In two weeks, I’ll be hitting the John Muir Trail, a well-known nature walk, named for California’s best-known naturalist. It’s a long trail, anywhere from 211 to 224 miles long depending on the source and how you count, that winds its way through California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

I was supposed to undertake this adventure with a friend of mine, but he had to cancel because of work. When he let me know, I was left with two choices: call it off or continue as planned.

My FILDI in this matter is mighty, so I’m forging ahead.

The John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail. Courtesy of the excellent OnTheTrail.org

How Long Will it Take?

First estimates had me finishing in 12 days. Ambitious, I know, but some people have done it in seven. Seven might be a tad fast for me, but I do like to keep moving along at a steady pace. But due to circumstances beyond my control (of which I suspect there will be a least a few more coming my way), I’ve got a revised estimate of 14 days. That’s roughly 16 miles a day (more if I can swing it), but mileage will vary between 12 and 20 depending on the terrain I’m crossing—shown here this John Muir Trail elevation chart (courtesy of Loc Nguyen via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0):

John Muir Trail Elevation Profile

Unknown Variables

Right now, I’m about 80 percent certain the trip will start as planned, but only about 50 percent sure that I will finish the entire trail as planned due to a few unknowns (in order):

  1. Trail conditions. There was a huge windstorm in California back in November, and the area around Red’s Meadow and Devil’s Postpile National Monument (about 1/4 of the way down the trail, give or take a few fractional points) is littered with fallen trees. It will almost certainly slow me down and may be impassable, given my 14-day time frame.
  2. Weather. Always a concern in the Sierras, especially this early in the season. Although we’ve had a mild winter, and the snowpack is pretty small (55% of seasonal average), there’s still plenty of snow at the upper elevations. And after the cold front that moved through last weekend, I’m not quite sure what to expect.
  3. Nutrition. I have to carry all my food for seven to eight days at a time, jammed into a bear canister. Tricky business. I also have to coordinate a food drop (meaning I have to mail a five-gallon bucket full of dehydrated food and chocolate-based goodies through the USPS) to Muir Trail Ranch, located at about half-way down the trail. The window to pull this off is closing fast, and I have to figure out my food intake needs (about calories 3,500 to 4,000 daily) very soon.*

I’ve practiced hiking the last few months in the Angeles National Forest, testing both my fitness (which I’ll rate as pretty good) and much of the gear that I’ll be using.

I’ll be writing about some of that gear and my final preparations here in the coming weeks. I hope it’s at least a little entertaining and perhaps slightly educational.

*My daughter was quick to point out that you can live for three weeks without food, so I should be okay. As long as I have water. You can only live three days without water—so she tells me.

 

Written by Tom Fassbender

An amateur hobbyist, expert generalist, and outdoor enthusiast who recently traveled around the world with his family.

Leave a Reply