Tip-Toe JMT

During August of 2018 Whitney headed back out west to hike the John Muir Trail with her friend Smoosh.  Below is from Whitney's account of their northbound hike starting from Whitney Portal and ending in Yosemite Valley!

Approach trail to the official start of the JMT on Mt. Whitney; Cottonwood Lakes Trail / New Army Pass Trail / PCT.  Total mileage was 24.1 miles with 4,360 feet of elevation gained. 

We split this into 2 days for acclimatization purposes and were stopped short on our first day at 5.7 miles just before New Army Pass by a rapidly darkening sky and rumbles of thunder. We never did get rained on but could see it was raining on the other side of the Pass.

We stayed in Mammoth the night before and took the ESTA bus to Lone Pine in the morning where a man who goes by Lone Pine Kurt picked us up and drove us up to our trailhead at Horseshoe Meadows. Lone Pine Kurt is a retired airline pilot from New Hampshire (his van still has NH plates). He and his wife split their time between Amherst, NH and Lone Pine, CA where he spends the spring and summer shuttling PCT and JMT hikers to and from trailheads. Such a great dude.

The Pass is in sight and we hear thunder...we make the hard decision to stop early for the day and set up camp at 2:30. It would prove to be the right decision as we saw rain over the Pass later on and we found out the next morning it was extremely exposed on the other side for miles. Stopping here at 10,000 feet also gave our bodies extra time to make more red blood cells so it was a win. 

The next morning we get an early start and are on trail at first light

The barren landscape of New Army Pass

It's only 10AM and the clouds are already starting to build back up

Getting closer to Crabtree Meadows (our destination) and the clouds are getting super thick

Bucks, marmots, and a looking back to where we camped the night before

JMT Day 1: Crabtree Meadows to the summit of Mt. Whitney (official start) back down and over Bighorn Plateau to Frog Pond. 24.43 miles 5,650 feet Elevation gained

4 a.m. start We know it’s a big day so we get started in the dark (as we actually would almost everyday on this trip). We make good time up Whitney until the last 1,500 feet where we have to slow down to breath. The summit is in and out of the clouds as we approach but it clears completely upon our arrival. It was very cold in the shade on the way up but once on the summit the wind dies and the sun warms us. This is the second time for both of us on this summit and it’s once again a surreal feeling to be standing on the highest point in the contiguous United States. We stay for a little bit soaking up the sun and using our phones for what would be the last time for many days. I check the weather and see we are in for a couple more days of afternoon storms.

Once back down at Crabtree we have lunch and pack up camp and continue on another 8 miles to Frog Pond crossing over the vast Bighorn Plateau along the way. As we reached the beginning of the plateau we start to hear thunder in the far-off distance. We can see rain showers all around us yet there are large patches of blue sky as well. We stop and discuss our options and decide we still feel energetic and strong enough to make a quick trip across the plateau. It was a wild scene up there, both eerie and majestic at the same time. We were quite literally chased by a thunderstorm which was a bit sad because it was so breathtakingly beautiful up there that I would have loved to have stayed and take it all in. Once on the decent to Frog Pond we started to get rained on. We made it to camp as the winds ramped up wildly which made setting up our shelters a real challenge. We thought for sure the sky would open up on us but after 30 minutes or so the raging wind just stopped and the clouds cleared and the sun came out. We sat and ate dinner and recapped our crazy long day and noted how lucky we were.

Pretty morning light on the horizon as we head up to Mount Whitney 

Looking through the "Windows" as we head up

Reaching the top of Mount Whitney, the official start of the JMT 

Whitney on Whitney!! :)  

Dramatic clouds floating through the range 

Looking down to Guitar Lake 

Back down at Guitar Lake 

Smoosh next to Guitar Lake 

Every single crossing that was a substantial ford in 2016 is an easy rock hop on this trip. I never even knew there were stepping stones under all that water in 2016!! 

