JMT 2019 Day 4: Trail Magic

September 7, 2019

Trinity Lakes to Deer Creek (12.6 mi)

I manage to rock hop across Minaret Creek without getting my feet wet. The creek crossing is at a peaceful little bend where cute little trout appear suspended in place where the current is mellow over smooth rock. (Trout on the JMT are non-native and have decimated native amphibian populations. More info here.) Shimmying between two trees on the other side of the river, I find a package of Backpacker Pantry Pesto Pasta with (real Alaskan) Smoked Salmon and a Pro Bar, that must’ve fallen from someone else’s pack when they did the same shimmy. I decide I can’t just leave food on the trail, because bears (duh!), and this stuff is fancier than the food I packed, so I pack it up with the intention of swapping it out with a couple of my meals at Red’s Meadow. Trail magic!

The descent into Red’s passes through an area where a crazy windstorm uprooted massive trees in 2011. The gnarled root bases of some of the blown-over trees are twice as tall as me. It would’ve been absolutely terrifying to be on the trail when the trees were toppling. The trail is pumice sand, soft on the feet, and, since it descends in elevation, nicely shaded by forest.

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Blow-downs

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View of Devil’s Postpile from across the valley. Jackie and I detoured over there in 2017.

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Sierra gooseberries, which Lizzy Wenk said I would see on this section of the trail. On trail, the incredible detail of the Wenk JMT guidebook really enhanced my experience in little moments like these. The berries are edible and I did try a couple. The berries are like tiny passionfruit when you burst the spiny shells open.

I arrive at Red’s Meadow around noon. First, I go find the hiker boxes, which are in one of the bear boxes at the campground. I drop off my extra food and score some soap, shampoo and conditioner. There was some good stuff in the hiker boxes, including a brand new Sea to Summit SOL emergency bivy, which I seriously consider taking. (Totally didn’t need to for the JMT, but would like to add one of those to my winter ski touring pack.) Then, I went to the store to get shower tokens. You have to get a minimum of 5 $1 tokens for 5 minutes to start the shower machine. So, I got 10. I stripped down in the shower and washed all the clothes I was wearing, except my pants. Wet everything down and soaped up during the first 5 minutes of shower. When the shower stopped, I took my time and scrubbed everything thoroughly before rinsing off in the second 5 minutes of shower. I put on my extra hiking t-shirt and hung my wet clothes on the deck outside the shower building, next to what looked like Ellen’s red shorts.

I looked around for Ellen but didn’t find her; instead, I found Larry getting into a car with his wife to go into Mammoth. Ellen and Larry had both stayed at Red’s the night before, and Ellen was back on the trail. I went to the Mule House Cafe, got the weather forecast and ate a cheeseburger with Endless (who I had met down by the hiker boxes) and his PCT trail family. Then, I went back to the store and bought a beer and some postcards. Finally, I went and collected my mostly dry clothes from the shower building. I meant to leave Red’s by 2 but ended up staying until 3 because any stop into civilization turns into a vortex! However, it was worth it because I stayed long enough to poop in a real flushing toilet!

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Comforts of civilization

The trail south of Red’s climbs up through a hot shadeless burn, which is annoying because I don’t want to sweat because I am freshly showered. When I get to Deer Creek, which is a very popular camping area, Kathryn and David, who I’ve seen a few times on the trail, wave me over to join them at their campsite and I accept. I intend to be more social in the evening, but there are so many mosquitoes, I just eat my dinner and retreat into the safety of my tent.

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Even the supposedly not-so-scenic parts of the JMT are incredibly scenic.

JMT 2019 Day 3: Alone on the JMT

September 6, 2019
Thousand Island Lakes to Trinity Lakes (9.4 mi)

I wake up to my watch alarm at 6:15 and after a couple snoozes get up to witness the morning light show on Banner Peak, still shrouded in cloud as it was in the evening.

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I manage to leave camp even later than yesterday, even though I did not poop before packing up! (#thousandislandlakeproblems) Part of this is because I am only able to start my day after packing and unpacking and repacking everything in a panic, thinking I’d broken my only hair rubber band and not being able to find a replacement. I have to fish the snapped hair rubber band out of my garbage ziplock and tie it back together. (Later in the evening I will find my spare hair rubber bands in my electronics bag…. not with toiletries or first aid where I looked.)

I reach Garnet Lake at 9:30 am and take my first break for the day, then break for lunch around noon at Shadow Lake. I climb the Shadow Lake switchbacks with Don and Mike (who I distinguish by the fact that Don is carrying two solar panels, and Mike, one) who make it much more bearable.

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Garnet Lake

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Shadow Lake

 

I look for familiar faces at Rosalie Lake, and not finding anyone, continue on the Trinity Lakes and set up camp around 4 pm.  Most of my trail friends are headed to Red’s Meadow for the night. I didn’t plan to stop at Red’s and Trinity Lakes is the last established campsite in the Wenk book before Red’s Meadow. According to the book, you have to hike 4 miles past Red’s for a decent campsite. Trinity Lakes are three little marshy ponds. My tent site is nice and wide open; it’s easy to stake tent stakes into the ground. But it’s relatively hard to gather water that’s pretty stagnant and a tiny, tiny bit murky, less than ideal for the JMT, where clear water flows over granite most of the time.

