On June 30 at 4:30 p.m. my 14-yr. daughter, Christina and I started our hike from Horseshoe Meadows (about 35 trail miles south of Mt. Whitney). We traveled slowly the first few days in order to allow Christina to acclimatize. After that we hiked 10 to 16 miles a day.
New Army pass was the first pass and the most difficult section we encountered on the trail, because the top had the remnant of a steep cornice that we had to plow through. On July 3 we camped at Crabtree Meadows and on July 5 we bagged Mt. Whitney, which was a pleasant 13 hr., 15 mile walk from the meadow with 3,700 feet of elevation gain. The summit of Mt. Whitney is the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail. Forester Pass, the highest spot on the John Muir Trail at nearly 13,200 feet was surprisingly easy and relatively clear of snow.
The section that seemed the most remote and least populated was between Pinchot and Mather Pass. The view north from Mather Pass was the most spectacular on the trip: we could see Middle Pal, North Pal, Mt. Sill and the upper Palisade Lake. The snowiest pass by far was Muir Pass, which had at least two miles of snow on either side.
We collected our only cache at the Muir Trail Ranch, which is 100 trail miles north of Whitney (approximately the half-way point on the JMT, which is 211 miles long) and a few hundred yards off the trail between the junction with the trail to Piute Pass and Bear Ridge. This was convenient but expensive (they charge $45 per bucket, 25 lb. max). There are no other services for hikers at the Ranch, except they'll take your mail, which they haul down to civilization by mule once a week or so. If I had it to over again, I would hike another day north to a cache at Vermillion Valley Ranch. At VVR they charge $6 per cache. VVR was one of the highlights of our trip. We picked up a ferry at Edison Lake, a reservoir 2 miles beyond the junction of the JMT and Mono Creek (near the base of Bear Ridge). For $14/person, we got a round-trip ticket to the resort, a night in a tent cabin and a free beer (microbrew, no less!). Even better, there was a telephone and hot food. For these reasons, several hikers as far south as Whitney raved about VVR and recommended that we stop there. At the resort, I bumped into a lady that I had only seen once before in my life -- at the hut on Orizaba last January!
Christina hurt herself slightly at a stream crossing so we decided to end our hike at Reds Meadow on July 18. From there we boarded the tram to Mammoth Lakes ($4 each) and took a Greyhound to LA ($45 each). We plan to go back on two separate weekends to hike from Reds to Tuolomne and from Tuolomne to the northern terminus of the JMT -- Yosemite Valley).
The hike was wonderful. On most days there were surprisingly few people on the trail, sometimes only 1 or 2. The exceptions were the day we hiked Whitney and the day we hiked from McClure Meadow to the Muir Trail Ranch (on both days, we encountered about 70 people: climbers on Whitney and California Conservation Core workers on our way to the Ranch).
During much of the way we were able to use bear boxes, saving us the hassle of hanging food. We were warned by the rangers to be especially wary of bears in LeConte Canyon (where there were no bear boxes). We were told that someone left food in a tent for 2 days last summer and a bear ripped into it. At the ranger station in LeConte Canyon, we saw a note saying that on July 10 a bear attacked the back pack of a hiker (no one was hurt). I have a friend who said that his tent was ripped by a bear a few years ago. We avoided camping in LeConte Canyon.
I used a set of thirteen 8 1/2 x 11 inch topo maps that were especially prepared for the JMT (I found it at Western Mountaineering for about $16); I highly recommend that anyone doing the JMT purchase this set of maps since they're all you need and are cheaper and more convenient than the regular topos. I also recommend the popular "guide to the John Muir Trail" by Thomas Winnett. I bought a JMT video that I discovered while surfing the net. We used a pair of rubber "river" shoes that helped us keep our boots dry and our feet from getting hurt on the rocks on the dozens of stream crossings that we negotiated.
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