Need advice for JMT this early July

12:02 a.m. on April 29, 2011 (EDT)
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Hi there, I am new here so please be gentle with me... Any suggestion is highly appreciated!

I plan to hike the JMT this early July and need some advices from experienced JMT hikers. I am a landscape photography hobbyist and have to carry ~15 lbs extra weigh of gears, so although I have really thought hard on the gear and food I need to carry,  seems it is almost impossible for me to cut the weigh of my pack below 50 lbs. Doing landscape photography means I can't walk fast anyway (need wait for the lighting), so I guess the weigh might not be a big issue.

My questions are:

1. temperature condition: how cold it can be in high passes in the night? I plan to layer with a Arc'teryx beta AR hardshell, Arc'teryx atom LT hoody as middle and icebreaker 260 as base, is this combo enough for the night when I am doing night photography?

2. do I need crampon (or Yaktrax) in early July for high passes?

3. Do I really need a bear spray? (another 10 oz of weigh that I really don't want to carry.)

4. what's the average weigh for people on JMT carry? I saw pictures of hikers on JMT with incredibly small pack with obviously no bear canister, and probably doesn't even have enough space to hold more than 4~5 day's food, I am really amazed. How could they do it?

5. Stream crossing: any really challenging ones?

Any comments and suggestions are very welcome. Thanks in advance! 

5:05 p.m. on April 29, 2011 (EDT)
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I have only hike sections of the trail but since no one else has replied yet I'll make a few comments. I know there are some on here with more JMT experience than me and hopfully they will post up.

If you expect to be in the high passes at night I would definately carry crampons. With this years snowpack they are predicting snow well into August on the passes and I don't think I would want to be out on them at night. I wouldn't carry bear spray for a JMT thru hike and I would be surprised if many do. Just practice good bear prevention and everything will be fine. Black bears don't bother people they just want your food, don't give them the opportunity! I would guess that most thru hikers are under 30lbs and many much less. They pack ultralite and resuppy as they go. They plan for 15-20ml days and don't carry anything but the the neccessities. I am always surprised at how many of the thru hikers I meet that don't even carry a camera because they don't want the extra wieght or to spend the time to take pictures. It does not sound like you are planning that type of hike and your pack will wiegh more.

Here is a link to a forum where you can get information on just about anything Sierra related.

http://highsierratopix.com/community/index.php?sid=ee3f6b5e7e9c9a3c7c684f9a329ef539

.

6:19 p.m. on April 29, 2011 (EDT)
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2,295 forum posts

Warmth:
I would bring warmth sufficient to the mid 20s.  make sure you take your water to bed, otherwise it will be frozen and useless.

Snow, ice and crampons:
Usually the passes are clear by July.  The factor that influences most is not the amount of snow fall; rather it is the amount that fall late in the season.  I remember one midsummer in the late 1980s taking a hike up Bear Creek (near Lake Edison), and summiting one of the peaks east of the basin, noting in astonishment the entire interior basin west of the Sierra Crest was completely snowbound, with most of the lakes still frozen.  That year didn’t have much snow, but it did have a good dump the week before Easter.  We have both lots of snow and some pretty good late season storms for 2011, so snow maybe an issue.  Checking back with forum members on this site and others like Summitpost.org closer to your trip will provide a more accurate assessment, regarding your date.  Note: If you do need crampons, you will also need an ice axe; trekking poles will not arrest a slip on steep ice.

Bears:
You won’t need bearspray; one of those small air horn will suffice, if you feel compelled to carry such equipment.  The authorities will require you use a bear canister, however.

Size of your kit:
Do not let optical illusions of folks carrying purses and passing them off as JMT thru hike packs fool you.  Equip for the conditions you anticipate, that will determine what your pack will weigh.  Fifteen – twenty pounds is my basic high Sierra summer kit, before adding food, ice tool photo studio, hot tub and bar.  It include enough warm clothes to stay out in the open after sunset, a bag warm enough to sleep in the buff, a small tent, and the other basics.  Light sleeping bag means early bed time.  Less warm clothes means discomfort and possible exposure.

