John Muir Trail Itinerary

Sharing how to do this trail within 20 days, while including Half Dome and Clouds Rest!

Stats: 
Days: 20
Resupplies: 1 (at Muir Trail Ranch)
Rest Days: 0
Nero Days: 1
Average miles: 11.5

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Day 1 HAPPY ISLES TO SUNRISE CREEK CAMPSITE

6.8 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 6.8mi mark)
(Note: Half Dome side trip is an additional 4 miles roundtrip this day)

If you have the additional Half Dome Permit, check the weather for this day and the next to determine which day to complete Half Dome. If the weather is clear on the day you start, do the 4 mile Half Dome “detour” once you get to the Half Dome junction. From the junction, you have a half mile to Sunrise Creek Campsite to spend the night.

If the weather is better the next morning, set up camp at Sunrise Creek and then backtrack early morning a half mile each direction to the Half Dome junction for a total of 5 miles before starting the plan for Day 2. The bonus of doing Half Dome in the morning is that it won’t be busy with day hikers…yet. They still have a way to go coming up the Mist Trail.

Day 2 SUNRISE CREEK CAMPSITE OVER CLOUDS REST, PASSING SUNRISE LAKES TO SUNRISE CAMPSITE (THE JUNCTION OF THE CLOUDS REST TRAIL AND THE JMT)

10.3 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 13.5mi mark)
(Plus, account for an additional 5 miles roundtrip for Half Dome if you are completing it on this day)

I highly recommend taking the Clouds Rest route which is NOT the traditional JMT. At Sunrise Creek campsite, you are at a junction point between the Clouds Rest trail or the JMT trail (both will get to the same place so there is no backtracking involved, but it does add 3.8 miles). Don’t worry if you decide to pass on it, we met so many people doing the JMT who did not do Clouds Rest. You can do it as a overnight hike another time. The traditional JMT route will be 3.8 miles less than what is calculated for this day. 

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Day 3 SUNRISE CAMPSITE OVER CATHEDRAL PASS TO LOWER CATHEDRAL LAKES

5.1 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 18.1mi mark)
(I include the extra .5 miles to the Lower Cathedral Lakes campsite)

With the first 2 days being so challenging, (the climb out of Yosemite on the first day and Clouds Rest on the second), Cathedral Pass will be a breeze and having a shorter day will be necessary!

Day 4 LOWER CATHEDRAL LAKES THROUGH LYELL CANYON TO THE LAST CAMPSITE BEFORE DONOHUE PASS

~19 mile day (location on the JMT trail is just before the 36.6mi mark)
(I include the extra .5 miles out from the Lower Cathedral Lakes campsite)

Tip: If you wanted to have the lightest backpack ever during the tough Yosemite part of the trail, look into a resupply at Tuolumne, which you would pick up on day 4! 

We opted for the last campsite before Donohue Pass. It is about 800 ft of uphill at the end of the day, but you will thank yourself the next day when you cut a good chunk of the next day’s uphill, had a great water source, a more private campsite, and less mosquito bites.

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DAY 5 CAMPSITE BEFORE DONOHUE PASS OVER DONOHUE PASS TO GARNET LAKE

9.2 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 45mi mark)
(I include the extra .8 miles to the Garnet Lake campsite)

You will get reception at the top of Donohue pass! Passing through Ansel Adams National Forest after the pass was my favorite section on the entire trail! We took our longer stop at Thousand Island Lake. It is a busy place to camp, but a birds eye view above the campsites is the best for a little rest and snack. 

About 2.5 miles past this is where I recommend camping: Garnet lake. It has a similar view to Thousand Island Lake, but you will feel like you have the place to yourself since everyone had their own cliff to perch themselves on without being visible to each other.

DAY 6 GARNET CAMPSITE TO REDS MEADOW CAMPGROUND (use the free backpackers campground)

~16 mile day (location on JMT trail is the 59.4mi mark)
(I include the .8 extra miles out of the Garnet Lake campsite and the an extra .8 miles to the Reds Meadow campground)

This is the day that most people try to reach Reds Meadow so if you reach Reds Meadow on day 6 and did Clouds Rest and Half Dome, give yourself a pat on the back!

