In one of my recent JMT Trip Planning video’s I received a comment asking about our permit and plans for our JMT hike this summer. Now that I think about it, while I have talked about these things here and there, I have not taken the time to talk about how we got our permits, or our specific plans, in one place… So, here they are!
In short, back in late 2016 I decided that I would hike the JMT with a few other friends. Since then, some had to drop out, but Benny (Plug-it In) and I decided to hold on to our plans, but with some changes. Being that the John Muir Trail has been called “America’s most beautiful trail,” we decided that we wanted to spend as much time as we possibly could on this trail and enjoy it for as long as we could!
My son’s summer break schedule (from school) is 6 weeks long, however, I am only able to squeeze 4 weeks off of work. Given our tight schedules, we weren’t all that confident in getting one of the famed “golden tickets,” but thankfully, there is more than one way to hike the JMT! We decided to go NOBO!
A NOrth BOund (NOBO) JMT hike is not usually the first choice most hikers make, but it has become more popular over the years since so many folks are getting denied the famed SOuth BOund (SOBO) permit. But despite the fact that it’s the less popular direction, I have realized that there are actually a lot of good reasons for heading north… at least to me:
- It is much easier to get these permits. There are more of them to hand out, and there are far less people grabbing them up!
- There is no lottery system to enter. Just head over to recreation.gov, put in your information and hit submit! Instant gratification!
- Instant approval gives me more time to plan my actual hike, not wonder about when it will happen!
- Permits starting at Cottonwood Lakes (or Cottonwood Pass) automatically include permits to hike up Half Dome! Again, NO LOTTERY! (Note that only these 2 entry trailhead’s allow this, and as of March 28, 2018, it has been decided that the year 2018 will be the last year for this exception. Beginning in 2019 all Half Dome permits will only be available through the Half Dome permit lottery. See the quote below – click HERE for the link to actual NPS.gov page and scroll towards the bottom of the page for this information/quote.)
Hiking Half Dome with a Wilderness Permit Issued Outside Yosemite
Wilderness permits issued outside of Yosemite are no longer valid for hiking Half Dome. If you’re beginning your backpacking trip outside of Yosemite, you’ll need a Half Dome permit, which you can apply for using the lotteries. There are two exceptions to this rule: if you’re hiking the John Muir Trail and starting at Cottonwood Lakes or Cottonwood Pass trailhead, your Inyo National Forest wilderness permit is valid for hiking Half Dome. These are the only two trailhead’s outside Yosemite that have this exception.
There are other good reason’s for hiking NOBO too, but these are the big ones that made me embrace the fact that we will be hiking against the grain of the traditional SOBO hike(rs). Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking a SOBO hike at all, but to be honest, if someone were to give me the SOBO “golden ticket” right now, even starting and ending on the same dates, I would decline and just keep my NOBO plans…
Now, I will admit that there are also good reasons that some folks would rather do a SOBO hike over a NOBO hike, such as:
- It’s the “traditional” direction to hike the trail (although, I have read in some places that the trail was actually intended to be hiked northbound… I personally don’t know for sure one way or the other, but today, SOBO is the more popular direction.)
- This direction allows more time to acclimate (SOBO starts ~4,000 feet in Yosemite).
- The climatic finish: standing on the tallest peak in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet!
- …and the burgers and beers at Whitney Portal… 🙂
And again, there are other good reasons to hike SOBO too, but I tend to see these reasons referenced the most.
But, the way I see it, the John Muir Trail is a beautiful trail… and as long as I can hike it either direction, I will be happy! Saying that, I understand that some people may have particular reasons for hiking one direction over the other though… as I mentioned above, I do too. But, I will also say that I think a lot of folks get hung up on only doing it SOBO and for no reason other than “it’s what everybody else is doing.” So, below is a photo that may help with someone’s decision… Yes, these are the approval and rejection piles for the “traditional” JMT SOBO hike beginning at one of the 5 starting points in Yosemite.
