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Thru-Hiking the JMT, Day-by-Day


Precisely three years ago this day, my girlfriend and I and two hiking friends were driving up to Lone Pine, getting ready for a 22-day thru-hike of the epic 211-mile John Muir Trail. Over the next three weeks, I’ll be sharing a day-by-day guide to our JMT backpacking trek, with each day covered exactly on the three year anniversary of the actual hike. Each daily post will break down the route we hiked — with an interactive trail map; where we camped, what we ate and the stories that went with it.

Some of you are already planning your own JMT trip. For you, these day-by-day trail guides will give you a good sense of what to expect. You’ll learn what worked well, and what we will do differently the next time.

Some of you are day hikers and weekend backpackers, thinking about tackling a bigger goal. For you, I’ve got good news. The John Muir Trail is indeed an epic backpack trip, but it’s within the reach of mere mortals. While it’s not a trek to hike on a whim, if you are a fit hiker, you can do this. In your case, I hope these day-by-day posts give you the added push to seriously consider hiking part (or all) of the JMT.

A few of you are armchair adventurers, with no aspiration to spend three weeks in one of the most beautiful sections of the Sierra mountains, challenging your body and spirit and finding new confidence and strength. I hope you’ll follow along just the same, and find the stories that go with each daily post entertaining and engaging.

Jeffrey and Hari Dozing on the Ride to Lone Pine

The Cast

Our motley crew included my then-girlfriend (and now my wife), Joan; San Diego resident Jeffrey, a recent hiking friend who discovered my desire to hike the JMT and connected to us via SoCalHiker; and a late-addition: Hari who just finished his degree at USC and was getting ready for grad school. Joan and I were in our late 40’s. Jeffrey and Hari were both in their 20’s. All of us had done plenty of hiking, but I was the only one who had hiked this far before.

The JMT Crew

The Story Begins

First leg -- Driving 270 miles from San Clemente to Lone Pine.
First leg — Driving 270 miles from San Clemente to Lone Pine.

We started our day in San Clemente. Jeffrey was dropped off at our home, and we piled into the Xterra and headed up to Los Angeles to pick up Hari. From there, we weaved through traffic, out of the city and headed north to Lone Pine.

The JMT extends from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney — the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states. You can hike it northbound  — or NOBO — but must hikers choose the south-bound (SOBO) route because you start at a lower altitude and work your way up. We were going to follow the traditional SOBO route, but were starting off by dropping off our car at the Whitney Portal.

The Dow Villa Motel
The Dow Villa Motel

When we arrived at Lone Pine, we checked in at the Dow Villa Motel (map). While the rest of the group got dinner, I drove up to the Whitney Portal and parked. Parking here is free, but you need to check to make sure you’re parked in the right place. And you must make sure to clean your car of anything smelly or anything that looks remotely like food (or a food container). That includes coolers, empty food wrappers or cups, and even deodorant and toothpaste. This keeps bears from trying to pry open your car, and helps you avoid a costly ticket from the ranger.

Once I parked, I hitched a ride back down to Lone Pine with a couple guys who had just hiked down from Mt. Whitney.

We slept well that night, knowing that we had an early start in the morning with a shuttle to Yosemite, picking up our permit and getting one day closer to our JMT adventure.

The view west, toward Mt. Whitney

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Next up: Day Two – Lone Pine to Yosemite Valley

Original date of travel July 25, 2010.


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