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Skiing the John Muir Trail
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/25/2010 14:43:35 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Skiing the John Muir Trail

Jay Wilkerson
(Creachen) - MLife

Locale: East Bay
Skiing the JMT on 05/25/2010 15:01:31 MDT Print View

One Amazing, Epic trip--WOW!! I could not even imagine a trip like that!!!

Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
Re: Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/25/2010 15:27:01 MDT Print View

Well done Kevin. Our course I wouldn't expect any less from someone who hiked the JMT solo in 9 days at the age of 14!

Klas Eklof
(klaseklof) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/25/2010 18:45:15 MDT Print View

Kevin, great report! Thanks so much for sharing all the details.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Skiing the JMT on 05/25/2010 18:47:38 MDT Print View

Incredible and inspiring...

Michael Davis
(mad777) - F

Locale: South Florida
Re: Skiing the John Muir Trail" on 05/25/2010 19:28:11 MDT Print View

WOW! You really captured the splendor of winter!
Thanks Kevin!

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/25/2010 20:03:59 MDT Print View

Great trip report Kevin!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/25/2010 20:57:25 MDT Print View

The greater the suffering during, the greater the satisfaction afterwards.
Sounds like a very satisfying trip.


Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Fantastic! on 05/26/2010 01:24:36 MDT Print View

I really enjoyed your trip report. Great photographs. I am in awe!

Lucas Boyer
(jhawkwx) - MLife

Locale: 38.97˚N, 95.26˚W
+1 On Roger's Comment on 05/26/2010 07:49:01 MDT Print View

A suffer fest always seems to be followed by moments of clarity and inspiration. I guess that's what they call a runner's high. Glad you made the wise call and didn't have to be airlifted, a humiliating experience I'm sure.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Why such heavy ski gear? on 05/26/2010 08:27:03 MDT Print View

Cool TR, but given that this website is about lightweight gear, and since you listed it, why such heavy nordic backcountry gear:
Skis, Bindings Fischer Outtabounds Crown with Voile Three-Pin Cable Bindings, 179 CM 122.0
Boots Rossignol BC X11 80.0
I can understand that lots of rolling terrain might favor patterned-base skis, but still, rando race gear would have saved about 4.5 pounds off your setup, and you still brought two sets of skins anyway.
Examples of what I'm referencing:

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/26/2010 09:43:07 MDT Print View

Thanks, Kevin. The trip is awe inspiring, and you did a great job capturing it for us.

I could feel your pain when you described putting on those frozen boots in the morning. :(

I've taken to carrying two 0.5L wide-mouth hard-side Nalgenes instead of a single 1L. In the morning, I fill them with hot water and put them in my boots during breakfast. Then I get to enjoy the unbelievable luxury of slipping my feet into warm boots. :-)

If the conditions are dry and not too cold, you can put the hot water bottles in the boots at night too and they'll help dry out wet boots.



Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: Why such heavy ski gear? on 05/26/2010 12:13:55 MDT Print View

This is a very good question that has multiple answers that vary by individual, skiing skills, terrain and snow conditions. My ski quiver contains most of these answers! (as my wife reminds me I have more pairs of skis than toes) :-) I'm going to justify my ski gear decisions but by no means suggest they are "right." They were generally right for me on this trip in these conditions. I do suggest that each group member have similar gear if you want to maximize efficient travel. If you've even followed the skin track of someone with full length skins when you only have kickers you'll understand the frustration involved!

Skis: Travel efficiency is my primary consideration when choosing a skiing style, ski and binding. I want to keep moving as it covers miles and keeps me warm. I want gear I don't have to mess with. Kinetic bases limit the time I spend putting skins on/off on rolling terrain. Skin transitions take at least 5 minutes. These can be reduced if you're good at side stepping or herringboning but these techniques aren't as efficient--especially with a pack. I've skied Goode carbon fiber skis (including a pair in which I tried to carve a kinetic base) They are very light but a bit stiff for varying snow and they don't have a kinetic base. None of the light rando gear has kinetic bases.

