Tuesday, April 8, 2014

JMT Pre Hike FAQs

I get asked a lot of questions about hiking the John Muir Trail. A lot. Fortunately I love talking about hiking and could do so for hours! This post will include many of the questions I am asked as I prepare for the JMT. Being on the East Coast I encounter a lot of people (hikers included) that don't know anything about the JMT. I've been asked some really wonderful questions and others that make my laugh for various reasons. Being a female, I get asked many questions that make me want to bash my head against a wall, but I will address those questions in a separate post.

Have a question I didn't discuss? Leave a comment and I'll add it to this post!

Where are you hiking?

In short, I am hiking the John Muir Trail, a 211 mile footpath located in California. Parts of the trail overlap with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that runs from Mexico to Canada. Some of the more well known (and gorgeous) areas the trail runs through include Yosemite, John Muir Wilderness, Ansel Adams Wilderness, and ends atop the highest peak in the continental United States, Mount Whitney.

What about bears? 

I always know what people mean by this, but I think it's funny that people always ask the question this way. In short, there are bears. I am not worried about them as I will store my food and other smelly items like toothpaste in a bear canister. I will avoid camping in areas known to attract bears and will give them space if I see one.

And mountain lions?

Same as above. There have been no reported deaths on the JMT. There are Bobcats sightings in the White Mountains, but no one has freaked out about those...yet. 

Are you carrying a gun?

If I were to carry a gun relative to my pack weight, it would have to be one of those toy water guns you buy at the dollar store. I don't own a gun in the real world and I'm not sure what I'd do with it on a trail! I will also not be carrying pepper spray, bear spray, large knives (I'll have a small swiss army knife) or a bow and arrow in case anyone is wondering.

What will you eat?

I am in the process of dehydrating my own meals for dinners. I will eat mainly oatmeal or granola in the morning and lots of small meals throughout the day to stay properly nourished. I will be adding more of my meal prep, but here's my first meal: dehydrated chili

What are you doing about water?

Drinking a ton of it! There is so much water along the JMT that I won't have an issue. I made an inline filtering system using a Sawyer Mini to make quenching my thirst even easier.

How much toilet paper are you bringing?

None! There are a number of reasons for this including having to pack out toilet paper (didn't think about that part, did you?) I will be using a pee rag and most likely wet wipes for poop. I will say the word poop. My reasoning? Just read the book Everybody Poops and you'll understand. Now that you've read the word poop four times, I think we can move on :) I will be writing more about hygiene and female related questions on a separate post.

You're going by yourself? Why??

Yes. I really enjoy hiking with others, but really like hiking solo as well. I can choose to hike with others when the opportunity arises on the trail, but I can have the freedom of hiking by myself as much as I want. I can start as early as I want, take 40 minutes to take one decent photo, hike further or set up camp early, and no one has a say but me.

Finding a partner with enough experience, the right gear, vacation time, and get the same permit is tough. I also would have to find someone who hikes at the same pace as me as well as someone I could stand for over two weeks. It's a lot to think about. I think I'll be able to put up with myself for that time.

Made by another hiker. Pretty accurate!

So you're not hiking with your fiancé?

I will be! We will be flying into California the week before my hike and we will head to some beautiful parts of California, including some trails! He will then see me off at the trailhead and catch his flight home. It's my dream to hike the John Muir Trail and I'm not forcing it on anyone else. He isn't as obsessed as I am about hiking and I would still like to get married after all!

How many miles are you hiking each day?

I will have some variety, but I will average 14 miles per day. I have a couple 10/11 mile days and a couple 17/18 mile days which is based on the terrain, altitude gain, and pack weight. Check out my proposed itinerary here.

Will you see anyone else?

Definitely. There is a permit system to limit the amount of hikers in certain areas and I will be hiking in wilderness areas, but there are plenty of people who will be hiking the trail. It is hard to say for certain, but I may see dozens of people one day, but not a soul the next. Hiking North to South, which is the more popular route, I would most likely run into someone if I stopped long enough. 

What if you get hurt?

I am trained in Wilderness First Aid and have been hiking long enough to take care of the small issues. I will have a small first aid kit with me and know what to do in situations that could be dangerous such as thunderstorms. If I encounter a more serious situation, I will be carrying a Spot GPS messenger which I can use to send an SOS for emergency rescue.

What about men?

Being a woman, many people automatically think I should be worried about men on the trail. I'm more worried about Marmots stealing my food. I've heard many times hiking in the Whites, "There are no assholes above 4000 feet." While I have seen the rare miserable person being dragged up a mountain, once you get away from the trailheads and hordes to people, you'll be fine. No one is going to get a permit to hike the JMT, kill you, put in a whole lot of effort to get rid of the body, and then hike back into town. Alleys are way easier.

