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Backpacker Magazine – August 2010

New Life List: Thru-Hike the JMT

A lifetime of weekend trips is like trying to live on appetizers. Get real sustenance with a two-week trek through the best of the Sierras on California's John Muir Trail.

by: Michael Lanza


Trail Tools
View and print detailed topo maps, browse photos, and download a complete GPS tracklog for the JMT at  backpacker.com/hikes/25387.


Payoff
On day 15 of my combo trek of the High Sierra and John Muir Trails, grinding up to Muir Pass, I muttered: “I hate the JMT.” My partner laughed, a wry chuckle that signaled he knew something I didn’t. Namely: A long hike wears you down before building you up, and fleeting lows are followed by endless highs. Later, basking in the alpenglow of an Evolution Basin sunset, simultaneously drained and fulfilled, I knew there was no shortcut to this moment. And I said, naturally, “I love the JMT.” —Andrew Matranga

Do it From Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney, every day on the 221-mile John Muir Trail delivers scenes straight from an Ansel Adams shot: granite spires and ridges reflected in thousands of alpine lakes, scores of soaring waterfalls, campsites by sparkling creeks amid meadow-and-rock havens. And because the JMT generally offers good footing and moderate grades—despite daily climbs (and descents) of 2,000 feet—with an ultralight pack you can knock off 15- to 16-mile days, pain-free. Go in late summer or early fall, when mosquito season has largely passed and you’re almost guaranteed bluebird days and mild nights. That means you can use a tarp or superlight tent, getting a big start on shedding pack weight.




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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Anonymous
Sep 16, 2011

A friend and I hiked it in 20 days in 2009--we thought this was a good compromise speed. 18 were trail days, and two were 0-mile rest days. Take rest days! They were great physical breaks, especially for our feet, and also great psychologically to look forward to on the big elevation days. A 35-degree bag kept me from literally freezing, but was pushing it comfort-wise in August.

Eric Nelson
Sep 15, 2011

I read about a small group that did the JMT in a week. Sounds painful. Even 2 weeks (16 miles per day avg.) is too much. I agree with the comments and would take at least 3 weeks to do this. I've been researching the High Sierra, JMT and PCT. The entire Sierra Nevada looks gorgeous. I hope to trek some of it next summer. Thanks for the article, Michael.

e jensen
Sep 15, 2011

We finished 170 miles of the JMT in two weeks, with two of those nights spent at Vermillion Valley Resort. We averaged 13 miles a day, hiking light, but increased mileage to 15-17 miles at the end. Not bad for the just under 60 year old crowd! Lots of bugs and lots of folks running out of spray. The summer weight bag was only cold one night. We loved Bearicade canister and Lunar Duo tent.Bring light silk weight gloves for those trekking poles (a must for the snow fields and the downhills)to prevent sun burn. We used one medium gas canister for the entire trip, cooking our cous cous right in our mugs at night and made only hot coffee in the mornings with our MRE cinnamon bread. Some very wet mornings, some frost, but no snow or rain the entire time.Fabulous scenery, some days with 4,000 elevation gains coupled with 2000 feet down. Get the JMT atlas that has elevation profiles on each page! (not just the 12 separate maps).Saw a lot of crocs for the stream crossings, but prefer true sneaker without the insoles, to use on the trail in case of blisters...Couldn't begin to eat 2 pounds of food a day, especially at elevation when the system is a little off (esp. the first 5 days, ate maybe 1500 calories per day, before appetite finally kicked in)

e jensen
Sep 15, 2011

We finished 170 miles of the JMT in two weeks, with two of those nights spent at Vermillion Valley Resort. We averaged 13 miles a day, hiking light, but increased mileage to 15-17 miles at the end. Not bad for the just under 60 year old crowd! Lots of bugs and lots of folks running out of spray. The summer weight bag was only cold one night. We loved Bearicade canister and Lunar Duo tent.Bring light silk weight gloves for those trekking poles (a must for the snow fields and the downhills)to prevent sun burn. We used one medium gas canister for the entire trip, cooking our cous cous right in our mugs at night and made only hot coffee in the mornings with our MRE cinnamon bread. Some very wet mornings, some frost, but no snow or rain the entire time.Fabulous scenery, some days with 4,000 elevation gains coupled with 2000 feet down. Get the JMT atlas that has elevation profiles on each page! (not just the 12 separate maps).Saw a lot of crocs for the stream crossings, but prefer true sneaker without the insoles, to use on the trail in case of blisters...Couldn't begin to eat 2 pounds of food a day, especially at elevation when the system is a little off (esp. the first 5 days, ate maybe 1500 calories per day, before appetite finally kicked in)

