new horizons

I’m so thrilled to officially be hiking the trail, and I’m taking my unconventional entry point in stride. It’s an opportunity to soak up some bold new scenery, which may not measure up to Yosemite Valley and Tuloumne but has the added thrill of being completely unfamiliar. Armed with Tom Harrison maps and a GPS, I shouldn’t have trouble navigating the terra incognita. In fact, it’ll be refreshing to avoid the Happy Isles/Half Dome tourist crowds—though who knows how much more foot traffic the Mono Pass area will get now that Donohue exits are at a premium.


I’ll probably camp the first night at Alger Lakes, which look beautiful, but I may stop sooner if I’m too wiped out from the epic climbs up Parker and Koip Passes. Then, after skirting Gem and Waugh Lakes and wrapping back around to the east, I’ll finish up Day 2 on the north side of my beloved Thousand Island Lake—and back on the Muir Trail for good.


After that, it’s a day and a half of familiar territory: a camp near the Ediza Lake junction or so, and then hitting Reds Meadow for lunch and resupply on Day 4 before moving on towards the Duck Lake junction and Purple Lake. Save for a long ago Whitney day hike, I’ve never been east of Red’s on the JMT, so everything should pose a fresh challenge from there on out.

In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of walking to do. The four-mile jaunts around Hancock Park are all well and good, but I’ve got to step up my game now that this is really happening!


it’s official

I’m trailbound! I finally gave in an switched my third-choice Yosemite entry trailhead to Mono/Parker Pass—which bypasses the whole Donohue bottleneck—and immediately received a reservation for July 27. This means I won’t be on the JMT proper for the first two days, but fortunately I’ve hiked the first 60 miles of the trail before twice anyway, so a slight change of scenery doesn’t bum me out too much. Since Mono Pass starters can’t camp in the park bounds, I may end up camping around Sardine Lake and backtracking a little the next day before heading over Parker. Starting here may shorten the overall trip by a day, but that may not be a bad thing with since some extra high passes will be subbed in for Donohue. It will still be an epic haul, and I can still technically say I hiked fromYosemite to Whitney. And I’ll be able to rejoin the JMT before Thousand Island Lake, one of my favorite spots on the route.

The permit was a bright spot in an otherwise rough day. For some reason, I just didn’t feel like doing life today, and while my suffering wasn’t nearly as acute as it was before I got treatment, I definitely felt like a depressed person. I think I’m creatively stagnating. I try to write but feel paralyzed, and I’ve gone back to avoiding and putting off obligations. Even my daily maintenance walk through the fog didn’t help much. But like the fog, it’ll blow over. Tomorrow is another day, and now I have a hike to plan!

the other boot drops

Yesterday, Yosemite officials dropped the new rules that had been rumored to be in the works. For late-July hopefuls, it was a bit of a doozy:

“To protect access for other hikers and preserve the quality of the JMT experience, Yosemite National Park is implementing an exit quota on an interim basis. The exit quota will help the park to address access and resource concerns until a comprehensive approach can be developed through the upcoming wilderness stewardship planning process. The interim quota will limit the number of hikers exiting the Yosemite Wilderness over Donohue Pass to 45 per day. The exit quota applies to all wilderness permits reserved or issued after February 2, 2015.”

Naturally—because that’s how my life works, I guess—February 3 was the day I had planned to submit my first permit application for a late July entry. Instead I found myself scrambling to put together a ranked list of strategically chosen start points last night, battling multiple printers, and praying a lot. The competition for today’s lottery will be stiff enough as it is, but it’s the last day before Monday to avoid the Donohue quotas. Many JMT Facebookers have reported three or more failed attempts at scoring permits before finally landing a sub-optimal entry point like Mono Meadow or Lyell Canyon, so I can only imagine what the new quotas will do to the odds.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe these restrictions are a good thing for the park. The increase in foot traffic over the past decade has been staggering. I just wish they’d at least given us a year’s notice so we had more time to plan alternative routes.

Chances are I won’t get any permit today and will have to face the narrowed quota system next week. Then again, it’s possible I’ll get my first choice: a passthrough permit from Happy Isles. Randomness means everything is possible. Hell, I may even score my first choice through hike after the Donohue restrictions go into effect. But the chances will drop from slim to slimmer. I’m not going to stop trying, and fortunately I have a flexible schedule and can start hiking any time within a 12-day window.

