May 3, 2011 at 10:11 am #1273244
In 2009 Robert and I hiked the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. Our longest hike ever. We went into it with great trepidation, but actually it went just fine. The climbs were a lot of work but it was satisfying work, not daunting. We took 10 days. Probably could just as well have done it in 8 or 9 days but the first few days we had our three 20-something kids and a couple of their girlfriends with us and planned on shorter days for the group.
So this summer we are ramping it up and planning on the John Muir Trail, southbound July 25-August 15. (Have a permit reservation already.) There are tons of trip reports on the web, from all different kinds of folks, about the JMT.
My question today is, can someone chime in, who's hiked both the WT and the JMT? Can you share what you found similar and different, especially in terms of your ability to handle the challenges of the hike? Both trails are up-and-down affairs, the JMT over many high passes and the WT around a mountain with many deep drainages and intervening ridges. Obvious differences are that the JMT is more than twice as long and at much higher elevation. It looks like the WT is more forested.
Thoughts?May 4, 2011 at 2:09 pm #1732961
Piper S.BPL Member
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
I have not hiked the Wonderland Trail but I hiked the PCT so I know what Washington is like and what it's like to walk around a big volcano.
In my opinion, the beauty of Washington and the majesty of one large pyramidal mountain dominating the landscape blows the scenery of the High Sierra away. But you may think otherwise as many people do.
What is different is the High Sierra are higher and rockier and the air and scenery is drier. The sunlight is very harsh. I can feel my skin frying if I stop and sit in the sun. It's also very populated with a lot of smelly horses and tons of people with the biggest, heaviest packs you ever saw lumbering along in total agony. It's difficult to watch.
But it's beautiful and a challenge and being a fairly long trail, you get to be out there for a while. You look at the desert from the top of Whitney and if you have never seen desert, it will be interesting to you. You can actually see all the way to Death Valley and thus see the lowest point in the US from atop the highest.May 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm #1734029
Thanks for the feedback. In pictures I've seen the JMT does look a lot rockier than the WL was. Being from Texas, we are pretty used to rocky. I haven't carried sunglasses backpacking before, but got some for the Grand Canyon river trip last year, and I understand they will be important for the high altitude sun of the JMT, so I will bring them.
For the WL we used an 8 x 10 ID tarp which worked fine even in the rain. I am assuming it will work for the drier Sierras too, on any night we happen to need a shelter. But from pictures it looks like on the JMT one might often be camping at sites that are much more exposed than those on the WL. With or without rain, I am wondering if I need to worry about finding sufficient shelter from wind at high camps. On the WL we managed to deal with bugs with headnets at night. Just as well since we don't own a net tent for two.
I guess I shouldn't worry so much about our ability to do the work of hiking the trail, though. We aren't super strong and fast like the younger hikers on these discussions, but I think maybe I am falling prey to the "what are you thinking, you can't do that" syndrome.
Most of the WL hikers weren't so heavily loaded as what you describe. Not necessarily UL but certainly not painfully heavy. We are working on our own kits. Mine isn't too bad, about 10 lbs. base, but in the past (including WL) I've had to add all the shared gear for the two of us because my husband wants to carry a lot more personal stuff and with his neck problems we can't overload him. I am working on getting him to leave more at home. I've got him down to an Exos 58 for a pack. At least he likes that. I still need to make myself a cardboard model of a Bearikade Expedition so I can test the volume and see if I can carry it and the rest of my kit including shared stuff in the Mariposa Plus or if I'll need to bring the Catalyst. We need to rent Expeditions because at our pace we'll probably be 10 days from resupply at Muir Trail Ranch to the end, and we are not really into breaking up our backcountry sojourn by hiking out to road and town for an intermediate resupply. Before the WL I read trip reports that raved about the enjoyment of coming off the trail halfway at Longmire and having a burger before resuming the hike. We did that, and found it OK, but it was nothing special, more fun to be out on the trail, and we were glad to get back to our hike. So this time we are more interested in staying out there for a long time, and not having any more "town experiences" than necessary.
