John Muir on Mirror Lake

John Muir Trail Adventure Journal: Day One

Happy Isles to Echo Creek Trail

Approximately 14 miles

The author on the morning of the first day on the John Muir Trail.
John Muir Trail Self Portrait: Day One

The first day started at the Tenaya Lodge. I woke early, somewhat restless, and enjoyed a big breakfast with the family before we made the hour-long drive from the Lodge into Yosemite.

I’d already gotten my permit when we scouted out Yosemite Village the day before, so we headed right to a parking lot near the trailhead. Yosemite was starting to get busy, and when we arrived at 9:30 a.m., there were many cars already filling the parking lot.

I spent about 15 minutes saying goodbye to the gals (I was already missing them) and checking my gear. During this process, I made a few discoveries.

A permit for a John Muir Trail thru-hike. 2012.
My official John Muir Trail Permit

Although I had an Exotac NanoStriker Firestarter and some vaseline-soaked cotton balls (don’t leave home without ’em), I realized I didn’t have a lighter, which would have been a nice convenience. But Yosemite Village was so busy, and I was anxious to get the adventure started, so I told myself I’d tough it out and pick up a lighter at the Tuolumne Meadows Store, as I planned to get to in time for a late breakfast the following day (more on that later, but short version: I didn’t make it).

I also discovered my trekking poles were two different lengths, which was weird. I was using the Black Diamond Z Poles — very light, but non-adjustable. One of them was 130cm (which is what I thought I bought), but the other was 120cm. Odd. I bought them as a set, and even odder that I hadn’t noticed it during my gear testing. But it was a small thing and couldn’t be helped at that point. I’d have to deal with it.

So off I went. It took about 15 or so minutes to get to the trailhead from where we had parked, so I officially started my JMT through-hike at 10:00 a.m. June 10, 2012.

This is how it begins ..

For the first few miles the paved trail climbed and winded its way up out of the Yosemite Valley. It reminded me more than a little of climbing the 7,000 steps to High Hrothgar in Skyrim. The walk was pleasant, the weather was nice, and I was pleased to be out there.

Shortly, I had to make my first trail decision: to take the Mist Trail, which goes under Vernal Fall (and by all accounts would get me more than a little wet) or continue along the JMT, which was, at least on the books, the longer but less strenuous route. I decided that since I was doing the John Muir Trail, I was going to stay on the actual trail as much as possible. I’m a little stubborn that way, and that decision would prove to be slightly painful a few days later on …

After some hiking up a series of switchbacks, I reached Clark Point, where I paused and took a few shots of Nevada Fall. While there, I talked to a young guy who was working for the Forest Service for the summer. He had a job hiking out and checking different aspects of the forest. On his days off, like when I met him, he did some trail running around different trails, taking in the sights. It sounded like a great summer job.

Nevada Fall from Clark Point
Nevada Fall from Clark Point.

Down the trail a little from Clark Point, I hiked under a steep rock wall, and water dripped down on me from the small overhang above. I’d gotten warm hiking up from the valley floor, so the cool water dripping on me refreshed me nicely.

As I hiked across the bridge over Nevada Fall, there were plenty of people around hiking and just lounging on the rocks. A few asked me about my adventure; my SPOT Connect was quite a conversation starter.

Just past Nevada Fall, the Mist Trail that I decided against earlier joined the trail. At the junction, there’s a somewhat suspect-looking solar toilet. I didn’t need to use it, so I can’t report on the conditions inside, but it made me think about digging a hole and doing my business. This didn’t really appeal to me at all (and still doesn’t). From there, I hiked a few short sections that had flat spots, but overall the trail was pretty much all uphill.

When I got to the Half Dome trail junction I stopped for a few minutes to talk to two fellow JMT hikers, a man and a woman, who were taking 4 weeks to do the JMT (and they had large heavy packs to do so). They were debating if they were going to climb Half Done or skip it.

Me, I skipped it. I didn’t have a permit for it, anyway, and my day’s end goal was to make it to Sunrise Camp, still seven miles down the trail.

The stretch of trail from Quarter Dome (the people who name these things love naming them after domes) and Clouds Rest is 1.9 miles on the map, but it felt a lot longer. So long, in fact, I started to worry that I’d taken a wrong path and was on my way to Merced Lake.

So I stopped for lunch, refilled an empty water bottle and consulted the map. I was reasonably sure I was where I was supposed to be, so I kept going. Eventually I found myself traversing the deep, muddy track that ran through Long Meadow. I talked briefly to a group of hikers headed toward Yosemite. They complained about the mosquitoes, which I didn’t think were that bad (but they were going to get a lot worse before this hike was over).

John Muir Trail in Long Meadow. Cathedral Peak in the distance.
Long Meadow, with Cathedral Peak in the distance. It would have to wait until tomorrow,

I got to Sunrise Camp with daylight to spare. There were supposed to be bear boxes there that I’d considered using. I’d also thought that using the toilet there would be a nice comfort, but it was locked.

Turns out the bear boxes were further up an adjoining trail than I initially thought. Daylight was running out, so I didn’t want to waste too much time hunting for bear boxes. I didn’t really need them anyway; all my food except that night’s dinner was jammed into my bear canister.

Once past Sunrise, Long Meadow remained relatively flat. I hiked a bit more until I saw a nice little campsite on a slight ridge above the trail, not to far from the Echo Creek Trail junction.

Made camp, made dinner (Mountain House spaghetti with meat sauce), washed the dishes, secured the bear canister a good distance from the tent, then climbed into bed. The whole process took me about an hour.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 tent in Long Meadow.
First camp. That’s the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1.

I read a little of the trusty trail guide so I’d know what I was in for the next day. I wasn’t really tired, so I played a few games of solitaire (a little annoying in a small tent), then zipped into the sleeping bag and waited for night to come.

The sun dipped behind the mountains at about 8:00 p.m., but it didn’t get dark until about 9:00 p.m. Once the sun was down, I fell asleep quickly.

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  1. Heavy nostalgia! My young son and I hiked from Tuolumne Meadows to a little past Devils Postpile in 2009, then turned around and went back to TM. We took 23 days and had a total blast, over about 80 miles. We’d originally planned on starting where you did, but fires that year had some of the trail closed. We left behind a food cache we’d mailed ahead to Vermillion Valley Resort, but we never got that far. Favorite spot: Rosalie Lake, which we had all to ourselves the night we stayed there. Fun way to relive your trip, and ours!

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