Waiting for your food to rehydrate is when some company would be nice. Otherwise, it is nice to be camped alone after 3 nights at popular campsites. The Guthook app suggests that I may have cell phone reception in this area, and indeed I am able to post a couple photos to Instagram. I do a bear can inventory which confirms I have a too much food. I have not been hungry on the trail so far and it is the idea of lightening my pack that motivates me to eat. I decide to stop by Red’s Meadow and drop off some stuff… and find myself very much looking forward to having a burger for lunch!

JMT 2019 Day 2: My Hiking Superpower

September 5, 2019
Upper Lyell Base Camp to Thousand Island Lake (8.6 mi)

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There is a break in the clouds and warm sunshine to bask in when I reach the outlet of Thousand Island Lake around 3 pm. I filter some water and and relax on the lake shore contemplating whether to camp here or continue on. I have been leapfrogging with Larry and Ellen all day, and they have been trying to convince me to hike a bit further than planned and camp at Garnet Lake instead of Thousand Island Lake, which Larry pish-poshed as “Thousand Camper Lake.” It is still early, but storm clouds have been threatening since I crested Donohue Pass at 9:25 am.

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View from Donohue Pass

It hadn’t rained yet despite the ominous dark clouds and I had bragged to Larry and Ellen over lunch about my ability to make it not rain on backpacking trips. Larry exclaims, “You’re not supposed to talk about such things!” Ellen pipes up that she never filters or treats her water and she has never gotten giardia. Larry is aghast that we would so nonchalantly curse ourselves.

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Heading toward the dark, volcanic Ritter Range

When I finally decide I will stop hiking for the day and camp at Thousand Island Lake after all, the clouds close in and the temperature drops. I put my fleece back on.

Larry is not wrong, Thousand Island Lake is a super popular place to camp. The nice sandy campsites Jackie and I occupied two years earlier are already taken, and I walk further around the lake away from the other people and pick an exposed, rocky spot for the view as a light rain begins to fall. I retreat into my tent planning to nap, and of course the sun comes out and turns my tent into a sauna. Banner Peak is shrouded in a cloud, but as the clouds blow across the lake towards me, the sun appears to burn them off. Make up your mind, clouds! I just want to nap! Then, it suddenly starts to rain in large droplets that pummel the ground with such intensity that they spray sand all over everything. It rains so hard that water bounces under the vestibule of my tent and I have to stuff my sleeping bag back into my drybag/packliner to keep it from getting wet. Rain is followed by a bit of hail.

It cools down and I am lying comfortably in my tent when there is a commotion outside as what sounds like a group of 10 weekend backpackers from the city contemplate setting up camp right behind me. There is not enough room for all of their tents, thankfully, and they move on. And so, it turns out to be a good decision to camp at Thousand Island Lake instead of hiking through intense downpour and hail to Garnet Lake.

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Cons of Camping at Thousand Island Lake:
This is the hardest place on the JMT to find a good place to poop. There probably are a thousand campers at Thousand Island Lake every summer. It’s part of a beautiful backpacking loop from the Mammoth Lakes area. Behind every tree on the slope north of the lake near the campsites is some sign that a cathole has recently been dug. Or worse. Thousand Island Lake seems to be a place where a lot of beginner backpackers camp and I saw travesties like a bunch of rock piled on top of naked poop and toilet paper. Thousand Island Lake really needs a toilet because it is so popular. Some Silicon Valley tech billionaire should endow a pit toilet, like the public restroom in Bryant Park in NYC. (Bay Area friends, write your friends.)

Pros of Camping at Thousand Island Lake:
The view. Memorialized and made famous by Ansel Adams. You can only to fully enjoy the view and its infinite changes at sunset and sunrise if you camp here.

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6:32 AM

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6:37 AM

 

Video: How to JMT | How to Pack a Backpack

As COVID-19 skill building, I made a YouTube video! In the first of a series of videos I imagined while hiking the JMT, I present “How to JMT: Pack a Backpack”:

Future topics may include how to:

  • dig a cathole
  • prevent blisters
  • use your pack to level an uneven sleeping spot

You can read more about the gear I used on the JMT and my gear philosophy (totally not fussed) at this previous blog post.

 

 

JMT 2019 Day 1: Return to Upper Lyell Base Camp

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September 4, 2019
Tuolumne Meadows to Upper Lyell Basecamp (11 mi)

I set off from the Tuolumne Meadows backpacker campground around 7 am, foregoing hot breakfast at Tuolumne Meadows Grill which doesn’t open until 8 am. Lyell Canyon is gorgeous of course, with the river running over bare granite and open meadows just starting to yellow for fall. The forecast posted at the the general store said thunderstorms after 11 am, so I want to get as far as I can by then.

