The John Muir Trail Project: Logistics/Buy-in

For an adventurous guy, The Husband is strangely resistant to travel. As an example, when the kids were babies, I planned a week-long backcountry trip for Spring Break. The trip had been on the books for months, but, as usual, a huge work crunch emerged for him in the days leading up to the trip. He worked furiously, staying up nights. His consequent moodiness told me that he had zero bandwidth to help with anything like shopping, packing, or planning. On the day of the trip, I – being me – was ready to go at sunrise. The Husband – being him – had stayed up till two and gotten up again at five to try to cram in the last few graphs or sentences or footnotes into whatever it was that he was writing. I was seething. After a certain point, a yoyo was thrown with considerable force into the kids’ room. It made a divot in the wall that was spackled and painted over some years later without comment.

I have since tried to anticipate and plan around The Husband’s resistance to leaving home for extended periods of time. This trip has been no exception; The Husband’s discovery that he has diverticulosis (a condition in which the large intestine becomes inflamed) has thrown him for a loop. Besides being a painful reminder of the fact that his body is aging, the diverticulosis means that the hip strap of a heavy pack, especially in combination with the backcountry’s typically low-fiber diet, might cause an inflammation (diverticulitis) that would interfere with his ability to carry weight or even to hike at all. He’s talked to doctors, a chiropractor, and Backpack Guy at REI, and consequently has some strategies to deal with it (psyllium, magnesium, staying ultra-hydrated, being alert for first symptoms).

Until the second REI supply trip, The Husband would ominously bring up the diverticulosis as his reason de jure that the hike was a bad idea. Hardened by the longstanding nature of this marital conflict, I was ready to dig in. Moreover, since I had recently planned and executed a backcountry trip in Joshua Tree without him, I was becoming more comfortable with the idea of hiking husband-free. So when he glowered and asked what we’d do if he couldn’t hike, I threatened to do it without him. Of course, I was bluffing, as far as this particular hike was concerned. Given my physical capacity, I’d be mad to hike 170 or 190 pass-jammed alpine miles as the sole adult responsible for two kids and with no one else to shoulder the tent, the food, the white gas, the stove, and other heavy common gear. So I reasoned with him: why wait? The hike will not be any easier or less scary next summer. What’s more, if we’d abstained from hikes because we were worried something might go wrong, we’d never have spent a day in the backcountry.

For whatever reason, the second REI trip cheered The Husband up, and now he’s excited. The flowers and birds crowd our yard and the mornings shine with springtime sun. It feels like time to be in the mountains.

As for the kids, Son the Younger has been keen on the trip for at least a year, asking unprompted on several occasions when we’d get to cross Glen Pass again. Son the Elder, testing out his teenager sullenness, has been voicing displeasure at “wasting” seventeen days of his summer in the backcountry. Luckily, they both still do what I tell them to do, and I know from experience that Son the Elder just needs to get one or two miles of trail behind him to remind him how much he likes to hike.

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spring flowers
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the sons greet a spring snail
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The John Muir Trail Project: Logistics/Gear

So far we’ve made two trips to REI. On the first trip we talked to Backpacking Guy about kids’ backpacks. At close to $150 apiece, these will be the big-ticket items of the trip. Always reluctant to spend money, we decided to wait and try out a friends’ to be sure it would work. We picked up an extra Sawyer water filter; these consist of a heavy-duty plastic pouch with a filter nozzle through which you squeeze water collected from streams or ponds. The Husband wants each of us to have our own filter so that one person doesn’t have two squeeze 4 or 5 liters at a shot, a time-consuming and tiring task. We bought good socks for the kids, a fancy (but disconcertingly tiny and of course expensive) waterproof journal for me. I half-heartedly looked at headlamps, cell-phone chargers, first aid kits, and sunblock, but decided to wait before purchasing them. Between just the filter, socks, and journal, we spent 70 bucks. The kids tried on shoes but Backpacking Guy told us to wait till June (this was in mid-May) since their feet might actually grow between now and then.

