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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


Before long, I'd convinced myself that thru-hiking the JMT in seven days was not only feasible but would even, quite possibly, be enjoyable. Honing my sales pitch, I assembled a team of the blissfully ignorant. I told them to get in the shape of their lives. I gave them four months. Fenton took 5 a.m. speed hikes on the rocky trails of the Blue Hills Reservation outside Boston. Todd Arndt did hours-long trail runs in the Boise foothills. Heather Dorn, from eastern Pennsylvania, ground out 25-mile day hikes in blistering heat on the Appalachian Trail. I eventually built up to a one-day, 32-mile jaunt in New Hampshire's White Mountains with Fenton–10,000 feet of ups and downs.

Now, on the JMT, it's paying off. Not to sound cocky, but we're chewing up distance. We roll into Sunrise High Sierra Camp–nearly 13 miles out–by 10 a.m., as fresh as if we just walked around the block. Come afternoon, the heat is draining, but by then we're chowing on burgers, fries, and shakes at the Tuolumne Meadows café at around mile 22. Most JMT thru-hikers take two days or more to get here.

But we're far from done with this day: Picking up our camping gear and a resupply of food in Tuolumne, our full loads now weigh a skimpy 18 pounds. We hike until the dusk bleeds to dark, pitching our tarps near a windswept, alpine tarn in Lyell Canyon. We pass the ibuprofen like we're doing shots, rub sore-but-not-too-sore feet, and take stock. On our first day, we've walked 34 miles, with 7,000 feet of uphill. Mark's pedometer reports an astonishing tally: We've taken 72,376 steps. We should look like boot-camp washouts, but instead we're just kind of tired. As we take an icy dip in the lake, below a skyline littered with granite cliffs, Stumbles tells me giddily, "You know what? I can't believe how good I feel."

I smile, naively, thinking: We're gonna make it.

"This is the best I've felt on this entire trip." Todd announces this as we bask in the sun after a frosty mid-morning swim in Purple Lake, pinched within a horseshoe of unnamed 11,000-foot peaks. Which is strange, and maybe a little bit shocking, because since leaving Yosemite Valley exactly 54 hours ago, we've walked 72 miles. How? We hit the trail by 5:30 a.m. to take advantage of the cool temps. Manic, we pass tents closed to the prehistorically quiet forest. All morning, we hurtle past backpackers humping huge loads, sweating salty rivers. We overhear their comments–"Those guys are bookin'!"–and repeatedly explain our big-mileage game plan. No one calls us crazy. In fact, they all say, "I gotta try that, too."

The JMT in August is not a place you normally go for solitude. But all those traditional backpackers–with their big loads and deluxe kitchens–don't get moving until mid-morning and quit by 5 p.m. Which means that during the day's finest hours, we have the Sierra to ourselves. Early and late, the sun casts long shadows across alpine gardens littered with granite boulders; alpenglow paints summits gold; and stillness pervades amphitheater views over Donohue Pass, Thousand Island Lake, and Silver Pass.




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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!!

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