Binding: I choose a telemark binding as having a free heel, in combination with a kinetic base, additionally helps limit transition time on rolling terrain. I have never skied AT style but I've skied with several people who do and nearly always I end up waiting for them to pick ice out of their boots and bindings during transitions. AT skiers have many more transitions even on moderate downhills--the fully free toe pivot that works so well uphill really sucks on downhill as many who've faceplanted can attest. The AT binding does give bomber control on steep downhill skiing but this is generally a small part of long backcountry tours. The telemark binding opens up the ability to get your weight low and widen your fore/aft stance which is valuable in irregular snow conditions. Not essential but valuable. I've been skiing telemark style for more than 20 years and for others parallel/AT techniques may be as comfortable.

Having just stood up for being able to use the telemark turn I'm not a telemark disciple. I use the telemark turn only if it most efficient--you'll see me making parallel turns, snowplows, stem christies, jump turns and kick turns (and even semi-purposeful "crash turns") if conditions dictate. Unfortunately telemark bindings (except simple three pin bindings) aren't as light as their AT counterparts. A simple three pin binding might be adequate for moderate terrain but I feel the extra weight of a three pin cable binding is worth the additional control and redundancy (if the pins rip out or the bail breaks you can still tour with the cable).

Skins: In most snow conditions kinetic bases can be used without skins. However a combination of icy and/or steep snow doesn't allow kinetic skis to grip and skins become necessary. I could probably get by with kicker/full width skins but full length skin lets me go more directly up steep stuff and traverse icy slopes with much greater security. The kicker skins let me glide/travel faster on icy flat->moderate terrain and are probably worth their extra weight. Whether to take one or both (and which one) is a debatable point and I debated it right up to the day we left. I still don't know the right answer.

I don't want to sound dogmatic. My choices were made based on my skiing skills, expected terrain and snow conditions. Others may make very different decisions. Had conditions been more solid and uniform, had there been less rolling terrain (and if I was willing not to use telemark gear) the gear you've suggested would be great. I drool and reconsider my choices everytime I see such light gear! I wish I had lighter kinetic-based telemark ski and binding combinations to choose from. I wish I had slightly stiffer, better insulated and lighter boots. However the extra ~3 pounds (which includes a wider longer ski for float--the ones you've quoted have a 64mm waist and 160cm length as opposed to mine which were 179cm and have a slightly wider 68mm waist) were more appropriate for the conditions I expected to face.

Edited by ksawchuk on 05/26/2010 12:21:23 MDT.

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: Re: Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/26/2010 12:26:01 MDT Print View

I don't make hot water in the morning but that's a tempting idea. Numb toes really suck. It took a month for them to resolve.

I have carrying capacity up to 3L of water (so I can potentially go all day if there's no open water) but could probably stuff 1L bottles into my boots at night--I'll have to consider that.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Rando Race Scene Advancements on 05/26/2010 13:29:21 MDT Print View

Agreed on tradeoffs re weight vs travel efficiency, but the justification for those extra 4.5 lbs of weight on your feet aren’t in line with the current rando race scene, e.g., our skin<>ski transitions don’t take “at least 5 minutes” (more like 50 seconds), and a rando race setup is going to have way better downhill performance in tricky snow conditions than a nordic backcountry setup like that. (Whoever these AT skiers are that you’ve skied with, if you’re waiting for them, they’re either not on the latest gear or they’re not very skilled.)
The irony is that rando race gear has been advancing so much in recent yrs b/c of the crazy Euro race scene, while nordic backcountry gear still isn’t really very performance oriented, so that rando race gear has now been used to dominate a nordic backcountry race like the Grand Elk Traverse.

