Thru hiking the John Muir Trail was the toughest and most rewarding thing either of us have ever accomplished in our lives. Being out in nature and completely letting it engulf you was exactly what we wanted and needed. It is one thing to go backpacking for six days then come home but to be out there for three weeks is something so much more. If you don't know about the John Muir Trail (JMT) then I suggest you start researching it because it is one of the most amazing trails EVER! It goes from the top of Mt Whitney (the highest peak in the continental US) and goes 211 miles north to Yosemite Valley Floor. We finally did this hike in August of 2016 and it has taken us until now to finally write these 3 Part series of posts. To be honest, we weren't entirely sure how to set it up. I brought a journal on the trail with me (a gift from my sister) and wrote in it everyday after we finished hiking. I am so thankful I did because it'll not only be something I can cherish forever but it'll help me write this series. So lets get this going by starting with the long day we spent getting to the beginning of the trail.
We had three cars that needed to be dropped off in three different locations. Most of you are wondering why three? For the first Six days my brother David and his wife Kait would be joining us, but due to work obligations they had to hike out at Onion Valley. So we dropped off David's truck at the trail head there and continued on. Next stop was Yosemite. We had to drop off one of our cars at the backpackers parking lot which happened to be "closed". Well, we pushed passed the closed sign and found a great parking spot :) Then we made our way back to Lone Pine to grab our permits. Now this is where it gets interesting. Our permits where out of Cottonwood due to the difficulty of getting them out of Yosemite or Mt Whitney but at the time there was a fire up at Horseshoe Meadows so the road was closed. We were desperately hoping that they would allow us to go up Whitney instead (which was our original plan in the beginning). But with the luck we were having that day we missed it by an hour.... they opened the road and stopped switching permits an hour before we got there. Go figure! In all honesty, it worked out for the best. It was amazing to climb up the backside of Whitney. Once we got our permits we grabbed a bite to eat then headed up to Horseshoe Meadows to camp for the night.
Day One: Cottonwood To Rock Creek
Miles Hiked: Approx. 13miles
Passes: Cottonwood Pass (11,200 ft Elevation)
We woke up at the crack of dawn, barely able to sleep the night before due to our excitement to begin our adventure. After months and months of planning, prepping, and training we were at the beginning. With our packs on and smiles on our faces we started. Luke and I had done this hike a couple months before so we were prepared for the sandy terrain. It is truly more difficult to hike in sand then through a woodsy area. But the views were gorgeous, and it was only going to get better. Even though Luke and I had done this before it was awesome to see David and Kait get to experience it for the first time. I should also probably mention our pack weight was double what it was the last time we had hiked it. Our original plan (which is what most people do) is to either store their resupply at Kearsarge or have someone bring it to them there. But the more we thought about it the less we wanted to because: A) Added another day with more miles, and B) had to go off the trail more then we needed to. We knew it would be a stretch and make our packs way heavier then they needed to be, but we packed a full TWELVE days of food! Boy, could I tell a difference. We sound crazy/stupid for doing that but we really didn't want to go off trail too much and obviously it worked out in the end. Once we made it to camp at the end of the day it was so nice to kind of start our nightly routine. The creek was flowing so we washed up, filtered some water, prepared for the next day then went to bed pretty early. The next day was going to start off with a straight climb up.
We knew that a majority of this day was going to be climbing. We hiked all morning until we reach Crab Tree Meadow, where we took an extended lunch break. We soaked our feet, watched the fish swim by, ate our delicious lunch of tuna, baby belt cheese, and tortilla, then watched as a big group of pack horses walked by. This is one of our favorite backpacking spots. We met quit a few PCT hikers a few months earlier when we hiked through. We liked it so much on that trip that we decided to come back the next night and camp there. We were very excited to show David and Kait this spot. After lunch was over we continued on toward Guitar Lake where the climbing would continue. I struggled toward the end with my heavy pack but we eventually made it. Boy was it crowded! Many people were finishing up the JMT since going Southbound is so popular. Seeing everyone's excitement about being done and finishing the trail encouraged us more. We couldn't wait to be where they where! That night we attempted to sleep but it was near impossible with the excitement for summiting Mt Whitney the next morning!
Today was the day! We were going to summit the tallest peak in the continental US! All night I was tossing and turning. I thought it was just me being nervous but it turned out it was altitude sickness. I have had it before and it usually takes me a couple days to become acclimated but I didn't have a couple days, I had one night. We began our hike under the light of the moon. We wanted to make it up by sunrise but we left a bit later then we expected but we still got a good view of the sunrise from the trail. My altitude sickness got worse and worse the higher up we got. By the time we made it to the top I was done for. Luke had to sign our name in the registry because I refused to move. We took a few pictures then began our descent back down to Guitar Lake. We thought about continuing past Guitar Lake to get a jump start on the next day but with how sick I was we decided against it. Good idea too! It was nice to just relax, hang out, do a bit of fishing, and jump in the freezing water!
This day was the day I got my hiking legs! Luke said that I finally found my "pace", which means slow. But with that pace I could go forever with no breaks and make great time. We took lunch at Wallace Creek with our new friend Brian. We met him the day before on the way up to Mt Whitney. He was "hiding in the shadows" and scared Kait! We ran into him on the trail today at a point where the trail became pretty steep and with me setting a slow pace he decided to follow behind. After Lunch we headed up the trail toward Tyndall Creek. Brian warned us that the next 4 miles was all uphill. To add to it there were iffy clouds forming. Which made me a little nervous because at one point we were just barely to the top of the tree line. We made it to Big Horn Platue which is at 11,200 feet with gorgeous views in every direction! There were Marmots running around everywhere and a small pond. It definitley made the climb worth it. We made it to Tyndall Creek and set camp up. We washed up in the river, did some cleaning of our clothes, then hung out and relaxed. In the morning we were going over the tallest pass on the trail; Forester Pass!
