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So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sat Feb 11, 2017 1:52 pm
by powderhound
I hiked the John Muir Trail 4 years ago, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was new to long-distance backpacking, had never spent more than 2 nights alone in the wilderness, and had never hiked through the Sierra south of Yosemite. I remember preparing for that trip, doing 30-40 mile solo hikes and running into one problem after another until it was time to make the drive to Happy Isles. I'm glad I did the JMT then, because it looks like it's nearly impossible to get a southbound permit now.

I was hoping to hike it again this summer, but as many here have probably figured out, it's nearly impossible to reserve a permit. I called the ranger station and they said that they are getting about 800 applications a day. With the lottery they just instituted, that comes out to a .04375% chance of getting a single permit on a given day, and if I submit 3 of the 3-week window applications a summer, I would have to do so for 14 years to have a greater than 50% chance of getting a 1-person permit...and that's only if all the applications are for just one hiker, and I'm sure many of them are for groups.

It looks like hiking southbound from Happy Isles is a thing of the past for most people, and it's a real shame. I'm toying around with hiking over Parker or Isberg pass, or starting at Horseshoe meadows, but I'm hesitant to hike north for some reason. I've always started my hikes on the west side of the Sierra, and starting off in the desert would feel weird...not to mention it would make the logistics of getting there harder for me, as I would be getting a ride from the Bay Area. I've already hiked the big SEKI loop and the HST, maybe it's time to explore the northern Sierra?

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sat Feb 11, 2017 2:42 pm
by markskor
While reserved JMT permits out of Happy Isles are now long gone, "next day" out of Tuolumne were still possible last year, all summer long. Sure, you might have to camp over, wait at the "next day" line, but from observing the situation working up at the store, saw daily success stories from there.
Just saying...

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sat Feb 11, 2017 5:41 pm
by Lumbergh21
I hiked the JMT for the first time in 2015, and at 13 days, it's still the longest hike I've been on. While I enjoyed it, I don't care if I ever do it again. There are so many places both in the Sierra and elsewhere that I want to see. Having already done it once, why not search the web, pour over the maps, and make your own trail? That's what I did last year and plan to do again this year. The JMT is being loved to death. Rather than follow the crowds, enjoy the trail less traveled.

I plan to either hike north from Horseshoe Meadows or south from Dana Meadows over Parker Pass this year, and spend most of my time on trails paralleling the JMT and side trips. It's going to increase my mileage to 300 to 350 miles depending on specifics, but I'm allowing for 20 days of hiking.

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sat Feb 11, 2017 9:32 pm
by powderhound
markskor wrote:While reserved JMT permits out of Happy Isles are now long gone, "next day" out of Tuolumne were still possible last year, all summer long. Sure, you might have to camp over, wait at the "next day" line, but from observing the situation working up at the store, saw daily success stories from there.
Just saying...
Did you find out when they started waiting in line? I've been thinking about doing this, but am not sure if I can handle getting in line at midnight without a sleeping bag and falling asleep. I wouldn't mind spending the day hiking around Cathedral Lakes if I have to wait around for a day though.

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sat Feb 11, 2017 9:59 pm
by markskor
powderhound wrote: Did you find out when they started waiting in line?... am not sure if I can handle getting in line at midnight without a sleeping bag and falling asleep.
Several took their bags and pads and slept out cowboy style, right "in line".
I saw more than one set up a free standing tent...also at the sign, in line.
Lounge chair sleeping also common.

BTW, As the TM permit office controls (closest office to) the trailhead south, everyone who is "in line" in TM before 8:00 AM (get in line before 7:00 AM best), will be asked about their intention when the TM office first opens...and be served first. What this means is that any TM person, standing/sleeping in line who gets there in the morning (albeit late but before the Rangers show up) will get any (starting at TM trailheads) JMT permits (south or north) that are available before anyone else, even though others may have been in line way earlier, at another Yosemite permit office, asking for the same TM trailhead.

