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Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

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Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

Postby Alan » Mon Jul 12, 2010 6:41 pm

Just got back from hiking the JMT southbound from 6/26-7/11 and thought I’d share info on conditions. The trip was incredible!

First, a bit of background. I’m a 24 year old guy in pretty good shape, with a lot of backpacking and camping experience, Eagle Scout, but had never done more than a 50 miler before this trip. I went with a buddy at a similar level. I’d hiked short segments of the trail in Yosemite and near Red’s Meadow on previous trips a few years back.

We missed out on a Happy Isles permit when we tried 6 months ago, so we tried for the walk-up. Of course, the 4 of those available each day were booked too, so we got a permit to go from Tuolumne to the Valley, got shuttled back up to Tuolumne two days later, and got a permit from Tuolumne to Whitney. It worked out beautifully, and I would definitely recommend this approach if you have trouble obtaining a Happy Isles permit. Given the poor trail conditions, there were 20+ walk-up permits available from Tuolumne every day, though I’m not sure what demand is like later in the season.

There were very few people on the trail, and essentially all of them were northbound PCT-ers. I’d estimate we passed 100 of them, which sounds like it is well below average. Of those, the vast majority came through during the first week of our trip. The backcountry ranger at Rae Lakes (near Glen Pass) mentioned we were the first JMT-ers he’d encountered, though there were probably a handful ahead of us.

There were also very few mosquitoes, thanks to the snow. This started to change the last few days and I’d imagine the armies will be out in full force in the next week or so.

Despite the horror stories, stream crossings were not terrible. We had separate water shoes, and they proved invaluable the 10 or so times we had to use them. The worst were Silver Pass Creek (x3, all very fast water, but not past mid-thigh), Mono Creek, Bear Creek (the worst crossing; waist level and with a hidden current midway), and the South Fork of the San Joaquin (or perhaps a tributary?) in Evolution Meadow (waist high but slow).

On to the snow conditions. Keep in mind I hiked the beginning of the trail 2 weeks ago, and I’m sure a lot has changed since. Overall, I’d estimate we hiked through nearly 40 miles of solid snow, plus another 20 miles of patchy snow. We had trekking poles but, perhaps foolishly, no crampons and no ice axes. There were a couple instances these would have been handy, but we were fine without them. We tried to adjust timing accordingly (e.g. if a section was snowy and steep, we hit it in the afternoon when it was slushy to minimize the risk of a dangerous slide, but if it was snowy and flat, we hit it in the morning when it was icy to minimize post-holing).

Much of the time it was difficult to find the actual trail and we ended up trying to follow PCT-ers tracks. When I say “trail” below, we may have been on the tracks but nowhere the actual trail.

