Jeff's 2003 John Muir Trail (JMT) Hike

Wed, 10/01/2003 - 13:00 -- Jeff


Paul Svoboda and I completed the John Muir Trail on Sunday Sept 14, 2003. We hiked about 220 miles through the Sierra Nevada mountains. The John Muir Trail is:

  • average elevation over 9600 ft.
  • uncrossed by roads for the entire length
  • 10 mountain passes the highest being 13,130 ft
  • 3 national parks (Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia)
  • several National forests and designated Wilderness Areas
  • 21 days from start to finish.
  • rain, hail, cold, frost, smoke, but mostly crystal clear blazing sun.
  • Culminated at the top of Mt. Whitney, highest point in the US outside of Alaska at 14,497 ft.
  • 43,600 ft of elevation gain (check this number)

Our longest stretch was 10 days / 120 miles of outdoor life.

I have a photo gallery of my JMT Trail Trip as well

Day 00. Sun 8/24.
Susan and the boys dropped Paul and I at the Martinez, CA Amtrak station in the morning. We said our good byes there. Amtrak train from Martinez to Merced. YARTS bus from Merced Amtrak station right into Yosemite Valley. The YARTS bus ticket covers cost of park entrance. We arrived in Yosemite Valley around 2pm. First thing was to drop our stuff and set up tents in the backpackers camp around 3pm. No one else was there. Then we did an abbreviated tour of Yosemite Valley. We saw Yosemite falls, ate pizza in a restaurant, dinner at the nice dinner restaurant, Ansel Adams video with mostly him in it. Toured the various displays in the valley.  When we returned to our camp in the Backpackers area around 10pm, there were 5 or 6 parties there. $10 per night camp charge. Can only camp there day before or day after a backcountry trip and must show permit to do so. We did not pay and were not checked by a ranger.
Day 01. Mon 8/25.
JD Schaefer at Yosemite backpacker camp. from San Rafael. (Enertia foods) had breakfast at Awahnee hotel. All you can eat buffet with omelet chef. up at 7:00am. to breakfast about 9:30am. very quiet night. calm, clear weather. train and bus trip on Day 00 was uneventful. backcampers camp is near North Pines campground. it is mostly empty. on trail at Happy Isles (4035 ft) around 11:00am. could not find a "John Muir Trail" sign. steep climbs all day. 4000-7200 ft in 7.0 miles. made dinner at Clouds Rest trail junction. Lunch at top of Nevada Falls. 1 tortilla 1/2l gatorade, protein bar morning snack. partial Clifbar in pm. small heel blister on left ft. during dinner bear with 2 small cubs came right into our kitchen within 5-6 ft of Paul. very quiet. we yelled and waved my arms at her. she made a false charge (properly termed a "bluff charge") at me. she took our open bear can in her mouth and was gone. all about 7:30pm dusk. like she had done this a hundred times before. she was tagged on right ear. we stashed our smelly items up the hill from our camp (7,000 ft). in tent about 9:00pm. 7.2 miles in 7.5 hours. trip total 7.2 miles.
Day 02. 8/26.
raining around 5am. stopped raining for awhile, then started again. I originally did not place my rain fly on tent. but around midnight it started to sprinkle so I got up and put on my fly. was full raining when we awoke. stayed in our tents for awhile waiting/hoping it would stop. finally decided to get out in the rain. packed our camp partially in the rain as it stopped after awhile. no breakfast, only protein bar. left camp around 9:00am and it was not raining. arrive Sunrise High Sierra Camp (HSC) (9,320 ft) around 5:40pm. crossed 9600 ft. 5600 ft above valley floor. had dinner at HSC $33. ravioli, cake, soup. AYCE. The head guy let us shower in the guest shower room (normally only for paying guests). camped in backpackers area. All smelly items in the bear locker. lights out around 9:40pm 7.2 miles in 8:40hrs. trip total 14.2 miles.
