Read about my complete John Muir Trail experience, including prep, gear, logistics, and post-hike impressions.
I’m a lightweight backpacker, meaning I make a point to minimize my pack weight. As part of that effort, I streamlined my food supply plan. I had planned to eat breakfast at Tuolumne Meadows on 9/1. I ended up starting on the afternoon of 8/31. I ate a meal at the café, but I was still carrying a lunch I didn’t eat. Since I started early, I had the choice to stretch my food a day and casually get back on my original campsite/meal plan, or push hard and erase a day.
I knew I would have a cell signal at Red’s Meadow. Someone special to me had a birthday coming up, so I decided to push hard and erase a day. That way, I’d be back on my campsite/meal plan after arriving at Red’s, only I’d be a day early and I’d get to make the call the day I left rather than the day I arrived.
I woke up very early and started hiking an hour or so before dawn. My morning was occupied with climbing Donohue Pass. This was my first High Sierra pass to climb and it did not disappoint. I was amazed at the work that volunteers had put into making a staircase out of the trail when the elevation became steep. That admiration would last the entire trail and I eventually had the chance to thank some CCC workers while climbing Pinchot Pass.
This was the first time I saw firsthand that alpine mountains feature meadows and lakes at high elevation. I’d never seen this before. Most of my hiking experience comes from the southeast USA. When you climb a mountain in the south, you crest a rocky slope and start heading back down the hill. In the Sierra, the snowmelt creates all kinds of ponds, lakes, and waterfalls near the summits. It’s spectacular.
I got a cell signal on top of Donahue Pass, which gave me the false sense of security that I might be able to reach out to people whenever I crossed the 10,000-foot mark. In actuality, I wouldn’t get a wilderness cell signal again until Mt Whitney.
On this day, I passed named as well as nameless lakes, and saw flora and fauna that I had never seen before. I was shocked to see deer at such high altitude and spotted my first marmot (I didn’t get a photo, though).
There was a lot of up and down this day. I quickly learned the heartbreak associated with gaining elevation just to give it up over the next mile. I passed many day-hikers from Silver Creek and Mammoth as well as section- and thru-hikers on the JMT. I eventually tired and took a break around Gladys Lake. I laid on a log and fell asleep for 15 minutes. I woke up with a renewed sense of vigor.
I knew that the Mule House Café at Red’s Meadow closed at 7:00 pm. I’m motivated by food, so I crushed my remaining miles and managed to make it there by 5:30 pm.
This was a marathon day for me, literally. I didn’t think much of it, but other hikers were shocked when they learned that I started my day north of Donohue Pass. I quickly learned to keep my mileage to myself on this trip lest it seem as though I was boasting and comparing the wisdom of my strategy to theirs. I was winging it. I had no desire to talk about wisdom or strategy.
Aside from cabins, Red’s has a primitive campsite. Campsite 38 is reserved for backpackers. It’s $25 per night and all hikers toss into the kitty to pay for the spot. I coughed up $4 for my part and shared a picnic table with other thru-hikers until hiker midnight (9:00 pm). We traded food and war stories around a campfire.
I was only on day 2 of my hike, headed southbound. It was fun to meet northbounders (NOBOs) who only had a few days remaining on their hikes. I was also fortunate to meet a guy from Reno. I told him I would be stopping through town on my way home and he was kind enough to recommend some restaurants and other things to do in the area. I ended up taking him up on his advice to visit Ijji 2, an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, when I was headed home.
The next morning, I charged my electronics as much as I could, made my important birthday phone call (got voicemail), and then headed off. My big day had put me back on my schedule and I didn’t have anywhere to be until Muir Trail Ranch several days later.
I should add that Red’s Meadow had a reliable cell signal, so I was able to post some pictures to Instagram.
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.