Video above provided by Chris Smead.
Over the years, I have often thought of hiking the John Muir Trail (aka: the JMT)… let’s be real, what hiker/backpacker hasn’t?! This trail has been called “America’s most beautiful trail” so that must mean something, right? So, in early 2015 I began (loosely) planning a potential JMT section hike with my son that would have taken us along a short 30-ish mile section of the PCT, then north along the JMT to Kearsarge Pass, however, that trip didn’t come to pass (see what I did there!) So, while those particular plans didn’t come to fruition, the fact of the matter is that the trail is still there… so, there is still a reason to hope… and to dream! So I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming BIG this time, and not just of a JMT section hike, but of a full JMT thru-hike! (Woot-woot!!!)
After the plans for our section hike fell though, the JMT got filed to the back of my brain… With everything I have had going on since then, I just didn’t have the time to even consider such an endeavor again. Heck, I’ve hardly even had the time to get out on shorter, closer to home hikes since then! However, on a recent hike I managed to squeeze in with my buddy Benny Braden (aka: plugitinontheat), he told me that he had been thinking about trying to hike the JMT in the summer of 2017. Well of course that sparked some interest in me, but again, I have so much going on right now that I just didn’t see it as being a real possibility for me to be able to join along, especially with such a short notice. But I said, sure, just keep me in the loop!
Then, as it just-so happened, a couple of weeks ago, I got a message from a fellow BPL’er/backpacker by the name of Chris Smead (aka: hamsterfish on YouTube). He told me that he had been editing a film about his own recently completed, JMT thru-hike, and that he would be publishing it on his YouTube page soon. So, a couple of days ago when he uploaded the first version of his film, I checked it out, and wow, I really enjoyed it! (There went another spark in me!)
Of course we have already established the fact that the scenery along the JMT is nothing short of beautiful. And after watching Chris’s film, I feel like he has done an excellent job in capturing that beauty! This film was shot and uploaded in 4K, which is very sharp and clean, and it is obvious that he put a lot of work into editing and animating this film. In the end, I think he has presented his journey in a very captivating, and enjoyable film that I could also relate to. He kept things fun and moving, and I found that I was constantly glued to my 4K, 55″ TV screen (yeah, not a little 5″ phone screen, or even our 21″ computer monitor – but a real TV screen), eager to see what was coming up next. (So, be sure to watch the video above… he does a much better job on his videos than I do my own…lol!)
Then, just a couple of days ago I was talking with Jeremy from BoneFire Gear (aka: fireinmybones86) about something not even related to hiking (a beer swap actually). It was in that conversation that hiking the JMT just so happened to come back up again. I told him that I would still like to be kept in the loop if he and Benny firmed up some dates, but in the back of my mind, I knew it was highly unrealistic that I would actually be able to make it. But, my brain was sparking again, and I wanted to live in the moment, so I entertained the thought of actually going. That’s when Jeremy told me that they were planning the hike for summer of 2018, not 2017…
That’s when that little spark turned into a bright light!
At that moment, our conversation took a bit of a turn, and for the last couple of days now, Jeremy, Benny, Joe (aka: Detail Man – whom I have not yet met) and I have all loosely been discussing plans to do a full thru-hike of the JMT in the summer of 2018! Being that it is a full year and a half out, I do believe that I will have time to get things lined up so that I really can go! So yeah, I am dreaming BIG here! Hopefully this time though, things will come together a bit different than the last time I began planning a hike along the JMT… At this point, I think (hope) the permit’s may now be our biggest obstacle…
When I started thinking about a JMT section hike in early 2015, I bought a few books and maps to begin planing our hike. Particularly, Erik the Blacks JMT Pocket Atlas (2nd Edition), the National Geographic JMT Trails Illustrated Map, a Mapdana JMT Pocket Profile Elevation Map and Elizabeth Wenk’s, book: John Muir Trail, The Essential Guide to Hiking America’s Most Famous Trail. I also printed off Section H of Halfmile’s PCT map’s (which I still have to locate, or reprint…), as well as used several other internet sources for planning. Then of course there are also groups on Yahoo and Facebook that are also quite valuable.
These books and maps are quite good. I particularly like Elizabeth Wenk’s book as it provides a wealth of information. Its 280+ pages consists of tables filled with tons of information on campsites (such as mileage, elevations, coordinates and descriptions), as well as water sources, food storage box locations, and even plants found along the trail! Her book also goes over some basic history surrounding the trail, a little about trip planing and information about the permit process, contains list’s of emergency contacts for different area’s along the length of the trail, provides lists of different types of transportation to and from (different sections of) the trail, and includes resupply information and the side trails to nearby towns.
The heart of her guide-book breaks down the 211 mile long trail into 13 separate sections, each going into a bit more detail about those specific sections, complete with maps and legends, elevation profiles, and some nice black and white photo’s that even label the surrounding peaks! Also, on a lesser note, I am happy that this book is written on a north to south basis, as that is the direction I would prefer to hike this trail, which makes it easier than trying to read it backwards. This book is packed to the gills with information and details about the JMT, yet I find that it’s still an enjoyable book to simply read through! I do believe this will be a valuable tool in helping me prepare for what to expect once I finally make it to the JMT!