Where will you sleep?

I have a Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis tarp I will be sleeping in every night on the trail. I may occasionally sleep under the stars!

Why the JMT?

I have always wanted to hike a long distance trail and as of now a 2000+ mile journey is not in the picture. I was contemplating this trail or the Long Trail in Vermont. Having time this summer I decided I would make the trek to California because Vermont is so close to me that I could always section hike the Long Trail. I looked at hundreds of photos of the JMT as well as watched documentaries including Mile...Mile and a Half which was my final push to do it!

Photo credit: The Muir Project

Monday, April 7, 2014

Freezer Bag Cooking: Chili

When it comes to eating on the trail, there are a thousand ways to do it. You could go minimalist and pack only no-cook meals, stock up on Mountain House pouches, or you could be stuck doing dishes. Another option is called freezer bag cooking (FBC) where you dehydrate your own food and cook them in freezer bags. You simply measure out the water you'll need, bring it to almost a boil, pour it in the bag, and let it rehydrate.

I was meeting up with a few gals that will also be doing the JMT this summer and we brought some meals to try out. Not having made a FBC meal before, I don't have everything you might need like a cozy for efficiently re-hydrating your meal.

I have a Nesco Dehydrator and decided to try out making a vegetarian chili. I cut out parchment paper to size (I cut it a little smaller to leave some space for air around the perimeter) and cut a hole in the center. I read some people use a non-stick spray, but I didn't and I had no issues.

I poured on the chili and spread it out so it was even. I used put one serving on the tray. I set the dehydrator to 135 degrees and came back seven hours later.

I gave it another 30 minutes as the corn was not 100% dry. I was able to lift off most of it in small sections and then I crumbled it in the bag. The parchment paper was completely free of food and can be reused.

I then put the contents in a freezer bag, broke up the pieces, and then labeled the bag. I just wrote that it was veggie chili, one serving, and to add one cup of water. It looks like cereal (with corn...) if you look quickly!

We all tried the chili and it was a winner. It rehydrated well and had a nice kick to it. I'll definitely be making it for the trail!

I did notice the beans got a little mashed in the process, but it tasted really good. I was a little uncertain about how the FBC would turn out, but I love that I can have a say in the ingredients and nutritional value of the food I will be eating on the trail.

After our get together, I stopped at Trader Joe's and got a couple meals I'm going to try out. I got a Vegetable Biryani meal which is great and Japanese style fried rice with veggies that was highly recommended. I will also be trying some spaghetti and veggies and quinoa. I love my veggies and will most likely crave them on the trail.

I am planning on doing mostly oatmeal or granola in the morning. Ann gave me some powdered milk to try out so I will be doing that soon! I love mixing in fruits and nuts into my granola so I will get creative for the trail.

Lunch will consist of no cook snacks as I will be eating throughout the day. I will add a post of my various lunch options I plan on packing.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

LighterPack: Gear List Builder

To all the over planners, spreadsheet nerds, and gram weenies: welcome.

I have been using the John Muir Trail as an excellent excuse to buy new gear. I've been searching the web for the lightest, yet efficient gear (without breaking the bank!) and am well on my way to having everything I need for the trail this summer.

Along the way, I found LighterPack. I use an excel spreadsheet to create gear lists. I also make spreadsheets for practically everything, but I discovered I could have a spreadsheet with photos and a pie chart!

LighterPack is a free web based program where you can list all your gear for a specific trip.

You manually add in the categories, each item, its description, and weight. You can choose from a variety of measurements (pounds, ounces, grams, etc) and then have it totaled.

I love the fact that you upload your own photos and can click the shirt icon to add it to the "always worn" category. It will then separate those items from your pack weight.

The pie chart above is an easy visual to see what you carry the most of. My bear canister weighs so much! I am not completely done with my packing list, but it's interesting to see the options as I go.

You can also click on each category and it will also visually show you which item weighs the most. For example, in my "sleep system" category, my Western Mountaineering bag and Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis shelter are my two biggest items, but the total for that category is just over three pounds.

Do you have a planning tool that you love? Share it in the comments!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Mountains Are Calling: Songs on my hiking playlist

If I'm using my GoPro on a hike, I spend time choosing a song that captures my adventure. I decided since I will be hiking the John Muir Trail solo that I will take an mp3 player to use occasionally on long stretches or at night in my tent. Below is a sample of some of the songs I will include. They are either songs that I associate with being outside or are just a lot of fun to listen to.  


What would you include on your hiking soundtrack? Leave a comment below!



