Trail Mavens


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Hiking the John Muir Trail

We're *so* excited for this guest post from Trail Mavens trip leader, Board Member, and all-around badass babe, Kiely. She took off on Monday to hike the entirety of the John Muir Trail with Allegra, another Trail Mavens alumna. Before she left, she was kind enough to oblige us with some info about why she decided to hike the JMT, and what went into the planning process. Here goes!

Kiely (left) and Allegra (right) on a 25-mile day hike in Big Basin State Park.

Kiely (left) and Allegra (right) on a 25-mile day hike in Big Basin State Park.

Why hike the JMT? 

When asked why climb Everest in the 1920s, George Mallory famously said, “Because it’s there.” Implied: to be conquered. A classic expression of man against the mountains machismo if ever there was one. The thing is, for me, it’s not because they are there, it’s because WE are there. Or rather, here, on Earth. We spend so much of our lives trying to effect change (in ourselves, others, and our physical surroundings) that I like being reminded of how small we are, one tiny part of a grander landscape. To tread lightly, for once, and leave no trace. 

Then there’s the challenge.  I only had two weeks of vacation time to spare. Do I know for sure that we can cover 200+ miles in 12 short days? Well, no, but I think we can. To try something that’s a bit of a stretch - and then succeed - might just be the key to happiness. 

Okay, enough philosophizing. On to some practical planning tips. 

The JMT is probably the most well-documented long distance trail ever. There is a wealth of information out there on the interwebs. Packing lists, mileage and elevation, detailed trip reports, forums, ENDLESS info. Sifting through it all is part of the fun. To give you a taste, here’s our 10 steps to go-time for a fast southbound trip:

  1. Decide you want to do this thing and do some quick mental math. Two weeks less two days travel time. 12 days. 200+ miles = ~17 miles a day. Go, no go? GO. Sample itineraries I looked at here
  2. Apply for a permit. Lovely antiquated park system still requires you to fax in an application exactly 182 days prior to your trip. As of this year, it’s a daily lottery system with both trailhead quotas AND an exit quota (over Donahue pass out of Yosemite). Yes, we’ve been thinking about this trip since February. 
  3. Rejoice incredulously that you got the permit. Honestly, this was a long shot. The park service reports between 300 and 500 applications per day for roughly 45 spots. I think we won because A) we chose a slightly less popular trailhead – Lyell Canyon), and B) party of two.  Also, SHEER LUCK/star alignment. Thank you, universe, for this 30th birthday present. 
  4. Pore over maps/guidebooks. This is the standard guidebook. We got this set of maps. Will report back on how these worked out for us! 
  5. Troll the internet. I highly recommend the hilarious (and helpful) characters to be found on the JMT Yahoo Group, and the Ladies of the JMT and John Muir Trail Facebook pages. 
  6. Get spreadsheet happy. We made a giant spreadsheet and weighed absolutely everything we plan to carry (yes, with a kitchen scale). Lighter = happier! We also have an itinerary spreadsheet AND a meal planning Google doc. 
  7. Get gear happy. Then we made some obsessively carefully researched decisions on gear upgrades for the “big three” (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad) attempting to optimize the cost/weight/durability trifecta. Follow-up post on gear after we’ve put it to the test!
  8. Train, sort of. Well, summer is busy! I did do more long hikes this summer than any summer previously including: Double Dipsea (15 mi), Point Reyes Sky Trail (13 mi), Mt. Diablo Loop (10 mi), Cloud’s Rest (15 mi), Coast to Berry Creek falls in Big Basin Redwoods State Park and back (25 mi).
  9. Plan your food and send resupply buckets. We used these recipes. Planning aside, it took us 7 hours of food repackaging, portioning, and sorting to prep our resupply. Then a trip to the post office with two orange Home Depot 5-gallon buckets that ironically say “Let’s Do This” on them and one small box. We came in right on target at around 2 lbs. of food per person per day.
  10. Find someone who really loves you to pick you up at the end. It’s a one-way trail with a 7 hour drive between the finish and home. We’ll be doing an epic public transit start from Noe Valley in San Francisco via BART/Amtrak/YARTS/shuttle and then we’ll get picked up at Whitney Portal by a very obliging significant other.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post (with photos!) when we return on how all this careful planning panned out. See you on the flipside!