Day 1: In Which We Climb Out of Yosemite Valley Almost to Half Dome Trail

Daily: 5.3 miles
Trip: 5.3 miles
Location: On the climb prior to Half Dome trail

Wander here a whole summer, if you can. Thousands of God’s wild blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted. If you are business-tangled, and so burdened by duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy-laden year … give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven.
John Muir, 1901

75°F is a nice temperature for hiking. Maybe a little warm, but still nice...

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Day 2: In Which We Meet Up with Chris and Camp Above Echo Creek Trail

Daily: 9.4 miles
Trip: 14.7 miles
Camp: Above the Echo Creek trail junction

The circus started coming through at 2:30am. Loud talking voices zig-zagging through the black night air as hikers climbed the switchbacks around our campsite on their way to the Half Dome trail. 2:45am. 3:15am. I didn’t wake up with every hiker, I’m sure, but certainly enough of them. Have I mentioned one of the most delightful parts of backpacking is the first few nights of sleep? Did I mention the sleep habits of my one and four-year-old children? I sometimes get 12 hours of sleep the first night as my body and mind collapse into quiet oblivion. A bear could eat my face and I wouldn’t wake up. Hmmm. Wrong camp site.

The side trail up Help Dome is supposedly pretty cool...

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Day 3: In Which We Hike Back to Civilization and Squish Gets Angry at Tuolumne Meadows

Daily: 7.4 miles
Trip: 22.1 miles
Camp: Tuolumne Backpackers’ Campground

Chris wakes up early. ‘In the dark’ early. Not too surprising ’cause we’re hitting the tents before 9pm, but I like to be able to see before I move. By the time I emerged from my tent, Chris was already working on breakfast. He’s on cup of coffee #1 of 3, making oatmeal, and taking care of other necessary business in the woods. Luckily I was able to sleep a little later than that and begin nibbling away at my sleep debt. It’ll make me less of a jerk to hang around with, I’m sure.

Today was a nice stroll through dry open forests with a couple new valleys coming into view. We took the pretty side trail down to lower Cathedral Lake and then flirted with a thunderstorm as we approached Tuolumne Meadows.

You can access th...

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Day 4: In Which We Get Pelted with Hail and Fall in Love with Tenkara

Daily: 10.4 miles
Trip: 32.5 miles
Camp: Well South in Lyell Canyon

Despite the absurd luxury of having both a bathroom and a picnic table available to us, we walked out of the campground around 6:30am. We consisting of Green One and myself. Erin and Chris had a bit more to do at the post office and didn’t feel compelled to hike the 3.7 miles between where we got off the trail and where the JMT was most easily accessible. That’s one of the personal choices out here – do you hike every mile of a trail? Both my brother and I feel we need to, so we enjoyed the stroll back through the entire campground and across the ½ mile of non-JMT trail until we rendezvoused with the JMT. My peevishness remained minimal, however – that hamburger had been magical!

The walk was beautiful...

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Day 5: In Which We Climb Our First Two Passes and Almost Ford a Creek

Daily: 9.8 miles
Trip: 42.3 miles
Camp: Island Pass

One thing I can say for certain we got right on this trip – camp near the passes. We wake up in 45-50° weather, break camp before 7am and start hiking. So we start climbing before the sun’s really come out, the temperature remains nice and cool, and the 2000 foot climb isn’t a huge deal! Donahue Pass was our first time over 11,000 feet on this trip and was a good hike, but not real rough. There were some thundering waterfalls on the way up as well – always good photo opportunities, especially if we catch them in prime photo hours (8-10am).

Once up over Donahue Pass, we encountered a number of stream crossings. When planning this trip, one of the things we kept running across was the fords...

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Day 6: In Which Rainbow Trout Jump Out of the Water, Into Our Fire, and Down Our Throats, Narrowly Avoiding Coyotes

Daily: 8.6 miles
Trip: 50.9 miles
Camp: Rosalie Lake

Happy Independence Day! It’s been a really cool day on the JMT and, despite the lack of fireworks, seems like the right place to be celebrating our nation’s birthday. The sense of simplicity that I crave so much when backpacking has returned and the woods and mountains feel like home.