Storm Clouds and sun, when worlds collide!

Clouds start to really build up and we listen for thunder.  The rain starts as we near then end of the plateau. We put away all electronics and boogie on down to Frog Pond.

Our campsite at Frog Pond.  The storm is quickly blowing out

JMT Day 2: Forester Pass & Glen Pass 26 miles 5,079 feet elevation gained

 A whopper of a day on already tired legs.

Once again, we were on trail before sunrise. We knew with the chance of afternoon storms that we would need the extra time in the morning to make the miles we needed.

Forester was a bit of a grind on tired legs, and we realized without snow how much the approach meandered about before actually getting to the Pass. Also, in 2016 there was so much snow that we were able to hike mostly straight up to the chute on snow, cutting out all switchbacks. Turns out that the switchbacks on Forester are quite long. Oh well. We had the top of the Pass to ourselves for a little bit which was nice.

My foot starting bothering me this day (from an injury I incurred back in April) so I ate my lunch in the stream at Vidette Meadows so I could soak it in cold water. We powered on after lunch up to Glen Pass. It was sunny and beautiful so I actually thought we’d be in the clear for the afternoon but that quickly changed as we approached the final climb. The sky quickly darkened and little pellets of hail started falling on us just a few switchbacks shy of the top. It wasn’t bad at first but then the hail grew in size and picked up intensity. It felt like bee stings. It briefly stopped when we got to the top, just enough time for us to dig out our jackets. It started once again on our decent and didn’t let up for 2 hours. Sadly this meant we got stormed on while passing the beautiful Rae Lakes, a favorite spot for both of us from 2016. As we got lower in elevation the hail turned to straight rain and it was COLD. We got absolutely drenched as we made our way around Rae Lakes (we also made some bonus miles here as we accidentally turned onto 60 Lakes Trail 🤬). We could see some blue sky north of us so we just kept hiking knowing that we would eventually hike out of the storm. Miles later we finally did and literally walked onto dry ground where it hadn’t rained all day. We were exhausted and cold so we stopped short of our goal by 2.5 miles and set up camp in what seemed to be a dark corner of the forest by a bog. Thankfully the mosquitoes were past their prime for the season and didn’t bother us at all.

We started just before first light. Looking back at where we came from...this was completely snow covered in 2016 

Heading towards Forester Pass.  This was also completely snow covered in 2016

Heading up to the pass.  Upper Left - Smoosh approaching the chute, this is an often feared (for good reason) part of the pass during PCT season.  Upper Right - Smoosh makes her way to the top of the pass, I took this standing next to the chute.  Bottom Left - Looking back down from where we just came.  Bottom Right - Made it. We are actually leaving Sequoia and entering King’s Canyon NP

Looking down the other side of Forester Pass.  I don't think I could see this lake in 2016, all snow!

The trail approaches the lake from the previous photo, definitely didn't go this way in 2016!


Like walking into a painting!

Clouds building up

Approaching Glen Pass and hiking through a hail storm (hail on trail - left image)! We made it to the top thru the hail and had enough time to put on jackets and take a selfie 🤓

Looking down the other side of Glen. Those lakes were completely covered in 2016.

JMT Day 3: Pinchot Pass and Mather Pass 23.3 miles, 5528 feet elevation gained

This day like most others on this trip, started out in the dark. I felt ready to take on the 7.7 mile climb up to Pinchot Pass but as it would turn out I was totally over exhausted from the prior days and I struggled big time on the final climb up. I was shaking and dizzy, had no energy, and literally fell over once I reached the top. I felt awful.