Happy Isles past Half Dome was clear of snow.
Long Meadow (near Sunrise) was covered in a couple feet of sun-cupped snow. Some slush and some post-holing. I’d imagine most of this has melted.
Around Cathedral Lakes and Pass, there was several feet of snow over most of the trail for several miles. Really bad post-holing. One of the few unenjoyable parts of the trip. Again, much has likely melted, but there’s probably still a bit left.
Lyell Canyon was muddy but easily passable—definitely not the “shin level standing muddy water” we’d been told by a Ranger over the phone a couple days prior to departure. I’d never been up here and loved the canyon. Very peaceful.
Donohue Pass had patchy snow in the switchbacks from the canyon and solid snow the last mile up the face. The south side was a total mess—miles of solid, slushy snow. Just when it became patchy we hit…
Island Pass, which was solid snow the last half mile up to the pass and then solid snow down to Thousand Island Lake. The lake was 75% frozen over. Solid snow past Ruby and Emerald Lakes and up to the ridge before Garnet Lake. The trail descending to Garnet Lake did not have much snow, but the lake was 75% frozen over.
From Shadow Lake snow was patchy but easily passable for several miles. The last several miles into Devil’s Postpile/Red’s Meadow had no snow.
The trail was clear of snow until the Red Cones, when there was a short stretch of patchy snow.
From there until Duck Lake, the trail was clear of snow. Between Duck, Purple, and Virginia lakes, the trail was either solid or patchy snow.
Leading up the Silver Pass, the switchbacks were clear until the last half mile or so, but the trail was steep and completely covered for that last half mile. Totally exhausting. The panorama from the top made it all worthwhile.
Patchy snow covered the trail down to Silver Pass Lake, then the trail was clear through…
Vermillion Valley Resort (Lake Edison), where we stopped on 7/2 for a resupply for our final 8 days and 130 miles.
The trail was clear most of the way up Selden Pass on both sides. This was the easiest pass of the trail.
There was no snow up through Evolution Meadow until the very southern tip of Evolution Lake, where the death march began: 5 miles of solid snow up to Muir Pass, followed by another 3 miles south of the pass. This was by far the worst section of the trail, snow-wise. At least the trail was easy to follow thanks to the legion of PCT-ers who’d traced it out; there was no post-holing, but it was very slushy. Luckily, Evolution Basin is spectacular; it would be well-worth a zero-day if you could find a snow-free spot for a tent.
The trail was snow-free through LeConte Canyon and all the way up to the last Palisade Lake before Mather Pass (still, those switchbacks were tough enough without the snow…).
Mather Pass was icy, steep, and snowy from the lake to the pass, and then the first mile south was a brutal mix of snow, talus, and trail. If Muir was the most exhausting pass, Mather was the most dangerous.
Beyond that first mile south, the trail was clear of snow until it became patchy the last half-mile before Pinchot. The south side of Pinchot was patchy snow on steep switchbacks for a mile, but it was not bad compared to previous descents.
The trail was again snow-free past Rae Lakes (which were also amazing; along with Evolution Basin, they would be my choice for a zero-day), and the switchbacks were clear on Glen Pass until the final quarter-mile stretch. The south side had patchy snow but was easily passable.
Forester Pass was harder than anticipated; there was snow the last mile and a half leading up to the pass, and the trail was very difficult to locate from below. We missed it and ended up scrambling up the face of the pass rather than following the ridge up to the pass: big mistake.
After patchy snow descending Forester, the trail was largely clear through and up to the top of Whitney.

Apologies for the length of the post and for the generic descriptions; if you’d like more details on a specific section, just ask. I’ll try to check back a few times over the next couple days to answer. Hope this helps!



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Re: Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

Postby ERIC » Mon Jul 12, 2010 6:52 pm

Hi, Alan. Great first post, and welcome to HST! Congrats on your trip!

Only one *minor* complaint...

*no_pics*

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Re: Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

Postby copeg » Mon Jul 12, 2010 7:22 pm

Thanks so much for joining and taking the time to post such a comprehensive report (and congrats on completing the JMT)! Eric's got a point :D
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Re: Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

Postby SSSdave » Mon Jul 12, 2010 9:11 pm

alan >>>"...Despite the horror stories, stream crossings were not terrible. We had separate water shoes, and they proved invaluable the 10 or so times we had to use them. The worst were ... Bear Creek (the worst crossing; waist level and with a hidden current midway..."

Three of us crossed Bear Creek in the huge El Nino summer in July 98 while dozens of others were stuck on each side, not willing to try a crossing. Word was only one duo had crossed the previous day. There was a hidden current (deep strong flow) too when I crossed but it was right up against the far bank. Each time I lifted a foot, felt like was gonna get swept away. Well with just a few feet to go, I lurched at the bank but didn't get a good grip on the crumbling bank so slipped down a bit in the flow and got a wee bit of the bottom of my pack wet before clamboring out. My feet have never been so painfully cold.

Please tell if others were about during your crossing and how you remember it.
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Re: Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:07 pm

Thanks Alan for a very informative TR, and welcome to HST.
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Re: Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

Postby kgw » Sun Jul 18, 2010 3:50 pm

"6/26-7/11" Are you sure you got your dates right? 15 days to hike the whole John Muir Trail?
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Re: Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

Postby Cross Country » Sun Jul 18, 2010 7:27 pm

I agree with ERIC and kgw's comments.
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Re: Just completed the JMT - info on trail conditions (long)

Postby maverick » Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:24 pm

Hi Alan

No pictures still, are they on the way?

KGW - 15 days to do the JMT is good, I wish I had that much time to be out in one
stretch.
The last time I did it was 9 days which includes a layover at Rae Lakes.
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