Trip report. John Muir Trail. 2013.
So ever since I saw Reinhold Metzger about 4 years ago when we were both out hiking the JMT at a normal pace of around 14 days, I have wanted to do a “fast pack” on the JMT. I met him as we were going up Silver pass I think and I remember talking to him for a moment about his record. I didn’t really understand how he had done it, but he then encouraged me to go and break his record.
I had been gone for two years serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints in the country of Panama where I learned the Spanish language (this information comes in handy) and hadn’t backpacked for 2 years until this summer, so I was excited to get some trips under my belt. Before going on this one, I did a couple trips with my family.
I didn’t set out to break any records, I just wanted to finish the trail in less than 6 days, that sounded fairly reasonable after seeing a trip report from Mark Davis who completed the trail in 5 days 5 hours and 18 minutes, according to his report.
So to say the least, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, and had never done a “fast pack,” I just wanted to push my limits and see how far I could go alone.
So I set out from Whitney Portal at 9 30 AM with my dad who had taken me and was planning on hiking with me some of the way up to portal. I was up at Whitney before 3, ate some snacks, and then ran down to trail crest and my goal was to summit Forester that night and stay in Vidette meadows. I ended up getting forester at 12 midnight and tried to make it down to Vidette but only made it to the tree line, pulled my sleeping bag out and slept quickly.
The next morning I got up at 6 30 am feeling lightheaded and nauseous I guess from not acclimating to the altitude and headed towards Glen Pass. It was overcast and drizzling which also affected my mood, and I felt pretty sick getting up and over that pass. I knew was moving slowly, so I tried to convince myself that all was good and that I was going to regain some time by booking it down glen pass to the suspension bridge. I somewhat managed to do so, and boost my spirits and was ready to charge up Pinchot pass. I climbed that pass quickly and was up and over by 6. Still feeling fast and fresh, I hurried down to the junction below Mather pass, and decided to pull out my stove and canister to cook dinner. This would be the first time I would cook dinner, and the last. I guess a stove and dehydrated meals will be going on the “not to bring next time” list. After trying to force down a dehydrated meal and almost finishing, I packed up and headed toward Mather pass. It was 9 pm when I left. I was still feeling good and got up and over Mather pass at 11 pm but was a little disorientated while going down when I didn’t see a sign that said “Mather Pass” and I didn’t really remember what the trail was like down to Palisade Lake, and couldn’t even see the lake until almost walking right into it. I went down a little and slept right above the Golden Staircase at 1 30 am.
I began a pattern of leaving camp at 6 30 am and made it to the Kings Creek Junction to start the climb up to Muir Pass at 9 am. I was very sore this morning and decided to stretch and eat breakfast at the junction. I struggled with sore feet and legs going up and felt exhausted when I got to the hut. At 3 pm. While I was there, a group of 4 guys came up, noticed I might be a “fast hiker” and started asking me questions and boosted my spirits. I flew down Muir Pass to Evolution Lake by 5 15 and got down to Franklin meadow at 8 15. I really enjoyed passing through Evolution Valley and hit McClure meadow just right with the perfect lighting. Beautiful. At 9 30 I was at the Paiute Junction Bridge and began to make my way up to my destination, which was Sallie Keys Lakes. I only made it to the junction before the switchbacks leading to Sallie Keys before Muir Trail Ranch due to left Achilles tendon that was acting up. Pulled out my sleeping bag, and went to bed around 11.
Woke up at 6 and got going at 6 30, today I was feeling well rested with 7 hours of sleep. I got up to the Sallie Keys Lakes at 9 30. Went over Selden Pass quickly, and headed down to Vermillion. I was tired on the climb that takes you up just to go down 4.5 miles into Vermillion, and was wondering why I had to climb so much if I was just going to drop so far. At this point I realized that when I was at my limit of exhaustion/ pain I would talk to myself out loud about whatever was in my mind and cheer myself up in Spanish. I decided that I wasn’t actually tired and my feet weren’t actually hurting and I ran down all of the switchbacks to the bridge before Vermillion. With my spirits high again, I began the ascent up to Silver Pass. On my way up I ran into the “2 Asians” that I had been hearing about the whole trip that were apparently “10 minutes” or a “mile” ahead of me for more than half a day, who people had claimed were Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese, but in the end they were Taiwanese. Jack and Johnny. Two ultra runners from Los Angeles, Jack is actually sponsored by “Run With Us” a local shoe store where I had gotten my shoes days earlier, and knew my cross-country coach from high school. I hiked with them for about 30 minutes or an hour and Jack said he needed to “let me go” so I could reach my goal that night. So I went up the rest of the pass and left from the summit at 6 45 with the goal in the back of my head to get to Reds. I had forgotten that there were some climbs to get up to the Tully Hole and Lake Virginia and that may have slowed me down so I ended up at Deer Creek for the night at 1 am, feeling beat.
6 30 left camp and was above Reds at Johnston creek at 10 30. A call to the family and a couple friends at Reds was refreshing and I got moving to Shadow Lake. I had to stop here for a while to fix some blisters at the shore of the lake where a water snake came creeping up and we both seemed to scare each other away. It took me until 8 pm to get to Donahue pass due to the blisters with a lot of shale that didn’t help. I also met Camille and Eddy; two south bound hikers with no set itinerary. I was really jealous that they could just hang out at Thousand Island Lake for the night, and I still had many miles to hike. We talked for about 30 minutes, mainly about Camille’s fear of mountain lions. I dropped down to the junction that is 27 miles away from Happy Isles at 11 and figured 27 miles sounded like a nice easy day, so I rolled out my bag and slept at that junction.
I was really motivated this morning and got moving a whole 30 minutes earlier than normal… at 6. For some reason I had a distinct craving for Jack in the Box, even though it had been more than 3 years since I had eaten from that place. So I figured one step more was one step closer to that burger my mind was craving. I rolled on through and arrived at Happy Isles at 5 pm. Took a picture in front of the sign, soaked my feet under the bus stop, then drove home with my friend that waited for me at the finish. Overall time 5 days 2 hours. I couldn’t say the exact minute. Monday 3 pm at Whitney- Saturday 5 pm Happy Isles.
I learned a lot about “fast packing” this trip, being this the first “fast pack” I have done. And like I said, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, and the mental and physical battles I would be fighting in these next few days. Highs and lows. But overall I loved every bit of it; the challenge, the beauty, the people, and am definitely going to do trips like this again.
Here are some things that I would do differently: the worst part of it was my shoes. I decided to take the New Balance “minimus” shoes and it was just a bad idea. I had hiked 20-mile days in a shoe like that, but I guess I just didn’t know what it would be like to hike 40 miles in a day. My feet hurt, my Achilles tendon was acting up a lot, bad blisters, and they are now very swollen.
Also, I would leave behind the stove. Cooking was too much of a hassle and extra weight. And my body wasn’t able to finish a full meal.
Everything else seemed to be good. I will put up a full gear list soon.
Very fun experience.