The day is mostly down (which can be good or bad depending on how you feel about it). We thought it was good, especially since the grade down wasn't so steep. We stopped to see Devils Postpile National Monument which are basilic collumns. After such a long day, we weren't impressed and continued on without even taking a picture. 

You can plan ahead to eat dinner at the Reds Meadows Resort (you'll find a few cabins, a market, and a diner here), but they do close at 7pm. The walk from the resort to the campground is about a quarter mile. There are options for laundry, showers, charging outlets and cell service that you can take advantage of here. 

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DAY 7 REDS MEADOW CAMPGROUND TO PURPLE LAKE

~15 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 74mi mark)

From Reds, we had a late start, enjoying the ability to get a connection; but it is quite hot and desert-like on the trail after Reds (no trees for cover) so I see the benefit of starting before the sun gets hot (and maybe taking advantage of having service the night before). 

Purple Lake is, again, a more secluded campground. The most popular points for people to stay were Deer Creek or the junction point for Duck Lake (lots and lots of tents set up as we passed by), but we knew we could push on. 

At the junction point when you get to Purple Lakes, we found the best sites were if you kept following the trail (to the right).

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DAY 8 PURPLE LAKE CAMPSITE OVER SILVER PASS TO SILVER PASS LAKE CAMPSITE

8.6 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 82.6mi mark)

From Purple Lake to Silver Pass Lake, it is mostly up, but the grade is well-done so it didn’t feel too challenging (plus, we were getting stronger and our bags lighter). The lake before climbing Silver Pass and the view from the top of Silver Pass was my favorite at this point on the trip. We also enjoyed the shorter mileage and getting to our site early to have dinner before the mosquitos came out.

DAY 9 SILVER PASS LAKE CAMPSITE TO BEAR CREEK CAMPSITE

11.4 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 94mi mark)

This day is probably the most monotonous. You have a big down and also a big up. The grade is steeper than it has been for both, making it long and not very exciting, as you are in trees for most of the day. 

The campsite here is also before one of the bigger river crossing so you can do that in the morning after plenty of rest and with adequate energy levels.

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DAY 10 BEAR CREEK CAMPSITE TO MUIR TRAIL RANCH (RECOMMENDED RESUPPLY POINT)
(OPTION TO CAMP AT SALLY KEYS LAKE INSTEAD)

12.1 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 106.1mi mark)

Our one and only resupply was at Muir Trail Ranch (MTR).

Heading to Muir Trail Ranch means a bigger day and there is a bit of pressure to get there before their resupply station closes at 5pm (their hours are 8am-5pm). This option is preferable if you are running low on food, really want the snacks you packed for yourself, or want to go through your food (pack it well in your bear bin at night) and then leave it to the next morning to go through all the donation bins (trust me you will want to, even just to trade out things you don't want to eat anymore). You may also want to go to the hot spring at night (note that this involves a river crossing).

Camping at Sally Keys instead means a better campsite (less busy), less of a hike (you postpone 4 miles of downhill till the next day),  an option for a  mid-day dip at your campsite's lakes and postponing the hot spring near MTR till tomorrow mid-day or not at all, and requires you to sort food and look through the donation bins at the same time.

DAY 11 MUIR TRAIL RANCH TO THE FOOT BRIDGE BEFORE EVOLUTION MEADOW

7.1 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 113.2mi mark)

Whether you camped at MTR or not, you will likely spend a good amount of the day there. Many people spend 2+ hours sorting and packing their food. I enjoyed spending the entire morning (starting from the second it opened) to go through the bins as everyone was donating their food! I ended up eating all the dried fruit and all the vegan bars I could find as my lunch that day (finally leaving at 1:30pm). I also scored some oatmeal packets, chocolate, and about 13 bars that I managed to fit in my bear bin!

