From The Founder: A John Muir Trail Adventure

It had just been the 10th Anniversary of Trail Butter and it felt like a challenging mostly solo adventure on an iconic trail to reflect on the past decade and envision what the next chapter might look like would be appropriate. Enter the John Muir Trail, a route connecting Yosemite with Mt. Whitney through the High Sierra that had been on my wish list for several years.

Luckily enough, I was able to obtain one of the highly sought after Mt. Whitney Portal permits for an August 29, 2022  northbound start. The rest was up to me to get prepared for this journey. After much deliberation, with serious doubts I was even ready to attempt this route, I decided to give it a shot and am glad I did. After 8 solid days, with a resupply at Vermillion Valley Resort, I arrived in good health at the northern terminus Happy Isles Trailhead in Yosemite Valley.

When did you put in for a permit? And, when did you find out it was accepted?

The JMT requires that you obtain a wilderness permit, and it works a little differently, depending on whether you're going northbound (NOBO) or southbound (SOBO). I was going northbound which meant I needed to apply between February 1 through March 15 at for the trailhead I'd be starting from, Mt. Whitney Portal. If you're flexible on dates, you can apply for up to 15 different dates to increase your chances. Those wanting to go southbound must apply 6 months ahead of their desired start date on the Yosemite National Park page. In my case, I was excited to get an email on March 24 that I'd nabbed my first choice of August 29.

What were you feeling going into this effort?

I had some serious doubts as my start date neared on whether it was even wise to make a go of the JMT, with concerns mostly focused around altitude sickness, something I'd experienced in the past in the High Sierra.  I also hadn't gotten the training in I was hoping for, having been distracted by a move earlier in the summer, and the general time demands of Trail Butter over the busy summer months. 

What were the key pieces of gear you relied on while on out the JMT?

I'm definitely still figuring out my fastpacking game so I wouldn't say I was dialed for this trip but I was lucky to get some gear tips from a few seasoned pros that helped me get my kit mostly fine-tuned. Below a few favorite, essential gear items...
- Garmin InReach Mini 
- Six Moon Designs Swift V pack (with running vest front capacity - so cool!)
- Six Moon Designs Deschutes Tarp Shelter
- Gossamer Gear 1/8" pad to prevent holes in my sleeping pad
- Soto Windmaster Stove with 2.5 cup Titanium Cookpot
- OR Echo Sun Hoodie
- CNOC BUC Food Bag & Vecto Water Bag
- Coros Vertix Watch with saved track segments
- Black Diamond Z-poles
- BV500 Bear Vault
- Samsung S9 phone for gaia maps, audible books, FarOut app
- Nitecore NB10000 Battery pack
- Thermarest NeoAir pad
- Katadyn BeFree 1L Water Filter

- Suncloud Sunglasses and straw hat to shield against the hot Sierra sun

What did you consume to fuel your effort? (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks)

My daily food routine usually consisted of an early morning hot bowl of oatmeal with Gnarly Nutrition Vanilla Protein Powder and a Trail Butter Lil Squeeze mixed in, along with an instant coffee as the eastern skyline began to illuminate, lunch on the go in form of snacks and electrolyte hydration with an occasional soup break mixed in during the day if a nice spot on a lake or mountain pass presented itself, capped off with a hot dinner at the end of the day, and a recovery shake for desert.

Some favorites from the trip included:
- Mom's homemade beef jerky and dried peaches
- Ramen noodles
- Food for the Sole dehydrated meals & oatmeals
- Skratch Labs Hydration & Recovery Powders
- Trail Butter
- Gnarly Nutrition Protein Powders
- Nature's Bakery Fig Bars
- Honey Stinger Chews

Did you have a favorite stretch of trail?

Those first 5 days going north from Whitney Portal to Vermillion Valley Resort were something special. Nothing quite like the High Sierra! A few specific spots in that stretch that come to mind would be the Bighorn Plateau, the area around Forester Pass, Rae Lakes Basin, Palisade Lakes, Muir Pass/Evolution Basin/Wanda Lake, and the area around Selden Pass (especially Marie Lake).

Any highlights during the 8 days you were out there?

Meeting Casey, Keira and my folks at Vermillion Valley Resort where we enjoyed some great food, drink and cabin time was definitely a major highlight that motivated me through the challenging terrain of the first 5 days. Amazing how good a cold watermelon, home cooking and a beer tastes when you've gone without for a while.

Other than that, there was a moment on Day 3 going up Pinchot Pass when it felt like I finally got acclimated and my body could handle the elevation and physical strain of the trip. That really set the stage for hammering all the way to Yosemite, which was obviously another major highlight of crossing the finish line and having my folks there to welcome me with high fives and tasty treats. 

After covering so much ground for 8 consecutive days, what does it feel like to stop?

Oh man, no doubt about it that it feels so good to stop after a long push. One of my favorite things about a challenging adventure is the way it makes you appreciate the simple comforts that we often take for granted in everyday life, like not moving, a simple car ride, a hot shower, fresh salad, a cheeseburger, and sleeping in a real bed, to name a few. 

Would you do anything differently?

If I could do it over, I'd probably make time for a 'practice trip' before the JMT to really dial in systems and figure out how much food and drink I needed to carry. That was the intent, since I still have a lot to learn about fastpacking. Just didn't commit and make time for it which contributed to me carrying quite a bit more food than I needed and a few unnecessary pounds over High Sierra passes.

Overall though, thanks to some good luck with weather, no injuries or major physical issues to speak of, decent planning prep and support from loved ones, the trip ended up being exactly what I was hoping for. A challenging yet enjoyable week-plus offline in the mountains, with hard miles but also time to enjoy a lake swim or two, high pass ramen breaks, some evening camp chillaxing, and 6-7 hrs of sleep each night. 

Are there any other stretches of trail you'd like to hike/fastpack?

I just moved to Sisters, OR this year so definitely excited to explore the new trails of Central, Oregon and continue to dial in the fastpack set up. Might try to add a fly rod to the kit and enjoy some fresh trout out there if I'm lucky. 

Did you listen to anything along the way? 

There are definitely those stretches when as beautiful as it is, a little audio distraction helps to get through tough miles. This time I had Lonesome Dove on Audible, a captivating and touching Western epic from Larry McMurtry. 


Photos By: Jeff Boggess of Trail Butter & Ethan Fichtner/@ethansphotons

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