 

The trail up Lyell Canyon, a classic U-shaped glacial valley, is pretty flat. My pack, loaded with 7 days of food, is manageable but not comfortable. Every hour or so my shoulders start to cramp up. But if I take a short break I quickly recover and am able to keep going again. It hails a bit, but when I finally pull over and duck under a tree to put on my rain jacket, it stops. And that is the function of rain jackets, e.g. if you don’t bring one, it will definitely rain.

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After a leisurely 300 feet of elevation gain over almost 10 miles, suddenly you reach The Wall, and begin to climb what feels like straight up out of the valley. I leap frog with a couple other solo lady hikers and reach my intended campsite at Upper Lyell base camp just before 3 pm. I could have hiked farther but I don’t think I want to continue on up Donohue Pass before eating some more of my food (and lightening my pack)!

This is the same campsite Jackie and I camped at in 2017. This time it is warm and pleasant instead of deathly cold. The bad thing is mosquitos definitely gather when the wind dies down. Good thing the location tends to be very windy from the katabatic winds coming down from the pass. When I camped here in 2017, the wind snatched the gray stuff sack for my tent when I unpacked. Blown into a landscape of gray granite, the stuff sack was lost forever. Since that day, I have preferred bright colors for my outdoor gear.

After setting up camp, I roll out my Thinlight foam pad to do some yoga and promptly roll my right ankle on a tuft of grass. First day of my hike and of course I injure myself when I’m not even hiking!

I am sitting on a rock in the breeze writing in my journal when Larry rolls up, followed soon after by Ellen, both also hiking solo. These are my campsite mates for the night and we have dinner together. Larry is talkative, wears bright compression socks and works for one of the big four accounting firms. Ellen is a former athlete with a career in sports medicine. In her 60’s and having sustained injuries and worn out her body over the years, she hikes completely hunched over her trekking poles in jerky movements, overcoming pain with pure tenacity. She’s an experienced mountaineer, warm and funny, packs a handle of whiskey and is a total bad ass.

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View of Donohue Pass from my campsite.

2017 Upper Lyell Basecamp

Same exact view September 23, 2017. The small lake is actively freezing over after the sun dropped down behind the mountains to the west.

 

JMT 2019 T minus 1: Lone Pine to Tuolumne Meadows

September 3, 2019

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I catch the 6:15 am ESTA bus from the Lone Pine MacDonald’s, which is full of backpackers repacking their packs at 6 am. I have left my car in the overflow parking of the Historic Dow Motel, which provides long-term parking to its guests. (Another place you can park while you hike for a small fee is the Museum of Western Film History.) I chat with my seatmate who has just completed the entire JMT in ten 25-30 mile days, waking up every morning at 4:30am. He says it was a sufferfest and he wishes he had gone slower so he could remember more parts of it. Most of the other folks on the bus have just finished the JMT or other hikes in the Sierra and are heading north to Reno to fly out to wherever they are from, including England and Australia. I am dropped off with one other hiker at Tioga Gas Mart at the turn off for Tioga Pass to catch the YARTS bus into Yosemite. (This is not an official ESTA stop on their website but when you make a phone reservation — which is advisable because the bus I was on was full — and tell them you are transferring to YARTS, ESTA will stop at the YARTS stop.) I feel nostalgic as I walk into the gas mart to use the restrooms. Last time I was here, I was miserable at the prospect of not being able to finish the trail.

The YARTS bus drops me off at Tuolumne Meadows just after 10 am. The Tuolumne Meadows store and campground feel like familiar ground. I go and stake out a campsite in the backpacker campground, setting up my tent and stashing my food in a bear box. Pack lightened, I hike over to the wilderness center to pick up my permit.

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They give you a wag bag for Mt. Whitney when you pick up your JMT permit. I dutifully carried it to Red’s Meadow and dropped it in the hiker box with all the others. Then I picked one up from the hiker buckets at Mt. Williamson Motel in Independence. Should have just left the first one at Tuolumne Meadows.

I make a loop around Tuolumne Meadows, covering the two miles we skipped last time to hitchhike to the post office before it closed. I visit Parsons Lodge and listen in on some ranger talks, learning about habitat restoration in the delicate alpine meadows and the importance of not going off trail. I take a taste of Soda Springs and walk towards Lembert Dome. An ominous cloud builds up over the mountains to the south, and I abort the idea of climbing Lembert Dome to go hide in my tent.

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Yay! Back on the trail!

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Lembert Dome

It thunders and hails but doesn’t rain much. When I set up my tent in the morning, mine is one of two or three tents set up in the backpackers’ campground. When I emerge in the afternoon, it is full, with excited hikers happily welcoming late comers to share campsites. In the evening, folks stroll around the backpackers’ campground, beer in hand, in a home and garden tour of the most popular backpacking tents on the market. A young European couple is in some kind of cuben fiber (oh, I’m sorry, DCF) spaceship that we all ooh and aw over.

