Two families on the John Muir Trail

1:54 p.m. on August 25, 2014 (EDT)
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I don’t think TS or the world needs another day-by-day account of a JMT hike, so I though I’d give it a more general treatment, with notes about the whole process and lessons learned that might be useful for TS members, especially those considering going with a larger group rather than the usual ones and twos. I’ll do it in installments on this thread, stick in a few photos, and give everyone access to a gallery with a few more favorites.

How it all started

Sometime last October, my daughter Molly (now 23) called me up all excited with a Big Idea: “Daddy, let’s do the John Muir Trail next summer!” She wanted a special way to celebrate the anticipated completion of her Master’s degree in June. I thought about it for about 0.0009 seconds and agreed, figuring we’d work out the details later. I mean, I was honored! -- how many dads get invited by their 23 year old daughters to go on a major hike? The initial proposal was that it would be just the two of us, and we would do it fast, as we two are the well-matched pair of greyhounds in the family. But I knew right away that my wife Nancy would want to go too. We had talked about doing it at the end of our 6-month stay in CA a few years ago, but we knew our dog wasn’t welcome in the national parks and eventually made other plans. So Nancy signed on, and  then it wouldn’t seem right not to have little sister Zoe (19) along…but we would have to find a dogsitter for Ralph, no more flying for that old boy. With the other two along we would have to go slower, but that was fine with me, more time for side trips. I had done the trail solo in 15 days in ’81 (guest post on my daughter’s blog), and certainly felt no need to hurry the second time around.

As we got started on planning, it occurred to us that it would be cool if Zoe’s old 1st grade buddy from Vermont, Annavitte (19), wanted to come along and, what the hey, might’s well invite her mom and dad (Pennie and Matt) and little sister Karin (16) too. The eight of us (nine, including Ralph) had a great time together when they all came to visit us in Norway in 2009, and Matt and Anna came out west for a fun canyon tour when we were in CA. I wasn’t sure that they would all be able to join us for reasons of prior plans or vacation time or whatever, but let’s just say they didn’t have to think it over for too long either. Game on!

So here’s the whole gang on top of Mt. Whitney.
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Matt, Karin, Nancy, Zoe, Annavitte, Pennie, Molly, Rick (me)

3:36 p.m. on August 25, 2014 (EDT)
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That is quite an achievement. Congratulations. I just returned from a family reunion in Seattle. It is all we can do to get everyone in the same room, much less the top of Mt Whitney. I was recently introduced to my cousin's 3 adult children. I have known her since the 1970s but never knew she had kids.

4:27 p.m. on August 25, 2014 (EDT)
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Wow. When my 15 year-old makes it through high-school, I hope to get out of the WV mountain sandbox, and go on some long distance hikes like the JMT... Inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

11:55 p.m. on August 25, 2014 (EDT)
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That sounds like a great trip!  I wish my adult children would want to do the JMT with me!

6:12 a.m. on August 26, 2014 (EDT)
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Here's part 2.

The Plan

When I did the JMT in 1981 I had no overall plan, didn't know how many days I would take, didn’t send out any resupplies, and just took it one day at a time. But with eight of us onboard it was really important to plan ahead and make sure everybody was happy with the overall plan.

Although my wife had really whipped herself into good shape over the last year or so, she was concerned about how her knees and feet would hold up over multiple days of big ups and downs with a loaded pack, so when I put together a 21 day schedule in the first fit of planning she immediately asked for a few more days, including some zeros. Why not? Might as well put all that euro-vacation time to good use! More time for side trips! So I stretched it out to 25 days (24 nights), including three rest (or side trip) days, with an average of about 10 miles a day, or a little more than that for just the forward progress days.

With her concern about all the ups and downs, Nancy said she would like to see a distance-elevation profile of the trail, so I rolled up my sleeves and eventually came up with my super-duper JMT profile planner, which I have written about in a post in TS’s trip planning section.
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We decided to start out slow, both to have some time to acclimatize and to enjoy Yosemite. We would stay two nights at Clouds Rest Junction and use the day in between to do a 10 mile acclimatization loop over Cloud’s Rest. The other rest days were provisionally planned for Red’s Meadow, with a day hike to Devil’s Postpile and a supply run to Mammoth, and somewhere below Muir Pass, with hopes of some of us doing the Black Giant.

