JOHN MUIR TRAIL ADVICE | High Sierra Topix  


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Postby JWreno » Mon Feb 15, 2010 1:04 pm

I think the easiest way to get permits for a south to north trip is to
start at Horseshoe Meadows entering over Cottonwood pass. This
gives you two nights of high camping before doing Whitney as a day
hike from Crabtree Meadows. You don't have to carry you heavy
pack up Whitney and the sun isn't in your eyes as much hiking northbound.
You get to start at a higher elevation We got our permits two years in a row
for Cottonwood pass with a phone call about 10-15 days before leaving on the trail.

I tend to use a lighter sleeping bag with the knowledge that I will be using a long
top and bottoms when I am in my bag. I also have a down liner jacket that I
can add on the coldest nights. I like to keep my bag cleaner by sleeping in
my long underwear which I can wash about once a week in my bear can.

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Postby Mike M. » Tue Feb 16, 2010 2:02 pm

I concur with JWreno's advice. Horseshoe Meadows is a great place to begin your trip and you completely avoid the Mt. Whitney area permit hassles. It's a pretty hike over New Army Pass and then over to Crabtree Meadows. Then you can day hike up to the summit of Mt. Whitney. If I recall, the true route of the JMT starts (or ends) at Trail Crest, so you can truly say you've done the entire route. The added advantage of starting on the south end of the JMT is that you will be facing away from the hot sun most of the way. Another advantage is that on the last day, you can blast down into the Valley and will hardly be bothered by the hoards of other hikers because you are so glad to get back to good food and a soft bed!

I'm an old fart set in his ways, but here's my two cents on equipment and how many days to take to hike the trail:

1. A comfortable sleeping bag is essential. Don't mess with a bag that isn't rated to at least 25 degrees. I hike with an old North Face Superlight down bag that weighs a little under 4 lbs. and is rated down to -15 degrees.

2. Use a full length blue foam closed cell sleeping pad. These are inexpensive, weigh vey little, and are excellent insulators. Don't mess with Thermorest pads -- they weigh too much and can easily spring leaks.

3. Comfortable boots are essential. Always wear wool socks, preferably with a thin liner sock.

4. I favor old fashioned external frame packs, which allow you to carry a lot of weight in comfort. Too many of the new internal frame packs are heavy even before you put anything in them. Their principal advantage is in allowing more freedom of movement of your arms and upper torso -- a good thing for cross country hiking but far less important for trail hiking. The internal frame packs are also hot -- you'll sweat like crazy against your back -- and they do not carry a big load as comfortably as an external frame pack. Used Kelty packs can be found on ebay or Craig's List at bargain basement prices. Kelty Super Tioga's made in the late 80's are particularly good, with an extremely comfortable harness and clinch belt system. Newer models have gone strap happy and weigh much more than they should.

5. Bring a lightweight down jacket. It will keep you comfortable around camp at night and it serves as a nice pillow when stuffed into a stuff sack.

6. Most hikers elect to bring a tent, which adds at least 3 lbs to their kit. I favor tube tents, which weigh less than a pound, and although not as comfortable, are perfectly servicable for any kind of weather the Sierras might throw your way.

7. Take your time on the trail. It is so easy to get caught up in how many miles you can make on any given day. But you miss so much when you're just trying to make miles. Stop and smell the roses. Plan a few layover days in areas you think might be fun to explore.

8. You should be able to comfortably pack at least two weeks of food on your back at the beginning of your trip, keeping the total pack weight at 50 lbs or less. You can resupply at Lake Thomas Edison or at Red's Meadow's, or you can have a pack train meet you somewhere along the route. For me it is much more pleasurable to stay in the backcountry the entire time and not have any brush with civilization at all, so I would opt for meeting a pack train about half way through the trip. When I did the JMT in 1973, I carried 24 days food on my back. It wasn't very comfortable the first few days and I didn't eat like a king, but it was a wonderful experience. Back then, I had lousy boots, a crummy sleeping bag, a stove that quit working early in the trip, and only a tarp for shelter. But I was smiling all they way! (Except at Tully Hole, where I got blasted by a snowstorm and discovered how inadequate a tarp system can be.)

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Postby cvr » Tue Feb 16, 2010 6:52 pm

Regarding a sleeping bag, I use a Marmot Helium, rated to 15 degrees and weighing just under 2 lbs. It is expensive, but it is the best bag I have ever owned. I don't like to wear too many layers when sleeping and on most Summer nights I find myself wearing just a shirt and underwear, but when it does get cold, this bag is really warm. Somehow it even feels more comfortable (beyond warmth) than my previous bags. It is a peice of luxury gear that has brought me countless great nights of sleep in some pretty cold weather.

Like Mike M. mentioned, I would also recommend a light weight down jacket. I have a Montbell Alpine Light. It weighs only 12.6oz (size L) and feels like you are wearing a hug. It is so nice to be able to stay up a bit late to do some star gazing without freezing my ass off. It also blocks the wind amazingly well and packs down to the size of a 32oz nalgene. It is another luxury item, but it weighs less, is less bulky and performs better than most fleece jackets. Since it is down, you just have to be conscious to keep it dry.

These two items alone have added so much enjoyment to my trips that I would be disappointed to not have them for 3-4 nights in the backcountry, let alone, 25+, without them. You are going on the trip to enjoy yourself. Some comfort and guaranteed warmth, at a mimum of additional weight, are things to consider.

All this being said, I hope your trip is successful.
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Postby fishmonger » Tue Mar 02, 2010 10:04 am

I prefer fleece over down jackets - kept me warm when "keeping it dry" was simply not an option (in July...)

REI Halo is my current bag - works great in summer. I used to own the Marmot Helium, but sold it, because I didn't like the tight cut and am quite happy with the much cheaper Halo. Only got cold once in mid September at Trail Camp below Whitney, when it was about 10 degrees outside.
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