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JMT planning, hike duration
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Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
JMT planning, hike duration on 03/03/2012 11:02:37 MST Print View

I was thrilled to secure a permit beginning mid August from Happy Isles to Whitney Portal. My plan was to do the 220 miles in 14 hiking days, ~15-16mi/day. That sounded doable as long as I condition well in advance and have a pack weight of less than 30lbs (base weight is about 14lbs for this trip). Coming from the flat Midwest means that I would not have very many ways to experience long days at altitude until I get there.

This all sounded OK until my potential hiking partner, whom is in much better hiking shape than I, has grown concerns from speaking with other JMT hikers. His friends, experienced long distance thru-hikers, say that the JMT is a real kicker and was very difficult in the three weeks they did it in last year in August/September averaging 12mi/day and suggest we take 28 days ourselves. I have no idea if they are lightweight or heavy haulers.

Given this, I know 28 days would be more enjoyable but really don't have that much time to do it in. I keep reading around here guys doing it in 10 to 14 hiking days with lighter gear and assumed I could do the same with some training. Anyone have experience with this?

Carl Zimmerman
(CarlZ993) - MLife
JMT Hike plan on 03/03/2012 12:21:04 MST Print View

14 days is doable. Lot of long days. I planned two different 16-day JMT hikes. My buddy got hurt on the first one (didn't finish and we were behind schedule) and I got injured on the second w/ my wife (didn't finish and we were ahead of schedule). My base weight was around 18-19 lbs on each. I completed the JMT in 17 days on my third attempt (two out my four companions bailed out early; couldn't keep up w/ the pace; four days to Reds Meadows).

I feel the 'perfect' length is 18 days hiking. That's about 12 miles a day. If I ever hike it again, I'll probably use that length of time and possibly a layover day somewhere (I'm fit but nearing 60; old bones, you know).

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
JMT duration on 03/03/2012 14:20:57 MST Print View

Suggesting what hike pace is hard or easy is like talking about shoe size or bench press weights. Everybody is different.

That said- Going from N to S you have four easy opportunities to stop and restock before the halfway point, so it makes sense to hike just as slow or fast as you enjoy. (Tuolumne, Red's, VVR, MTR)

The second half (from Muir Trail Ranch) has no easy restock points. Each is a good dozen miles round trip plus a hitchhike to town. An extra pass or long hike back up is involved too. Therefore it makes sense to do the second half without restocking.

So you're limited to what you can carry in your bear can. For me that's about one week max. Stretch it a little to eight days on this section means you never have to double up passes, have a short day out of MTR (heat and heavy pack), and have a short next-to-last day (past Forester to Guitar).

So, for a leisurely trip something like 2 weeks(north half)+1 week (south half) = 3 weeks. Super-leisuirely 3 weeks +1 week = 4 weeks. Add south-half restock over Kearsarge and you can add another week to the south half.

So I say- hike your own hike. If you want the satisfaction of doing the whole trail in a time that would put the naysayers in ICU, then zip through it. If you have plenty of time and want to spend hours contemplating every beautiful scene or bagging every peak, take your time.

I was 43 years old and hadn't backpacked for 9 years- my only training was walking and cycling a couple miles each way as part of my work commute for the prior several months. I took 15 days which was challenging but very enjoyable- long hours each day but a slow pace. No pure rest days but 4 where I arrived in camp by noon. My base weight was about 16.

Just one additional note- If you have extra time but still want to do the whole trail quickly- Spend a couple days at Tuolumne before starting the hike. You'll acclimate and get to do day hikes in some of the most beautiful country on earth. A little extra time afterward and you can "zip" up 14,242 White Mountain Peak.

Edited by jimqpublic on 03/03/2012 14:25:14 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Flatlanders on the JMT on 03/03/2012 14:38:58 MST Print View

Ryan, you wrote:

>"Coming from the flat Midwest means that I would not have very many ways to experience long days at altitude until I get there."

And I'd point out that almost everyone lives near sea level, especially on each coast. Depending where in the Midwest you are, you're at 1,500 to 2,500 elevation which definitely helps some compared to being at sea level. If you lack hills in your area - do stairs. Real stairs, not a stairclimber. Partly for the workout going up but more so for going down. It's going downhill that leaves you sore afterwards. A 10,000-foot day can really hurt if I've only been doing level miles, but just 10 minutes a day of climbing and descending real stairs leaves me feeling MUCH better after a death march with a lot of vertical. If you live in a one-story house, head downtown for an office building, hotel or apartment complex. If I have to, I just do the one flight of stairs at home repeatedly. But I like to mix in 10-stories up, 10-stories down, repeat, which I can when I travel or pass through a big city.

Some hotels have heated stairwells as fire escapes. I like the ones that are unheated - it's just more comfortable to put on the tunes, maybe 20-30 pounds in a bookbag, and climb/descend for 10-20 minutes.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: Flatlanders on the JMT on 03/03/2012 15:11:57 MST Print View

One more thing...