Once again, thanks for your feedback.May 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm #1734053
Bob BankheadBPL Member
@wandering_bobLocale: Oregon, USA
you have a PMMay 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm #1734055
It seems like we might meet on the trail this summer. Our exit date at Whitney is the same and our start date from Tuolumne is three days after yours (at Happy Isles?). Last summer we hiked the JMT with our 15 year old sons sons during the same time frame. This summer we will hike it with our two oldest daughters (9 & 13). You can find lots of information about JMT related questions on this Yahoo group
Last year we were absolutely fine with head nets for the night in our sleeping bags. The situation this year might of course be different with the late snow melt. During the three weeks we needed our tent only two nights – otherwise we slept under the stars. We never had any issue with being exposed to wind (with the exception of spending the last night on top of Mount Whitney to watch the Perseid meteor shower). If you don't have it yet, you might want to get the excellent JMT guide book by Susan Wenk. It contains locations and descriptions for camp sites along the whole JMT. We downloaded them all into our GPS. That worked very well for us to plan our days and find good campsites along the trail.
The Bearikade Expedition fits in the Exos 58 – I can't say anything about the other packs. Last year we re-supplied at Muir Trail Ranch and carried each a Bearikade Expedition with food for the remaining 10 days. Our son published his hike report incl. gear list and food plan. We were certainly not UL. This year we will go lighter.
Have fun on the JMT!
ManfredMay 7, 2011 at 12:19 am #1734101
@dirk9827Locale: Pacific Northwest
I've hiked both and they are quite a bit different.
First and foremost, let's start with the obvious facts – the Wonderland is approximately 93 miles in length while the JMT is 215. The highest point along the JMT is of course Whitney, at 14,491 feet, which is 80 feet higer than Mt. Rainier. The highest the trail gets on the Wonderland is around 6,900 feet depending on the route you take. Some people do choose to climb Rainier at then end of a Wonderland trip, but this requires some mountaineering skills, although with a guide it can be a more of a long steady climb under ideal conditions.
You can pretty much camp wherever you want along the JMT, as long as you have a trail permit. On the Wonderland, a strict permitting system requires you to camp at designated spots each night. There are poles to hand your food at many of these camps, as well as a pit or composting toilet. I'd say except for a handful of cases, the campsites are not spectacular, but chosen to minimize impact upon the surrounding environment.
On purely aesthetic grounds, both have a lot to offer. The JMT is a more distinctive wilderness experience than the Wonderland, which is in a National Park within a short drive of the greater Puget Sound metropolitan population. The JMT is roadless and in the High Sierra, far from but a few population centers. Itfeatures granite, long climbs, distinct passes, deep gorges, plenty of water. The Wonderland follows the flanks of a volcanic, snow-capped peak, with plenty of healthy climbs and descents. On the Wonderland you travel through several riparian zones.
The weather along the JMT would be reflective of California during the summer – many lovely, warm days. There is the occassional threat of an afternoon thunderstorm, but this generally soon passes. The Wonderland is distinctive of the Pacific Northwest. It can be absolutely gorgeous – but just as likely you will experience rain and clouds unless you go at the height of summer or we experience a dry fall. It can be rather wet on the flanks of this mountain. Bring rain gear.
The Wonderland is often hiked in 7-10 days. That's not big miles per day – you certainly could do it faster, but it's a great trail to average 10 miles on or so per day and do a bit of exploration. It really depends upon your style. You can cache food ahead of time either by car or mail to ranger station at key locations along the trail. At most, you need to carry 3-4 days worth of food. You can even schedule a day at one of two lodges (Longmire and Paradise, which is technically a bit off trail) to break up the hike. There is also a small store in Longmire and a restaurant at Sunrise where one can by a snack or meal.
The JMT typically takes around three weeks to hike, although, you can certainly hike the entire thing much faster (particularly for thru-hikers, who are by that time in very good shape). The limiting factor on mileage is adjusting to altitude, the number of passes you can do in a day and resupply strategy. You are required to carry a bear canister in sections of the trail. Resupply will force you off the trail, in some cases, a fairly good number of miles (for example, if you choose to go into Independence or Bishop). But some welcome the respite by going into town and resupplying, getting a motel and a break. In any case, you will be carrying more days worth of food on the trail
But what are the hikes like? The expansive views along the JMT, particularly on the high passes, are beautiful. You can see peaks for many miles, culminating in the climb up onto Whitney, the highest Peak in the continental United States. You hike among great granite cathedrals, an inspiring sight to behold. Frankly, I'd argue that Bighorn Plateau is among my favorite spots on any trail anywhere, for it's panoramic views. You descend into forests, green lush meadows only to climb again amidst impressive waterfalls, large snow fields (depending on when you go, there can be very little or miles of snow to cross), and rushing creeks. It was dubbed "The Range of Light" for a reason. I had high expectations, and it honestly exceeded them.
