Categories : LowerGear Outdoors News
We outfit dozens of backpackers every year doing all or part of the John Muir Trail in the Sierras in California. Over the years the owner of Lowergear – me – has racked up about a 1000 miles in the Sierras – including one solo thru-hike of the JMT over 12 days in early September a few years ago. This one was the classic north-south route, starting in Yosemite Village and exiting at the Mt Whitney portal.
I was equipped with mostly the same gear we rent, including our GPS and a SPOT emergency communicator in case something went wrong. While it was a solo trip, the trail is fairly busy and if you’re on the main route, one wouldn’t go too long without running into another backpacker for assistance if needed. And as experienced backpackers know, on longer trips you tend to meet up someone going solo about the same pace and you tend to hang out together for at least some of the trip. I ended up hiking about half the trip with a guy from Canada.
Typical for the Sierras, weather was great during the day most of the trip, but a few nights got uncomfortably cold when camped at higher elevations. I wish I had worn different shoes, but otherwise the trek went mostly as planned. The SPOT communicator helped keep those at home less stressed, and I’d suggest anyone planning a long trip like this take as much time as needed to really fine-tune their food requirements and stock the re-supplies accordingly – don’t cut it so close that you bonk out before the end, but no need to come out of the wilderness still carrying a bunch of food. I ended up with pretty good balance, but it helped that I was going thru at a fairly fast pace and didn’t have to carry that many days of food at a time. I did forget to add some Advil to my last resupply – that was a mistake, but a ranger I ran into helped me out with a few.
Thru-hike permits are trickier to come by these days, so plan way ahead if you want to do the classic thru routes. There are entrance-trailhead variations that open it up to more backpackers, and if you’re willing to go outside of peak seasons in July and August, it’s easier to get the permits. This or a similar trek of a couple hundred miles isn’t recommended for beginners – go out on something with similar high elevations for 3-5 days first and see how you react; the steep climbs with a load in the relatively thin air adds to the task.
Any trip into the Sierras should be on every backpacker’s bucket list – photos don’t do the abundance of natural beauty justice; completion of such a trip is always greatly satisfying for having beat the challenge; and there’s just something about it that’s good for the soul!