The Vermont family decided to drive west in their new van, all except for Matt who couldn’t free up the time for the whole enchilada and so planned to fly to Reno and join us at Reds Meadow. And, like Nancy, Pennie also had knee and foot concerns and decided that she would be a floater, joining us on some sections and sitting out others, so that she and the van could also help (big time!) with resupplies; as it turns out Matt also exited with her for one four day stretch. So the number in our group varied between six and eight on different stretches of the trail. On the first stretch when it was me and the six women, we had a running joke that I had two wives and four daughters. Planning the ins and out and van parking and pickup and driving and resupplies got pretty intricate but it all worked nicely.

As it turns out, we took rest day number two in a hostel in Mammoth rather than at Reds Meadow, after coming down into Reds in heavy rain and hail, with the promise of more of the same on our rest day. We ended up rescheduling the third rest day for Zoe and I to exit out to Onion Valley to meet up with Matt, Pennie, and the van so the four of us could hike in with the last resupply, and then caught up with my wife and the other three daughters hanging out at a campsite below Forester Pass, then we were eight again for the last 4 days over Whitney. Otherwise we stuck pretty close to plan, sometimes just lengthening a day by a few miles to take a bite out of the next. The profile planner and campsite list was a huge help with this, since we could check how a change in camp site might propagate further down the trail.

Oh, and we got a American grad student at my university to house and dog sit, and Ralph seems to have been very happy with the arrangement.

Getting the permit

We studied up on the permit process pretty carefully, partly by following the endless discussions on this theme on the Yahoo and Facebook JMT groups. On the application you specify three alternate trailhead and first night camping combinations, and these are entered in a daily lottery. If you specify Whitney Portal as your exit point, you’re good to go the whole way as long as you make your exit date. You have to fax your application in 168 days before your planned starting date, and it has to be signed, so I had to fill it out online, print it, sign it, scan it, and then round up some fax software to send it. I guess I could have used the fax machine at work but that’s also a hassle. All very quaintly antiquated. (All this applies to starts in Yosemite; in general it seems to be easier to get permits if you are starting at trailhead outside Yosemite, and the process may be quite different).

We figured our chances of getting a permit for 7 out of Happy Isles (the official start of the JMT in Yosemite Valley) were pretty slim, so we put in for a little-used start from the Mono Meadow trailhead on the Glacier Point road and got it on the second try. This meant we would start at over 6000 feet instead of 4000 in the valley, and our first day would be all of three miles down to Illilouette Creek, but that fit in well with the slow start strategy. Some discussion in the online groups suggests that some permit issuers think that Glacier Point and Mono Meadows should not be used as entries to the JMT, so I was vaguely worried that we might get a hassle when we went to pick up our permit in YV, but we just got a thorough briefing on bear precautions and camping rules and we were on our way.

It worked out beautifully.  Because we and all the gear couldn’t all fit in the van, Molly and I took a YARTS bus into the Valley and picked up the permits, then took a day hike from Happy Isles to Nevada Falls and on to Mono Meadows to meet the rest of the crew, who had moved into a 1st come 1st served site at Bridalveil Creek campground.  We all went up to Glacier Point for sunset that evening.
ZSB-at-Glacir-Point.jpg

On our start day, six of us hiked three road miles from the campground up to the trailhead and into a campsite on Ilillouette Creek. Meanwhile Pennie dropped the van off at Tuolumne Meadows, took a bus back to the valley, hiked up to Glacier Point and hitched down to the trailhead, and caught up to us at camp. We arrived at the creek early and had a beautiful afternoon just hanging out and swimming in the creek. We joined the main JMT at the top of Nevada Falls the next day and headed on up to Cloud’s Rest junction for nights 2 and 3.
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(Mule deer under Starr King, near our first night campsite on Illilouette Creek)

5:25 p.m. on August 26, 2014 (EDT)
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Love it! I wish my family was up for something like this. I can barely get the kids to camp in the pop up trailer.

12:02 p.m. on August 27, 2014 (EDT)
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This is impressive and inspiring, not jut that you hiked the JMT, but that you managed to do it with two families. Wow!