e jensen
Sep 15, 2011

We finished 170 miles of the JMT in two weeks, with two of those nights spent at Vermillion Valley Resort. We averaged 13 miles a day, hiking light, but increased mileage to 15-17 miles at the end. Not bad for the just under 60 year old crowd! Lots of bugs and lots of folks running out of spray. The summer weight bag was only cold one night. We loved Bearicade canister and Lunar Duo tent.Bring light silk weight gloves for those trekking poles (a must for the snow fields and the downhills)to prevent sun burn. We used one medium gas canister for the entire trip, cooking our cous cous right in our mugs at night and made only hot coffee in the mornings with our MRE cinnamon bread. Some very wet mornings, some frost, but no snow or rain the entire time.Fabulous scenery, some days with 4,000 elevation gains coupled with 2000 feet down. Get the JMT atlas that has elevation profiles on each page! (not just the 12 separate maps).Saw a lot of crocs for the stream crossings, but prefer true sneaker without the insoles, to use on the trail in case of blisters...Couldn't begin to eat 2 pounds of food a day, especially at elevation when the system is a little off (esp. the first 5 days, ate maybe 1500 calories per day, before appetite finally kicked in)

Jamie Dahl
Oct 11, 2010

I did this hike in 14 days back in 2004. While I had a great time, I am ready to go back and take a month. Take a camera, take a fishing pole take other items that I left out in order to go light and steady, and definitely take my time. The JMT is truly a wondrous hike. There really is something special about the Sierras!

Jon
Oct 10, 2010

I did Yosemite to Edison Lake this summer. My boys did the entire thing. I'm going back @ 50 to do the second part this summer. I can't wait!!

Roman
Oct 10, 2010

I bailed out from Evolution Basin last August, due to a freak snow storm.

Hanna
Oct 09, 2010

A friend recently did a section and experienced snow fall in September. The weather isn't that 'mild'.

the buckaroo
Oct 09, 2010

...done it both ways. Racing along defeats the purpose of the high sierra stroll. Take pics, take time & take care...or miss the experience.

peace & cookies

Richard
Oct 08, 2010

I was incidentally on a segment of the JMT on the second day of autumn this year, and can attest that the nights aren't necessarily "mild" at 8500 feet (Wood's Creek Crossing) our overnight temps were at freezing, and at Rae Lakes (10500 feet) it had briefly snowed that day. Make sure your overnight gear is up to it high altitudes can have surprising weather changes.

David
Oct 08, 2010

Those who advocate stretching the JMT experience out to 3 weeks or more are right. You'll likely enjoy the experience more, as you'll be able to stop earlier and spend more time in camp along the way, or take exploratory day hikes away from the trail. However, for those like myself who cannot afford to take more than two weeks at a time away from work, let me assure you that it is indeed possible for even a 58 year old backpacker, using light-weight gear and techniques, to complete the entire trail in 12 days, since that's how long it took us. My small group of four kept up a pace of about 18 miles per day without a lot of difficulty during a recent (early August 2010) trip), though of course we all spent quite a bit of time before-hand physically preparing for the trip. For all of us, the JMT was a trip of a lifetime. Moral: don't say "I can't" just because you believe you don't have 3 or more weeks at your disposal.

Matt
Oct 08, 2010

Helpful Hint: Don't take Lanza's word on it. Take three weeks (or more) instead of his suggested two and actually enjoy the experience. If you don't have the time, break the JMT into segments. You'll be glad you spent the extra time. Also, do lots and lots of research and prep. I've seen freezings temps and snowfall in September on the JMT. This article is just a sound-bite of the whole story.

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