JMT...with kids

11:36 p.m. on December 18, 2013 (EST)
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So I am in the very early stages of planning a life changer for me and my boys. I am a single mother, a survivor, and an adventurer. My boys are young, strong, resilient and are becoming accustomed to a down trodden life. So, I want to reboot with a trip from Yosemite to the Sequoias (not up through Mt. Whitney). As a seasoned hiker and one familiar with the JMT, what are your gut thoughts? Of course I have a need to do this, and believe we can, but your advice, honesty and direction would be so appreciated. Our travel would be from July to mid - late August (slow as they need, and leisurely exploring as we go). My biggest concern at present is the stretch between food drops. How big is the longest distance between food, if we end our trip shy of Mt. Whitney? The cold we can do, the hard we can do, the rain will suck, but we can do all of it..but advice on keeping them nourished would be such a help.

This site is wonderful! Thanks for all of your great advice posted here :)


1:34 a.m. on December 19, 2013 (EST)
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How old are the kids?  Have they backpacked for more than 4 nights before?

The longest part of the JMT (southbound) without an on trail (or close) resupply is from Muir Trail Ranch to Mt Whitney.  Kearsarge Pass is about the half way point and you could either exit there to Independence - OR - resupply there by going into Indpendence and picking up a package you mailed to yourself -OR- convince somebody to meet you in Onion Valley or Kearsarge Lakes. 

You will have not made it to Sequoia NP by then, however.

The next exit before Whitney is over Shepherd Pass to Independence a couple of days farther south along the JMT. 

Many consider the part from Glenn Pass to the high Sierra of Bighorn Plateau and the Kern Basin/Drainage as the most spectacular on the JMT - perhaps because it is almost the end and they are in the best shape they have been in a very long time.

There are so very many trails that are not quite as long as the JMT that thread around and through the Sierra.  Happy to discuss what you would want to do.

2:24 a.m. on December 19, 2013 (EST)
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Speacock has you pointed well in the right direction. Resupply on the JMT can be tricky at times due to the limited options. Be fully preparred to carry several extra days worth of food.

10:05 p.m. on December 19, 2013 (EST)
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Thank you both for your help! I was hoping to hit a drop every 6 - 8 days, and mailing/ food delivery is an option. I am open to exploring all possibilities, but just wanted an idea of whether or not this was unreasonably unsafe for my boys. I don't believe it is, but I do not want to be naive.

My boys are used to walking 5 miles a day as a part of our daily routine. They are strong, and I plan to train them (increasing the hikes in length, difficulty, and including overnights) over the next 6 months. We are an athletic family, but more importantly, we are resourceful survivors. I have no doubt in their endurance and capability. That said, if I had to go without food, there would be no issue, but keeping them healthy and safe is crucial.

So that's the story. I am so grateful to your help thus far, and would love to hear any trail advice or ideas/ concerns you might have. I wisely defer to all of you guys; though I have conquered some obstacles, I have never done this.

But I really want to add this trail to the list :)

2:22 p.m. on December 20, 2013 (EST)
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You have not said what ages they are, how long dayhikes and backpacks each of them has done, and what kind of loads they have carried on backpacks.

Having worked with youngsters, one thing that is recommended is that youngsters should carry no more than 1/4 of their body weight until their late teens. This is because their bodies are still in the early stages of development, particularly their skeletons. Loading with too much weight, too often, for too long a time, frequently causes developmental problems later in life.

Keep in mind that the freeze-dried food that most long-distance backpackers eat (meaning mostly no fresh fruits and vegetables and a major lack of dairy products - the major source of calcium for bone development) is not really all that healthy even for adults at full development. Yeah, we tolerate it because of the trade-off between the calories needed and the weight we are carrying. Backpacking food is also fairly deficient in protein - lots of carbohydrates, though, plus an awful lot of salt.

I do have several friends who took their kids the full length of the JMT as young as 12 yo. But all of those had 2 adults (both parents) carrying most of the weight of food (about 2 pounds/person-day), and 2 of the families did some fishing (in both cases, they are skilled fishermen, so had plenty of fish). My brother-in-law, on the other hand, tried to do the JMT in segments with his two boys separately. He did the Yosemite to Tuolumne, then Tuolumne to Reds Meadows, then started the next segment below Reds Meadows. With one of his sons on the Tuolumne to Reds Meadows segment, they lost all their food to a bear at the south end of Lyell Canyon (that was when bear bagging was still allowed - the canisters are pretty secure, and currently are required). So they had two more days to Reds Meadows with no food. With the other son, at their first campsite south of Reds Meadows, they lost a large portion of their food to another bear. At that point, they turned back and abandoned the idea. From discussions with him, I believe the reason was lack of knowledge, experience, and preparation - though he insists he is a great outdoor expert. By contrast, I have 3 friends who did family treks of the entire JMT with no problems. The youngest kid in those 3 cases was 12, and the rest were in their teens. The father in one of those families did the entire JMT last summer in 10 days (solo, his 4th or 5th through-hike of the JMT - though he depended on his wife and oldest son - 19 yo - hike in to meet him and to bring him 2 resupplies between Muir Ranch and Guitar Lake at the start of the climb up to Whitney - he is a fanatic ultralight packer).