I live at sea level but most of the backpacking in my life has been in the Sierra. I've experienced Acute Mountain Sickness more times than I can remember. Long experience has taught me how to reduce and cope with it. I can recognize when I need to slow down vs. stop and rest vs. turn around. Whether it hits me or not is rather random so just because I was fine the last trip doesn't mean the next trip will be the same.

If you don't have that sort of familiarity with your body's reaction to altitude it might not be wise to plan a sub-14 day pace unless you acclimate a day or two first. Your first day would likely take you from 4,000 feet to over 9,000. Either acclimate first or plan to take it easy with allowance for an extra day or two.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: JMT duration on 03/03/2012 15:50:07 MST Print View

"A little extra time afterward and you can "zip" up 14,242 White Mountain Peak."

Each year, that is my test hike immediately before Whitney. It's an excellent training hike.

--B.G.--

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Flatlanders on the JMT on 03/03/2012 15:55:21 MST Print View

"I've experienced Acute Mountain Sickness more times than I can remember."

Jim, have you ever considered taking Diamox?

I do not feel that everybody needs to take it, but anybody with multiple experiences with AMS needs to consider it. Or not, if you are allergic to sulfa drugs.

--B.G.--

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: Re: Re: Flatlanders on the JMT on 03/03/2012 16:08:55 MST Print View

I don't remember what I had for breakfast either...

I exaggerated to make the point. When I was a teenager living at 4,000' I still got hit pretty hard almost every time we went to 11,000' the first day. Now that I am slightly more mature (46), I don't get hit hard with absolute energy loss, nausea, vomiting, etc. I do often feel drowsy, lethargic, and a mild dull headache the first day or so at altitude. I manage by taking it easy, hydrating well, and aspirin for the headache. I don't think Diamox is indicated in my case. Not 100% sure whether my better outcome post-teen years is that I outgrew the severe symptoms or I plan my trips and energy output better.

The beauty of the JMT N-S is that Cathedral Pass is the worst altitude differential of the whole trip. After that the next pass is seldom more than 1,000' higher than the previous one. Forester and Whitney were anticlimactic for me after a dozen days at altitude. Us JMT hikers were prancing around the Whitney summit while the uber-fit day hikers looked like death.

(Which is why we're taking the children up Whitney this summer via the High Sierra Trail vs. starting at the Portal)

Edited by jimqpublic on 03/03/2012 16:11:12 MST.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: JMT planning, hike duration on 03/03/2012 21:41:20 MST Print View

Thanks for the supportive info. We may be mostly flat around here but do have a local state forest with constant steep hills that are excellent for training, much like the stairs but several hundred feet climbs over and over. It also happens to be the only decent place for backpacking within two hours of here.

~16 mi/day in the Sierras after acclimating does not sound too terrible. I have done 20+ mi/day in the Appalachians at "altitude" (4000 to 6000ft). I am not in the best of shape but try to cycle 25 to 50 miles per week in the warmer months.

At this point my goal would be to do it from start to finish in 17 days: 14 hiking and 3 zero days. My plan would be to resupply at Toulumne, Reds, and cram 8 days in the bear can at MTR for the big push south. Not sure if we will be going to VVR but read they treat hikers well. May try for one zero day in the wilderness on trail, still considering where we may want to do that.

Konrad .
(Konrad1013) - MLife
JMT on 03/09/2012 15:09:39 MST Print View

"His friends, experienced long distance thru-hikers, say that the JMT is a real kicker and was very difficult in the three weeks they did it in last year in August/September averaging 12mi/day and suggest we take 28 days ourselves. I have no idea if they are lightweight or heavy haulers"

Ryan, just to give you another perspective on it. My girlfriend and I did it in 21 days (18 days hiking, 3 zero days) last September. We're both of average fitness, but we literally spent the majority of the prior 3 months before our trip sitting at a desk studying for the Bar Exam...pretty much zero active movement. After taking our exams, we had 3 weeks to shape up, gear up, dehydrate food and post our food drops before our hike started. We both live in Boston, so like you, we had zero elevation advantage. Everything turned out fine.

We became gym rats for those 3 weeks to rebuild some foundation of fitness. But what was key was really focusing on keeping our base weights low. Mine was roughly 12lbs with bear can, hers was 10. We used every food drop to our advantage, carrying as little food in between resupplies. So yes, we used TM, Reds, VVR, and MTR.

Dare I say those uber-experienced thru-hikers were wrong? I would say 3 weeks is a very leisurely pace. We would have taken less days (and zero days) had it not rained so much this past year. I think the absolute hardest part is just getting out of the valley to TM. I think we were only doing 7-9 miles those first few days. By the end of the first week, we were comfortable doing 12-15 mile days. Often we would roll into camp by 4pm, choosing to lounge around and be lazy as opposed to hiking til dusk. Also, we stopped a lot so that my girlfriend could take photos. So by all means, 3 weeks (or 18 days for that matter) is very very doable.

