It’s taken me a while to write this, because I’ve been in a funk since we decided to postpone doing the John Muir Trail this year. If you are just tuning in, this March I was awarded permits to do the John Muir Trail, a “premier hiking trail in the United States” says http://johnmuirtrail.org/.
What is the John Muir Trail? It’s a long-distance trail, a long-distance of 212 miles in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. This trail is usually one of the first thru-hikes that most do to gain the common knowledge hiking community “I am a thru-hiker” term. California holds a place in my heart, not because of Los Angeles, but because I can get to the Sierra Nevada mountains within a little more than a couple hours and hike in to majestic alpine lakes and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There’s only one place where you can hike and surf all in the same day.
If you haven’t heard of the trail, it begins in Happy Isles – located in Yosemite National Park. This is the lowest part of the journey sitting at 4,000 feet. The trail runs all the way to it’s highest point Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet); Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain of the contiguous United States. If you’d like to know more about how to climb Mt. Whitney check out my post here: Mt. Whitney – Inyo National Forest.
After leaving Happy Isles, the trail doesn’t go much under 8,000 feet, 35% of the trail is above 10,000 feet and the elevation gain total is over 46,000 feet total. If you’d like to read more about the trail check out the John Muir Trail Page by Steve and Claire Schauer and the Pacific Crest Trail Associations John Muir Trail Page.
February 15, 2018 I put in a Yosemite Wilderness Lottery Application to do the John Muir Trail. A day later I received a confirmation email that they received my permit. A day later I received my first denial email that I was not awarded a permit. A day later another denial. But on February 19 I received a different kind of email that didn’t say “Denied”, it said “Wilderness Permit Confirmation”. I had to open the email to make sure it was true and it was. I was put into the lottery and they picked my permit; I was in Jackson Hole on a ski trip and realized what this meant and started yelling because I was so excited. I ran out of the room and told my sisters that I had been awarded the permit.
After the trip, it was time to start planning; we bought a few new gear items and bought all our food over time. We used amazon for almost everything and of course hit up REI and Big 5 for some other items. In April, I received some of my first items in the mail from Amazon. Since I had a few backpacking trips planned before our hike including: High Sierra Trail: Crescent Meadow to 9 Mile Creek, Momyer Creek Trail – Falls Creek Trail Loop: San Gorgonio Wilderness, Big Pine Creek North Fork, Sabrina Lake Backcountry, Kearsarge Pass and Yosemite Half Dome.
In June and July the rest of our ordered items started rolling in. Little did we know that the erratic weather we had been having would change the course of what I believed to be one of the hardest and most exhilarating things that I would ever do. On July 13th, lightning decided fate and started a fire just outside of Yosemite. I crossed my fingers and hope that they would be able to put the fire out because July 28th I had permits to climb Half Dome.
In the first 24 hours the fire grew 828 acres and because of its steep and rugged terrain, it was very hard to get to where the first was. We still had 2 weeks to find out if we would have to cancel the trip or not. The hotel I had reserved Cedar Lodge at Yosemite was under mandatory evacuation on July 20th; the communities that were evacuated was Old El Portal, Rancheria Flat, Foresta, and Yosemite View Lodge. The following day a couple more communities were evacuated. You can read more about the fire incident here: Ferguson Fire.
I realized a week before our trip, that I had to make the call; the fire grew daily about 2-3,000 acres and it was only contained 20%+. Since we had a friend flying in, I made the call on Monday of cancelling the trip as Yosemite Valley was closed; there was no way we were going to hike Half Dome in the air quality it had. Every morning my routine was to check the Yosemite webcams, check the Mammoth Mountain webcams and then check the update on the Ferguson Fire, Lions Fire, Georges Fire and the Owens Fire. Things weren’t looking good for us.
On August 3rd, 2018 we set out to Mammoth Lakes, CA in my sisters and her boyfriends Sprinter Van (@adventurewithpebbles). This was the first leg of the journey before heading on the John Muir Trail. The entire drive up was smoky on the 395 and got even worse once we got into Mammoth, you could just smell the smoke. We knew going into it, we may not be able to start in Yosemite Valley so our second option was to start in Tuolumne Meadows, which was less desirable the moment we got out of our car.
I didn’t realize until now that we may need to either start later on the trail, maybe even as far in as Red’s Meadow or call the entire trip off. What made me decide to call it off? There are so many reasons, but mainly it is because I wasn’t going to have the chance to do the entire trail and that’s really what I wanted to do! I wanted to do Happy Isles to Mt. Whitney from start to finish in one hike. I didn’t want an asterisk next to its name. I didn’t want to not be able to see all of the trail because of the smoke. I wanted to experience everything the John Muir Trail has to offer.
We went for a short hike up to Arrowhead Lake (2.6 miles round-trip) and smoke grew as the day went on. Definitely realized at this point while we were hiking, how are we going to endure this for 3 weeks?
I keep going through my head about the reasons why we decided to opt out; it was a wise choice – we made the right choice and the trail is not going anywhere. I will try it again next year!
So, Sunday August 4th we decided to take the ride back home in the Sprinter Van Pebbles. So many thoughts were running through my head during the entire drive back home. We went straight back to work when we got home; I had a hard time thinking about anything else. I will probably go on many more backpacking trips on weekends, but it won’t be the same as the trail. Till next time John Muir Trail!
Bearfoot Theory: California’s John Muir Trail
Trail to Peak: A Comprehensive Guide for the John Muir Trail
Future Travel: Fastpacking the John Muir Trail
SoCal Hiker: Hiking the John Muir Trail
Martijn Linden: Packing List:: 7-Day Thru-Hike of the John Muir Trail