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John Muir trail in October

3:05 a.m. on July 27, 2004 (EDT)
(Guest)

a.k.a. futureatwalker

I'm thinking of doing a section of the John Muir Trail in
late October. I live overseas, and have a reasonable amount of backpacking experience, but am seeking advice on whether doing a portion of the JMT at the time of year is
possible...

My idea was to do a 5-7 day trip starting in Yosemite. Any tips on what mileage might be reasonable (I like to take things slow), how much food to bring, etc. would be really useful.

11:45 a.m. on July 27, 2004 (EDT)
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It is certainly possible to do sections of the John Muir Trail in October. People have even hiked the whole trail at that time of year, although with the shorter days, not many do so. This is still before the winter storms really move in (that's usually late November, but sometimes there are big storms in early November or even late October). Do a web search on the John Muir Trail (aka JMT) and on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The JMT coincides with the PCT in much of the High Sierra. One good source is the PCT Association - http://www.pcta.org/about_trail/muir/over.asp

There are a number of good websites that discuss everything from what maps are best, favorite campsites, detailed food and gear (lots of "extreme light-packing" discussions), personal diaries, and so on.

The JMT is such a great trail (despite what I consider overuse in the summer season) that it is hard to know what part to recommend for a 4-5 day trip. Like all through-hike trails, it is more of a point-to-point trail. You can arrange shuttles, but you might consider a loop that goes out or returns on a different trail. Probably the easiest access for you, coming from out of the country, is to head for Yosemite Valley, which is the northern end of the JMT. Start there (Happy Isles, at the east end of the Valley is the official start), camp at Sunrise, Tuolumne, mid-Lyell Canyon, then return over Vogelsang Pass with a camp at Vogelsang Lake or the upper part of Little Yosemite Valley, where you rejoin the JMT and return to Yosemite Valley. You can throw in a climb of Half Dome via the cables on your outbound leg (close to Sunrise, easy enough, although steep and scary if you aren't used to heights while clinging to the steel cables and standing on the logs that are the steps every 5 feet or so). No matter what part of the JMT you are on, you will need to use a bear box (the portable cannisters, which you can rent at the wilderness office in the Valley where you arrange for your permit - you will need a permit to hike, but in October you can probably get one as a walk-in with no prior reservation. The summer season requires a reservation up to 6 months lead time).

Remember that the whole JMT is some 200 miles long. The loop I described will be up to 50 miles, depending on how you vary the return loop.

One thing, though - right now, there are a number of lightning-caused fires in the Yosemite backcountry. Current practice is to let these fires burn themselves out, which may mean that they will burn until the heavy snows in Nov-Dec. They do affect the JMT, and the Little Yosemite Valley portion has been closed at times during the past month. This is the section from the top of Nevada Falls almost to Sunrise. You will have to play it by ear. Access to other parts of the JMT is more difficult unless you have a car available or pay a lot for a shuttle.

2:31 a.m. on July 28, 2004 (EDT)
(Guest)

a.k.a. futureatwalker

Thanks Bill! This is exactly the type of information that I was looking for. The idea of a loop is attractive from a logistics standpoint. I'm encouraged that the winter weather doesn't really set in until November...

5:37 p.m. on August 1, 2004 (EDT)
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I was just in Yosemite this weekend (another of the talks I give from time to time for the American Alpine Club for the general public on "Climbing in Yosemite"). The fire situation has died down somewhat, since the direction of the main burn that would affect the JMT is headed into a previously burned area (lightning-started fires happen several times a year in the Sierra).

You still will need to carry a bear canister, since the bear problem is pretty bad this year. There were several cars broken into in the Valley in the past week. But the worst trouble-makers in Little Yosemite Valley have been put down (including the blue bear that ripped a backpack off a scout who was backpacking with his troop - the reason the bear was blue was that the rangers wanted to check if it was just one bear causing the serious problems or more, so they shot it with a paint-ball gun several times to mark it prominently. Unfortunately it turned out to be 2 yearlings and their 13-yr-old mother, all of whom had to be put down). If you use a canister (rent at the Wilderness Office in Yosemite Valley if you don't have your own) and the steel boxes at the designated campsites, you won't have a problem. But if you carry candy in your pack, you might attract an "encounter".

2:51 a.m. on August 2, 2004 (EDT)
(Guest)

a.k.a. futureatwalker

Thanks for the information. I've camped in the White Mountains (New Hampshire) and have some awareness of bears, but have not done any backpacking in the west. Is it advisable to carry pepper spray (or the bear equivalent)in the backcountry... or is this just voodoo?

2:35 p.m. on August 2, 2004 (EDT)
(Guest)

a.k.a. Grant

Bill: Was the mother that was "put down" the infamous and intelligent "Orange 19"? I was in Yosemite a couple of weeks ago and heard quite a bit about her from a ranger.

5:49 p.m. on August 2, 2004 (EDT)
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I think so. The mother had been causing problems herself in Little Yosemite for quite a while and was known to be teaching her cubs by example. The 2 cubs were the yearlings that were also put down, one of them being the infamous "blue bear" that had pulled the pack off the scout's back about 3 or 4 weeks ago.

6:04 p.m. on August 2, 2004 (EDT)
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Bear spray

Bear spray does not appear to be necessary for Sierra bears. You might look on the Yosemite National Park website and talk to the Wilderness Office. I did see the cans of spray in the Village Store, so people do buy it. But the rangers I know say that Yosemite bears can be chased off by a bit of yelling and pot banging. They tend to be sneak thieves and break-and-enter burglars (as in breaking the windows of cars to get at visible packs and ice chests or anything else that looks like food might be in it). There have been no direct attacks on people in the Sierra in many years, except for the yearling "blue bear" who directly grabbed a pack from a Scout's back. And the spray wouldn't have worked there, since the bear came up from behind.

There used to be a number of "mugger bears", who would lurk in the bushes until a hiker with pack walked by, then step out, rear up, and scare the hiker into dropping his/her pack and running - bear scoops up pack, takes it into the bushes, and removes the food. These bears were more vulnerable to a ranger coming up the trail with a dart gun with tranquilizer, then shipping the bear to a remote location (takes too long to return from exile and too big a chance to get exiled again, so the mugger bears "reformed" by learning new approaches).

By the way, if you do lose your food to a bear in Yosemite, whether from your pack or breaking into your car, you are subject to a substantial fine.

11:19 p.m. on August 19, 2004 (EDT)
(Guest)

Thanks for the infornation on the weather on the JMT Bill S. I live in Australia and am doing the Devils Postpile to Yosemite leg ot he JMT in the last week of September 2004.

future atwalker - just letting you know that in 2003 the last weekend that the cables were up on Half dome was 5 Oct. But go to the base of the cables anyway - the views are wonderful. Also by that date in 2003, there was no shuttle running over the Tioga Rd, so Bill S's suggestion of a loop hike from Yosemite and back to Yosemite is a good idea. If you are aiming to get a permit on a walk in basis, avoid planning to start on a weekend. I could not get a permit to camp close to Happy Isles (the Yosemite Valley start of the JMT) for the first weekend of Oct 2003. Have a great trip.

8:10 p.m. on October 14, 2004 (EDT)
(Guest)

Just wanted to correct some misinformation in the previous reply. The blue bear and Orange-19 were, unfortunately, put down. However, her sister was saved and is still happily living in the Little Yosemite area.

April 21, 2014
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