In August 2017, Luke and I set out on our biggest adventure yet. The John Muir trail, a 211 mile thru hike in the Sierra Nevada mountain range from Mt. Whitney to Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park. This is a document of our life on the trail, the good times and the not so good times. Huge thank you to my boyfriend for joining me on any adventure I may impulsively book! Apologies if my writing is all over the place, this is my first blog post and they will hopefully improve with practice!
18th August: After an incredible breakfast at Mt. Williamson motel, we were ready to go; carrying our home, gear and food for the next 10 days on our back. Wishing we had trained for quite certainly our biggest venture yet, we bid farewell to the desert floor and felt the air so beautifully cool as we drove up into the mountains. We reached Onion Valley at 10am and after a rocky start to the JMT 3 days prior, we decided to set up camp and acclimatize before heading higher into the mountains in the morning (altitude sickness, would not recommend).
19th August: Kersarge pass. Our rival. Our Everest. Realizing that both of us had seriously underestimated the difficulty of this hike. We plodded our way up each switchback, regularly being overtaken by faster and fitter hikers. With jelly legs, we made it over the pass and finally onto the JMT. In absolute awe of our surroundings and disbelief of where we were, we took a quick water break before our final hurdle of the day, Glenn pass. We climbed (plodded up) the switchbacks in absolute silence (does heavy breathing count?) exchanging a few reassuring looks to each other. Suddenly the skies began to turn grey, a few crashes of thunder and flashes of lightening later we decided that the top of a mountain pass (11,970 ft) was maybe not the ideal place to be during a thunder storm. We powered over the pass and down into the next valley where Rae Lakes and our camp spot for the night were waiting. We set up camp feeling very sorry for ourselves and slowly shared a 1 person dehydrated meal before crawling into bed. (Where is our hikers appetite?)
20th August: In the morning we realized we had set up camp around the corner from our first river crossing, after forcing down a pro bar for breakfast we waded through the freezing water. Then, with our feet freshened up and cooled down we hit the trail to Muir Creek. Feeling confident with our first river crossing we attempted our second crossing with our boots still very much on our feet. The goal was to walk over rocks, keeping our feet bone dry and crossing the water quickly and effortlessly. Luke bravely volunteered to go first, five seconds later we came to the realization that this was in fact, a bad idea. Knee deep in the fast-flowing water, he looked back at me smiling. Being a team player, we both crossed the river, boots on feet, feet underwater. Looking forward to having soggy boots/socks for the next week, we continued our journey. The trail was mostly flat and downhill all the way to a bridge where we stopped for lunch before pushing on for another few hours.
21st August: Another mountain pass today so it was an early start, fuelled by coffee and a pro bar we hit the trail early and began the ascent of Pinchot pass. As we got higher the views became more spectacular and unreal, snow fields appeared over the pass covering the trail, we had timed it perfectly as the ice had melted but the snow was not yet slushy and dangerous. Feeling excited by conquering our first difficult pass, we were met by equally difficult river crossings. Both feeling positive and stronger than the day before, we crossed the rivers (after some serious boot on/boot off conversation) and found a camp 3 miles South of yet another snow-covered obstacle many people had warned us about, Mather Pass. We ‘enjoyed’ a questionable, dehydrated chilli for dinner and the most perfect hot chocolate before bed.
22nd August: Mather pass day. We had been warned of the giant snow fields covering the far side of Mather pass and to be careful on decent. We were filled with excitement and a small niggling fear in our minds that would not subside. When we reached the top of the pass the view was incredible! Within metres, an entire new valley became visible and we took in the views and shared a quick snack with some other hikers. Palisade lakes was our hopeful camping spot for the night, as the lakes grew closer, so did the icy snow fields. Unpassable, we had to boulder our way around the snow, a difficult task with heavy packs. However, this was by far the most exciting and enjoyable pass yet! Snow fields conquered, we followed the switchbacks to the lakes and set up camp in mosquito-ville. As this is now day 5 on the trail, our natural aromas were becoming quite the drug to the mosquitos (we smelled pretty bad), time to wash socks/ourselves! The evening was spent by the lake, with a good book, attractive mosquito head nets and a warm beef coconut curry (Being a vegan on the JMT is not happening).
