The JMT Project: Logistics/MENU


On Monday the 25th of June I realized that I had only 7 days before the deadline to mail our first resupply bucket, so I put my work on hold and devoted – I’m not kidding – seven full brain-awake hours to planning and buying food. First I had to fill out forms for and pay the two outfits that will be receiving and holding our buckets for us: Red’s Meadow and Muir Trail Ranch. And then came the pain of writing the 15-day menu template (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, treat), figuring out what trail meals we’d bought, indexing that information against what homemade meals we usually make/take, remembering a roster of our favorite snacks and desserts (desserts are the hardest!). I made a schedule with three parts: one for our first segment, the food for which we will bring in our car and carry in with us on the first day; one for the second, which we’ll pick up at Red’s Meadow and needs to last us five full days; and one for the third, which we’ll pick up at Muir Trail Ranch and needs to last us six and a half days. And then, with not a little confusion and cross-referencing, I assigned meals to each day, rotating through the options to minimize repetition. I had to figure out (Oh. My. God.) how many times we’d have each “homemade” meal, snack, or treat, and to remember how many tortillas the four of us eat per lunch, how many Oreos count as a day’s snack, how many bags of gummi bears the four of us would eat in a day, how much peanut butter we consume in one lunch, how much cheese. Portions calculated, I then had to determine how many tortillas, jars of peanut butter, sleeves of Oreos, chocolate bars, bags of gummi bears, blocks of cheese, tubes of tomato paste, cups of oatmeal, protein bars, packets of instant oatmeal, cups of powdered milk, packets of vegan protein meal, cups of dried fruit and cups of nuts we’d need. OH MY GOD. It sucked. I frequently consulted the JMT Facebook group and various other blogs about distance hiking to figure out, for example, whether or not tortillas would mold in a resupply bucket (buy the ones with preservatives and they won’t), or cheese would go rancid (hard, dry cheese are best), or what other little treats we might throw in to make the resupply day extra special (shampoo for a shower at the ranch, Snickers bars, a whole jar of Nutella, beef jerky). Then I made a Massive Tripartite List (TJ’s, Gelson’s, Rite Aid) and I went shopping. I spend almost $200 at Gelson’s on huge chocolate bars, bags of candy, packs of tortillas, cookies…such an assortment of junk food that I blushed as the checker scanned my haul. Rite Aid was a modest stop – travel-sized shampoo, soap, lotion, and toothpaste. And Trader Joe’s, where I got the nuts, cheese, oatmeal, and dried fruit, punched in only at about $120. Our shelves are bursting with camping food! Now I have to prepare, organized and pack the stuff!!

I wanted to put the first bucket in the mail on Saturday the 30th: the outfitters say they need to be in the mail three weeks plus a day or so before you actually intend to pick them up and OH MY GOD we’ll be making our first resupply stop in three weeks! I began around 12:30 pm. First I opened all the backpacker meals and dumped them into Ziploc bags, transcribing the cooking directions onto the label of each bag. I laid out the energy bars, Jolly Ranchers, and gummi bears, I filled a gallon-size Ziploc bag with Oreos, another with Ritz crackers. I laid out the hunks of cheese, the packages of tortillas, the tube of tomato paste. I filled more Ziplocs with granola, others with some stuff called “turbo-charged oatmeal” (instant oatmeal mixed with powdered milk, protein powder, nuts, and fruit). I prepared a meal of cheesy pasta with toasted pine nuts, another of mushroom risotto.

Repackaging Underway

I set out the nuts, fruits, and M&M’s and had everyone make two servings of personal gorp. I stacked up chocolate bars. And then it was 2:30! The post office closes at 3 on Saturdays! The pine nuts were still cooling in the freezer! The Husband rapidly packed the bucket: the food went all the way to the top and the Oreos and Ritz crackers barely made it in. I threw in the pine nuts right before he began taping and then wrote out shipping labels. I drove to the La Canada post office and slung my bucket up to the counter with elan. “I need to send this Priority Mail.” The postal worker didn’t bat an eyelash: “Anything hazardous, liquid, perishable?” “No,” I said, crestfallen. “It’s camping food.” Still no reaction, but even at priority mail rates it only cost $23, so I’m not complaining.


The JMT Project: Training Hike #2

Our second training hike, like the first, ended up taking only a half day, this time because cello camp edged into the afternoon and evening. I wanted to make it to Oakwilde  campground on the Gabrielino trail in the Arroyo north of JPL. Oakwilde is about halfway to Switzer from the trailhead at Ventura and Windsor, and I’ve always wanted to see it (might Oscar Wilde be cavorting amongst the picnic tables and Forest Service Signage? Oh, the possibilities!). Early Sunday morning, I madly stuffed the Sons’ new packs with sleeping bags, clothes, river shoes, full water bladders, and headlamps. In my own, I packed a small bear can stuffed with six trail meals, the first aid kit, my down jacket, the toiletries kit, and a bottle of ibuprofen in addition to the basic gear, bringing the pack to about 15 pounds. The Husband made a quick run to Trader Joe’s (because he always has to get one last task done before we hike), so we hit the trail not at 9:00 as I’d been hoping, but at 9:53. We squeezed into the last spot in the small triangular lot at Ventura and Windsor, next to an extended cab pickup sporting bumper stickers reading “Blue Lives Matter” and “Hey, Asshole, It’s not Gun Control, It’s Bad Parenting” into which a burly, sad-faced, bearded, and very early-rising guy was clambering. (Always weird when people who should be in your tribe end up not being in your tribe at all).