(Note that the above photo is not mine. If found it online, however, when I shared it on the JMT Facebook page a Yosemite ranger did confirm that it was a real photo… And while this is a snapshot of one point in time, I would say that this is a good representation of how the permit piles typically look during peak season for SOBO hikes… although, I’d say that the rejection pile is probably getting bigger and bigger each year…)
So, before I move on with a few more details about our specific permit and plans for our JMT hike, let me first explain how easy it was to pick up our summer 2018 JMT NOBO hiking permit beginning at Horseshoe Meadow’s and finishing at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley.
- On January 4th (exactly 6 months before our planned July 4th start date) I typed in recreation.gov on my computer. (Note that I had to wait until 7 am PST before being able to submit my order.)
- Once on the recreation.gov site, I typed “INYO NATIONAL FOREST – WILDERNESS PERMITS” into the search bar and hit enter.
- On the next page, I clicked on “Inyo National Forest – Wilderness Permits.”
- On the left hand side of the next page I began to submit my information:
- From the “Looking For” drop box, I selected “Overnight, Visiting Mt Whitney.”
- From the “Trail” drop box, I selected “Cottonwood Lakes – JM39.”
- Next I entered our starting date and our group size, then clicked on “Search.”
- On the next page I checked that the search results were correct, and then clicked the box labeled “See Details.”
- On the next page I selected the date that I wanted to begin our hike on, and then clicked on the box labeled “Book Permit.” (Note that the date box will be orange when selected. There is also a legend at the bottom of this page that will explain what each of the letters represent.)
- The next screen will be the “Permit Order Details” page. (Note that if you are not signed up, or logged in, you will be prompted to do so before the “Permit Order Details” page will open.)
- On the “Permit Order Details” page, I simply filled in my information. For “Exit Point” I selected “Happy Isles – Yosemite Valley (Exit Only…)” I then entered my exit date, and began the tedious task of filling in the daily itinerary. (Note that there is a 15 minute timer that holds this order. I took the time before this entry to figure out all 20 of my locations to make this part go by easier/faster. For nights I was unsure about, I could use the “Other/Don’t Know” option, but this can only be used so many times – I did not have to use this option. Also note that these locations are simply to give the rangers an idea of where we will be should they need to know… but it is not mandatory that I stay at the listed locations.) In the “Travel Method” drop box I selected “Foot,” then chose where I would pick up my permits, and finally I listed Benny as an alternate leader (it is important to list alternate leaders so that others can still use the permit if I am not able to make it.) At the very bottom of the page I clicked the little box stating that I read through all the information, and then hit “Continue to Shopping Cart.”
- On the next page, I looked over the information, and finally hit the “Checkout Shopping Cart” button.
- Finally, on the next page, I entered my payment information, and submitted the order!
And that was it! The photo below is a cropped section from the email I received after submitting my order. I should mention that this is still not technically my permit… but rather the email that I will take with me to the permit station and get my actual permit with…. So for now, it is as close to my “Golden Ticket” as I am going to get… and I will take it!
So, now a little more information about our plans for our own JMT hike…
As I mentioned above, one reason many folks want to hike the JMT SOBO is because this direction starts low and finishes high. When heading NOBO though, particularly out of Horseshoe Meadows, we will begin our hike at 10,000 feet! On the morning of day 4 of our hike we will be standing on top of Mt Whitney, some 14,505 feet up… this is the exact opposite of starting off low!
Considering this, I have made plans so that we can begin acclimating a few days before we even start our hike. To begin with, we will spend a night at 8,000 feet in Mammoth Lakes, followed by a night at 9,200 feet at Onion Valley, and finally a night at 10,000 feet at Horseshoe Meadows. Once we actually begin our hike, we will spend our first night only a few miles down the trail, but at 11,000 feet, and then drop down to 9,600 feet on our second night. Besides taking it slow and giving our bodies time to adjust, we will also begin taking Diamox once we arrive at Mammoth Lakes, as well as drinking Acli-Mate for the first 6 days.
