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Brent Mahan
(thenerb)

Locale: Southern New Hampshire
JMT thru-hike in June?? on 03/19/2012 07:08:51 MDT Print View

I've been itching to get out and finally do a proper thru-hike. Done several backpacking trips, but never longer than 2 nights before. The John Muir Trail looks like perhaps one of the best options out there for a thru-hike that is a couple of weeks in length. I think I'll probably average 16-18 miles per day. This will give me time to chill and enjoy the scenery and absorb it all without dealing with too much pain or overly pesky schedules.

One of the major attributes that draws me to wanting to thru-hike is to gain solitude amongst nature's grand beauty. That being said, hiking the JMT in August/September is pretty much out of the question as I've heard it is generally very crowded then.

Looking at my schedule at work, it seems to fit pretty nicely for me to start my hike on or around June 17th headed southward (end at Whitney Portal).

Questions:
* How crowded will it be during this time period?
* Are bugs going to be a big problem and annoyance due to the snow melt?
* Will there be lots of snow on the passes? Will that require an ice axe for safety?
* If there is a good amount of snow, think I can still get away with doing the trail in some good trail runners, or will I need boots?
* Are there any trails that are about as long that can compare to the JMT for grand vistas and mountains?
* What temp rating down sleeping bag should I get? I tend to sleep warm. Will I be hot in a 20deg bag?

Thanks everyone!

Edited by thenerb on 03/19/2012 08:14:26 MDT.

Hobbes W
(Hobbesatronic) - F

Locale: SoCal
JMT in June on 03/19/2012 09:17:15 MDT Print View

*How crowded will it be during this time period?

The Sierra are like going to a favorite popular beach, lake or park, except you're wearing a backpack. If you go in thinking you're going to have a isolated wilderness experience, you will be sorely disappointed. If you go in happy just to be outside and greet others who feel the same way, you'll have a good time.

* Are bugs going to be a big problem and annoyance due to the snow melt?

What snow melt? As for bugs, either get 100% deet, or prepare to complain.

* Will there be lots of snow on the passes? Will that require an ice axe for safety?

Most likely not this year. I've never seen anyone with an ice axe on the JMT. (Other than someone temporarily using the JMT to get somewhere else.)

* If there is a good amount of snow, think I can still get away with doing the trail in some good trail runners, or will I need boots?

You don't need boots on the JMT.

* Are there any trails that are about as long that can compare to the JMT for grand vistas and mountains?

Except for the passes, the JMT travels through ridge valleys. This lack of a high alpine experience is what drove Roper to develop the SHR.

* What temp rating down sleeping bag should I get? I tend to sleep warm. Will I be hot in a 20deg bag?

You will be fine in a 20 degree bag.

As for myself, I'm thinking of doing a quickie OV to Symmes run in late May. We just had a major storm pass through, but unless there's significantly more on the way in the next 6 weeks, it may be all over except for the crying.

If this is the case, I don't think I'll be only one getting out there a little early.

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
JMT on 03/19/2012 09:18:00 MDT Print View

Brent

I disagree with the answer above on one thing:

1. Mid-June in the High Sierra can be pretty darn snowy. Expect snow levels to be between 7,000 and 10,000 feet. And while this year is a lighter snow year so far, they are forecasting more storms to come this week. Since most of the John Muir Trail is over 7,000, and a lot times it goes well over 10,000 feet, you are going to see a lot of snow. And there is no way of knowing, right now, what the conditions will be. If we have a cooler than normal spring, as happened last year, you will still see a lot of that snow on the trail. Or over the trail.

If you've never used an ice axe or crampons, I would not suggest learning on this trail. Forrester Pass, at 13,000 feet, has a famous "chute" on the south side that is very steep and always packed with snow. And the north side is very snowy. If you have never hiked long distances or climbed steep passes in snow, I think you should consider an ice axe. As an example, most people don't hike the JMT in June. But Pacific Crest Trail hikers usually start the southern end of the JMT by mid-June if they are planning to finish in one year. And they ALL take ice axes.

2. Given that situation, do you still think you can hike this in 15 mile days? It's a lot harder to hike in snow than on a dry trail.

