JMT thru hike in October

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instocramb
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JMT thru hike in October

Post by instocramb » Mon Jul 01, 2019 6:47 pm

Hi I am new to this forum and we are heading over to the High Sierra from Australia September/October for a planned 21 day thru hike on the JMT.
This was the only time we managed to grab permits, so we snapped them up and will figure things out along the way.

Not sure what to really expect weather wise except cold up high .

Not a problem after a couple of years trekking and climbing in Nepal and Pakistan to 6000 metres (19600 ft)

should we plan for Snow. what have been rainfall trends up there in late season?

Unfortunately most of the resupply points will be closed from October 8 (VVR's last open date) I imagine that means a side trip to Independance or any other towns along the way?

Any suggestions for resupply options to build into our itinerary.

What's the fishing like at this time of the year along JMT, we will be bring a couple of fly rods. ( I will also post on the fishing forum)

Some details about us

What level of backpacking experience do you have?

Level 4- Comfortable with trail and/or x-country travel

What terrain are you comfortable/uncomfortable with?
-
- Class 3 terrain/pass/x-country
- River crossings
- Snow travel/Glacier crossings


What is your main interest?

- Big Mountain scenery
- Photography
- Fishing


How many days/nights is your trip, not including travel to trailhead?
21

How many miles did you want to do a day, any layovers?
average approx 15 with a couple of layovers

Have you hiked at elevation before? Any prior issues with Altitude Sickness?
not an issue








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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by markskor » Mon Jul 01, 2019 7:32 pm

Instocramb,
Just a thought, instead of starting in October, (at best an iffy month - snowwise), try for mid September.
You say October was the best you can do but...

Here's the scoop - The Muir trail has quotas. What you see when you look on line are only the 60% "reserved" wilderness permits...the other 40% are designated as "next day".
Add in the "no shows" from the 60% "reserved" and there are 12+ spots open for going over Donahue. Here in Yosemite, after the schools get back in early September, everything Yosemite slows considerably and you should be able to bag one of these next day permits pretty easily (how's your karma?) by standing in line at the TM permit shack (still open BTW in Sept), early...(drop in and talk to the Ranger the day before.) Suggest hang out a day pre-hike. There is a BP campground closeby, acclimate...the TM store and grill are still open ... start out from Tuolumne Meadows...go South. After the Portal grab the bus back to Tuolumne and then finish the last portion down to the Valley. At worse, you may have to spend an extra day in Tuolumne.

- This way resupply points will still be open.
- Figure on some rain... snow is doubtful but anytime possible...no ice ax or 'pons really needed but trekking poles help.
- Fishing can be fantastic but time consuming...maybe add on a few extra days and do it right?
Any more help - just ask away.
mark
Mountainman who swims with trout

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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by stevet » Mon Jul 01, 2019 7:50 pm

When do you actually start? Sept 15 can be a lot different than Sept 30 with respect to resupply. And with respect to weather, you can get snow in elevation pretty much anytime but you will be out late season...plan that you will encounter one or two storms that will drop potentially several inches of snow.

So much for the bad news. Assuming you are starting in Yosemite Valley, plan it right/early start and you can "dayhike" to Tuolumne on your first day. Will need to have your backpacking gear either stuff into a bear box or held at the post office or store. Sure it is a long first day but if up to it a good option. 1st resupply, check when Red's Meadow closes. The store holds resupply, 2-4 days after Tuolumne. If Red's is closed, if the road is open you can resupply in Mammoth. Some of the hotels will hold for you if you plan to stay the night. After Red's/Mammoth you are looking at VVR or Muir Trail Ranch for the next resupply. MTR closes 9/30 so your start date is critical, VVR gives you a bit more wiggle room but is further from Whitney.

