John Muir Trail 2021 – hike plan
May 29, 2021 at 6:04 pm #3716303
I am hiking the John Muir Trail this summer; in fact, starting July 2nd. That is the easy part. “Getting there” or figuring out how to get there has been a bit of challenge and one I think worthy of documenting if only to have the instruction handy should I decide to go it again. This note is not a comprehensive guide to permitting, travel logistics, and resupply planning, but is a detailed account how I have planned to do it.
My priorities for travel are schedule predictability and spend as little time possible in transit. I have limited time off from work, constraints on when I can get away, and want to maximize my time on the trail. And in effort to optimize the away from work time I generally want to travel Thursday, start hiking Friday and for most trips return home on the week out Sunday, or if a holiday weekend, Monday. For hikes in the Sierra, I like August and September especially the last week August through Labor Day (for the extra day).
But I am getting ahead of myself. Permits. What about permits?
This year I have a family trip at the end of September so set my sights on a hike starting any Friday or Saturday in July or August. And for permits I started playing the Happy Isles and Mt Whitney Trail lotteries as soon as the windows opened; played them several times. The mistake with this was ignoring the possibility of failure and not reserving permits out of Horseshoe Meadow as they became available. And of course, I failed.
My backup plan: checking rec.gov several times every day. To my delight, in early May some thoughtful permit holders, when their plans changed, cancelled and I was able to score a Cottonwood Lakes permit for July 2nd and a Cottonwood Pass permit for August 6th. My boss prefers July 2nd and my plans build on that. Meanwhile, I cancelled my August 6th permit for someone else to enjoy.
I’ve edited the permit twice. Once to adjust the nightly stops, and a second time to extend my stay just in case I need an extra day.
About getting there…I’ve outlined my travel priorities, and there are a few other considerations: 1) I am travelling from near Albany, NY. 2) Most of my hikes are from east side trailheads so my best “fly in” options are Mammoth, Las Vegas, Reno, LA. 3) For weeklong trips a rental car that sits at the trailhead is generally cheaper than one-way rentals and hired shuttles. 4) While hiking I need a place to keep my travel duffel and clean change of clothes. This most often is a rented car but can be a hotel with the promise of a night’s stay. 5) And with all my constraints I’ll tend toward the cheaper end of the available options.
Integrate everything above, my go to for weeklong hike, for the last 7 years is fly to Vegas, arrive ~11am, rent a car, do my last-minute shopping, drive to Lone Pine, pick up the paper permit, get a room at elevation for the night, and then off to the trailhead first thing the next morning. But this isn’t quite optimal for a 2-week JMT hike.
A rental car, parked for 2 weeks, is wastefully expensive and I am going to need a shuttle anyway. This year there are no one way rentals into Mammoth or Bishop until August and United stopped its daily flights in and out of Mammoth with the onset of COVID. Using public transportation from LA or the Yarts from Fresno both take a long time and have tight connections that put priority one at risk. The only thing that is easy is I’ll have my permit in hand and don’t have to be at a ranger station by 4:30pm that afternoon before I start hiking.
Have you started playing the violins yet? Should I continue?
Long story short, the solution this year is Thursday the 1st: A Southwest flight into Reno, the Eastern Sierra Bus into Mammoth, and stay the night at a Mammoth Hotel where I can store my travel duffel in a ski locker. Friday the 2nd: a crack of dawn East Side Sierra shuttle to Horseshoe Meadow.
I suppose I could have just written this last paragraph.
The getting home is simple by compare. If successful I finish Friday morning July 16th in Happy Isles. From there it is the afternoon Yarts to Mammoth and another hotel night. Saturday the 17th I take a cab to the Mammoth Airport, rent a car from Enterprise, and drive to Las Vegas. From there it is a red eye and arrive back in Albany by noon the 18th.
Of course, I also need a Plan B and Plan C way of getting home. Plan B, what I do if I hike too slow: exit at Tuolumne and hop onto Plan A with the after Yarts or exit at Mammoth and hop onto Plan A. Plan C, what to do if I must bail? Wing it and rely on a few kind souls to get me to Mammoth where I can get back onto Plan A. There is always the Plan D wing it option where I am evac’d out of the backcountry, but I am not going there.
Things were a lot easier when I lived in Arizona. I just drove.
With travel down it is onto menu and resupply.
My backpacking menu is rather pedestrian. I want convenience, so no home dehydrating and no original recipes for me. I like Pack-It Gourmet and start there for both breakfasts and dinners. Lunch is seldom a stop and sit meal, instead I graze a couple hundred calories per hour from bars, almond M&M, nut butters, dried fruit, and sausages. The grazing habit is a trial and error learned practice of how I need to eat and sustain myself while hiking 12+/- hours a day.
The choices are not the most calorically dense but not too bad, and there is enough variety to keep me interested and eating. Menu details, quantities, and nutritional values are listed in the table below.
