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A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Fri Jul 23, 2010 8:47 am
by PeteL
Apologies for bringing up this old chestnut yet again! I have trawled through old posts on this forum, and browsed, and think I grasp the permit system now (although highly possible that I have misunderstood some things).

I am planning to do the JMT on a walk-up permit, starting from Yosemite 31st August, travelling solo. I have a couple of days contingency if I can't get a permit the first day.

However I am just thinking about other backup options if I'm unable to get a walk-up permit, so would appreciate any comments on any of the following points:

1. My default option is to try and get a walk-up Happy Isles pass-through permit (getting to permit station *very early* in the morning). If I can't get a walk-up permit first thing, then I'll hold on until 10am for any unused permits that come available.

2. There seems to be a lot more walk-up permits available for Happy Isles to LYV (compared to Happy isles pass-through). If I can't get a Happy Isles pass-through permit, can one of these also be used for the JMT (with the restriction of first night at LYV)? Or if not, would one of these allow me to get to Tuolumne (with 1 overnight at LYV), where I could then try for another walk-up permit for the rest of the JMT?

3. There is no permit needed for day walks - does this mean that another backup option is to do Happy Isles to Tuolumne in 1 very long day without needing a permit, where I could then try for another walk-up permit for the rest of the JMT?

4. Tuolumne seems to have a much larger walk-up permit quota than Happy Isles, so if I was able to do (3) above, I would have a reasonable chance of then getting a permit for the rest of the JMT?

5. For all of the above options I need to camp the night before (in either Yosemite valley or Tuolumne) in order to get to the permit station early enough in the morning. But you can't use backpacker camps until you have the permit, so its a catch-22 situation! Posts here suggest that a one-night camp before you have a permit is tolerated, so interested to hear any recent experience that this is the case, or otherwise.

Thanks in advance for any advice/comments.

Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Fri Jul 23, 2010 7:10 pm
by copeg
Always a bit of guesswork whether the permits will be available. I always feel a hiker ups the chances of permit availability by being solo. I know several years ago the permits for the JMT were considered different than those for other destinations - under the provision you hike past Little Yosemite Valley (don't know if this rule is still in effect, but it helped the availability of permits for JMT hikers).
- I'd hesitate to do the long day hike up to Tuolumne just due to permit availability.
- If you aren't a purist and no permits are available for the valley, ask if permits are available for Tuolumne which case you could take a shuttle up and depart from there.

Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Sat Jul 24, 2010 12:13 pm
by maverick
Hi PeteL

Welcome to HST.
Like Copeg said, I would not hike 22 miles, mostly up, just to get a permit, unless
you want the endurance challenge.
If you cannot secure a permit from YV, park you car there, take the shuttle
to TM, and start from there, and when you get back to TM hike down to
the Valley, and back to your car.

Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Sat Jul 24, 2010 5:48 pm
by snusmumriken
The JMT permits are so hard to get because you are competing with hikers that are doing Half Dome as a short backpacking trip.

Your choices for classic JMT permit are:
* Happy Isles - Little Yosemite Valley - You stay first night in LYV and then continue on all the way to Whitney.
* Happy Isles - Merced / Sunrise Passthrough - Camp wherever you like the first night as long as it is beyond LYV, then continue on as above.

If you are not a purist and can do a slight variation your chances for a permit increase substantially.
* You could do as you suggest and hike the first 24 miles as a day hike.
* As Maverick suggests you could start in Tuolomne and return to do the Yosemite Valley - Tuolomne portion in either direction.
* You could probably fairly easily get a permit for Happy Isles to Illilloute, and after spending the first night at Illilloute you turn back to return to the top of Nevada Falls and continue on to do the JMT.
* Another trail quota that seldom fills up is for the Mono Meadows TH off the Glacier Point Road. First night camp at Mono Meadows or Illilloute, then proceed as above. This cuts out the four miles of the JMT, which you might want to complete at the end as a day hike so you can say you walked every step of the trail.
* There are probably more variations like this, if you are willing to be flexible with the beginning of your hike.

The walk-up permits are given out already the day before your hike, so standing in line early in the morning the day of your hike will probably not get you a coveted Happy Isles to LYV permit.

The backpackers camp in Yosemite Valley gets a ranger visit each evening and they will check for permits. Telling them that you plan to get up early in the morning to stand in line at the wilderness center might get you off the hook.

My experience with the backpackers camp in Tuolomne Meadows is more mellow. The times I've seen the ranger they've either been patrolling for bears or checking that everybody paid their $5 campground fee.

If you are excited about doing the JMT and have some flexibility on your start date and first day's hiking itinerary, working out a permit with the rangers should be totally doable.

Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Sat Jul 24, 2010 8:21 pm
by markskor
Just a thought-
Over the years, (whoever decides these things...?), "they" have rerouted short sections of the "Trail" numerous routes replacing old ones...still always called the JMT. Other than the Whitney and Happy Isles termini - small sections are somewhat arbitrary depending on date hiked - certainly not the exact same trail as started out and envisioned years past. Who is to say that any side-trip chosen was not the original Muir trail?
It is hard to be a JMT Purist when "they" can change the route, depending.

Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2010 7:49 am
by PeteL
Thanks everyone for all the responses, this is really useful information.

I'm quite keen to do the whole thing from HI to Whitney Portal without missing any bits, which probably classes me as a purist, although I take the point that the route has changed over time anyway! Also, I'm flying in to San Francisco, and out from Reno, so I'd rather not have to backtrack to the start again to finish bits off after I have got to Whitney Portal.

The Happy Isles to Illilloute permit sounds like a really useful backup option that I had not thought of - so I would still get to walk the whole JMT from start to finish, but with a short extra detour up to a pleasant spot for the first night. I'll definitely go for this if I can't get either of the Happy Isles to LYV or passthrough permits.

The Glacier Point to Illilloute permit sounds like a good 2nd backup option. So it misses some (but not a huge amount) of the JMT (and if I got a permit for the next day, I would probably have time to do the missing bit as an afternoon walk).

Hopefully with all the above I can avoid the Happy Isles to Tuolomne Meadows in one day option! But at least its there as a possibility if absolutely nothing else works.

Thanks again for all the useful information

Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Sun Jul 25, 2010 3:51 pm
by yosehiker
The reason it is so hard to get permits for the JMT is that the popularity of the hiking the JMT has increased dramatically. The NPS has two separate quotas for the Happy Isles trailheads to accommodate both user groups. HI->LYV for those wanting to camp along the way to Half Dome and HI-> Pass through for people wanting to hike beyond LYV, mostly JMT hikers, but of course there are also backpackers wanting to camp in the area not doing the JMT. I was talking about a ranger why permits can be so hard to get for the JMT and he said that use has increased 6 fold, from something like 300/year a decade ago to almost 2,000/year now. So more people wanting to do the same trail/hike means it harder to get permits. Therefore people sometimes have to go through a loophole and camp at Ilillouette or some other crazy option. He made it seem that JMT hikers are taking up the HI-LYV quota more and more, and now are blocking out space for people wanting to the Half Dome hike as an overnight. So it's almost the other way around from what you mentioned.

I did the JMT in 2003, but with what I am hearing now i wouldn't want to go back on it. Just seems like a highway with too many inexperienced people. There are so many other wonderful places to go for a long hike and be away from everyone then the JMT. Just get out of the JMT corridor, or the other few busy places in the park and you'll hardly see anyone.

Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 8:12 am
by stevet
As was noted, walk up permits are for "next day". So you get up early say Monday morning and you may bag a permit for a Tuesday start. Having done this, you will want to be in line no later than 4am for July-mid August starts.

Another option is to try to bag a "no show" permit. At 10am reserved permits that have not been picked up become available. The only downside is the late morning/early afternoon start from the will be hot. If I were to go this route I'd try to get a LYV first night permit and start hiking ~5pm.

Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 12:08 am
by PeteL
After the discussion here, I went back and had a look at the list of full trailheads at, and noticed Happy isles to Illilouette wasn't even fully booked like the others. So I sent off a fax, and now have a reserved permit. That makes everything a lot simpler, and saves me getting up at 5am to queue at the permit office, which (in an already jet-lagged state) I wasn't particularly looking forward to! Thanks snusmumriken for this suggestion.

I'll treat the first day as a pleasant warm-up and then get going properly on the 2nd day.

Given the intense competition for JMT permits I'm surprised more people don't do this, instead of trying for a walk-up Happy Isles pass-through permit. It does make for a very short first day, and a detour off route, but compared to spending most of the night queuing for a permit seems like a good option!


Re: A few JMT permit questions

Posted: Mon Aug 02, 2010 11:13 am
by sierramel
You CAN use the backpackers campgrounds without a permit. Just set up your camp AFTER the ranger personel close up shop (at the campground entrance nearest the Ahwahnee) at 6PM. And have yourself out of there before the rangers come back on duty at 8AM.
They don't check out the backpackers (Valley) campground until around 9AM after they make a run-through the car camp ground.
Backpackers up in Tuolomune is easier. If you have a car, park it at Lembert Dome, walk across the road from there over to the Tuolumne Meadows store and walk up behind it and through the car campground, up the hill, and to the backpackers campground near the trail to Elizabeth Lake.
Set up after 6PM. Take down your stuff before 9AM.