Ritter & Banner – the landmark mountains of the Ansel Adams Wilderness – came into view right after leaving camp. I got out of camp first this morning and it was insanely beautiful. I could barely keep the camera in it’s case, there were so many high quality photographic opportunities! First it was the meadows and the peaks, then it was the view of Thousand Island Lake at the base of the mountains. Then Garnet Lake and more! Amazing sites today.

We passe...

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Day 7: In Which We Get Back to Town and Eat Too Many Sweet Potato Fries

Daily: 8.7 miles (+1 mile)
Trip: 59.6 miles
Camp: Red’s Meadow/Mammoth Lakes Travelodge

Devil’s Postpile is overrated. My geologist of a wife might disagree, but I thought it wasn’t nearly worth the either the difficulty of the detour or dealing with the tourists. It was a slightly cool-looking set of columns and rock chunks. If it were on the trail, yeah, I’d check it out. And if they served burgers at the Postpile, I might even stay for a while. But it’s day seven of the hike. Seven days since a shower. And being surrounded by a crowd of people is tough. I’m sure many of them are very nice people and some of them are very attractive (and clean!) But they get in my way, they’re loud, the kids are rude and the parents are tired or ignorant of how to parent when your kids are rude...

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Day 8: In Which We Say Goodbye to Chris and Erin, Float Rocks and Break Zippers

Daily: 5.9 miles
Trip: 65.5 miles
Camp: Deer Creek

Coffeeeeeeeeee. I’m off the sauce on the trail – just too much potential for caffeine headaches to combine with dehydration headaches. They can then invite elevation headaches to the party, put on the dance music, and I’ll be miserable. But in town? When accompanied by a huge, fluffy, sugary apple fritter from Schat’s Bakery? Um, heaven?

I had time for another video with Heather and the kids before seeing Chris and Erin into their taxi at 9am. They’re heading back to Seattle and Charlottesville, respectively, and I’m so glad they both decided to join us for the first week of this adventure. Having them with us relaxed the hike. It placed an emphasis on conversation and group activities instead of making miles...

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Day 9: In Which We Hiked and Fished, But Caught All the Fish at the Wrong Lake

Daily: 9.8 miles
Trip: 75.3 miles
Camp: Lake Virginia

Another easy day for us. I was up by 5:30 and hiking by 6:15. My brother caught me a couple miles in and we walked and talked our way through eight miles of dry but beautiful terrain. While I can’t identify almost anything I see along the trail, one of the cool ones that registered today was wild rosemary. It’s only day two without a shower, otherwise I might have something to rub all over my body! Cool rocks as well – we walked out of the pumice fields during the day but hiked among various colors of volcanic rock all day.

We’re starting to run into a number of JMT thru-hikers now. About five groups today including two camping near us tonight. Most JMT thru-hikers go north to south like we are...

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Day 10: In Which We Decided that Juniper Trees are Awesome, But Learned Not to Hug Them

Daily: 12.6 miles
Trip: 87.9 miles
Camp: Lake Edison Trailhead

These early morning starts are working well for me! If it’s light enough to see anything when I open my eyes, I’m getting up! If not, I’m rolling over and getting back to sleep. But since it starts getting light just after 5am, I’m usually up by 5:30. Green One and I exchange greetings while packing up and I’m hiking around 6:15am. The day stays cool ’til late morning so we have a chance to do many of our miles before the sun and heat take over.


Today started with a fun series of stepping stones across a narrow section of Lake Virginia. The wind always dies down in the morning and the lake was beautiful! I still didn’t see any fish, though...

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Day 11: In Which We Climbed Selden Pass But I Couldn’t Quite Wish Heather a Happy Anniversary

Daily: 13.7 miles
Trip: 101.8 miles
Camp: Sallie Keys Lakes

On the East coast, you can’t hike for a few days without crossing a road. On the northern half of the Appalachian Trail, I had cell service at some point nearly every day. In the heart of the Sierras, we’re in the wilderness. It’s only been four days since we were near a road. But we’re nine or ten days still from the next road!


And then there’s the lack of cell service. At 10,898 ft on top of Selden Pass, I was really, really hoping to find a signal. It’s my eighth anniversary and I’ve now left the kids with my wife for the past 12 days. I know there are flowers being delivered today, but I was really hoping to get at least a text out...