2:26 p.m. on August 27, 2014 (EDT)
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Like people talking about 'Dancing With The Stars', I am looking forward to the next episode! Big Red and Family(s) is my favorite mini-series!

4:32 p.m. on August 27, 2014 (EDT)
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OK Sean, here's the next installment!

Food glorious food

With up to eight mouths to feed on any one day, it was obvious to us that freeze dried meals were not the way to go. With prices at $7 a meal and upwards and just barely enough calories for one person, despite some claims that they would feed two, and vast amounts of foil packaging, it was pretty clear that we could save a lot of money, waste, and space in our bear canisters by building our own meals.

So I put together another elaborate spreadsheet, beginning with a list of ingredients with info on calories per gram, package sizes, and some vendor and price info. Pure carbos yield about 3.6 calories per gram, while high-end fats approach 8, so it was pretty clear we would want to work a lot of fat into the diet to save weight and get enough calories. The ingredient list included the usual suspects, pasta, tortillas and the like for carbos, nuts, dried fruit, instant oatmeal, augmented by homemade granola which I for one prefer over oatmeal. Olive oil decanted into 50 ml centrifuge tubes from Matt’s lab was one mainstay in the fat department, but for the other we bought a big can of Indian style ghee (clarified butter) and portioned it out into plastic peanut butter jars. That turned out to have a very strong and not always welcome flavor, so we ended up cutting back on that.

We ordered a variety of freeze-dried ingredients in #10 cans from Honeyville Farms in Utah, including onions, peppers, broccoli, grated carrots, mushrooms, raspberries, grated and powdered potatoes, and some smoothie mixes that were a bit of a dud at first but were more appreciated as we got hungrier. The veggies are bulky and don’t deliver a lot of calories, but they sure help make a meal taste better, so as we planned meals and packed bear cans we tried to keep them in there. Somehow we ended up with way too much dried broccoli, which is really fluffy, and so ended up leaving a lot of that behind. Lots of Nido (dried whole milk) and Ova Easy egg crystals, which are way better than a lot of other varieties of dried egg. I searched and searched for some kind of dried yogurt to have with my granola, but couldn’t find anything appealing and so made do with milk and smoothie mixes.

Then I started building recipes from the ingredient list, using the grams per person for each ingredient to get to a calorie goal of around 1000 calories per person for an evening meal or 500 for breakfasts, then multiplying it all by the number of people in the group on any given night to get the total amount of each ingredient needed. Lunch and snack planning was a little looser, I just tried to make sure that we had enough total calories for any given stretch. The overall goal was 3200 calories per person per day.

Since the packing and shipping had to be done in the US, I had to supply a packing list to Matt and Pennie, and they put in their fair share of time doing the weighing and packing.

 Here we did not stick quite so much to plan. The 3200 number was too big for the first days out, and we pretty quickly found out that some ingredients weren’t worth the weight or volume (bear cans) and so started leaving some stuff behind at resupplies, and also picking up a few goodies at resupplies. I guess that’s just normal.

As chief food planner I was also chief cook, and my trail mates were very tolerant of some of my less successful culinary efforts. I couldn’t get a lot of the ingredients to test cook the meals in Norway, so some were untested, and one or two meals were pretty bad, while others were favorites, with bean burritos loaded up with cheese, eggs, and rehydrated veggies a favorite. Tang, which is just a nasty OJ substitute when in civilization, disappeared fast, mostly as a hot drink. Starbucks Via is better than instant but very pricey, so we did both, but ground coffee and teabags were ruled out because you have to carry the waste. And instant cheesecake with rehydrated freeze-dried raspberries rocks!
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(Yummm! This gram flour curry was actually my single worst meal.)

We started out with two canister stoves, a WindPro and a Pocket Rocket, but left the latter in the van in Mammoth because we just weren’t using it that much. I have a cheap, 20 year old, 4 liter, Teflon lined, aluminum pot that we basically filled to the brim with food and then emptied out into our bellies every night – it was just barely big enough when we were eight. I drilled some holes along the edge of the lid for straining pasta. We also had a 3 + 2 liter stainless steel pot set that fit nicely inside the big pot, and I made reflectix pot cozies for all the pots to try to save on fuel.