Streams:
Crossing that time of year are usually no problem, but of course a big rain can temporarily strand you a day, if caught on the wrong side of the bank.

Suggestions:
I would recommend over-nighting below the passes, unless you absolutely must be that high in the night time for a photo-op.  Camping up that high will require hauling water (more weight) and bivouac style camp condition.  Both will leave you more fatigued.  Instead wake early to attain the pass as part of you normal commute. 

Landscape photography:
What equipment are you using (just curious)?

Ed

7:06 p.m. on April 29, 2011 (EDT)
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Gary: thank you so much for the info. I guess I have to put on another 1~2 lbs weigh of crampon. The list is getting longer...

7:43 p.m. on April 29, 2011 (EDT)
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Wow!!! Such detailed information! Thank you so much, Ed! I need digest slowly.

Looks like I need add Patagonia down sweater in my pack. Seems general opinions are bear spray is unnecessary, that save me the weigh for this sweater!

To answer your question about photo gears: I use a Nikon D3x body which is very heavy....along with the L-plate attached on it. Last November I carried my full photo gears (~30 lbs alone) to Nepal (Everest base camp, etc) and that was certainly a huge mistake. So I have to leave my heavy lens at home this time. I just bought Nikon 16-35/f4 and 24-120/f4 for this trip and Chile, Argentina trip this coming winter (summer there). I am also hunting for a light weight, but usable tripod and ballhead combo since my current one (gitzo + acra-swiss) is over 6 lbs.

My backpacking experience so far is limited to short overnight trips (3 nights max) so I certainly have a lot to learn before I jump into this 4 week 'epic' (for me) journey!

2:51 p.m. on May 19, 2011 (EDT)
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This would be a better trip (this year) to be a bit latter in the year.  I'm guessing you are locked into early July because of the trail reservation?

If you are a photographer, you should plan on 30 days so you can take all the side trips you probably will never have the opportunity to take again. There are all kinds of higher lakes - some with trails or usually some easy cross country, always a peak of two that would be fun to see what the top looks like, and many connecting trails to this 'backbone' trail.   Sooo many things to see. All the extra days do is complicate your resupply problem.  You can't cache in the Sierra.  For personal food protection, use the Bearikade - it is bigger.  There will be food lockers (bear boxes) along the trail for the stuff that you have to protect at night and can't fit in a regular Garcia.

http://www.climber.org/data/BearBoxes.html

Early July this year may have you on snow a good portion of the trip above 11,000'.  The melt will be at least two weeks late.  That means you might be on mid June conditions where there will be snow obscuring the trail above 11,000'.   Check here

http://www.trailspace.com/forums/trip-planning/topics/90309.html

for snow current snow conditions - many of the sources are not working for one reason or another.  Some areas got a few more feet of snow from this week's storms.  It is crazy up there with nearly 200% snow (in some places) than last year.  At the END of July on a just a bit over normal winter, we had cornices on some passes (not JMT) enough to require a line to pull up/down the packs.  Check on Mather Pass especially this year.

You might want to check into what another above has suggested:

http://www.highsierratopix.com/

for specific and more current Sierra trail and snow conditions. The back packing forum  have many who will be reporting stream crossing and snow depth/access conditions   There are also JMT oriented forums and trip reports aplenty on the 'net.

The JMT is a challenging foot trail for extreme hikers.  They will put in 125 miles between stops or sleep during the day to stay warmer/lighter.  I've met a few over 5 days in (normal backpacker pace) and hardly breathing heavily with just runners packs saying they were in a hurry to 'get out'.  It was 10AM.  I'd guess most 'normal' back packers are in the 35-50 pound range depending on what they think they need to carry or how close to a food pick up they are.