After VVR or MTR the next viable resupply is Parchers Resort at South Lake. Parchers will be one long day out and one back from LeConte Canyon. They hold resupplies, have backpacker cabins and showers. Need to call them as their website doesn't indicate the last date they will provide services. After Parchers the next is the Mt Williamson in Independence (exit via Kearsarge Pass). The exit to Independence is shorter than the exit to South Lake but even 4-5 days later means more difficult hitching from the trailhead to your resupply (though Strider at Mt Williamson will guarantee a ride for a price).

Onion Valley to Whitney there are no good resupply options, but the distance is manageable.

You might also contract one of the packstations to make a backcountry food drop. Might run you ~$400, but can save the couple days spent hiking out and back. And you can also (illegally) make your own food drops. I have dayhiked and left a resupply at Bullfrog Lake (20mi out and back from Onion Valley) and at the west end of Dusy Basin (about 20mi out and back from South Lake). The forest service does not like this as many such resupplies end up uncollected but if you have the time/logistics to manage or can find a trail angel to do it for you this is also a viable option especially if Parchers and Mt Williamson are effectively closed for the season.

As to other points...late September/early October won't have challenging stream/river crossings or hard pack snow travel and the JMT is all trail/no x-country unless you choose to venture. Only snow is likely to be fresh or small remnants on the north side of a few passes. I can't speak to fishing.

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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by instocramb » Mon Jul 01, 2019 10:38 pm

Thank you gentlemen all excellent suggestions, Unfortunately because of work commitments and travel from Australia to Yosemite we are stuck with late September start dates. But will certainly pass on this info to a couple of other folks who missed out on permits from down under.

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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by wildhiker » Tue Jul 02, 2019 11:13 am

I would be most concerned about weather on a 21 day JMT thru hike in October. Although the Sierra Nevada has arguably the best weather of any major alpine mountain range in the world, that statement primarily applies to summer conditions. Winter can have brutal storms. Remember, the High Sierra also has some of the heaviest snowfall of any inhabited part of the world. October is a transition month. Some years, it is just more summer, sunny and pleasantly warm in mid-day (50s F or 10s C) but much colder at night, as low as the teens F or -5 to -10 C. Most years, you will get one or two brief storms that drop a few inches (10 to 15 cm) of snow that melts in a day or two. Other years, winter can start in October. For example, from October 16-20, 2004, a major snowstorm hit the entire Sierra with blizzard conditions that piled up snow 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) deep. This kind of blizzard is standard in mid-winter. It was surprising, but clearly not impossible, in October. Actually, I remember that the weather service was forecasting this major storm several days in advance - but you wouldn't know that if you had already left on your trip. Read these news reports as a cautionary tale and then think whether the equipment and clothing you are taking would allow you to survive several days in such a storm.

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm ... story.html
https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Sto ... 640902.php
https://www.recordnet.com/article/20041 ... /310249946

One thing to note is that a storm like this also snows in all the trailhead roads, so a self-rescue involves a much longer walk, particularly on the west side, which may be preferable during a storm rather than trying to cross a high pass to the east side. Many of the folks rescued from the October 2004 storm by helicopter didn't get their cars back until next spring because they were on minor trailheads at the ends of long unplowed roads.

One common factor in most of the rescues from this October 2004 storm was that the hikers had left detailed itineraries at home and their families called authorities when they did not return on time, or when the storm was obviously serious. If you are on a three week backpack trip, with your families back in Australia, there could be a long time lag just to get information about where you might be. Obviously, you should leave detailed information with family or friends - use the "Reconn" report form that is heavily promoted here at HST (http://reconn.org}.

Remember that there is basically zero cellular coverage in the High Sierra, except on some peaks or crest passes with line of sight down to the towns in the Owens Valley on the east side. If I were trying the JMT thru-hike in October (actually, I wouldn't, but then I live close to the Sierra and can hike other times), I would use one of those satellite communicators, like the Garmin inReach, that lets me send and receive texts that include my GPS coordinates, and has the big red SOS (help) button. You can let your family know your progress and in a real emergency you can call for help. Also, you can get weather reports with these devices. They sometimes can't reach a satellite, such as in forest in a deep canyon, but generally can communicate. These communicators are pricey to buy, but they are also available to rent (try a search on "garmin inreach rental"). Since I started doing solo week long backpack trips with lots of cross-country hiking, I bought an InReach Explorer to use in addition to the Reconn form. I leave it on all day with GPS tracking and it will periodically send my coordinates to a website that my family can check to see where I am. Useful to know your last location if something happens and you cannot activate the device. I turn it off at night. One battery charge comfortably lasts a full week in this mode. But for three weeks, you will need a way to recharge, such as one of those lightweight solar panels everybody seems to use for their smart phones (I don't carry my phone in the backcountry).