Our second trip was more ambitious. I tried on and ultimately bought a pair of Salomon boots, talking extensively to Shoe Guy about knots which might help prevent toenail loss on descents. The Husband talked to Shoe Guy about the tastiness and calorie count of various instant backpacker meals. We looked at the first aid kit but decided to assemble our own. We decided to splurge on $30 headlamps with the red light that doesn’t ruin night vision. The kids tried on backpacking pants for sizes but we’ll wait to see if they go on sale. (I would normally let them wear whatever shorts or pants we have on hand, but because of new concerns about ticks in the High Sierra and because of the likelihood of getting soaked during stream-crossings, I’d like them to have something long, durable, and lightweight.) We got one more squeeze filter, completing our family set. We bought maybe 20 backpacker meals, sunblock, and bug spray (mainly for those ticks). This time we spent a whopping $440, and we have yet to buy the kids’ backpacks and shoes. I’ve always liked backpacking because if you’re gritty about it, you can get by with relatively little gear: a pack, a good sleeping bag, a tent, a reasonable pair of shoes, and a Whisperlite stove, all of which might last a dozen years or more. I’m giving into the gear-culture more than usual because of the kids, but even with this excuse, all the shopping serves as an ongoing reminder of how constructed — and how heavily mediated by consumer culture as well as class and racial privilege — my wilderness experience is.

The John Muir Trail Project: Logistics/Route Planning

In January, I spread out the Tom Harrison maps and in 45 or 60 minutes hashed out a route. I aimed for  10- to 12-mile days involving no more than one pass per day. The current draft goes like this:img_2885.jpg

Day 1: Silver Lake to Garnet Lake, 10.2 miles

Day 2: Garnet Lake to Johnston Meadows/Soda Springs, 10 – 12 miles

Day 3: Soda Springs to Reds Meadow, 2-ish miles; first resupply point (Reds Meadow Resort); near-zero day, and time to see Devil’s Postpile

Day 4: Reds Meadow to Purple Lake, 13.4 miles (ouch)

Day 5: Purple Lake to Pocket Meadow, 12 miles, cross Silver Pass (10,895 ft) (ouch, ouch)

Day 6: Pocket Meadow to Rosemane Meadow, 13.6 miles

Day 7: Rosemane Meadow to Paiute Creek, 13.6 miles, resupply #2 at Muir Trail Ranch, cross Selden Pass (10,880 feet)

Day 8: zero day; visit hot springs at Muir Trail Ranch, relive glory of Evolution Valley hike of 2016

Day 9: Paiute Creek to Evolution Lake, 10.3 miles

Day 10: Evolution Lake to Le Conte Canyon, 14 miles, cross Muir Pass (11,955 feet) (hoping that by this point on the hike we are trail-hardened and beyond pain caused by mere physical exhaustion) (because here come the passes, bitches)

Day 11: Le Conte Canyon to Palisade Lakes, 12 miles

Day 12: Palisade Lakes to Marjorie Lake, 10 miles (approx.), cross Mather Pass (12,100 feet, a little taste of The Crunch)

Day 13: Marjorie Lake to Rae Lakes, 15.8 miles, cross Pinchot Pass (12,130 feet)

Day 14: possible zero day or near-zero day, possible hike to Bullfrog Lake or Onion Valley to meet up with friends for resupply – more on this later – cross Glen Pass (11,987 feet)

Day 15: Rae, Bullfrog or Onion to somewhere on Bubbs Creek, say 12 miles

Day 16: Bubbs Creek to Wallace Creek, say 12 miles, cross Forester Pass (13,180 feet)

Day 17, Day 18, possible Day 19: exit via Whitney Portal or Cottonwood

We might decide to exit at Onion Valley, a plan that would shorten and simplify the hike by eliminating the need for the third resupply. We may go for Whitney (although then there’s the added Death Hike factor) or we may opt to hike south of Whitney and exit at Cottonwood Lakes/Horseshoe Meadow. For a while, I was considering exiting a bit south of Onion Valley via Shepherd Pass but couldn’t find much information about the trail. After ordering a fancy USGS topo map of the area, I posted a question about an egress via Shepherd in the JMT Facebook page. The group responses made it out to be a kick-ass hike to a remote trailhead. Taking Shepherd Pass would increase the complexity of leaving the car at our egress point and shuttling to our starting point (more on this later).

In late April, I realized we needed a place to sleep on Night Zero, so I trawled the campsites on and near June Lake. They had already come close to filling up, so I was happy to snag a spot at Silver Lake, where we will occupy one little gray tent in a sea of RV’s.

Planning the hike feels like a writing project, something I keep mulling over, thinking through, revising. I’m planning a hard redraft in the middle of June, one during which I think about how much we want to suffer for these 17 days. Given our regular summer hiking trips, I know we can bang out ten- or twelve-mile days without much targeted training. After several days of in-situ training, we’ll be ready to face fifteen-mile days. Our first practice hike on Mother’s Day (more on this later) has me worried on this count, though.