Bagging the John Muir Trail

Our PCT correspondent bags a second long trail on her way to Canada.
Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows. Photo by Amanda Jameson

I've made it into Yosemite National Park on the PCT, marking fewer than 150 miles until we're done with the Sierra. It's definitely a bittersweet time. In an effort to stay in the Sierra just a little longer, as well as let the rest of my trail family catch up, I decided to finish the John Muir Trail after getting into Tuolumne Meadows two days ago.

The John Muir Trail's southern terminus is at Mount Whitney, and after coming down the mountain coincides with the Pacific Crest Trail for about 200 miles; since I climbed Whitney, I've been following the JMT, even where it split from the PCT for about 13 miles - it's a valid alternate, and also it runs closer to the many lakes in this part of the Sierra. There are only 22 miles left of the JMT when it parts ways with the PCT for good; to me, it just made sense to go ahead and achieve a little goal on my way to the big one.

I had to get a permit to finish the JMT, and getting in line at Tuolumne at 10am for the 11am next-day permits was apparently enough to not only get the permit I needed, but a permit to go up Half Dome as well, if I stayed out on trail for an evening. I thought friends would be joining me, but I ended up going alone.

I took off in the afternoon down the JMT. While I'd been told it was mostly downhill, I found the evening's trek to be a lot of the opposite, climbing up to Cathedral Lakes and Cathedral Pass and then finally descending towards the Half Dome side trail.

The next morning, I was up at 3am to try and make it up Half Dome for sunrise. In my exhaustion, I opted not to cache my pack, a mistake for the near-vertical climb up the cables. Still, I managed to make it just before sunrise, making the morning's struggles uphill entirely worth it.

Going down was harder than going up. It's hard to believe that JMT hikers gain all that elevation on their first day; it's so cool how many of them were conquering it as I was coming down. For me, though, it's one long trail down, one to go.