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Thru-Hiker's Guide to America
John Muir Trail Introduction
By E. Schlimmer

McGraw-Hill logo Excerpted from
Thru Hiker's Guide to America
by E. Schlimmer

The John Muir Trail (JMT), which shares its tread with the Pacific Crest Trail for nearly its entire route, is perhaps the most popular trail in this guide besides the Long Trail of Vermont. Right off the bat I should tell you that if youíre looking for solitude, you might not find it on this trail. Do not expect a solo, wilderness experience end to end, especially during popular summer months. But as with all the other trails, solitude seekers can find what they are looking for if they try hard enough.

trail image
Forester Pass near the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail.
Photo © Aaron Locander

Overall, the beauty of the JMT overrides any crowds. Readers of Backpacker magazine voted the John Muir Trail number four in best scenery and number four in difficulty. Concerning best signage/trail marking and best trail/camp/shelter conditions, the JMT was voted fifth best. Overall, the JMT was voted eighth greatest long-distance hiking trail in the United States.

From Yosemite Village in the north to the summit of Mount Whitney (14,494 feet) in the south, the JMT makes its way over passes, across snowfields, and among gorgeous tarns high in the Sierra Nevada. Itís recommended that you start in the north, as most other JMT thru-hikers do, and make your way south, because starting in the south (perhaps with the most amount of weight in your pack for the whole trip) means you start off grinding up a 5,000-vertical-foot climb to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the Lower 48. If you start in Yosemite National Park at the northern terminus, you can acclimate more steadily, with gentler climbing.

The JMT probably has the strongest thru-skiing history of any other long path in this guide, perhaps even surpassing the Colorado Trail in long-distance, high-elevation skiing. According to Lou Dawson, a ski mountaineering historian and accomplished skier in his own right (Dawson was the first and currently the only person to complete ski descents of all peaks in Colorado above 14,000 feet), the JMT has had winter devotees on its tread for more than seventy-five years. In 1928, Orlando Bartholomew became the first person to ski the JMT end to end and became one of the first, if not the first, to cover the entire JMT solo. During this time, Bartholomew also skied down the Sierraís Mount Tyndall and Mount Langley, two of Californiaís fifteen 14,000-footers. In 1970, Carl McCoy and Doug Robinson made the second ski traverse of the John Muir Trail. In 1978, Pam Kelley and Bill Nicolai skied an extended version of the JMT, traveling from Carson Pass south to Whitney Portal. And in 1982, Brad and Randall Udall skied the entire JMT in only seven and a half days, using Nordic racing equipment.

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