In 2015 I hiked from Pine Creek to Tuolomne Meadows via the John Muir Trail and I was instantly hooked by the places I saw so I knew I’d be back. So we decided to plan on hiking the higher section of the JMT in 2016.
In 2016 we planned to hike from the Horseshoe / Cottonwood Meadows campground to Bishop Pass which would be around one hundred miles. Well as the trip approached a few of them had to drop out and then the remaining two of us decided to reduce the full mileage of the trip and to end the trip at the Onion Valley Trailhead. This would reduce the total mileage to approximately forty three miles by the time it was said and done but due to several factors it was the right thing to do at the time. We would be crossing approximately four passes; Cottonwood, Guyot, Forester and Kearsarge Pass. I hadn’t heard of any of them except for Forester because it is the highest point on the PCT.
Original Game Plan: Our goal was to fly to Las Vegas – drive to Lone Pine – drive to Horseshoe Meadows – begin the hike from there. Get off the trail at Bishop Pass – hitch a ride to Bishop then hitch back to Horseshoe Meadows to get our vehicle.
Adjusted Game Plan: We spent the first night at the hostel in Lone Pine in order to get our stuff together. We had intended to spend the first night at the Horseshoe / Cottonwood meadows campground but I was having a bad reaction to the altitude sickness meds that I had taken that morning and it caused some side effects that were not fun. By the second day I was feeling great again and ready to take on the trail. So we began the hike the next day and Horseshoe Meadows campground – hiked approximately 43 miles to Kearsarge Pass – down to Onion Valley Trailhead – hitched a ride to the town of Independence – hitched a ride back to Horseshoe Meadows campground to our vehicle. Worked out perfectly.
Altitude Sickness: My take on the whole altitude sickness issue is well that it only affects 20% of the population and I’ve met many people on the trail who don’t need the meds. I haven’t had any issues with it out there yet so I’m going to bypass the meds from now on and just drink plenty of fluids. I notice that as I get up higher in the mountains I need to drink more and sometimes I get a headache which is a sign that my brain is asking for more fluids I drink more and that seems to be the answer for me. The meds have nasty side effects so if you can get around them then by all means do so.
Final Take: Right from the outset I knew this would be a fantastic trip because we started at the highest campground in the United States which is known as Horseshoe or Cottonwood Meadows. The drive to the Horseshoe – Cottonwood Meadows campground is nothing short of exciting. As you start the drive out of Lone Pine, California you get to a point where you can look up and ahead and see the outline of the road climbing up as it zig-zags up the mountain toward the campground. This is a very interesting drive and has a bit of a pucker factor along with it. This was an outstanding hike! We didn’t run into any issues and it’s a pretty good hike overall. The weather was outstanding and it didn’t rain a bit but the sun is hot up there and sun protection is required. We had very little issues with insects so the insect repellent was unnecessary. The worst of the insects was most likely the ants that were at some of the campsites that were predominantly composed of sand. And the ants didn’t really bother us there they were just crawling on everything. I’d say the scariest parts of this trip for me would be a tie between the drive up to Horseshoe Meadows campground and the hike up the South side of Forester Pass. Both had a little bit of pucker factor for me but I do have a little bit of high anxiety so it probably wouldn’t affect everyone the same way. The views on this trip were nothing short of amazing because a lot of it was over 9,500 feet and there was almost always a beautiful view. There were quite a few people on the JMT section which is to be expected.
Regrets: The one thing I regret about this hike is that I didn’t get a permit and add a day to account for a summit bid on Mt. Whitney. Crabtree Meadows is a great back door to get closer to Mt. Whitney and summit it and get back down to camp. I could have done it in a day easily. I also wish I had unloaded some of the food I had taken but we didn’t reduce our hike distance until we got on the trail. My pack may have been a little heavy for a lot of people but I was perfectly fine with it.
Gear: I was anxious to try out my new gear for this trip which consisted of my ULA Circuit Backpack and my BearVault BV500 Bear Resistant Food Canister. I had used my ULA pack on a few short trips throughout the year so I knew I’d love it but it was still untested on hikes over 3 days. The BearVault BV500 on the other hand, was very new to me and I had not taken it on any hikes up to that point. I wasn’t too concerned though because after all it’s just a container and there were many positive online reviews that backed it up. Neither of these pieces of gear failed to disappoint and in fact the ULA Circuit proved extremely comfortable and able to carry its max weight of around 35 pounds with no regret. My ULA Circuit is by far my favorite pack at this point and I look forward to carrying it because it’s made so smartly. Every one of its attributes is the result of a lot of thought and expertise and it all benefits the one carrying the pack.
