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trip report: John Muir Trail, July & August 2018 – part 7, final impressions & budget

This is part 7, the conclusion, of my JMT trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below.


1 decision & planning
2 trip report day 0-4: getting in & Yosemite National Park warm up
3 trip report day 5-8: Lyell Canyon/Tuolumne Meadows to Red’s Meadow Resort
4 trip report day 8-12: Red’s Meadow Resort to Muir Trail Ranch
5 trip report day 12-16: Muir Trail Ranch to Onion Valley Trailhead
6 trip report day 17-20: Onion Valley trailhead to Whitney Portal & getting out
7 final impressions & budget
      7.1 recap & ratings
      7.2 the John Muir Trail experience
      7.3 the Sierra Nevada experience
      7.4 equipment adjustments
      7.5 budget

recap & ratings

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).

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the John Muir Trail experience

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.

party at Forrester Pass

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.

another afternoon, another hailstorm to weather

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 many miles on the JMT I had to myself to reflect allowed me to reaffirm my priority of following Meg on the trail

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 everything left in 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 is something 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 or ultralight discussions beforehand, 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, smoke, 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. The JMT experience as a whole 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.

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the Sierra Nevada experience

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 hiker of the Sierra Nevada 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.

Exploring off trail in Yosemite National Park. Several local hikers say that’s where you find the Sierra Nevada experience.

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:

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.

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equipment adjustments

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

Chris carried a Garmin InReach.

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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 booking for my hotel in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

Below is a detailed list of my spendings during our trip.

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