The Wonderland is distinctive because of its presence over Western Washington. Unlike Mt. Whitney, which stands in concert with many high peaks (and for some time, it wasn't clear that Whitney was the tallest), Mt. Rainier dominates the skyline. On its flanks you will pass through many riparian zones, gaining an appreciation of the breadth and scope of one mountain. The overwhelming sense you will be left with at the conclusion of the trip is the distinct differences in climate and terrain depending where you stand on its flanks. You have the pie crust of the west side, a near-constant up-and-down through volcanic soils and deep, glacier-fed rivers. While the sheer scope of the High Sierra is the beauty of the JMT, the intimacy of hiking one lone mountain carries with its own brand of pleasure. You hike among the hemlock and Douglas fir of the west, experience glaciated valleys, and climb to gorgeous mountain meadows. Water is available in abundance on both trails.
In terms of toughness? I'd say both are physically demanding. The JMT gets the nod because of elevation. However. the weather, particularly in mid to late summer, is characterized by dryer weather and lower humidity than its Washington brethren. On the Wonderland, you will have higher humidity due to the proximity to the coast, and probably experience more changes in weather.
If you want a wilderness experience full of high passes, choose the JMT. If you want a mountain experience, with less time/mile pressure and much more simple logistics, choose Rainier.
Finally, I'd propose at alternative…if you were to hike the JMT and wanted another longish hike, I'd propose hiking from Stevens Pass in Washington to the Canadian border along the PCT. This is among my favorite stretches of trail anywhere, cutting through the Glacier Peak Wilderness, North Cascades National Park and the Pasayten Wilderness. It's about a 190 miles long.
DirkMay 7, 2011 at 3:48 am #1734110
Roleigh MartinBPL Member
@marti124Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
I am the lead moderator of the John Muir Trail Yahoo Group which has nearly 1,000 members. It has one of the best libraries of resources on the JMT. We have many who have done the JMT over ten times. I'll be doing my 4th JMT this summer and it will be my 11th year in the High Sierras.
If you want something like the JMT but the distance of the Wonderland, consider the High Sierra Trail (HST), it is about 90 miles long, starts in Giant Forest, home of the largest trees in the world. You'll hike past 2 swimming holes (do not take the optional bypass that skips Moraine Lake, make sure you include Moraine Lake in your hike), and pass the Kern Canyon Hot Springs which you can also enjoy (free). You'll join the PCT and JMT at Wallace Creek, then you'll do Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the 48 states, then down to Whitney Portal.
You can do a loop of the HST as well, returning via Horseshoe Meadow (next exit south of Whitney Portal), go north on the PCT, rejoin the HST at Crabtree Meadows and return. You can have resupplies you pick up at Lone Pine, CA (you could stay there overnight too). You'd need two permits because you'd be returning via a different TH, and Inyo National Forest issues the Eastern bound return. SEKI (Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park issues the permit for the Western bound portion). The return hike will be one day less as it is more downhill returning.
I'm not knocking the JMT, I'm stuck myself on the JMT, it is so beautiful. It's just that if you want something more similar in length to the Wonderland but in the High Sierras, the HST is it. There is a group focused on the HST and other SEKI trails:May 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm #1734574
Wandering Bob and Roleigh: I have sent PM replies, thanks very much for your help.
Dirk, Wow, thanks so much for the detailed comparison! We found the Wonderland to be as you describe it. We love the lushness of the Pacific Northwest (especially in contrast to home in central Texas) and we even like hiking in forest, in contrast to all the folks who post that the JMT is boring because of too much forest and one should hike the Sierra High Route instead.
Many posts go on about how crowded the JMT is supposed to be, and covered with horse droppings, etc. But the trip report videos I've found don't make it look so much like that. Perhaps folks are selective in what they put in their reports. Still, there must be something about the JMT that keeps hikers coming back to do it again–there seem to be many repeat JMT hikers. We hope to hike many mid-length trails in the coming years. The one through the North Cascades sounds fantastic.
Manfred: Well I do hope we see you all on the hike this summer! Yes our permit reservation is for Happy Isles. And I did read your son's excellent trip report. I am thrilled to hear that you are bring your daughters on the trail this year. So many folks seem to take their sons out and leave their daughters at home. I volunteer for my local Camp Fire council as a backpacking leader; our groups include girls and boys alike. Many parents seem to be more reluctant to send their girls out on the trail. (Our daughter is probably the strongest hiker in our family, from a young age. Much more staying power than her two brothers, who are both excellent hikers. They are all grown up now, though.)
Once again, thanks to all. We are excited about our trip!
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