A Change of Plans
Over the last several years, I’ve spent a lot of time, a ridiculous amount of time, thinking and/or mentally planning for a John Muir Trail hike. If you don’t know what the “JMT” is, it’s a 211 mile trail that runs from Yosemite National Park, starting at the Happy Isles trail head, and finishing at Mt. Whitney, in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. It is, what I consider, a “greatest hits” trail for the Sierra Nevada mountains, passing through some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in California. As such, it turns out that I’m not the only one to have JMT aspirations, considering that permit requests have gone up 100% since 2011. This is in large part related to the current boom that is occurring in long distance hiking, where many trails are experienced unprecedented popularity due to movies such as Wild and Mile, Mile and a Half.
(On a related note, Mile, Mile and a Half was a completely lovely film, and certainly contributed to the urgency I’ve been feeling to do the entire JMT NOW).
But, plans change, and we’ve decided to shelve the JMT idea for a few years, an idea that I entirely support (and something I concluded myself a few months ago). This is disappointing for a lot of reasons. I’ve dreamed about the opportunity to hike and explore for an entire month. It’s a time of transition for me career-wise. With a job is ending in May, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to finally having time over a summer for a long thru-hike, without the need to worry about vacation time. Added to this, is my complete and utter fascination with thru-hiking, something I’ve been consistently frustrated by for the last 5+ years. On TOP of this, I’ve had a special relationship with the JMT since interning in the Yosemite National Park archives during the summer of 2013. Throughout that time, I did countless hikes throughout all areas of the park, and many of those occured on sections of the JMT. In particular, I vividly remember taking a great 10 mile day hike through Lyell canyon one Saturday, and looking south towards Donahue pass desperately wishing I could keep traveling in that direction.
There are some great reasons we’ve decided to wait:
1. Permit changes: Yosemite has not only decided to restrict which trail heads JMT thru-hikers are allowed to use, but there is also now a 40 person per-day limit on Donahue pass, the exit point for the JMT in Yosemite National Park. While it’s frustrating to many, I think this was a great move by the park, as I worry that growing popularity will lead to more overuse of the trail. In the future, if I ever do the JMT, I think I’ll use an alternate pass out of Yosemite.
2. It’s more popular than ever. As mentioned above, there has been a 100% percent increase in permit requests in the last 4 years, with over 3,000+ JMT hikers during the summer of 2014 traveling south. My guess is, this year is going to be nuts, especially considering the huge influx of people now hiking northbound because they have been unable to secure a prized southbound permit from Yosemite. While some have noted that this won’t result in more people on the trail since there has ALWAYS been this number of permits available from other trail heads (and with new limitations on numbers from Yosemite), I have my doubts. I have never before encountered so much discussion on the various online JMT communities in regards to alternate entry points and ways to avoid Donahue pass. While these are perfectly legal and legitimate to do the JMT, I strongly suspect this might change the total traffic one will encounter.
3. With these changes, there is very little chance that we will be able to obtain a permit for 5-6 people.
4. This isn’t the experience we are looking for. Sure, we’d love to experience places on this trail, because they are undeniably amazing. But, we’re also not feeling comfortable with the idea of bigger crowds and more pressure to obtain prized permits.
5. We’re moving to Oregon! This is great and exciting, but the idea of moving AND planning a JMT hike at the same time was becoming daunting/overly stressful.
It’s disappointing. Really disappointing, even though it was partially my idea to wait it out. Being in grad school, I had long been anticipating a brief time without school or job (but then, fortunately for me, I got a job right out of grad school, pushing my summer plans back a year). While I’ve been very attached to the idea that I MUST do a 10+ day trip, I’m not entirely sure it’s realistic with our move out of California. However, not all hope is lost! And HERE is perhaps the point to this entire post: Do the best you can, and try and take advantage and appreciate what you can do without judging yourself for not being hard core enough right this moment. If I’m luck, I’ll still have years to long distance hike. Also, I’m planning to take full advantage of my summer in the best way possible right now, and here’s how I’ll do it:
1. We’ll do lots of short trips, regardless. We have lots of potentials plans for this, which I’m sure I will discuss soon.
2. We’ll take more time to explore our new home in the pacific northwest.
3. In the future, if I can’t do a official “thru-hike” of an established long trail, I’ll certainly be working on piecing together my own route. I love maps, and I’m obsessed with the unlimited possibilities that exist to link together established and non-established routes into something big and magical.