Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Crossing Illilouette Creek
With less than a day left before I depart on a 23 day, 220 mile backpack trip, I think back to a year and a half ago to when this crazy idea initially implanted itself in my head. One day in the fall of 2013, my family and I sat down to unwind from a long day and watch a little television. Little did we know that what we were about to watch would spark an incurable sense of wanderlust and precede many months of planning.
On this particular night we decided to watch "Mile...Mile and a Half", an adventure documentary made about the John Muir Trail. Although I have been known to enjoy an occasional adventure documentary, this one I found particularly inspiring. Maybe it was it's proximity to home, or my past experiences in the Sierra, but for some reason I instantly knew hiking the JMT was something I wanted to do.
A lot has happened between that initial spark of interest and now. The January after watching the documentary I spent a long weekend in Yosemite Valley on my scout troop's annual snow-camping trip. Here I hiked the first few miles of the JMT, up to Nevada Falls, with a few friends of mine. I remember looking at the trail sign at the beginning of the trail that read "Mt. Whitney ... 211 Miles" and I knew then that someday I'd return to do the full JMT.
Cycling across America last summer completely changed my perspective on life. The 63 day adventure inspired me to think big and fueled an even greater desire to continue going on great adventures. Not long after my return from cycling across the country I starting thinking about the John Muir Trail again.
The fall after I returned I began talking to some of my friends at school about the trail and about backpacking in general. Eventually I decided to start a backpacking club at my high school, and in October we headed out on our first outing, a oceanside day hike at Point Reyes National Seashore. It was a very fun day and we continued to go on beautiful local hikes throughout the rest of the school year.
After starting this backpacking club I began to do more research on the John Muir Trail, and discovered the planning process to be a lot more complicated than I had initially expected. The first step was getting the backcountry permits. Six months before embarking on the JMT, we had to apply for a permit. This process proved extremely difficult as the permits were in high demand. Every day at 7am we would fax our request to Yosemite. The phone line was always busy so it would take 30 minutes or so to get through. Yosemite takes all the faxes, puts them in a pile and then goes down the list filling up slots at each of the requested trial heads. After two weeks of trying, we scored a permit to hike the trail from Mono Meadow Trail Head. This was a perfect trail head to start from because it is already at 7000 ft. We wouldn't have to hike up the 4000 feet from the valley floor to get to Little Yosemite Valley Campground. It added a day to our hike but it was worth it!
With our permit departure date set, we had to work on our itinerary. It was fun to research the trail but also very complicated to put it all together. We had to estimate how far we thought we could make it each day taking into account elevation gain/loss. One good thing about hiking north to south is that it would give us time to acclimate to the higher elevations later on the trail. Experts say that you shouldn't sleep more than 1000 feet above your last camp site so we researched sleeping elevations as well. We found a great reference to help us plan for this at
5 RESUPPLY POINTS
We also had to decide upon which resupply points to use. Food is heavy! We didn't want to carry more than 5 days of food at a time on our backs. We were lucky that Heath's dad and my mom wanted to meet us at 3 of the 5 resupply points (that are accessible by roads) so we had Toulumne Meadows, Reds Meadow and Vermillion Valley resort covered. They would bring us our food to those 3 meeting points. That left us with only Muir Trail Ranch and Cedar Grove Pack Station that we had to ship our food to in advance. Muir Trail Ranch we would hike right by and pick up our food at mile 110. Cedar Grove would meet us by horseback at the Woods Creek Junction at mile 168. They were also super nice and and didn't charge us the full resupply fee because they already had a delivery scheduled for someone else that day.
After many, many revisions of the itinerary (below) we planned a 22 day trek with 5 resupply points,
1) Tuolumne Meadows
2) Reds Meadow
3) Vermillion Valley Resort
4) Muir Trail Ranch
4) Woods Creek Junction -resupply by Cedar Grove Pack Station
Below is our 22 day itinerary for the trip.
As we got closer to summer it became more apparent who would actually be joining me on the trek and for how long. For the whole trip I will be joined by my good friend Heath Demartini, who has done both a 50 mile and 80 mile trek with me along with numerous other outdoor adventures. We will also be joined by Mike Urban, a good friend of Heath's family who heard about our trek and decided to join us.
In addition, my dad will hike all but three days of the trek as he can't get off work for the entire duration.
Besides these four core trekkers, the first week from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows we will be joined by my girlfriend Noël Clark and our good friend Kate West. Both girls helped me start the backpacking club and although they won't be able to come on the whole trip, it will be wonderful to have them along for the first few days. In addition to them, my sister and mother will be hiking the first few days with us and for the rest of the trip they will play the crucial role of meeting up with us at a few points along the trail and resupplying us.
WILDERNESS FIRST RESPONDER CERTIFICATION
When summer hit planning for the JMT became a central focus of my time. First I completed a 10 day National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Wilderness First Responder Course. This course gave me valuable knowledge and hands on experience in solving medical realted problems that can occur in the wilderness.
BAY AREA WILDERNESS TRAINING
Next, I offically partnered with Bay Area Wilderness Training. BAWT is a non profit organization, headquartered in Oakland , CA. that trains and loans gear to youth groups that take underprividged kids on wilderness adventures. It is exciting to think that my efforts hiking the JMT might inspire other youth to push their limits and at the same time raise funds to help them experience the outdoors. Every $1000 I raise will help take 17 kids into the wild.
MEAL PLANNING, SHOPPING, BAGGING & SHIPPING.
Next we moved on to another tedious steps, meal planning. One day in early summer, Heath and I got together and planned out a basic menu based on our past experiences in backcountry cooking. We also took the opportunity to test a varity of freeze dried meals and decided upon the ones we would take on our trek.
From there we continued to make adjustments to the menu and began to calculate serving sizes for each day. When we were confident with our plans, we set out and purchased all the food, then began the tedious process of sorting all the food and individually bagging each meal and labeling it with the date we would use it. We had to be highly organized as we needed to make sure we had enough calories for each day. We also wanted to be able to divide up the food into our separate packs evenly when we received it on the trail.
We then had to mail out ten days of food to Muir Trail Ranch and Cedar Grove Pack Station three weeks in advance. We used large paint buckets because they are water tight and rodent proof. This food preparation took a huge amount of time to organize and it was a relief when it was done.
Below is our meal plan for the trip.
Another major planning issue that had to be figured out was gear. Personally I had the majority of my gear already from past backpacking trips, but I still updated to some newer and lighter-weight gear. I also helped gear up my family which between the four of us was quite a task.
With almost all the planning done, yesterday my parents and I went out on a hike in Sugarloaf State park with our full packs for one final test run before we depart. It felt great to strap on my pack and hit the trail, and I cannot wait for tomorrow.
It's been a long and tedious planning process, but I'm confident that all the details have been worked out and we are ready to embark on another incredible adventure!
The mountains are calling and I must go!