From August 27 to September 3, I arranged a section hike of the John Muir Trail with 4 girlfriends from around the country. At the end of 8 days we had covered 78 miles and 20,100 ft of elevation gain and 19,425 ft of elevation loss. Our highest point was 12,060 ft and our lowest was 7,700. Two women bailed in the middle but we all had an incredible time. Life has been a whirlwind since then but I’m finally making time to share the trip with you.
The motivation for this trip was a conversation I had with my friend Daisy two years ago. We met in Vermont (she still lives there) but she mentioned that the John Muir Trail was a dream of hers and she wanted to come out and do at least part of it soon. I bought the guidebook and some maps and then they sat on the shelf for a year and a half, until one day they caught my eye again. I e-mailed a few friends and after some permit shuffling we had our group of five: Daisy from Vermont, her friend Bekka from Idaho, Kristen from Oregon, and Maggie from Napa, and Me.
The entire John Muir Trail spans 210 miles from Yosemite Valley south to Mount Whitney. A portion of it overlaps the Pacific Crest Trail through Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness areas and Sequoia National Park. While the construction of the trail started a year after John Muir’s death in 1914, it was named after him as the founder and first President of the Sierra Club (which advocated for the trail) and the most famous environmental steward and activist in California. It is known for being exceptionally beautiful, and sometimes called “America’s Most Famous Trail” although only an estimated 1,500 people thru-hike it each year.
I knew my group only had a week to dedicate to the hike so I started pouring over maps and alternative trailheads to find a section that was doable for us. We decided to hike over labor day weekend which gave us 8 days for hiking and a day for travel on either end. I wanted a section that had a resupply point in the middle so we wouldn’t have to carry all 8 days of food. Daisy requested as many alpine lakes as possible, so we settled on the section from Mono Pass to Bishop Pass.
We all met up at the trailhead late Saturday night and because it was already dark decided to sleep in the parking spot next to us. I woke up in the middle of the night looking up at the clearest sky I have ever seen. The milky way was directly above us and I felt like I was looking into the interconnected brain of the universe, shooting stars as the electric pulses of synapses. (If you look closely you can see frost on our bags.)
The trailhead was at 10,220 feet and the trail quickly climbed to the highest point on our entire hike – Mono Pass at 12,060 feet. Three of us live at very low elevations and we definitely felt the gain. Daisy in particular had never been this high up and while she flew ahead of me up the pass, she hunkered down on the other side with a pounding headache and nausea which would linger for days.
There was still snow at the Pass and unexpectedly at least two separate mule trains ferrying supplies. Since they were coming down out of the pass I asked if they were empty – in fact they were carrying all the trash and camping gear for people “not as tough as you girls.” One of the mule drivers asked if we were sponsored, which we took as a compliment. Apparently not many people hike in that way!
The descent down into the Mono Creek basin was absolutely spectacular. I took up my normal position at the back of the group, plugging along at my slow and steady pace while everyone else sped off. Bekka was intermittently at the back with me because she is a photographer and brought her entire camera setup – some of the photos I’m including are hers.
I had planned only 5 miles for us that day with the option to push on further. It turned out there weren’t many water sources until we got all the way down to the Mono Creek itself, and unfortunately that meant a gazillion hungry mosquitos as well. Camp our first night was the least pretty of them all, but we were all just happy to be out there and connecting with each other.