There is a campfire talk in the evening about glaciers and the Q&A inevitably turns political. It’s a pleasant surprise and comforting that the NPS is still allowed to talk about climate change as a fact, though of course the ranger is mostly preaching to the choir. It ends with a super awkward rap with a refrain that she makes us sing along: “ice, ice, baby…. melting.”

*** ***

Looking back at my journal to write these posts, I noted between the entries for September 2 and September 3 simply:

Sunrise 6:23 AM
Sunset 7:16 PM

This was from the weather app on my phone so I would have an an idea of how long I had each day to hike. I knew I would lose cell reception after Lee Vining. Cell reception on the JMT is very limited. Tuolumne Meadows has Verizon, but at the time I was on an AT&T based carrier. When I left for the trail, friends said things like “Looking forward to reading your blog posts from the trail!” and I didn’t have the heart to tell them I wouldn’t actually be able to blog from the trail. I will randomly find great reception at a campsite near Trinity Lakes and post a couple photos to Instagram, and when I get to VVR, I will walk out onto the dam to text my emergency contact that I am on schedule. There is cell reception at the top of Kearsarge Pass which I will use to call and leave a message with Mt. Williamson Motel that I am on my way and that I want to take a zero and stay an additional night. That’s it. I didn’t carry any kind of satellite emergency communication device, but I met a lot of people who did. If I saw someone with a Garmin InReach hanging from their backpack shoulder strap, I would sometimes ask if they had the weather forecast. Not being connected is one of the best things about backpacking and going deep into the wilderness. I suspect it’s why I’m only able journal consistently out there.

JMT 2019 T minus 2: From the Rockies to the Sierra

September 2, 2019

I tried to listen to An Indigenous People’s History of the United States while driving across the Great Basin, because you can’t help but see how inhospitable it is and the presence of reservations, casinos and brothels evince a certain history… but the history is too sad and enraging. Instead, I listen to American Wolf and think fondly of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that I’ve been privileged to live in and will be going back to.
I am driving over 1000 miles from Big Sky to Lone Pine, from the Rockies to the Sierra over dry and desolate shrublands, so sparsely populated. It’s the kind of landscape that makes you worry about whether you are going to make it to the next gas station and where the marks of capitalism and globalization, bright highway signs of McDonald’s and Chevron, simply feel welcoming and comforting and familiar.

I camp at Carlin Canyon in my car, with the windows open a crack and it is comfortable and I sleep well from 10pm to 6am. I wake up, duck behind a bush for a pee, make some coffee on my backpacking stove and am on my way. I stop at the next rest stop to poop and pick up a hitchhiker holding a gas can and take her to the next gas station. 

I drive until I am tired and hungry but not hungry for any of the food I have. I pull over for a rest but it’s too hot to turn off the AC. There is no shade, just desert-y hills for hundreds of miles. 

Finally, I cross the border into California and the Owens Valley. I contemplate detouring to Lee Vining, which I remember fondly from my 2017 JMT thru-hike attempt. But is it out of the way, and I will pass through it tomorrow. As I drive south toward Bishop I can barely see the Sierra due to smoke from nearby fires. At the Vons in Bishop, I get wifi and inquire on the Ladies of the JMT Facebook group and am assured that the current fire situation will not have an impact on my hike. 

It starts raining as I leave Bishop. The rain washes the smoke from the valley air and reveals the peaks of the Eastern Sierra, looking harsh and intimidating shrouded in storm. At Lone Pine, Highway 395 is at less than 4000 feet. Mt. Whitney tops out at 14505 feet. It’s going to be a big descent at the end of the trail. And I am going to have to climb down to the Owens Valley and back up to the Sierra crest for my resupply in Independence.

A COVID-19 Reading List

 

“You have reached the Montana Unemployment Insurance department, due to unforeseen circumstances we are unable to take you call right now. Please try again later…beep beep beep”

It’s been over two weeks since the Grand Targhee Resort suddenly closed and I joined the masses of people trying to apply for unemployment due to the COVID-19 crisis to no avail. I’ve been splitboarding as much as possible, trying to do it responsibly, meeting partners at the trailhead instead of carpooling and staying 6 feet apart and keeping objectives super mellow to minimize risk of avalanche or injury; finishing some latent crafting projects; cooking; walking the dog, who is happy he has someone for post-breakfast cuddles; and scrolling my phone… I’m starting to feel the uncontrollable urge to pick fights with friends of friends in ridiculous arguments about face mask use and the coronavirus stimulus package. I think it’s time for #socialmediadistancing. So, here are a few books I’ve read and enjoyed in the past year that I think are relevant to the current situation. (Click the photo of each book for my Amazon affiliate link.)

