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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

The Hike: John Muir In a Week

Got a few days off, a pair of healthy feet, and a pain threshold higher than Dean Karnazes? You can (possibly) blaze the length of America's Most Beautiful Trail

by: Michael Lanza


"Umm, hey buddy, you okay?"

It's 4:30 a.m., a time of day that puts us in the questionable company of cat burglars and alpinists. Our headlamps probe the inky, moonless black of Yosemite Valley. We're taking our very first steps on the 221-mile John Muir Trail. And my friend Mark Fenton is staggering violently, like a frat boy on a weekend bender.

"No problem, just a little vertigo I get hiking in the dark. I'll be fine." He lurches near the edge of the trail–which drops off into the dark roar of the Merced River far below.

That's when we dub him Stumbles. It was funny, at the time, because everything is funny and fun and easy when you're motoring effortlessly uphill at the outset of a long hike and your pack only clocks in at about six pounds. Besides, we're in Yosemite, a place crazy with distractions: In the faint first light, we stride beneath the ghostly shimmer of 600-foot Nevada Falls. Deer bound away silently in the chill air of dawn. Stars twinkle. Mountain winds whisper. At mid-morning, from ledges at 9,000 feet, we go slack-jawed at a shark's grin of peaks: Tenaya, Cathedral, Matthes Crest. The breathtaking thing is, we're lording over just a small taste of what's to come on the JMT: almost-constant alpine vistas of snow-slathered mountains and jagged granite spires. Passes at 12,000 and even 13,000 feet. And a constellation of lakes reflecting it all upside down.

We've all dreamed of hiking this trail, but we're also out here testing a theory: that, by going ultralight, we can collapse a three-plus-week trip into seven days of vacation. We're taking what Ray Jardine preached in The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook back in the 1990's–a then-controversial gospel that called for traveling 30 miles a day with a base pack weight of less than 10 pounds–to a questionably logical extreme. Back when I used to carry 50-pound loads on a regular basis, I could barely hike 10 miles a day. When I trimmed things down to 40 pounds, then 30, then even less, hikes of 15 or 20 miles felt close to effortless.

Which, inevitably, started me thinking about long trails. I soon learned that fit hikers going überlight were sailing "America's most beautiful trail," as the JMT is often called, in just 10 days. A Muir Trail veteran told me that "30- to 40-mile days are totally doable." Unfortunately, where another hiker might think that pounding out 31 miles a day for a solid week sounds just slightly over the top, I'm like Evel Knievel contemplating the Grand Canyon: My altered brain chemistry rationalizes, "How hard could that be?"




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Charlie
Aug 01, 2012

Actually, to "the buckaroo," ultralight is an efficient way of traveling in the wilderness, and I already tackled Denali, so I'm not leaving the lower 48 just for you!

DoctorDee
Feb 10, 2012

The thing is... some people think faster than others. I know that most times I watch over people's shoulders as they use a computer, it's like watching a fish swim through molasses. Some people walk faster than others. Some people rise earlier than others. Some people have more stamina than others.

Is it not natural that if one falls into all (or even most) of these categories one would naturally, and without rushing, do more miles in a day, and see as much and enjoy as much as other walkers.

You guys plod along at a pace that makes you happy. But don't be so judgemental. I prefer to enjoy the trail, and then go surfing, or ride a roller coaster, or any of the million other things that living life at an accelerated pace gives me time to do. It's not for you to tell me I can't be enjoying it as much as you. I'm not lecturing you on how bad the boredom must be, crawling along like that, with so much time to kill each day.

I was planning to two week the JMT, which seemed a reasonable pace to me, only 16 miles per day - but having read this I may try and 10 day it.

And, it's hilarious that the "Ultralight is a knuckle dragging mentality" guy is the one who posted his comment twice. Steady on there buddy, don't go clicking faster than you can think.

David
Dec 03, 2011

HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE!!! I have one question for the fast-hike haters. Who the hell are you to tell me I'm going too fast to enjoy it? Oh, you're only doing 10 miles a day? Well, slow down and do 5 miles a day and enjoy it even more. Better yet, do 2.5 miles a day and enjoy it even more. Trail enjoyment is not determined by you. I determine how much enjoyment I get. I like to HIKE. I camp because I have to. A trail is not more or less enjoyable because I did this many or this few miles. I'm so sick of hikers who insist on telling me that I need to slow down in order to enjoy it (read: according to their view of what is right vs wrong). Oh, you think I hike too fast? Who are you? I've never heard of you? Are you supposed to be a big deal? I'll tell you the same thing I tell the government. Stay the hell out of my life and mind your own god damn business! If you don't like that, just try and stop me from hiking my own hike!!!!!!!

