By Gordon DuBois
The following article is part of a series on hiking trails that you may want to consider tackling as you make plans for your summer adventures. Over the next few months I will share my experiences of multi-days hikes that I have taken, so you can take advantage of the many trails that await you. As a follow up to this article I will be offering a program, The Life and Legacy of John Muir, Hiking the John Muir Trail on Monday, April 18, 7 p.m. at the Laconia Public Library. The program is being sponsored by the Laconia Historical and Museum Society.
In 1884, when Theodore Solomons was 14 years old, he envisioned a trail along the spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountains running from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. He and others explored several routes and in 1914 the Sierra Club, founded by John Muir, began to organize efforts to officially build the trail and in 1916, with an appropriation from the California legislature, the trail began to take shape. It wasn't until 1938 that the John Muir Trail was completed with the construction of the Golden Staircase that climbs over Forrester Pass at 13,153 feet. The JMT is the premier hiking trail in the United States. This 230-mile trail starts in Yosemite National Park and continues through Post Pile National Monument, Ansel Adams Wilderness, John Muir Wilderness, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and ends at the highest peak in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney, at 14,496 feet.
My daughter, Annemarie, and I learned of the John Muir Trail on a multi-day hike along the Appalachian Trail in Maine. It was late fall when we began our hike. We had pulled into the Popular Ridge Shelter, north of Saddleback Mountain in Maine, when along came two thru hikers heading south on the AT. They were cold, wet and tired as it had started to rain and snow earlier in the day. We welcomed them into our place of comfort and after a warming cup of soup and hot chocolate we began to swap stories of our hiking adventures. They began by telling us of their struggles to get through Maine as the weather was worsening with the approach of winter. One thing I have learned about thru hikers, we love to share stories of our adventures and our most telling moments on the trail. Our conversation turned when they told us they had just returned from a thru hike of the John Muir Trail. Anne Marie and I became locked in and fascinated with their stories of this trail, the incredible beauty and awe inspiring majesty of the Sierras. From that point forward we began to plan our hike of the JMT.
It was two years later that we began the JMT in Yosemite National Park. After learning of the JMT, we began our research of the trail. Our study would always lead us to John Muir. He is the trail. All paths in the Sierras lead to Muir and his legacy. Born in Dunbar, Scotland, in 1838, he immigrated to the US with his family in 1849. He always loved nature and had a wanderlust for walking and travel. His itchy feet eventually brought him to the Yosemite Valley, where he began his activism for preservation, especially the Yosemite Valley. He became known as a pioneer in the conservation movement and is widely recognized as the father of our national park system. According to the Sierra Club, "John Muir was perhaps this country's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. He taught the people of his time and ours the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage. His personal and determined involvement in the great conservation questions of the day was and remains an inspiration for environmental activists everywhere."
Annemarie and I began planning to hike the JMT a year in advance. Taking on any long distance hike requires significant planning, but the JMT has several additional caveats. First and foremost, we needed permits. JMT permits are in high demand. There are more people interested in hiking the John Muir Trail than the trail can handle. Wilderness permits in the Sierra Nevada are under a quota system that prevents crowding on the trail and protects the environment. Because of its popularity, permits go quickly. Our start date was in August and we began the permitting process the preceding January. Our travel plans had to be prudently coordinated in getting to and from the trail heads. We also needed to plan our food menu with care, keeping in mind that we would be hiking in large expanses of wilderness. After leaving Yosemite Valley, resupply points are few and far between and for the last 100 miles, from John Muir Ranch to Mount Whitney, there are no resupply points. One other thing we had to consider was the need to purchase bear canisters for food storage on the trail. This is a requirement, as encounters with black bears (not grizzlies) and marmots are common. We wanted to keep our food safe and not provide an easy meal for the local wildlife.
There are several good trail guides available as well as resources on line. A recent survey by Backpacker Magazine found that the JMT is the number one long distance trek that all hikers should do. So, start planning now for the hike of a lifetime. In the words of John Muir, "Climb the Mountains (Sierra Range) and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn."
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