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
New Generation AT gear. on 05/26/2010 14:19:28 MDT Print View

I'll concede that the people I've skied AT with did not have years of experience. Perhaps with more experience the binding/pin icing problems can be better managed and transition times minimized. However I'd be surprised if a full skins off/skins on cycle could be accomplished in 50 seconds. I've never been able to reliably get full length skins on without taking off my skis. Off certainly, not on. Perhaps others have mastered this technique. If the full skin cycle takes 3-5 minutes and you're skiing two distinct mountains or passes in a day the time wasted is minimal. If you have to make 8-10 transitions per day (on more varied terrain) the time starts to add up. Perhaps not insurmountable.

I'mm more concerned with the lack of a kinetic base for flatter touring. Kinetic based skis glide better than kicker skins on flat terrain which was especially important on this trip (at least before I got buried in cement--there are long fairly flat sections with some steep passes interspersed). Their downhill performance does suffer but generally I'm more worried about speed control going downhill than maximizing speed.

The light stiff laterally stiff boots of the light AT system are a huge point in the AT system. I was not satisfied with the performance of my Rossignos BC X-11s (they don't have quite enough lateral stiffness AND when "heat fitting" the toes melted and rand pulled away from the boot and Rossignol has not answered any of three customer service emails about this issue). The AT boots by themselves are a reason to seriously consider this system.

I did consider AT skis, appreciate their weight savings, wish there was something of similar weight with a kinetic base and a free heel (I'd even be willing to give up the free heel.) I'm sure they'd work and for some people and tours they would probably even work better. Perhaps I'll have to invest in ski pair #11. :)

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Rando Race Ski w/ patterned base on 05/26/2010 14:27:58 MDT Print View

A rando race ski (at a typical weight of a little over 3 pounds) with a patterned base would be an interesting development. Or alternatively if a company like Madshus or Fischer would put their patterned-base skis through a major weight reduction.
I briefly experimented with a Fischer Outtabounds mounted with Dynafits. (On rolling terrain I was just going to keep them in tour mode -- I've skied plenty of moderate downhills in tour mode when I knew an uphill was coming around soon, and it puts less stress on the binding than skinning in steep terrain.) The problem was that the setup weighed so much more than my rando race skis, and the patterned bases quickly reach their limits for any sort of sustained ascent.
I still have a nordic backcountry setup -- Fischer Rebound w/ Salomon Raid boots -- but I use it only for relatively casual tours.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/26/2010 14:57:22 MDT Print View

What a great report.

Although the disappointment in not finishing, resounds in your written voice, I detect a lot of satisfaction and joy in a successful adventure. Sometimes, it is best to bail, and it appears you did it at just the right time.

This is one of the best BPL articles I have read. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.

Matt F
(matt_f) - MLife
Skiing the John Muir Trail on 05/26/2010 17:55:28 MDT Print View

Kevin -

Hats off - I agree that this is one of the best BPL articles I've read. You do a nice job of capturing the big picture of big adventure: dreaming up an idea, then training, planning, executing, and decision making all the while mixed with varying degrees of joy and suffering.

I like gear about as much as the next BPL member, but you remind us what is so great about expeditions in the first place: the overall experience is so much greater than just the sum of the time spent on trail. Sometimes the pre-trip and post-trip experiences are worth just as much as the time in the backcountry. Fun stuff, and more than a little inspiring.


David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
awesome! on 05/26/2010 18:35:01 MDT Print View

Great trip, great write up. I think that the extent to which wilderness trips often push our personal limits/boundaries is not paid enough attention to, and I appreciate your insight into your thought process when it came time to pull the plug. We get to see the full arc of planning, execution, and postmortem, and that's really fun.

Still working on becoming skier enough for the JMT!

As for the ski question, I think that your choices and J.S.'s feedback points towards the fact that the big mountain, backcountry distance touring is still a tiny market segment, and exists between current equipment sets. Hopefully the very exciting rando racing boot technology will start to bleed over into gear that is at least as focused on miles horizontal as it is on miles vertical. At present, folks are still having to make due with substantial compromises. For an example see this video ( which features a Fisher Outabounds (I think), Scarpa F1, and Dynafit toepiece only setup.