Eddie Vedder: Tuolumne


Radical Face: Welcome Home

The Tallest Man on Earth: Wild Hunt




 Grizzly Bear: Ready, Able




Fleet Foxes: Blue Ridge Mountains



Postal Service: Such Great Heights


Radical Face: The Mute

Fitz and the Tantrums: The Walker 



Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: Home



Eddie Vedder: Hard Sun 



Portugal the Man: Purple, Yellow, Red, and Blue

M83: Midnight City


The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee

Of Monsters and Men: Mountain Sound

Sigor Ros: Saeglopur

Woods: Pushing Only's

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Start of Spring: Trail Breaking on Isolation

I was just on Isolation this January, but I needed to go back. I am working on hiking the NH 4ks in each season and needed a little revenge. Last time I missed the bushwhack and had to try for it again. The Rocky Branch Trail is the only trail I know of that is shorter in winter because of the Engine Hill Bushwhack. Once the snow melts, the 'whack becomes muddy and seldom used by hikers.

I started up the trail about 8:45 with my snowshoes on. I knew I would wear them the whole day as we just got a storm the other day and no recent trail reports had been posted since then. I was lucky, though, as Random Group of Hikers were on the trail that day with a group of nine.

I was on a mission to make it to the Engine Hill Bushwhack this time. With a group ahead I knew it would be extremely difficult to miss, but it still felt further in than I remembered!

Rocky Branch is a moderately steep trail. It never gets terribly steep, but doesn't give you too many breaks either! There are a couple blowdowns, but none that you can't duck under!

Once you make it to the Dry River Wilderness sign, you are almost at the turn for Engine Hill. There was a lot of snow accumulation between January to March!

I made it! I was so happy to see this tree. I had heard from others that this year's route wasn't much shorter than sticking to Rocky Branch, but it does bypass the major stream crossings and it is a gorgeous area!

Hiking through the birch glades was glorious! I didn't think it could get any prettier, but then it started snowing!

About halfway up the 'whack we ran into Random Group of Hikers. Michael was actually making his way under a blowdown that you have to crawl under. From the start of the trail to the bushwhack I didn't have to do any major trail breaking. I made sure to even out the trail with each step I took. After a little more hiking on Engine Hill, we came to the intersection of Davis Path. There was at least a foot of new snow up there and it was difficult to determine which left we had to take. Monica checked it out on her GPS and we made the decision. We were definitely on Davis Path now.

Once you reach Davis Path from the bushwhack, the summit is not very far. Approaching the summit you will run into a steep but brushy section. We made a couple of attempts at finding the right path. Two hikers went up one path and the rest of us headed a little further down to try another approach. The ascent was difficult in January, but with at least a foot of new snow, finding the right route was only half the battle.

Some left their packs to make the climb up easier. I kept my pack on and found a section that had some study roots and trees. I threw my treeking poles up and pulled myself up the slope.

Once atop, we took a quick break as it was cold and we had a long trek back to our cars.
I don't know him ;)

 On the descent we headed back to Engine Hill and finished off with Rocky Branch. Going through the birch glades there were wind gusts so strong you had to brace yourself as it would kick up all the new snow. About halfway through the bushwhack, me knee started to hurt from my injury on my Wildcats/Carter Dome hike. At first it was just a little sore and I thought it was tired after a long hike. It felt fine on Owl's Head last weekend so I thought I was good to go. About a mile or so from the end, I was in immense pain. Every few steps it would feel like a knife was cutting into the bottom of my kneecap. I took it slow and used my poles. Shahzad was a lifesaver on this hike. The snow was too soft to sled down and my knee hurt the most on the steep descents. We used my little butt sled and connected a gear tie to the loop of his trekking pole and he pulled me on the steeper sections. Standing up and down was painful, but it helped me with the worst sections. I've never felt so much pain in my knee. Off to the doctors I'll go! We finished at 6:20 which was over an hour later than I expected to be done. With the trailbreaking and route finding on Davis Path and my knee, it made for a long day. I made it, though! One more hike on Isolation and I'll have done it in all four seasons! Next time I'll be revisiting Glen Boulder.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The John Muir Trail: An Overview

Being on the East Coast, many people don't know much about
the John Muir Trail. This is an overview of the trail for my friends and family to answer some of the basic questions they have about the trail in general. I will be doing another post to answer the questions I am most often asked as I prepare for the hike.

The John Muir Trail is a gorgeous 211 mile trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains that extends from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental United States. The summit of Mt Whitney is 14,505' above sea level. The John Muir Trail (JMT) is named after naturalist John Muir, founding member and original president of the Sierra Club.

160 miles of the trail follows the same footpath as the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT runs from Canada to Mexico. The entire JMT is located within California. The trail goes through Yosemite, John Muir and Ansel Adams Wildernesses, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

The JMT is truly a wilderness trail, coming close to civilization at only a few points.The trail does not cross a road, but there are resupply points on the trail such as the Muir Trail Ranch, Toulumne, and Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) to name a few.

