"Mature" family hike on the JMT

4:25 a.m. on January 23, 2014 (EST)
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A couple months ago my older daughter Molly (23) called me up all excited with a big idea: "Let's do the JMT next summer!" She's finishing her Masters degree and wants to celebrate with an adventure. She thought that just us two could do it fast and light, but my wife quite justifiably threw her hat in the ring, and then it's only natural that Zoe (19) should join the party. My wife has whipped herself into pretty good shape in the last year or so, but her knees aren't up to daily big mileage and elevation so we're figuring to slow it down, take 25 days including a couple zeros and maybe a few side trips.

Normally I'm opposed to big groups in the wilderness, but over the years we've shared a few adventures with another family back in VT (we call them the Happy Family) one of whom is a childhood friend of Zoe's, so we extended an invite to them. As it turns out Zoe's friend will join us for the whole thing, Happy Dad for most (still uncertain, but my guess is he'll join us at Mammoth), and the other two as much as possible depending on other commitments. So we may be 8 at times, but we'll try to be quiet.

Well we just got our permit for a July start at Mono Meadows (instead of the zoo on the trail up from Happy Isles) so with that green light I figured I'd let the cat out of the bag. I've already put in a lot of time planning mileage and food, and still have a long way to go on the latter, trying to avoid too many freeze-dired meals because they are expensive and bulky, especially on a per calorie basis. Any tips on how to fit, let's see... 6 people x 3500 calories/day x 7days = aprrox. 150,000 calories worth of food into 4 or 5 700 cu.in. Bear Vaults? I guess we could eat nothing but peanuts and olive oil on the longer stretches... 

"Mature" because I'll hit 60 before we go, my wife will turn 58 on the trail, and our daughters are pretty much all grown up.

9:26 p.m. on January 23, 2014 (EST)
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It is going to be a great hike and so far a July start is not too early considering how low the snow pack is expected to be.

Near the end of your trip you will be in superb condition but to start out most try to stay around 10 miles a day with a cooked lunch.

25 days is a great way to enjoy that trip instead of kicking it out in under two weeks.  30 days is even better, except you will spend an inordinate amount of time resupplying.  You could help yourself out with some volunteers or friends to meet you on the trail along the way.  You should plan a resupply about every week.  These can be mailed ahead (Muir Ranch) or to a location or city near the trail (Parchers Camp at Bishop Pass), or the Independence PO (General Delivery) over Kearsarge.  If you are going to do this right, put in some extra days to go sight seeing too.  Kearsarge is the only option to break up that last leg of your trip.  Hitch a ride down the hill from Onion Valley to Independence for a meal and a shower.  Or stash a car there.

The larger Expedition Bearikades can be rented from http://www.wild-ideas.net/ or they will make them much bigger than you could ever want to carry.  Take a long look at the Park's requirements for personal containers.  I've always interpreted it to mean each needs a canister but that doesn't necessarily mean that all the food during the hiking day has to fit inside.  All of your food must be protected (at least overnight) and you can put what doesn't fit in the canister into one of the bear boxes along the way.  Map out which ones are still there.  They move them around at times. http://climber.org/data/BearBoxes.html 

Getting to camp a bit early will give you dibs on an empty corner of the box.  That might give you a little slack. Be sure to have storage bags that are easily identified in the dark. 

You can save weight with a liquid fueled stove on a long trip (MSR).  Assuming you will not have a lot of commercial prepared food, you can, with a little skill, layer bags and tamp them down with a full water bottle.  Repackage anything you can to get rid of bulky packaging and not so efficient stored contents. Don't forget the cooking instructions and what is in the bag. Vacuum pack if you can.  You can get an amazing amount of meals into a Bericade Expedition with tamped layering.  Only thing is that you may have to unpack everything to just get to the flour or corn meal.   You can make more space by pulverizing things like macaroni elbows.

As far as calories are concerned one thing you need to consider is a variety for meals, even though cashews and Brazil nuts with olive oil sounds great, that will get old quickly. 