Northbound is an option. Other trailheads outside the park are options. In fact, the options are as expansive as the wilderness itself. I’m letting the Universe handle this one and trying not to stress too much, but that doesn’t mean I can curb my anticipation. Within the next few hours I should hear back about my first application. Crossing all my fingers and toes…

things i cannot change

So I was browsing the JMT Facebook group and found this lovely piece of news:

“I called Yosemite and spoke with a park ranger to get clarification. She just called me back. Here’s what I was just told:

1) Glacier Point will NOT be allowed as a trail head for accessing the John Muir Trail in 2015. That new rule is written into the Superintendent’s Compendium. I’m told (I haven’t checked) that it can be found

2) AS OF TODAY, there is also a new rule establishing an exit quota for permit reservations originating in Yosemite and going onto the John Muir Trail anywhere past Reds. Only 30 such permit reservations will be approved each day, no matter whether the point of origin is, Tuoloume [sic] Meadows or Happy Isles. This new rule is not yet written down, but it is in effect as of today. The intention is to make sure that there are some permits available for people who want to hike and camp within Yosemite from either of those major trailheads.”

Yikes. I already knew the permit process could be dicey— I’d been advised to apply exactly six months before I hoped to hit the trail and to have backup entry points (ie. Glacier Point) in mind. But I’d always believed that as long as I did everything right, I would get to hike the JMT. Now I’m not so sure. It’s possible that despite my best efforts the universe will decide it’s not my year.

I’m trying to be okay with this. How embarrassing to have begun a blog called “Whitney Calls” only to be deferred from my quest by the cruel gods of probability. If this happens, I’ll try to see it as a blessing in disguise. With my sights set on 2016 like Hillary Clinton, I’ll pick a different solo training trip for this summer and relish the additional time to get in shape. But I’m not gonna lie, I’ll be incredibly let down.

Since Monday when I read about the supposed new regulations, other users have posted conflicting reports about the new rules. Do they even exist? Who knows? I hope this is all a misunderstanding, but it seems way too specific to not be true.

Today I woke up not only anxious about said permit process, but also about a more immediate unknown: whether my rental application for my new apartment would get approved. Yes, I found an apartment: a one-bedroom charmer on the western border of Koreatown. And when I returned home from my three-mile walk, I learned I had in fact been approved. Score one for being an adult. I couldn’t be happier to know where I’m going to be, and I’m proud I followed through and pushed through the anxiety of the process. A little bit of faith goes a long way.

I’m going to need to exercise a similar sort of faith a month from this week, when I put in my permit request for the end of July. I’ll do everything I can—multiple faxes multiple days if I have to—but if it’s not enough, so be it. The Muir Trail’s not going anywhere and I have a lot of preparation to do. A year flies by like no time at all, and it will all be all right in the end.  At least that’s what I tell myself, bolstering for heartbreak. As on the trail itself, all I can do is my best. The rest is up to the powers that be. It’s a lesson I have to learn again and again.

visualizing the JMT

When I tell people I’m planning to hike the John Muir Trail, most of them react with a quizzical look. “Where’s that?” they ask. The slightly savvier follow up by asking if it’s one of “the big long ones,” by which they probably mean the Pacific Crest Trail (of Wild fame, and a tiny part of which overlaps with the JMT) or the Appalachian Trail. Unless they’re regular backpackers, 212 miles in 18 days doesn’t mean that much. After all, looking at a map of California, the JMT doesn’t seem especially epic.


Image: TrailDino

Yeah, wow, no. What is that, a dried-up earthworm?

A bird’s eye view, it turns out, doesn’t do the rigors of the Muir Trail justice. And while pictures like this offer a different perspective, the kind you might find on the frontispiece of a fantasy novel, they grossly oversimplify the journey.

Let’s take a look at what really makes the JMT tough: elevation gain.

No, that’s not a graph of my weekly mood swings; it’s an elevation profile of the JMT. Go ahead and click on it for a better look at the numbers. I’ll wait.

A more nuanced profile like this one gives a more realistic picture of the trek, but is simply too long and skinny to shoehorn onto a blog page. Broadly speaking, it’s a series of steep climbs and sharp drops, gradually ascending into thinner and thinner air. And frustratingly, each elevation gain is almost entirely cancelled out by the subsequent descent.

Now we’re starting to get a clearer picture of the challenge (and why having bad knees is cause for caution). But now, the question for the JMT noob might be, why would anyone do that?



I can think of a few reasons.