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JMT Trip Report
A fresh-off-the-trail recap in words (and a lot of numbers).
On June 24, I drove 5-ish hours south from Lake Tahoe to Lone Pine, where the 220-mile JMT hike would end. My in-laws came up to help my wife with the dog and baby while I was away for nearly 3 weeks. This trip would not have been possible without their help.
The drive down was mostly uneventful, but it was the longest and most rural drive I’d taken in my electric Volvo C40. There are only two viable charge stations between Tahoe and Lone Pine, both Electrify America. The next morning, I had a wild ride up to Yosemite to pick up my permit—a journey that included a harried shuttle driver and a bus trip through Tuolumne Meadows. When I finally got to the Yosemite Valley wilderness center, the rangers took a look at my trip timeline and immediately extended my permit by three days (just in case). It was 90°, and you felt it at these elevations.
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TLDR: By the Numbers
MILES ULTIMATELY WALKED: 179.4 trail miles as measured by FarOut
DAYS ON THE TRAIL: 9
ZERO DAYS: 2
HIGHEST ELEVATION: 12,100 feet at Pinchot Pass
CALORIES CONSUMED: Roughly 2,700 calories per day
STROOPWAFELS CONSUMED: 18
TIMES I THOUGHT ABOUT QUITTING EARLY: I lost count
PHOTOS TAKEN: 505 (Check out my Instagram @kelp for some slideshows.)
The bus from my hotel just outside the park to Yosemite Valley was a bit late. Once in, I walked past all the campgrounds of Curry Village, which seemed to have a higher population density than San Francisco, and made it to the trail head.
The first part of the JMT shares the Mist Trail, which is paved and incredibly steep, but after a short while it splits off and goes its own way. The first 3 or so miles are pretty busy, thanks to day hikers making their way to Half Dome. But then it chilled out once I hit Little Yosemite Valley and came across this burn scar.
I set up my tent at the still-closed Sunrise High Sierra Camp, above the meadow to hide from the mosquitos. This would be one of the worst mosquito spots on the whole trail (head net and wind pants required.) All in, I’d climbed 6,299 feet and covered 14.83 miles on my first day. Starting at 4000 feet in a hot Yosemite Valley and ending at 9,350 feet. It didn’t feel that hard at the time, but I was taking on debt that I’d have to pay off later.
The next day was mostly, and mercifully, downhill to Tuolumne Meadows, through several high meadows, and back to the land of day hikers.
There was a ton of road construction at Tuolumne Meadows, and all the campgrounds were closed. Fortunately the post office and store were open, so I was able to pick up a box of food I’d sent to myself. I got a bit turned around due to conflicting maps and road construction and ended up backtracking to get back on the JMT exactly where I’d left it. This kind of “every inch of the JMT” purism would continue to seep out the window as I accumulated miles. I ended the day having hiked over 19 miles and camped near the end of Lyell Canyon. Not all that much elevation gain, but I was still recovering from the day before.
My first real pass took me up to 11,066 feet and through some absolutely stunning scenery. The day started with a climb through a fairly thick forest and later opened up to a valley with snow melting, streams everywhere, and people fishing in a small lake.
Around mid day I made it to the top of Donhue Pass. I even had great cell reception up there. Some guys were making phone calls.
After a break and some food it was down the other side and slowly descending below the tree line. It was always amazing to climb these passes and see the vegetation and animals thin out until it was almost only rocks—then descend the other side where life returns.
At Garnet Lake, I set up my tent in the shade of a tree. The mosquitos ended up being absolutely insane. There was some wind while I was setting up, so they didn’t seem so bad. But the wind died down, and my camp site selection ended up being poor, I lost my shade hours before sunset and had to sweat in a 90° tent to avoid the bugs.
The next day was a real motivation sapper. Down and down to Devils Postpile National Monument to catch the bus to Mammoth. That day I descended 3,914 feet. Much of the afternoon was through a hot and dry forest full of downed trees.
I made it to Devils Postpile by mid afternoon and caught the bus to the Mammoth Lakes Adventure center, which was just wild with mountain biking. Then a quick bus transfer into the Mammoth Village. I needed a day off badly and was seriously considering giving up. I posted to the Facebook JMT 2022 group looking for motivation and took the opportunity to reevaluate some of my clothing choices (I’d been hiking in shorts).
In town, I bought lightweight long pants and a sun hoodie; in my hotel room, I treated them and my tent mesh with Permethrin to at least make the mosquitoes pay for any future attempts on me.
I had a bunch of real food and a few beers—and planned how to get back on the trail. I picked up a resupply that I’d left at my hotel on the way down, packed up 5 days of food in my bear can, and mailed all the extras home.
