Getting lost in the right direction
A MONTH ON THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL
The Permit Process
Back in February, exactly 168 days before my daughter’s and my planned departure on the 211-mile John Muir Trail, I was wandering through the aisles of Visalia’s Office Depot, waiting for an employee to fax my wilderness permit application, but Yosemite National Park’s fax line was a constant busy. I circumnavigated the store the opposite direction. Still busy.
After an hour, the employee told me I could leave and she would continue the fax process. I had my doubts about letting this valuable piece of permit paper out of my control: she could dial the wrong number, she could forget about it, she could get off work and leave it forever. But there was only so much I could do from my side of the counter.
I decided to place my trust in her and leave. I drove home from Visalia to Three Rivers and within 15 minutes of walking in the door, the phone rang, caller ID flashed Office Depot, and it was my new best friend telling me the fax had gone through.
I offered my credit card to pay for the fax, but because there are good people in this world, my personal faxer picked up the tab and told me to have a great trip.
By 2 p.m. the next day, a Saturday, I had received an email confirmation from Yosemite that we were approved for a Sunday, July 19, departure from the White Wolf trailhead (see previous installment for this description). Now that wasn’t so hard after all.
The online message boards have lit up over a new exit quota being required by Yosemite in regards to hiking the JMT southbound, with many stating that it is harder than ever to get a permit from Yosemite to thru-hike the trail. The northbound route, beginning in the Whitney Zone, is just as much of a challenge as these permits are doled out in February via a lottery system.
Yosemite used to hold back a few permits to accommodate walk-ups at Happy Isles (Yosemite Valley) and Tuolumne Meadows (25 miles from Yosemite Valley via the JMT). These, too, are now severely limited.
No matter where you start your hike, anyone who is hiking along the John Muir Trail is required to carry a wilderness permit. You only need one permit for the entire trip, and how you obtain your permit depends on which trailhead you use to access the John Muir Trail.
If you plan on starting the JMT in Yosemite, you need to apply for your permit directly from Yosemite National Park. To apply for a permit, you must know your desired start date, where you will camp the first night, and your exit location and date. The reservation costs $5 per person, and you are only charged if your application is successful.
Permits are managed by a quota-based system. Under the old system, all of the trailheads hikers used to access the JMT had their own individual quotas, and JMT thru-hikers applied for a permit out of the same pool as weekend backpackers.
Now under the new system, the Park will limit the total of number of JMT thru-hikers across all trailheads to 45 per day by capping the number of JMT hikers going south over Donohue Pass each day. On the new permit application, you must check “Yes” on the box indicating that you plan to exit Yosemite over Donahue Pass.
Permit offices and information phone numbers are easy to find online. Plus, there are many good JMT guidebooks and maps that will direct hikers through every stage of the planning process.
John Muir Trail resupply and meal planning was the most difficult part about getting ready for our thru-hike. My daughter, Jennie, and I will be taking 25 days to hike the trail, and we will resupply three times: at Tuolumne Meadows (mile 30), Muir Trail Ranch (mile 108), and at Woods Creek (mile 177). Tim and Maggie Loverin and crew at Cedar Grove Pack Station in Kings Canyon National Park will deliver the Woods Creek package.
While the trail is 221 miles, we will end up hiking about 250, including side trips and our detour at the start of the trip through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
Jennie and I will both be carrying the Garcia bear canisters. We’ve owned these since way back, when Garcias were the only option available. These days, there are lighter (and bigger) bear canisters available, but we decided not to upgrade these mandatory pieces of equipment.
Each canister can hold about seven days of food for one person, but that’s only after repackaging most food items and really squeezing it in. Air, something we don’t see and basically take for granted in everyday life, takes up a lot of room when trapped inside food packaging.
In addition to food, we included extra supplies in our shipped out packages: toilet paper, sunscreen, and toothpaste.
To ship a resupply package to Muir Trail Ranch, a plastic five-gallon bucket is required. That way, nothing is damaged during transport from the Lakeshore post office to the backcountry lodging facility and critters won’t be able to break-and-enter while it sits in a storage shed awaiting our arrival in two weeks.
MTR requires the resupply bucket be mailed three weeks in advance, so ours is on its way. It cost $16 for postage and $70 for MTR to retrieve, transport, and store it. It's a small price to pay for a reduction in pack weight.