You will get the most calorie rich foods if you plan on preparing your own rather than eating freeze dried portions.  You don't get very many calories in a Mountain House double serving.

You won't eat as much to begin the hike as you will the last week or so.

Look toward the bottom of this link for options on calories/pound.


4:35 a.m. on January 24, 2014 (EST)
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Thanks speacock, all good advice. We are planning resupplies at Tuolomne, Mammoth, MTR, and Kearsarge, with the last being the toughest. We're hoping to get support from a friend in Fresno or maybe some members of the Happy Family, but we're prepared to pay a horse packer if it comes to that. Lots of pieces still to fit into the puzzle. I didn't know about Parchers Camp and will take a look at that.

I have worked up my own master list of food ingredients with calories/g and starting putting these together into recipes to ensure we all get enough energy, and I have thought a lot about volume issues (spaghetti yes, macaroni no) especially for the long stretch from MTR to Kearsarge. With a resupply at Tuolomne we should be able to afford some luxuries in the first week. We may end up carrying a Bear Vault each, but the Bearikades are awfully pricey, especially the custom models.

One potentially important source of food may be bulk suppliers (i.e. Honeyville Farms) of freeze-dried ingredients such as refried beans, eggs, and various fruits and vegetables. The latter two are rather low density but I think a handful of fd carrots or broccoli could go a long way towards making a meal tasty. One problem is that because we live in Norway it's too expensive to get them shipped here, so we'll be relying on the Happy Family and maybe our Fresno friend to receive, repack, and send out, and also maybe taste test some of the recipes. With a relatively large group moving somewhat slowly it makes total sense to do some real cooking rather than shelling out for fd meals. We're also going mostly vegetarian which limits the options a lot on fd meals. It looks like we'll be eating a lot of flour tortillas -- perfectly sized to fit in a bear can, and not as bulky or crumbly as crackers.

We're planning an average of roughly 10 miles a day, with two zeros and hopefully some time for side trips. My older daughter and I are the fast ones in the family but we've tried to calibrate according to what my wife thinks her knees can take, especially on the downhills.

Again, thanks for your thoughts. I may have more questions as planning proceeds.

12:44 p.m. on January 24, 2014 (EST)
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Red, I'm quite envious! A 25 day trip? Man! And to go with all your peeps is just awesome....



7:20 p.m. on January 25, 2014 (EST)
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I've heard cannibalism is a good option to reduce resupply... Snatch & grab an unsuspecting stranger! I've heard 'Just like chicken'...

1:10 p.m. on January 26, 2014 (EST)
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Donner Party Stew?

1:25 p.m. on January 26, 2014 (EST)
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Im envious too, it sure will be a fantastic tour. But I know I would never ever get my wife to hike with me in an area where you may meet large bears. And one of the precautions you must take is to avoid cooking in the tent and tie up the food into the trees! Wow, Im impressed. God tur, dere er tøffe! Otto

2:42 p.m. on January 26, 2014 (EST)
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Hi Otto

It's no longer allowed just to hang food in trees -- the bears have gotten too smart and have figured out how to defeat most hanging systems, and the one most likely to work, called counterbalancing, can be difficult to set up and requires a good long branch at a good height, so it's hard to do right. So the national park and forest authorities in many areas in the US now require that all food goes into bear proof canisters, although there are also welded steel bear boxes at some backcountry campsites. Here's a video of a black bear spending 5 minutes trying to get into a canister:


Note that it seems to be shot from inside a tent. Black bears aren't nearly as aggressive as brown bears, far more interested in eating your food than eating you, and easy to scare off at least if cubs aren't involved.

Definitely no cooking in or near the tent, but the summer weather in California is mostly pretty friendly.

Hope you have some snow up in Nordland, here in Trondheim we are having the worst winter (for skiers) of the 12 that I have lived here. The trails in the marka  are all hard ice, and our big lake hasn't even frozen over for ice skating because it's been so windy.

