Review of John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America’s Most Famous Trail, 5th Edition, by Elizabeth Wenk, Wilderness Press, 2014, 296 pages.
Reviewed by Roleigh Martin, Lead Moderator: JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group, 6/5/2014 9:41PM
Link to book.
This is a book review about a trail that Backpacker Magazine has called twice America’s greatest trail, the 212 mile long John Muir Trail (JMT) which starts at Yosemite Valley in California and ends at Whitney Portal after you finish getting to the summit of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the 48 contiguous US States. I just finished reading Elizabeth Wenk’s 5th edition of her classic 2007, 4th edition, JMT Guide book. Both books are exactly 296 pages long (counting the introductory pages). The 5th edition book contains much more information (some written and much visual).
In the previous edition she included information for both the popular direction (Southbound also called SOBO) and the less popular Northbound (also called NOBO). She migrated the 79 pages of information about the NOBO route to the electronic edition of the book that is forthcoming. This is because the vast majority of JMT hikers do the SOBO route because it starts at a low elevation (around 4,000 feet) versus starting at the end, Mt. Whitney, which is 14,505 feet high. Most hikers want to slowly acclimate to higher elevations, myself included. I have done the JMT Southbound 6 times now and will be doing my 7th consecutive annual JMT hike in the summer of 2014.
She has used these freed-up 79 pages to go into more depth about doing the JMT hike.
The book has new maps of the trail and now number 16 maps instead of 13. In the 4th edition, each page of a book showed one of the 13 map pages. In the 5th edition, each map page spans two book pages, so the maps are more than twice as big in the 5th edition, and they include an extra color (black/white/red vs black/white). The new maps represent the biggest improvement from the 4th edition. They were created specifically for the book to be easy to read and show the relevant landscape on either side of the trail. They use 200 feet contour lines, versus 80 which enable one to see ridges vs valleys and determine approximate elevation levels, without being overly busy. All the place names and such stand out better with this format. Information from the book is directly plotted onto the maps. If photocopied, they’d be very readable on the trail, an extra bonus.
The book now features panoramic images of what mountain peaks are seen from the top of the major JMT Passes, two images shown normally for these major passes, one looking north from the pass; the other looking south. This is what I consider the major reason to get the book if you already own the 4th edition and plan to do the trail again. She presents four panoramic images from the top of Mt. Whitney! The author explained to me she included a panorama for any pass with an open view so she skipped passes like Selden looking south or Donohue looking North, because there you are not looking straight at a “sea of peaks”.
Another new feature for the 5th edition is that she documents all of the JMT trail sections that are longer than 3 miles without any water or with few options to refill. You’ll want to photocopy this page for your next hike!
More information is given on the logistics of getting to and doing the hike, on water purification and water quality. She presents a comprehensive history of the making of the trail.
She provides updated information throughout including referrals to JMT web sites and social groups that contain extensive, well cataloged information, such as mentioning twice the John Muir Trail Yahoo group which has about 3000 members.
She now includes a section on Emergency Beacons and Contacts with emergency phone numbers.
For those new to the JMT and Elizabeth Wenk, she has a doctorate in biology whose thesis was on the effects of rock type on alpine plant distribution and physiology. She instructs the reader on the geology, wildlife, and plant and tree life one sees during a JMT hike.
Like with the 4th edition, but updated, she continues to show all the utilized camp sites, junctions, passes, and scenic waypoints of the trail. Alongside each map, she has a visual altitude profile of the hiking section involved. She covers in detail side trails and exit trails, including details and maps of the side towns near the exit trailheads. She also provides an Excel Spreadsheet (not in the book though) with included GPS files for your GPS devices containing all the tables in her book as well as additional information. Her spreadsheet is currently hosted at the John Muir Trail Yahoo Group and at the Wilderness Press website.
At our JMT Yahoo Group, we have long delved deep into the logistics of how to do the JMT but while reading the 5th edition, I was pleasantly surprised to learn new details myself. For instance, we have always advised people to get to the trail, if by flying, through either San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, Merced, Mammoth Lakes or Reno, and we give details how to proceed on from there. Her book includes Los Angeles though and how to utilize public and private transport from there. Impressive and indicative of the thoroughness of the author’s attention to detail.
I highly recommend this book to all JMT enthusiasts, including those who have done the trail and want to revisit their walk from home. Getting the panoramic images with the peaks labeled is very interesting information to show one just what you’re seeing (or have seen) on the trail. If you plan on doing the trail the first time or the nth time, this book is a must. An incredible accomplishment by an incredible researcher who is very attentive and considerate to the needs of her audience.
Link to book.