The TM store opened at 8:00 AM and by 10:00 had met many a potential JMTer who, just that morning, had obtained/ gotten their "next day" or a "just cancelled" permit this way...last minute success is still quite do-able.

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 11:09 am
by longri
powderhound wrote:I called the ranger station and they said that they are getting about 800 applications a day. With the lottery they just instituted, that comes out to a .04375% chance of getting a single permit on a given day...
I think you may have a little math error there.
powderhound wrote:It looks like hiking southbound from Happy Isles is a thing of the past for most people, and it's a real shame.
It's never been a thing for most people. There aren't any fewer people walking the JMT from Happy Isles than in 2013 -- there are more. The difference is that a lot more people want to do it now.

I've heard predictions from backcountry rangers that it's a passing fad, driven by a couple of movies and fanned by social media. We'll see.

In the meantime, if you really want to join the giant crowd (I saw ~200 people on the trail one day last September) you can. You just have to be smarter and/or work a little harder.

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 12:02 pm
by maverick
While I enjoyed it, I don't care if I ever do it again. There are so many places both in the Sierra and elsewhere that I want to see. Having already done it once, why not search the web, pour over the maps, and make your own trail?
:nod:

So many beautiful places to explore in the Sierra, why put up with the crowds and the logistics. You have done it once, if there were particular sections that you enjoyed and would like to re-visit, include them in a trip that also includes some undiscovered country.

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 1:19 pm
by bigpiney
maverick wrote:
While I enjoyed it, I don't care if I ever do it again. There are so many places both in the Sierra and elsewhere that I want to see. Having already done it once, why not search the web, pour over the maps, and make your own trail?
:nod:

So many beautiful places to explore in the Sierra, why put up with the crowds and the logistics. You have done it once, if there were particular sections that you enjoyed and would like to re-visit, include them in a trip that also includes some undiscovered country.
Agreed. I did it in 1997 with my two best friends. Don't need to do it again.

My wife did it 2 years ago with two of our daughters (7 and 12 and the time). The traffic on the trail was getting out of hand. Glad they did it when they did. They went in at Horseshoe and finished at happy isles.

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 2:29 pm
by hikerduane
Folks can always get away to side trail areas. I've been to many lakes in the Silver Pass area and not seen anyone for four days, moving everyday. 20 within an hour of making the JMT by Virginia Lake and Horse Heaven.
Duane

Re: So Much for the John Muir Trail

Posted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 5:07 pm
by Dave_Ayers
Don't despair Powderhound. A few comments:
The math isn't as bad as you show. Happy Isles permits 20 per day. 20/800 = 2.5%. Plus starting at TM adds 25 daily Lyell Canyon permits if you are willing skip the Valley section. That adds another 25/800 = 3.1%. Being solo improves your odds as they end up with 1 slot left sometimes. There are fewer folks that start after Labor Day. Your odds improve if you are able to do that.

Going over Parker Pass then Koip is fine, its beautiful country too and you can easily bag Koip Peak from the Pass (and Kuna Peak too if you like). The only real issue is that Koip Pass is ~12,300 and that may present a serious altitude challenge for some, especially if you try to do it the first day. But you can sleep at ~10,500 at the Parker Lakes the first night or sleep over the night before at TM or WW Backpacker camps at 8600 or 7900 feet, respectively.

You can also split the JMT into two pieces starting each from the Devils Postpile area. You could head north to TM or HI, then shuttle back to Mammoth via YARTs. Then head out again southbound to Whitney Portal. It takes two permits, but really isn't much more hassle otherwise. You can see which permits are available for the Inyo Nat Forest TH's are recreation.gov.

You could head out of Yosemite over Isberg Pass and head towards Postpile via Granite Stairway. Then do a separate trip to enjoy the Minarets area you missed. Since you've done the JMT once, subbing out a section is probably not that big of a deal.