Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

A portion of an exhibit of wood sculptures in Lemon Cove, Calif., with the focal point being a bust of John Muir.

Hiking the JMT: Part 1

By: 
Sarah Elliott

 

PLANS UNDERWAY FOR A SIERRA SUMMER ADVENTURE

Last September at our 90-year-old cabin in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park, I was enjoying my birthday weekend with friends. One evening, husband John pulled out his laptop and announced we would be having a movie night.

Shock! Through all my life at that cabin, there have never been any electronics except for my grandparents’ radio. Even my kids understood and thoroughly accepted that this is a place that shall always remain unplugged.

Under protest, I almost left the cabin to take a walk instead. But it was dark, and then the popcorn started popping on the woodstove, emitting an aroma that held me captive.

I sat down and started watching the movie, which at this point, John might regret more than I. The movie he selected was Mile… Mile & a Half, a documentary about five friends who thru-hike the John Muir Trail.

Since this was a movie about the Sierra Nevada, I found it acceptable to watch in our high-mountain hideaway. And it got me to thinking. 

A goal of mine for many decades has been to take six months and thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Then came two kids, a house payment, a business to run. In other words, life.

Watching a movie about the JMT allowed me to modify the PCT dream (for now). Without telling anyone, I started mentally planning and preparing with the biggest obstacle being how to take several weeks off from the newspaper.

The hardest realization was that John and I couldn’t take this chunk of time off together. So I was going solo.

Still without revealing to John my plans, I worked out my end of being away for a month. It will take a lot of work on both our parts; I will be paying my dues beforehand, John will take care of business in my absence.

A few weeks later, in a phone conversation with our 26-year-old daughter, Jennie, who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area, I revealed my secret. Without hesitating, she said, “I’m going. If I have to quit my job, I’m going with you.” 

And what had been a proposal just became an actual, physical, tangible plan. And John still didn’t know.

It was a week later that I broke the news. Initially, he was disappointed (still is), but that is being set aside so he can provide support in many aspects for his wife and daughter’s trip.

And Jennie didn’t have to quit her job.

 

Permission to enter

Jennie and I will be hiking the JMT from north to south, with a few adjustments. The trail is 211 miles from Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park to its terminus on Mount Whitney. From there, it’s another 11 miles to the Whitney Portal trailhead, where we will make our entry back into the developed world. 

Acquiring a wilderness permit in Yosemite National Park can be a more daunting challenge than hiking the 200-plus miles. From Happy Isles, the trailhead quota is such that just 18 people per day receive a permit. And to even have a chance of obtaining one, a permit application needs to be received by the park’s wilderness office exactly 168 days prior to the departure date.

“Approximately 90% of permit applications for the John Muir Trail are rejected due to too many requests for the same trailhead on the same day,” says the Yosemite National Park website.

By the time I did the research needed to apply for a permit, I was already dreading the first several miles of the JMT. First, we would be with all the dayhikers going to Vernal and Nevada falls and the hundred or so others heading to Half Dome with their lottery permits in hand.

Jennie has been as far as the top of Nevada Falls; I have been to the summit of Half Dome. It would have been nice to climb Half Dome together, but we couldn’t get excited about the crowded trail or staying in the Little Yosemite Valley backpackers’ camp that gets more use than a Motel 6 at a truck stop.

That’s never been how we chose to backpack. 

We made the call to bypass this first 24 miles of the JMT from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows. To truly follow in John Muir’s footsteps, we will be adding eight miles onto the trip and merge onto the John Muir Trail when we reach Tuolumne Meadows.

 

And in a little less than three months, we will be doing exactly that.     To be continued…

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