23rd August: This morning while I was packing up the tent, Luke was boiling some water for hot chocolate and shouted at me to look over the lake on a snow field. A wolf like/coyote was prancing and jumping over some rocks at speed and as fast as we saw him, he disappeared. Other than the frequent marmotte and ground squirrel, this was our most exciting wildlife encounter. This was until an hour later, we both came to a stop as we heard what I can only describe as a bear cub calling for its mother. Feeling intrigued but not wanting to confront mumma bear we sped up the pace and were left wondering. After the excitement, we had to combat the golden staircase, the number of steps was made bearable by the waterfall that crashed down alongside the trail. We arrived in Big Pete meadows just as the heavens were opening, luckily we had learnt the quickest way to put up the tent and protect our gear from the elements. When the rain stopped we took the opportunity to cook dinner, to our surprise we were met by a curious deer wandering by our tent, after watching her for a while we retreated to our semi-dry tent and listened to the gentle patter of rain on the tent (6:30pm is a reasonable bed time, right?).
Not to our surpsise, Peggy was damp this morning as it had rained intermittently throughout the night (Luke named our little tent Peggy as she was not free standing and none of the terrain on the JMT was able to take pegs, we should have done more research yes). However today was a big day as our camp destination for the evening was Saphire lake, via Muir Pass. Pro bar and morning hot chocolate consumed we hit the trail to what would be the most spectacularly challenging and beautiful pass of the trail. As the switchbacks grew longer we gained elevation much slower than on previous passes, nonetheless, the scattering of snow fields to cross made the slog worthwhile. One of the snow fields we were on came to a slushy halt when we were faced with a very suspect looking snow bridge with crystal blue water flowing underneath, we decided solid land would be the best way around this particular obstacle. Muir Pass became more dramatic with every few hundred metres, we stopped to have a not so delicious but somewhat nutritious cliff bar with peanut butter before powering on to the emergency shelter at the top of the pass. It was here we met our German friend who we would go on to have brief encounters with for the next week. We made our way down to a patch of grass by the lake and immediately boiled some water, we had saved cheesy nachos for tonight’s dinner. Tiring of mosquitos biting every exposed piece of skin we had, we zipped up the tent and admired our lake view.
This morning we woke up with a very wet tent and sun had not yet risen. Our start was later than normal as we didn’t want to leave with a wet tent, the sun slowly rose and worked its magic. The day consisted of downhill stretches and pretty views to Mclure meadows where we stopped for our new favourite snack, trail mix. Following this we faced many ‘rock crossable’ rivers which filled our confidence. However the final river crossing of the day gave us a good excuse to have a quick wash as the bottom halves of our body were submerged. Feeling fresh, we ran into a ranger of 45 years who was heading to the ranger station to spend the next 4 months tracking animals (absolute dream job, would never quit). When we felt that we had covered enough miles we set up camp and luckily the rain held off until our tent was pitched. Half way through cooking dinner however, there was a sudden downpour which left us frantically throwing all of our gear into the tent, including our boiling water (we decided to ‘eat in’ this night). With a tent smelling of beef curry, we went to bed hoping that the smell wouldn’t lure any animals in the night!
Today we were heading just south of Seldon pass via Muir Trail Ranch! We packed up camp, leaving a Peggy shaped dry spot on the ground, we had both ran out of meals so were hoping to restock, shower and contact home at MTR. We had heard tales of clean toilets, showers, wifi and buckets of free food! Unfortunately, none of the above were true, apart from the plentiful supply of food! We were spoilt for choice with home made and pre-packaged food, jerky, dehydrated coleslaw and wraps! When you have not had real food for 10 days, any kind of different food is an absolute blessing! We left MTR, still dirty, needing the toilet but with bags packed to the brim with free food! After MTR the trail was a steep uphill climb for the next few hours, our backs were so sore and we decided on setting up camp at 2pm! Best decision we had made since over filling our packs with food, we chilled by our camp watching deer and prepared to eat dinner like Kings! Chilli mac with beef, a cuppa soup each and peach and cream pie for desert! It was not until this desert had been consumed that we realised that the best before date was 6 years ago (I suppose we can’t complain, it was free!).