Something I always take or at least have with me on every trip is my phone which serves several purposes. One of these is a book because I have a subscription of KINDLE on my phone and I have books downloaded. Because of this I always have a book to read a little of before bedtime or if it starts a torrential rain that lasts for more than a few hours. I can just hang out in my tent and read a book I have downloaded.
Here are the two maps that I took on this trip and they provided me with everything I needed.
There are various other maps and guides relating to this area and trails that I didn’t take on this trip. CLICK HERE for material related to the John Muir Trail and CLICK HERE for material related to Sequioa.
A few facts to keep in mind while planning a trip on the John Muir Trail or this area in general
a) Bear spray is illegal in this national park so leave it home.
b) Must request permits as soon as able to reserve them because they go fast.
c) Bear canisters are required within a lot of the national parks Bearvault BV500
d) Sunscreen – The air is thinner and the sun is very intense at higher altitudes so a very high spf is a necessity.
e) Insect repellent – You may or may not need it but it’s good to have it.
f) Bring a large brimmed hat and something to cover the back of your neck. Outdoor Research Helios Sun Hat
g) Sunglasses Tifosi Dolomite 2.0
|SHOES/BOOTS NOT INCLUDED IN PACK WEIGHT|
|MERRELL MOAB VENTILATOR||30.00|
|TREKKING POLES NOT INCLUDED IN PACK WEIGHT|
|BLACK DIAMOND FL ULTRA DISTANCE TREKKING POLES (click link for options)||16.00|
|ULA CIRCUIT BACKPACK||41.60|
|ZPACKS HEXAMID SOLO PLUS TENT W/TWIN CUBEN BATHTUB FLOOR||22.30|
|STAKE AND CORDAGE KIT||10.00|
|ENLIGHTENED EQUIPMENT HOODLUM||4.00|
|ENLIGHTENED EQUIPMENT REVELATION PRO 20 DEGREE QUILT W/STUFF SACK||29.00|
|THERMAREST NEOAIR XLITE LARGE||16.00|
|THERMAREST ZLITE SMALL||12.00|
|8 NIGHTS OF FOOD IN BEARVAULT BV500||192.00|
|SILVA FORCASTER 610 COMPASS||0.70|
|FIRST AID KIT BASIC||4.00|
|SAWYER FILTER MINI(2 OZ)/PLATYPUS SOFT BOTTLES (2)(3 OZ)/SAWYER PURGE FITTING(1.5 OZ)/BEARPAW WILDERNESS DESIGNS WATER BAG (4 OZ)/EXTRA LIDS||7.50|
|SAFETY LANYARD – BG COMPACT SCOUT KNIFE/ADVENTURE MEDICAL RESCUE HOWLER/STREAMLIGHT PICO LIGHT||4.00|
|TOILETRY KIT – MEDICINE/TOOTHBRUSH/TOOTHPASTE ETC IN OUTDOOR RESEARCH SMALL DRY DITTY SACK||12.00|
|POTTY KIT – DEUCE OF SPADES/TOILET PAPER/INSECT REPELLENT/HAND CLEANER/HAND CLEANER/NYLON SACK||12.00|
|MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR ORKO GLOVES||1.50|
|BASE CLOTHING KIT||24.00|
|MARMOT DRICLIME WINDSHIRT||9.90|
|EDDIE BAUER FIRST ASCENT IGNITER JACKET||23.40|
|ZPACKS CUBEN FIBER KILT||1.20|
|FROGG TOGGS UL JACKET||5.80|
|TOAKS Titanium 600ml Pot||1.70|
|OPTIMUS LONG FOLDING SPOON||0.80|
|GATORADE CUP(CUT DOWN GATORADE BOTTLE)||3.00|
|MSR MICROROCKET STOVE AND PIEZO SPARKER||3.20|
|WATER BOTTLES – BLADDERS|
|SOBE BOTTLE FULL||29.00|
|BLACK DIAMOND STORM HEADLAMP IN HMG NANO CF8 CUBEN STUFF SACK W/EXTRA BATTERIES||5.30|
|POWER CHARGER IN HMG NANO CF10 CUBEN STUFF SACK||6.30|
|TIFOSI DOLOMITE 2.0 SUNGLASSES||1.40|
|TOTAL SUM OF WEIGHT OUNCES||501.90|
|TOTAL SUM OF WEIGHT POUNDS||31.37|
Horseshoe / Cottonwood Meadows campground – This is supposedly the highest elevation campground in the United States.
We left our car here in the parking lot where it appeared very safe. Before we left the car went through our car to make sure there was no food or smelly items that might attract bears. This also included visual items as well that the bears might look in and deem something interesting. There were several bear boxes located at the parking lot for all to use and store any items they felt would encourage a bear to get curious, creative and destructive, lol. I saw this firsthand last year when we hiked the JMT – a few vehicles that were literally destroyed so I wasn’t taking chances.