Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

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Pietro257
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Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by Pietro257 » Sun Aug 26, 2018 3:23 pm

I was on the JMT two weeks ago and boy was it crowded! We went from Onion Valley over Kearsarge Pass to the JMT, over Glen Pass, to Rae Lakes, to Sixty Lake Basin and back. Glen Pass had 25 people on it on our way in (August 14). Rae Lakes was very crowded. (In our two days in Sixty Lake Basin, just three miles off the JMT, we saw only two other people.)

The JMTers love to talk and tell you where they started and where they're headed. I heard from several southbound JMT hikers who didn't start in Yosemite Valley because they couldn't get a JMT permit. They started elsewhere and hooked up to the JMT.

I won't go into details, but when I climbed a hillside near Rae Lakes to do my necessaries I came upon many toilet paper flowers and other examples of people not respecting the wilderness. Returning through Rae Lakes from Sixty Lake Basin, I saw campers I'd seen three days before. They had ignored the one-night limitation on camping at Rae Lakes.

The JMT and PCT appear to be a kind of floating party. The hikers like traveling in large numbers, leapfrogging each other. I just wonder if the Forest Service should start regulating the JMT more carefully as it is being degraded, at least from what I saw.

My two cents, probably worth 1.5 cents in today's currency.








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bobby49
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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by bobby49 » Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:51 pm

Most PCT hikers are going through there northbound much earlier in the season, and they have a long way to go, so they tend to be cranking in the daily miles and not stopping to smell the roses. JMT hikers tend to be southbound, and they are spread out all season long. Along there, the authority is not the Forest Service, but it is the National Park Service, and it has a few ranger patrol cabins along the way. So, rangers are out there, but spread pretty thin.

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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by balzaccom » Sun Aug 26, 2018 8:10 pm

I feel your pain. We avoid the JMT wherever possible for exactly the reasons you mention. It has become an "epic" adventure for hikers in the Sierra, and we just don't like seeing that many people.

That said, there are a few places where it is the best route to get from one point to another. We'll take it....but usually camp at least a mile off trail to lose the crowds.
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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by Gazelle » Sun Aug 26, 2018 8:20 pm

I try to avoid JMT PCT whenever possible, I think way to many people! All you need is to go off it a 1/4 mile or so and you will probably have a lake all to yourself...many examples but will not mention as I want them and others to stay that way...also why I have posted less trip reports, or not name where the picture is at.
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The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before. Albert Einstein

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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by SSSdave » Sun Aug 26, 2018 10:08 pm

Even in a place like the Rae Lakes basin, we had no problem at all finding a camp zone where no others were in ear shot much less the 200 foot recommendation. Despite the fact policy recommends camping out of sight of trails and beyond at least 100 feet of distance. The reason is, the vast majority of backpackers camp close to and within visual sight of trails or lake edges. And the majority of non-lake trail camp spots are right atop water sources. Away from water sources, even camp spots right along trails become uncommon. So NO WONDER those camping in such places think it is way too crowded and one is likely to find signs of toilet use behind every tree or boulder within a short distance. I can look at any topo of popular places people expect will be crowded and quickly predict zones where one is unlikely to find signs of others using the spots. People are basically lazy or have lake-itis and not a few are actually afraid of wandering off more than short distances from trails into real wilderness.

Of course all the decades old camp spots including packer sites tend to be right atop trails. If the park or forest service was serious about those policies they would admit they have been ignored for decades and make changes. Obviously they are not and have never been. Heck it would take a backcountry ranger with tools a short time to mark with metal bands well up on tree trunks exceptions to the general rule. Of course all such ignoring policy just exacerbates the issue as some people will obviously use such experiences to rationalize doing whatever they please. Especially given very little enforcement. Much like the 65 mph speed limit is ignored on our highways.

The above noted, simply changing policy won't be effective as long as there continues to be lack of enforcement. Simple ethical reality of our current society and culture is there are way way too many cheaters that pay little attention to rules they choose to disagree with if they can get away with whatever.

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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by creekfeet » Mon Aug 27, 2018 6:49 pm

I don't know if there's much that can be done to regulate the JMT. There's so many entry points that any sort of quota systems are ineffective. Besides, there's no better way to drastically increase the interest in a trail than to make a permit necessary. Anytime a national park takes a fairly ordinary feature (Crystal Cave, Scotty's Castle, Keys Ranch, and the Fiery Furnace come to mind) and makes you pay to see it, it instantly become the park's most popular attraction. I'll admit that the brief stretches of the JMT I've hiked are some of the most scenic areas of the Sierra I've seen, but I just can't get over how crowded it is. The people I've seen on the trail seem to not only not mind the crowds, but relish them, often choosing to camp in mock refugee camps. But hey, to each their own if that's how some people get their jollies in the Sierra.

