I finished the Tuolumne to Whitney portion of the JMT on Sept 7. I’ve done the JMT from Happy Isles several times, and decided to start in Lyell Canyon this time to avoid the chaos of the Valley. A morning start walking up Lyell Canyon was much more pleasant than walking up asphalt with hundreds of day hikers. A few thoughts below:
The trail – seemed to be in good shape. Hiking through the Nov wind storm area was incredible with 1000’s of trees down – they’ve done a good job of cleaning it up. I only found and picked-up minor trash – small bits of cord, a wrapper here and there, etc. There were trail maintenance crews on Glen Pass and the Whitney switchbacks. There were all kinds of rumors among hikers about the Whitney closure during the two weeks I was on the trail. After I summitted Whitney I went to Trail Crest and there was a ranger holding everyone. They let people through at 8:30 am, 11:30 am, and 3:30 pm. The ranger said they were not blasting, just pry bar and hand work. I saw 3 - 4 crews working the switchbacks when I hiked through, thanking them all for their hard work. They were not issuing any permits from Whitney Portal for this period. After hearing this, I let the small group at Trail Crest go ahead when they let us through, and I had a unique hike down the canyon by myself, without a soul behind me, and no one hiking up the trail.
People – there were many more people than when I last did the JMT 10 years ago. Most seemed like very nice and interesting people. Most were carrying more traditional packs/loads, but they seemed to be having as good a time as those with lighter loads. The craze for fast times has brought out the worst in some people, something I did not see 10 years ago. A few examples: I was at a stream crossing taking a break and a guy comes pounding down the trail and immediately starts screaming at me “where do I cross, where do I cross? I can’t lose time”. At MTR, a guy kept weighing his pack and loudly proclaiming it weighed 16 lbs, and he did this each time a new party came in. Also at MTR, when I was rummaging though the buckets, a guy with a light pack comes over and pushed me out of the way to get to the bucket with first aid supplies, he put about a ¼ cup of sanitizer on his hands, left the bucket open, and ran off. Five minutes after getting past by 2 guys moving quickly with light loads I came across a map in the trail – I poked it with my pole and picked it up. It was dry/crisp and obviously had been on the trail a few days – why didn’t these guys stop and pick it up? Another time I was zoned-in on a good pace doing a very long uphill stretch when a guy comes barreling down and nearly pushed me off the trail. Finally, I was stopped for a quick break and a guy who was moving quickly, stopped, asked me to get his water bottle out of his pack, and after I did so he took off without a word.
Most people I met on my recent hike would comment on the peaks in the skyline , the latest lake or waterfall they saw, or the deer they saw in camp in the morning. We would talk about how fun it was to simply be out hiking for a few weeks.
The ONLY thing I was asked about from those with obviously very light loads and moving quickly was “ how many days are you doing it in?” “how much does your pack weigh?” These people were boring, and I have nothing in common with them. I’m sure there are many light and fast hikers with respect for others and the trail. I just didn’t meet any on my hike.
What is it with these people? I did the JMT the first time when I was 20 in 1972. I was a climbing bum, and burned out on climbing for the season. I walked from Camp 4 to the store, got a week’s worth of food and took off. I didn’t know much about the trail, just that I could hike from Yosemite to Whitney. My equipment was my canvas climbing pack, down jacket, cagoule and Svea stove. A standard bivouac of the day was curling-up and sleeping with your feet in your pack. I finished the trail in 7 days. So what. Who cares? There was no Internet to blog and brag about what I did. But why would I? It was nothing special. LOTS of people do incredible things all the time and don’t talk about it, even today.
Maybe I’m getting old, I just don’t get it. We all hike for different reasons and have different goals, and they are all valid. But EVERYONE needs to respect their fellow hikers and respect the trail and environment or we will all suffer.
The most inspiring, interesting, and fun person I met on the trail was a guy who was at least 50 lbs overweight and moving slowly. I spent a few minutes with him on Whitney summit day, once as I was going up, and once on my way down. He was huffing and puffing but having a great time. He had a great attitude, and understood the magnificence of the environment he was in. His accomplishment was much more impressive than any I saw on the trail.
My reason for joining this forum was to get some up-to-date info on equipment since much of mine was 15 – 20 years old. Even though I have been hiking a long time, I learned much from this community.
The need to go light and fast has been the mantra of alpine climbers for decades – primarily for safety. While some hikers are pushing new limits today, light and fast among hikers is nothing new. What seems to be new, at least what I’ve observed recently, is an “attitude” among some that think their way is the only way. Personally, I would love to have spent 30 days on the JMT fly fishing at every lake and bagging a bunch of peaks, but work did not allow that much time.