Standing in the middle of a river, in a torrential downpour, two days walk from the nearest road, I wondered why I had ever wanted to hike the JMT. Day 7 of the John Muir Trail was a miserable one. After18.3 rainy miles, a thigh deep river and three miserable miles separated us from a suitable campsite. Soaking wet and freezing cold, Brian, Erika, and I eventually found flat ground and Brian hurriedly set up a tarp and began insisting that Erika and I change into something dry. I was exhausted. I opened my pack to find that my other jacket was soaking wet and in that moment, my spirit was broken. I wondered “How did I get here and why would I bring this upon myself?” I wanted to quit.
Earlier in the year, my husband and I, along with two friends, decided to apply for permits to hike the John Muir trail. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the JMT begins in Yosemite Valley and ends at the summit of Mt. Whitney. Many believe the John Muir Trail is arguably the most beautiful hike in the United States. Expecting a beautiful and challenging trip, we were met by stunning views, rough weather, strenuous climbs, and long distances. Averaging 15 miles a day, it took us 13 days to reach the summit of the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. Although we were close to home, we faced some extremely difficult challenges on our first official through-hike and not everyone who started the hike finished.
The John Muir trail is part of, and thought to be the most beautiful and strenuous section of, the Pacific Crest Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail saw a boom after the recent publication of the book Wild, and the movie that shortly followed. The John Muir Trail sees more visitors than the PCT with the majority hiking the JMT from North to South. While you may pass a good amount of PCT hikers, most of your trekking will be secluded. One factor that prevents the trails from being overpopulated is the strict requirement to obtain a permit to hike both the PCT and the JMT. This helps keep the wilderness wild and makes sure those going in know the rules and regulations for each National Park and wilderness area.
I would highly recommend the John Muir trail to any adventurous hiker. It covers some of the most amazing mountain scenery as it weaves through Yosemite Valley, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Park. It is stunningly beautiful and very challenging. I recommend doing it in three weeks in order to include a few rest days and keep your daily mileage low. The JMT delivers a true backcountry experience. Despite being relatively close to populated areas, there are only three points on the trail when you are less than a day’s walk from a road that could possibly give you access (via hitchhiking) to civilization.
We began our journey in Tuolumne Meadows just south of Yosemite Valley (one of two permitted trailheads). Due to the heavily impacted permit process, we were only able to obtain permits for very early in the season, exposing us to harsher weather, but most of our days were greeted by warm sunshine. Our goal of finishing the Trail in two weeks was self-inflicted as we needed to get back to work and Erika needed to get back to her boyfriend. Brian and I were mentally prepared to take on long tough days, but our friends were far less enthusiastic about the punishment. That goes back to my beginner backpacking tips: make sure you are on the same page with the people you are hiking with. We could easily have had a leisurely experience on the trail but our time limit wouldn’t allow it and quite frankly, I was excited to take on the challenge.
The stunning Sierra Nevada led us up and down strenuous trails never dropping below 8,000 ft. in elevation. We walked along beautiful alpine rivers and lakes and were visited by fuzzy marmots during our lunch breaks. There are many ways to go about hiking in the Sierras but if you are looking for a more challenging experience or are looking for a good through hike the John Muir Trail is a phenomenal option.
For more information regarding permits, resupply, and trail maps click Here.