4:37 p.m. on January 28, 2014 (EST)
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As the year progresses the chances of the amount of snow needed in the Sierra to provide a LOT of water to a bazillion people reduces.  The realists are projecting a severe drought.  This means you might not have a lot of big water crossings. You probably won't have any water concerns and if we don't get something soon, the passes may not have much snow/ice at all.  The biggest  hazard for early trail starts on the JMT is snow and ice on Forester Pass (south of Glen Pass) at 13,200'.

A 'normal' winter has snow covering the trail at the 11,000' level upward at about mid to 3rd week in June.

Bears are not a problem so long as they can't get to your food.   Most bear injuries come from trying to rescue the food the bear has taken from them (possession is king), or trying to get into the same picture with a bear as they do a selfie.

By the time you are at MTR you will be in fairly good shape.  Many just load up and press longer days to Whitney.  Smarter ones get a supply of some kind over Kearsarge Pass.  There is a resident person in charge of the relatively large campground at Onion Valley BUT will take no responsibility of providing storage for you.   You can try to find some 'trail angels' who will at the very least get it to the parking lot, or pack it up to or over the pass to you.  One person can comfortably carry enough food for two over the pass.  

Even better if they will do the shopping for you :) .  You can call from MTR to update the shopping list of the things you would REALLY like.  But coming into Onion Valley does break into the experience.  I've heard that people smell funny and the noise and number of people there are distracting.

You can expect very warm to hot days and very cool to cold nights.  It has snowed in every month in the Sierra, and July/August I've had overnight temps in 20F's usual are 50f's.  A 20F bag will get you through the nights and you will probably be spending a lot time on top of it. You need some kind of windbreak/water proof hooded top (I've used a Precip for years) and equivalent 200 PolarGuard sweater, long sleeve shirt and long pants - mosquitoes can be distracting even with DEET.  A hat with a brim, sunglasses and UV protection of HIGH SPF for skin and lips fills out needed wearables and keeps you from being a crispy critter at high altitude. You can expect thunderstorms and rain (sometimes heavy with hail) in late afternoon early evening.  Best plan on being off of high spots by mid afternoon or earlier if you see clouds.

6:27 p.m. on January 28, 2014 (EST)
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Have fun! I wish my family shared my love of backpacking.

7:04 p.m. on January 28, 2014 (EST)
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I make and then dehydrate my own hummus to add a lot of flavorful calories to meals and snacks when trying to go veggie. At around 30 calories per tablespoon it is a calorie dense food that is palatable as a stand-alone food (unlike butter or margarine). When dehydrated and ground to a powder the hummus loses more than half its weight and a little less than half its volume (due to how thick I like mine)...and re-hydrates almost instantly (depending on how fine you ground it). It can be used as a stand-alone snack of course...but I get a lot of utility out of mine as a thickener and taste enhancer to a lot of my dehydrated meals (takes some of the guess work out of re-hydration too!).

If you don't mind the taste hummus powder (which is just garbanzo bean flour) it will work too...but I find it just a 1/2 step up from dirt...it is however widely available.

4:27 a.m. on January 29, 2014 (EST)
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Thanks speacock and Joseph.

This will be the second time around for me, I did the JMT solo in 1981, another low snow year. I guess the terrain hasn't changed, but the rules sure have. I slept out on Half Dome and in the stone hut on Muir Pass, and generally slept up high to stay out of the way of bears, but otherwise didn't worry much about them after I was out of Yosemite.

Basic question: where do you leave bear canisters at night? Obviously not in or too near the tent, but maybe close enough to keep an eye on? What about cooking gear?

Since we're coming from Norway we won't be able to do a lot of food prep. It would be nice to make and dry our own hummus and dozens of other things, but we can't take it with us. So I have been cruising the internet pretty hard looking for sources of dried ingredients. Commercial dried hummus and tabouli are already on the list, and I have found sources for dried refries and cheese for burritos. It looks like vacuum packed 8" tortillas should fit nicely into a Bear Vault so those will be a staple. And whereas in the past cooking oil would have been something that I would carry only a little of and use sparingly, oils and fats are the most calorie dense foods out there, so I'm looking at those as major ingredients in a lot of dishes. Pesto makes total sense! I am already working with gram flour (chick pea or garbanzo) to develop a kind of curry dish. It seems to help a lot with digestibility to toast the flour first.