Joe Gaffney
Jun 15, 2011

If you hike that many miles in a day, you don't have time to enjoy the scenery. You spend all your time looking at the trail. I'll take 10-mile days anytime and enjoy being in the outdoors.

Christian
Jun 14, 2011

For all those that are in a hurry. The speed record for the Eiger's North Face is now 2:28h
( not days) Try it.. the Swiss rescue team is watching you!!

Ryan Commons
Jun 14, 2011

This is a video of the entire trail hiked in one weeks: http://vimeo.com/7851505

Lee
Jun 11, 2011

That is Marie Lake in the picture!!! I am not impressed! I was not impressed the first time I saw this article and not impressed now! Obviously when you hike the JMT in 15 days you don't even know where you are at most of the time! It's Marie Lake in the picture, not Marge! Thought you would get it right for the second publishing. Slow down and enjoy the view and scenary! At least you got the pass correct, Seldon Pass.

cowman
Jun 11, 2011

Anyone bashing this ever tried hiking with a base weight of sub ten? You dont feel tired and hike faster naturally.. Look at guys like Andrew Skurka. months of 25 miles plus a day. I dont think he is "Blasting through not seeing anything" backpacking is two activities. Hiking and camping. Ultralight means more comfort hiking and sightseeing while doing it and using less/simpler things to have comfort in camp. Traditional/heavy meaning your out there to have comfort in camp, which is uncomfortable on the trail. which is Usually established campsites have the worst views and too many people. But I guess the most ground breaking trips that are 30 miles a day, that have slideshows, videos and clinics from them aren't stopping to do anything.

andrewskurka.com, justinlichter.com, actic1000.com, backpackinglight.com

Eric
Jun 10, 2011

I did the JMT in '99. I purposely planned 21 days. That was perfect. Wouldn't do it any other way. I go the mountains to be there, not just blast though it and rush back to life's drudgery in the city.

dsherry
Jun 10, 2011

All in all an epic hike. Bash it if you will, but remember to hike your own hike. The author concludes that their training, experience and gear were top-notch, and the results confirm it, even ratiolizing that 10 days may just be perfect. The article is simply a way to convey that by lightening up you can see more trails, more destinations and check more goals off your life-list by shedding a few unneeded items. Say goodbye to those sore shoulders and stumbling into camp! I know I dont' miss those days! My JMT was 15 days, I may try 10 next time.
Enjoy the trails!

dsherry
Jun 10, 2011

All in all an epic hike. Bash it if you will, but remember to hike your own hike. The author concludes that their training, experience and gear were top-notch, and the results confirm it, even ratiolizing that 10 days may just be perfect. The article is simply a way to convey that by lightening up you can see more trails, more destinations and check more goals off your life-list by shedding a few unneeded items. Say goodbye to those sore shoulders and stumbling into camp! I know I dont' miss those days! My JMT was 15 days, I may try 10 next time.
Enjoy the trails!

Ikan Mas
Jun 09, 2011

Just in case any of you easties haven't heard, we got 180 to 200% snow this year. You're not going to be making 30 miles a day this year, bunkie, at least not till Sept.

Don't forget the required bear canister in Sequoia Kings.

A few years ago on a portion of the JMT, we got heavy thunderstorms every afternoon along with freezing temps. Tell me what you have in your 10 pound pack to deal with that? Seriously, I saw some very miserable and vunerable UL hikers on the trail.

dsherry
Jun 09, 2011

All in all an epic hike. Bash it if you will, but remember to hike your own hike. The author concludes that their training, experience and gear were top-notch, and the results confirm it, even ratiolizing that 10 days may just be perfect. The article is simply a way to convey that by lightening up you can see more trails, more destinations and check more goals off your life-list by shedding a few unneeded items. Say goodbye to those sore shoulders and stumbling into camp! I know I dont' miss those days! My JMT was 15 days, I may try 10 next time.
Enjoy the trails!

chicotd
Jun 09, 2011

Anyone who hikes the Muir Trail needs to realize that it is heavily used mid summer to late fall. Some streteches are being so overused that it can be ridiculous. There are other Sierra treks that are as beautiful and much more remote. I cringe every time I read another BP article touting the Muir Trail. Leave it alone! We just may be loving the JMT to death.