3. It sounds as if you are planning to do this one with a re-supply. Most people pick up a package at the mid-way point for this hike, but there is no guarantee that this will be possible in mid-June. Probable, but no guarantee.

4. Remember that the national parks require use of a bear canister. that will limit the volume of food you can take, and also add weight to you pack. Most people have a hard time getting two full weeks of food into a single bear canister. And the two end points, are both in national parks, so you'll have to use one right from the beginning.


Now for your questions;


* How crowded will it be during this time period?

Not so crowded, for obvious reasons, as noted above.

* Are bugs going to be a big problem and annoyance due to the snow melt?

No. They will be a big problem and annoyance about a week AFTER the snowmelt, and for another month after that. Last year, with the huge snowfall, it was a banner year for bugs.

* Will there be lots of snow on the passes? Will that require an ice axe for safety?

See my note above.

* If there is a good amount of snow, think I can still get away with doing the trail in some good trail runners, or will I need boots?

Lots of people do this trail, and the PCT, in trailrunners. But you may find yourself wishing you had something a bit better for steep icy snow pitches.

* Are there any trails that are about as long that can compare to the JMT for grand vistas and mountains?

Sure, you can hike the whole length of the Sierra without going on the John Muir Trail. And while some of it parallels the JMT, a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail is also an option, as it the Tahoe to Yosemite trail. The JMT is probably the most scenic of all (the PCT follows basically the same route through this area) but there are lots of other options.

And while it sounds like you are interested in an "epic" hike with a name, you could also hike for hundreds of miles in the Sierra far from people on other trails. Our website has something like 60-70 different hikes on it, and only about three involve the John Muir Trail.

* What temp rating down sleeping bag should I get? I tend to sleep warm. Will I be hot in a 20deg bag?

Nope. It can snow in June in the Sierra (and any other month, as well.) You can always open up your bag to cool off, but we use a 20 degree bag pretty much all summer at high elevations.

Here's our website; http://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home


Hope that helps

Edited by balzaccom on 03/19/2012 09:33:46 MDT.

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
More thoughts on 03/19/2012 09:26:08 MDT Print View

The High Sierra Trail is another option for you...as is Roper's High route.

But if you want solitude, I would not choose to hike an established trail. It is EASY to get solitude and isolation in the Sierra---all you have to do is leave the trail for about a mile. My wife and I have spent four days in the High Sierra without seeing another person, and all we did was hike to destinations that are not on the main routes--and that includes some destinations in Yosemite.

And yes, there are trip reports on those on the website, too.

Edited by balzaccom on 03/19/2012 09:29:19 MDT.

First Last
(snusmumriken) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
PCT hikers on 03/19/2012 09:37:18 MDT Print View

The JMT in June is not an opportunity for solitude, because the bulk of the PCT hikers will be on the JMT in June. They are going south to north, ie in opposite direction. So you won't have the pleasure of hiking with them, but you will see them on the trail a lot.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
+1 on Paul's answers on 03/19/2012 09:44:59 MDT Print View

PCT thru-hikers typically go through in June. There certainly are some JMT hikers; generally you can tell these apart as more JMT'ers walk south while all the thru-hikers are going north, but more distinct is the gear load carried, just bigger packs heading south, leaner bodies heading north. In any event, crowding isn't a problem, but you'll see people. For thru-hikers, it's the first time you've seen anyone but other thru-hikers on-trail, with rare exceptions.

I did this in 2008 which wasn't a super high snow year. Still lots of snow on the passes. I didn't use an ice axe nor crampons, but had them; mailed them home. On a higher snow year you definitely do need them. Ideal is to "walk high but sleep low", so that you're sleeping below where there's still snow, but you'll walk in a lot of it. Try for a pass a day in general, and try to be getting down that pass before the snow softens in the afternoon and you're postholing.

Stream crossings can be tough too, definitely more dangerous than bears or other stuff.

I think a 20F bag is a good choice for June. Just don't do what one fellow I know did and camp literally on Forester Pass ...

Bugs: it's a crap shoot. They're coming, it's a matter of how fast things are melting out and how fast you walk. I had a lot of bugs getting to and then south of Tuolumne Meadows and none before then --- my year.

Thru-hikers do this in trail runners, or at least I think most do. You should have experience at doing this in lots of snow before committing, however (IMO).