Today we tackled Seldon pass, the passes in the north were significantly easier than the south, we were able to talk to each other without losing our breath. Reaching the top much quicker than anticipated, we had lunch overlooking the picturesque Marie lakes. It was here we met a couple from a town 20 minutes away from my own back in England! We met some more hikers further down the trail who had just left a magical place caller Vermillion Valley Resort. As Luke and I were heading there for our resupply we were intrigued and excited by their stories of amazing beer and burgers. The woman was listening to Eminem via a tiny speaker attached to her bag which made me think of my other travelling buddy Chloe who was too, in America! We found a great spot to camp by a calm flowing river where we had a well overdue wash and Luke read his book. Dinner this night I will never forget. Cuppa soup, garlic and herb mash potato and mac and cheese!!! It’s amazing how much you enjoy food that you wouldn’t necessarily bat an eyelid for at home, we went to bed happy and with full tums!
A glorious day. Vermillion Valley Resort day. 7.40am, we were all packed up and already on the trail towards VVR. Despite an incredible nights sleep, I really struggled with leg and back pain for miles. However, the idea of a hot shower and real, cooked food was more than enough to keep me going! Luke’s constant reminder that each and every step was one closer to a burger and a beer too helped (the wild does crazy things to a wannabe vegan!) When we were off the trail we realised that there was still a long way to go to reach the resort. Luckily the kindest man drove past with a truck full to the brim of stuff, he gave us directions but could not fit us in to give us a lift! A while later we heard a truck coming up behind us, Mr truck-full-of-stuff had returned offering us a squished lift to VVR as someone did the same for him 20 years ago. We arrived just in time for lunch which was incredible! Both feeling very smelly and in dire need of a bed we asked if there were any rooms left, all that was left was a family room £115 a night, £230 later we had booked in for the next 2 nights and spent the next hour having our first shower in over 10 days and washing our clothes in an actual washing machine. It was then time to grab a few beers, catch the sunset over lake Thomas Edison and enjoy being so very clean!
At long last, our first zero day on the trail, we slept in late and made scrambled eggs, we then had to sort out our food resupply! We had posted a bucked of food here so it was waiting ready for us, to our delight, we had packed more pop-tarts and oreos than we thought, best day ever. After another beer and burger based lunch we had decided that we had probably spent enough money here. After much discussion, we rented hydrobikes for another 20 dollars and I can quite honestly say it was the best 20 dollars ever spent. After a few hours out peddling on the lake we came back and spent the evening cooking and watching chipmunks (we love chipmunks). I was also able to finally connected to the internet and contact mum and everyone at home which was lovely! Although we both loved our mini holiday at VVR, we were eager to get back onto the trail and out of ‘semi civilization’.
The last breakfast, Luke had pancakes and eggs and I had the breakfast burrito, we waved goodbye to VVR as we took the hiker boat back over to the trail head, $530 poorer, but bellies and bodies happy and relaxed. We regret nothing. On the boat we were really lucky and saw an osprey nest with the two parents flying overhead! It felt great to be back on the trail, our bear cannisters were again, full of food and heavy. This made the river crossings all the more fun, especially one particular slippery log crossing over fast flowing water. When we made it to Silver Pass lake we set up camp ready for the thunderstorms that were forecast. Luke found the perfect spot for Peggy and we waited for the storm to pass, in the evening we tuned in to what I can only describe as a live David Attenborough documentary. We sat by our tent watching the cheeky marmots and ground squirrels for hours, it’s a good job we are both easily amused. Tonight we had the mountain to ourselves, as if we hadn’t been doing enough walking, we went for a walk around the lake before bed.
We wanted to treat ourselves this morning so we are the alarm for a cushty 7am instead of 6am. We made our way up and over silver pass to be met by one of the most beautiful views of the trail so far. As we were still well stocked in the food department, lunch today was; beef jerkey, doughnuts, trail mix, dried pineapples, cranberries and pop tarts. We met a group of 12 hikers who were fresh faced and energetic, they had been on the trail for 6 miles. Thinking this was us 12 days ago we watched with envy at their enthusiasm when they went on their way. We lit a small fire and kept warm while I read and Luke prepared dinner.
