#6 JMT Itinerary Part 1: Snowmageddon 2023… but I’ve got a plan.
*This article originally appeared on The Trek, which you can read HERE*
The Inner Workings of My JMT Itinerary
Why create a JMT itinerary? Well, I love plans, spreadsheets, and lists! They speak to my soul and make my heart sing. It's not like I don't like spontaneity. A lot of my plans are actually spur of the moment because, hey, why not? Those times when I do have time though... I love to plan! I remember when I was a kid, I would write an itinerary for Christmas Day. My dad still has a copy of one of these lists because it amuses him.
5:00 am - Wake up
5:05 am - Go Pee
5:06 am - Brush My Teeth
5:08 am - Get Dressed
5:10 am - Go Downstairs
.... and on and on and on
Now that you know that I am legit crazy (because who gets up at 5 am???), let's get back to my point. I love planning, and backpacking The John Muir Trail was somewhere that I could let my "talent" shine. Commence Project JMT Itinerary.
Stage 1: Denial
If you had told me a year ago when I had officially decided to hike the John Muir Trail, that this would be the year of the Snowmageddon, I would have laughed in your face. Snowmageddon? Have you looked out your window? We're in a drought. The only thing I'm using to make snowmen out of here is tumbleweeds. Even if you had told me six months ago that a Snowmageddon was on the horizon, I still would not have believed you. Yes, here in California we were getting a lot of rainfall for January, but in recent years rain and snow have been more like magical events that happen for a week or two at the most, then peter out to reveal a shade of gold by as early as April; Yes, we are The Golden State.
That being said, I planned my JMT itinerary and start date with normal conditions in mind. Yes, there would most likely be a little snow in June, but not enough to write home about. Even so, I had planned to take a water crossing class and an entry-level snow mountaineering class just in case. I was actually kind of excited. This could be fun! At this point, I had kind of a "I am woman, hear me roar!" type of attitude.
Stage 2: Shock
Fast forward a month or two. It was still raining here in the foothills and snowing in the Sierras. Will this madness ever stop?! Yes, we need rain. I won't deny that. Rain in California is always a blessing... but come on Mother Nature; Is this a joke? When you start making it snow on California beaches, it's time to take a chill pill. Chill pill taketh, she did not. Instead, she said, "Hold my beer" and proceeded to dump massive loads of white fluff on top of what was already ridiculously high. The national parks were closed down due to snow. Roads into neighborhoods (like ours) were closed due to insanely high rivers that normally barely trickle water. What was going on?!
Stage 3: Depression and Anger
Why was this happening? Out of all the years that we could have a Snowmaggedon leading to rivers of despair in this Aqua-pocalypse. It had to be the year that I had planned to hike the John Muir Trail. Of course! Why not? I'm up for the challenge! But I wasn't. I knew that this was too much to take on. I am not a mountaineer. Crazy I may be, but I do have children that I love. Backpacking solo may be risky at times, but hiking out alone into a blanket of white is on a whole other level. I conceded. This is not happening. I cried... but what's new? I cry about everything.
Stage 4: Acceptance
Moping around will do you no good. Wining and crying will not make anything change. Feeling sorry for yourself will not bring happiness, and being The Happy Hiker that I strive to be, I knew that. So, I pulled my head out of my ass and worked up a new plan.
Step 1: Obtain Work Approval For New Hiking Dates
Getting time off of work for me is a bit tricky these days. Previously it was easy when I had another designer that worked with me that could pick up the slack while I was gone. Now, I run solo which makes days off, vacations, and especially extended vacations challenging to say the least.
I spoke with my upper management about my dilemma and worked up a new date range that would work. I'll be slammed in July and August setting up our new model homes, but maybe... just maybe, September will land just right so that I can take the time off. That only takes care of our model installation though. I still had to account for all the homebuyers that I would normally meet with on a daily basis. We worked to set a plan in place to cross-train another employee to help me out in unusual circumstances like these, and it was settled. Approval was granted for a September hike. Step 1 complete!