Edited by Konrad1013 on 03/09/2012 15:13:55 MST.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: JMT on 03/11/2012 20:01:15 MDT Print View

Thanks for sharing your experience Konrad. I am for sure leaning towards the 18 hiking days over taking nearly a month. Hopefully a couple months of long dayhikes on the weekends, some overnight trips in the hills, and cycling will get me in shape enough.

Yosemite Valley to TM is actually one of the stretches I am most concerned about due to the brutal climb the first day. Starting at TM was my second choice on the permit but we got the first choice of Happy Isles. I would rather try and dayhike the stretch from TM to Happy Isles after coming back from Whitney Portal and getting the car (if we drive in).

I should add that the group my friend described had one person suffer a stress fracture in his foot somewhere between MTR and Whitney. This may be part of the reason they want others to take it easy out there.

David Frampton
(Framps) - F
Re: Re: JMT on 04/17/2012 15:52:58 MDT Print View

Hey Ryan,

I did the JMT a few years ago in 11.5 days, carrying a 30 lb pack... I would say your timeline of 14 days is completely doable. I trained a bit but I was far from being in great shape. I don't want to sound like it was easy, it most certainly was not and at the time I found entirely new definitions of what I thought my limits were.

Don't sweat the Happy Isles to TM portion, it really wasn't bad at all, just get an early start to avoid the heat of the day at lower elevation. Also, I think the climbing up from the valley helps with acclimitization.

My advice for ensuring success would be to break camp before sunrise each morning. Get the bulk of your mileage done by noon, take a solid lunch break, and spend the remainder of the days light pleasure cruising what truly is one of the most magnificent places on the planet. Enjoy!

Robert Perkins
(rp3957)

Locale: The Sierras
JMT planning, hike duration on 04/17/2012 20:58:11 MDT Print View

"My advice for ensuring success would be to break camp before sunrise each morning. Get the bulk of your mileage done by noon, take a solid lunch break, and spend the remainder of the days light pleasure cruising what truly is one of the most magnificent places on the planet"

David has fantastic advice! I can't tell you how many people we pass that are still in their tents or camp by the time we already had 5 - 7 miles in every morning on the JMT the last few years. You can put up some nice miles in the morning and evening and still have plenty of time for swimming, lunch, or napping in the shade in the middle of the day. In my opinion 18 days is more than enough time to do the JMT, even if you take it easy in the beginning. Take advantage of the early opportunities to set up re-supplies to keep your pack weight down; Tuolumne Meadows and Reds Meadow. We have consistantly averaged 23 - 26 mile days the last couple of years by following the hike early and late / break in the heat of the day method.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: JMT planning, hike duration on 04/17/2012 21:21:39 MDT Print View

Thanks for the suggestions. I certainly want to take time and enjoy the surroundings rather than trying to survive a death march. Our schedules worked out so that we can do the entire trail in about 3 weeks as opposed to 2 which should make it more enjoyable.

We have debated on bear canisters though. The Bearikade Weekender (10") seemed somewhat small for our longest stretch between MTR and WP. We have considered getting a custom 11 or 12" to cram at least a week of high calorie (5000 or more per day) food but I don't like the bulk of the canister in my ULA Circuit.

Just to confirm from others who have done it, is it legal to hang food in part of the stretch from MTR to Whitney? My thinking is to go with the Weekender (or 11" custom) and hang the first couple of days food until it is consumed or can fit in the can.

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
Bear Canister on three week JMT on 04/17/2012 23:22:39 MDT Print View

Ryan,

going on the JMT for three weeks should be a lot of fun. My wife and I did it last year with our 9 & 13 year old daughters and the year before with our 15 year old sons. The daily mileage of 10-12 miles was really easy for the kids - with lots of breaks for swimming, fishing, etc.

Bear canisters are not required between Tully Hole and Pinchot Pass. So you have 52 miles after MTR where you can hang, before you reach the Rae Lakes area where canisters are required. So you will be fine with a Weekender, if you get 6 days of food in there for the remaining 55 miles to Whitney Portal.

Have fun out there,

Manfred

Steven Thompson
(stevet) - M

Locale: Northeast
Re: JMT planning, hike duration on 04/19/2012 23:02:32 MDT Print View

A few summers ago I completed the JMT in 13 days. This link should take you to my trip report, gear list, menu, etc.

There are long days, but 2 weeks is manageable provided you start hiking early and finish hiking late. I move ~2mph and so a 20 mile day is 10 hours of hiking. As long as I have enough fuel this is not a problem and would think that as long as you have some experience with how your body reacts to 20 mile hikes and how to stay fueled and hydrated,then you can manage this is 2 weeks too.

https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=12c136b9ad0945e4&id=12C136B9AD0945E4%21444

Edited by stevet on 04/19/2012 23:04:32 MDT.