John Muir Trail Backpacking Trip

Trip Report

September 7 - 16, 2010

89.1 miles
Elevation Ascent: 18,800 ft

Dreams and goals...

How, and when, did this dream become a goal???

Hiking hundreds of miles across some of the most rugged terrain in North America is something you read about, but is something the 'other' person does. The athletes, the young, the extreme sports types, right?

Blisters, bears, bathing (or lack of!) and long hard weeks of hiking...

Why do I want to do this?
Why has it become important to me?
And what makes me think a middle aged, overweight, out of shape, desk warrior has any likelihood of completing this hike?

JMT miles

First is the why.

Have you ever read any of the works by John Muir?
Seen photographs of Yosemite or the Sierra Nevada?
Have photographs by Ansel Adams touched your imagination or your heart?
Now imagine being there, experiencing what Ansel Adams photographed, and John Muir wrote about.
Experiencing the "Range of Light", not just seeing photos or reading about it.

I fell in love with the idea hiking the JMT over 30 years ago. When I was 18 I hiked a section of the JMT as part of the Rae Lakes Loop out of Kings Canyon National Park. I was awed by the thru hikers I met that were doing the entire trail. I knew from the section that I had hiked that the trail was spectacular. The Sierra Nevada captured my heart during my youth. I was fortunate that my folks were able to spend a full month each summer in Cedar Grove, in Kings Canyon NP. Cedar Grove is at the end of civilization, and a gateway to the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada. Over many years, and many summers, we camped, hiked, fished, and explored the forests, rivers and mountains of the Sierra. Perhaps because of the time spent there as a youth, this place became a place of refuge for me. It feels like 'coming home' each time I am there.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike". John Muir, The Yosemite

I have explored and hiked the mountains of Utah, Idaho, Washington, and the hills of Northern Minnesota. All have wonderful things about them, but none of them touch my soul like the Sierra Nevada.


Ok, so I love the Sierra Nevada mountains. Why not drive there, stay in a cabin and enjoy the area while still staying clean and comfortable?
Simply because 95% of the Sierra Nevada is not accessible from a road. You have to get there by foot if you want to see it.

"But all this is invisible from the bottom of the Valley, like a thouand other interesting things. One must labor for beauty as for bread, here as elsewhere" John Muir, The Yosemite

Why now?
Taking 3+ weeks to hike was not something I was willing to do until now. Taking 100% of my vacation time at once, leaving no time for our family to vacation together, and leaving my wife and kids for 3 weeks just wasn't something I felt right doing. Fast forward 20 years...
The kids are grown, I have enough vacation time so that I can take 3 weeks off and still have time for my wife and I to enjoy time together, and my wife is totally supportive of my dream to hike this trail.

Only problem is... Now I am too old, too out of shape, and have a bad knee. I can't carry a 60 LB pack.

My chance has passed me by...

In 2009 I got the idea to hike the Rae Lakes Loop trail one last time. This time with my 2 adult children. Sort of a completing the circle kind of thing. Somehow, I was so excited by this idea that I got into decent shape, lost weight, and REALLY got into reducing my pack weight. And we DID it!

That got me thinking... If I can do 50 miles, could I do more?

  • As I had hiked the short section of the JMT in 2009, I saw folks in the their 70's on the trail!
  • I was able to get in decent enough shape to do 50 miles, so why not work a little harder and get ready for more?
  • My knee held up for 50 miles on the same terrain I would face on the full JMT
  • I reduced my pack weight from 60+ LBS to 40 LBS. Could I reduce it more?
And as my excuses fell away... what had been a dream in my youth, and seemed out of reach once I hit my 50's, became a goal and a challenge.

Since I had never done more than a 5 day hike before, I decided to do a 'trial run' in 2010. I chose a 10 day, 89 mile section of the JMT, and depending on how it went, would decide whether doing a full through hike in 2011 was possible. I chose to hike from the official start of the JMT, Happy Isle in Yosemite National Park, and end the hike at Vermillion Valley Ranch.

This "trial run" hike of the JMT would take me 10 days, and involve crossing 4 mountain passes, climbing 18,800 feet of elevation gain, and challenge me physically and mentally.

I didn't think I could handle this trail.
Now I do.
It has become a challenge.

Not a challenge against the mountains or the trail. A challenge against myself.

JMT 2010 Trip prep