Sunday, July 29, 2012


Dear Family, Friends and Fellow Hikers,

Well, we made it in 15 days as planned!  What a wonderful experience.  The best part was meeting so many new friends.  You'll meet them too:  CLICK HERE TO ENJOY PHOTOS OF THE TRIP.  (If I got any names wrong, please let me know!)

A LOT of folks were interested in the ultralight gear.  "How much does your pack weigh?" (12.6 oz.)  "Did you make it yourself?" (Nope, it's from ZPacks.)  "What's your total packweight?" (Base weight, 9 lbs. 11.8 oz—including 31oz. bear cannister.  Heaviest weight on the trip, with 7 days food & 1/2-liter water, 21 lbs 15.4 oz.)  "How much does your tent weigh?" (9.6 oz.)

The complete gearlist is here.

No blisters!  Our friend Priyadarshini had passed along a tip from our late friend Garrett Stanley:  carry a 2nd pair of socks, and when the ones you're hiking in get too damp, change into the dry ones, & let the damp ones air out on your pack.  Plus, I washed my feet in creeks at least once a day, babied them, talked to them, & told them I REALLY appreciated the great job they were doing.  :)

I wore comfortable running shoes, and didn't use hiking poles.

I was impressed how "Sierra" miles are a lot more challenging than "regular" miles!  There's the high altitude; there's all the ups and downs over several mountain passes—all told, over 46,000 ft. of ascent and 38,000 ft. of descent; and there's the challenging granite-block-hopping atop many of the mountain passes, especially Mt. Whitney.

What characterized this year was low water levels—which was a plus in that there was only ONE creek to ford shoes-off, very rare!  & no snow, unlike last year at this time.  There were enough creeks & lakes to get water from regularly, though.

There were afternoon showers the last week, which encouraged a routine of "early to bed, early to rise" to get the day's hike in early, to beat the rain. But Sierra showers are usually pretty mild, and don't last too long.

On the last day, I saw a fellow wearing a t-shirt that said:  "It's easier to go down a hill than up—but the view from the top is much better."

I did lose some weight—a bit under 10 lbs!—but I'm making that up again fairly quickly.  Eating like a horse, in other words.

If there's one other tip I'd offer aspiring thru-hikers, it's "be in shape".  Start now!  ANY hiking, backpacking, exercise or weight training you do is a step in the right direction.  I think the twice-a-week "Body Pump" classes I've done at the YMCA the last couple of years helped a LOT strengthening my legs for a long distance hike like this.  Plus just getting out and hiking regularly; or biking, or swimming, or volleyball, etc.  And, for sure, backpack in advance with the actual gear you plan to be using at least once or twice, to put it through its paces and make adjustments as necessary.

Well, friends—do stay in touch!  You can either post comments below, or email me directly by clicking here.


In joy,


Dear Family and Friends,

I'm planning to hike the John Muir Trail from July 31 thru August 14.  Enough folks have asked me questions about it that I thought I'd put answers on this blog.  You can click on the blue links for more info.
  • How long is it?
The John Muir Trail (JMT) is 221 miles long.  The most popular, north-south hiking direction begins at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley, and officially ends at the summit of Mount Whitney 210.4 miles later.  But then, you need to hike another 10.6 miles down to the Whitney Portal Campground.
  • How long will it take you?
I'm hoping to complete it in 15 days, averaging about 15 miles per day.
  • Are you going with anyone? 
Yes and no.  Yes, in that hundreds of people hike the JMT each summer.  (One hiker commented, "The one piece of gear I didn't need was a compass!  Enough hikers are going back and forth that it's obvious where the trail is."  But I will bring a compass.)  No, in that I'm hiking solo, which allows me to go at a faster pace than when hiking with a group.
  • What's your itinerary?
My wife Marilyn (aka Manisha) and I drive with our friend Priyadarshini to Yosemite Valley on Monday 7/30.  Next morning, I day-hike 21 miles to Tuolumne Meadows, where we camp that night.  Then we bid adieu for 2 weeks, while I hike and they have a fun RV trip.  They pick me up at Whitney Portal on 8/14.  For a detailed itinerary, click here.
  •  Are you carrying a cell phone?
Nope.  Just a phone card for when I'm near a pay phone and have  a more up-to-date ETA for Manisha and Priyadarshini.  But I'll bet someone will let me use their cell.  It's not all that uncommon to hear "Hey, Ma, you'll never guess where I am—on the top of Mount Whitney!"
  • Are you carrying food for the whole trip?
Yes, but not all at once!  It's real common on long hikes to prepare a "resupply food bucket" in advance, and mail it to certain locations for pickup along the way.

To quote from Wikipedia:  "There are several resupply points convenient to the JMT during its northern half (Tuolumne Meadows, Reds Meadow, Vermillion Valley Resort, Muir Trail Ranch), allowing the hiker to carry a lighter food load early in the hike and also to exit the trail easily if problems arise. The southern half of the JMT is more remote and generally higher in elevation, thus making it more appropriate for the second half of the hike when maximum conditioning has been attained."

After I depart Tuolumne, I'll have resupply buckets waiting for me at the other 3 points mentioned above. So, for the first half of the trip, the most I'll be carrying at any one time is 3 days worth of food.  On the second half, resupply is more difficult, so I'll be carrying enough food for 7 days.  [Editor's note:  as you'll see from the photos, I bypassed stopping at Vermillion, as the water levels were so low this year the ferry there wasn't running.  I had just enough food (plus a couple of friends gave me 2 spare dinners and some snacks) to get to Muir Trail Ranch, 1.5 days later.  In hindsight I'd say that the Vermillion stop isn't really necessary; plus, even when the ferry is running, you have to work around the limited ferry schedule to get there.]
  • What kind of food are you bringing?
Two different kinds:  1) Homemade recipes from the book Ultralight Backpackin' Tips—more about that below; and 2) freeze-dried meal pouches from HawK VittleS (yep, he uses those capitals at the end).
  • How much does your pack weigh?
Well, now we get to talk about ultralight backpacking!  If I had to recommend one thing for anyone planning a thru-hike, it'd be the book Ultralight Backpackin' Tips by Mike Clelland! (yep, he ends his last name with an exclamation point).  I'm pretty much following 95% of what Mike recommends. (The other great resource is Erik the Black's Backpacking Blog, which includes his John Muir Trail Pocket Atlas.)

"Ultralight" means you're carrying a base weight—pack, less food and water—under 10 pounds.  Mine, including bear-proof food canister, is 9 lbs 11.8 oz.  My maximum total pack weight, including 7 days food and 1/2-liter water, is 21 lbs, 15.4 oz.  Maximum "skin-out" weight, including everything I'm wearing, is 25 lbs, 8.2 oz.

My backpack, daypack (for the first day), tent, sleeping bag, raingear, and gloves are all from a great ultralight company called

For my full gearlist, click here.  Only thing not included in that is my "Day 1" daypack, a ZPacks Zero, Size Small.
  • Have you done anything like this before?
Not this long.  I've backpacked up to 4 days before, but haven't done a thru-hike like this 'til now.  I've been looking forward to it for years, though! and have prepared for this one for months.
  • Will you be taking photos?
Oh, but of course!  I look forward to sharing them with you upon return.  :)

Joe (aka Dambara)