My good friend Brian and I, usually partners in mountain bike racing crime, did a three day backpack on the JMT last week. Following are a few details from the trip that might be useful to others in the future.
Originally we had planned a 100+ mile trip, from South Lakes to Whitney Portal. However, after the 130 mile Kaibab Monstercross bike race two weeks ago, we both decided that a mellower outing was in order. The trip got essentially cut in half: we hiked in Kearsarge Pass, hiked out and back to Rae Lakes on the first day, camping at Vidette Meadows. The second day ended at Crabtree Meadows, with a fantastic hike up and over Forester Pass. There was plenty of snow on both sides, but nothing we found at all worrisome in trail runners and trekking poles. We did loose the trail crossing snow fields around the 12k mark on the north side, which from above seemed an unpardonably silly mistake. Day three was to the top of Whitney, then downdowndown to the Portal, where we were installed having beers and burgers by a little after 1400.
We went pseudo-light, bringing what light gear we had not taking much extra stuff. I had an Osprey Talon 22, 35 degree Western Mtneering bag, a lightweight emergency bivvy, and a small foam mat. Perfectly warm enough, though it offered no evening bug protection which would have been nice on both nights from around 1700-1930 or so. I went heavy on food, with freeze-dried dinners and lunch items such as three oranges, a full jar of Nutella, and a loaf of Walnut/Raisin/Molasses bread from Schatt's in Bishop. My pack was quite full due to this.
Both of us were glad we had light loads, as the climbs up the passes were much more fun, and we saw a large number of hikers with traditional, load monster packs, complete with full-on ice axes, crampons, and quasi-mountaineering boots. No thanks. We were also astounded at the number of thru-hikers with ultra light (Gossamer Gear, etc) packs that were appallingly overstuffed and appearing hideously uncomfortable.
We were also glad that we trimmed our ambitions. 18-22 mile days were nice and casual, allowing for plenty of long snack breaks, photo time, and hanging out. I should have brought a fishing rod. Bigger days on the JMT are certainly possible, and would be great fun. Back in March when I was in ultra-running shape, that is. A 4-5 day thru hike is already taking shape as a possibility for next summer.
Overall, the accolade as "America's Most Beautiful trail" seems very possibly correct. The terrain was gorgeous, the trail's path through it clever, logical, and diverse. The construction that went into it, especially sections like the south side of Forester and both sides of Trail Crest, is astounding and beautiful. It's a massive, miles long work of art, and a national treasure. We saw lots of people, it certainly is not wilderness; yet they were almost all friendly, and of a hugely diverse sort. Everything from PCT thru-hikers to 11 year olds on family outings. Great trail experience.
I look forward to returning, and highly recommend a comparable trip.