Day 03. 8/27.
breakfast at HSC. at 7:30am. $16. Paul did not have it. on trail at 9:00am. over Cathedral Pass (9700 ft). passed 9940ft. highest I have ever been. arrived Tuolumne Meadows backpacker camp (9,000 ft) around 2:30pm. I lost the way and missed the Ranger station. So, Paul and I got separated as he went there. ate at the grill, bought $107 worth of groceries from the store. including "old fashioned" peanut butter with the oil on top and in a heavy glass jar. they were out of the plastic jars like Jif, Skippy. Paul says he heard a bear come through our camp while I was sleeping after dark (like around 10pm). 10.1 miles in 5.5 hrs. trip miles 24.3 mi.
Day 04. 8/28.
ate breakfast in TM. backcamper camp. awake at 6:00am. out of camp by 8:45am. up Lyell Canyon. long, gentle walk. passed a group of 10 men traveling to Reds Meadow. made dinner at footbridge above Lyell Base Camp (mi 10.4). then moved up to lakelet (10,180 ft) just below Donahue Pass. Met Marlin at dinner time who we might see later in the trip. lots of experience and bear stories. he was doing JMT in 14 days. beauty camp spot. will be very pretty in the morning. camped at 10,180ft 12.2 mi in 10hrs. trip total: 36.5mi
Day 05. 8/29.
up ay 6:30am. hot breakfast in camp. on trail at 8:40am. arr Donahue Pass (11,050 ft) about 10:15am. Arr Marie Lakes Trail jct 12:15pm. lunch break. passed Island Pass (10,205 ft). Arrive Thousand Island Lake jct 3:15pm. 4.8 + 4.0 = 8.8 mi so far today. Thousand Island to Reds Meadow options: JMT: 6.0 + 7.4 + 1.5 = 14.9 ups and downs. River Trail: 2.8 + 2.7 + 1.7 + 4.5 = 11.7 mostly downhill. We decide to go on the River Trail as its easier and shorter to Reds Meadow. lv Thousand Island Lake, go about 4mi, stop cook dinner. After dinner near the river, we move on to find camping. since its a river canyon, its steep walls. we go 2 more miles to find a camp (9,000 ft). in tent by 8:30pm. 8.8 + 2.8 + 2.7 + 0.3 = 14.6 miles today in 11.5 hrs. 2.3 + 2.2 + 0.9 + 0.5 = 5.9 + 2.0 = 8mi to Reds Mdw. Trip total: 51.1 miles.
Day 06. 8/30.
out of camp 9:30am. arr Devils Postpile boundary (7,400 ft) about 12:30pm. visited the Postpile, talked to Ranger. shuttle bus to Mammoth Mountain ski/bike park. Lunch at the Yodeler Restaurant, near the ski gondola. shuttle bus (the "bike bus") into town of Mammoth Lakes. Motel6 for the night. did laundry. dinner at Italian place. 8.0 mi in 4.0 hrs. trip total 59.1 mi
Day 07. 8/31.
zero day at Mammoth Lakes. reevaluated all aspects of food, gear, shelter, mileage strategy, etc. bought butane stove (MSR Pocket Rocket). I also bought some Enteria Trail food ( to try. will take taxi to shuttle to Reds in the morning. Plan is to get to VVR in 2 days at 15mi/day. we'll see...
Day 08. 9/1.
packed up Motel6 room. had breakfast at the bakery across the street. walked downtown to the bus stop for the "bike bus" to Mammoth Mountain. Then shuttle bus from Mammoth Mountain gondola to Reds Meadow store. Had lunch at the grill there. chatted with/met some JMT hikers. 2 guys from WI, 2 guys who were making a video of JMT. Left Reds Mdw at 12:30pm, was shooting for Purple Lake. made it to Duck Creek (9,945 ft) at 6:30pm, exhausted. This is short of Purple Lake. Met an older couple from Mammoth Lakes who had come in from Duck Pass that day for a simple overnighter. They had lots of experience in the area, the whole JMT and had done all of the CA PCT. 12mi in 6hrs. Trip miles: 71 mi.
