trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 3, Lyell Canyon to Red’s Meadow Resort

When you hear people talking about the John Muir Trail (JMT), they speak of it having a special aura. The impression created for prospective thru hikers is that the JMT ought be done as a whole from Yosemite to Whitney or vise versa for the full experience. While the aesthetics of the JMT is indeed inspiring, it in itself isn’t the reason for JMT’s aura. To that point, you really don’t need to do the JMT to witness the beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the impression I came away with from both talking to the locals and personally experienced on my hike is that the JMT is only a glimpse of the wonderment within these mountains. “To really enjoy the aesthetics of these mountains, you just have to get off established trails into the many valleys,” said a local backpacker I met on the trail. Ofcourse, not everyone have the experience to plan something like that, but there are plenty of trails criss crossing the Sierra Nevadas that you can use to plan backpacking trips providing infinite aesthetics.

The aura that draws hikers like Bob to hike the JMT 14 plus times and the reason for the mad scramble for thru hike permits is the social nature of the JMT.

Bob, a friend I met on the JMT.

The combination of the number of people on the trail, everyone having the same frame of mind, having the same shared experience, and camping at similar spots makes it easy to bond and form friendships. It also makes for one of the best solo backpacking experiences as you are never really alone if you don’t want to be. I’ve experienced this phenomenon on several popular, remote, and usually longer duration hikes such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, Walker’s Haute Route, and the O-Circuit in Torres Del Paine. To a greater extent, it is also similar to the city to city hostel backpacking travel experience where it’s easy to to meet new friends to explore the city. The JMT is just an expanded version allowing for a better chance for you to capture that aura.

The section heading out of Yosemite National Park and up Lyell Canyon out of Tuolumne Meadows is where many of these friendship and trail families start to form. The reasons that lead to this is that everyone have started to establish their prefered pace, you start to get out of the touristy crowds of the main Yosemite trails, the options of the track becomes singular or highway like as some locals say in jest, and there are specific stopping points that everyone tends to end up at. It was during this section that I met the friends I’d see throughout my hike in Chris, Diana, Cindy, and Bob.


This is part 3 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.

Read More

trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 2, getting in & Yosemite National Park warmup

Do you remember your first backpacking trip? For me, it was with Jared, Matt, Will, and Arnold in Yosemite National Park during my last Memorial Day weekend in California before graduate school. Of course, we didn’t have permits beforehand or even thought of how busy it would be that weekend nor really knew much about what was really necessary for backpacking. Through that weekend of floods, rain, infinite hot dogs, and plenty of Gentleman Jack, we emerged as Poopanauts, which is a story that will have to wait for another time. The main point is that it is hard to recall the feeling and mindset of getting into the wilderness for the first time. It was something I had to try my best to relate to as I lead my California friends Arnold, Joey, and Miguel and new friends Becky and Doris back to Yosemite National Park. For Becky and Doris, it was their first time into the backcountry. Since these guys were willing to take the time off work to drive me up to Yosemite – where I would start my John Muir Trail (JMT) hike – and spend several days in the backcountry with me, I hoped that I was able to share my enthusiasm of the outdoors with my friends again and for the first time.


This is part 2 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted. Read More

virginia hikes: Devil’s Marbleyard via Belfast Trail, November 4 2018

The fall foliage hiking season seems to be getting shorter and shorter each of the last couple of years. This year it was nearly all green one week, peaked for one week, and gone the next. During the beautiful and fleeting peak weekend this year, Whitney and Matthew joined me for a hike and scramble up Devil’s Marbleyard. For future updated foliage report for in SW VA, check out Virginia Department of Forestry Report.


This report is supplemented by pictures of my past hikes.

Read More

virginia hikes: Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprouts Run Trail Loop, March 4 2018

One aspect of my hike and trip reports is that I keep my personal ratings of the hikes, mostly for myself as part of the reflection process. Well, my whole purpose of this blog serves as an outlet for reflection, but the need to quantify the experience serves as a nice short cut for me to sum up the experiences and compare them for future planning. So my rating system developed meticulously with the rating representing an exact meaning. Of Course, just reading a definition of a rating can be hard to nail down the exact meaning and examples are always nice. So I present to you the perfect example of a 2 rating in views category, the little known Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprout Run Trail Loop.

Note to self, I really should change “views” to “experience”.

Read More

virginia hikes: Flat Top & Fallingwater Cascades, May 20 2017

Previously, I had covered Sharp Top, one of the two peaks making up the Peaks of Otters. This is one of the more popular spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Earlier this year, Meg, Mark, and I headed up the second peak, Flat Top (FT) and tacked on an addition loop to the Fallingwater Cascades (FWC).


  • Flat Top (FT) & Fallingwater Cascades (FWC)
  • type: FT – in & out; FWC – loop
  • distance:  6.8 mi
    • FT – 5.4 mi
    • FWC – 1.3 mi
  • elevation change: 2443 ft ascent and descent
    • FT – 1954 ft
    • FWC –  489 ft
  • time: 2:45 hours moving (3:15 hours with breaks)
    • FT – 2:10 moving (2:30 with breaks)
    • FWC – 0:35 moving (0:45 with breaks)
  • location: Jefferson National Forest
  • This hike can be broken up into 2 separate hikes. There is also an alternative way up to Flat Top from the Sharp Top parking lot, see this recording from Alltrails.


We started from the parking lot that is shared by both Flat Top and Cascading waterfalls. It is a few minutes east of the information center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.


The beginning of the trail starts upwards right away through the green tunnels that’s typical of Virginia Mountains. Similar to Sharp Top, the hike is pretty much a climb up to the peak. However, the trail for Flat Top continues upwards with a series of switch backs rather than a straight up winding around the mountain.

At the end of the switchbacks, there is an outcrop with your first view of the valley to the east.


The trail continues along the ridge of the mountain passing a set of large rock formations before a split. The right trail heads to the true peak of Flat Top, which is shrouded by trees.


We bushwhacked further on toward the endpoint of the other trail to find the large outcrop rock


with a view out toward Bedford and Lynchburg.


After returning to the car, we decided to hike the additional short loop to the Fallingwater Cascades. We headed clockwise on the loop heading down hills at first until we reached the lower crossing of the cascading stream.



The trail then follows the stream upwards


with a couple points where you can cool your feet.


The trail crosses the stream once again at the top with a wooden bridge before looping back. It will first pass the separate dedicated parking lot for Fallingwater Cascades before reaching the shared lot.


ratings (1-5; link for detailed breakdown)

  • views:  2. For the most part, the hike is among the green tunnels of VA with not much to see. Of course, it may be different in the other seasons, but the leaves were completely in during that spring day. There were a couple vistas at the top of the Ridge, but most of the views were out toward the flat regions of VA. The Fallingwater cascade mixed it up with a nice running stream, but it was very small.
  • difficulty: 2. The way up Flat top were purely switchbacks. Some endurance is needed for the elevation change.
  • technical: 1. The trail is well marked with no technical aspects.



back to virginia hikes