Dividing the weight of cooking gear between six to eight people means you can afford a little extra in that department. We decided we wouldn’t be too stingy with fuel, that we could afford the weight and we should be able to have plenty of hot drinks and not worry about having enough to cook the next meal. As it turns out, one of the big 450g canisters was just about right for 4 days without trying too hard to save fuel. We had a utensil kit that included a big folding spoon, folding spatula, a lightweight but sharp knife (all from MSR), selected spices (chipotle!), green scrubby and trail suds, a silly little parmesan cheese grater, and an even sillier doll-sized whisk that Zoe became expert at using to mix up large batches of cheesecake and mousse. Everyone carried their own bowl, cup and spoon.
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(My two wives and four daughters. Note the bear cans and with the 4L pot on top)

For bear canisters we had seven BV500s and on any stretch we generally carried one less bear canister than the number of people, with the extra person carrying the bulk of the cooking gear. We tried to keep everything organized into dinner, breakfast, and lunch/snack bear cans (at one point we had one that was almost completely full of trail bars), but there was a certain amount of randomization, so the first step in cooking a meal was often going through all the cans to assemble all the ingredients.

We hung food just once, on the first night out of Muir Trail Ranch, when we were loaded up with 7 days worth of food for all eight of us and just couldn’t fit it in the bear cans. I think the next night we camped at 11,500 ft below Muir Pass and as a calculated risk kept a few of the less attractive toiletries in our tents because we couldn’t fit them in the cans. Otherwise we always managed to fit all food, trash, and toiletries in the bear cans, although it wasn’t always easy. As we consolidated food on any one section, the empty cans were used for trash. When we entered the Whitney zone and had to use wag bags for our own waste, I had the brilliant idea of lining a bear canister with a wag bag to use as a latrine. After 2-3 people have done their thing, seal it up and drop it in, and set up another one over it. The rest of the gang were pretty dubious about it at first, but after trying it out and considering the alternative of having to put a squishy bag full of you-know-what in your pack, all agreed it was pure genius – but maybe that’s because I volunteered to carry 2 days x 8 people’s worth of waste down to Whitney Portal. The bear can in question has been thoroughly washed.

Resupplies

We resupplied at Tuolumne Meadows (TM), Red’s Meadow/Mammoth (RM), Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), and Onion Valley via a side trip over Kearsarge Pass (KP). For those not familiar with resupplies on the JMT, MTR is the big one because you have to mail your food in 5 gallon plastic buckets, which then travel over 90 mles of increasingly rough dirt road, across lake Florence by boat, and then the last few miles into MTR on horseback. They have a shed full of loaded buckets, stacks and stacks of empty buckets, and outside rows of hiker buckets where you can leave or pick up extra food. It costs $65 a bucket for the final delivery, plus the postage, and the max weight of each is supposed to be 25 lbs. We had four buckets and nearly 100 lbs of food to divide among the eight of us for the next 7 days, so most of us had 45+ pound packs heading out of there on a hot afternoon.
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(The youngsters sorting food at MTR)

Because it is not a good idea to leave any food in a car in bear country, we also mailed resupply boxes ahead for RM and KP, but left the TM resupply in a bear box when we (Pennie) dropped off the van the day before we started. We (or some of us) did some shopping at TM, Mammoth, and Bishop (Matt and Pennie, for the KP resupply) to augment the food we had shipped ahead.

For the KP resupply, Zoe and I exited over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley to meet up with Matt, Pennie, and the van, stayed the night down there, and then we all four carried in the last four days worth of food and caught up with the rest at a campsite partway up towards Forester Pass.
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(Off the see the Wizard! Zoe leads the resupply team back up tp KP)

10:37 a.m. on August 28, 2014 (EDT)
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That is an amazing trip.  The logistics alone are astounding.  And you must have gotten it together pretty well; it looks like everyone had a great time.

9:21 a.m. on August 29, 2014 (EDT)
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What a great experience for the both families.

I hope there are more installments to this great read. 