Yes, you can do it, IF you do the preparation of hiking, get the right gear, and stay within the realistic limits of what everyone in the group can do.

I should note that, although I have done many trips that were equivalent or harder than the JMT in time and distance, I have only done about half the JMT. I have mostly used the JMT to access backcountry climbing areas of interest. My avatar over there on the left was taken in Antarctica - a bit colder and higher equivalent altitude than the JMT, so requiring a bit more gear and different food considerations. We had sleds at least, so didn't have to carry the loads on our backs. No re-supplies, though. 

4:31 p.m. on December 20, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks, this is terribly useful.

I agree that the preparation, gear, and limits are key..crucial for us. As a mom, I have never and would never stretch their limits, and I do not want this to be a competition or failure or anything other than exposing them to their capabilities, their strength and the beauty of simplicity and the world we live in. That's it. I am looking at side trails to explore if the JMT is too much, and I am not planning on hitting Mt Whitney at all. My boys are 8 and 10, and we have minimal experience. This is something that we are learning about together and voraciously..which is why I am here in this group. Your information is invaluable, and I believe this will be a life changer for my guys.

We plan to begin our training soon, (Jan - June) and along the way we are exploring gear, resources, the trails, and safety. We are proud minimalists as it is, so we are looking forward to the challenge of remaining as light weight as possible. I expect the boys will be carrying no more than 1/4 of their weight, thank you for that stat, though--all the confirmations I need.

I also have a couple of friends now, who are planning on meeting us along the last stretch from the John Muir Ranch to Sequoia. Luckily we have friends out there who are excited to help.

Bottom line is I am looking to reboot, and fill my sons with some happy. Their safety is my main concern, however, so while I have no idea what this trip will bring, I need (as a mom) to have the essentials as controlled as possible (lots of safety nets, so to speak). If it proves to be too dangerous, I have no problem changing paths/ plans..but I will need the back up plans and trails.

I am at work and rambling now, so I will leave on that note. Many thanks, and any/ all advice is so so welcome. Straight shooting is best--knowing that we are dealing with a scrappy threesome is important too. We've been through a lot, and this is a hard experience that will bring us great reward, I think.

2:59 a.m. on December 27, 2013 (EST)
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Eight and ten are a bit on the young side for extended hiking trips.  I am sure your boys are game for the challenge, but the distances, altitude and pack weights often prove to be too much work and not enough fun for that age group.  At this point I would suggest base camping.  Find a destination one or two days into the backcountry, and use that location as a staging base for day trips to the surrounding points of interest.  Take my word, a multi day base camp can be every bit as cathartic as a long through hike.


2:44 p.m. on December 30, 2013 (EST)
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I think a reboot is a great idea. But whomeworry has a good point. perhaps a reboot for them is not the same as for you, and base camping for an extended period would actually get them in the happy you are looking for without actually exposing them to too much work. Altitude is a big consideration. Maybe the base camping and gaining of skills would be just the ticket. You say you have minimal experience. That is a big concern....if you haven't got the skills to McGyver things, evaluate things, and produce what you need to, it could be that you would be the biggest danger. I am certainly not trying to be a buzz kill, but this might be a big bite for an 8 year old and ten year old. I suggest you get a copy of Mountaineering, the Freedom of the Hills. It is chock full of skills and techniques anyone should learn from beginning to advanced. It may give you a better perspective on your own capabilities and therefore a better facility to make choices! I wish you good luck and think it is a great goal you have!

6:29 p.m. on December 31, 2013 (EST)
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my kids are 16, 14 and 10 now.  all three in great shape.  by 10, they could easily handle a 10-15 mile day in mixed terrain.   

you can't rely on them to carry much, as a few above already observed.  you have to bring clothing, footwear, etc. that anticipates the absolute worst conditions.  the last thing you want is to get caught out in a freakish run of bad weather unprepared with young children.  

their preferences are markedly different.  the two girls have always liked hiking, they chat while they walk.  my son can easily handle the physical part of it, has always been able to, but he gets bored unless the trail is very demanding.  they have all had days where they ascended 3000 vertical or more; none of them have done anything more than 2-3 days.  none of them would have wanted to do a through hike when they were 8-10, and i'm really unsure whether they would want that now, though they are more mature and much more able to handle the physical challenge.

you have to judge not only what your boys can handle, but also what they want.  

