Many of my 39° North Photography followers already know about the Big Hike I have planned for this summer, but if you didn’t know and/or you’d like to hear the backstory and then some, read on.

(Click on the graphic above to see a more detailed view).

Starting on August 2, my older brother Chuck, sister-in-law Jill, and I will be embarking on an epic hike on the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada of California. The realization of this dream hike is 40 years in the making. When my brother and I were still in high school (way back in the day), our family took a summer vacation to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. As a family, we had backpacked two small segments of the John Muir Trail, and during that summer vacation, Chuck and I discussed a desire to hike the entirety of the 211-mile trail the following year during the summer of 1977.

For one reason or another, that hike never happened.

Fast forward many, many years. In March of 2015, I sent my brother the following email:

Hi Chuck,

I am feeling the need to do something EPIC while I still can, so I am seriously considering hiking the John Muir Trail. Would you (and/or Jill) have any interest in this?

I don’t really have a plan yet. It wouldn’t be soon… probably 2017 or later.

Whaddaya think?

Your sister,


Chuck didn’t respond for a bit, so I thought maybe he wasn’t interested, didn’t have time, or whatever. Twenty-eight days later, I nudged him and he finally wrote back, “Both of us would like to go.” And that was that.

We’ve spent the past 2+ years off and on talking about it, dreaming about it, watching countless YouTube videos about it, planning the route, buying/making gear, planning menus, dehydrating food, arranging flights and hotels and rides, etc. It’s been a fun lead-up, and now the beginning of the actual hike is exactly one month from TODAY!

The official John Muir Trail is a 211-mile wilderness trek that starts at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park and ends at the top of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. A permit is require to hike the trail, and starting in Yosemite involves a great deal of luck in landing a very-hard-to-secure permit. I read somewhere that there is a 3% chance of securing a permit for hiking the JMT out of Yosemite. I applied, but was not successful.

One alternative to starting the JMT in Yosemite and hiking southbound (or SOBO) is to start on the other end and hike the trail northbound (NOBO). Some people start at Whitney Portal, hike to the top of 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, and go north from there. However, it can also be difficult to secure that permit, plus it involves a grueling 11-mile hike with a 6,100-foot elevation gain just to get to the beginning of the JMT . That did not sound at all appealing to me.

The next option is to start at Horseshoe Meadows and approach the area from south of Mount Whitney. Permits for this option were going fast when I checked into it, so on February 5, 2017, I reserved a permit for a party of 3 to hike the John Muir Trail northbound (NOBO) from the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead to Happy Isles in Yosemite. This starting point will add about 30 miles to our hike for a total of approximately 241 miles.

As August 2 rapidly approaches, we are in throes of fine-tuning our gear lists, acquiring last minute items, finishing our food preparations, preparing resupply buckets, making final ride arrangements, and doing as many shakedown hikes as possible. Our plan is to fly to Reno, NV on July 30, Chuck and Jill from Tucson and me from Denver. We’ll meet up at the Reno airport, pick up a terribly overpriced one-way rental car, make a quick stop at the Reno REI to buy fuel for our stoves, and then drive down to Mammoth Lakes, CA, where we will relinquish the rental car. We’ll spend a couple of days/nights in the Mammoth Lakes area to help us acclimate to higher elevations, then we’ll take a Eastern Sierra Transit Authority shuttle south to Lone Pine. We’ve contracted with a local man known as “Lone Pine Kurt” to drive us the 23 or so miles from Lone Pine to the campground adjacent to the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead, where we’ll spend our final night before hitting the trail.

Our total time on the trail will be 23 days and we’ll plan on finishing up at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley sometime in the late morning of August 24. There will be very little cell phone coverage along the way, but I’m working on a way for our friends and loved ones to keep track of our progress. I’ll keep you posted.

(Source: Backpacker Magazine, Dec 8, 2014)

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