In July 2010, I’ll be leading a small group of intrepid adventurers on a three week backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail — affectionately known as simply the “JMT.” Starting in Yosemite Valley to the north, and ending at the summit of Mt. Whitney, the total mileage covered will be over 230 miles. I will average over 11 miles per day, lumbering at high altitude with a 35 lb. backpack strapped to my body.
A backpacking trip of this sort isn’t really an expedition, but it’s no walk in the woods, either. There are long months of planning, preparation, and dedicated training required for a successful through-hike of the JMT.
Right now, training is a huge part of my preparation. Last March at my annual physical, my physician said my cholesterol was bordering on “bad” and suggested I lose some weight. Since then, I’ve been eating healthier and exercising regularly. My cholesterol has dropped from 198 to 143. And I’ve lost over 35 lbs.
Two weeks ago I hiked up San Gorgonio via the Fish Creek trail. At an elevation of 11,501.6 feet, it’s the highest peak in Southern California. The 19.4 mile round trip wasn’t easy, especially once I hit about 10,000 feet, but I felt strong, and passed 16 people on my way up the mountain.
Last weekend was a new challenge. How would it feel to cover the average distance for the JMT with a fully-loaded backpack? I loaded my backpack with several gallon-sized jugs of water and hit the hills of Crystal Cove with my girlfriend to find out. I mapped out an 11 mile course with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain, and was really surprised to find how easy it was! Yes, I’ve been hiking and mountain biking regularly, but this was my first hike in a long while carrying a full-loaded backpack.
It didn’t occur to me until later that the weight I was carrying in my backpack equaled the weight I had lost over the summer. What a shocker! The good news is that I’m much healthier and getting even better each day!
Here’s a look at the route I took:
Some people have asked what I use to record my hikes. I did a bit of research, and settled on the Trails app for my iPhone 2G. It uses the built-in GPS capabilities of my iPhone, and does a fairly accurate job of recording the route. It also gives me several options for sharing the recorded GPS data, including posting to my EveryTrail account.
The Trails app is $3.99, but I like it better than the several free options that were out there, including the EveryTrail iPhone app. The downside of this approach is that the GPS recording really drains the battery fast. To make it last, I start with a full charge, turn off wifi and 3G, and dial down the brightness to preserve power. Trails will automatically turn off the screen when you slip the phone into your pocket, using the same proximity technology that turns off the display when you hold the phone to your ear. It helps!
Eventually I may spring for some add-on juice to let me record longer hikes, but so far, this has worked pretty well. I was even able to use this setup on my 19.4 mile San Gorgonio hike, though to conserve battery, I only recorded one half of the out-and-back trip.
This will be my second time backpacking the entire John Muir Trail. The first time was in July 1980, making this the 30th anniversary of that original trek. A fitting milestone, don’t you think?
I’m still assembling my JMT team. Two of my kids are interested, as well as a couple of friends, with firm commitment needed soon. Ideally the group size will be 5-6 people, with others providing support (transportation, possibly food drops or segment companions) . I’ll be finalizing my equipment list in November and applying for permits in December. And of course, training. I’m still mountain biking, but now I hike a couple times a week. I lead a Wednesday night hike, take my dog on increasingly long walks (she’s up to six miles now!) and work in a longer, more strenuous hike on the weekends.
And (in my spare time — hah!) I’m working on a top-secret new web site where I’ll be posting details on the planning, equipment selection, preparation and (of course) an extensive post-trip report with photos.
If you’re interested in joining me on this adventure, let me know!