Day 09. 9/2.
out of camp at Duck Creek by 9:30am. Got to Virginia Lake around 12:30pm. Thought of having lunch there. But decided to move on. Was on top of mountain when rain threatened and lighting and thunder. Practically ran down the switchbacks to Tully Hole. While we contemplating whether to eat lunch or set up shelter, it started to rain. Ended up sitting under my rain fly strapped to a tree, huddled in my rain gear while it rained, hailed and got quite cold. My hands got wet and cold. my pack was covered by my Mylar space blanket. It rained about an hour then finally stopped. I basically did not eat lunch. After the rained stopped we pushed up to Silver Pass (10,880 ft). Arrived at the pass at 6:00pm. Clouds were hanging low and it was pretty cool. Some of the clouds coming through the gaps were lower than we were. But the pass itself was clear. Then downhill looking for water and camp. Near the Silver Pass Creek crossing (9,600 ft). Arr about 7:30pm. Dinner, fire, dried some things. in tent at 8:45pm. and its sprinkling again. 13.8 mi in 10hrs. about 5.5mi to VVR boat dock. Trip miles 84.8 mi.
Day 10. 9/3.
out of camp by 7:05am. had no breakfast to ensure we make it to the water taxi at 9:45am. Practically ran down the trail. I knew from the time that we would make it, so I did a brisk walk. Got to water taxi dock (7,750 ft) about 9:00am. 5.5 to 6.0 mi in 2 hrs. Took the water taxi to VVR resort. had breakfast at the restaurant around 10:30am. Spent the rest of the day relaxing, chores, took shower at VVR. Trip miles: 90 mi.
Day 11. 9/4.
zero day at VVR. Did laundry. sorted our mail drop box (35 lbs!). Mailed out at least 10 lb box of misc items we did not want to carry any further. That was mostly Paul, I mailed about 1 lb worth. Bought some more trail food to extend our 8 day resupply into a 10 day resupply.
Day 12. 9/5.
out of VVR around 9:00am with our new friend Anthony. so now there are 3 of us. Took the Bear Ridge Trail. This was a mistake. We were looking to avoid the water taxi due to its lateness of the morning, it costs $10 per person and the trail is reportedly a dry set of switchbacks. We were advised to take the Bear Dam Diversion road to the Bear Creek Trail. Choosing the middle trail was the worst option. Its the roughest trail, the steepest and our load is the heaviest with 10 days of food. Rocky, straight uphill 6.7 mi by 1:00pm lunch break. Mostly a stock trail. 12.9 mi to camp today. Camping at Rosemarie Meadow (10,030 ft). in tent by 9:00pm. Camp fire, hung extra food using counter balance method. Learned all the tips of how to this at the outfitter in Mammoth Lakes. Today is Fri 9/5. if 9 more days to completion, then would complete on Sun 9/14 day 21. Trip miles: 102 mi.
Day 13. 9/6.
out of camp at Rosemarie Meadow about 9:15am. was cold (maybe 45 degree) and all was covered in dew. Summited Seldon Pass (10,880 ft) at 10:40am. Lunch at Sallie Keyes Lakes where we dried our tents. Crossed into KCNP at about 4:30pm on a large foot bridge. Camped right near the border at Piute Creek (8,050 ft) in established camping area. Anthony was with us. 12.1 mi today Trip miles: 114. Half way!!
Day 14. 9/7.
out of camp around 9:00am. did 3.8 mi by 10:40am! Entered Evolution Valley. got to Ranger station at McClure Meadow around 1:30pm. Tough uphill. Long lunch break. Got to camp at south end of Evolution Lake (10,850 ft) around 5:40pm. in tent by 7:30pm. Anthony was with us. Mountain House Lasagna for dinner. it was very good. the full moon was out and I tried to photograph it, but I don't think the pictures turned out. 12.2 mi in 8:40 hrs. Trip miles: 126. 7 more days.
