John Muir Trail Backpacking Trip

Trip Preparation

Primary resources used to plan for this hike:
I knew I needed to step up the intensity of my training for this trip. I had done a good job getting ready for the Rae Lakes Loop trip the previous year, and took my learnings and applied them to my training routine.

If you are considering whether you can do this hike, or any strenous hike, getting in decent shape is important.

I thought the "mountain" I needed to climb to get back in shape was higher than any mountain in the Sierra Nevada. An impassable peak. A mountain with no trail or pass to navigate through. 

It is NOT! It is achievable.

When I started training in 2009, I started from "couch potato king", where climbing a single flight of stairs would get my heart pumping and wind me. So I started training slowly, and added to the intensity as the weeks went by. And each week, I noticed improvement. And yes, I had a physical and discussed my plans with my doctor.


To adjust my training for this trip, I decreased the time spent running, and increased the time climbing stairs. I was totally fine last year as far as cardio endurance went, but my thighs were struggling with the steep climb.

Every Sunday I did fully loaded 10 mile hikes in the hilliest area I could find in FLAT Minnesota.
I did stairs several times a week, and worked up to wearing a 30 LB weight belt while doing the stairs.
Finally, I did a 30 mile, 3 day trip on the Superior Hiking Trail a couple of weeks before heading off on my JMT trip, and adjusted my pack contents and shoes based on the experience.

2 years ago, 6-8 mile days were all I could do before hitting the "wall". After training this year, I found that I was able to do 10 mile days with a full pack, and still enjoy the "journey", so I planned an average of 10 miles per day for this trip. Somewhat sedate by some thru hiker standards, but it worked great for me. I wanted enough time each day to stop for pictures, enjoy the views, or sit on a rock and reflect if I felt like it.

By the time I left for California, I was physically ready!

I tried some different ideas this trip with my food.
I made some of my own meals, and used some ready made meals from Pack-It Gourment.
No freezedried on this trip. I was trying to get lighter volume, better taste, and the most calories per ounce that I could.

I purchased the Freezer Bag Cooking book by Sarah Kirkconnell, and most of my meals were either FBC (Freezer Bag Cooking) meals or wraps. Tortillas fit just perfectly in the bottom of a bear can! I recommend either her book or her web site Trail  for FBC tips and recipes.

I experimented with different recipes and tried them both on and off the trail during the year. Some were good, some were not so good! I found that I am not a fan of curry, and had made several meals with curry as a base.

I dehydrated asian noodles and different types of beans, and I used beans, couscous and rice as the base for most of the meals. I also added meat and spice products from PackItGourmet.

Overall, I was happy with how it all turned out, but will make some adjustments for next year.

I tweaked and tweaked my pack until my base weight was 16.7 LBS and totally loaded weight was 28.2 LBS. (I'm still trying to figure out why my total weight came in at 29 LBS at the scale at Yosemite Wilderness Center! Where did that extra weight come from???

Click here for my gear list for this trip.

Changes made to my gear choices for this trip:

I used a new Tarptent for this trip. Last year I had tried the Tarptent Contrail, and was generally happy with the tent, however I really like a freestanding tent. If I need to move my tent for any reason, moving a tent that has 6-8 stakes and is supported by hiking poles (and those stakes I just mentioned) means starting over from scratch.
Why would I move my tent???
It seems I do this often... Camp is all setup, and the wind starts. I want to angle the tent differently in the wind. Or I lay down, and realize my head is downhill. Or I missed a big bump sticking into my back.

So this year, I switched to the Tarptent Moment. It DOES have a freestanding option, and I purchased the optional center pole so I could have a truly freestanding, lightweight, single wall tent. However... I found the setup (and moving, if needed) so easy with the 2 stake setup that I chose not to bring the center pole on this trip. Good decision.

The Moment tarptent had a good workout on this trip. Light rain, light snow, below freezing temps with light wind... Nothing too drastic, but certainly not a warm summer picnic either. I was very pleased with the Moment. A little heavier than my Contrail, but overall I found the features of the Moment were well worth the added 4 oz.