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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by longri » Tue Aug 28, 2018 7:05 am

I've talked to a few wilderness rangers who had the shared opinion that the popularity of the JMT (and PCT) is a kind of short-term fad, driven in part by those recent movies. I don't know if they're right; it will be interesting to see if it's still the thing to do in another ten years.

The JMT has been overcrowded by some standard for as long as I've been visiting the Sierra. Everybody complains about it. A couple of years ago I was walking north in SEKI on the JMT in early September and noticed a lot of people, most going south. The next day I decided to keep count. I can't remember the tally but it was something approaching 200. Based on that, and estimates from a ranger, I figured that during the summer the JMT probably had 1000-1500 people on it.

I thought: That's really too much.

The thing is, they all seemed happy. I stopped and chatted with numerous people that day I was counting. Nobody complained about the numbers of people. Without exception they were all having a really good time. It made me reexamine my thoughts about what crowding means in the context of a generally benign backcountry, that is easily accessible by good roads and trails, and is in close proximity to around 40 million people.

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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by AlmostThere » Tue Aug 28, 2018 9:01 am

What crowding means to someone who goes out to be in wilderness means is not what it means to folks who go in order to meet other folks doing the same trampled trail and calling it an adventure.

The thru hiker culture is very, very different - everything revolves around the miles and sticking with your bubble, and resupplies. Party time on the trail is what it amounts to. Talk to them about any other location in the Sierra and they shrug - the JMT is the world. The PCT is the world. We gave a Belgian hiker a ride to Vermillion and she seemed very typical - not a backpacker, just went with friends on this grand adventure and now had a whopping sunburn. She'd replaced some of her gear in Lone Pine in response to having made bad choices that gave her issues with weather. She was planning to hitch to Mammoth Lakes and skip the best part of the trail, because the scenery isn't driving her out there, the friends she had to catch up with were more important. Her feet were covered with bandages and tape. She was having a tough hike. I get the feeling that some of these folks would panic in the absence of a crowd.

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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by rightstar76 » Tue Aug 28, 2018 9:54 am

AlmostThere, I agree, alot of them would panic if they were suddenly by themselves. After all, it's social hiking. They see something that everyone else is doing and they be a part of the social scene. Some of them won't be doing too much hiking once they finish since it's another checkbox on their bucket list.

Unfortunately, the genie can't be put back into the bottle. Social media and movies have changed everything so that there's a laser focus on hiking the JMT. It's a rite of passage for many these days. There is a bright side to this in that many of the hikers crowding the trail will be the ones most likely to oppose legislative attempts to eliminate national parks and wilderness areas. Also, the economy of Owens Valley and west slope Sierra resorts depend heavily on them. Not to forget all the shipping revenue. And outdoor equipment retail that is benefiting from the increased business. The more pairs of shoes, the more revenue. It's not a bad thing. It keeps the companies going and creates jobs.

As far as regulation goes, I think attempts to regulate too much from above will be counterproductive and result in rebellion. In another thread from earlier this year, I suggested that there might be some form of peer regulation. I mean if your hiking buddies think it's not cool to jump into a lake with soap, you probably won't think it's cool either. That could be conveyed through friendly peer education along the trail. There could be trail advocates who are stationed along the trail (not to be confused with NPS rangers or trail angels who give rides, put hikers up, etc.). This type of social enforcement of rules and norms will go much further to create a culture of respect for the environment on the JMT than the old fashioned method of giving out fines and stern lectures. It's a new generation that's hiking the trail and it's going to take a new approach to preserve it.

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Re: Time to regulate the JMT more carefully?

Post by SSSdave » Tue Aug 28, 2018 11:33 am

rightstar76 wrote:
Tue Aug 28, 2018 9:54 am
...In another thread from earlier this year, I suggested that there might be some form of peer regulation. I mean if your hiking buddies think it's not cool to jump into a lake with soap, you probably won't think it's cool either. That could be conveyed through friendly peer education along the trail. There could be trail advocates who are stationed along the trail (not to be confused with NPS rangers or trail angels who give rides, put hikers up, etc.). This type of social enforcement of rules and norms will go much further to create a culture of respect for the environment on the JMT than the old fashioned method of giving out fines and stern lectures. It's a new generation that's hiking the trail and it's going to take a new approach to preserve it.

There will never be enough wilderness rangers in such vast areas but there does need to be considerably more rangers than have been working out there the last few decades as some will never change their behaviors without the threat of enforcement and penalties. Beyond rangers, the greatest affect indeed can be realized with peer pressure because there are so so many more of us. When those that ignore policy have to fear others confronting them, far fewer will do so simply due to possibly embarrassment. I am one that has practiced such for decades and embarrassment is by far the usual reaction to the extent I expect most of those I talked to won't be repeating whatever. In any case it takes a certain kind of personality with communication skills to confront people without defensive and or negative reactions so is not something just any backcountry enthusiast can engage in. Those that can greet people in friendly smiling ways, not show emotion especially in their voice, inform without a lecturing demanding tone, are likely to receive positive reactions.

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