After a lengthy break and plenty of fluids we began our long decent. We stopped for lunch by a creek where a trail crew was hard at work. Smoosh got an updated weather report from them which brought us good news; there was no chance of afternoon storms and the weekend looked to be clear! Yes! Based on this info we decided to make the push for Mather. Though I still wasn’t feeling great, knowing that the weather was supposed to be clear for the rest of the day meant I could take my time ascending the pass. I felt much better as the afternoon progressed and was able to make good time up the pass. Mather was the most terrifying pass for me to climb in 2016, the switchbacks cut into the steep side of the Pass were completely snow covered...I remember clawing my way up the side with my ice axe. I was in awe this time ascending the switchbacks and seeing just how steep the side of this pass is.

After a break on top we descended to Upper Palisades Lake where we bushwhacked down to the shore and found a great campsite with a majestic view of Mather Pass. This went from the worst day ever to the best day ever.

 Approaching Pinchot

Looking down from Pinchot

Lake below Pinchot

The long gradual approach to Mather 

Ascending the long switchbacks of Mather 

 High Fives and heads in the clouds on Mather!

Descending Mather.  I think this has become my favorite pass in the Sierra

The lake down there is our home for the night 

Some snow fields still hanging on! 

Upper Palisade Lake 

Our amazing campsite for the night!  Mather pass in view in the background

Wading in to get water, so cold but sooooo good!

JMT Day 4: Muir Pass 24.7 miles 4,209 feet elevation gained

This was the Pass I was most interested to see without snow. This pass has a long approach and a long descent so I was curious to see where the actual trail was. There’s a large stream near the trail in the last 1.5 miles and as I approached it in 2016 I realized it was one giant about-to-collapse snow bridge. I remember standing near it looking at the giant cracks and hearing a torrent of water rushing under it and thinking “no way Jose!” Seeing that spot now was surreal...there is a picture with a description below.

Just like in 2016, Muir Pass day was a long and hot day. And while there wasn’t miles and miles of post-holing through slushy deep snow; it was still very hot with very little breeze. The sun put a beat-down on me this day. I felt sick to my stomach towards the end of day and wanted nothing more than to soak in a cold lake. We set up camp by the beautiful Evolution Lake and went for a quick wade before eating dinner and settling into our sleeping bags for the night.

Morning water stop with one helluva view!

We are surrounded by steep walls and spires as we make our way to the base of the Pass. I can’t help but think of my rock climbing friends who would go nuts to climb here.

In 2016, this river was covered by a rapidly disintegrating snow bridge. It was full of large cracks and I could hear the swollen torrent moving below it. There was also a wall of snow that came down from the right and extended all the way to the edge of the cracking snow bridge. There was no way to stay on the trail here and there was no way I was crossing a crumbling snow bridge so I backtracked a little to a narrower crossing and crossed there. The rest of the way to Muir Pass was a cross-country snowwhack.

Just a little further up trail from previous photo

Getting closer to the pass, boy does this trail meander!

Helen Lake below Muir Pass.  Name for John Muir's daughter Mr. Smackers :P

Muir Hut

Descending Muir Pass

Home for the night at Evolution Lake

JMT Day 5: Muir Trail Ranch and Selden Pass 25 miles 3,793 feet of elevation gained

There is a direct correlation between how tired I am and how many pictures I take.

From our campsite at Evolution Lake (11,000 feet) we had a longgggg morning of down to the junction with Muir Trail Ranch at around 7,800 feet. Neither one of us stopped at MTR in 2016 so this was a new stop. Resupplying NOBO on the JMT is a bit tricky, especially when you’re on a time crunch like we were. The first logical resupply option for NOBOs is to go up and over Kearsarge Pass down to Onion Valley then to hitch to the town of Independence (not a lot there) or further to Bishop (more services but about an hour hitch). The hike down to Onion Valley and back is 14 miles and who knows how long a hitch would have taken. It’s a beautiful hike (we both exited this way for resupply in 2016) but we just didn’t need the added miles and pressure being on an already tight schedule. So we opted to send a bucket via Zero Day Resupply (highly recommend this company) to MTR. This meant we carried our first 6.5 days of food from Cottonwood Lakes (heavy).

