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John Muir Trail Preparations

2010 September 21
by Elizabeth

I’ve had a few people ask about the preparation that went into our hike on the John Muir Trail, so I thought I’d post about it.

Our journey to the JMT all started on a dark and rainy afternoon (okay, I don’t remember what the weather was like, just liked the sound of it) in April of 2010. We decided that in preparation for our Appalachian Trail (AT) hike in March of 2011, we’d like to complete a long-distance trail. After researching trails, we finally decided on the John Muir Trail which is located in California and meanders through three national parks and two wilderness areas for a total of 230-ish miles. Had I known how difficult it would be to prepare, we probably would have gone with the Long Trail (in Vermont).

During preparations, I looked at a TON of other people’s blogs. Most of those blogs were more than a year old and a lot of the time didn’t answer the questions I had. So hopefully, some of the things I post here will be helpful to others.

Getting to the Trail

We decided to hike the trail north to south (Yosemite to Mt. Whitney).  As it turns out, the termini are located in rather hard to reach places–at least if you aren’t going to have a car to get you around. We didn’t want to drive all the way out there, neither did we want to rent a car for three weeks and pay to let it just sit at the trail head. So we decided to fly into Fresno, take an Amtrak train to Merced, spend the night and then take an Amtrak bus to Yosemite National Park the next day.  That wasn’t so difficult was it? That’s what I thought until I started thinking through some of the following details:

  1. Fuel. We’ll need it on the trail to cook our food, but you can’t take it on planes, trains or buses.
    After calling several places at Yosemite, I was able to determine that fuel canisters and denatured alcohol are for sale at one or more of the camp stores in the park. Fuel is also available on the trail at the Vermillion Valley Resort, Reds Meadow Resort and the Muir Trail Ranch–you’ll pay through the nose for it though.
  2. Travel clothes. Did we want to leave Indianapolis wearing our hiking clothes? If we wanted to wear street clothes, what do we do with them? Do we just carry that extra weight for 21 days?
    We really didn’t want to spend two additional days in our hiking clothes. Plus, they are a little bit thin and John’s shorts are a little short for public wear. :) Initially, I thought the bus station, airport or Yosemite would have short-term lockers we could use. Apparently, lockers have fallen out of favor since 9/11. We found a post office 4 blocks from the Amtrak station in Fresno and we sent them home in a flat rate box. However, once we got out there, we found that Yosemite had a post office in the valley.
  3. Permits. You have to have a permit to spend the night in Yosemite. These aren’t hard to get, IF you apply for them 6 months in advance, which we obviously didn’t do since we started all this in April.
    Our National Parks (by law) are tasked with keeping the number of people spending the night in the park  at a relatively low number to reduce impact on the environment. So the number of overnight permits are limited. Usually 60-70% or so of the total number of permits can be reserved 6 months in advance. The other 30-40% is kept for walk ups. Attempting a walk up permit is a little risky because the Amtrak bus doesn’t even arrive at the park until about 10am. There were no permits left for the JMT’s official start at Happy Isles, but we were lucky and got the LAST two permits out of Toulumne Meadows. This meant we’d have to skip the first 20-ish miles of the trail to get started on our desired date, but the other option was waiting in line at the permit office and that the line usually began forming at 4:30 am. We decided we’d rather sleep.

Tips for the Trail

  1. Bug Spray. Bring lots and not that wimpy 30% deet stuff either. Bring the extra strength 100% deet spray. Someone on the trail told us that anything over 30% was redundant, but from our personal experience that is certainly not true. The amount of mosquitoes and black fly bites increased exponentially as the deet concentration decreased. So follow the directions and apply liberally!
  2. Sunscreen. Bring lots of this too. You’ll spend a good amount of time at or above tree line or walking through meadows. Sunlight at 10,000 feet scorches, so apply sunscreen every morning and don’t forget to reapply!
  3. Treat your water. I don’t care what they say about how amazingly clean the water is because it’s glacial runoff or how far upstream you go to get your water, you should still treat it.  Remember, you are always downstream from somewhere or something and unless you are psychic, you have no idea if the area is open to grazing or if a family of beavers have moved in and made the area you’re filling your water bottle their bathroom.
  4. Stop by the Vermillion Valley Resort and take at least half a day off or a zero day if you can. The food is a little expensive but it’s certainly fantastic, especially after a week or more of eating dehydrated mush. There are also showers ($5) and laundry ($6) on site as well as a small store. You’ll want to keep a running total of your expenses. The VVR typically keeps a tab for you (especially if you want to pay with a credit card) and it is easy to lose track of how much you’ve spent. We were certainly surprised, but then again, we pretty much ate through our stay.
  5. Take care of your feet. If you get a hot spot, take the time to cover it with duct tape, medical tape, or your treatment option of choice. If you get a blister, pop it, drain it, clean it well with soap and water and put antibiotic ointment on it. Also, wash and change your socks often and take the time to soak them in crystal clear, cold mountain streams (yet another reason to treat your water).

Getting from the Trail

Due to foot problems, we didn’t actually get to summit Mt. Whitney, but I wanted to share how we were planning on getting from Lone Pine to Fresno. Lone Pine is pretty rural area and there aren’t a lot of options. There is public transportation available between neighboring towns, but they only run a couple times a day and only on the weekdays. Another option is to hire a shuttle. We checked into this option but it was ridiculously expensive–$800 from Lone Pine to Fresno.  We found a car rental agency in a nearby town. We tried to talk them into driving a rental car to us–an hour away. They didn’t go for it. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because they don’t do one-way rentals. Their fleet is too small. So back to the drawing board we went.

Eventually we figured out that there was a U-Haul rental company in Lone Pine. We had reserved and planned on driving a 10′ moving truck to Fresno for a fraction of the cost of a shuttle! Perhaps not the most common method of travel, but just as effective.   In hindsight, it might have been easier if we would have flown into/ out of Reno instead of Fresno.

Even thought this is a longer blog entry, it doesn’t even begin to truly reflect the amount of work that went into preparing for this hike–at least for a type A personality like mine. If anyone is interested in the itinerary we used, our gear list, reading resources, etc., feel free to contact us. I’ll be happy to share.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Lee permalink
    September 13, 2012

    Can you offer an information on your: the itinerary you used, your gear list, reading resources? I am taking the John Muir as a first long hike and need info on it. Thank you.

    • Elizabeth permalink*
      September 14, 2012

      The JMT is so very beautiful. You will love it. I would recommend flying into Reno, if you are flying that is. There seems to be better public transportation on the eastern side of the mountains. We hiked southbound because we like the idea of Whitney being the goal. You are required to carry a bear proof canister for all or nearly all of the trail. That can be cumbersome and it’s hard to jam everything you need in there, especially for the second half (Muir Trail Ranch south to Whitney) where there is really no good way to resupply. I would recommend taking 3- 4 full weeks to enjoy the trail. Although, due to resupply issues you may have to book it through the last section. But it is a trail worthy of savoring if possible. There are just so many lakes and grassy meadows beckoning to you to spend some time napping in the sun. :)

      We used the following guides/ maps
      1. The John Muir Trail: Through the Californian Sierra Nevada by Alan Castle–Really like this guide.
      2. Erik the Black has a pretty decent databook available. We used the first edition and it looks like there have been significant updates.
      3. Tom Harrison Maps–these maps are pretty amazing. I really liked them and fervently wished we had something similar when we thru-hiked the AT.

      Let me know if there is anything else we can do for you. We loved our time on the JMT and would love to help you in any way possible.

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