Day 15. 9/8.
was COLD this morning at Evolution Lake. thermometer said 40 degrees. water filter hose was frozen. up at 6:30am out of camp by 8:30am. Top of Muir Pass (11,955 ft) at 11:00am. saw ice on the trail in the sun on the way up. Rested at the Muir Hut for awhile. Downhill on the backside of the pass. See pics of deer in meadow around 3:30pm. Took a break at LeConte/Bishop trail junction around 4pm. Thoughts of leaving the trail. Made it to camp at Palisade Creek (8,070 ft) around 6:00pm. Had a campfire. in tent around 9:30pm. Anthony had moved ahead and left us "trail mail" at Palisade Creek at 4:15pm that he was going to camp at Deer Meadow. We ended up not seeing Anthony again on the trail. 14.9 mi today in 9.5 hrs. Trip miles: 140. 6 more days. 2/3 of the miles.
Day 16. 9/9
Tues. up around 7:30am. out of camp around 9:30am. We met Flyin' Bryan just before Deer Meadow about 11:00am. He ran past me only saying "Hi". But was walking when Paul met him. Paul got to stop and chat with him, shake his hand. Reached Palisade Lakes at 1:45pm. 2600 ft elev uphill and 6.7 mi in 4:15 hrs. Should make Mather Pass about 5:00pm. 1500 ft and 3.5 mi to the pass. Reached Mather Pass (12,100 ft) at 5:20pm. Easy walk down south side of Mather Pass. stealth camped (10,400 ft) about 4.0 mi passed the summit at 7pm. in tent by 9:00pm. about 14.2 mi in 9.5 hrs today. Trip miles: 154.9 mi. 5 more days.
Note: according to Flyin' Bryan's trip report, he started on Monday at 6:00am. So we met him at approx 29 hrs into his record attempt trip in which he had covered approx. 76 miles!
Day 17. 9/10.
Awoke to 35 degree temps. COLD. frost on the outside of the tent, frost on the inside of the tent. all over. Took awhile to get moving. sun came out while we still in camp and we dried out gear and warmed up. out of camp at 10:30am. Got to Lake Marjorie for lunch at 12:00pm. oops it wasn't Lake Marjorie. it was just below that as we passed Lake Marjorie after lunch. Made Pinchot Pass (12,130 ft) around 3:00pm. Finally made it to Woods Creek Crossing (8492 ft) around 6:30pm. Suspension bridge crossing. Camp fire, visited with the neighbors. 3 guys from SF how hiked in from 17 miles trailhead. They were doing a 5 day base camp trip from Woods Creek. they had day hiked up to Rae Lakes. 6.0 + 7.1 = 13.1 mi today in 8.0 hrs. Trip miles: 168.0 4 more days.
Day 18. 9/11.
Awoke around 6:30am as usual. out of camp around 9:30am. Woods Creek Crossing / suspension bridge. clear sky, blazing sun all day. Hot! Had lunch at Rae Lakes Ranger Station. was a hot climb to reach that (the "Golden Staircase"?). Talked to George the ranger. he is a 34 yr ranger veteran. Passed backcountry ranger Allison on the way up to the pass. Summited very steep, narrow edge like Glen Pass (11,978 ft) around 4:15pm. We did the usual routine of running down the back of the pass to reach decent camp by dusk. Got to lower Vidette Meadow (9,550 ft) around 6:30pm. Campfire, in tent by 9:30pm. About 13.0 miles today in 9.0 hrs. Trip miles: 181.0. 3 days to go, 50 miles to go.
Day 19. 9/12.
Awoke at the usual 6:00am. out of tent by 6:30. Vidette Meadow. out of camp by 9:00am. Had lunch halfway up Forester Pass, sitting on rocks in spartan shade of a rock. Reached Forester Pass (13,180 ft) about 3:00pm. Took many pictures. Left the pass at 3:15pm. Got to Tyndall Ranger station (10,890 ft) about 5:30pm. Chatted with Laura the ranger quite a bit. She gave me some more first aid tape and ointment for my blisters. 11.5 mi today in 8.5 hrs. Trip miles: 192.5 mi. 2 days to go.
Day 20. 9/13.