The hike down to Evolution Valley and MTR was very hot, dry, and dusty. This was where we had our 1(!) ford of the trip, Evolution Creek, which was impassable in 2016 (there is an alternate through a marsh when the main crossing is impassable). It’s a wide crossing but tame this time, only rising to our mid calves. If you attempt the Evolution Creek crossing while the water is raging and you mess up and get swept downstream, you wind up going over a large cascade.

After we picked up our resupply at MTR it was time to begin the long, hot, dry, and exposed climb up to Selden Pass. I remembered this taxing climb from 2016 but couldn’t remember the Pass itself. Like all the other passes, it was quite different without snow and when I reached the top Smoosh was standing on a rock looking at the magnificent view on the other side below. It was like a painting. We could see our home for the night down below at Marie Lake and were anxious to swim so we beat feet down there and found 2 spots to set up camp. We took a quick dip before the sun started to set behind the Pass.

 Hiking along the San Joaquin River. This river was a white water rage fest in 2016 but on this day it looked ever so inviting.

Crossing Piute Creek

Heading to the ranch, it felt like the SoCal desert through here

That building holds the hiker resupply buckets. There are tables around for hikers to repackage their goods. To the right there is a bench lined with buckets which are hiker boxes filled to the brims with unwanted items (mostly food). We were able to pick up some extra snacks and candy bars from here.

Looking back as I climb Seldom Pass

Perhaps my favorite pic of the trip, Smoosh was standing there when I reached the top of the Pass. Picture perfect

Heading down to our home for the night, Marie Lake

Our seldom solemn faces on Selden!

It's been a treat to camp at all these lakes that were snow covered in 2016

JMT Day 6: Silver Pass 27.3 miles 5,230 feet elevation gained 

Again, there is a direct correlation between how tired I am and how many pictures I take. 

Silver Pass was basically as lackluster as I remembered it being (as far as Sierra views go). My foot pain had been worsening steadily and being on overall day 8 my greasy hair was really starting to itch. Thankfully Smoosh decided her greasy hair was getting to her as well so we decided to briefly exit the trail the following day to get a shower at Red’s Meadow (more on that in the next post).

From the top of Silver Pass we got our first glimpse of the dense smoke around the Lion’s Fire outside of Mammoth. We also met a really nice threesome of JMT hikers who took a great selfie of us all, unfortunately we never saw them again so I never got the pic. 

Shortly after leaving the top of Silver Pass I had zero recollection of the trail. Not just for a little bit, for 7 miles of it! We set up camp for the night at Lake Virginia which I also had zero recollection of. Smoosh ensures me that it was covered in snow when we went through. These 7 miles were the only miles I did not recall from my prior trip (the long climb up to Lake Virginia from Fish Creek really sucked so I guess maybe I blocked it out 🤷🏻‍♀️).

 So there is normally a huge waterfall here with a rapid stream running as well. In 2016 I got pelted by the waterfall as I forded a knee deep stream with a strong current (not pictured is a drop off to the left where that person is standing)

A tranquil scene heading up Silver Pass

The true top of the Pass (the trail then ascends the next bump before going down, so people incorrectly call this a false “summit” even though geographically speaking it is in fact the Pass).

From the second bump

Thick smoke on the horizon from the Lion’s Fore. First time we have seen smoke


Lake Virginia.  Another beautiful campsite to call home for the night.