The Fifth Risk

This 2018 book examining the transition to the Trump Administration after the 2016 election was terrifying when I read it last fall, but now it just seems prescient. The book argued that the biggest problem with the Trump Administration is not just blatant corruption and crony capitalism but how the systematic gutting of the federal administrative agencies is exposing the country to unprecedented risk. With stories of the unsung heroes in the federal bureaucracy whose unsexy and low paying (compared to the private sector) jobs keep everything we take for granted working, Lewis’ book was a Cassandra-esque plea for the importance of government and governance in the face of neo-liberal orthodoxy that “government is the problem, not the solution” and a bunch of cynics who thought it would be better to elect Trump and “burn it all down” rather than vote for Hilary and politics as usual. And here we Americans are: in the middle of a global pandemic with no coherent strategy, lacking basic healthcare supplies, while the President of the United States of America spreads unscientific misinformation and acts like a mob boss. We are now reminded that government is not just the egos of the flip-flopping, power-hungry politicians we all love the hate, but should be a provider of essential services to keep our communities safe and functional.

This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein’s book argues that neo-liberal capitalism and market globalization are fundamentally incompatible with taking any serious efforts to address the climate crisis. We need to fundamentally rethink capitalism, shed our growth for growth’s sake mindset and realign our values if we are going to save human civilization (not the planet, folks!) from the climate crisis. She challenges conventional market-based solutions like cap-and-trade, dashes our hopes for a billionaire technologist savior, criticizes big green non-profits for selling out to greenwash major polluters (including oil and gas companies), and argues that environmental issues are social justice issues. For example, what is good for climate is not NGOs in rich countries buying up the Amazon rainforests for cap-and-trade and fencing off the indigenous people from their subsistence way of life, but allowing those people to live their more sustainable lives without pressuring them to join the global economy and burn down the rain forest to farm beef for MacDonald’s hamburgers. A lot of her ideas may have sounded very extreme until a couple weeks ago, but if we are willing to shut down the global economy for COVID-19 when convinced it is a matter of life of death, what if we treated climate change like the matter of life or death which it is? And in the midst of the current economic shut down and sheltering in place, can’t you start to imagine a life not defined by consumption and an identity not defined by your job?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

A funny, entertaining read about a cynical, narcissistic woman who lives a life of extreme social distancing and doesn’t deign to conform to social norms, who discovers what it means to have friends and confront your deepest fears.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

A therapist goes to a therapist. I read this to try to find out “what is talk therapy?”, since I am interested in trying it. We might all need some therapy after this crisis. Also, funny, relatable personal stories will help restore your faith in humanity if your local mutual aid volunteers haven’t already.

Food / Logistics Planning for the John Muir Trail

If I could eat whatever I wanted while hiking, it would probably be potato chips. Fat, carbs and salt delivered in crunchy deliciousness… Unfortunately, potato chips are bulky and won’t fit efficiently in a bear can. Boo. I am going to be eating a lot of potato chips right before my hike and when I get to my resupply points.

A JMT food plan is basically a JMT logistics plan. There are limited options to resupply along the John Muir Trail. If you start from the traditional beginning of the trail at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, the first possible resupply point is Tuolumne Meadows (mile 22.8), then Red’s Meadow Resort (mile 60), then Vermillion Valley Resort (junction at mile 88 with a number of options to get there), and Muir Trail Ranch (mile 110) is the last on-trail resupply point. After that, your options are to (1) book it to Whitney Portal in 10 days or less, because all your food has to fit in a bear canister, (2) hike down to town via a lateral trail (most commonly over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley), or (3) pay for a horse packing outfit to do a food drop or recruit some friends to hike your food up to you (also most commonly at Kearsarge Pass).

To make a JMT food/logistics plan, I first made a loose itinerary of my hike to figure out how many days of food I would need and where I would resupply. I plan to hike an average of 10-12 miles a day and used the Wenk book to review trail descriptions and figure out where I might want to camp each night. I am starting from Tuolumne Meadows, and estimate it will take me 7 days to reach Vermillion Valley Resort from there and then another 8 days to reach Onion Valley and 5 more days to exit at Whitney Portal.  The private businesses that serve as resupply points along the trail each charge different fees and have specific instructions for sending resupply packages. So, I made some tough decisions, like “Do I want to spend $40 for the privilege of sending a package with only 2-3 days food in it to Red’s Meadow?” (No, I’ll suck it up and carry a bit more food and if I am short I can eat more burgers at Red’s and supplement from the General Store.) and “Do I really want to spend $265 for the Full Resupply Package at Mt. Williamson Motel?” (Yes, I may need some pampering by then…).

Here is what my resupply plan looks like:

LocationNo. of days foodBreakfastLunch/SnacksDinnerNotes
Tuolumne Meadows (Start)6+1 breakfast666
First day brekkie in civilization, Nero at VVR — possible to get food from Red’s if short
VVR8787
First day brekkie at VVR, last day dinner in Independence
Onion Valley5454
First day brekkie at Mt. Williamson Motel, last day will be back in Lone Pine!
TOTAL171917
Resupply packages I sent myself in 2017. Only sending two packages this year.

