This is part 7, the conclusion, of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below.
In total, I spent 20 days in the Sierra Nevada mountains with 2 zeros days included. I first spent 4 days in the Yosemite backcountry heading up the Illilouette Creek drainage starting from Glacier Point and ending at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. It allowed me to shake down my pack and catch up with my friends from California. Afterwards, I started my John Muir Trail (JMT) permit from Tuolumne Meadows. My hike of the JMT took me 16 days including a zero in Mammoth Lakes and a zero split between Bishop and Lone Pine where I did my resupplies.
The following is a chart of my final itinerary for the JMT portion of my hike via the JMT Yahoo! group’s excel sheet.
I typically would include a rating of the views, difficulty, and technicality of my hikes, however the aesthetic experience I had on the JMT can reality be divided up into several sections, as I have done in my trip reports. I discuss my Sierra Nevada experience as a whole below. As for ratings, you can find my ratings of each of the sections linked here in their respective sections (see index).
A common theme among those looking to hike the JMT is to not miss out on any must see views or best campsites on the JMT. There are plenty of posts out there on the Facebook JMT groups and forums that want to know what others have learned or how to have the most fulfilling experience of hiking the JMT. All this may be a symptom of the fear of missing out (FOMO) or bucket list mentality. It’s a trap that is easy to fall into and one that even lead me to google for the best campsites and to parse Elizabeth Wenk’s campsite descriptions on the Yahoo! excel sheet for the words “beautiful,” “amazing,” and etc. before my hike. Post hike, I can you that you will most definitely not miss out on the full JMT experience just by walking the trail with an open and friendly approach.
The key of the JMT experience is that of the thru-hike, the details of what that entails I have made the themes of the different sections of my trips reports.
The first and most dear to many is the the social nature of the trip. You can hike alone, but are really never be alone on the trail (see the social trail description in part 1 and the theme of part 3). The sense of community on the trail can leave us with friends long after our final steps on the JMT. Even more, it can serve as a lesson for us within our everyday lives the importance and power of community and friends as we progress on our individual walk through life.
The second aspect of the thru-hike (part 4) is preservering the difficulties and hardships. Perseverance is one of the life qualities that is necessary for each of us to achieve our goals. There is nothing like a thru-hike to show yourself that you can persevere and to allow you to carry that confidence into goals of your life.
The third aspect is that the trail does indeed allow for reflection and self mentalization (part 5). It gets you away from the busy everyday life where you may be always on the go without time to think about events that take place, decisions you made, your goals, and how all of these things made you feel. It is difficult to know where to go and find purpose without knowing where you are mentally and emotionally. In popular culture, I believe this is the real end goal of meditation as well, even though I don’t have any expertise on that. However in my field of expertise, I would consider a more accurate description of the mindfulness construct to reflect the ability for one to be aware of their situation and feelings at all times. Sometimes, taking a walk is a great way to train mindfulness. Personally, the JMT did allow me to figure out my priorities.
The final component of the thru-hike may be evident already from the previous. That is the process of learning through the entire experience. As reader and possibly as a perspective JMT hiker, the points above might have sounded like cheesy fortune cookie blurbs. That’s because these are things each of us have to learn for ourselves regardless if someone has told us before or we’ve read it in a long rambly blog. A thru-hike allows us to learn through first hand experience the importance community, of our own capabilities, and of ourselves. It’s hard to learn those things without the experience.
There are many simple things we learning about hiking and backpacking on such a hike as well. It could include our own habits and preferences on the trail, such as what food we actually crave on the hike. This is why I really enjoyed about not mailing in resupplies ahead of time, it allowed to see I felt like eating as I went and to experiment along the way. I saw many hikers tire of the food in their resupply shipments even before they’ve reached it. I was grateful for it allowed me to switch up some meals from the hiker box at MTR.