Today is when the purism died. I got off the bus at Red’s Meadow, 2 to 3 trail miles south of where I’d left the JMT earlier. I saw no sense in hiking those few miles after I’d almost just given up entirely.
The day started off with a gradual climb through an old burn scar; then a long hike on the ridge above Cascade Valley.
I ended the day at Lake Virginia after covering 15.79 miles and gaining 4,001 feet. The early morning was also a great time to capture some of my best photos like this one of Lake Virginia.
I climbed over Silver pass, one of the lower passes on the trail at only 10,900 feet. Down the other side was a brutal set of steep switch backs. I continued to make my way to the ferry for Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR). This involved a little over a mile detour to the shore of Lake Thomas Edison, which is an artificial lake high on the west side of the Sierras. Due to the low snow pack, the lake is probably 30 feet lower than usual. Taking the ferry saves about 5 miles of hiking, at the cost of $20 each way.
I was able to get on the second boat to VVR. I hadn’t planned to even stop at VVR, but some people on the JMT 2022 Facebook group suggested I take a zero there, so I booked 2 nights in a yurt.
After lots of great food, a shower, and laundry, I said goodbye to the guys I’d shared the boat with on the way in and out of VVR and headed off to climb Seldon Pass and spend the night at Sallie Keys Lakes.
The next morning, I picked up my 5-gallon resupply bucket I’d mailed to Muir Trail Ranch weeks before. It had far more food than could fit into my bear canister, so I did the best I could and gave away any extra food to a PCT hiker who was happy to save the money. Then I continued on a hot climb into Evolution Valley with a pack that had gained about 8 pounds.
I covered more than 17 miles that last day, crossed into Kings Canyon National Park, and set up camp with a view of The Hermit.
The Big Passes
With the pace I was going, I was covering a pass a day. Muir Pass was the first, and it was spectacular—also home of the Muir Hut, built by the Sierra Club as a shelter for hikers. Lots of people were hanging out in the hut, some I’d seen on the trail earlier. It was quite windy at a the top, but much warmer inside the hut!
From there, the Golden Staircase up to Mather Pass. This section was probably my favorite. When going southbound, the golden staircase is a long climb with switchbacks carved into into a steep mountainside. Then it flattens out as you pass Palisade Lakes and ascend over the tree line. Then more switchbacks up a rocky face, high enough that nearly nothing grows. I climbed roughly 4,000 feet that day, but this one was worth it.
When you get to the top and look down the other side you see yet another set of switchbacks carved into an incredibly steep face. And then the trail runs out for miles ahead, through a rocky, almost alien desert landscape, down until it finally meets the tree line.
The hike down is a long, gradual descent that takes you through nearly all the alpine vegetation zones the Sierra has to offer. That night I camped near some people I’d met earlier on the trail and at VVR. One of them, whose trail name is “Falls Down a Lot,” had stumbled earlier and hurt her rib. She was debating if she could continue, so I went ahead and found the ranger at Bench Lake and told him about her situation. I messaged “Falls Down a Lot” with my inReach to let her know the ranger was there and would come find her if she didn’t make her way to him before long. She later told me that she was able to hike out Taboose Pass and meet up with some friends who were able to get her home. I know she really wanted to finish the trail and had been trying to for several years, so it was a bummer to see someone so committed have to end their hike early.
I found a fairly busy campsite next to Lower Rae Lake and called it a day fairly late in the afternoon. I was totally wiped out, and that last hot climb really sucked most of the joy out of it for me.
The next day, Glen Pass was a bit of an easier pass than Muir or Mather, but my legs and motivation were still sapped from the day before.
I got to the Kearsarge Pass junction and sat a while deciding what I wanted to do. I sent some messages home about my dilemma. I didn’t really want to continue; I needed a break. I ended up deciding to head left, instead of forward, over Kearsarge pass and out Onion Valley. I sent some inReach messages to my wife for help with a reserving a shuttle ride and a hotel for the night so I could rest and drive home the next day.
Once I’d made the decision to bail out, my motivation came back, and I covered the next 7 miles and the 1,700 foot climb plus 2,700 foot descent in about 3 hours. I think I really wanted to get to a shower, food, a real bed, and home.
So yes, I bailed out about 3 or 4 days short of the finish line, and overall I feel pretty good about it. I would like to finish the trail, and while going back in Kearsarge adds a bunch of vertical and 7 miles, it’s not a bad option.
WHAT I’M DOING:
Writing the next newsletter with “lessons learned” and plans for finishing the JMT.
WHAT I’M READING:
On the trail, I entertained myself with podcasts and audio books. I got through 2 1/2 books in the original Dune series and really enjoyed the podcast The Way Out is In about Buddhism in the Plum Village tradition.
WHAT I’M RESEARCHING:
Plans for finishing the JMT!
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