Posts Tagged With: Mules on the John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail: What will we remember?

Only the strong survive at the higher altitudes.

It was hard to anticipate just what hiking the John Muir Trail would mean to each of us. It’s been equally difficult to put into words a complete description of our day in/day out journey along the John Muir Trail. We struggled, we learned, we laughed and we celebrated. Each day was a combination of emotions that left us both exhausted and exhilarated as we climbed into our tent each night.

Sometimes it was better not knowing exactly where the trail would lead.
Sunsets created unique light.
Ten days before the Forest Service shut down the forest due fire danger, we were given the okay to have our one and only campfire. We affectionately renamed this forest service campground “Camp Tinderbox.”
Alarm at 5:00 a.m. Breakfast at 6:00. On the trail by 7:00.
photo credit: Mark

A two-person tent was pretty tight quarters for two people.
The encouragement we received from our fellow hikers kept us going.
Most of all, we will remember what fun it was to share 30 days on the trail with nine other hikers and four packers with horses and mules. (Three not pictured above)

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John Muir Trail: Type 2 Fun

*Click on the title above to activate slideshow below.

Reg traverses the narrow path across the summit of 11,926 ft. Glen Pass, definitely Type 2 Fun.

The packers were sharing stories of some of their crazy adventures when I first heard the term “Type 2 Fun,” an experience that is no fun as you live it, but in retrospect, one of the best times of your life. For the record, “Type 1 Fun” is enjoyable from start to finish. The dreaded “Type 3 Fun” is that never again feeling you get when you simply hope to make it home in one piece.
Below is a link to an interesting article Outside magazine published on the subject. It explains why Reg and I keep going back to long distance trekking; the idea of a harmonious passion, or being absorbed in an activity that you choose to do because you love how it makes you feel.

Above are some examples of our Type 2 Fun days.

Slide 1 11,926 Glen Pass, Slide 2 and 312,130 Pinchot Pass Slide 4 and 512,100 ft. Mather Pass


Marie Lake shimmers below 10,898 ft. Selden Pass.

The mountain pass climbs were definitely Type 2 Fun for us, but once to the top, with gorgeous views like this, the experience quickly became Type 1 Fun.
Tomorrow I’ll share more fun from our journey to the top of Selden Pass. I promise you won’t want to miss it!

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John Muir Trail: No escaping the tough climb

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The trail in front of us promised a challenging day as it disappeared into the mountains ahead.

Reg and I are not the type of hikers who study the trail map in great detail every morning. As long as we are confident we can get from point A to point B, we look forward the surprises the trail offers, so we were quite pleased when the morning began with a pleasant walk along a fairly flat dirt trail.

But on our 6th day of walking we were aware there would be no escaping the tough climb ahead. Those of us who chose to sit out Mt. Whitney had no choice but to conquer 13,200 foot Forester Pass. The day wore on and the trail became steeper and rockier as we continued the 2,300 foot climb to the top of Forester Pass. We soon found ourselves on a series of long switchbacks, struggling over chunky granite cobblestones and clambering over boulders that stretched our legs to the limit.

And then the mules caught up with us. Normally they were roped together in 3 groups led by Emma, Wyatt and Tate on horseback. Before starting up the pass, the mules were untied for safety. They are pretty sure-footed animals, but if one slipped on the narrow, steep switchbacks while tied together, they would fall like dominoes, scattering rocks and boulders on hikers below.

I’m afraid my photos don’t do the scene justice, nor do they show just how treacherous and how tight the final switchbacks to the summit are.

There is surprisingly little space on the top of the pass, but there are never ending 360 degree views.

I’m looking pretty relaxed after what was easily the climb of my life, but at this point our day was only half over. What more could John Muir confront us with?

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John Muir Trail: Mules, Meals & Camp Life

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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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John Muir Trail: Loaded and ready to go

We couldn’t believe the heavy loads mules are able to pack…about 20% of their body weight, or 150-200 lbs.

If you remember our last post, you’ll recall that over a month ago we were getting ready for the trip of a lifetime; a 243-mile, mule assisted trek along the John Muir Trail. I don’t know about Reg, but I certainly had plenty of misgivings right up to the moment we first set foot on the trail. We would be surrounded by wilderness with very few escape routes. A number of concerning “what ifs” had kept me up at night.

Regardless, our journey began on schedule August 2 at Horseshoe Meadow in California’s Inyo National Forest. We arrived to a bustling corral that looked straight out of a Hollywood western. Our final group count equaled eleven hikers, four packers with four horses and eight or ten mules…for some reason, Reg and I could never agree on the mule count.


*click on headline at top to view slideshow below*

Our 4.5 mile route for Day 1 took us up over 11,160′ Cottonwood Pass, then on to Chicken Spring Lake (11,242′) for the night. Total elevation gain: 1,400 feet. Was it really just 4.5 miles?

And so, after a dusty first day, we put up our tent, blew up our air mattresses, unrolled our sleeping bags, filtered our water for the next day and found just enough time for a short rest before dinner. What would the next 29 days reveal?

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