Read about my complete John Muir Trail experience, including prep, gear, logistics, and post-hike impressions.
I caught the Tuolumne Meadows (TM) Hiker Bus ($26) in front of Half Dome Village at 8:00 am. The 3-hour ride out of the valley was enveloped in wildfire smoke. We couldn’t see any views, but I was just happy to know that my pack was indeed at the TM post office waiting for me. I figured I was lucky to have experienced perfect weather in Yosemite Valley the day before, and I would only get further away from the smoke as I walked toward Mt Whitney.
We made a few stops to access restrooms and see some sights, but the ride was otherwise boring. I was dropped off near the post office/grill/store, which is really just a glorified circus tent. After experiencing the polished facilities in Yosemite Valley, TM was a definite letdown.
I walked to the ranger station and waited in line to pick up my permit. I thought it was unnecessary that everyone had to wait in the same line whether they had reserved a permit in advance or wanted to get a walk-up permit that day. After a mandatory speech about park rules and Leave No Trace principles, I was finally admitted into the small office.
After reviewing the rules yet again at the counter, I was finally granted my permit and asked if I wanted to move my start date up to that day instead of the next day. I was excited to start, so I got a jump on my hike. It was already the early afternoon. This meant I had to exit Lyell Canyon before dark, throwing my hiking schedule and meal plan off by half a day. I was okay with that.
Upon receipt of my permit and other documentation, I backtracked to the post office and grill. I ordered some food while the postman handled the daily mail delivery. After eating, I received my misplaced box containing my overnight backpacking gear.
I sat at a picnic table and swapped out gear from my daypack to my overnight pack. All the while, I received welcome advice from a trio of section hikers from Berkely, California. They were very nice and even stuck around after eating to take my photo before I set off.
Finally, I loaded my day pack back into the box and mailed it ahead to the small town of Lone Pine, California, the closest post office to the Mt Whitney portal where I planned to exit the trail. I was very excited to be heading on my way, even though I had to backtrack past the ranger station yet again.
Lyell Canyon was gorgeous. The only other place I’ve seen such a pristine valley is at Cataloochee in the Smokies. But everything here was larger in scale—the rivers were wider, the grasslands were more vast, and the mountains were higher.
I didn’t really know what time the sun would set in the canyon. I was worried about approaching Donohue Pass at or near sunset, so I made camp near Kuna Creek directly across from a waterfall. I probably could have gone a little further, but I was so excited just to be an official JMT hiker that I wanted to relax and take it all in.
A side-benefit of starting in Lyell and taking my time was that I had an entire day to slowly acclimate to the elevation. Elevation was a big question mark for me. I had no idea how my lungs would react and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I never felt sick at all. To clarify, my asthma was very good at pointing out thin air at high elevation, but I never felt any noticeable effects of altitude sickness.
All in all, I did around 10 miles that day. And I was flying despite filming so much scenery. Right from the start, I was shocked by the sheer amount of wildlife. I’ve encountered deer in the wilderness before, but these animals seemed to be unintimidated by humans. That would prove to be the rule rather than the exception my JMT thru-hike.
At this point, I was still trying to stay on Eastern time as well as I could. I was going to bed at sunset and waking at dawn after all, so it didn’t seem unreasonable at the time.
I fell asleep with visions of mountain vistas and furry marmots dancing in my head.
Watch the video
Follow in my virtual footsteps as I make the 200-mile journey from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park to the Mt Whitney Portal. Watch the entire video or jump ahead to specific days. You can find more information to help you plan your own JMT hike at cchikes.com/JMT17.