JMT Day 7: Red’s Meadow and the Lion’s Fire 28 miles (including 5ish bonus miles 🤬) 4,272 feet elevation gained (including some ~1000 bonus feet due to our wrong all uphill turn 🤬🤬) 

Red’s Meadow is a small resort just 0.3 miles off the PCT/JMT. We originally had no intention of stepping off trail until the very end but after 9 days of dust, dirt, sweat, salt, grease, and grime we just had to have a shower! And a burger! And a beer! OHHHH how heavenly Red’s was!!! We got there around 10 in the morning and immediately noticed what a ghost town it was...maybe off season already? When we mentioned to the store clerk how calm it was compared to what a zoo it was in 2016 she told us between the Lion’s Fire and the Ferguson Fire in Yosemite (which resulted in the closing of Yosemite Valley for 3 weeks) that they had lost all their summer business. I felt so sad. Mostly everyone at Red’s comes from afar to work there for the summer and they all lost a huge chunk of their income from the fires. We stayed for 4 hours at Red’s and did what we could to contribute financially via burgers, beers, gatorades, and other snacks. It was just the rest I needed to push on hard for the last 2 days of the trip. 

We left Red’s and wandered into the hot afternoon sun on the incredibly dusty and sandy trail (think beach sand). The PCT and JMT split for 13 miles after Red’s so this was a new portion of trail for us. The split is within the Devil’s Postpile National Monument area and let me tell you, the signage in this area is shitty!! Old and hard to read with no mention of trail names just lakes. This is where we both (hiking separately) took a wrong turn. Actually, we didn’t turn we just continued straight at a junction instead of taking a right. We ran into some off duty rangers about 2.5 miles up the wrong trail who set us straight and then were told it’s not the first time it’s happened to JMTers. 

Since leaving Red’s the smoke from the Lion’s Fire had plumed and we were walking directly towards it. The off duty rangers did inform us that the fire had flared up again that day but we would be hiking away from it once back on the JMT. It was an eerie scene hiking that afternoon. It was smoky and lightly snowing ash on us. The light through the woods was hazy and the sunlight turned to a bright pink, almost like it was sunset but it was only 4 o’clock. I was so happy to be with someone that night...walking into a smoky forest and getting ashed on is unsettling to say the least.

 Early morning smoke from Lion's Fire as we descend Red's Meadows

Smoosh walks through a previous burn area on the way down to Red’s. You can see the smoke from the Lion’s Fire ahead.

The most important sign on this post, showers, third from bottom! :)

PCT / JMT split

Big plume of smoke from fires drifting over our heads

Stupid junction (we went straight to Minaret Lake instead of right to Shadow Lake). Not the best placement for a trail sign. There was at least a pretty waterfall on the way to Minaret Lake.

Hard to tell from this pic but ash is falling around me as I hike

JMT Day 8: Island Pass, Donahue Pass, Tuolumne Meadows 29.2 miles 4,150 feet elevation gained

This was a long day. We packed up camp at the usual dark o’thirty and started our day on trail by headlamp. As the sun rose we could see we were still very much surrounded by smoke though it was less intense than the day before. We had a few more miles to traverse before the JMT met back up with the PCT so we were still on new ground. We passed by some stunning lakes in the morning and passed quite a few SOBO hikers, the most we had seen yet. One man asked where I was heading to for the day and when I told him Tuolumne he snarfed at me and said “that’s a little ambitious, don’t you think?” to which I replied “no, not really.” He then got out of my way (in a somewhat dramatic manner) and said “well you better get on your way then if you want to make it there before dark!” “Thanks,” I said. “I should make it quite fine.” “Wait until you get to Donahue Pass!” he called after me. “Thanks, I’ve been there before.” Lol. What a jerk. I made it to Tuolumne by 6:00.

Approaching Tuolumne there were heaps of tourists and for some reason about 6 different people thought I looked knowledgeable about the area and stopped me to ask questions about where they should go/camp/etc...does anyone carry a map anymore?

Getting to Tuolumne was sweet. The Grill was open to 7 so I was able to get a burger and potato wedges as well as grab a beer from the store. After we ate we grabbed our beer and packs and headed up to the backpackers campsite at the campground. It’s the biggest backpacker site I’ve ever seen! We chatted with a few hikers before tucking in for the night.