We will try a resupply at Kearsarge, we just haven't figured out how yet. We'll pay a horse packer if we have to, and may be able to contact other JMT hikers to split the cost.

With the big group to share gear around we can afford to carry two stoves, an MSR Windpro and a Pocket Rocket, and maybe even a light frying a pan. My wife and I will just use a rectangular down bag as a blanket and we have a homemade double sleeping pad cover made from an old flannel sheet, although we may try to lighten that up. We're getting a Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 to cut down on tent weight -- I guess it's a bit small for two people, but we're married so it's OK.

We're all compulsive readers so we'll be using various e-devices and a Nomad solar panel to keep things charged. My daughters have Kindles, I have an iPod Touch at 100 grams, my wife is undecided. One reason I want to use the Touch is that Audubon now has a series of field guides that run as smartphone apps, including one for California wildflowers as well as North American birds and trees. They have range maps, multiple photos of many species, descriptions, and in the case of birds son recordings. The Touch is a little small for this use so an iPod mini is tempting. Some of the JMT trail guides are also available as iBooks or for Kindle (there is a Kindle app for ithings), so they may come in handy. I may not bring my Garmin GPS, and GPS use on smartphones etc. seems to just eat batteries, but we'll be on well-known and tracked territory so navigation won't be an issue. My daughter may track us on the mapless GPS that she uses on her bicycle.

Thanks again for the help. We still have a lot of planning to do in the next  months!

11:29 p.m. on January 29, 2014 (EST)
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I put my container (Expedition Bearakade) fairly close to the living area but in bushes and definitely not on a slope - a depression is ok. I've had mine moved and looking for it in the morning was easier since I had put reflecting tape on it.  I've seen bears come toward the camp notice the container and just turn away for easier pickings.  They are quick learners.  That container holds food for 2 for 8 days.

They may lick uncleaned cooking gear - I don't know.  I've only had problems with racoons and pots and pans.  You don't have to worry about your clothes unless you are an extremely messy and a gross eater.

If you are planning on using a lot of oil for the calories, try it at home for a week and see how you tolerate it.  Be sure you have added a few pounds on you before you leave.

Packers are expensive probably on the order of $100/day for each animal plus 100 more for the drover.  You can call around and get prices.  Keep me in mind.  Depending upon the time you will be there I could get the food to the parking lot at Onion Valley, but would rather be waay down the list.   Chances are not - for now, but things happen.

Don't forget a small digital recorder on the order of an Olypus 700 series. Record everybody's thoughts and people you meet along the way.  Take a picture every morning before you break camp with people showing the day with fingers - unless your camera date stamps the files.  That was old film days trick.

You can save weight over all by using liquid fuel and stove (eg., MSR something).   You will be cooking for a lot of people.  That will devour canisters and you still have to pack them out.

Except for big base camps, I haven't heard very much good about portable solar panels  You will be heading south most of the time and if on your back it will be pointing north.  You can't afford to spend the hours in camp it takes to charge a few batteries.  You can probably pay for a lot of lithium batteries for the solar panel.

Or go old fashion and take a couple of paper novels along with you.  Don't forget the head lamps/extra batteries.

I have a Stephenson's (warmlite.com) 3R.  LOADs of room for two and can  sleep 4 (good friends)  if need be.  I had 5 in a 2R one very bad night.  Was difficult shuffling the cards, let alone sleeping.  Did an entire 7 day trip with 3 in the 2R.  The 2R is just under 3pounds and the 3R is under 4.  Both set up and strike in under 5 mins - once you know how. 

I've had the 2R going on 20 years.  Almost looks new - well ok, it used to.

You won't hear a lot of song birds.  That is fairly high for them.  Won't be a wet spring - so far and Sierra flowers are a very restricted set to start with.  BUT you will be right in the time of year for wildflowers.   I leave all the electronics in the car - usually.  I'm spending all that energy to be away from that - and other things usual.

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