It all started with an impulsive text, “Do you want to save up vacation time and hike the JMT?”
A speedy reply from Squirrel, “I’m in!”
Unfortunately, neither of us could get a month off work, so we came up with a plan to hike the John Muir Trail in sections. August 2012 was the first 57 miles, Devil’s Postpile to Yosemite Valley. The next three sections are soon to follow.
Two tools have been invaluable during planning and while on the trail. John Muir Trail: The essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail by Elizabeth Wenk. Well it’s right there in the title – essential guide. This book makes planning daily mileage a breeze. Plus, don’t leave home without Tom Harrison’s John Muir Trail Map-Pack. You get the entire trail for about $20; that’s three national parks, one national monument, and two forest service wilderness areas – what a deal! If you wander too far off the JMT you’re off the map, but if that’s your goal then you should buy a different map. And really, who can have too many maps?!
First Night: Devil’s Postpile to Rosalie Lake (6.9 miles)
Rosalie Lake (1) was your typical alpine lake, which is a complement. We camped on the north side of the outlet. I wandered off to find a tree and quickly came running back because I “discovered” a ginormous canyon right behind our camp! Yes, I should pay more attention to the topo lines on my map, but that’s beside the point – amazing view down to the River Trail and back to Mammoth Mountain!!
Side Trip: Ediza Lake (4.6 mile roundtrip)
A friend told me Ediza Lake (2) was not to be missed while on the JMT. We stashed our packs at the trail intersection to Ediza Lake and went to explore. It made for a lot of miles that day, but worth it.
Second Night: Island Pass (8.8 miles)
Originally we were going to camp at Thousand Island Lake, but after the fifth person referred to it as Thousand Hiker Lake I bullied Squirrel to the top of Island Pass (3). It was a rough climb, but have a snack before you start the ascent and you’ll be glad you made the extra miles – the reflection of Banner Peak in the lakes at the pass made this one of my favorite campsites.
Third Night: Head of Lyell Canyon (9 miles)
You’ll notice a theme of me adding mileage to our days…originally we were supposed to camp near the Lyell Creek bridge, but apparently that’s a popular plan and anything remotely flat was taken. We continued down from Donohue Pass and found a site near the head of Lyell Canyon. We watched deer graze in the meadow, soothed our aching feet in the creek (4), and had the place to ourselves.
Fourth Night: Tuolumne Meadows Backpacker Campground (9.8 miles)
Coming into the front country was a bit of an adjustment. However, the delicious hamburger (5) from Tuolumne Meadows and the wine in our resupply box made the tourists and lines of shuttle buses easier to handle. Be sure to store any scented items in the bear boxes – if you’re going to have a bear encounter along this section of the trail, I bet this would be the place.
A note about resupplying, we passed through Tuolumne Meadows to get to the trailhead so we dropped our resupply box off in a bear box by the wilderness center. There is also a store with basic backpacking items and a freebie backpacker box to take and leave items in.
Fifth Night: Upper Cathedral Lake (5.8 miles)
We camped on the south side of the lake and enjoyed Cathedral Peak views from our tent door (6). Plus the water was heavenly. I’m all for jumping in an alpine lake, but that is usually promptly followed by jumping out. I was able to swim around and really enjoy the lake.
Sixth Night: Little Yosemite Valley (12.6 miles)
Again, the original plan was to camp before the junction with the Half Dome trail on a knoll with views of Half Dome and Mt. Starr King, but there wasn’t much water in the creek and the area had three piles of fresh bear scat – we opted to keep hiking. Little Yosemite Valley (7) was my least favorite campsite of this section. There had been some tree fall from a wind storm the winter before and it looked like giants had been playing a game of pick-up-sticks. If you do camp here, note the wind direction and your proximity to the restrooms. It wasn’t the most pleasant smelling campsite, but once you’re in the area you’re limited to staying in the campground or hiking all the way to the trailhead.
Seventh Night: My Bed (3.9 miles)
A somewhat easy hike out, short mileage and all downhill – trekking poles recommended. At this point you can choose to stay on the JMT or take the Mist Trail. We opted to stay on the JMT for more switchbacks and less tourists.
We didn’t choose to hike this section south to north on purpose, that was the only permit left. However, a lot of thru hikers were saying how tough the hike out of Yosemite Valley and up to Donohue Pass was. If you’re section hiking and have trekking poles to save your knees on the downhills, I’d recommend south to north.
As we complete the rest of the sections I’ll post our itineraries. For those who have been on the JMT, do you have any campsite recommendations or must-see destinations?