Haze and smoke on this chilly Sierra morning 

 Garnet Lake

Garnet Lake

1000 Island Lake. This is where the JMT and PCT rejoin going northbound.

Ascending to Donahue Pass to the Yosemite boundary

Descending Donahue Pass

Tuolumne Meadows

We saw 2 young coyotes on the other side of Lyell Fork. It was fun to watch them play

That's not a tan line.  Dirt and dry skin, it's like hiking through the desert again!

JMT Day 9: Cathedral Pass and Cloud’s Rest 19.2 miles 3,465 feet elevation gained

For the first time on this entire trip, we slept in! Until 6:30! This decision was based upon getting a breakfast sandwich and coffee once the grill opened. So worth it.

We had been tossing around the idea of adding in Cloud’s Rest to our hike, it was only 6 more miles and we could loop back to the JMT so it wasn’t totally out of our way. We were told by quite a few hikers over the days that Cloud’s Rest was in fact, the best view in all of Yosemite so we should definitely go. We were also told by a few different hikers that it would be almost all downhill for us to get to Cloud’s Rest so that we should definitely go. I learned a long time ago that when someone says “it’s all downhill” that they are a shameless liar! This time though I believed such lies and nearly 3500 feet of climbing later, we arrived at Cloud’s Rest 🙄😂. I was a bit grumpy due to the climbing and being hot and hangry but the view from atop Cloud’s Rest was totally worth it.

After hanging out up there a bit we started the steep descent down to the JMT junction which is where we set up camp for the night. This would be our last night out on trail, after Half Dome in the morning we only had a few miles down to the northern terminus in the valley.

 After Tuolumne, the PCT and JMT split for good. We head up and over Cathedral Pass then through numerous meadows before beginning a series of PUDs on our way to Cloud’s Rest.

Cathedral Peak

that's a big step down!

Cloud's Rest

Half Dome

Descending the steep top of Cloud's Rest

I think Half Dome looks like a Penguin, who's with me??!! 

JMT The Final Hours: Half Dome and the long hot descent to the valley floor 11.32 miles (including side trip to Half Dome) 2,087 feet elevation gained 

 My question is: Who the hell thought making a trail up to the top of Half Dome was a good idea?! 😂😂😂 Now, I’m pretty brave and don’t scare all that easily but as I was ascending the cables I actually said out loud to myself “what the fuck am I doing here?!” I’m glad I did it, but I think it’s a one-and-done for me. Our JMT permits included a Half Dome permit (this isn’t the case every year) so we said we would go for it as long as we could camp near the junction so we could get a super early start before the boards of goofers from the valley arrived. Our plan worked, we were able to ascend the cables with no one else around and we were able to descend the cables having only to pull over once to let 4 climbers coming up pass. On our way down from Sub Dome (the bump below Half Dome) we passed probably 100 hikers 😳.

 After retrieving our gear we stashed in the woods (so we didn’t have to carry full packs up Half Dome) we began the final descent to Yosemite Valley. We saw SO MANY PEOPLE it was unreal. It was like a zoo. There was no official northern terminus sign for the JMT so our finish was a bit anticlimactic. We hopped on the shuttle bus and went to the park information center to find out where we could shower and get a burger and beer. It felt good to be done.

Round up of the numbers: 
11 Total days (including approach) on trail
9 Total days on JMT
262.5 Total Miles
238.4 Total JMT miles including side trips
47,813 Total feet of elevation gain
43,453 Total feet JMT elevation gain
53,205 Total feet of elevation loss
49,409 Total feet JMT elevation loss
Mileage and elevation from Garmin Forerunner 920XT

Approaching Half Dome in the morning

Hikers / tourist hikers beware! 

 Smoosh approaching the cables

Smoosh heads up the cables

It takes some upper body strength to get up this thing!

Half Dome casts a shadow over the valley

Half Dome summit

With the early start there were thankfully only a handful of people up here 

Hikers coming down the cables

Top of Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls

The end??!!

On the bus out of Yosemite and very happy!!


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