John Muir Trail: Mules, Meals & Camp Life

*Click on the title above to activate the slideshows below

Emma’s kitchen was always the heart of our campsite.

In choosing to walk the John Muir Trail with the support of a mule team and packers, we realized far more benefits were more than we could have hoped for. While we still walked every knee-busting mile of the trail, our backpacks were reduced to a manageable 25+/- lbs. “Cheater” I was called once by a fellow hiker carrying an oversized pack. Well, that depends on one’s perspective doesn’t it? The fact is, Reg and I wanted to walk this iconic trail for ourselves and carrying a 40+ lb. pack was out of the question.
We still worked hard. Every night Reg and I tidied ourselves up in a stream or lake, filtered water for the next day, washed a shirt or pair of socks or more, set up our tent, blew up our air mattresses, unfurled our sleeping bags and tried to organize ourselves prior to our 5:00 a.m. alarm…when the whole process reversed itself. Let me tell you, it was really cold at 5:00 in the morning on the John Muir Trail!

We also had a few rules to follow. No breakfast or coffee until all our mule-packed belongings were ready to go and placed on the packer tarps. It took all eleven of us (hikers) about an hour to pack up each morning.
Because the horses and mules were let loose to graze overnight, we were not allowed to leave camp to start our daily hike until all stock had been accounted for. Without stock, our baggage could not be transported to the next camp and we would be without overnight supplies. Not often, but sometimes they wandered off under the cover of dark and the guys had to hunt for them in the early hours.
One morning as I held my coffee cup out to Emma to fill, she warned me that the guys had been out searching for the horses and mules since 4:30 a.m. It wasn’t too long after breakfast that they all finally returned and we started our day. It seemed our four-legged friends had wandered miles back along the trail to enjoy greener pastures.

Theres no doubt that having our meals prepared for us each day was an incredible treat. Emma was amazing. She was up at 4:30 every morning making us all sandwiches or wraps to pack as part of our lunch. Breakfast could be any combination of eggs, pancakes, toast, sausage, bacon, oatmeal, cream of wheat and sometimes fresh fruit.
Dinners were equally and unexpectedly good. Spaghetti and meatballs, chicken tacos, steak, hamburgers, basil pasta, shepherd’s pie and pork chops. Often we even had dessert – brownies or cake.

Our hardworking crew of four packers (left to right) Wyatt, Emma, Lane and Tate.

With all this support, we might just make it to the end of the trail!

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8 thoughts on “John Muir Trail: Mules, Meals & Camp Life

  1. Ken G.

    Sue and Reg… Fabulous photos! Can’t wait to hear about all your adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lori

    What a wonderful crew. There are no winners or losers or cheaters on the JMT. Just different ways to do the trail. I was wondering why your packs were still so heavy? Did you have to carry your tents and clothes and sleeping bags and pad and they just carried the food? I guess I was thinking the mules carried that stuff in and you just had to have day stuff. Even a 25 pound pack would be too much for me now. I usually pack about 10 pounds if I am day hiking. Just wondering. Sound like you had a great time. Smiley has absolutely no desire to do something like that. He said he slept in the dirt enough as a packer and a firefighter. So happy for you both to go together. Happy trails for sure

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure my 25lb weight was totally accurate, but my pack is older and a little heavier. We carried 3+ liters of water, lunch, snacks, rain gear, Texas (mine are heavy), first aid kit and various other little things. The mules did carry our tents and large bags that held our sleeping bag, clothes, and a variety of other stuff that backpackers would not normally have with them.


  3. Lori

    Thanks for the info. I ‘m thinking I really need to get into the wilderness again next summer for overnight and the only way I can do it is with a packer taking my heavy stuff. I’m thinking a week. I have two replaced knees and I did have a 45 pound pack I carried in when I did the JMT I know I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to do that. If you read some of the JMT sites a lot of people have reduced their pack weight to 25 pounds. They have spent tons of money and everything is so lightweight now. My plan is to get a very lightweight day pack, filter as much as possible and bring as little as possible in my day pack and try to make it at about 12 pounds. I think that is doable for me. I am going to start this winter getting ready because no matter how you hike those trails it is hard. I have been doing some day hikes and I’m comfortable at 5 miles and I’m pretty sure I will get up to 10. My new knee continues to serve me well. It has been so fun following you. I’m sure that day pack felt heavy no matter what it weighed. BTW Did I say I’m proud of you. A BIG accomplishment. Happy trails

    Liked by 1 person

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