JMT thru-hike campsite schedule and meal planning

posted in: John Muir Trail | 0

I’ve already explained some of the ways I dress up cheap, processed meals for trail cooking. Now I want to break down the logistics of my campsite and meal planning. I’ve broken my hiking itinerary into two sets. The first set represents the meals I will take with me from the trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows. The second set represents the food I will mail to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) for my resupply.

The northern trailhead of the John Muir Trail (JMT) is at Happy Isles, but I couldn’t get a permit to start my hike there. This is one of the most popular areas in the world and the park rangers like to stagger the starting dates and locations to spread out the hikers and protect the flora and fauna. Starting my hike at Lyell Canyon near Tuolumne Meadows cuts around 30 miles off the total trail length of 211 miles. It’s not ideal, but I’ll spend the afternoon of 8/30 exploring Yosemite Valley and all day on 8/31 exploring the northern part of Tuolumne.

For the record, I’ll be surprised if I stick to this schedule. I’m trying to keep my mileage relatively low to protect my knees, but also because of the odd schedule of the ESTA bus that I need to catch when I’m done. It doesn’t run on Wednesdays or weekends. If I finish my hike a day earlier, there’s no bus and I’m stuck in Lone Pine, California doing nothing for 2 days (which doesn’t actually sound too bad). I’d have to finish at least 2 days early to be able to catch a shuttle to the AMTRAK station. I might end up doing that if I’m feeling good, but I also want to take my time and enjoy the scenery.

Tentative schedule

Although the High Sierra is a very remote area, there are several places to eat fresh meals. By making use of those places, I can carry less weight on my back. As you can see below, I’ve factored those places into my meal planning. I should add that I’ll be carrying one extra dinner the entire trip in case something unexpected comes up or I’m simply famished after an unusually long day. I also have a habit of getting sick of some snacks on trips, so I usually have several of those tucked away as well.

This table represents the food I will start with in my bear canister. I will mail my entire pack, including this food, to the post office at Tuolumne Meadows and pick it up the day I pick up my permit. I’m tentatively planning to eat breakfast at the Tuolumne Meadows restaurant on my first day, but I’ll still be on eastern time and might be rearing to go well before it opens.

Rotating your device to landscape view will help to render the tables properly on mobile. You can also scroll left/right through the tables.

DATE (DAY)HIKEMILESPREPARATIONALTERNATIVES
Fri, 9/1/17Tuolumne Meadows ➤ Island Pass17.4---/lunch/dinnerTuolumne Meadows Grill: 8am–5pm
Sat, 9/2/17 Island Pass ➤ Red’s Meadow17.8Breakfast/lunch/---Mule House Café: 7am–7pm
Sun, 9/3/17Red’s Meadow ➤ Tully Hole17.5---/lunch/dinnerMule House Café: 7am–7pm
Mon, 9/4/17Tully Hole ➤ Bear Twin Lakes17Breakfast/lunch/dinner---
Tue, 9/5/17Bear Twin Lakes ➤ MTR/Shooting Star Meadow9.9Breakfast/lunch/-*-Ranch resupply: 8am–5pm

*I’m treating Muir Trail Ranch like a restaurant because I don’t have to really carry the food for that night and the next morning. I’m technically packing them, but I’ve prepared special, heavy dishes for those meals. I’ll eat them near the Ranch before I kick off the second leg of my hike.

This table represents the food I will mail to MTR in a 5-gallon bucket 3+ weeks before I expect to pick it up.

DATE (DAY)HIKEMILESPREPARATIONALTERNATIVES
Wed, 9/6/17MTR/Shooting Star Meadow ➤ Sapphire Lake16.4-*-/lunch/dinnerRanch resupply: 8am–5pm
Thu, 9/7/17Sapphire Lake ➤ Palisade Creek15.7Breakfast/lunch/dinner---
Fri, 9/8/17Palisade Creek ➤ Bench Lake17.1Breakfast/lunch/dinner---
Sat, 9/9/17Bench Lake ➤ Rae Lakes16.7Breakfast/lunch/dinner---
Sun, 9/10/17Rae Lakes ➤ Tyndall Frog Ponds17Breakfast/lunch/dinner---
Mon, 9/11/17Tyndall Frog Ponds ➤ Guitar Lake11.2Breakfast/lunch/dinner---
Tue, 9/12/17Guitar Lake ➤ Mt Whitney Portal14.6Breakfast/lunch/---Mt Whitney Portal Store: 7am–8:45pm
Wed, 9/13/17Hitchhike to Lone Pine?------

Pre-hike impressions

I’m a very weight-conscious backpacker. As a matter of fact, it’s rare for me to completely fill my water bottles because I can feel the added weight. The stretch from MTR to Mt Whitney will be the most food I’ve ever had to carry. It’ll be the second leg of my trip, so my appetite will be in full swing. Hunger will make for an unhappy hike. When torn between adding pack weight and losing body weight, I’ll begrudgingly add the pack weight every time.

I’ve been buying food each week for my thru-hike and I’ll post an update when I’ve assembled my resupply. I think there’s a small chance I may be able to stuff 6½ days’ worth of food into my BV450 bear canister, but I won’t know until I try. Otherwise, I’ll have to spring for a new BV500.

Update: There was zero chance I could fit everything in the smaller bear canister. Read about my JMT resupply.

This post covers how I will spend my time on the trail. I’ve also posted about how I will get to and from the trail. It’s…..complicated.


Post-hike impressions

In retrospect, I planned pretty well. My schedule was thrown off initially because I was allowed to start hiking the day I picked up my permit (JMT Day 1—Tuolumne Meadows to Kuna Creek) rather having to wait until the next morning. I didn’t hit the trail until the afternoon and only did around 10 miles on that first day. I was faced with the choice of doing fewer miles on day 2 to stop at my first scheduled campground and get back on track, or pushing hard and erasing a day.

Since going slowly would screw with my food schedule—and I had scheduled 2 meals at Red’s Meadow—I decided to push hard and get a hot meal at the end of my second day (JMT Day 2—Kuna Creek to Red’s Meadow). This resulted in a 26+ mile second day. I have no regrets. After that, I was back on track location-wise and a day ahead of schedule.

I think I stayed about 5 or so miles ahead of my planned campsite schedule for the most part. Sometimes I went higher up the mountain to get away from mosquitos. Sometimes I squeezed in a little more downhill walking while I was on a roll.

I’ll admit that I did go too hard on day 6 (JMT Day 6—Muir Trail Ranch to Starr Camp). This was a 25 mile day and the first 20 or so miles wereuphill. It was also right after my resupply and the heaviest my pack weighed the entire trip. This was a combination of excitement, hubris, and poor planning.

I found myself just north of Muir Pass in the afternoon. It seemed too early to make camp, so I kept walking. I ended up having to hike more miles than I would have liked just to get to a campsite south of the pass. That downhill scramble at twilight was the most dangerous part of my JMT experience by far. I’ll not go into details, but it involves water and ice and a tired mind and body. I put myself in a position of high risk and was fortunate that I walked away with only aches and pains.

From that day until a couple of days after my trip, I was plagued by Achilles tendonitis. I also had some sensitivity in my hamstrings that was not too bad, but not pleasant either. I’ll point out that I never felt weak on my hike. I only felt strain from overuse.

I did a lot of stretching to keep myself limber, but I simply overdid it that day and paid a price. I wonder if I would have endured less pain if I had stuck closer to my hiking/camping schedule.

As far as my food planning goes, I addressed that in the Post-hike impressions section of this post: JMT resupply bucket.

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