Note that it's not just about snow, one of the things that can sort of get to you is the extensive transition zones, between snow and no-snow, lots of melt water turning trails into streams. Don't think you can keep your feet dry. It's one of the advantages of trail runners; just accept that your feet will get wet, walk right through the streams. Goretex or neoprene socks might be a good idea; I used the former, but the real key is having decent wool socks, back up with cheap plastic bags (just in case).

Best wishes; there's a sense of adventure being in there before the crowds, I hope you have a great time!

Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
+1 on 03/19/2012 10:59:55 MDT Print View

Excellent point about the high water warnings.

We did a trip up Mono Creek last year on 4th of July Weekend and had to change our route because of the roaring runoff in the creek.

And it was still a great trip.

Hobbes W
(Hobbesatronic) - F

Locale: SoCal
JMT in June on 03/19/2012 11:26:16 MDT Print View

There are a couple of good sites to check on current snow fall levels in the Sierra. Mammoth Mountain is one, and LA DWP is another. However, in the absence of actual snow surveys conducted by humans hiking in & measuring, CA runs a series of real-time sensors that provide a nice overview.

While these readings are primarily estimates, they do give a good sense of the "snow flow". That is, we just had a big storm blow through, and these reports reflect those totals in comparison to a YTD base. Also of note are the estimates with regard to current levels vs historical averages.

Unless something changes, 2012 might be on course with some of the (in)famous drought years, like '77-78. If that's the case, then all the old adages about Sierra snow levels can be (temporarily) thrown out the window.

In a "normal" year, (early) June is too early. However, if this year's weather stays on course, there's gonna be all sorts of people up there early.

Edited by Hobbesatronic on 03/19/2012 11:26:58 MDT.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: JMT thru-hike in June?? on 03/19/2012 11:38:40 MDT Print View

You may want to reconsider your timing if solitude is a prime concern. Start on Labor day and you'll have as much solitude as you're going to get on the JMT outside of doing it on skis. July and August are the most popular times, June sees most of the PCT hikers. September sees far fewer people. Not that you will have the whole trail to yourself, but there will be less folks out then.

June is almost sure to be buggy. Hard to tell at this point on the snow, as a lot can happen between now and then. September is almost always virtually bug-free, and the weather is usually great, but you can have some early snow, so you'd want to be prepared for that eventuality, with a little warmer gear than you'd take for June/July/August.

If solitude is your central goal, I'd suggest getting off the trail. Then you can truly find solitude at any time of year.

Brent Mahan
(thenerb)

Locale: Southern New Hampshire
Awesome! on 03/19/2012 12:27:55 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone for the INCREDIBLY DETAILED and AWESOME comments. This forum is truly great.

Give me some time to absorb all the information and digest and I'll post a more thorough reply later.

If anyone else has more thoughts, keep them coming!

Also, as a side note, WOW. Roper's SHR looks like a life-altering experience in a good way. THAT'S what I'm looking for. I am going to start another thread on that subject. That might be the way to go for me.

Still definitely considering the JMT also (Plus, I'll have to get the wife to okay something as extreme as the SHR (lots of risk), so I may be forced to stick with a more traveled path like the JMT anyway).

Hobbes W
(Hobbesatronic) - F

Locale: SoCal
JMT in May? on 03/19/2012 13:05:47 MDT Print View

Another great resource in terms of estimating Sierra trail conditions is the annual opening of Tioga Pass. As it turns out, these dates correlate pretty darn close to annual rainfall totals collected from various monitoring stations.

The drought years of '75-77 represented some of the earliest opening dates on record - April 8-10! The overall trend matches up pretty well with SF annual rainfall totals:



And now for the clincher: 2011-12 vs 1975-76:



If this year keeps up, I wouldn't be surprised to see activity in May. First of all, because it will be available, and second of all, to avoid this: what the Sierra looked like in August 2007 (another drought year):

Edited by Hobbesatronic on 03/19/2012 13:07:41 MDT.