-Phil

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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by instocramb » Tue Jul 02, 2019 4:52 pm

Thanks Phil good advice, and I had not considered "In a storm like this also snows in all the trailhead roads", and we agree that it pays to be prepared. We will certainly be carrying satellite communicators, solar chargers and preparing a detailed itinerary. Expect the best but prepare for the worst is always a good policy. Thanks for your input here. A very important reality check for us.

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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by fishmonger » Mon Jul 08, 2019 6:55 am

I've been planning a late season JMT for many years, actually almost 9 years now, as that is how old this video upload is that got me into the mood to do this myself: https://vimeo.com/7851505 . So far, though, things have conspired against putting together some solid vacation for the time period I'd be aiming for. I've collected first winter storm data for at least the last 15 years and feel that in most years, a hike between September 20 and October 15 is unlikely to be hit by a major storm (there is a thread here with those numbers - search for first winter storm).

Based on the historic first storm data, I would leave around Sept 20-23 in Yosemite, which also would let me take advantage of a resupply at Reds (usually closes around Sept 28) and another one at VVR. Beyond VVR, with MTR closed for the season, I'd hike out over Bishop Pass to Patchers for a final resupply, with a possible resupply in Independence over Kearsarge, although I've hiked from Patchers directly to Whitney many times without needing a full bear can. On this hike I'd need to pack at least 2 days of extra food for each leg, just to have some reserves should the weather slow me down, so the bear can can get a bit tight for that segment. Note that all that planning changes should you plan on doing big miles per day like the hiker in the video above. I have no intention to do that, as I enjoy my time in the mountains and really don't see the point of doing huge miles each day only to be done in a week.

Key differences to a summer hike are colder and shorter days. I'd pack two head lamps, lots of batteries and actually cover some miles in the dark, just to stay on schedule, plus it helps in camp, which every night will likely be set up and broken down in the dark. Unless you know the trail really well, you will need good light just to find a good place to camp at night. You'd need gear that works for the colder climate, which adds some weight. I'd pack a 4 season tent, too, just to have a solid shelter should I get caught in an early snow storm. Bottom line - if the weather goes bad with more than 6" of snow, travel will be slow to difficult and you will need to hunker down and wait for it to warm up again, which will melt the stuff off the trail to let you cover distance again. If a really big storm is on the way, I'd aim for the nearest exit to Owens Valley before it even gets there (satellite phone for weather updates always in my pack). Also, in last season water sources will be less frequent unless the weather turns wet early in fall. In some areas, you will need to filter from sketchy sources, or just pack more water between more reliable sources. All this slows you down over a summer hike.

The rewards for all this is a trail that especially away from popular trail heads will be all yours. Most JMT hikers are off the trail a week after the Muir Trail Ranch closes for the season.

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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by instocramb » Mon Jul 08, 2019 9:35 pm

Thanks Fishmonger, all great points and suggestions. we are committed to this hike and I will make sure to post a trip report. resupply is a real challenge at this time but hopefully the weather will hold and we get some good fishing in too!

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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue Jul 09, 2019 8:53 am

Another consideration in late season trips are forest fires. Sometimes the smoke gets really thick. I do not recall the JMT ever being closed due to fires, but be aware that you may have some smoky days. It mostly ruins some views but could be serious if you or someone with you have lung problems such as asthma.