We all woke up early to get a head start on the day. The day started out rough but by the time we started hiking I already began to feel better. There is something amazing about waking up, being all bundled up in your warm gear, and hiking with the sun just beginning to rise over the mountains. It would make a lot of our future rough days better. The hike up the pass is insane! The way the trail was carved into the side of the mountain is mind blowing! It was an amazing experience. It didn't help that an older gentleman passed us going down the trail warned us that it was a very dangerous and we could die, which freaked us out a little (by us I mean me and Kait). The last 5 switchbacks had sheer drop offs. But the end result was the best feeling ever! Being next to that sign, with the awesome views, and the people I care most about next to me. It was very humbling. We met some cool people who were getting close to finishing the trail. After taking a few pictures we began our hike down to Vidette Meadows. At one point we began giving out trail names; David's is Flash because he can hike insanely fast, Luke's is Four because he has summited Mt Whitney Four times, Kait's is Rock Jumping Ninja because at one point she was literally jumping from rock to rock to avoid the small rocks, and mine is Snail Ranger because I hike slow and abide by the rules of the trail. We made it to Bubbs Creek for lunch and found an amazing spot to soak our feet, relax, and let Luke do some fly fishing. He caught 10 Golden Trouts! They were small except for one. David spent some time catching a few frogs before we decided to continue on to our camp site. We headed towards the last camping section of Vidette Meadows and set camp up. For some reason the day seemed to drag on forever. But we found a great spot and settled in. This was our last night with David and Kait before they hiked out in the morning. It was definitely going to be sad to see them go in the morning. We tried to have it all figured out before we started the JMT for when they were going to hike back in and where but they never figured it out. So the plan was that they will meet us at Muir Trail Ranch but if they aren't there then we will be at Sallie Keys, but if they don't show up to Sallie Keys then we would eventually see them at Reds Meadow for our resupply. So far we have stuck very closely to our itinerary so hopefully it wouldn't be a problem. It still made me nervous not having an official plan.
Today we said goodbye to David and Kait. But not before doing a decent amount of climbing. We made it to where our trails cut off into different directions. We began to say our goodbyes. David seemed to be pretty worried about not being on the trail to watch out for me. He may have threatened Luke's life a few times if anything would happen to me. Protective older brother right there! We began hiking away and realized that since we didn't have to resupply we would have a "free" day. Our original plan was to hike Glenn Pass tomorrow but we figured we would hike as much as we could today to shorten a couple of our long days. The new plan was to make it to Rae Lakes as long as the clouds didn't look too scary. The trail was pretty much up hill the entire time. One thing we learned while hiking is that you never know where the pass is until you start your final accent. We climbed approximately 2700 feet in elevation in about 4.5 miles. Thanks to all the amazing encouragement from Luke I was able to make it to the top of Glenn Pass. It was incredible to see where we had come and to get a glimpse of what was to come. There was only one other person at the top of the pass with us and boy was it cold! The wind was howling and sure enough the clouds were begining to come in. As we headed down the pass the sky changed drastically. Our pace may have sped up a bit! After making it to the other side of the lake we ran into a big group of deer! They were all sitting under a tree, a couple with huge antlers! It seemed like they were waiting for the storm to hit. Not one of them budged as we passed by. Eventually we needed to rush to find where we would stay so we can set up camp to keep everything dry. I kid you not, we finished setting up our tent and climbed inside right before it started to down pour! Perfect timing! We cuddled up in our tent to wait out our first Sierra storm on the trail. The thunder was incredibly loud and right over us. After a few rounds of solitaire the storm let up and we emerged from our tent to a beautiful pink sunset off in the distance. Luke was able to fish a little and he caught four brooktrout before it began to rain again.
We were suppose to have another easy day since we were a day ahead of schedule, but we wanted to try and beat the weather by hiking a majority of the miles a day early and to try to get as close to pincho pass as we could. The beginning of the day was clear skies and great weather. We passed a few beautiful lakes, talked to a few passing hikers ... but then the afternoon hit and with it a storm. It came in all directions. We were rained on, hailed on (seriously, pea size hail!), constant thunder and lightening. It was awesome! We just kept on hiking with our rain gear on, trying to make some miles to stay ahead. We weren't too sure about where we would camp that night, basically just playing it by ear. Honestly, it felt nice just going with the flow. Its always good to start off with some sort of idea of where you should be but not really having a place we had to absolutely be at made life much better on the trail. A few hikers had suggested a spot along Woods Creek about 4miles below the pass. It was a good idea to hit the pass early in the morning before an afternoon sierra storm could hit again. One of the main highlights from this day was the suspension bridge! Its even more fun during a thunder storm. Not going to lie, I may have walked very fast across that bridge. Once Luke and I found our camp spot we attempted to quickly set up our tent in the pouring rain. It took us a bit to figure out the best possible way to do it but finally just went for it. Once it was set up we hurried inside, took off all our wet clothes, threw on whatever dry clothes we had, and huddled shivering in our sleeping bags. The storm eventually did stop and we were able to hang up our wet clothes to dry and eat something warm while looking out on the valley below.