Step 2: Obtain New Backpacking Permits
If you thought getting time off of work was hard, you couldn't even begin to comprehend the challenge of getting John Muir Trail backpacking permits. Obtaining permits to hike the John Muir Trail is like winning the lottery. No really, you have to win the permit lottery. Thousands of people from all over the world apply each year, and only a small percentage actually succeed (about 4 percent). Needless to say, I applied several times and failed miserably. No shock there.
Option B did prove to be successful though. It was the same way that I obtained my June permit. Instead of monitoring the Recreation.gov website and waiting for someone to cancel their permit, I paid another site to do it for me. The first time I was successful with this tactic I used the Outdoor Status website. For a fee, they will watch the permits you are looking for and text you when one comes up. This time I used the Wild Permits website. They provide the same service, but for free, and only request a donation if you obtain the permit you were looking for. Success! I was able to obtain 2 permits for a September 12th start date from Lyell Canyon. It wasn't my first choice, but it will work. I'll show you how I managed to work in the entire trail later on in this post.
Step 3: Work Up A new JMT Itinerary - just a few hiccups
On to the fun part! Or so I thought. I've worked and re-worked my JMT itinerary so many times that my head is spinning. First I planned to hike the trail in its entirety, but given the permit that I obtained (Lyell Canyon) and the secondary permit that I was not able to obtain (Happy Isles to Lyell Canyon), I instead shortened the trip. I then realized that I still have my first permit in June. This is where I ended up with a split JMT itinerary. I would hike Happy Isles to Lyell Canyon in June, and then hike the majority of the trail from Lyell Canyon to Mt Whitney in September.
Cue the second wrench in my plans. Like I said in my first post "Hammock Camping the John Muir Trail - This is me... pre JMT", David and I are no longer preluding our hike with a wedding ceremony. We no longer even have a date. It's not to say that bit of knowledge changed the hiking itinerary that much, but it did alter the pre-hike itinerary.
Yesterday brought on another surprise. David has decided that he will no longer be hiking any of the trail with me. Originally he had planned to hike the first 3-7 days, but turns out he doesn't really like backpacking; hiking yes, camping yes, but not backpacking. It was kind of a sad revelation and I shed a few more tears, but let's face it, I've only ever solo backpacked. I can do this. I love to do this. This is my jam. I just need to change a few cabin reservations and logistics, but overall, no big changes. He will still be helping me out on part 2 of the trail, dropping me off, meeting me midway for resupply, and picking me up at the end.
My last unknown is whether or not one of my besties will be hiking with me. Being that she has a crazy life and schedule like I do, I am going to assume not, but it would be a nice surprise. So far I have set my itinerary to head out solo on both sections. If by chance she decides to head out with me for a portion, I will just need to make a few minor tweaks. No big deal. Adaptation is the name of the game, especially in a crazy unknown year like this one.
Step 4: My JMT Itinerary
So, this is the moment you all have been waiting for! Drumroll, please! Here is my JMT itinerary - Part 1, in all its glory. It's a bit too early to finalize Part 2, but with Part 1 only a week away, I feel confident with this plan.
As you can tell below, this is an out-and-back plan. Tioga Pass road is still closed due to massive amounts of snow, so exiting at Tuolumne is not an option. Instead, I will be hiking the first 21 miles of the trail up to Tuolumne Meadows, and then back to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. In addition, I will be adding on Half Dome and Clouds Rest since they've been on my Bucket List for quite a while. Whoot! Below you will see my start point for each day, my endpoint for each day, where I will end each day as far as JMT miles (which eventually go backwards), and how many miles total I will travel each day. Special notes are on the side showing alternate routes I will be taking along the way.
Day 1 - 5.5 miles
Preceding the hike I will be driving up to Yosemite after work and staying in the backpacker's campground. This will give me a nice early start the next day. I can sleep in, have a nice breakfast, and head out on the trail whenever I please. After all, it'll be a short day. I love the idea of starting off slow with a low mileage day. I know this first day I will be carrying the most weight and hiking a lot of stairs on The Mist Trail. Not only that, but I also know seeing recent trip reports that the waterfalls are raging and creating quite a wet environment on the Mist Trail, so slow and easy is the best course of action. I thought about hiking the John Muir Trail on the way up and the Mist Trail on the way back since The JMT is easier, but I prefer going upstairs vs downstairs, So Mist Trail it is! I love The Mist Trail! I've hiked it twice, but this will be my first time while the waterfall is raging. The end of the day will finish at the Clouds Rest Junction in preparation for the next day.