It could be our backpacking and camping habits. There were surprisingly many first time backpackers on the trail and to figure out what works for each of us just takes time in doing it. Things like not wearing cotton you’ll learn very quickly once you are on the trail, like I did on the Tour du Mont Blanc. You can dive deep into the rabbit hole of equipment to take on the trail and ultralight discussions, but the best way to figure out what you prefer is to learn by doing.
It could be how to deal with the weather and new situations. For my hike, it was learning to deal with the fires, smokes, and thunderstorms. For others in 2017 and possibility 2019, it would be dealing with walking in the snow or high river fords. With both of these situations, it’s hard to be fully prepared for them without being there in the situation and learning to deal with it. For us, no matter how much I tried to get an idea of crossing snowy passes, it took us hiking the Walker’s Haute Route too early in the season to learn what that entailed. Sometimes, it means turning back and learning to recognize a situations may be too dangerous or that you might not be prepared or capable — though that could be tough on your ego — to continue.
Regardless whether we are on the John Muir Trail or life in general, the key is that it is all a learning experience. That is the last I have to say about the JMT as a whole for now, it allows us to learn about skills of backpacking, the wonders of nature, the importance of community and friends, how to deal with the ever changing nature, and ourselves.
However, the individual experience of the Sierra Nevadas may vary for each individual and is a whole separate topic that I’ll get to next.
Having completed the JMT, I can say with a high level of certainty that to truly experience the Sierra Nevada mountains is a completely different and even orthogonal experience than that of JMT thru-hike.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a local of the Sierra Nevada hiker would say that the JMT hiker haven’t really experienced what the Sierra Nevada mountains are, that the JMT hiker merely walked through the highway that ran through these mountains. I’m halfway sure this imaginary local hiker in my head isn’t so imaginary. This specific statement from the imaginary local hiker of these mountains in my head isn’t to demean the JMT hiker’s experience or accomplishments, but rather point out the reality of how small of a glimpse the JMT hiker has actually seen in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
I certainly can’t describe the Sierra Nevada experience to you despite the title of this section. But at least I can tell you of what I don’t know and what I hope to experience more of in the future. Unlike the experience of the thru-hike, the experience of the Sierra Nevada mountains are something that you may never fully experience and something unattainable from a FOMO or bucket list perspective. If the reason for your hike is for the purpose of saying you accomplished the JMT rather than to take the time to look around on your hike, you may end up missing more of the Sierra Nevada experience. To really experience the sierra nevada mountains, it means returning to explore new valley and enjoy the valleys you may come to love.
If you don’t care for the JMT experience, but rather are after the experience of the Sierra Nevada Mountains that a JMT hiker would see, then I would divide up the JMT into five distinct sections. These sections are how I divided up my trip reports and tried to include some suggests of possible trips in each of them. They are as follows:
- Yosemite National Park (part 2)
- Lyell Canyon to Red’s Meadow covering the many lakes of the John Muir Wilderness (part 3)
- Red’s Meadow to Muir Trail Ranch covering the Sierra National Forest (part 4)
- Kings Canyon National Park including Evolution Basin, LeConte Canyon, Palisades, and Rae Lakes. (part 5)
- Whitney Portal Region and Sequoia National Park (part 6)
I would also tell you that it would save you much more logistic trouble to just hike them separately. The permitting process would be easier for sure. Lastly, it would allow you to explore these areas to a much higher degree that the JMT hiker both in quality and quantity.
I discussed several lessons I learned about adjusting my equipment (part 6) when Meg joined me to finish my hike and in my introduction (part 1), so some of these might be repeats. Furthermore, I also discussed some of my food changes during my resupply in Mammoth Lake, CA (part 4) and subsequent adjustments at MTR (part 4), so they won’t be the focus here. I’ll just touch on the big items and changes I would make if I were to do it again. Do note that these adjustments are to my personal preferences.
For refresher, my loadout for majority of my trip is listed in the picture below with my post-hike preferences on the items (at some point I’ll get it on lighterpack.com).