As for what I am eating, I am not being too fussed about being healthy or calorie counting. The JMT is only going to take me 3 weeks so I can’t really malnourish myself. Based on rough calorie estimates from the backs of food packages, I’m trying to bring about 2500 calories per day. Since how much food you can bring on the trail is limited by the size of your bear can, you want to bring calorie dense food. Fats are the best. The other thing I am trying to do is fatten myself up before the trail. When backpacking, generally I like to have hot dinner and breakfast (since I need to boil water to make coffee anyway) and then I just snack throughout the day without eating a real lunch. Here’s a list of what I will be eating on the trail:

Breakfast
Coffee (Starbucks Via)
Coconut Oil Packets (Trader Joe’s)
Nido (whole milk powder)
Granola
Instant Oatmeal
Freeze dried fruit

Lunch/Snacks
Tuna Packets (in oil for more calories)
Peanut Butter packets
Nutella Packets
Hummus
Cheese
Summer Sausage / Pepperoni
Tortillas
Prunes
Dried Apricots
Crasins
Nuts
M&M’s
Fruit Leathers
Meat bars (Epic)
Cliff Bars
Candy Bars

Dinners
Olive Oil Packets
Idahoan Mashed Potatoes
Tuna Packets
Chicken Packets
Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry dinners
Non-caffeinated tea
Hot Cocoa

If you’d like to learn more about food planning for the JMT, here are a couple great resources:

I also have a great JMT trip planning Google sheet I inherited from a friend, who inherited it from another friend, that I am happy to pay forward if you PM me.

JMT 2019 Gear List

Gear Philosophy

It seems like long-distance hikers, thru-hikers, ultralight hikers and outdoorsy people in general like to talk about gear too much. I think this is because (1) it’s easier to shop for gear online than to actually go outside and train in preparation for an objective and (2) reviewing gear and talking about gear and wearing and raving about sponsor’s gear is how all the “influencers” make money.

I feel very ambivalent about people bandying around numbers about how big the outdoor industry is and how it should have more political clout. As much as I appreciate what Patagonia does in sponsoring creative endeavors like The Dirtbag Diaries and fighting for Bears Ears, I don’t think that we can spend our way out of the environmental crises, no matter how environmentally friendly your camp shoes are. What we need to do is what they used to teach in elementary school back in the 80’s, before environmental issues were so politicized — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. (Patagonia realizes this too.)

The outdoor community in the United States is very white and very privileged. People often talk about camping and backpacking as if it is free! Outdoor gear is very expensive and obsession with the latest and lightest gear can make costs appear even more daunting and insurmountable for #unlikelyhikers just trying to get into the outdoors. Having the right gear is important. For example, having a sleeping bag that is warm enough and light enough and not too bulky will definitely be key to an enjoyable backpacking experience. But, shaving off a few grams from your pack weight by buying a $20 titanium spork?… Probably not necessary. (Full disclosure: I had said titanium spork and am still sad I lost it. Still hoping it will turn up.)

When I started putting together my backpacking gear in 2016, I did buy nice, fancy, lightweight “Big Three” — pack, shelter and sleeping bag — after intensively researching the interwebs. And, I have been really happy with those choices. However, the rest of my kit was developed over time by cobbling together stuff I already had (my tiny Thermos was initially purchased to be a purse Thermos for commuting to work) or by trying the cheapest option (I still use a BRS stove) and gradually buying more expensive pieces as I figured out what would actually enhance my quality of life on the trail, e.g. moving from a Chinese knock-off Thermarest Z-lite sleeping pad to a real insulated inflatable pad. If you are interested in putting together a beginner backpacking kit on the cheap, PMags’ blog is a great resource, as he says “[t]he best way to learn about backpacking is not discussing gear online or going to gear sales but is actually to get out there.”

Without further ado, here is my JMT gear list.