It seems that a pretty popular carry option for many JMT hikers is Erik the Black’s JMT Pocket Atlas, and I can see why. At only 2.5 oz it is pretty light weight, however, it’s packed heavy with information! This guide breaks the trail into 14 sections, each section with a 2 page colored map, complete with marked key points, miles and elevation profiles. The rest of the book is filled with information on side trails and alternate routes, resupply guides, town maps, GPS waypoints, transportation, permits, hike planing, campsites, water sources and trail head information. All of this information is cram packed into this light, 21 page (42 pages if you count front and back of each page) 5″ x 8″ book! Now, being 5″ x 8″ I wouldn’t call it “pocket-able” but it is small enough to store in my pack pretty easily! I could definitely see myself carrying this guide-book with me while actually on the JMT. Saying that, I do wish this guide were made with a more durable, waterproof and tear-resistant paper…
The National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of the JMT is also a pretty nice map and is similar to Erik the Black’s guide. It has some basic information about permits, access points, transportation, re-supplies and waypoints, however, what sets this map/book apart is that it is made with a waterproof, tear-resistant paper and the maps are just a bit more detailed. At 3.2 oz the Nat Geo map is slightly heavier than the Pocket Atlas, but my biggest complaint about this map is that it is in a book format. I figure it would have been quite large if it were a fold out map, although I think I would have enjoyed that format better than stapled together pages. I do think it is worth considering for carrying on the trail though, and I know many hikers have.
And last but not least (from my collection), the MapDana pocket profile map is the lightest of them all at only 0.14 oz, however, in my opinion, these maps are best as supplemental maps, at least in unknown area’s. I do carry these (alone) when on my AT section hikes, but I (or someone else in my group) are already pretty familiar with the area’s where we will be hiking at (plus, like good hikers, we always do a bit of pre-trip research). Saying this, I likely wouldn’t carry this pocket profile map with me on the JMT (I would rather carry Erik The Black’s guide, or the Nat Geo TI map, which would make this map redundant), but for planning it is nice to be able to lay out a single, continuous elevation profile so that I can easily glance at the changes/profile.
Also worth mentioning, Halfmile’s PCT maps (Section H in particular for the JMT), are great for printing out and using for pre-trip planing. I personally wouldn’t carry these on the trail simply because there are so many different pages, but they are detailed, and I know that there are folks that do opt to carry them. As a bonus, they are free!
I am also planning to eventually download the Guthook’s JMT guide on my iPhone (although, but the time this hike takes place I will have the newest iPhone 8(?) at that time, so I am not planning on getting this app until later). I have never used his apps before but I do know folks that have (in particular, for the AT), and they have great things to say about them. I think this app would complement either Erik the Black’s guide, or the Nat Geo TI map rather well, and with no weight penalty!
One other popular map that many seem to use for the JMT is the Tom Harrison map set. I have heard lots of great things about this map set, however, with all the maps and guides I already have (especially in conjunction with the wealth of information available right at my finger tips, here on the net) I don’t feel like I need to purchase this set too. I have a feeling it will offer the same information as what I already have.
Other than these books and maps, there are also a number of other online trip reports, trail journals and videos to watch on YouTube and Vimeo, as well as other sites to keep myself caught up in the JMT dream. One other notable film that I enjoy watching on occasion is Mile… Mile & a Half from The Muir Project. (And by the way, through the end of December 2016, this movie (and other items on the site) is 25% off when using the code “MMAAH”… so, if you don’t have it yet, or haven’t seen it yet, pick it up! It’s available as a download, DVD or BluRay… I personally like the BluRay! I liked it so much I even purchased a second DVD to use as a give away when it came out.) In case you haven’t seen it, here is a trailer from that movie:
As I said, it was only just a couple of days ago that we officially started discussing the possibility of doing this hike. Of course I really, really, really want to do this hike, and being that we are thinking about doing it in the summer of 2018, I believe that I should be able to make it happen, assuming nothing out of the ordinary comes up between now and then. So yes, I am giddy with excitement… And yes, there is a lot of stuff for us to still figure out, and that’s ok with me. I think I have some good resources to get started with!
And of course I have already been working on a gear list for the hike… trying to decide what else I may “need” to buy (such as trading in my BV500 for a Bearikade Weekender?!) The west coast is a totally different beast from the east coast, and some of the rules are a bit different… but this is fine with me! I enjoy researching these kinds of things… 🙂
I can say that at this point, we would like to complete the trail in 14-ish day’s. Besides an itinerary and all the other things I have already mentioned, I am also thinking about all the different options for actually getting there and back. We have discussed a few scenario’s, but for now, my goal is to study up on all things JMT as much as possible until it’s time to cross our fingers and submit our permits! Once we get our specific dates, then I can begin making hard plans for getting there and back…
So, for those that have hiked the trail (or just know the area), please feel free to provide any tips, tricks, or advice that you feel is worthy of passing on. As well, feel free to leave links to trip reports, videos, gear lists, or just plain good old resources… Until I am actually on the trail, I enjoy diving into as much content as I can! Planning the hike can be just as exciting, and with a full year and a half to go, I should have plenty of time to get as familiar as possible with what to expect…
So, until later, I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas, and an exciting new year!
Disclaimer: I purchased all content mentioned in this post with my own money. As well, this post does not contain any affiliate links, so basically, I am not being paid in any way for sharing any of this information. It’s just my opinion…
Also, a special thanks to Chris Smead for allowing me to share his film here in my post!