- backpack – The Ospery Kestral 48 is a great beginner pack, but the non removable/adjustable nature “brain” made it more difficult to use with a bear canister. I was happy with it for the JMT, but am looking to replace it with a lighter model and something that isn’t as tall to allow for easier carry-on option for flights. See a more detailed description of the backpack here.
- tent – Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2 tent (see my description here) was a good 1 person tent, the 2 people would have to be a very specific body type to make that a 2 person tent. I slept without a rainfly most nights, but was glad for the fly for when it did rain. I kinda wished I had the groundsheet for the tent so I can set it up with just the fly and groundsheet for the thunderstorms. However, I liked that my Tyvek groundsheet was larger than my tent so I had a clean area to take of my shoes and such outside of my tent.
- ground sheet – As stated above, I liked the same Tyvek ground sheet (Amazon affiliate link), I would just add a couple of gromits to it so I could make a temporary shelter better for the rain.
- sleeping bag – I carried a heavier bag because of our following trip and it was too hot for most nights. I slept with it like a quilt on some nights and with it open for others. I would go with something like our Kelty Cosmic Down 20 (see description here). I do sleep warm though and it was late July.
- sleeping pad – I wasn’t a big fan of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite regular (Amazon affiliate link). I tend to sleep on my back and didn’t feel like the popular sleeping pad provide me with enough support or was wide enough. The NeoAir seems to suit side sleepers better. Meg and I ended up switching sleeping pads and I used our Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad (Amazon affiliate link). I might be going back to a foam pad to test at some point.
- shoes – I found my Altra Lone Peak 3.5 trailrunners (Amazon affiliate link) up to the task and they would try quickly when I got them wet. I did have my Chaco ZCloud sandals (Amazon affiliate link) for the large crossing, but they aren’t necessary if you don’t want to carry the weight. Having both did allow me to switch them up when I felt hot spots.You can definitely hike the JMT in Chacos also should you chose to, I found out recently that a friend did that after losing her boot. Of course she rocked it in style with socks on.
- hiking sticks – I did find hiking sticks useful mainly as it helped me walk at a faster pace. I’m sure it help take some of the weight off my back. One of the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Quick Lock Trekking Pole (Amazon affiliate link), also known as the Costco carbon fiber poles broke on me. It broke when I put my weight awkwardly on it, but I guess those are the times you need it to hold the most? It was good until then.
- gaiters – The JMT is very well groomed so my heavy gaiters were not needed. Many had bandana looking Dirty Girl Gaiters (non-affiliate link), but I found that to be not necessary on the well walked trail.
- clothing – Some of the things I didn’t find useful for my hike was much of the extra layers I had for my camping cloth. These included my downs jacket, which I never wore on my hike. Other camp clothing like shorts and pants were also cut since I pretty much had to hiking cloth on until I changed and turned in for the night.
- power – I had been carrying RAVPower 10000 mAh power bank with QC3 (Amazon affiliate link) in conjunction with an universal adapter that also comes with QC3 USB-A outputs that I use for travel already. I bought the charger after watching this Youtube video from Neemor’s World explaining that fast charging power banks is more important since you won’t have to wait as long to recharge. The number of fast charging power technologies have increased with USB-C become more standard. They all essentially utilize higher Voltage. While solar panels are better in terms of long term self sufficiency, charging can be slower than you expect especially if you are walking though cover or don’t understand how to use it most efficiently. The distances between locations where you can charge from a power outlet isn’t so long that you would need a never end source of electricity generation to keep things running. The weight of an extra power bank versus a solar panel isn’t too different. So it may be more reliable and less worry to just take an extra power bank.