JMT Gear List

Big Three

  • Pack
    • ULA Circuit  — My pack was once purple, but now it is faded to blue after a summer being used as my guide pack on the Matanuska Glacier. Many ice tools and ropes have been carried on the thing.  Also good as a carry-on on planes. Super simple design but very functional, the only thing I have not been able to figure out how to do with this bag is rack a splitboard onto it. IMG_6043
  • Shelter
    • Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo — No tent poles so ultra squishable and packable. Uses one trekking pole. Large floor for spreading out gear. Not free standing, but I’ve never had an issue setting it up with rocks, and it sheds wind super well, better than a dome shaped tent.campsite
    • Tent accessories: Tyvek ground sheet (purchased from SMD along with the tent), 8 stakes (assorted — bought the SMD tent stake set initially, but have lost some and cobbled together others over the years) and two short pieces of tent cord (2 meter and 3 meter) for guylines.
  • Sleeping System
    • Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 Degree Down Quilt — This is literally the best thing I have ever purchased. It warms up super quick when it is cold, and unzips flat like a blanket when it is warm. The nylon shell is remarkably soft and comfortable. As an itinerant person, I sleep in this year round. I cannot go back to a sleeping bag. If forced to use a sleeping bag, I unzip it all the way down and use it like a quilt. In 2017, I was worried 20 degrees wouldn’t be warm enough and bought a sleeping bag liner and hated it. It twisted up around me negating all the wonderful things about a quilt. I’d rather just pack thicker long johns and my down parka to sleep in. Some people say quilts are drafty, but I think there is a lot of user error. The neck drawstring is key and you must wear a hat.
    • REI Co-op Flash Pad Regular — R Value of 3.7 at 15 oz and less than $100 when REI is having a sale. It’s been good so far. I purchased this after the JMT in 2017 after discovering that I cease to be able to sleep on a Thermarest Z-lite closed cell foam pad if temperatures drop below freezing, also sleeping on a Z-lite was messing up my hip flexors because they weren’t able to recover in the night. I will let you know about durability after this thru-hike attempt.
    • Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow Regular — Fabric-y surface hides the fact that it’s just an inflatable pillow. When I started backpacking, I used extra clothes rolled up in a fleece jacket for a pillow. I purchased a pillow before the JMT in 2017 with the thought process, “If I have to wear all my clothes to sleep to stay warm, I won’t have a pillow.”
    • Gossamer Gear 1/8 inch Thinlight Foam pad – NEW! Trying this as a sit pad / yoga mat / extra sleeping pad protection/insulation / emergency sleeping pad in case inflatable pad springs a leak — I’m paranoid about leaks because last time I hiked the JMT, I was still super hard core and using an indestructible Thermarest Z-lite closed cell foam sleeping pad but it wasn’t warm enough once temps dropped below freezing.

JMT campsite 2017

What I looked like camping on the JMT in 2017. My quilt is draped over my tent to dry out a bit over breakfast before we pack up.

Clothing

  • Hiking Clothes (Worn)
    • Smartwool 150 T-shirt – NEW! Was going to slum it and wear any old synthetic T-shirt but splurged on a merino wool tee for its anti-stink quality. I have 7-day and 8-day stretches planned for this trek, which will be the longest I have ever been without a shower.
    • Montbell Chameese lightweight fleece jacket
    • Target sports bra and synthetic underwear
    • Northface Aphrodite Pants – Lightweight, quick drying, legs roll-up easily for stream crossings. I think it’ll be cool enough in September to prefer hiking in pants, and pants provide protection from brush and bugs.
    • Baseball cap
    • Sunglasses – random gas station, but polarized
    • Darn Tough Micro Crew socks – I used to have two pairs of Smartwool hiking socks, and two pairs of Smartwool ski socks, but the hiking socks wore out and I replaced them with two pairs of these Darn Tough hiking socks, which are just starting to show wear after 2 years of much more use than the Smartwool socks ever got. I still prefer Smartwool ski socks though.
    • Shoes – I currently own and hike in New Balance Leadville trail runners and Merrill Moab Mid GTX hiking boots. Not sure which I will want to wear and both are getting kind worn, but I think it is risky to break in new shoes now. Leaning toward the hiking boots for a bit more water resistance. I have just purchased new Superfeet insoles to put in which ever pair I choose.
  • Rain Gear
    • Outdoor Research Women’s Aspire Jacket – I have a pretty uncanny ability to make it not rain on multi-day backcountry trips, so I do not have strong opinions on rain jackets. (Tina vs. Whittier — the wettest city in Alaska and the United States, according to Wikipedia — 1 day of rain out of 9 on three separate three-day kayaking trips. Dry rain does not count.) The lining of my old Northface rain jacket started delaminating and ripping so I bought this one because it was very well-reviewed. Will let you know what I think after the JMT.
    • Montbell Versalite Rain Pants – Will shred upon contact with pretty much anything. (Patched with a lot of Tenacious Tape from the one time I tried to wear them on the glacier.) However, super light and useful as extra warm layer, mosquito barrier, pants to wear while doing laundry.
  • Sleeping Clothes
    • Uniqlo Heattech extra warm long johns
    • Uniqlo Heattech extra warm long sleeve undershirt
    • Extra underwear and socks (one to wash, one to wear)
  • Warm stuff
    • Uniqlo Ultra Light Down parka – Inga Askamit, author of Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail is a fan too. But last winter they started only selling a seamless parka and my friend’s mom who works at Uniqlo warned me that the baffles in the seamless jackets will separate after a while because they are not sewn so that jacket is much less durable.
    • Merino wool Buff – functions as warm hat, balaclava, ear muffs and sleeping eye mask as needed.
    • Hestra Touch Point Warmth Glove Liners —  Merino wool synthetic blend. Expensive, but I got with a Big Sky gift card and they managed a whole season of ripping apart and applying skins to splitboard before developing any holes, which I will darn before the trail.

Water System

  • Sawyer Squeeze filter
  • One 2L Sawyer Squeeze Bag for collecting dirty water
  • 1L Nalgene Bottle – for drinking out of, and can function as a hot water bottle for cold nights, I don’t anticipate carrying more than 1 liter of water at a time for most of the trail.
  • 2L Evernew water bag – for carrying extra water and as back-up Sawyer Squeeze bag
  • O-ring that came with the filter for backwashing
  • Contemplating bringing Aquamira for back-up, as I expect to camp in below freezing temps at some point and am a little worried my filter will freeze like last time. Of course, I know now to not filter water first thing in the morning when it’s really cold. Filter before the sun drops below the horizon and everything freezes, then put it in your puffy jacket pocket and sleep with it.

