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Backpack - John Muir Trail

Eight day/seven night trip on possibly the most iconic long-trail in the U.S.A. We will travel roughly the southern third of the full 211 mile trail. We will start from the Baxter Pass TH and end at Cottonwood Lakes TH (78 miles total with over 20,000' of gain). We will ascend Mt. Whitney, 14,495'--the highest mountain in the Continental U. S. on day 6. This is a bucket list trip. Special Leader's Permission Required–see extensive Leader’s Note

  • Strenuous/Very Strenuous
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 78.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 20,000 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 14,495 ft
  • Pace: 1.0-2.0

This is a one-way shuttle trip.  We will meet at Cottonwood Lake TH early on the first day and leave one or more cars there and then shuttle to the Baxter Pass TH where the trip begins.  We will finish at Cottonwood Lakes TH and shuttle back north to retrieve our car(s) at Baxter Pass TH.  Exact times TBD.

It is a full two days drive from Seattle to the Cottonwood Lake TH in south-eastern California.  Participants could also consider flying into Reno, NV or Mammoth Lakes, CA and renting a car.  There may also be shuttle/bus service available from both airport to Independence or Bishop, CA that could be an alternate to car rental.  We will need a minimum of two cars that accommodate five people and gear for the shuttle between THs to work.  I am planning to drive down from Seattle.

The John Muir Trail  is the "Creme de la Creme" of backpack trips.  While the whole JMT is daunting at 211 miles, this trip's 78 mile route tours the most southern part of the trail, hitting many exceptional areas--including Rae Lakes, Forester Pass at 13,153', Guitar Lake and Mount Whitney--14,495'.  We will pass many other alpine lakes and high passes along the way.  Expect absolutely stunning scenery every day.  Also expect elevation gains of 3000’ or more some days and the strain from hiking at a high altitude with lower oxygen levels.  The “day-hike” with a smaller pack on day 6  to Mt. Whitney has over 5000’ of gain. Hopeful participants need to be in exceptional condition and be actively backpacking during the summer proceeding this trip.

I have already secured a permit for five (5)  people  through–four participants plus myself.  

Here is the proposed route:

This trip is scheduled in conjunction with another California Sierra trip to Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe.  There will be a two night, one day rest/reorganize/repack time between trips.  Participants may do one or the other or both trips.  Preference, however, will be given to qualifying folks that desire to do both trips.  See the post for the Desolation Wilderness trip (8/26-8/30).

This is a Special Leader Permission trip.  I will be taking applications for those interested and selecting the best and most compatible group.  This will not be on a “first come” basis.  Apply ASAP. I will be getting back to folks regarding selection no later than March 20th.  In your application please completely answer/respond to the following questions/concerns.

1) This is a high altitude  trip. Typical altitude will be between 9,000’ and 12,000’ with Forester Pass and Mt. Whitney being outliers at 13,000’ and 14,000’+ respectively.   Please tell me about your experience hiking about 10,000'.  Have you experienced altitude sickness in the past?  Are you willing to acclimatize for this trip, with a first night camping (on your drive from Seattle) at or above 5000' and your second night camping above 8000' prior to the start of the trip? These two nights can be easily accommodated on the drive from the Seattle area to the trailhead.  There may be some other training or requirements in preparing for high altitude travel--more information to follow.  I intend to book a car campsite at or near Cottonwood Lakes (elevation 10,000’) the night before the trip commences.  It is possible others could join me here.

2)  This is a very strenuous, challenging trip due to length, number of days (8) and high elevation (mostly above 10,000').  Please tell me about your experiences backpacking that would give me reassurance that you can do this sort of trip? Can you do the 5000’+ gain, 10 mile, “day hike” at high altitude to Mount Whitney?  Please list relevant backpack trips, hikes with dates, distances and elevation gains.  Participants need to have done at least a four  or five night backpack trip in the past.

3) This trip is eight days.  Do you have capacity in your pack and strength/conditioning to carry eight days of food and all supplies needed for the trip--including the required Bear-canister, trekking poles.  You may need a large BV-500 like Bear Canister for this trip.  There are  some permanent bear boxes at some campsites that might accommodate some food storage on the trip, but not likely at every campsite.  More to come on this requirement..  Please explain your experience with this load.  Will you bring the required bear canister?

4)  It is important for the success of the group that folks are of similar goals, style and compatibility. Preference for this trip will be given to those that I have backpacked with before.  I know you and you know my style.  If I have not backpacked with you before, please provide the name of Mountaineers’ leaders  that you have backpacked with as a reference.  List the trips with them.

5)  Are you also requesting permission for the Desolation Wilderness Trip (Aug. 26-30)--see that posting on Mountaineers website?  Are you committed to going on both trips?  Are you only interested in this trip–JMT, only?

6 This trip requires a lot of logistics, travel, permits and financial investment.  On a scale of 1-10, what is your commitment to making every effort to come on this trip if you chose to register? Please do not request permission now and decide later if you really want to come.  Do the work upfront to decide if you can really do this and then stick to it.  If you can't make this sort of commitment then this trip is likely not for you.

7) The permit fee is $10 (dirt cheap) per person.  Will you reimburse this to the leader within two weeks of registration?

8)  Is there anything else you would like me to know?  Is there any more information you need from me in your decision process?

Please apply for this trip using the "Request Permission" tab on the right sidebar of this post.  Please send applications/permission requests ASAP..   I will review all those applying  and notify first those participants that are committed to going on both trips (John Muir and Desolation Wilderness) and meet the requirements for both trips (no later than March 20th).  If there are additional open spots and all waitlist spots,  I will notify/grant permission to those additional folks subsequently.  Hope you can join me for a very special trip.  Rob

Required Equipment

Required Equipment

The Ten Essentials plus overnight gear which may include:

  • Tent with footprint/ground tarp
  • Stove and fuel
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Food for eight days
  • Warm weather clothing for cold night at high altitude
  • Water filter
  • Large Bear canister--more info on size requirement to follow
  • Cooking pot/pan with plate and utensils
  • Toilet paper and shovel or blue bag to deal with waste
  • Trekking poles
Trip Reports