Read about my complete John Muir Trail experience, including prep, gear, logistics, and post-hike impressions.
I’ve already blogged about getting my permit for the John Muir Trail (JMT), tackling my travel itinerary, working on my meal prep, and setting a rough outline for my daily hiking/camping schedule. The other thing that has been difficult involves getting my gear—some of which is banned from airplanes—out to California.
It seems like everyone online lives within driving distance of the trailhead and simply gets dropped off by friends or leaves a car at one end of the trail and shuttles to the other. I can’t do that. Getting to Yosemite from San Francisco is already a hassle, and then there’s the problem of what to do with my non-backpacking luggage when I’m not on the trail.
Why it’s complicated
The JMT is one of the most popular trails in the world. The permit system is in place so that group sizes are limited, start dates are staggered, and entrance/exit locales are varied. I respect that. I listed 5 different starting points in my permit application and was granted my fifth and least desirable choice in Lyell Canyon (Tuolumne Meadows). That has me starting my hike 30 miles south of Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park, the official starting point of the trail.
Technically, I have the time to hike those 30 miles. If I did it northbound, it would be mostly downhill and I could probably crank it out in about 11 hours. Theoretically, this is doable. Logistically, this is more complicated than I’m willing to deal with. As it is, I’m planning to spend the afternoon of August 30 day-hiking around Yosemite and most of August 31 day-hiking around Tuolumne Meadows. That will allow me to cover much of the lost mileage.
The problem I’m dealing with is that any hikers with overnight gear who do not have a permit risk being fined up to $5000 and can be removed from the park. Hikers who are abusing their permits (related to dates and passthrough/entry/exit areas) can also be fined, lose their permits, and be removed from the park. So I can’t day-hike with my full pack. How is a ranger to know whether I’m just day-hiking before I pick up my permit or if I’m thru-hiking without a permit?
I’ve explored many options to check my pack while I day-hike, but they don’t really exist unless I pay exorbitant amounts of money to stay in one of the luxury hotels in the valley. Even then, getting to Tuolumne to hike north back to Happy Isles is a logistical nightmare. I have the time, but public transportation is not conducive to using that time wisely.
Mailing my gear to Tuolumne Meadows
I’ve explored a lot of different options, but the one I’ve settled on is simply mailing my pack to the post office at Tuolumne Meadows c/o general delivery where I’ll pick up my permit. I called and spoke to mailman at this post office. Here’s how I’m supposed to address the label.
First & Last Name (JMT Hiker)
c/o General Delivery
Tuolumne Meadows Post Office
14000 Highway 120 E
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389-9906
I’ll fly to San Francisco in my hiking clothes and carry a small day pack with toiletries and whatever I’ll need when day-hiking Yosemite and Tuolumne. I’ll carry that with me when I’m touring the Bay area and traveling to the trailhead. I’m comfortable with traveling light.
When I go to pick up my permit and buy my fuel canister at the Tuolumne Meadows ranger station, I’ll pick up my pack at the post office, which is on-site. I’ll swap essentials out of my day pack and into my overnight pack. Then I’ll put my day pack and anything else I don’t need on the trail into the same box and mail it to the town of Lone Pine c/o general delivery.
That post office is a short hitchhike ride away from Mt Whitney, where I’ll exit the trail. They will hold a package for up to 2 weeks, which is within my hiking schedule. Even if it wasn’t, I could bounce that box to another post office and then bounce it back to Lone Pine to reset the clock (this relies on me having a cell signal or internet access at some point on the trail). That costs nothing.
Mailing my gear back home
When I get to Lone Pine, I’ll pick up the box at my first availability. After cleaning myself and my gear at a hotel, I’ll pack my overnight kit back into the box and mail it home. Here’s how I’m supposed to address that label.
First & Last name (JMT Hiker)
c/o General Delivery
Lone Pine Post Office
121 E Bush St, Lone Pine, CA 93545
Then I’ll have my day-pack and essentials that I can use to travel back to Reno, and then the Bay area, and eventually back home.
I’ll follow up after my trip with a review of this strategy.
The worker who posted my gear from Greenville forgot to attach a scan sticker when he upgraded my insurance from the standard $50 that Priority Mail automatically confers to $2000. I traveled all the way to Yosemite without knowing where my package was. No one knew anything because it was never scanned at any facility. The postmaster at Yosemite Village got on the phone with the mailman at Tuolumne Meadows and finally confirmed that my gear was indeed waiting for me there. It was incredibly stressful.
All in all, my plan worked out fine. I paid about $100 (after the additional insurance) to ship it to Tuolumne, $10 to ship my daypack ahead to Lone Pine, and another $100 or so to ship my gear back home. I sent it to a friend’s office so that someone would be around to sign for it.
Nothing was damaged, but the box was more tape than cardboard by the time it arrived home. If I had it to do over again, I would ship it in a heavy-duty plastic container.
I could have flown with my gear and checked the overnight pack at Yosemite Lodge while I day-hiked the valley, but then I would’ve had to lug all my gear around San Francisco, Lone Pine, Reno, and Sacramento as I traveled to and from the trail. I like to travel light, and this made more sense to me, logistically.