2:48 p.m. on August 29, 2014 (EDT)
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No TS trip report would be complete without some

Gear notes

To save weight, Nancy and I bought a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2, and a pair of NeoAir All Seasons, which aren’t exactly UL but we wanted the extra insulation both for this trip and future trips in Norway. The two mattresses pretty much filled up the floor of the tent, but the double side entries with small vestibules and the good headroom inside all worked well, even when we had to sit out a rain shower. We modified some Therma-a-Rest fitted sheets into a double mattress cover, and shared one opened-up semirectangular down bag. We also started out with a ca. 1 kg pile blanket, to use by itself if we were too warm or as an extra layer if too cold, but we ended up leaving that behind after the first stretch. We also got new Osprey Atmos/Aura 50 packs, which were just big enough for the job and really comfy once properly adjusted. Zoe took over my 3 year old GoLite Quest. I was actually pretty happy with it but also pretty impressed by the Osprey, so I wanted to try it out, and Zoe’s old Bergans pack was heavy and pretty beat up, so that’s the way it worked out. Molly had gotten herself a 60L Mtn Hardwear Lomasi, but was a bit too big and she was pretty unhappy with it. At various points she carried both Nancy’s Aura and Zoe’s Quest and found both of them much more comfortable.

The rest of the crew had gear of widely varying age and weight, but mostly heavier than Nancy’s and my gear on a per person basis. Zoe’s Eureka Spitfire 2 housed the Weegie sisters—like the Copper Spur it’s a bit close for two and the dual side entries help; it doesn’t have vestibules but has some storage space at the head and foot ends. The Vermont contingent picked up an REI Quarter Dome 3, which could house the odd person out when we were seven, with the tradeoff that it’s heavier per person when used by two. The Vermonters’ other tent was an older Kelty 2 person hoop tent. Annavitte and Karin had new, biggish Black Diamond packs (Mercury 65?) and seemed happy with them, while their parents hauled out some trusty old cordura packs and put them back in service.
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Eureka Spitfire 2, REI Quarterdome 3, BA Copper Spur 2)

I picked up a little luggage scale at the airport on the way over, and for the first couple of weeks we had daily weigh-ins. To compensate for differences in base weights we adjusted food and other group weight so that the stronger members, including all 4 youngsters, me and Matt, carried loads of up to 47 or 48 pounds coming out of resupply, while Nancy and Pennie carried mostly less than 40 because of the knee and foot concerns. After a while we all pretty much just pitched in and took whatever part of the common weight we thought was reasonable. With our 10 mile days we didn’t have to hurry and so some extra weight wasn’t that much of a drag. I know going lighter is supposed to make everyone happier, but there’s also something to be said for all those little luxuries (and good photos in the case of camera gear), and for me and I think Matt and the young ‘uns, 40-45 wasn’t all that bad, though much over that and it does start to drag.

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(Osprey Aura, BD Mercury, MH Lomasi, GoLite Quest)

Shoes glorious shoes

Light hikers and trail runners are common on the JMT – much of the trail is so well built that there is little need for much more. Only Annavitte had light hiking boots, while the rest had low cut shoes. I did the first stretch in minimalist Merrell Trail Gloves, but switched to low cut Moab Ventilators because I wanted something a little beefier for the side trips.  Zoe started and finished in Trail Gloves, but totally destroyed a pair of North Face light hikers in the middle that we are now trying to get our money back on. Nancy and Molly wore Brooks Cascadias, a standout favorite on the online JMT groups. No one in our family got blisters, but the two Vermont girls had major blister problems in the latter half of the hike.

All the women had Dirty Girl gaiters to keep dust out, and I had a different kind of short gaiters but had trouble keeping them down and didn’t use them much. The dust was worst on the Yosemite end, where there seems to be more organic matter in the soil that can get through mesh running shoes and turn socks and feet black. As we travelled south the trail was sandier and rockier, but we may have experienced less dust later on because of wetter weather as well.
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(The Dirty Girl lineup)

All of the women carried camp shoes of one kind or another, but Matt and I toughed it out with just our hikers. I almost picked up my trail gloves to use as camp shoes at the last resupply but we had only four nights to go at that point, so I figured I'd hold out.

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(Break time on Mather Pass)

8:40 a.m. on September 2, 2014 (EDT)
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I'm doing my own write up of our JMT trip (BigRed being my dad), which can be found on my blog, wildbazilchuk.blogspot.com. What an amazing adventure!

