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Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

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Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby CharlieW » Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:50 pm

Apropos of the other thread on permitting and too many JMT thru-hikers...

My window of opportunity extents from about July 1 to Aug 22 (must be back by that date), with planned hike time of 21 days. I have to fly into SFO or SMF or RNO, but can get friends/family to deliver me to Yosemite. Because I'm flying in, I'll be competing for one of the 24-week advance permits. So I have to decide now without knowing what snowfall will be.

I understand the basic factors for early July start: mosquitoes, harder river crossing and possibly snowy passes. I'm somewhere between beginner and expert in dealing with all 3. My basic questions relate to trade-offs between difficulties (really mosquitoes are the most daunting to me) versus possible benefits of earlier July start:

1. Do I get any benefit in terms of fewer hikers starting earlier in July? Or are permits simply maxed out (so it makes no difference) during this whole period?

2. For photographers, how much better is early versus late July start? (I know, depends on snowfall which we can't know for a while yet...)

3. Any other reasons for me to consider earlier July start?

4. My plan is to hitch a ride from Whitney Portal down to Lone Pine, probably spend night there, then public transport to some city with airport. I know I've seen info about public transport to Yosemite (and subsequently SFO or SMF), but can someone give me a quick answer on how long that might take? Can/should I bus it up to Reno instead? Are there any other airports I should consider for trip end? (When flying/car renting, I really like coming into the east Sierra from Las Vegas. But I guess that's not an option here.)

Experience level: Hundreds of day hikes in all sorts of conditions. Maybe a dozen ~5-day base camping trips in east Sierra in 90s, both on and off-trail, though mostly in late August/September when conditions were easy. Many stupid stunts during the late 80s that involved navigating, crossing rivers, snow, and generally testing the theory that synthetics are warm when wet. I tend to do things more deliberately now.

Also, I need to do traditional JMT route for spiritual/nostalgic reasons. Childhood memories of that trail sign at Happy Isles...



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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby paul » Sat Jan 10, 2015 5:11 pm

My vote is to go as late as you can. Primary reasons: later means less bugs, less thunderstorms (usually). If was suggesting an ideal time frame I'd say start August 20 or so, but as that doesn't fit your schedule then just go as late as you can in the frame you've got.
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby RichardCullip » Sat Jan 10, 2015 6:22 pm

I'd go as late as possible in your window of opportunity. Of course, you could let the permitting process help select the date your start. Tuesday, July 28th, might be a good target date for you. Not quite as much competition for a mid-week, non-holiday, date. This would give you enough time to finish the hike within your time frame and also give you a few days leeway at the start for a bit of permit flexibility.
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby CharlieW » Sat Jan 10, 2015 6:52 pm

Yeah, all my experience says later is better. Was looking for someone to provide a counter argument.

A big consideration however is the possibility (likelihood?) of failing on the 24-week advanced reservation. My understanding is that they email you rejection and then you can try again for a subsequent date. If I try for 7/28 and fail then I'm out of luck for this year. If I start trying for 7/1 entry date then I should have several cycles to try again.

Regarding point above, can someone tell me from experience how fast the rejection email is sent? I might start trying for 7/15 if I think that will give me several re-tries before 7/29. (This all gets much more dicey with the new 30 permit limit if that really happens.)
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby tim » Sat Jan 10, 2015 8:06 pm

I would fly back out of LAX or another airport in the area. The bus from Lone Pine heading south will take you to Lancaster where you can get the train to LA.
If you are traveling solo then permits may be easier. But I would still allow some time to enter the lottery each day and not just apply at the end of your window.
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby markskor » Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:25 am

Having done the JMT more than a few times - thoughts:

Coming out of Yosemite Valley - Happy Isles or GP, you fight/compete for a permit slot with all the Half Dome rubes...unless you have your permit in hand before arrival, you could be stuck in the crowded Valley zoo a few days longer than wanted or needed. Permit lines can get long in the Valley - no guarantee you will even get one... Additionally, loaded down, first day legs, 3,000' of up, and tons of day hikers doing the Vernal Falls steps...Oh, and don't forget the "wilderness" camp sight in LYV which isn't, and the big slog up again to Sunrise...not the way I would want to start any dream trail, especially if not in prime trail condition. To add more, the trip from LAX via bus connections, getting first to Lone Pine and then up to the Portal (or returning same) is another headache.