If you leave Muir Trail Ranch with plenty of time, go further to camp at McClure meadows and then Wanda lakes the next day. (Spacing out the mileage a bit better).

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DAY 12 FOOT BRIDGE BEFORE EVOLUTION MEADOW TO EVOLUTION LAKES

9.3 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 122.5mi mark)

Evolution Lakes is SO stunning. This area is notorious for thunder and lightning storms, so it is also safer than the other two lakes you could camp at if you went further (Sapphire Lake and Wanda Lake), which are very exposed with no trees.

DAY 13 EVOLUTION LAKES OVER MUIR PASS TO LE CONT RANGER STATION

13.7 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 136.2mi mark)

Depending on the season, be aware that the trail can be difficult coming down the other side of the pass due to snow covering the trail (people use GPS early in the season). Also, this was a long day so be ready!

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DAY 14 LE CONT RANGER STATION TO PALISADES LAKES

10.3 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 146.5mi mark)

We anticipated this day to be average; however, there is something called the Golden Staircase which was absolute torture! It is steep with no abiltity to know how much further you needed to go so my advice is to fuel your body for the day with adequate snacks!

DAY 15 PALISADES LAKES OVER MATHERS PASS TO LAKE MARJORIE

13.5 mile day (location on the JMT trail is ~160mi mark)

The pass wasn't too bad and it was scenic all the way down.

DAY 16 LAKE MARJORIE OVER PEACUIT PASS TO DOLLAR LAKES

~13.3 mile day (location on the JMT trail is the 173.3mi mark)

There is a popular curcuit that people do over Glen Pass, which makes the campsite at Dollar Lakes busy with hikers not doing the JMT, but the lake was another stunner and we enjoyed it!

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DAY 17 DOLLAR LAKES OVER GLENN PASS TO HOWEVER FAR YOU CAN GET PAST LOWER VIDETTE MEADOW (CLOSER TO CENTER BASIN)

8.5-12.5 mile day, depending on how far you get past Vidette Meadow (location on the JMT trail is the 181.8mi mark at Vidette Meadow, but try to go 3 or 4 miles past that)

The passes begin to provide spectacular views!

DAY 18 CENTRAL BASIN OVER FORESTER PASS TO HIGH SIERRA TRAIL INTERSECTION

12.6-16.6 mile day, depending on how far along the trail you start from Vidette Meadow (location on the JMT trail is the 198.4mi mark)

Forester pass is the highest one yet and can be a little daunting if the weather doesn't hold up (strong winds, etc).

DAY 19 HIGH SIERRA TRAIL INTERSECTION TO GUITAR LAKES

~7.3 mile day (location on the JMT trail is ~205.7mi mark)

Guitar Lakes is the best place to camp before the Mt Whitney since it is the last place you can get water and use the bathroom without using a bag. You are about 2-3 miles from Trail Crest at this point, which is where you will ditch stuff you don't need for the Mt Whitney summit. Try to get to bed early this night and have your bags packed so you won't be too tired waking up at 1:30am the next morning to hike up for sunrise at the top of Mt Whitney.

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DAY 20 GUITAR LAKES TO THE SUMMIT OF MT WHITNEY AND EXIT AT WHITNEY PORTAL

~17 mile day (end at Whitney Portal)

Take all your layers (gloves, hat, puffy jacket, etc), sleeping bag, headlamp, water and snacks to the top of Mount Whitney and leave everything else in a pile at Trail Crest before summiting. Exit the trail at Whitney Portal. It makes for a very long day, but since you start at 1:45am, you will finish around 4pm!

What 20 Days of Backpacking Taught Me About Mindful Eating

You've heard lots about "mindful eating", but backpacking can really drive that point home.

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I hiked for 20 days along an incredible trail in the California Sierra’s called the John Muir Trail. It is a section of the famous PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) that stretches from Mexico to Canada (represented in the novel and film, Wild) with an additional section in the beginning and end (Yosemite section in the beginning and Mt. Whitney at the end).

For 20 days, I ate nothing but trail food, lots of it packaged, but for the most part, it was REAL food.

