Joe's Ultralight Backpacking

John Muir Trail Trip Plan, Summer 2000 (8/22-9/4)

Followup: So how did the trip go? Find out here! As I was waiting for my shuttle in Lone Pine to start the trip, a Brit who had just finished the trail told me that as incredible as the JMT backcountry was, it was the people I would meet that would truly make it the trip of a lifetime. Truer words have never been spoken.

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At long last I finally get to go on the trip I've dreamed of for years. The last week of August I'll be starting a trek along the length of the John Muir Trail - wahoo! I'm busier now than I was last summer when I had to cancel, but hey, life's short, hike accordingly! The following are just some very rough notes, more suitable for my own planning than for public presentation, but when has that ever stopped someone from posting data on the Web? :-)

A few oddities in my schedule. First off, after looking at the maps I just could not pass up the chance to hike up Half Dome on Day 1 and make my own personal JMT be from Half Dome to Whitney. It seems too perfect to pass up. The next oddity is how I spend my last few days. I'll be hitting the west side of Whitney smack in the middle of Labor Day Weekend. Bleh. Crowds. Trash. Not how I want to cap off two weeks in the High Sierras. So I may take an extra "rest" day somewhere along the line, not to rest so much as to stall one more day and miss the holiday crowds. Naturally I plan to bring an extra trash bag to collect all the %!@#$&! stray trash I'm inevitably going to find on the east side of Whitney. Depressing.

Per Andy's questions (hi there!) I provide the following answers. I'm going with the Esbit stove. It worked fine for me in the snow at 10,500 feet last February, so I'm confident it'll take whatever the JMT has to offer. No gear changes are in order - my gear load will be exactly what you see on my site. I will be adding that optional camera (Olympus Stylus) this time around. Being such a dream of mine for so long, I figure one pound for camera and film is a small investment well worth the memories.

One more note - If you're planning to do a JMT trip and you haven't ordered the Tom Harrison JMT map pack, you're doing yourself a serious disservice! For that matter, if you backpack in California at all and aren't using Tom's topo maps, you should smack yourself with a dried salami and immediately surf over to Tom Harrison Maps and see what they've got. I've used his products for awhile now, and I have yet to find anything close to the quality and, yes, beauty of these things. They also include UTM grids for you GPS nuts, and best of all - mileage per trail segment! The JMT pack is a set of 13 8.5"x11" plasticized sheets, 1 inch = 1 mile, very light and flexible. I have no connections with Tom other than as a very satisfied customer. Though I'd love to have his job. ;-)

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Well I got lucky. Traditionally it seems the solo JMT hiker has been screwed when it comes to getting to the trailhead. The only way to get from one end of the JMT to the other was either beg friends, face a 12-hour Greyhound odyssey to Fresno, or turn around and hike another 222 miles to your car. No more, ladies and gentlemen. Solo (and single-car) travelers rejoice!

This May a two-year "demonstration" project started up called YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System). Cheap bus service from outlying communities into Yosemite. Finally! The painfully obvious is at last addressed! (Now if only we could get ample "bear boxes" installed at every established campsite along the crowded High Sierra routes!) I still have to take Greyhound from Lone Pine to Mammoth Lakes, but from there I take YARTS straight into Yosemite. No more roundabout "goat rope" taking Greyhound southwest through the Mojave McDonalds and up to Fresno, then catching a shuttle. YARTS only runs this route on the weekend, so I'll get into Yosemite two days early. I suppose there are worse places to have to kill a few days, eh? ;-)

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As you may know, I've been experimenting with lighter food loads, seeing exactly how much (nutritional) bang I can get for the (load weight) buck. My goal is not to lose much body weight on this trip. I really don't have much available to lose anyway, being an avid swimmer in addition to a chronically roving hiker.

For this full-length JMT trek, I've broken the menus up to match the trip. For Part 1 (Happy Island to Vermillion Valley Resort - 5 days) I'm going to experiment with about 1.75 lbs/day food load, at about 2,700 calories/day. A bit low considering my 18+ miles/day and the terrain, but if I decide it's truly not enough, Tuolumne Meadows and Reds Meadow stores are right there. Doubt I'll *need* to, since the same menu carried me happily for 5 days in the Grand Canyon (though with lower mileage). If a meal at Reds gnaws at my brain as I approach Devil's Postpile though, I see no reason not to go for it and note the extra calories needed when I open my resupply box. I'll probably drop af few pounds of body mass on this leg.