Today’s destination was Reds Meadows, this was bizarre as it means we were 2/3 of the way through the JMT. Although this was sad, the thought of another hot shower consumed our thoughts. We hiked 14 miles today which took in a burn area from a wildfire in 1992. Once we made it through the burn we reached Reds where a bucked of our food was waiting for us! We walked another few hundred yards to the free campsite (gone were the days of paying for extravagant rooms we couldn’t afford). When we returned to buy our 5 minute shower token we were informed of a recent cabin cancellation, but at $220 for the night we decided Peggy would be great accommodation. On inspection of our campground, we noticed that the previous campers had left the ingredients for smores in our bear box! We lit a fire (Luke seemed to think this was an easier task after consuming a few beers) and ate out bodyweight in smores.
As we still had a few days left on our permits we decided not to return to the trail today. We took a zero day and got a bus to Mammoth where we arranged a rental car to collect once we had finished the trail. We found a cheap pizza place and ate lunch before finding a coffee shop (offering Wifi). We had been away from civilization for so long it felt strange to log on to social media and talk with friends and family from home. After our internet binge, we caught the last bus back down to Red’s Meadows where we had another 5 minute shower and a delicious and nutritious dinner of mac and cheese before bed.
Reds meadow to North of Shadow Lake. We met so many great people today, a couple who had just hiked from the direction we were heading told us to make sure we ‘turn left at the log’ to find the best campsite when we reach Yosemite. This was hilarious as there were logs in every direction as far as the eye could see. We pushed on and got a few more miles under our belt when suddenly the heavens opened and blessed us with a hail storm. It was so early in the day but the rain and thunder seemed to worsen, as we were hiking uphill we decided to set up camp early and do extra miles the following day. Again, due to weather conditions, we ate in tonight.
As we had done fewer miles the previous day, today was to be a long day. We left camp early and arrived at thousand island lake which was spectacular! It was a great place to stop for lunch while we mentally prepared for the rest of the day, Island pass was our next hurdle. To our delight we looked up our location on Luke’s phone and had already conquered Island pass without realizing it! We then had to face Donahugh pass, or our entry point to Yosemite National Park. After a lot of support from Luke we made it to the top of the pass where we met some great people and had a rest. Today was tough so we made our way down off the pass and set up camp by the closest lake, I couldn’t believe we were in Yosemite National Park, a definite tick off the bucket list.
Today we aimed to camp at Toulumne Meadows, it was beautifully down hill all the way through the meadows and we shared the trail with lots of wildlife we had not yet seen. A coyote appeared in front of us on the trail, it was so exciting to see but did not hang around for a photo! A little further down the trail Luke pointed out a snake by his foot; a small snake, but still, a snake! We continued on to Toulumne, worried that we would get to the permit office to book our Half Dome permits and be declined, as it was so popular. This was however, not the case, our JMT permits included Half Dome! After our issue had been ‘resolved’ we found the campsite we asked where the shower was, we could catch a bus in the morning to the next town for a shower. Fabulous. We decided it was okay to be smelly for one more day and grabbed a burger before getting an early night (yes, we are eating a lot of burgers, we do whenever we get the opportunity).
Our third and final zero day on the JMT, we stayed in bed until 8am which was so nice! We went down to the river today with our smelliest clothes and Luke was the best boyfriend a girl could ask for. He helped me wash my hair in the icy cold river and got soaked in the process. We had made a few trail friends along the way who we managed to meet up with in Tuolomne and grab a burger with, when we got back to camp we light a fire and dried our damp clothes and toasted some more marshmallows. Zero days are so great!
We hiked to sunrise camp today as this had been recommended by a fellow hiker. The day seemed to go on for ever, however we eventually saw a sign in the distance ‘Sunrise Camp’ ahead. It seemed we were the first people to set up camp there but before long we were joined by JMT south bound hikers on day 2 of their journey. It was mind blowing to think that we were in their position all those miles ago heading in the opposite direction. Later that evening we met 2 really great guys who were doing a 3 day guided hike. Their guide carried all cooking equipment/food and wait for it, cooked every meal for them! We sat watching with curiosity and envy at the fresh vegetables being sliced on the chopping board and the collection of elaborate herbs and spices ever so neatly placed. Meanwhile, Luke and I went to collect some water to boil with our JetBoil to share some yummy dehydrated mountain chilli, sense the sarcasm. Luke returned, with very questionable brown water, on inspection I noticed a few small critters swimming about and we retreated to our JMT book with information on water filtration and potential diseases carried in the water. We decided as we only had a couple of days left on the JMT we could risk drinking it as any symptoms would not kick in until we were back in civilization. In hinds sight this was a terrible idea and I would not recommend to anyone. However, we boiled, filtered and purified the water and we are both still alive to tell this tale. Our neighbours had finished their wonderfully prepared dinner and cracked open a carton of red wine, they offered us some and I don’t think to this day they understand the joy they gave us with just those few sips. They were telling us how they planned on hiking up Half Dome in 2 days before sunrise to beat the crowds and we wondered why we had not considered this as an option! We went to bed, slightly tipsy from the first taste of real alcohol in a while!