We hiked and hiked and hiked down the long asphalt declivity that leads towards and then past JPL. When we reached tree cover, we began to pass familiar landmarks: the stream bank where the Sons’ school takes classes for picnics, Gould Campground, Nino picnic area (my favorite spot), and Paul Little Picnic Area. It was midday when we reached Paul Little, and we ignored a scraggly trail heading up the hill in favor of a wider flatter one that curved to the west. We hiked with great velocity only to T out at the Brown Mountain Dam; we’d taken the wrong path (the northerly climb would have taken us to Oakwilde) and needed to turn around in order to shower and gather up the cellos for the drive to Pomona. IMG_2950So we ate our squished pbj sandwiches, shared two apples, ate up the last of Son the Elder’s cookie bars, and walked back the way we’d come. My hip started to talk to me only in the last segment, when we’d passed the school’s picnic spot. I popped an ibuprofen and hiked on. No total body meltdown this time, but the hike wasn’t a particularly tough one (7 miles with maybe 700 feet elevation gain). We’ve got one more, and I’m toying with making it a doosie – a 13 mile loop in eastern Altadena that connects Henninger Flats, Idle Hour Campground, Inspiration Point, to Echo Mountain and involves a shocking 4100 feet of elevation gain.

The JMT Project: Logistics/Route Planning END GAME

 Chastened by the aftermath of our Mother’s Day hike, I took my Tom Harrison maps and my copy of Elizabeth Wenk’s John Muir Trail to the Huntington Library (where I am a Reader), and there amongst the impeccably-dressed Anglophiles sifting through sheets of notes and adjusting their stylish spectacles, I spread out my maps in a grubby sprawl.

After some thought, I had decided to give up on Whitney this year and reconceive the hike as a two-year endeavor: our experience this summer with our first extended back country trip and many high passes will prepare us to take on Whitney in the context of an extended trip next summer – we can start at Onion and go to Kennedy Meadows with a side trip up Whitney. The descent on the eastern slope is supposed to be brutal (11 miles and 6,000 ft elevation loss!!!), and my new plan will also allow us to summit Whitney without ever encountering the eastern slope. Also, by exiting at Onion Valley this year, we will obviate the need for the third and most logistically-challenging resupply: since there is no resort or backcountry outfit between Muir Trail Ranch and some point south of Whitney, many people mail buckets to Independence, leave the JMT, cross Kearsarge Pass, and hike or hitch the 13 miles into town to pick up their cache. We’d had generous offers from more than one backcountry pal (shout out to my Sasquatch Friends!) to mule the bucket in for us, but that was a pretty big ask, and the logistics of it made my head hurt.

With the new endpoint in mind, I was ready to calculate our new daily mileage as well as elevation loss and gain in order to compose a hike that would not have me half-unconscious from pain most of the day. With the goal of shortening the first three days and then maintaining a ten miles-per-day pace, each with no more than 2000 ft. of elevation gain and 2000 ft. of elevation loss (as a rule of thumb), I wrote a 15-day itinerary that had us exiting at Onion Valley.

By the end of June, I got The Husband to sit down with me and look at the maps and elevation charts so that I could talk through the thorniest bits. We tweaked the beginning so we’d have an easier climb on our first day in the Sierra, and then we added miles towards the end to make our last food pickup a little lighter. Here’s the final draft:

Day 1: Silver Lake to Waugh Lake outlet: 9 miles, +2300 ft

Day 2: Waugh Lake outlet to Rosalie Lake: 10 miles, -1000 ft, +700 ft

Day 3: Rosalie Lake to Red’s Meadow (first resupply point): 8.5 miles, -1670. +300

Day 4: Red’s to Duck Lake Junction: 11.2 miles, +1600

Day 5: Duck to Squaw Lake: 9.5 mi, -300, +400, -1200, +1200

Day 6: Squaw Lake to Quail Meadows; cross Silver Pass: 8 mi, +500, -1280

Day 7: Quail to Rose Lake Jct.: 11.3 mi, +2000, -1000, +1100

Day 8: Rose to Paiute Cr. Jct.; cross Selden Pass: 12.2 mi, +900, -3000 (oh my)

Day 9: Paiute to Ev. Lake: 13 mi, +2800

Day 10: Ev. Lake to Big Pete Meadow; cross Muir Pass: 10. 6 mi, +1100, -2700

Day 11: Big Pete Meadow to Palisade Lakes midpoint: 13 mi., +1400

Day 12: Palisade to Lake Marjorie; cross Mather Pass: 12.5 mi, +1500, -2060, +1000

Day 13: Lake Marjorie to Dollar Lake; cross Pinchot Pass: 13.6 mi, +1080, -3620 (come here Jesus), +1700

Day 14: Dollar to Kearsarge; cross Glen Pass: 9.8 mi, +1750, -1200

Day 15: Kearsarge to Onion Valley; cross Kearsarge Pass: 6 mi, +1075, -2660, and OUT!!!

Whew: route planning, done.