For Part 2 of the trek (VVR to Whitney and out) I've allotted 3,800 calories/day (vast majority being complex and simple carbs). Doing so brought my daily food load up to about 2.5 lbs a day though. A bit higher than I want - 20lbs for 8 days, around 30lbs packload before water after I resupply. What I plan to do is see how the "ultralight food" load performs for me up to Vermillion, and if that's working I'll simply donate what I won't need to the Food Exchange Box.

This allows me the luxury of experimenting without the risk of negative consequences. Far easier to jettison excess food at the resupply point than foraging to cover shortfalls. Perhaps in a twist of the natural balance, I could raid bears' food. Hey! I'll just pack a bear suit and forage at night in the campsites! Just have to be damn sure to avoid looking like a female bear during the rutting season....

A day's supply for Part 2 (before paring) looks as follows:

Total comes to around 3,800 calories/day, gobs of simple and complex carbohydrates, enough protein and fat. Average weight is around 2.5 lbs/day, incl. packaging. Heavier than I'd like, but I want to see what it takes to not lose weight on something like this (bearing in mind I'm already in shape, nothing to gain from the loss, so to speak).

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Pack Load

Just got back from the postal scales. My base load for this trek is 10lbs 5ozs, before food, water and fuel tabs - just shy of a pound heavier than my "normal" base load. The camera and two rolls of film account for a large portion of that extra weight. I've also added another 50 ft. of cord in case I need to use a bear cable for food (counterbalanced appears to be one of the safer methods), packed additional 1st aid supplies (more of the same - my coverage in that department is never lacking), extra toilet paper, extra matches, etc.

Food for 5 days, including a bit extra plus packaging weight, comes to almost exactly 9 lbs. Essentially it's my standard Cream of Rice/Tortillas and MooseGoo/Freeze dried dinner (or Instant Rice w/ black beans and spices) meal plan, with Red Vines, Chex Mix, beef jerky and Pop Tarts rounding out the balance of the day's 2700+ or so calories for Part 1.

Fuel weight rang in at 6.4 ozs for 12 tabs and ZipLoc bag. I cut the sharp corners off the tab packaging to keep the little beasts from tearing into stuff.

So the total pack load I'll be stepping off with at Happy Isles is 19lbs 11ozs, not including water, for five scheduled days of trekking to get to the Vermillion Valley Resort and resupply. More than three pounds heavier than my April 1999 Grand Canyon trip's base load, but I've got a camera with film, and I'm covering more than double the miles in the same 5-day stretch, so the extra food will be appreciated.

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Daily Itinerary

Day 1 (8/22): 19.6 miles, Happy Isles to Sunrise, with side trip to summit Half Dome.

Day 2 (8/23): 19.4 miles, To Kuna Creek.

Day 3 (8/24): 15.4 miles, To Shadow Lake.

Day 4 (8/25): 22.5 miles, To Duck Pass Tr. Jct. (Lunch splurge at Red's Meadow?)

Day 5 (8/26): 19.7 miles, To ferry stop/Vermillion Resort

Day 6 (8/27): Rest/Resupply, Vermillion Resort

Day 7 (8/28): ~18 miles, To Sallie Keys Lakes

Day 8 (8/29): ~18 miles, To Evolution Lake

Day 9 (8/30): 16.3 miles, To Palisade/Kings River Confluence

Day 10 (8/31): ~18.5 miles, To Lake Marjorie

Day 11 (9/1): ~18 miles, To little lakes just south of Glen Pass

Day 12 (9/2): ~18 miles, To little lake 1km SSW of Tawny Point

Day 13 (9/3): 9.8 miles, To Guitar Lake

Day 14 (9/4): 16.5 miles, Summit Whitney and out to Whitney Portal

Day 15 (9/5): 700+ miles ;-) - Drive home.

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