If you protect your food at night and when you are not around, you will have no bear problem.  Usually seeing one is a relatively rare event calling for a photo op.  Just don't try to get you and some seemingly placid bear in the same frame.  Also as a photographer be cautious if 'stalking' a bear over an extended time to get a better shot.  Usually they are shy and will stay away from you.  Every once in awhile you might have the chance of getting one that got up on the wrong side of bed and has little patience or doesn't like to be disturbed while foraging.  After all you are on their 'private property'.

I always carry a 200 (equivalent) fleece on top of the pack.  When I stop I put that on.  High altitude, low humidity and a breeze really suck when you put that pack back on a very cold shirt.  Anytime in the Sierra I also pack a fist sized stuff sack with a cheap down vest.  I have a thin base layer, a long sleeve shirt and the fleece under a Precip or Gortex (equivalent) hooded parka.  The hood mainly for mosquitoes at evenings and mornings.  Don't forget the DEET or permethrin

http://www.backpacker.com/cgi-bin/forums/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=832107219;t=9991149030

The vest has been used by others more often than I.  A 20F bag should do you, and you will probably spend most of the night on top or loosely on top like a quilt,  but you can plan on a couple of chilly nights that it might not make it for you unless you have the rest of your clothes on.  But you will survive.  The thickness of the pad makes all the difference in getting cold.  I use a 3/4 size Thermarest.

The day time temps could be quite hot - shorts/T weather. Don't forget the shades, brim hat, high SPF UV protection and lip (high SPF) balm.  The high passes will be 20f's at night and windy. If there and not moving much, a pair of gloves would be handy.  Will you be staying up there at 11,000+' for early morning pictures?  Better plan (if there is a trail) might be to leave early morning and make the 1-3 hour trip up to the pass before sunrise - or leave after sunset. Don't forget the head lamp with extra battery.  Not many places up there to plop a tent down for any shelter if it gets nasty.  Besides, usually late afternoon thunder storms move through the area.  Not a good idea to become a crispy critter up there.

You can expect rain sometimes daily and locally heavy, in the afternoons usually accompanied with some spectacular natural fireworks.  Plan to leave early in the morning to make time to get off of high spots and below timberline.

Where are you planning to resupply?  That will make a big difference in your pack weight.  The last leg will be the longest (and you will have the largest appetite) from the normal supply spots.  With 4-5 days left, some resupply by going over Kearsarge pass down to the campground manager at Onion Valley or to meet someone or thumb a ride into Independence's Post Office for a General Delivery to you.   Onion Valley is fairly popular so you should find traffic coming up hill in the mornings and down in afternoons.   Bishop Pass to Parchers Camp is another popular resupply not on the route.  You would send a package to either for pickup before a date.

You will more than likely have some very heavy stream crossings in early July.  Best to check with latest from the NP.  Usually the PCT thru hikers leave somewhat current info at Yosemite Ranger station.  They will also give you a hint on the condition of the early passes.  They will probably suggest crampons. Usually if you have crampons you will need an ax.  I'm guessing that not many carry one and get by safely.  One year, I met an early couple of PCT hikers coming out at Kearsarge looking to get into town for an ax.  They had just come north over Forester Pass (13,200') and it scared them.  I had one in the trunk so loaned them ours.  They said it was a pain to carry it, when then sent it back from Yosemite PO.  Yaktrax would not be appropriate on this trail.  More than likely, even tho the trail is covered in snow, there will have been many ahead of you.  It should be well trampled and some deep foot prints.

The Mountaineering Handbook, Craig Connally  ISBN 0-07-143010-5

It is a good companion to Mountaineering:  Freedom of the Hills. Connally puts a good, reasonable approach to getting ready for and doing any kind of hike. You will save more than the price of the book just on gear, clothing and time it takes to get ready for a hike.

It is a trip of lifetime!!  Have fun out there.

November 24, 2014
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