DyanTX
Jun 09, 2011

seems the general feeling is 'it can be done but why the rush'. I'd rather enjoy the sights and sounds of the trail at my own speed - which is usually pretty slow!

Aaron
Jun 09, 2011

Good article. Seems a bit extreme, but I applaud your tenacity. I'm more of a "creature comforts" backpacker, but to each his own.

buckmaster
Jun 09, 2011

why is there no mention of what gear they actually used?

Grace Lohr
Jun 09, 2011

If you want to set speed records why not just run laps on a track somewhere. JMT is a truly spectacular trail and should be enjoyed thoroughly. I was literally pushed off the trail by a "thru hiker" who was on a schedule. What a waste. I'm out there every summer and am so grateful to be able to stop and smell the roses.

the buckaroo
Jun 09, 2011

...ounce counters rat racing in the wildness. I suggest you leave stupid back in the urban environment where it belongs. Pushing the limits is not an example of clear thinking in the danger zone of fatigue.

Ultralight is not a fad unfortunately, but a religion...a hair shirt, knuckle dragging mentality.

Go tackle Denali & leave the lower 48 for us pleasure seekers.

the buckaroo
Jun 09, 2011

...ounce counters rat racing in the wildness. I suggest you leave stupid back in the urban environment where it belongs. Pushing the limits is not an example of clear thinking in the danger zone of fatigue.

Ultralight is not a fad unfortunately, but a religion...a hair shirt, knuckle dragging mentality.

Go tackle Denali & leave the lower 48 for us pleasure seekers.

Old Pest Howard
Jun 09, 2011

St.Paul tells us to be'temperate in all things'. If one runs on through all of the scenery, one sees little of it. Part of the dream is to contemplate, absorb, attach the magical experience into one's life. Why must you damage your body..and why must you allow the young lady to hike out alone and 'in defeat'? I see much poor judgment here; I would not recommend this 'feat' to my Boy Scouts. I think of terms like 'excessive' and 'unsafe'; but to what end or purpose, ultimately? Be grateful that you have not incurred major health issues on such a venture.

Alex
Jun 09, 2011

#missingthepoint. This is just gross.

Alex
Jun 09, 2011

#missingthepoint. This is just gross.

over50
Jun 09, 2011

Are any of you 10 day-ers even 30 years old yet? I don't think my body can move that fast anymore.

Phil R
Jun 09, 2011

I've done the JMT in sections and hope anyone who loves hiking gets a chance to hike at least part of it some day. The scenery and fish fries are the the best! My feet didn't hurt and I enjoyed chatting with other hikers and my friends. I don't see how you could enjoy such spectacular scenery in 7 days. I assume Heather hiked out over Bishop Pass...one of the passes I never want to go out over (but lovely scenery).

Meredith
Mar 30, 2010

I think this took a year for Lanza to write, perhaps because the memory was too painful? I believe that I crossed paths with his team in August 2006, and remember the woman was reduced to wearing her flipflops on day 3 due to her blisters. My friend (an AT thru-hike veteran) and I were in the process of hiking the JMT in 13 days, which was perfect. We were tired at the end of each day, and hiked from sun-up to sun-down, but had plenty of time for afternoon swims, cooked lunches, and lots of photography stops!

mbrockett@southlandenvelpe.com
Jul 08, 2008

to each their own. my group will do the JMT for the third time this august. having done all the heavly lifting before starting the trail we will be amoung those who begin each day at 8am and make camp by 5pm. with time to swim, fish, and fully enjoy ourselves.

BlackPacker
Jun 20, 2008

Is the purpose to enjoy the serenity, vistas and nature...or to break a record? I am all for going light but much of this in my opinion is so contradictory to the back packer philosophy of take your time and smell the roses.

Bryan L. Allen
Jun 19, 2008

Did the Muir Trail last year in 11 days. Seemed like it would have been better to take 12 instead, but 11 was quite do-able. The authors don't mention how/when/where they were able to resupply with food. I did the trail with no resupplies and for 11 days that's over 20 lbs. of food! Add in 4 1/2 lbs. of bear canisters, too, unless you go outlaw. My starting pack weight was just over 40 lbs.; trip narrative at http://bryanlallen.googlepages.com/jmt2007

Larry Csonka
Apr 25, 2008

Mea me mon can do. Mea.

sjw
Apr 13, 2008

I hiked the JMT last year in 17 days, and I must say... my biggest complaint was that I wanted more time, not less. There are so many places I would have sat and watched the scenery for hours, if I didn't have miles to do. So go light, sure, but take your time!

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