The JMT Project: Day Zero

Menu (Bucket 2)

Bucket 2 was easier than bucket 1, if a bit bigger. I had a system this time, and just bent to the work. I used fewer Ziploc bags, choosing to cram two Backpacker Pantry pouches into one quart-sized Ziploc, and sealed them so no air was left inside. This bucket had 6 ½ days of food as well as special snacks for eating at the Muir Trail Ranch (jerky, snickers bars) and some toiletries (2nd tube of sunblock, shampoo, soap). On his first pass, everything but the crackers, Nutter Butters, and toiletries fit, but somehow on a magical second pass, The Husband fit everything but one lonely sleeve of Ritz crackers (fuck ‘em.). We labeled and sealed it and mailed it off. Voila! Thousands and thousands of calories in a big bucket for us to suck down at 9000 feet and above.

From packaged food….









To bear-can-ready
Yup, fits in the bear cans…
And ready for mailing to Muir Trail Ranch!


































Logistics: Ingress/Egress

Arranging for transport from our egress point (where we’ll leave the car) to our ingress point turned out to be easy, despite how much it worried me in the early days of planning the trip, when the details seemed hazy and overwhelming. I contacted three shuttle services, got quotes from two and was informed by a third that our ingress point was not in his permit range, and contacted the cheaper service to make a reservation. Pricey, of course, but easy.

Final REI Trip

Yes, there had to be one last trip. And since thunderstorms are in the forecast, we decided to get rain covers for our backpacks, along with the battery pack for charging the phone from our borrowed solar panel, and a copy of the JMT guidebook out of which I’ll tear the pages relevant to our sections of the trail.

Not again!

And yes, it was expensive: a little more than $180.


And as one final complication, there’s a large wildfire burning on the eastern slope of the Sierra. It’s called the Ferguson fire, and it covers about 17000 acres right now and stands at 5% containment. The smoke is blowing across and up through Yosemite, and air conditions at our starting point are not great (this is Mammoth Mountain, near where we were/are planning to sleep tonight). When we get to the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center later today, we might have to pick a different entry point (if permits are available) and rebuild the hike around it. Oh, and The Husband stayed up until 5 am (no hyperbole) working last night. Today will be an adventure!


The JMT Project: Third and Final Training Hike

As much as I wanted the third training hike to mimic a JMT day in terms of length, elevation gain, and backpack weight, I had to scale down my ambition. The week leading up to it involved a triple whammy: one, cello/violin camp, which meant getting the Sons to Pomona College by 9 am and staying for evening concerts that ended near 9 pm; two, a trip to San Diego for a new tattoo (my reward to myself for getting my PhD); and three, a frenzied Saturday spent packing and mailing the first resupply bucket. Instead of the thirteen-mile, 4000-feet-up-and-4000-feet-back-down loop through Idle Hour and Inspiration Point I’d originally wanted to do, I planned a “lollipop loop” that took us up the Echo Mountain trail (aka Lower Sam Merrill), up Castle Canyon to the ramada at Inspiration Point, down Middle Sam Merrill back to Echo Mountain and then back down the Echo Mountain trail to our car parked at the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena: 10 miles, 5800 total feet of elevation change. The Sons and Husband took moderately-loaded packs, but since my new tatt is a quarter sleeve, IMG_8575 I recused myself from the heavy pack and carried only water.

The trip went smoothly. On the way up to Echo Mountain – an exposed and switchbacky but wildflower- and vista-rich trail we’ve been on many times – Son the Elder went through his normal bout of bad attitude, complaining about hikes being a waste of time, firing back all manner of biting sarcasm when The Husband and I pointed out the ways in which the hike was both fun and beneficial (“Dad! At least when I’m playing soccer, I’m having fun!” served as a slap-down to the argument that he was building excellent physical and emotional endurance that would serve him on the soccer pitch.) He came around when we ate Jolly Ranchers at the picnic area by the old hotel ruins on the top of Echo Mountain,

Check The Husband’s awesome, non-baseball-cap hat

but then it was Son the Younger’s turn. He went super-tired on us on the way up Castle Canyon, falling into zombie-hiking mode (chin jutted in pain, eyes half-closed, feet shambling). This was my favorite part of the hike, shaded and green, much less traffic and trash than Lower Sam Merrill. We even crossed a rill! In SoCal! In the San Gabriels!

Once we got to the ramada, where we could enjoy pbj sandwiches and a panaromic view that (but for the smog) stretched to Long Beach and Catalina, Son the Younger perked back up (in retrospect, he probably just needed food).

