We surprised ourselves with how itinerary evolved over our days in the Sierra Nevada backcountry. Though we’ve been off the trail for a week and our legs may still be recovering, we completed the John Muir Trail three days faster than we had originally planned. We did minimal research before scoring our walk-up permits and somewhat “eyeballed” our first itinerary, marking our campsites with sharpie on a JMT map Alex had just gotten in the mail the day before. As we continued along the trail and earned our “trail legs,” we were covering more ground that we had first anticipated.
The decision to summit Whitney a day early wasn’t made until about 4:00 pm the day before. We didn’t realize how many extra miles we had cranked out, and when we turned a corner and saw Whitney roughly 8 miles south of Forester pass, we were absolutely frozen. Mt. Whitney, over 200 miles from where we had started, was for the first time tangible. We knew that we would finish. I jokingly said, “well if we wanted to, we could summit tomorrow afternoon!” Silently, Alex and I mulled over this thought for about 30 minutes. When she finally turned to me with, “So Katie, I’ve been thinking…” I knew that it was going to happen. We pushed a few extra miles out that night and were able to call people from Whitney a day earlier than they had expected, earning ourselves those sweet burgers and French fries as soon as we could.
This is an imperfect itinerary. There are definitely adjustments we could have made (say, not having the highest mileage and elevation day being the first!), but it ended up working out just fine for us. Though it took us 18 days to get from Happy Isles to Mt. Whitney, our extra resupply in Onion Valley added a day. So without that, this becomes a 17 day itinerary! Woohoo!
|DAY||MILES||ELEVATION GAIN||ITINERARY||HIGHLIGHTS / SIDE TRIPS|
|1||20||7500 ft||Happy Isles -> Sunrise camp||Summit of Half Dome: 4 mile detour|
|2||12.4||2000 ft||Sunrise -> Tuolumne Meadows Backpackers Camp||Cathedral Lakes for lunch, 1 mile detour|
|3||11||1500 ft||Tuolumne Meadows -> Upper Lyell Canyon||The first 9 miles were incredibly chill, just one small hill at the end|
|4||14.5||2200 ft||Upper Lyell -> Shadow Creek area||Crossed over Donahue + Island passes, there is cell service on Donahue! One of the most enjoyable days for sure|
|5||9||1000 ft||Shadow Creek -> Red’s Meadow||Resupply number one! Arrived here before 1 pm|
|6||16||3500 ft||Red’s Meadow -> Virginia Lake||A tough day physically and emotionally, but one of the most beautiful places we camped|
|7||12||2000 ft||Virginia Lake -> Mono Creek, Bridge||Crossed over Silver Pass, then all downhill to Mono Creek|
|8||12.5||3500 ft||Mono Creek -> Marie Lakes||2,000 ft of gain first thing, then gradual incline to the lakes. Water is warm enough for a dip!|
|9||10||500 ft||Marie Lakes -> Muir Trail Ranch||Crossed over Seldon Pass, then all downhill to MTR. Camped about .75 from the ranch, resupply number two|
|10||14||3200 ft||MTR -> Evolution Lake||One of the hardest days. Heavy pack, lots of gain|
|11||13.5||1200 ft||Evolution Lake -> LeConte Ranger Station||Crossed over Muir Pass, the descent was pretty brutal|
|12||11||3000 ft||LeConte -> Upper Palisade Lake||“Golden Staircase” was referred to by us as the “Golden BS.” Lots of gain and switchbacks|
|13||15||3300 ft||Upper Palisade Lake -> Twin Lakes||Crossed Mather and Pinchot passes, big day but so so worth it|
|14||16||3500 ft||Twin Lakes -> Bullfrog Lake junction||Crossed Glen Pass, recommend Rae Lakes or Dollar Lake for lunch|
|15||15||4000 ft||Junction -> Kearsarge Lakes||Dropped packs @ Kearsarge, hiked into Onion Valley and back to Kearsarge for resupply #3.|
|16||5||700 ft||Kearsarge Lakes -> about 5 miles before Forester pass||“rest day” – didn’t leave Kearsarge until 3 pm. absolutely perfect place to stay & enjoy!|
|17||16.5||4000 ft||campsite -> Sandy Meadow||Pushed past our plan, not the best campsite but positioned us to summit Whitney next day|
|18||13.5||3800 ft||Sandy Meadow -> Consultation Lake||Left our campsite at 7:30, summited Whitney at 1 pm. Official end of the JMT 🙂|
|19||6||0||Consultation Lake -> Whitney Portal||It’s a rough descent, it was nice to do only that in the morning. Off the trail and into The Grill by 10:30 am!|
I am so proud of us for finishing the John Muir Trail in 18 days. I’m also unbelievably proud of those who finish in 8, 13, or 25 days. The beauty of a thru-hike like this is that every lesson we learned had nothing to do with what our pace was like or total mileage for the day. Though the best moments were arguably celebrated at the top of passes and of course Whitney, what I have taken away from the trail is our ability to consistently endure. Walking up passes through elevation was physically tough, but the mental challenge of getting up and out of our sleeping bags in freezing temps, knowing that the day would be grueling and we would only find ourselves back on the ground at the end of it was what has stuck with me the most. The John Muir Trail was the hardest thing either of us had done, and to anyone who manages to get themselves to the trailhead – bravo.
Over the next few months, we are going to be working so hard to catch up on sharing all of our content! Get ready for blog posts from our summer road trip and everything JMT, from our resupply strategy to everything we wish we knew before we started! As everything the trail taught us these last three months slowly settles in, we’re focusing on this new adventure of adulthood. Thank goodness we have thousands of photos to bring our minds back to the Sierras!