Instead consider flying into Sacramento. Shuttle into downtown (Old Town) to the Amtrak station ($10), and taking the train/bus connector ($45) to Yosemite Valley - stay BP camp Valley and see the sights...Yarts to Tuolumne (8:30 AM or 5:00 PM), stay TM Back Packer camp (no reservations needed in both BP camps - $5 a day/pp), and start your hike SOBO from there. If no permit in hand yet? - get in line early Tuolumne Wilderness office for a "next day" JMT slot/ much shorter lines - do-able -acclimate at altitude - soak up the Meadows. Head out early morning.

After the Portal Burger. easy ride down to Lone Pine - Hotel/motel (Dow Villa is good) in LP and either bus to Lee Vining or an easy straight hitch (backpack with a sign works well) up 395 to Mammoth Lakes or Lee Vining to pick up the Yarts to Tuolumne. Finish the Muir hiking Tuolumne to the Valley downhill - avoid LYV - maybe do both Clouds Rest and Half Dome on the way down...you still have done all the Muir.

Again stay Valley BP... Amtrak back to Sacramento station - shuttle to airport, and return home.
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby cloudlesssky » Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:54 am

Later is better IMHO. What you'll encounter depends a lot on the winter weather.

From your post it appears you'll be coming from outside the state. One option I don't see discussed much is to fly into Reno and take the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (ETSA) bus south to Lee Vining and then YARTS bus into Yosemite (either the Valley or Toulumne start points). If you ask the ESTA bus will stop at the Mobile station (where YARTS picks up).

When you finish you can hitch hike from Whitney Portals into Lone Pine, spend the night (and shower), and then catch the ESTA bus back to Reno airport. Hitching from the Portals into Lone Pine is easy - lots of willing drivers or you can often arrange a ride while eating your congratulatory burger.

Make sure you get a reservation for the ESTA bus if at all possible. It can be busy.

In any case it's a good idea to check into ESTA routes ahead of time as it might be your transportation in case of an early exit.
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby CharlieW » Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:49 am

Thanks for all the tips!

Yes, I'm coming from out of state. But I'll likely have family delivering me to Yosemite and day-hiking with me up to Nevada Falls. And that part has tremendous nostalgic value for me, so I do want the iconic JMT start despite all the good reasons not to do that. If I can't do "The JMT" this year, I'll just backpack somewhere off the JMT and be perfectly happy about it. Also, walk-up is simply out of the question for me.

Three more specific questions:

1. Does the advanced permit lottery use limits based on "1st night's camp location"? I know there are plenty of other considerations for that. I'm just asking about the advance permit lottery.

2. Assuming answer to #1 is YES, should I just submit application with 1st/2nd/3rd choice having different "1st night's camp location", but entry/exit being exactly the same? (Instructions seem to indicate that 2nd/3rd choice should have different trailheads and/or dates. I don't want to annoy anyone.)

3. All else being equal, which airport is quickest (and least risky) to get to after overnighting in Lone Pine: SFO, SMF, RNO or LAX? Let's assume I make reservations in advance. (If someone is annoyed by my asking before doing research, my apologies...)
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby Saltydog » Tue Jan 13, 2015 10:40 am

Charlie:

There is one more reason looming why earlier is better. There are trailhead allocation changes under consideration that will make it more difficult to get the "iconic" HI permit you are looking for, and perhaps any permit out of Yosemite. These changes have been delayed somewhat, but could be approved and implemented at any time. See the thread elsewhere on this topic on JMT changes. If and when those changes are made, they will be announced here and on other media sites, but we are not likely to have much if any notice in advance of the effective dates.
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Jan 13, 2015 1:35 pm

CharlieW wrote:
1. Does the advanced permit lottery use limits based on "1st night's camp location"? I know there are plenty of other considerations for that. I'm just asking about the advance permit lottery.