I carried food for the first 10 days in my backpack and then picked up a bucket of food at a horse ranch in the middle of the wilderness (they carried in these buckets on horseback from the nearest post office) that I packed with similar meals to last me the remaining 10 days.

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With such a MASSIVE change from our conventional way of eating - which I can define in two words: convenience and excess - I have to say my relationship and perception of food has changed substantially. 

Here are my takeaways:

1. You begin to think of food as fuel.

I have heard the saying “food is fuel” as some way to monitor and think twice about what we put in our bodies, but it’s really hard to understand in the environment many of us live.

In our day-to-day lives, we never have to think about fueling for high-energy output activities like some marathon runners and athletes do.

But I got my first taste of it. I had a limited number of meals. I couldn’t eat 2 meals one night if I was hungry. I also couldn’t eat my massive pasta meal when the next day was an “easy” day; I needed to save that one for when the next day would be a challenging climb. I didn’t purchase Clif bars because they have never appealed to me, but the sight of free-for-all Clif bars when we had to refuel was a godsend. I NEEDED those on hard climb days so that I could maintain my energy.

Now that I am back in the real world, I still think this way. It doesn't make sense for me to eat a tub of cashew-based ice cream if I've been sitting around all day. During those resting days, I should also give my digestion system a rest. However, if I have just completed a workout, I can enjoy the overly sweet smoothie I like to have with dates and bananas or the ice cream if that's what I'm wanting.

2. Chewing MATTERS.

On the last 10 days of the hike, I didn't have big lunches. I had 3 bars in total to eat in between breakfast and dinner. This was different than the first 10 days, where I had beans, rice, and vegan cheese to fill in tortillas in whatever combination I was feeling that day.

I remember eating my first bar of the day at a break we were taking and it was gone in literally 3 seconds. I actually couldn't even remember eating it; I ate it so fast. I was so disappointed as I drank some electrolyte water to fill my hungry stomach! For every bar after that, I began to THINK and maybe even OVERTHINK about each bite, noticing the chewing and each swallow. I could make a bar last 20 minutes this way and somehow it was more satiating!

Now, even though I am back in the real world, I am actively trying to avoid scarfing down my food, thinking back to how good it feels to take my time, enjoy it, and CHEW it. And like the experts say, it helps me realize that I am full sooner than it would if I am just trying to finish the plate.

3. Paying attention to your body can solve all our problems.

I learned SO MUCH about my body in 20 days and actually couldn't believe it took me that long. For one, I learned that my body doesn't handle protein well so now I don't force-feed myself the recommended amount and make myself sick. It's sad it took me till now to feel okay with that. And second, my body needs more fats than I feed myself. You should see my meals now. I drench bread in olive oil before adding a whole avocado on top and I embrace the fact that this works for me.

So, it may be hard at first, but after you eat something, check-in with your body. Maybe fried food doesn't sit well with you. Maybe your body can handle lots of sugar, but not a bag of chips. You can create your own rules that work for you rather than listening to someone else and doing what works for them.

4. Overindulging is the WORST.

After 20 days of relatively good food, I went to the supermarket and bought FRUIT (are you surprised?), granola, almond milk, and 2 bags of chips. Everything was good until we got stuck on a bus for hours getting back to our car and I ate a piece of fruit and 2 full sized bags of chips. I was SICK. Like throwing up, acid coming up and lining my throat-sick. I had a bad taste in my mouth the whole ride back and told myself I would never eat chips ever again.

However, the chips weren't the problem. It was the overdoing of said chips. The lesson I took from this was to take it easy when I feel like indulging. If you set aside the amount that you would feel good about eating and stick to that, you will realize that you aren't depriving yourself, but just preventing a stomach ache.

So, hopefully, not everyone needs to go on a 20 day trip to become a more mindful eater AND hopefully, my experience has shed some light on a different way to think about eating mindfully.

I know ever since this trip, I have been drawn to learning more about eating as an athlete, even in normal, everyday life.

Let me know what you think about mindful eating and if you have any tips!