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Day 12: In Which We Load a Ridiculous Amount of Food Into Our Packs and Still Manage to Walk

Daily: 9.4 miles (+ 3 resupply miles)
Trip: 111.2 miles
Camp: Aspen Meadow, Kings Canyon National Park

My ULA Ohm backpack is supposed to carry 30lb. Or less. It’s supposed to be comfortable up to 25lbs. Or less. The idea of taking my over-two-pound bear canister and cramming it full of food sucks. The idea of taking the leftover food that didn’t fit in the bear can and stuffing it in my pot also sucks. And the food that didn’t fit in the bear can or my pot? Yeah, that sucks too.

Oh well. The other option is not eating much over the next eight or nine days. Or hiking the remaining 115 miles faster. Or hiking 15 extra miles one day to resupply from a town down a side trail. Lousy, eh? Suck up and deal.

So my pack now weighs 40lbs...

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Day 13: In Which We Finally Ford a Creek, Climb Into Evolution Valley, and Can’t Find a Campsite at Sapphire Lake

Daily: 14.3 miles
Trip: 125.5 miles
Camp: Unnamed Lake between Sapphire and Wanda Lakes

The trail along the San Joaquin River is stark and staggering. As my brother noted, it’s like walking through a Japanese tapestry. Rock walls on both sides, constant blue/gray glacial wash pouring over waterfalls, and more of the perfect juniper trees mixed with other conifers. We walked this path as a warm-up for the climb into Evolution Valley and loved it. It was even better because the little bit of rain that had fallen last night (while we were in our tents!) had soaked the trail dust. Not that it matters. My legs are just gray-brown at this point.

The 700 foot climb up Evolution Creek Falls was made tougher by the still-insanely-heavy bear can...

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Day 14: In Which We Decide Muir Pass is Really Cool and the Deer Will Lie Down with the Green One

Daily: 11.4 miles
Trip: 136.9 miles
Camp: Bishop Pass Trail

Yesterday’s suffering is today’s early start. That means we get to enjoy one of the most iconic points of the JMT without interruption. Ignoring the ice on our tents in the morning, gearing up against the high-20° temps, packing up and walking. It’s worth it. The Muir Pass Shelter is a round, rock building sitting on a ridge overlooking rock valleys. It’s stark and I love it.

We started with the gentle climb up 12,000 foot Muir Pass. That’s not true. I started by hiking out of camp ten minutes before my brother. Than I stopped and went looking for a place to take care of business. Those lovely, clean solar privies of Yosemite are far behind us. Up here it’s all rock...

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Day 15: In Which We Climb the Golden Staircase But Don’t Find the Hidden Pot of Rainbow Trout

Daily: 12.1 miles
Trip: 149.0 miles
Camp: Upper Palisade Lake

We had a lovely campsite. The ranger’s cabin was right there. The creek was within a few steps. And we had lots of other campers to keep us company! The problem? When you wake up with certain pressing bodily functions, there’s no place to go! I packed up the fastest I have yet on this trip and walked in a tightly controlled manner down the trail until I was clear of the campsites. Then I scooted into the woods, flipped over a rock and took care of business. Phew! And you’re welcome for passing along the details!

It’s the third week of the hike and my appetite is ramping up while my body falls into predictable patterns. I’ll keep this one in mind when setting up future camp sites!


The walk was easy and beautiful much of the mo...

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Day 16: In Which We Climb Two High Passes and Learn It’s Dumb to Climb Two High Passes in One Day

Daily: 17.5 miles
Trip: 166.5 miles
Camp: South of Sawmill Pass Trail

Hardest, longest day yet! Still a good one, however. I slept in ’til 5:45am and did my now patented ‘Quick Pack Up and Run for the Woods’ routine again, trowel in hand. While it’s never fun to be under that kind of pressure, it’s nice to get it done before other hikers are up and about. Sure is hard to find good places in these rock-strewn valleys, though!