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
JMT thru hike in June on 03/19/2012 13:50:40 MDT Print View

If two nights out have been your longest trip, you may want to think this through very well. Roper's Sierra High Route is pretty difficult, especially in mid-June. The Sierra are getting a lot of snow right now--8 to 10 feet at elevation in the last week--with possibly more on the way. How much experience do you have at altitude or on class 2 to 3 type terrain? I don't want to condescend or discourage you at all; just checking in.

Brent Mahan
(thenerb)

Locale: Southern New Hampshire
SHR on 03/19/2012 14:07:14 MDT Print View

Jeffrey,

I started a new thread on the SHR plan idea. Check that out here:
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=61488

I know it would be a challenge, but I think I could manage just fine.

Specifically to answer your questions, I have some experience with class 3 terrain, but just a couple of days worth. Felt very comfortable, however.

Altitude-wise, I have skied out West several times including some in Colorado over 12,000ft and have also skied pretty extensively in the Savoie area in France at altitudes up to 10,500ft. I know that isn't the same since you get a break from the altitude when you come back down.

Bob Shaver
(rshaver) - F

Locale: West
we started on June 19, JMT N to S on 03/20/2012 10:22:49 MDT Print View

We started our JMT trip on June 19, and I can say that we used ice axes and found a lot of snow. However, we were also climbing peaks, so ice axes made more sense. Plus it was a different time (1971) and different technology and practices. We didn't take bear canisters, tents, stoves, or water filters. We did take ropes and climbing gear. Our trip was 27 days, and we climbed 17 peaks along the way, including Ritter, Banner, North Palisade, Polomonium, Split, and spent the night on Whitney in a storm.

My trip report is here: http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=10178

* How crowded will it be during this time period?

I bet not many will be hazarding the passes if they are snow covered, but I don't have recent experience there.

* Are bugs going to be a big problem and annoyance due to the snow melt?

They certainly could be. I would be prepared for the worst. Bug net and bug juice.

* Will there be lots of snow on the passes? Will that require an ice axe for safety?

Depends on the snow pack, the weather, and rate of melting. No one knows at this time. We sure used ice axes.

* If there is a good amount of snow, think I can still get away with doing the trail in some good trail runners, or will I need boots?

The trail part will be easy. Its the pass part that could be tough. Partly depends on your skill and experience, and the snowpack that is left. If the snow on north facing passes is hardened ice, and no one has cut steps in the snow, and you have light shoes... not a good combination.

* Are there any trails that are about as long that can compare to the JMT for grand vistas and mountains?

No.

* What temp rating down sleeping bag should I get? I tend to sleep warm. Will I be hot in a 20deg bag?

no

Christopher Davis
(CDavisJK) - F
thanks on 03/27/2012 15:26:28 MDT Print View

Hey Bob,
I love your 1970s trip report! It's a history lesson in itself. Thank you for taking the time to post it on the internet for those of us too young to know how backpacking was done back in the day.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: we started on June 19, JMT N to S on 03/27/2012 16:28:20 MDT Print View

Bob,

Wonderful story. I am pretty sure I passed your group somewhere around Whitney in 1971. I had come up from the Forks of the Kern area a remember passing a large group, and wondering whether that would be typical on my way to Yosemite.

1971 was a pretty good snow year, higher than average but not a record breaker.

Brad Fisher
(wufpackfn) - M

Locale: NC/TN/VA Mountains
Re: Re: we started on June 19, JMT N to S on 03/27/2012 18:26:35 MDT Print View

Great trip report Bob. Loved the pictures of a different time.

Brad

David Lutz
(davidlutz)

Locale: Bay Area
Bob's JMT trip 1971 on 03/27/2012 20:12:40 MDT Print View

Very, very cool Bob. Thanks.

Tommy Franzen
(Tomlike) - F

Locale: Pacific Wonderland
Sierra snow levels on 03/29/2012 14:48:50 MDT Print View

This thread has got me looking at Sierra snow levels, even though I'm a good 16 hour drive away! The link below shows snow levels and monthly totals at Mammoth Mountain since 1969. Current season total of 216". Last year's season total a whopping 668.5" including about 63" from April-June. Interesting to see monthly totals, highs/lows, and how they influenced year-end totals. This year could turn out to be a top 10 lowest, depending on what happens in the next 6 weeks or so.

http://www.mammothmountain.com/_ecomm/past.years.snowfall.cfm