On the trail you’re not really alone, even as a solo hiker. Many people travel the trail, or a portion of it, every year. You may go a whole day without seeing anyone else or you may run into dozens of people at a time. If you stop long enough, you're bound to run into someone.

Some people hike the trail in sections, or just one section such as ascending Mount Whitney. For those who hike the trail in its entirety, the average length of time spent is three weeks.

The JMT is not a trail to hike on a whim. It takes careful planning and even a permit to hike the John Muir Trail. Assuming you start at the northern end, you need to request yours exactly six months prior to your start date. Currently the best practice is to fax your permit application to the ranger station at Yosemite National Park before 7am exactly 26 weeks before your requested start date. Getting the entry trailhead and date you want can require a bit of luck and persistence. 40% of permits are reserved for walk-ins where hikers camp out around 9pm the night before to obtain one.


 The John Muir Trail is one of the most beautiful areas in the United States and I can't wait to begin my journey. If you want to learn more about the trail check out the following online resources: Discover the JMT, "tour of the JMT", JMT on google maps



Have a question? Post a comment and I will include it on my next post where I answer my most frequently asked questions during my prep for a JMT thru hike!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

John Muir Trail Itinerary

My plans for the JMT are really coming together! I have most of my gear I will be carrying and I have created my itinerary. Before I applied for my permit I planned out a very rough estimate of how many miles I would hike per day based on my research of the trail. After securing my permit, I began really getting into planning out my hike.

Before I share my itinerary I want to note a few things:

My itinerary can and most definitely will change between now and when I finish hiking the trail. Depending on my energy level, "wow factors" on the trail, weather, etc. I may change my mileage per day, camping locations, or total hiking days.

This itinerary is online as a resource for other hikers, but please take into consideration your ability and needs before using it as a resource to create your own itinerary. You may use my itinerary as a jumping off point, but do research as much as you can to ensure a more successful hike.

How I created my itinerary:

I used the following resources to create a full itinerary-


I was struggling with beginning my itinerary because I had no idea how I should begin the hike. I was worried about the altitude because I live in New England, but then I didn't want to have really long days for the second half of the hike. It took a lot of thought, but I settled on a plan. I am flying out a week beforehand with my fiancé, Keith and I am planning on doing a couple hikes with him which will also help me acclimate. With the amount of resupply options available for the first half, I knew I have to take advantage of them so I could hike light. This allowed for more mileage in the beginning.
I have some lower mileage days for the harder sections or to allow for a late morning start. Like I mentioned before, I most likely will be deviating from my plans at some point.

Camping Locations:

I decided I would camp right before a mountain pass whenever possible. I am a morning person and this way I can get the hard work out of the way in the morning and also avoid being on a pass during a possible afternoon storm. I will be avoiding meadows and sleeping too close to lakes to help with overnight temps and bugs, but there are a couple days where I intentionally put myself near a gorgeous lake to be at camp.

Allison's 16 Day JMT Itinerary (I will be adding the elevation notes in the next couple weeks)
Link to my spreadsheet

DayStartingEndingDaily MileageTotal MileageAscentDescentTotal Ascentcampsite elevationNotes
1 (7/25/14)Happy IslesPast Sunrise High Sierra camp- mile 151515

9647 feet
2Sunrise LakeCamp aroundLyel Fork- mile 32.417.432.4

Toulumne Meadows Resupply
3Lyel ForkRosalie Lake- Mile 50.718.350.7

4Rosalie LakeDeer Creek14.365

Resupply, shower, lunch at Reds Meadows
5Deer CreekCamp near Squaw Lake14.979.9

6Squaw LakeBear Creek17.897.7

Silver Pass in AM, 2k gain in 2 miles going to bear ridge
7Bear CreekCamp a mile past MTR11108.7

Selden Pass in AM, Muir Trail Ranch Resupply
8Tentsite past MTREvolution Lake11119.7

Muir Pass in AM
9Evolution LakeBig Pete Meadow14.9134.6

10Big Pete MeadowPalisade Creek10.9145.5

Lots of uphill ending with Golden Staircase
11Palisade CreekTwin Lakes16161.5

Mather Pass in AM, Pinchot Pass in afternoon
12Twin LakesRae Lakes14175.5

13Rae LakesTentsite just past fire prohibited sign10.8186.3

Slow morning at Rae Lakes. Glen Pass in AM- Bear Box near tentsite
14Tentsite at mile 186.3Guitar Lake15198.2

Forester Pass
15Guitar LakeMt Whitney10208.2

Sleep near or on Mt. Whitney to see the sunrise from the summit.
16Mt WhitneyWhitney Portal12.7218.5

Grab a burger! :)