February 7, 2011

John Muir Trail: Start to Finish in Pictures

It's been over 4 months since I stood triumphant on the Mount Whitney Summit but my thoughts frequently drift back to that snowy Saturday evening in October.  You see, every time I get up to go pee, I am reminded of the price I paid to experience the glory of thru-hiking such a classic trail.  I am on crutches due to the femoral stress fracture (oblique cortial defect technically speaking) which came on as a result hiking the John Muir Trail (my trip report).  The past few months have been difficult and frustrating.  I frequently wonder if that 8 day journey in High Sierra Country was worth breaking my leg for?  To me, the answer is irrelevant.  It's done.  I can't let myself look back on the trip and second guess things like pace, pack weight, or lack of preparation.  Perhaps, the trip wouldn't be so ingrained in memory had I not got the stress fracture?  It seems fair enough to say that the things that are unplanned or unexpected are the ones that are most memorable- surprise birthday parties, taking a wrong turn, missing flights, big snow storms, coming home after a week off to a swimming pool in your kitchen because the pipes froze then thawed, or getting a flat tire while taking a 40 mile "short cut" across a seldom traveled dirt road.  These things are part of life.  So for me, the stress fracture makes this trip simply unforgettable.

Here is my visual documentation in case I get amnesia:
*To skip all the pics below, watch my 3 minutes compilation of the trip: 3 Minutes with Muir
For the rest, continue on:

Food for 10 8 days on the trail

Mileages.  Add 11 miles to hike down from Whitney Summit and you get a grand total of ~222 miles.

The Cal Berkeley Rowing team doing an annual hike/run up Half Dome.  Ironically, the Stanford team was there too.  There were millions of people on the trail when I started out.  It wasn't until exiting Yosemite that the people thinned out
The top view of day 1- Half Dome as seen from Cloud's Rest.  *I chose to deviate from the John Muir Trail to get to this much talked about viewpoint.  Muir Trail purists may scold me for this alternate route but it added 2 miles and 1000 ft of elevation gain...so scold away.  **I didn't have a permit to hike that marvel you see pictured above, but I want to after seeing the massive dome from this vantage point.  
Lyell Canyon
Making my way up to Donahue Pass
One of the thousand lakes I saw on day 2
At this point on day 3 my feet were killing me from fatigue and blisters.  This loose, sandy section of trail added to my aggravation. 
Steep descent
Fire in them hills...Fall Aspens providing some color contrast.
Slurp.  Slurp.  Slurp
I don't know what that means, but I like it.
The rotating meadow
Just couldn't blow by this lake.  I stopped for nearly  1 hour, had some snacks, and fished.  Didn't catch anything but it didn't really matter.  
Following in the footsteps of Mr. Muir

Halfway Point Video mile 112.6- Crossing the South Fork of the San Joaquin River
A day in the life- Just the standard scenery on the JMT
Making my way up to Muir Pass
Muir Pass Hut- Elevation 11,995'
Heading down into Le Conte Canyon
My first and only bear of the trip.  See the little guy?
I just love the glow of the sunlight off the granite- and the fall colors

Cool suspension bridge around mile 166
Going Up
The last time I was below 10,000 ft on the JMT
My final night on the JMT.  Situated at 12000 ft just below Forester Pass
Best Pass of the JMT
Forrester Pass Panorama
Some things never change: Drilling and Blasting.  Trail builders during the early 1900's used explosives to split granite slabs into manageable units.  Put the explosive in your drill hole and light the fuse- the same way we do it now.  
Lovin it
Mysterious.  Beautiful.  Epic.  
Getting more mysterious as I creep closer to the finish line
The final 2 mile push to the Mount Whitney
Mount Whitney Summit 14,495 ft and completion of  JMT victory speech

I didn't eat the last 12 hours just so I wouldn't have to abide by this policy  
Laser Vision.  The finish line at 11pm.  I hiked the last 4.5 hours under cover of darkness.  38 miles on the day.  
A wonderful view of Mount Whitney the morning after my snowy summit bid.
Heading into Death Valley
The lowest spot in the U.S.  Less than 24 hours after standing on Mount Whitney.


  1. Spanish. Looks like the life out there. The pictures are absolutely amazing. I bet they still don't do it justice though. Maybe a westward visit would be possible after graduation this summer. I'll let you know fi you've got space.

  2. AWESOME pics man!!.. The views look amazing(including the early stages of the Half Dome).. I hope the leg heals up quick!!

  3. It was the life out there. Wish I had more time for it.

    Jason, I sense you are eager to run a half dome record time? or a JMT FKT?

  4. That rock was drilled and split with plugs and feathers, had it been dynamited you would not see the drill mark. Trail crews rarely use dynamite these days, only when there is a large rockfall, or the oft dead pack mule.

  5. Anonymous, Thanks for the comment. I figured explosives were used since it wouldnt take much, maybe a 1-2 pound charge per hole to break rcck like that. And while we dont use dynamite at the mine i work at, we do see the barrels when blasting oversize rock and presplit walls. What is your experience with trail building? I'd like to learn more.


  6. That is a pretty awesome journal. Hope you are fully recovered by now! What was it like going from Mt Whitney to Death Valley?

  7. brian thanks for the comments. no i am not fully recovered- although i think it is unrelated health issues now. What was it like going from Whitney to Death Valley in a day???? WARM. I packed little and light gear so i got a little chilly the last two nights on the trail. However, it is a beautiful contrast. I would love to spend more time exploring death valley in the future- wild flowers, high peaks, desolation. Good ingredients for a nice adventure. I think it would be a great place to explore.

  8. Great documentation. I live on the East Coast and dream of traveling west of the St. Louis Arch one day. I was just given Eric Blehm's "The Last Season" by a friend of mine and I love having some pictures to put with the words. Thank you.

    1. Brian,

      I didnt go west of the mississippi river until i was 21 (I did do Hawaii/LA when i was 20 but flew). I will have to post about it how i fell in love with the american west. anyway, thanks for reading and keep dreaming. its never to late to start doing adventures. my suggestion is make the most of what is in your backyard while it is still is your backyard. life happens fast.