9:28 a.m. on September 2, 2014 (EDT)
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What an excellent trip!  I would like to do the JMT someday.  I recently watched a documentary on this trail and it was quite interesting.

8:57 a.m. on September 3, 2014 (EDT)
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Awesome!

Molly, we'll have to read your trip report and compare notes with your dad's report.

FYI, I added a link to her blog in the post above.

3:06 p.m. on September 3, 2014 (EDT)
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The next installment is a little interlude from all the planning and gear talk:

T-shirts and a birthday present

I picked up a good idea from Molly and ordered custom t-shirts for the whole crew, with the distance-elevation profile from my planning spreadsheet as the centerpiece. I stripped it down to just the line, added the pass names and elevations, some hiker silhouettes and trail names, and an optimistic but ultimately fulfilled declaration of our intentions across the bottom. I had them printed on a “tech” material instead of cotton.
Team-tee.jpg

And surprised everyone with them when we finally got the whole crew together in Mammoth.
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Nancy’s birthday fell on our rest day in Mammoth. Since Matt was joining us the evening before, I arranged for him to deliver a perfect birthday present for Nancy on the JMT. It had to be small and light weight and it wouldn’t hurt if it were edible, since calories when hiking are always welcome. High-end chocolate? Naww! You have to understand, my wife actually likes marshmallows, not just roasted brown and sticky over the fire, but firm and chewy right out of the bag. So, via a podcast I heard about Boomf!, a startup in England that prints photos on little square marshmallows, nine of them in a square box, and I knew I had found the perfect present. I went through archives and found a good picture of Nancy for the centerpiece, then other pictures of her with me, Molly, Zoe, Ralphie, and a couple more good pictures of her to go around the edge. Ordered and delivered to Matt in Vermont, who flew with them to Reno and hand-delivered them to me in Mammoth. SOmetime in the months leading up to the trip she found out the unusual name of her present via an email chain, so she knew she was getting Boomf! but didn’t know what it was. I convinced her not to Google so there was excitement in the air when she finally got to open her present.
Boomf-.jpg

They just fit into the top of a BV500. And she ate them all over the next few days, but they come with a card with the original photos, for the memories…

5:49 a.m. on September 16, 2014 (EDT)
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Rick:

Where were you when it was my turn to plan logistic for big trips back in the day?  You seem to actually enjoy that task, and more importantly your group appears to have appreciated your toil.  I grew to loathe the task, if not for the tedium, then because it set me up to be the fall guy for whatever gripe anyone had, caused by me, mother nature, or whatever.   Trying to appease eight souls is a monumental challenge, especially given the duration of your trip.  It sounds like a great group to travel with.  I conjure this trip will be among the lifetime highlights of everyone involved.

Ed

2:36 p.m. on September 17, 2014 (EDT)
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It was actually a welcome distraction from the demands of my day job, and a way to dream forward about the trip. And a satisfying challenge to use some of the tools of my scientific trade for a higher purpose...

1:10 p.m. on September 23, 2014 (EDT)
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I've let this languish but I had typed up some other notes, so I'll continue with them here, maybe they'll be useful.

Cameras, books and other luxuries

As a group we had no less than nine cameras – three of us had SLRs, and one of those also had a point and shoot like the rest of us. That doesn’t count cell phone cameras except Matt’s, who used his iPhone as a camera. Nancy and I again went light, with a Canon S95 for her and a newer S120 for me, both of which fit an unusually large sensor into a small package. With a soft case and spare battery it weighs just about 300 g (10.5 oz). I was maybe a little jealous of Molly’s Panasonic Lumix LX7, which is a little bigger but very versatile. We haven’t all shared our photos all around yet, but I guess we should be pretty well documented.