Inspiration Point

We talked with a pair of hapless mountain bikers who were trying to do a traverse from Sunset Ridge all the way to Chantry Flats in Arcadia but had brought no paper maps, relying only on a smart phone — not a smart idea when you’re at elevations where reception is iffy at best. We encountered them two more times as they tried and rejected various trails, despite our (sound) advice to take the Idle Hour Trail to the Mt. Wilson Trail to Winter Creek Trail, which leads right down to Chantry Flats. And then we booked it down Middle Sam Merrill, another beautiful hike, if much more exposed than Castle Canyon, taking us past the ruins of the Mt. Lowe observatory. After a quick rest at the hotel during which Son the Elder and I tried out the echo phone behind the burned-down hotel’s footprint (supposedly used to shout messages across the canyon in the days when the resort existed), we charged back down the mountain. In all, it took 6 hours, meaning that I can rely on Naismith’s rule as a way to estimate how long a day’s hike will be: to calculate how many hours you’ll be walking, give yourself one hour for every three miles, plus one hour for each 1000 feet of elevation gain.

The aftermath has so far been minimal. We were all tired and a little sore that night (Son the Elder, having just turned twelve, took his first ibuprofen pill), but feeling spry and energized today. The hike is phenomenal for everyone’s mood!

The JMT Project: Gear Endgame

Trip 3, in mid-June, was the bank buster! I first returned the 8 ½ Salomon boots I’d used once to get a larger size – Shoe Guy was right. Since we’re members, REI allows a full return, even of items that have been worn/used, which is a humane (if potentially wasteful) policy when it comes to shoes. I grabbed the nines while The Husband picked out a water bladder and a hat; he usually relies on a baseball cap with a bandana and empty Trader Joe’s sparkling water bottles, but his run-ins with a suspicious but ultimately noncancerous skin growth and diverticulosis (which might be prevented by excellent hydration) have inspired him to invest in gear upgrades in these departments. After helping The Husband pick out a wide-brimmed hat with a soft back to protect his neck, I helped the kids find the right sized hiking shoes – indeed, a size bigger than I thought they’d need a month ago. After some dithering with the Husband about boots (me) vs. shoes (him), we stuck with the boots.

And then the Backpack Fitting began. This time Backpack Gal (who at checkout we discovered to be Backpack Guy’s girlfriend) put them through their paces; Son the Elder got an Osprey brand 38-liter and Son the Younger a Deuter 30-liter (after dismissing the slightly-cheaper REI Co-op pack because it didn’t fit his shoulders as well). I threw another tube of sunscreen into the kit and then snuck an on-sale Kuhl shirt off the rack and tried it on (a keeper!). I positioned Son the Elder in line and got Backpack Gal to give me the skinny on battery packs and solar panels, on which I, disheartened by the amount of money we were about to lay down, decided to wait. And indeed, with shoes and backpacks in the mix we spent $670. Good thing the credit card will get to rest for the second half of July, because right now it’s sizzlin’.

Two virtual trips involved hitting up for some on-sale boys’ down jackets ($140 for the two) and then REI Co-op for rain jackets for all of us. My old Marmot number that I purchased in about 2000 has been shedding its white inner lining since roughly 2002 and doesn’t keep out rain anymore, and The Husband has only a massive, heavy seaworthy rain jacket for sailing. Living in SoCal during an extended drought, we have never once bought the kids any rain gear (other than bubble umbrellas from Target). But after spending some time in a JMT Trail Group Facebook thread about the importance of rain gear (the phrase “hypothermia fatality” was bandied about as a potential outcome of wetness at high altitudes), I decided that we needed to have protective outer shells, expense and extra weight be damned. These ran us $260 ($40 for each kid, a little more than $80 for me, and $100 for The Husband).

REI Trip #3 was easier. Having been unable to borrow a pair of Keens from friends, I bought Son the Elder a pair for river crossings/wearing around the campsites. I got a few more expensive instant breakfasts (for much-needed breaks from the constant onslaught of granola), more sunscreen, more bug spray, more ProBars (fwiw, cheaper at Gelson’s). I meant to get a battery pack for recharging the phone with the help of a borrowed solar panel (thanks again, Sasquatch friend), but the batteries were locked on the shelves and by the time I got up to the counter to pay for everything else I forgot to ask the cashier to loose me a plum Goal Zero number. Thus, there will be a streamlined Trip #4 for the battery pack and whatever last-minute sundries we might realize we need in the days before the trip.