Awake around 6:30am. in our camp near Tyndall Ranger station. It was cold so I got back in my tent/bag after my cathole call. Got out of tent about 7:30pm. We left camp about 9:30am and tried to cross country scramble from Tyndall creek to the JMT. but we couldn't find the trail. So, we scrambled back down to Tyndall creek and followed the ranger trail back to the JMT junction. We finally got back on the JMT at 11:00am. Crossed the large, flat Bighorn Plateau. Had lunch at Wallace Creek (10,405 ft) around 1:00pm. Met 3 guys doing a lightweight JMT southbound. They were on a 10 day pace. Got to Guitar Lake camp (11,483 ft) around 6:00pm. 11.9 miles in 7 hrs. trip miles: 204.4 miles.
Day 21. 9/14 Sunday.
Woke up at the usual 6:30am call of nature. Out of camp around 9:00am. Climbed the steep switchbacks to meet the northbound trail junction (13,480 ft) coming from Whitney Portal. Arrived at the trail junction around 10:30am. it was windy and cold. There were many day hikers coming from the south at this point. We left out packs at the trail junction and carried noting but fanny packs and full wind clothing the last 2 miles and 1000 ft to the top of Mt. Whitney. the trail is very rocky on this last section. Summited Mt. Whitney (14,494 ft) about 12:00pm. I had a snack at the top, we took pictures, signed the register. Left the peak after about an hour. Had lunch back down at the trail junction. After lunch we did the last climb of the trip as we went up to go over Trail Crest Pass (13,600 ft). After this was downhill all the way. The trail condition is rather poor and rocky. The switchbacks seemed endless. Took a break at Trail Camp (12,000 ft), changed out of the warmer clothes back into shorts and single shirts. We saw a rescue helicopter land at about 10,600 ft. Apparently some guy broke his leg and needed rescuing. Walked basically non stop down to Whitney Portal (8,365 ft). Arr approx. 6:00pm Got cornered by several folks waiting at the bottom who wanted to hear about our trip and the last Whitney summit section. Also a woman was waiting for 2 older men we had met yesterday and we told her they would be down before their planned 7pm. Ate a burger at the portal store, bought t-shirts, dumped trash, etc. Hitched a ride into Lone Pine. Was hoping to get a ride into Bishop but got late with no bites, so we settled for Lone Pine. Checked into Motel around 9pm. Had a pizza in town. 16 miles in 9 hrs. Trip miles: 220.4 miles.
Day 22. 9/15.Walked around Lone Pine a bit. Caught the 12:30pm county bus towards Bishop. That bus blew a tire a half mile out of town. So we had to wait for a replacement bus to arrive then transfer over. This bus also did side trips into Independence and other places to pick people up. Then it dropped off all the other passengers at their various off track stops. We finally got off dropped near the motels about 3:00pm. Checked into the Ramada Limited motel. Late lunch at the bakery. Saw an alumni of MTU there. Spent 1.5 hours in the Galen Rowell Gallery. Had dinner.
Day 23. 9/16 Tuesday.
Up early to check out and catch the 7:00am bus to Bishop. CREST bus service. Anthony was at the bus station. So I rode with Anthony and we chatted and got caught up on events since we had parted company. Anthony had summited Mt Whitney the day before we did. We met Susan at the casino in Carson City right around 11:00am. Drove home from there. Pack weight at start (8/23): 30 lbs, 8 oz plus food, water, fuel.
Jeff lost about 8 lbs body weight. Lots of people commented I looked thinner. So, some firming up also occurred.

People met along the way:
Anthony Scannell
832 S. Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19805  (302) 654-5864
- Brian Robinson near Deer Meadow
- 3 guys doing it lightweight (10 days) <25lbs with food and water. met at Crabtree Ranger trail junction
- 2 older guys who were southbound and also on 21 day schedule. one lives in Ridgecrest
- Marlin on day 04 below Donahue Pass on a 14 day pace.
- Nat at VVR. Sore knee, dropping out at VVR
- ?? who was on PCT northbound. was bussing tables at VVR. spent 8 days and saw no one. dropping out at VVR.
- JD Schaefer at Yosemite backpacker camp. from San Rafael. PCT 2004 gonnabe.