Preparing for the John Muir Trail

Back in the spring when I got the “you’ve won the lottery” email from the Yosemite wilderness permit folks, after the initial wave of shock and fit of jumping up and down had passed, my mood quickly plummeted from elated to overwhelmed as the scope of the endeavor set in: 221 miles and 46,700 feet of gain…in 13 days. Talk about your deer in the headlights. Where do I start? What do I need? How do I make this happen?

It became apparent very quickly that the logistics would be far more grueling than the trek itself. The red tape is thicker than any North Cascades bushwhack and the rules are unforgiving and high consequence. Coming from out of state added a nice twist to the whole project, with the added bonus of new restrictions that come with traveling during a pandemic.

But wait! What do I bring? What do I already have and what do I need to get?

Oh and food! How do you that part? How do you carry it and what’s good to bring?

Resupply? But how do you get the box of food to the place you want to pick it up? Oh, it can’t be a box, it has to be a bucket. And not just any bucket but a white five gallon bucket like you can buy at Home Depot or ask your local favorite restaurant for (they get mayo in them). Okay but how does it get to your resupply location? Well there’s a website where you pay $85 and print labels and then tape them in a specific way to the bucket, and then you take the bucket to the post office and pay another $35 or so to get it to a post office nearish the Sierra, where it takes a boat and pack animals and wagons to get to where we will meet it a mile off the trail on Day 7. Um. Okay.

So that means we carry roughly 7 days of food and ship 7 days of food.

Typical day off: Google “JMT Food Prep” and find myself not moving for over two hours. Buy a postal scale. Buy tiny baggies. Google words like backpacking recipes, repacking food for thru-hikes, dehydrating your own food, and how to pack ultralight. Drift from reading about food prep to cutting ounces to gear, where I go down the gear rabbit hole. Go for short hike with heavy pack to remind your body what’s about to happen. Text feverishly my partner in this crime as we compare notes on it all.

This was my world for a few weeks as I frantically Googled random words and watched YouTube videos on how to organize a backpack, what food to pack, and what gear to bring. It was like the prep before the prep as I read and read and ordered a map, another map, a book, and studied the trial inside and out. My brain was consumed with numbers and what ifs. We made a rough outline of where we might camp each night, averaging 18 or so miles a day for nearly two weeks with no zero days. I worried about lightning.

Fast forward to now. T minus 2 weeks and I’m ready. Now all that is left to do is wait. Every piece of gear has been deliberated upon, deemed absolutely necessary, weighed, logged, sprayed with Permethrin if applicable. Most of the food has been repackaged to save space or weight or both. All of the food has been weighed, calories and fat counted. Flights, shuttles, motel, all booked. The final weather reports might mean a slight pack edit but probably not. September in the Sierra can be anything from a warm dry 75° to daily thunderstorms or a fluke dusting of snow so we’re bringing many insulating layers and rain protection, but no axe or crampons.

It feels surreal, that it’s two weeks away. I feel relaxed, like I’ve done everything; but also anxious, like I’m forgetting something. It’s a dream come true and my biggest undertaking to date, and I’m thrilled and shocked and feel so lucky.But also so nervous. Excited and grateful of course but also wondering if we addressed all the moving parts in a way that will allow us a safe and enjoyable passage from Yosemite to the summit of Mt. Whitney and down to Lone Pine, where one of those great Highway 395 motel parking lot swimming pools awaits.

So while I have time and while it’s all still fresh in my mind, I’ll put together a couple of quick articles on food prep, red tape/permits, gear lists, and how to organize yourself so you can navigate easily through this very complex, multifaceted, large scope project that is hiking the JMT.