Our penultimate day on the JMT. I was beginning to feel sad as I was not yet ready for this experience to come to an end. Although this was the case, the idea of a Half Dome sunrise was extremely exciting and made our journey coming to an end much easier. We made great progress today and found the perfect camp spot a mile or two away from the trail head to Half Dome. We had heard that the trail head was overrun by tents and to camp further away for some solitude. Peggy pitched, we filtered some water and went for a ‘wash’ in the river close by. Luke found what he described to be a foot spa and we sat in the river washing away a weeks worth of dirt which felt amazing, on our way back to the tent we passed a hiker who had left from Yoesmite Valley earlier that morning. He had done Half Dome and told us how terrifying the cables were for someone with a fear of heights! It felt so surreal to talk to someone about climbing something I had wanted to do for so long and would do the following day. We got our clothes, torches and water ready for the morning and decided on having an early night, alarm set for 4.40am. (In the picture below you can just about make out Half Dome through the trees, this is where we were camped in preperation for our 4.45am hike to Half Dome.)
I had slept like a child on Christmas eve, the alarm sounds, in the pitch black we scrambled around trying to quietly get dressed and leave our tent (not easy with 2 zips to be opened and closed) as there were other people camped nearby. From our tent you could see the shaddow of Half Dome in the distance, I also noticed somewhere over the valley from us, 2 lights (torches) moving around, someone else had the same idea as us. With our head torches on, we headed out into the darkness. As we got closer Half Dome dominated the skyline and we were making good progress, at the trail head there was no sign of anyone, I was quietly hoping that we would be the only ones brave (or crazy) enough to do this without daylight. We made it the the cables after many steep steps, so very excited and still in absolute disbelief of where we were. The cables were ridiculous, dangerous is the only real word I could use to describe them. We used some gloves from the pile of random gloves left at the bottom and we were on our way up. It only took about 15 minutes to reach the top of the cable and we were on top way before sunrise! There were 4 girls and a man with a large camera on top, other than that, the mountain was ours. Just before the sun came over the mountains, our friends from 2 nights ago appeared at the top of the cables with their guide, we were so glad they made it up in time. The sun rose over the valley and our time on the JMT had come to an end (almost). This was a bittersweet feeling as we were sad to have finnished but so proud of ourselves, and oh so ready for real food. We started our way down the valley into Yosemite’s most busy area, Happy Isles. As we got closer to the valley floor the more people there were, the smells of perfume/soap/aftershave hit me like a truck and it made me wonder what unique smells they were picking up from us (a mixture of sweat, mud and more sweat I’m sure). We had to queue to hike down the trail into the valley, with so many noises and people with cameras and phones out we were so desperate to turn around and disappear back into the wilderness. We eventually made it down and finished our JMT, over 200 miles through the Sierra Nevada mountains, I can speak for us both by saying it was simultaneously the best and worst feeling we had experienced when we caught the valley bus to our free campsite. We met a great couple who we had camped next to on the night before we started the JMT, we bumped into them twice on the trail but never for very long and it turned out they were camped in the same campsite as us, beginning and finishing at the same time. Reunion done, we went for a shower (unlimited time, free soap, amazing) and I spent the next hour stood under the hot powerful jet that I took so much for granted before the trail. We then went for a pizza and a beer and processed what we had just completed.
The John Muir Trail was absolutely the best thing I have ever done in my life and has fuelled my passion for the outdoors and protecting what precious natural spaces we have left. If anyone is considering hiking the JMT, I would not only encourage it, I would encourage you to take me with you so I can do it all over again (maybe with a slightly lighter pack next time)!
I’m impressed if you have stuck with me and have made it to the end of this very long post. Congratulations, you made it! I apologize for the length, I wanted this to be a document for Luke and I to read back on in years to come. Thank for persevering and I hope you found some value in this, until next time!