Yes, there is HI -> LYV, and HI -> LYV passthrough - the second meaning you intend to camp 2 miles beyond the madness at LYV. The first camps that are legal and have water are on Sunrise Creek near the Clouds Rest turnoff.

2. Assuming answer to #1 is YES, should I just submit application with 1st/2nd/3rd choice having different "1st night's camp location", but entry/exit being exactly the same? (Instructions seem to indicate that 2nd/3rd choice should have different trailheads and/or dates. I don't want to annoy anyone.)


I would submit for the passthrough and choose three dates, one day apart. Entry is the main thing in Yosemite - they focus on the quotas and are less fussy about exit date or even exit trailhead.

3. All else being equal, which airport is quickest (and least risky) to get to after overnighting in Lone Pine: SFO, SMF, RNO or LAX? Let's assume I make reservations in advance. (If someone is annoyed by my asking before doing research, my apologies...)


Probably Reno. SFO requires a long drive over Tioga Pass then navigating SF traffic (not for the faint of heart - I'm not a local, so even though I go to the Bay Area a few times a year, I still white-knuckle the whole time I'm trying to figure out which lane to be in for the 3- or 4- way junctions - have been on the Bay Bridge at least twice due to ending up on the wrong freeway because the crazies wouldn't let me into the lanes I needed). LAX is a similar issue - I once sat in traffic for four hours in the middle of the day on a Saturday, for no apparent reason at all, despite it not being rush hour or there being an accident... If I were making advance arrangements to catch a flight and needed to be somewhere 100% on time, I would be working to avoid LA or SF, since I do not know the "back routes" on surface streets and freeway delays happen too frequently.

Sacramento, which I have managed to fly out of several times, was not nearly so crazy-making. I got to the airport without sweating it out in traffic.
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby cahiker » Tue Jan 13, 2015 2:49 pm

The camps on Sunrise Creek by the junction to Clouds Rest won't avoid "madness". When I was there last summer we chatted with a volunteer who was camped in the area so she could shoot the bears who came through the campsites every night with beanbags. Sure enough, about an hour after dark a bear came through our campsite, knocked over my bear canister (but not the other 4 we had) and wandered on. A few minutes later we heard a bunch of commotion as the bear apparently entered the next campsite...

The only time I ever camped at LYV was 2 years ago. Everyone was friendly and well-behaved, and there were no reports of bear activity. Someone near us had camped near the Clouds Rest junction the night before, and he said a bear had gotten into a Bear Vault. He showed us his Garcia canister which the bear had played with, but not gotten into - It was pretty scratched up, but was a rental so I'm not sure how much was from that bear.

One downside to LYV was that I needed a GPS to find my way back from the 2 story outhouses in the middle of the night (the camp is as big as some car campgrounds, but there aren't any marked roads to follow.)
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Re: Help me pick start date for JMT thru hike!

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jan 13, 2015 7:50 pm

Just heard a long term weather report from NOAA. They say in spite of early rain here, dry conditions will prevail until summer. Currently about 50% snowpack in the Sierra. So, I do not think this year that snowpack will be a game stopper for early permits. However, streams are higher early season. For me mosquitoes are the biggest drawback of an early start. But if we have a dry spring, mosquitoes season could end early.

Just a thought, last resort if you cannot get a permit in the drawing. When your family is with you in Yosemite, have them drop you off at Tenaya Lake and take the trail to Sunrise Lakes, turning south on the JMT back to Yosemite Valley where they pick you up. This would be a day hike - no permit required. Then you could start your JMT trip also from Tenaya Lake to intersect the JMT. This would get you on all of the JMT without dealing with getting a permit out of HI.
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