The short days would be the biggest problem for me- too much tent time. Often campfires are not allowed due to fire danger, and it is too cold to sit outside, so in-tent entertainment is really helpful. Books on tape are great.

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Re: JMT thru hike in October

Post by fishmonger » Tue Jul 09, 2019 7:04 pm

Parchers Resort... My Mac loves to autocorrect stuff it has no business correcting. Over in a photo forum it changed Tamron to Tampon...

Smoke could be a problem but I hiked last summer right through the two biggest fires wearing a face mask that worked really well, so well I slept with it the first three nights when it was really bad. Definitely no fun to hike in smoke, but there are ways to deal with it if you aren't medically challenged to begin with.

For long nights in the tentI like to bring extra battery power for my phone and nice headphones - listen to tunes if I can't sleep, however, with more than 12 hours of dark skies, I'd definitely look into good head lamps and plan on spending maximum time on the trail and all camp activity in the dark.

Now, I assumed somehow you know the JMT, which really helps with end of day planning of camp locations, especially after dark. Stuff looks very different when you can barely see, even with good head lamps. If you're not familiar with the JMT, you really should not plan to walk after dark. There are a few places where it takes only a few steps following a trail drainage ditch that looks like a trail and you'll be completely lost until you get that GPS out and realize you just took the wrong turn. I suppose if you are new to the place, do not walk into the dark at night, but rather do breakfast in the dark and get going with the first glimpse of light. Maximize miles in daylight. 21 days is your plan, so 10 miles a day. Very doable if conditions are good and your food supplies are well planned. You cannot carry 21 days of foot with you. Even 11 days will be difficult to fit into a single bear canister. It's more like 9 days you can fit into a large one. That would put your resupply in the middle of the trail, except that place there is already closed.

But back to making those miles you need to do every day: this may not sound like a big deal sitting here at the computer, but I notice a huge difference between hiking in early July and late August. Those August days feel so short and I have a hard time getting in what I consider a full day's distance unless I eat after dark and get up before the crack of dawn to get out on the trail as early as I can. Setting up camp and breaking down in the dark is much slower, too, so your 10 miles a day is likely a good fit for using all the daylight you have available with some buffer time.

But getting a good solid day in every day matters especially when resupplies are more sparse and you really need to do your miles to stay on schedule. Unless you're the type that can do big miles on demand, you may find it hard to carry enough food for the segment you're facing. The entire JMT food vs. speed logistics math gets more complex in late season when you add in the shorter days as yet another factor. Bring more food = walk slower because the pack is heavier, so you walk longer to stay on target. But what if you have no light left to do so? More resupplies make the load easier to handle and remove some of the complexity, but the later in the season you go the less options you have. In October, there is only VVR and that's not the middle of the trail. More like 40% distance from the start. Carrying 13-14 days of food from there takes two bear cans and now you have a weight problem.

You plan a 21 day hike, which in the normal JMT summer universe is a very slow pace. You are opening yourself up to some bad weather just because you're out there more days, but if you can actually do more than the 10 miles a day it takes to complete the hike, you are in a much better position and should have plenty of flexibility to make up time should you get delayed.

My plan for a late season hike was more along the lines of 10-11 days, just because I know I can do that on the relatively easy trails of the JMT proper, and the less time I travel the less food I need to carry and the faster I will reach the end, hopefully avoiding a possible early winter storm. I've hiked the JMT high country for over 30 years and I do respect it very much. Weather can turn super nasty very quickly and the distances are huge when you suddenly need to abort and bail out to a trailhead in Owens Valley via a non-maintained trail over a pass you have never seen that's likely under 12 inches of soft and wet snow. In some places you are 20+ miles away from any real exit points. Or if there's no snow you may be inhaling wildfire smoke for 2 weeks wondering why on earth you are up there when all the water has drained out of the mountains :) But if there's a year to do this, it likely is this year, with all that extra snow and moisture, fires in 2019 are likely to be less of an issue, especially in the high country.

One thing is for sure - it'll be an adventure. Say hi to the bears in Le Conte Canyon for me ;-)

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