- water treatment – I ended up using 2 different methods and I liked both. The SteriPen was great especially with a Gatorade bottle my SteriPen would sit on the mouth of the bottle without falling it. It allowed me to turn it on, leave it in, and do other things while it was cleaning the water. Ofcourse, I would stir it every few seconds and I doubled the recommended time. While it wasn’t much a worry during my hike, you don’t have to worry about freezing temperatures cracking the filter. It is still good to sleep with the SteriPen to save the charge on the batteries. After losing my SteriPen, we went with the MSR Trailshot (Amazon affiliate link) since it was a better solution for 2 people than the Sawyer Mini. The price was comparable to 2 Sawyers, but I tend to like gulping down free flowing water. I had also seen how well and quick it was to filter water earlier in the Yosemite portion of my trip as it was Miguel and Doris’s water treatment method. The filter in the Trailshot can be replaced by itself, providing less waste and cheaper cost in the long run.
- camera – This is an oft asked question on the facebook group. I liked my Sony a6000 with a wide Samyang F2.0 Lens, but it is probably overkill for most hikers. Unless you already have the experience with shooting with SLRs or are planning to learn and experiment on the hike, your phone will just do just as good of a job now days. In terms of hold my camera, I just have it strapped around my neck and under 1 arm like sling. I had a small carabiner to hold on my pack when I didn’t want it to hang free off of me. It wasn’t the most efficient, but it worked for me.
- emergency/satellite communication devices – I didn’t carry one and I don’t think it is really needed unless you are trying to meet up with someone. In term of emergencies, the JMT is a very busy trail in comparison and in a pinch, there are plenty of other hikers on the trail with it you can ask to use. However, it is worth it for many people or loved ones off the trail for the peace of mind. For me personally, I was glad to be able to use a friend’s device to sent a message to Meg of my progress because we had to meet up at a specific point.
- bug control – I prefered deet over bug net. I use my viewfinder on my camera to take pictures, I found the bug net got in the way. I also felt more stuffy with it on, but that could just be in my head and I did only have a trucker hat.
- cooking – I kept 1 dehydrated meal bag that I used to rehydrate all my meals in. Repackaging is a must to fit all the food into my bear canister so keeping 1 meal bag was the solution I used. I cleaned it out by putting treated water in the bag and then drinking it once I swished it around.
- sanitation – I didn’t take any soap or hand sanitizer, I just rinsed my hands with my filtered water and washed it when I found a bathroom with soap. I didn’t have stomach problems. Do what you need to do, just make sure you follow Leave No Trace principles (wikipedia).
A common question of the JMT is the cost that is involved. The first chart below depicts the total value of our costs directly involved in our JMT hike. I plotted the valuation, which includes our actual out of pocket cost and the monetary equivalent of credit and point redemptions we used, to provide an accurate cost of our trail related costs. Our total includes my food costs for the whole hike and Meg’s for a few days when she joined me, housing for both my zeros and nights directly before or after the hike, and transportation to and away from the JMT cordor. This breakdown does not include our flight valuations. My own food costs may be lower since I didn’t ship any resupplies, but rather came off trail to resupply in town during my zeros. Meanwhile, our cost of transportation was most likely higher than a typical budget because we rented a car for the duration near the end of my hike when Meg joined me. This also required us to spend money on scheduling a shuttle. Full detailed list of our spendings is posted at the end of this section.
The next chart is our actual out of pocket amount we spent during our entire trip. Additional to our out of pocket cost, we spent 24510 Southwest Points in conjunction with our Southwest Companion Pass (see guide from frequent miler) and USD$161.98 credit from our Chase Sapphire Reserve (terms of the card has changed since – see frequent miler for more details) for our flights. We also used 35000 IHG points for a stay in Las Vegas and USD$115 credit for our 1 night Airbnb stay near Lone Pine again from our Chase Sapphire Reserve. Additional savings we used were utilizing the US travel Daily Getaway promotions (see frequent miler for more details) for hotels and car rental and our Priority Pass from our credit cards (see guide from the points guy) for meals at airports.
From a point earning perspective. Meg earned 752 Southwest Points for her flight. I also earned 15000 Wyndham Points from a promotion in addition to the 2000 base points for my two stays. Lastly, I received 10% back from my Hotels.com booking for my hotel in Mammoth Lakes, CA.
Below is a detailed list of my spendings during our trip.