I haven’t hiked the John Muir Trail (JMT), at least not yet. But if all goes as planned, Stan and I will spend three and a half to four weeks next summer doing just that in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.


Before we complicated our lives by switching careers, going back to school, finding new jobs and buying a house, we spent a fair bit of time backpacking. Most of our trips involved hiking up and around the mountains in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, but we also took one especially memorably canoe trip to Killarney, a very, very old mountain range in Ontario, north of Toronto. We’ve backpacked and camped during all four seasons, and while I’m not crazy about the amount of gear I have to haul around in the winter, I love the feeling that we have the whole Adirondack mountain range to ourselves. In spite of all this, we have never done any backpacking that comes remotely close to being as challenging as the John Muir Trail.

The JMT runs 211 miles north/south along the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, starting at Yosemite Valley and ending atop the 14,494′ peak of Mt. Whitney. (Yes, that’s the highest peak in the continental U.S.! How hardcore is that?) Hiked from the north, the trail gradually gains elevation, so the hikes gradually increase in difficulty. I’m in favor of taking this route, because while I hope to start the hike in good shape, I know I’ll be in better shape by the end.

Mt. Whitney

Mt. Whitney, one end of the John Muir Trail!

Hikers who plan to hike the length of the trail in one trip are known as “through hikers” and there are essentially two ways to hike the trail as a through hiker. The first involves carrying all the food and supplies necessary for the hike on your back from start to finish. I shudder to think what that pack might way, but I would guess that Stan’s would be upwards of sixty pounds and mine might weigh in around forty. I suspect this would take away from the experience significantly! In fact, it might not realistically be possible for me to make it over all those mountain passes carrying so much weight. The second option involves utilizing the various resupply stations along the trail, allowing you to carry food and supplies necessary for six or seven days. Either way, the trip involves a lot of planning, which is why we’ve started thinking about this now.

Where did this idea come from? I’ve always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, but this particular hike was the brainchild of Andy, a classmate Stan spent a lot of time with during his two-week field trip out West for a geology class, Geology of the West. Andy has hiked the Appalachian Trail, and is jonesing to hike the whole Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), but suggested that the JMT (actually a section of the PCT) might be a good place us to begin. Hopefully, he’ll join us next summer too!

Getaway Guide to the JMTNaturally I’ve already read a book on the subject, The Getaway Guide To The John Muir Trail by Guy Saperstein and a lot of the factual information I related above came from this source. In it, Saperstein describes both the planning and hiking portions of his trip. He’s what Stan calls a weight weenie, choosing or rejecting various items based on the number of ounces he won’t have to carry, but I’m all for his methods since I’m not really equipped to haul around a huge pack! Overall, I found it an interesting, informative, and easy to read book.

Sources: The picture of Killarney comes from the Ontario Parks website, the picture of Mt. Whitney from Destination 360, and the jacket cover of Saperstein’s book from Amazon.