How I Prepped for the John Muir Trail Thru-Hike
You can devote hours to packing, planning resupply stops, and weighing gear before even setting foot on a trail. My wife estimates I spent 31 in optimizing for this trip.
On June 26, I’ll be off on my thru-hike of the John Muir Trail. It will span 210 official miles from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley to the top of Mt Whitney, but then there are another 10 miles to Whitney Portal and onward back home. So I’ll be doing at least 220 miles. I’ve wanted to do this thru-hike since I got the backpacking bug in early 2018, but life, logistics, permits, and wildfires have gotten in the way until now.
In 2019, I didn’t win the permit lottery, so my consolation prize was a thru-hike of the 165 mile Tahoe Rim Trail over nine days (four days on trail, a four-day break off trail, and five more days on the trail to complete). My GPS totaled 180 miles at the end. I probably overdid it my second day by doing Brockway to Mount Rose summit—a 30 mile / 4954 vertical foot gain day.
For 2020, I was just too late trying to get a permit, and then Covid-19 happened. Then in 2021, I got a permit, but epic wildfires across California, a DIY bathroom remodel, and preparations for the birth of my daughter got in the way. But after securing permits in late December for a June 2022 trip, it looks like this will finally be the year.
According to my wife, I’ve spent 31-ish hours over the past month putting together the logistics. In case you’re wondering what 31 hours of planning amounts to, the following is a detailed breakdown.
The logistics for this trip are not exactly straight forward. I live on the north shore of Lake Tahoe full time, which makes things a little easier. Still, there’s a lot to figure out.
On June 24, I’ll be driving south to Lone Pine, California to stay the night at Dow Villa Motel. The hotel offers long-term parking for a small fee, so my car will be left there. Eastern Sierra Transit Authority has a daily bus that would have taken me most of the way, but they don’t run on Saturdays. Instead, I’ve hired East Side Sierra Shuttle to take me to Yosemite Valley on June 25 to pick up my permit inside the park.
I could have also left on Friday from Reno on Eastern Sierra Transit to Lee Vining, stayed the night, then taken a bus to Yosemite Valley, but all in, my plan is only 30 minutes more travel time and a bit more comfortable. Don’t get me wrong: I’m into the deprivation, frequent pain, and struggle of backpacking—but I like punctuating with some niceties.
After the shuttle drops me in Yosemite Valley, I’ll take the YARTS bus to Yosemite View Lodge just outside the park on the west side. The next day, I’ll hop back on YARTS into Yosemite Valley and start my hike at the Happy Isles trailhead.
About three or four days into my hike, I plan to stop at Mammoth Lakes by taking the Red’s Meadow Shuttle and spend a “zero day'“ there. Then I’ll continue on and finally exit at Whitney Portal sometime between July 9 and 11, hopefully hitch a ride the few miles back to my car in Lone Pine, and stay one more night in Lone Pine before driving back home to Tahoe.
I can’t and don’t want to start out carrying all my food for this 14-plus-day hike. So I’ll be picking up more at various places. There are a number of options in the first 110 miles, but for the last 110, it gets a lot harder. So my plan is to move fast so I carry less. I’m also going to start out light because the first climb out of Yosemite Valley is a brutal one.
I’ll start out with only two days of food, with another two days worth waiting for me at the Tuolumne Meadows post office. That should get me to Mammoth Lakes, where I’ll pick up my next resupply. I’m likely just going to mail the Mammoth Lakes resupply to General Delivery at the post office there—or drop it off at The Village Lodge on my way down.
From there I’m opting to take five days of food that will get me all the way to Muir Trail Ranch. I could have also sent a resupply to Vermilion Valley Resort, but that requires either an extra 4.8 mile hike or arriving in time for their water taxi, which operates in the morning and afternoon. Trying to thread that needle for the taxi seemed like more trouble than I needed, so more food weight it is.
A few weeks ago, I also mailed a five-gallon bucket to Muir Trail Ranch, buying their resupply service. That bucket has seven days of food, which should be enough for my last week. I could have also done a resupply at roughly mile 177, over Kearsarge Pass via Onion Valley, but that adds about 13 miles to my trip, and I’d already done that whole section a few years ago. While it was wonderful then, I wouldn’t want to tack it onto my trip now.
Lots of other hikers have to resupply at Kearsarge Pass because they are only doing ten-mile days or so. But the optimizer in me won’t give it the thumb’s up.
When I did the TRT in 2019, I’d planned out 15-ish mile days, and I’d always end up at my destination by 2 or 3 p.m., not knowing what to do with myself for the rest of the day. I often decided to just keep hiking, which had me averaging 20-plus mile days as a result. The JMT has greater elevation gains, so I’m splitting the difference (kind of) by planning for 16-mile days. Worst case scenario? I’ll finish ahead of schedule with food left over.
As I said, I’m trying to go fast and light, so I’ve set aside price, durability, and a lot of luxuries. Instead, I’ve done my best to dial in my gear selection by favoring minimal weight. As of this writing, my base weight is 11.59 pounds, and that includes 31 ounces for my Barricade Weekender. I’d be safely under the arbitrary 10-pound base weight limit to call yourself “ultralight” if not for the bear can.
All my gear is listed on Lighterpack. And I’ll devote another newsletter to exactly that. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and see if all my prep hours amount to the quickest and most sustainable trip down the JMT I can muster. I’ll let you know how it goes in a few weeks!