I looked for but did not find a USB camera battery charger to use with our solar panel and backup battery, so we all had to take care of our own camera batteries. I carried an extra battery, recharged at Reds, had Pennie and Matt recharge my spare for pickup at Onion Valley, and just barely made it to Whitney Portal on that last recharge. I took about 1200 photos, but I’m not a great people photographer so hopefully Pennie and others will fill in for my weakness. I have my own accumulation of scenics and gorgeous sunsets, but there are a lot of those out there already, so here's an attempt at something a little different (lake in upper Evolution Valley).
Just-water.jpg

As a botanist and ecologist, I like to identify trees and wildflowers while hiking. To avoid carrying heavy books, I decided to try the California Wildflowers and North American Trees iPhone apps from the National Audubon Society. That didn’t work out so good. I really should have known that a $5 app would be far too general to have good coverage of Sierra wildflowers, but it was even worse than that because the app had some serious flaws that I won’t go into here. The tree guide covers just trees rather than trees and shrubs, and at high elevation there isn’t a whole lot of tree variety, so it also saw limited use. I ended up buying a copy of the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada at Tuoloumne Meadows and carried it the rest of the way through. With it I was able to ID pretty much all the trees, shrubs, and flowers I encountered, as well as some birds, mammals, a lizard, and even some fungi. It is a very good guide and well worth the weight for me.


Subalpine-paintbrush-Castilleja-lemmonii(

(Subalpine paintbrush)

I also got the e-version of the Sibley guide to birds, and it is one of the best thought-out apps I have ever seen, includes seasonal range maps and song recordings, really superb. Nancy and I shared a hefty pair of binoculars, but found we just didn’t have much time for slow, quiet birding and so left them behind after the first stretch. Some lightweight but less powerful binoculars might have stayed with us longer.

I like to read before bed and over morning coffee, so my iPhone was also my reading library. As often happens I didn’t have much time for reading but it was nice to have a few books along without taking on extra weight. Nancy brought a fat paperback novel and ended up tearing it into sections to save weight. Molly and Zoe both had Kindles, probably a better choice for a pure reader because of the long battery life. Molly also carried her bike GPS (no mapping) and recorded our track every day; the battery was good for about 2 days and could be recharged via USB.

We were able to keep most of these devices, including the SteriPen, pretty well charged up with a Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar panel with a 3000 mAh battery, that Molly kept strapped to the top of her pack or diligently put out in the sun during breaks or around camp. I carried an 11000 mAh backup battery for when we weren’t getting enough sun time. With a large group this mixed strategy worked well, but if you had to choose just one I’d recommend a backup battery, because as we found out afternoon clouds and rain can limit solar charging capacity. There is little or no cell coverage along most of the trail, so cell phones see little use as cell phones, and you’ll use up the battery only if you use the camera or any apps along the way.

Weather

When I did the JMT in '81, it never rained, and I guess that could happen again. But not this time. We got our first rain about 5 days in, just as we started the climb up out of Lyell Canyon toward Muir Pass, and it was a doozy. Thundershowers with pea-sized hail that lasted about an hour, eased a bit, and then came back out without the hail as we set up camp, maybe four hours in all.
Hail-.jpg

(Hail and mist above Lyell Canyon)

A few days later we came down into Red's Meadow in another deluge with more hail that half emptied the USFS campground there and chased us out to Mammoth for our rest day. We had occasional showers and bouts of threatening weather on and off for much of the rest of trip, and got in the habit of making early starts when necessary to get up over the next pass before noon. We just barely made it up over Forester Pass before the rain came in on that day. We got down off the switchbacks before it got too serious, but ended up sitting out a spell of thunder'n'lightning in the lee of some rocks in the upper reaches of the valley.
Impending-doom.jpg

(Heading for shelter below Forester Pass)

That spell of rain lasted a good five hours and we were all good cold as we set up camp at Tyndall Frog Ponds and crawled into our tents to warm up and wait it out. But it let up by suppertime and we got some evening breaks of sun to start drying out.

And that's pretty much the deal: it rained, but then it stopped and cleared off so we never had to deal with multi-day wetness, and always got a chance to dry out. We made it over all the passes dry, and mostly had good weather when we needed it, including and especially on Mt. Whitney-- we summited and hung out on top in full sun, and got off the ridge well before the day's threatening weather.

Sun-rays-over-Guitar-Lake.jpg

(sunset at Guitar Lake)

There's some debate on the JMT online groups about whether it's necessary or worth carrying full rain gear or whether a poncho will do. I think we were all glad to have full coverage.

That's what I've written so far. I'll probably do a separate (shorter) trip report thread on the side trips we took along the way. Hope this has been interesting and/or useful!

May 23, 2019
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