Once back to camp, I get my morning’s food out of my bear can and finish my pack up. Breakfast is a Snickers bar and some granola. Before you go thinking a Snickers bar isn’t a good breakfast, let me make a few arguments:

  • Chocolate bars melt in the heat of the day. They stay intact in the bear can and, eaten in the cold of the morning, they stay hard.
  • Sugar is the mos...
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Day 17: In Which Hamburgers, Fries, and Root Beer Begin to Dominate All My Thoughts

Daily: 15.5 miles
Trip: 182.0 miles
Camp: South of Bubbs Creek Trail

Flat ground doesn’t exist any more. We started the day dropping 1300 feet. Good news is that we were hiking among beautiful waterfalls and junipers. I’m starting to realize waterfalls are just what you get on the JMT. The water has no choice but to flow through channels in the rocks since there is no dirt up here. And the terrain is steep enough that waterfalls have to happen every few feet. I think we’ve been within hearing of a waterfall almost the entire hike! Predictably, once we finished going down, we took a turn and climbed back up 2000 feet by lunchtime. With more waterfalls.

It was a pretty low energy day for me. 17 days in a row of hiking now and a tough walk the day before – I was struggling...

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Day 18: In Which We Appreciate that 13,153 Foot Forrester Pass Is Really High and Continue to Ogle at Trailwork

Daily: 13.0 miles
Trip: 195.0 miles
Camp: Tyndall Frog Ponds

To answer the most obvious question first, no, we didn’t see any frogs. Disappointing, actually, since the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog is one of the most critically endangered frogs in the world. There are fish kills being performed by the National Park Service to restore their habitat and we did see a large number of tadpoles – perhaps it’ll be different in a few years.

Forrester Pass is really high. At over 13,000 feet, it’s the highest pass we climb and only the top of Whitney is higher on the JMT. I feel I deserve a cool ‘This body backpacked over Forrester Pass’ t-shirt. We climbed all morning to get there and, seven miles later, we were on top. Rocks everywhere. Peaks now visible everywhere around us. And the amazing S...

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Day 19: In Which We Finally Figure Out Which Mountain Is Mt. Whitney And Learn to Properly Appreciate Shade

Daily: 10.4 miles
Trip: 205.4 miles
Camp: Guitar Lake

It’s about 1pm and we’ve got a camp established at Guitar Lake in the shadow of Mt. Whitney. Actually, we’re just one mile from the summit as the crow flies. Unfortunately, we’re not crows.

We’d planned today as a recovery day after the recent hard push over the high passes. And it, for the most part, worked out as we’d planned. Our morning hike took us across the Bighorn Plateau, a dry, rolling area reminiscent of Wyoming. After that we went up and down over a few more ridges, then started up towards Whitney.

We’ve been playing a game out here called ‘Where’s the Pass?’ Remember that we have yet to summit a single peak on this hike! The hikes over high terrain have gone for the lowest possible points – the passes...

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Day 20: In Which We Summit Mt. Whitney, Complete the JMT, Suffer Through a 6,000 Foot Decent and Finally Get a Hamburger

Daily: 5.0 miles (+ 10.0 mile decent)
Trip: 210.4 miles
Camp: Lone Pine Portal Motel, Post-Mt. Whitney Summit

Here ends my forever memorable first High Sierra excursion. I have crossed the Range of Light, surely the brightest and best of all the Lord has built; and rejoicing in its glory, I gladly, gratefully, hopefully pray I may see it again.
– John Muir, 1869

Yum. My burger is really, really good. The fries are excellent. And my ice-cold Coke is a slight change from the Aqua Mira-treated water that’s been warming in my bottles for the past 220 miles.

Did I say Yum? Good. I earned it!

The night was a good reminder of my life at home with young kids. Neither Green One nor I fell asleep easily, even as the night grew colder...

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Coming Home

I thought for a long time about whether to add a follow-up post and finally decided it was worth doing. Coming home is wonderful. And tough. Real tough. But there’s lots of good mixed in with a bit of bad, so it’s all worth it.

Trip stuff? What would you do, stuck in Lone Pine on a 108* day but without a room to hang out in? With a bus that’s coming at 5pm? Green One and I hung out in the air conditioned room as long as possible. I got in another shower and a video with Heather and the kids. Then we toured all the shops and spent lots of time at Espresso. Like four hours. Lunch, conversation with other hikers, ice cream, drinks, reading books, and generally monopolizing the most comfortable couch in the joint.

We were still in the company of thru-hikers...

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