The beauty of this plan is that it will do more than just allow us to slowly acclimate before we begin our hike… This plan will place us in Mammoth Lakes so that we can pick up our actual/real permit at the Welcome Center, as well as mail off our resupply to Red’s Meadow from a post office in Mammoth. Then later that day while at Onion Valley, we will also stash our first resupply, and even do a short hike up towards Kearsarge Pass. This short day hike will help push our bodies a little while at elevation, but come back down and sleep lower. And while on this short hike, we will also scout out a good spot to camp on night 6 of our hike!
(Maybe you can somewhat see why I am really embracing our NOBO hike…?! )
So, as I mentioned above I am taking 4 weeks off of work, however, I won’t be spending this entire time on the trail. As I already mentioned, I am planning 3 days to simply begin acclimating before we even start our hike. Add 2 more days for the drive there, and 2 more for the drive back, and already a week is cut off of that time! This will leave me 21 days, of those, I am planning to spend 20 of them on the trail! 20 days on the trail…. ahhhhh!
During our hike we are planning to pick up 3 different resupplies. The first will be on day 6 of our hike, at Onion Valley. The second will be on day 11 at MTR (Muir Trail Ranch), and the third and final resupply will be on day 15 at Red’s Meadow. This will be more time-consuming, as well as costly on the front end of our hike, however, during the actual hike it will allow us to carry less weight in food. Below is a screenshot of our itinerary, with color coded blocks representing each resupply time frame.
Something else to note is that when we pick up each resupply, our dinner for that night will actually be in that resupply bucket. This means that is one less meal that we will have to carry. When this dinner, plus the breakfast for the next morning is counted, that is actually knocking off most of a day’s worth of food that we won’t have to carry! So, when considering this, and counting off the days in the blocks above, we will actually start our hike with ~5 days of food. We will leave our first resupply with ~4 days of food, our second resupply with ~3 days of food, and our last resupply with ~4 days of food. Not too bad!
Something else to note from the above itinerary is the mileage, and the actual itinerary. The only real goals that we have are making it to our resupply points on time, however, the in-between is pretty much up in the air. Several of the stop’s that I have listed are area’s that I would really like to spend time at though, such as Garnet Lake. There are also some stops that I have listed, but I have recently learned are closed to camping, such as Timberline Lake (although, like I mentioned in the video above, we will actually push to Guitar Lake on that night so we can get an early start up Whitney to catch the sunrise.) What I am getting at is the itinerary above is not set in stone… just a rough guide to get us going…
As far as getting our resupplies to us, as I mentioned above, we will personally stash our first one at Onion Valley (and I did call the rangers to OK this practice first). The second will be at MTR, which means we will have to mail that resupply 3 weeks before we plan to arrive there. This will be a pretty costly resupply to do, but again, it will split our resupply times up more evenly, which will allow us to carry less on the trail. And while in Mammoth Lakes, we will mail our third, and final resupply off to Red’s Meadow. This option also costs a bit to complete, but not quite as much as MTR!
So that’s about it. Of course there are a ton of other smaller details that will, and have already gone into making this trip a success, but I think that this pretty much covers the bigger topics. As I mentioned, we are driving there, and we will be getting picked up once we finish our hike, so we don’t have to worry about catching a bus or thumbing it, so thankfully we don’t have to worry about the whole transportation ordeal… which I hear can also be a bit of a headache to figure out… lol!
If there is anything else that I haven’t mentioned above, feel free to ask below. As for gear, I have already covered a few of the different pieces I will be carrying, and I will continue to post about that until the time of our hike. I will also have one final video in which I go through my fully loaded pack… Below are the pieces of gear I have already covered:
Thanks for stopping by!
Disclaimer: I am not being paid to write this post. I am not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned above. Some links may be connected to my Amazon affiliate page though, which I could earn some money through if purchases are made.
UPDATED 3/29/2018: As of March 28, 2018 it has been decided that the Half Dome permits will no longer be available automatically with either of the Cottonwood permits. Beginning in 2019 all Half Dome permits must be obtained through the Half Dome lottery, no exceptions. This has also been updated in the text above.