Moment Pros:
  1. Side entry
  2. Larger vestibule
  3. 2 stake setup (or freestanding)
  4. Headroom is in the center of the tent
  5. Faster setup, less 'fussing' to get a good pitch

  1. A bit heavier (using less stakes offsets the 4 oz difference a bit)
  2. 28.5 oz vs 24 oz for the Contrail

Tarptent Contrail
Tarptent Contrail in SEKI
Tarptent Moment on JMT

Lightweight boots instead of trail runners
I did most of my hiking in 2010 in trail runners. I did over 300 miles in them, and enjoyed the light weight and comfort. However, during my 30 mile SHT hike just before my JMT trip, I covered a lot of rocky and root covered ground. My feet were so fatigued at the end of each day that I realized that I needed the protection and support of a boot for rocky trails. I am VERY glad I switched back to boots for this trip. I will still use trail runners on most trips, but for the JMT, boots are my footwear of choice.

Bear can
I went ahead and purchased my own bear can this year. I hope to be doing many trips  in bear country, and decided I wanted the lightest (approved) bear can. Since I don't carry a large pack, I chose the Bearikade Weekender. I am able to fit the Weekender in my ULA Circuit backpack both vertically and horizontally. It's a tight fit horizontally, and only fits into the top of the pack, but this is how I prefer to carry the can. I feel it rides better, and does not dig into my back like it does when I carry it vertically.

You can see in the table below the comparison between the three major alternatves on the market.

SIZE (dia x hgt)
44 oz
614 c.u in
8.8" x 12"
Bear Vault BV500
41 oz
700 c.u in
8.7" x 12.7"
Bearikade Weekender
31 oz
650 c.u. in
9" x 10"

The Bearikade has comparable volume, while being smaller and significantly lighter.

The 10+ oz weight savings in the  Bearikade comes at a cost though. The Weekender is by far the most expensive of the options. The manufacturer, Wild Ideas, does rent the bear cans, and they have a great deal for thru hikers (JMT, AT, PCT, etc.) See their web site for rental details.
The Bearikade Weekender is only available from the manufacturer.

Bear Vault BV500
Bearikade Weekender
Bearvault BV500
Bearikade Weekender


In order to not have to carry anything extra for the entire 10 day trip, I mailed resupply boxes to Tuolumne Meadows and Reds Meadow with extra food, extra batteries, sunscreen, soap, etc.

Both resupply locations worked without a hitch.

I also did a drop box to VVR. Once I arrived in Yosemite, I packed up everything I wasn't taking on the trail and mailed it to VVR so it would be there when I ended my hike. Worked like a charm.

Instructions for resupply:
Tuolumne Meadows
Reds Meadow
Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR)

Since my decision to do a section of the JMT was made in early 2010, it was too late to get much choice in my permit dates or starting trailhead. According to the permit availability information maintained on the Yosemite Wilderness website, it looked like there was a spot or two open just after Labor day. There were no openings at all for the Happy Isle thru hike, (called "Happy Isles to Sunrise/Merced Lake pass-through") but it looked like I could get a permit for Happy Isle to Little Yosemite Valley. The permit only requires that you stay the first night in the designated area. Any night after the first can be spent anywhere in Yosemite. I faxed in my request, and the next day received an email with confirmation that I was booked for a September 7th, 2010 start date! Since LYV is only about 5 miles from Happy Isle, most folks want to get more miles in that first day. I was fine with the low miles for day 1. The climb out of Yosemite Valley is tough, and as it turned out, I got a late start anyway so the low mileage day was perfect.

The logistics of getting to and from the trailheads, and resupply along the trail require some thought and planning.

I chose to fly into Fresno, and use public transportation to get to Yosemite. For the return home, I saw that the owner of VVR now offers a shuttle from VVR to Fresno, and after discussing the option with Jim (the owner) I decided to go ahead and use the service. It isn't cheap, but it is reasonable considering it takes his driver most of a full day to do the roundtrip.

Getting to Yosemite:
  1. Flight from Minnepolis to Fresno
  2. Stay at La Quinta in Fresno (not a great hotel, but walking distance to Amtrak)
  3. Amtrak Train from Fresno to Merced
  4. YARTS bus from Merced to Yosemite

Getting back home:
  1. VVR shuttle from VVR to Fresno Airport (Thanks Jim and my driver, Olive)
  2. Flight from Fresno to MN

JMT 2010 Day 0