I am resupplying at Muir Trail Ranch and Reds Meadow. These I’ll mail by June 18th. This gives them about 3 weeks to arrive and I’ll likely have confirmation they’ve been received before I start hiking. Quantities carried and what goes in each bucket are listed in the next table.
Next is gear. I probably have not changed more than 5 items since 2006. Absent food, fuel, and water I am about 15 lbs. This year call it 16 since I am going to carry both a tarp and a poncho unless the 2-week forecast as of July 1 is two weeks no rain. This includes the bear can.
McHale Sarc-chasm Backpack
2 Mons Peak Tiger Paw carbon trekking poles
Chrome Dome Umbrella
Western Mountaineering Ultralight Sleeping bag
1 Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack / doubles as sleeping bag stuff sack
Thermarest Neo-Air Large
2 DCF stuff sacks
Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Tarp
Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Pro Poncho/tarp
Mountain Laurel Designs bivy
8 aluminum y-stakes with attached guylines in rolled into tarp
Gerber Dime multitool
1-liter Smartwater Bottle
Fenix LD02 mini flashlight
1 Bearikade weekender
Quarter (for opening bearikade)
Ti Spoon w/long handle
1 600ml titanium pot
Caldera Cone w/Gram Weenie Stove
18 Esbit cubes
clothes to pack
Patagonia UL Windbreaker
Patagonia wind pants
100 wt. fleece gloves
Patagonia Capilene Air hoody
1 pair Injinji toe socks
3’ Leukotape (wrapped on hiking staff)
1 0.5oz Tube Hydrocortisone cream
1 0.5oz Tube Anti-Fungal cream
5 band-aids w/antibiotic ointment
Meds (Benadryl, Sudafed, Imodium, Bisacodyl, Tylenol, Bonine)
Script Meds (32 Eliquis, 16 Allopurinol, 32 Colchicine, Prednisone
1 sheet shop towel, quartered
2 sheets 2nd skin
5 2nd Skin blister patches
1 large safety pin
1 roll McNett tape
~6’ Duct tape (wrapped on hiking staff)
Needle & thread
9 pieces fire starter
10 Katadyn Micropur tablets
SS Wire Toothpick
8 Deet Wipes Insect Repellent
Toilet paper, 45 sheets
2 one-quart Ziploc (one for new, one for used TP)
1oz Hand gel
iPhone with Gaia GPS app
Anker charger (plug and charging cord in resupply)
Small notepad, pencil
Sea to Summit mosquito head net
clothes to wear
Patagonia Merino 1 t-shirt
2 pair Injinji toe socks
Scrap of paper with phone #
A bit of cash
Medical insurance card
Suunto Core Compass/Altimeter watch
½ oz eye drops
Tin of lip balm
Lastly, here is the above and my hike itinerary laid out in table format.
Hopefully some of you find it useful, whether preparing your own JMT hike or in grabbing bits that you can use on another adventure. I welcome questions and comments, and in recompense for any harm endured while reading this I’ll report back on how it actually plays out.May 29, 2021 at 6:25 pm #3716304jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
I tape a quarter to the top of my Bearikade and then use the folded back of a one ounce single blade knife to open it. the folded knife is practically designed for this. And then of course I have a very sharp knife available as well. Sorry, I can’t recall the brand! In any case a quarter duck taped on top is a good backup if everything else fails. Never had to use it tho….May 29, 2021 at 7:03 pm #3716312matthew kModerator
I once hiked the JMT with the bright idea of eating a Superfood Slam Probar every morning for breakfast. I was gagging on them a week in and finished the trail after 20 nights with several leftovers in the bear can still. YMMV but at least get different flavors and maybe consider substituting some of those out for other brands unless you know already that you can eat them for 16 days in a row.May 29, 2021 at 7:08 pm #3716315jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
Yes, I agree with Mathew. Moreover, the gumbo/chili/tortilla soup etc, might get to be a bit much on your stomach…? Nothing like oatmeal with fruit to balance things out…May 29, 2021 at 7:57 pm #3716318
I hear you guys, my menu is not for everyone. I eat spicy hot most nights, so my backpacking meals are a step back, still it may be more than most like. And the probars have been mainstays for well over a dozen years. And though I do get a variety of flavors they really don’t vary that much one from the other.May 29, 2021 at 9:01 pm #3716321matthew kModerator
Cool. It sounds like you know what works for you :)
Enjoy the hike!Jun 27, 2021 at 8:18 pm #3720273
On the cusp…resupplies are mailed, my pack except for the few items that will go with me “carry on” is packed. I am ready to go.
All I need is patience. I do have work the next 3 days, but the anticipation the excitement is building!
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Our Community Posts are Moderated
Backpacking Light community posts are moderated and here to foster helpful and positive discussions about lightweight backpacking. Please be mindful of our values and boundaries and review our Community Guidelines prior to posting.