Day 2 - 8 miles
On day 2 I will get to finally hike the highly acclaimed Clouds Rest. I am so excited! I've heard this is one of the most beautiful hikes in all of Yosemite. I'm sure it will be difficult since I will still have a majority of my food in my pack, but I'm up for the challenge. I'm also looking forward to ending the day at Sunrise Lakes with a beautiful view and time to reflect on the day.
Day 3 - 7.4 miles
On day 3 it will be another nearly 8-mile day. I'll still be gaining elevation, so it'll be another tough day, but in the end, I will get to relax at Lower Cathedral Lake which also overlooks Tenaya Lake over a granite rock shelf... or so they say. I can't wait to see it with my own eyes! This marks the end of my strenuous ascent up.
Day 4 - 8.5 miles
By day 4 things should be easing up. My pack will be getting lighter and we'll be heading back down into the valley again. I'll start at Lower Cathedral Lake, head up the remaining few miles to Tuolumne Meadows where I will start Part 2 of my hike, and then back down to Upper Cathedral Lake for the night. Now this could have been the end of my hike if Tioga Pass Road wasn't deep in snow, but alas, that will still take some time. I'm kind of glad though, and it works out better this way as you will see by tomorrow's itinerary.
Day 5 - 9.9 miles
This will be the longest day of this trip, but at the same time probably the easiest. My food will be almost depleted and I'll be heading downhill. This is where I will be able to pick up the part of the JMT that I had skipped on the way up because I had taken the Clouds Rest detour. In the end, I will meet up with where I turned off the trail on Day 2. It is here I will stay the night in preparation for the most epic day of the whole trip!
Day 6 - 8.7 miles
The day is here! On day 6 I will be hiking Half Dome! I'll be camping just outside of the Half Dome junction so that hopefully I will beat the crowds. Even so, I plan to rise early to further guarantee a near-solo climb up the infamous rock formation. For those that don't know, I have an insane fear of heights, but I try not to let that stop me. After all, I did go skydiving for my 40th birthday. For precautionary measures, just in case my head starts spinning, I have purchased a harness and via ferrata lanyard for safety, but more on gear another day. Heading up the cables shouldn't be bad, but heading down might surpass my fear of spiders. The view and the feeling of accomplishment will be worth it though! After summiting the great granite slab, I'll head back down, back to Happy Isles, and back home.
TOTAL JMT MILES I WILL HAVE COMPLETED: 21
TOTAL MILES I WILL HAVE HIKED: 48
So there you have it folks! That is my 6-day JMT itinerary for the first part of the trail. Six days, twenty-one John Muir Trail miles, and forty-eight total miles. Yes, I could hike this section a lot faster than I have planned, but why? For myself, the point of hiking is to enjoy myself and soak in every sight, smell, and sound that the trail has to offer.
If I see a beautiful view, I want to pause and take it in for a minute or an hour; whichever I see fit. When I come across a lake or stream, I want the option to take a dip (even if it's just my toe). If I see a squirrel, a deer, or a bear in the distance, I want to be able to quietly observe them as they go through life more simply. When I come across another hiker, I want to have the option to go beyond the customary wave and hello. I love to hear stories, talk about gear, and get advice when I can. Backpackers are a different type of people. We all may have different goals overall, but one fact remains constant, backpackers are the nicest people I know. We're not out here to judge. We're out here for the experience.
Are you a backpacker? Do you want to be? What experience are you looking for out there? It's ok not to know. Is hiking the John Muir Trail on your bucket list? If so, I hope this JMT itinerary helps you get a start on your own plans. Comment below with any thoughts, advice, or questions you may have. I'm only a click away... unless I'm out in nature. At that time I'm I'll be lost in a dream. Don't worry though. I'll be back to share my experience, hopefully inspire something in you, and shortly after start working on the workings of my next big adventure.
"The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark"
- John Muir (featured in Nature Quotes)