Food storage

  • Bear Vault 500 Bear Canister – A bear canister is required on the JMT. It is heavy and makes my pack bulge a uncomfortably. It takes up most of my pack, so as I eat my food, I will gradually stuff more and more items in there during the day. In the Sierra, bears are very habituated to people and bear cans. In 2017 when we picked up our JMT permit, we were advised by the ranger in Yosemite National Park to place our bear cans close to our tents (12-15 feet away?), within sight and to make noise and scare the bear off if one approached… Very different from bear can protocol in Alaska or Montana where there a grizzly bears. Bears are super smart and adaptable, so when in doubt, ask the local rangers what it the best policy. Bear cans are not odor proof. The purpose of bear cans is to keep bears from being able to get to your food (bulky round shapes keep bears from being able to crush them with their jaws) and in the long run train them to leave campers alone. If a bear asks to borrow a nickle or a credit card, don’t give it to him!

Camp Kitchen

  • BRS Ultralight 25g Backpacking Stove – Cheap, made-in-China stove that may be less efficient than a fancy Jetboil, but is much more packable.
  • 700ml Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot – I started out with a larger aluminum pot, but figured out that I am pretty happy boiling about 600ml of water for dinner and a hot beverage (coffee in the morning and tea in the evening), so I upgraded to this little titanium pot which fits a small 4 oz fuel canister.
  • Bic mini lighter
  • GSI Outdoors Long Essential Spoon, Large – NEW! Trying this out because silicon spatula sides sound good for cleaning out pot without awful scraping noise. Long spoons are popular for getting food out of the bottom of Mountain House meal bags. It looks kinda ridiculous next to my tiny pot though.
  • Small ~330ml Thermos – Almost lost this hitching out of Lee Vining in 2017, but had the foresight to exchange contact info with the nice English mother-daughter pair that picked us up and got it back! Was sad hiking 4 days without the Thermos, so definitely bringing it!

Shit Kit

  • Montbell potty trowel — It is wayyy easier to dig a proper cathole with a potty trowel than with the heel of your shoe or a tent stake, or whatever ultralight folks claim…. Doubles as extra camp spoon! I kid.
  • Toilet Paper
  • Wipes

Toiletries

  • Sunblock
  • Chapstick with SPF
  • Toothbrush and travel size toothpaste
  • Mini Vaseline – anticipating really dry hands. 😦

Paper Goods

Electronics

  • iPhone SE + charging cable + headphones – Camera and GPS.
  • NEW! Small GorrillaPod smart phone tripod and shutter remote – I’ll be hiking alone this time, who will take beautiful photos of me? Me! Let’s see how much I use it.
  • External battery + charging cable
  • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp – I actually hate the fancy multi-touch control of this headlamp and would rather one that just cycles through all the functions the old fashioned way, but I guess by the end of the JMT I’m going to be a pro at using this.
  • Extra AAA batteries for headlamp

First Aid Kit

  • Exact contents TBD. I will be carrying stuff for blisters (leukotape), wound care (bandaids, gauze and iodine wipes), pain meds (ibuprofen and acetaminophen), and anti-itch stuff (benedryl as well as some topical-steroid anti-itch cream).

Repair Kit

  • Dental floss with sewing needle taped to box
  • Duct tape wrapped around Sharpie
  • Small amount of fabric repair tape (Gear Aid Tenacious Tape)
  • Safety pins – mainly for hanging laundry on pack, also good for first aid.

Misc. Backpacking Gear

  • Mosquito headnet – I’ve made it through a summer in Alaska and a summer in Montana without ever using bug spray, just long sleeves and pants and a headnet. (Not possible in muggy, hot places like Japan or Taiwan.)
  • Earplugs – For windy and rainy nights and if people are partying at VVR.
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Compass
  • Camp towel – small microfiber towel I got from a Tell charity run
  • Sea to Summit ultrasil pack liner – I only bought this because there are no trash compactor bags in Japan.
  • Small dry bag for sleeping bag and down puffy
  • Crocs – Best camp shoes if you will be wearing socks.
  • Montbell Versalite Pack 15 – for side trails, summits, carrying stuff around camp. Like Montbell Versalite rain pants, not the most durable but super light and packable.
  • Black Diamond Alpine FLZ trekking poles – These poles collapse small enough to fit in my ski backpack in the winter when splitboarding and extend long enough to hold up my tent in the summer. Love them.
  • Wallet – small plastic mesh zip pocket from Daiso.
  • A few extra Ziplock freezer bags – A gallon Ziplock bag makes a great in-tent pee bottle for women, just make sure to double bag in case there is a leak. Set outside your tent door after using and empty at your leisure in the morning.