled right here, taking us alongside the Merced River, which flows flat and aquamarine in the direction of Tuolumne Meadows. The path is mushy with fallen pine needles.

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Selecting an Finish

Then we walked proper right into a wall of smoke. It was time to select.

Over dinner that night time we opted to condense the remaining three days of mountaineering into two. It was a simple name — we’d slightly be climbing than sitting in a smokey campground. However on the different hand all I needed to do is stroll till endlessly and it felt one way or the other like dishonest to maneuver quicker, to finish sooner than deliberate.

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However our path did have an finish. On Friday, September eighth, we woke early and, strolling into the dawn, started our descent to the end. We went down all day, previous Half Dome, previous Vernal Falls, previous lots of of unpolluted day hikers with their flowery odor. Down greater than 6,000 vertical ft proper into the coronary heart of Yosemite Valley.

In the valley we showered, change out of the similar garments we’d worn for the previous 18 days straight, and like magic we have been reworked again into common vacationers. There was no fanfare or celebration, only a smattering of texts coming in from family and friends by way of spotty service. We ate ice cream for dinner, sitting in an almost empty eating corridor, occupied with how massive and concurrently small our accomplishment was, and is.

Thru climbing, it have to be stated, is certainly one of the most romantic issues you possibly can ever do.


It feels laughably hubristic to say that there’s hardly something I might change about this journey. Nevertheless it’s additionally the fact. I prepped onerous, knew I might solely be so ready, and did the rattling factor relatively shortly. So there’s that.

One factor I wanted I had completed in another way can be to pack extra meals for the first part. Truthfully, I knew I used to be skimping a bit of, however I simply didn’t need to carry the weight. Due to the JMT’s distant nature, the choices for hikers trying to resupply are restricted. We began the path with 10 days of meals, which needed to final us 10.5 days till we resupplied at Vermillion Valley Resort, the place we had mailed ourselves a package deal. Sure, I saved some weight, however my thoughts (and abdomen) would have most popular some additional cushion.

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Whereas I had an exquisite expertise on the John Muir Trail, I might discourage anybody from making an attempt to duplicate our journey precisely. Hike your personal hike, as they are saying. Nevertheless, I feel there are a number of key takeaways that may be utilized extra broadly for a greater expertise on the path.

One: Know Thy Self

Perhaps you wish to hike all day till darkish, perhaps you don’t need to do greater than 5 hours of mountaineering every day. No matter type hiker you’re, plan your through hike together with your wishes and limitations in thoughts, and decide mountaineering companions that hike in the similar fashion as you do.

AKA: Hike your personal hike! (You actually can’t say this one sufficient.)

Two: Make the Weight Matter

For me, having a heat sleep system was of utmost significance, however having additional climbing shirts to vary between wasn’t. Prioritize your must-have gear and comforts after which work to go away the relaxation at house.

Three: Follow Makes Good

Plan a number of trial runs of all of your gear, clothes, and meals earlier than getting on the path. This can construct your confidence in addition to assist you weed out additional gear. Our system was so dialed in and acquainted that it allowed us to concentrate on the essential stuff, like strolling and chatting.

4: Settle for That it’s Going to Suck, At Least Typically

One in every of the largest issues I credit score with our success was psychological preparation. I knew stepping into that the John Muir Trail can be irritating, exhausting, and typically it might simply downright suck. It’d sound unfavourable, however as a result of I didn’t anticipate the path to be good, I wasn’t stunned when it wasn’t.

The individuals we met who give up the path with out ending all stated the similar factor: they didn’t know it might be so onerous. Properly, it’s onerous. However that doesn’t imply you’ll be able to’t do onerous issues. Thru mountaineering is a grasp class in every day, low grade struggling, however it’s additionally rewarding to the level of opulence.

Thru climbing the John Muir Trail is value it, however you’ve received to be ready.

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John Muir Trail Permits

Securing a John Muir Trail allow just isn’t almost as troublesome as climbing the John Muir Trail, nevertheless it’s not precisely “easy” both. You possibly can hike the John Muir Trail in a Southbound (SoBo) or Northbound (NoBo) path. Planning, timing, and just a little luck will get you on the path you need to be.

