John Muir Trail Thru-Hike Recap

For 18 days we backpacked from a parking lot in Yosemite Valley to Whitney Portal—a total of 223 miles—211 of these were on the John Muir Trail. Obtaining this difficult-to-get permit which starts at Happy Isles in the Valley, and finishes at the top of Mt. Whitney at 14,505 ft (4421m), is considered a win of “The Golden Ticket”, as thousands apply for this particular route each year. I had fast-packed most of the trail prior, but my 4 companions had not, nor had they backpacked in the wilderness for more than a few days at a time. At an age range of 56 to 60 years, we were all first-timers at doing the whole trail in one fell swoop.

The John Muir Trail is one of the most remote and challenging trails in the U.S. and has been touted as being one of the most beautiful thru-hikes in the world. With a total of over 47,000 feet (14,000m) in elevation gain, and 38,000 feet in elevation loss, the trail crosses over 10 steep mountain passes, 6 of them being over 11,000 feet. As the vast majority of the trail is in designated wilderness, 35% of it over 10,000 feet, the majority of the trail lies a day or more on foot from any road. 

As a result, we only picked up 3 food resupplies along the way at; Tuolumne Meadows, Reds Meadow and Muir Trail Ranch (MTR). Our pack weight varied from 30-50+ lbs, with 4 of us carrying 50+ lbs for several days after our final 9-day resupply at MTR (ouch). 

My overarching take-away from this venture is, Gratitude. Gratitude I have the strength and passion to expose myself to such an endeavor and that I did it with 4 other intrepid people—one of them, the man I am about to marry. To experience these untouched wild places is a gift. A gift that a hiker has to work diligently to obtain. Which is as it should be. This mountain trail is magical in that it causes one to feel insignificant and completely filled-up, all at the same time. Truly grateful. 

5+ More Take-away’s from Hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT): 

  • My hat is off to all who thru-hike the ENTIRE JMT. I’ve done more tough endeavors than the vast majority of folks do in a few lifetimes, and I can attest that this is a challenging, steep, rocky, dusty, trail. Plus we are out there bonding with the elements—wind, heat, cold, etc.—and lots of dirt for an extended period of time. If you complete this, you are awesome. Period. 
  • Carrying a 50 lb pack sucks. I already knew this, and I will likely know it again. But it feels great just to say, it sucks! Praise-be to fast-packing!
  • The other thru-hikers you meet on the trail are as excellent as humans get in life. LOVE you all!
  • Women rock the trail! Our group had 3 women and 2 men, all of us past middle aged. The women on our trip were not only overall stronger and more resilient than our male counterparts (yes the guys know it), but stronger than many of the younger folks we met on the trail. Women are patient, realistic and persistent. We rocked, and its likely you would too—as I can attest by seeing a larger quantity of women solo hiking than ever before on this trail.
  • I now love the Sierra Range more than ever. I didn’t think it was possible to love it more, as prior I held it in esteemed goddess status. But like a good friend you continue to get to know more fully, I am ever more in awe. I shall be back again and again to renew our virtuous relationship. Thank you for letting me in.
  • And a bonus one: There is nothing quite as beautiful as a pristine mountain lake framed by granite. Love. 

And finally—my fiancé, Chris Foster, kept saying that this hike was his “initiation” prior to our getting married. I would, of course, not admit this outright on the front end, but I will say now, this was a smidge true…ish. The result? Though he was whiney a couple of times (understandably), and he did hike way ahead of me once while I carried all of our communal gear, he did indeed pass with flying colors. Why? Because we had conversations on the above stuff, which allowed us to have a deeper understanding of each other. I proceeded to put my adventure racing hat on a shelf, and he stepped up his game. It was a perfect induction into our partnership together. 

Big love to; 

Excellent trail mates, all.

Happy trails…

[for lots of photos go to my Facebook wall]

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