2:24 p.m. on January 1, 2014 (EST)
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The help here has been so so great, thanks! This last has been especially reassuring, considering your experience with your own young kids and hiking. We are beginning our first long hike this weekend, and will continue over the next 6 - 7 months to lengthen and vary our treks. After adding in camping, (again changing up where we camp, how we camp, and the length of camp) I feel like I will have a good sense of not only what they can do, but what they like to do. This is also essential, because I do not want this to be a punishment. As a parent, I have learned to expect the unexpected (with kids...and in life), so that I can prepare the hell out of everything (as you say, plan for the worst) while knowing that I need to have  flexibility and supportive back up plans in place; to change on a dime or adapt to their needs and wants. I have seen different versions of packs (parent packs) online and every person seems to pack the basics but to individual preference. I expect I will figure this out through training, but have you any hints of must haves or ways to carry____ that you swear by? As a parent carrying..? I want them to carry what they will immediately need (on these preliminary hikes); get them used to satisfying their hot, their cold, their thirsty on their own, without "Moooommm?!" Once that's lain, I think they might pick up their own styles in packing too, creating their own holsters of essentials. I will be carrying for us all. Again, with the right preparation, equipment, # of food drops this can be done well; so I am always taking direction if you all have favorite strategies. My latest scheme: I am collecting friends and family in the SF area and beyond to participate. After overwhelming supportive reactions, we began to plan for them to visit throughout the trip;  as pseudobreaks in our routine or even to serve as destination points. With as many as 5 drop-ins (with food, clean clothes and new company), I think it might help the trip become even more full of memories, fun and manageable. I am open to all suggestions, advice, and am learning thank you! Meanwhile, our training will begin to answer a lot of unknowns and I think some solid paths will start to form from there.

10:56 p.m. on January 1, 2014 (EST)
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I saw a JMT 'trip report' of a home movie of a young couple and I think one child in the 10yo range.  They had a hinney (female mule) and her foal to keep the youngster(s) busy.  The mule carried much of the food.  As I remember they took 30 days and would have been late 50's early 60's. I'm not sure there is sufficient pasturage or lack of restrictions to allow that to happen now on the JMT.

At that age and usual ability, your children would normally be responsible for most of their personal clothing, bedding and that is about it.  You would be weighed down with about 2-3 pounds of food per day per person and tent and cooking gear.  An adult consumes between 600-800 calories an hour (depends upon the person's weight) on a trail similar to the JMT.  Children about half of that - depending.  Figure that into replacement calories and weight.

Pound of body fat - about 3500 Kcal .

16 fl oz of olive oil   3900Kcal (16 (dry) oz more than 4000Kcal)
16 oz of butter (2 cups) = 3,200 calories
16 oz Peanut Butter (creamy) 2708

16 oz sugar (2 1/4 cups) = 1,733 calories
16 oz Corn Syrup 1920Kcal
16 oz Aunt Jamima's Maple (flavored) Syrup 1890
16oz Trader Joe Unsweatened Pineapple (freeze dried) 1760
16 oz Shady Maple Farms Organic Maple Syrup  1680
16 oz Honey 1320
16 oz of chocolate chips  2200Kcal


16 oz macaroni pasta  1680
16 oz spaghetti 1680
16 oz Krusteaz Pancake mix 1680
16 oz rice  1600Kcal
16 oz Kellogs Froot Loops 1656
16 oz (Blue) Cornmeal 1647
16 oz Bulgar (Wheat) 1520
16 oz General Mills Total  1500
16 oz Split Peas (dry) 1170
16 oz  Lintils (dry) 1040

Prepared:  Yum salt and fat added..

16 oz Trader Joe Madras Lintil (heat and eat) 416Kcal (2-160kcal servings in 10oz package)
16 oz Mountain House Beef Teriaki 1224 ( a package for two is .55 pound 680Kcal)
16 oz Mountain House Beef/Noodle Stoganoff 1582  (package for four is .79 pound  1250 Kcal )

An alternative, albeit a LOT more expensive would be to hire a packer to carry most of the load (on mules/horses) and leap frog you to the next evening's camp.  You could exclude him from your group at night (you're the employer) and you would not see him much during the day.  That would take care of the mundane things like food shelter, safety, etc.  You walk the trail, carrying essentials (rain gear, jacket, food, etc) in day packs.

I think that if your adventure can be done reasonably, it would be a grand trip for all.  Even a week of it would be an experience not ever to be forgotten.

Our two children at ages younger than yours up to near teens would drive us interminably to our tethered ends by constantly asking if we there yet and if not how much farther; counting switchbacks; and going from rock to rock to rest.  The first problem we solved by putting them in charge of the map and navigation; the second was better than 99 bottles of beer on the wall; and the last they outgrew as they got older but was replaced by normal sibling bickering and learning about each other.  Each had a small camera that was theirs to do as they wish.

I hope you keep a detail journal (including the preparation), pictures and use of a recorder to capture their emotions, ideas and experiences as well as those you meet on the trail.

March 31, 2020
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