Southbound Allow – Leaving From Yosemite

Sometimes individuals hike the JMT SoBo, leaving from Yosemite Valley, which suggests this allow is far more durable to safe. Securing this allow is usually described as “luck”, because it’s a lottery, and Yosemite Nationwide Park limits the quantity of individuals that may be on the path day-after-day, so you must be a type of fortunate individuals.

One of the best recommendation is to comply with the Nationwide Park Service, which states:

“The deadline for the lottery is at 7:30 am Pacific time, 168 days in advance. Since reservations are awarded by lottery, it doesn’t matter what time we receive your application, as long as it’s not more than 169 days in advance and not later than 7:30 am Pacific time, 168 days in advance.”

Mark the date in your calendar, be diligent, and apply as early as potential. Then be versatile as much as every week or so round that date, as a result of as of 2016 you possibly can apply for a date vary, moderately than a separate software per day. Hopefully someday will work out.

You possibly can apply for the Southbound John Muir Trail allow right here. You’ll have to fax, mail, or name in your allow. No on-line reservations. Fax is the best choice.

The official northern terminus of the JMT is at the Comfortable Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley.

Northbound Allow – Leaving From Mt Whitney Space

In the event you can’t hike the John Muir Trail SoBo, or don’t need to, you possibly can select to hike it NoBo. This implies ranging from the prime of Mt Whitney and ending in Yosemite Valley. You’ll be going towards the grain, however there are nonetheless loads of hikers that select this route.

The preferred allow right here — the Mt Whitney In a single day — continues to be fairly exhausting to get, however the software course of is far much less time consuming and strict than the Yosemite allow. Merely apply for the Mt Whitney In a single day allow by way of between February 1 and March 15. You’ll both get chosen, or not.

You’ll be able to listing as much as 15 journey decisions on one software for a payment, so ensure to try this, because it will increase your odds. There are additionally some tickets that go on sale on April 1, as individuals decline their lottery-given tickets, so you possibly can verify every single day in April to attain a allow that method.

An alternative choice is to use for a allow at both Cottonwood Move or Cottonwood Lakes, campsites which are roughly 20 miles from Mt. Whitney, by means of This feature provides miles to your trek, and is a little more difficult, however is far simpler to safe. Take a look at HiketheJMT for particular directions.

John Muir Trail Maps

There are a selection of choices for selecting a John Muir Trail Map. Happening a through hike of this measurement requires respectable navigation expertise, as you’ll need to know the place you’re going to get water, how far you’re from particular camps, and common instructions for those who get misplaced for any purpose.

Many individuals in the present day use CalTopo, an internet free mapping useful resource. CalTopo lets you make the most of an enormous number of maps, all compiled in your particular route. And it’s collaborative, so there are maps created by different customers that you should use — like this John Muir Trail CalTopo map. You’ll need to obtain the proper file sort to work with no matter system you’re taking over the path with you, or print it out.

If you would like a extra conventional map, lots of people use Tom Harrison’s JMT Map Pack. There are various different assets on the market, together with extra narrative-based path guides, however the two assets above are cheap and can get you the place you should go.

The John Muir Trail takes planning, psychological fortitude, and adaptability. That stated, it’s an journey value each ounce of effort. Affiliate Coverage: This Trail Report accommodates affiliate hyperlinks, which assist fund our web site. Whenever you click on on the hyperlinks to buy the gear we get a fee, and this goes an extended strategy to creating guides, gear critiques, and different wonderful content material.

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Kara Kieffer

Kara grew up a grubby tomboy in Boulder, CO, the place she spent most of her time outdoors accumulating rocks in her pockets, a lot to her mom’s chagrin. Now, as a Los Angeles based mostly artwork director and author she nonetheless loves being outdoors and exploring each probability she will get. On any given weekend, yow will discover her backpacking, climbing, or operating ridiculous distances up and down mountains. You possibly can comply with her weblog, Wild Nation Discovered, and Instagram, or take a look at her private web site for extra info.

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