March 11

Paul’s John Muir Trail Hike

My John Muir Trail Adventure

You know you’ve married the right girl when she says, “go for it, this’ll probably be your only chance to hike it before you retire!”, especially when you add the fact that she was committing to watching our four kids by herself for the two-to-three weeks that I would be hiking our dream hike.

It started as a joke back in 2012 on social media, that a few of us would hike the John Muir Trail the following summer. Don’t get me wrong, I knew about the trail and I was bewitched by the idea of disappearing into the Sierra Nevadas for a few weeks of hiking, especially having seen the photos, but I just never thought I’d get the chance.

A year later, after many hours of planning logistics, organizing food, buying outdoor gear, and cutting unnecessary weight, I pulled an all-night drive down to California (from Seattle). Fueled by nerves, beef jerky, candy and Doctor Pepper (lots of Doctor Pepper) I arrived at the bus stop, ready for the last leg to Yosemite Valley.

I’d never been to California, or Yosemite for that matter. Being the last child one tends to miss out on those family adventures. If you haven’t been, I heartily endorse making the trip down there to do some hiking.

My first day had me climbing the Mist Trail up towards the Half Dome. After spending the previous day on the hot, dry valley floor, the cool, moist air coming off the falls gave me life and buoyed me on as I hiked the 8 miles up to the base of the Half Dome.

Half Dome
Half Dome

The photos and videos of the Half Dome didn’t really prepare me for the experience. The rock between the rails is polished smooth by the hundreds of feet that daily make the ascent. One relies on their upper body strength to do a lot of the work. That said, it’s easier coming down. I even found myself walking down on the outside of the railing to avoid the traffic and get better traction.

Tuolomne Meadow
Tuolomne Meadows Stars

Two days after leaving the crowds in the Yosemite Valley, I was in Tuolomne Meadows. While there were still a lot of people there, once you were heading up the valley, I hardly saw anyone. After leaving the lights of civilization behind, the night sky started to explode with stars.

The trail was incredibly well maintained, and yet not overly modernized. Most river crossings were simple log bridges. Only when you hit the more populated areas of the park do you encounter “real” bridges. It was near one of these bridges that we met an eighty-four-year young lady that had hiked the John Muir Trail several times previously and was now taking her own children with her for her last trip. Her “kids” were in their sixties themselves.

John Muir Trail
Path Water

Before heading out on the trail I was told that every day and every pass would show me something new. That person, whoever they were, was right. Each ridge and valley brought amazing views. Sometimes the beauty was in the subtle details, but often I was just stunned by profound changes from one ridge to the next. One thing that did stay the same was how blue and clear the water was. I’m pretty sure I took a photo of every lake that we passed on the way.

There’s plenty of water on the trail, even in late July. We’d usually drink a liter or two at a place like this and then load up for the next 5-10 miles.

Despite the miles we were putting in (15-22) each day, we had plenty of time to take photos, relax and contemplate the adventure.

Garnet Lake
Lake Reflection

We camped near Garnet Lake, where the fishing was decent and the views were incredible. I had to be pulled away from this view the next morning so we could get through Red’s Meadow.

This shot is one of my favorites of the trail. With the help of a buddy Chris, I did a couple time-delay shots. I’m not an artsy type, as you’ve probably noticed, but this picture encapsulates the blur of the hike. It went by so quickly, but strangely, at the same time, was relaxing and peaceful. Juxtaposed.

JMT food

To make up for the lack of space in my bear canister (we had one refill in two weeks) I took to fishing with my Tenkara fly rod. I caught a lot of fish, but at Virginia Lake I pulled out a big enough trout to turn into trail sushi (complete with ginger and wasabi). This was probably one of my favorite meals of the whole trip and was a refreshing change from freeze-dried meals.

Read part 2 of this amazing adventure!