I haven’t posted any journal entries here in a long time. Maybe I should get back to it, but first, a random post on a hot topic that’s near and dear to me and second only to my fervent support and belief in Teva’s . . . but I think it’s about time I stop debating and just let you all figure it out . . . meanwhile, my North to South, rant.
Where do I begin . . . Since 1996 I’ve had the pleasure of being on and completing the John Muir Trail, thirteen times––all of them north to south.
I’ve also spent a lot of time whenever the question is asked, as to which way is the best, and while I have my own personal reasons––I think I’ll stop bothering everyone with my way of seeing it and just let you get on with it and let you hike your hike.
Next year I want to see everyone going north, because, to quote a fellow hiker “It’s no harder one direction than the other, same path, ergo, same up and down”
I sorta disagree, but hey . . .
Simple. Easy. Unless you take into account a few details of the trail and other details.
Why go north to south . . . and who really cares (you might, once you try it) ?
The first answer is that it’s a lot easier, starting at the relatively low elevation of Yosemite (around 4,000 feet) Valley, than it is to start at Whitney Portal (roughly 8,000 feet) .
Imagine flying cross-country, or from around the world, or maybe just up from Los Angeles––you’re tired, jet-lagged, and maybe not in the absolute best shape you wanted to be in for this hike, but here you are ––you bought all your gear, you got your two weeks of vacation and you’re gonna go for it, starting at Whitney.
Now, if you’re in great shape and you’ve been training and you’re bent on setting a personal record, sure, you can probably get up and over Whitney and all the rest of the big, glorious passes and do just fine, but if you’re not, well . . .
There are a lot of people who get it in their head that they’re going to do the JMT, and for whatever reason, they decide they’ll knock out the big stuff, first––and I’ve met a few of them, giving up, going out, after just a few days of being bogged down and beaten by altitude and exertion.
Again, great idea if you’re in shape, you know you’re good with altitude and lastly, you have the time built in, for failure.
I’ve met a lot of people going north to south, who started low and slow, who still got up and out of the valley or maybe a little farther, only to realize they just were not cut out for the altitude, or just not in shape, period.
All that planning, dreaming, researching and money and they only got as far as the store in Tuolumne, or for others––they got all the way into the high passes, only to find that they had to bail out.
Having done it enough times now, I have my short-cuts, but I wouldn’t think of starting in Tuolumne, just because, I feel, that if you can’t get up and out of the valley, maybe you shouldn’t be on the trail at all.
There’s also the minor detail of re-supplying, or if you start at Whitney, not being able to re-supply (without spending time and money) at all, for the first 7-10 days.
Yes, you could start at Whitney and have someone meet you at Charlotte Lake/Kearsage, or one of the other up-coming junctions––but unless your timing is perfect and your wallet, fat––you might be in trouble.
I don’t follow all the rules regarding packers or even just your sister and her boyfriend, bringing a re-supply in for you, but in general, it’s got to be a pretty well-timed endeavor.
The packers aren’t going to sit around, waiting, if you’re a day late and the rules are pretty stern as far as them not being able to just leave your drop in a bear box, or . . . with a ranger . . . ain’t gonna happen.
And then your friends, bringing your food in––what’s the guarantee there––either from them or you.
Sure, they might be able to sit around for an entire day or more, but then there’s you and your two weeks of paid vacation and getting over Whitney kicked your ass and the south side of Forester made your partner come to a sudden realization that he/she has a tremendous fear of heights and . . . you’ve lost half a day or more, already.
Of course you can always carry that 7-10 days of food up and over Whitney and all the way to Muir Trail Ranch––this is just one more snag in the south to north scenario.
So as much as I want the place all to myself, do yourself a favor and start in Yosemite––and in the valley, rather than Tuolumne––start low and slow and by the time you get to the big stuff, you’ll be good.
My second answer to the big question of which way is best, is much more personal, but bears a little bit of your time, I think.
Again, I’ve never done the JMT south to north, mostly for the same reason that everyone chooses to do it this way or that––it’s all about convenience.
I live in San Francisco, and getting into Yosemite Valley, by public transit, takes roughly seven hours, but even if I lived elsewhere and had to fly in, with the option of starting in the south, I’d still go for the valley.
For one, and back to the obvious––it’s a much easier start, but all things being even––I’d still rather end my trip on top of Whitney, than walking down into Yosemite Valley.
Think about it––for many of us, the John Muir Trail is one of those big items on everyone’s “bucket list”and you might only get to do it once––or maybe once is enough, so why not end it in a grand manner.
Yes, again, it’s all relative and subjective––one man’s grand is another man’s grunt.
If just doing the trail is enough for you––if just getting from one end to the other is all good, then, by all means, go south to north and finish up by walking down into Yosemite Valley, with all of civilization, milling about, looking for the next bit of fast food or a bus to take them around in circles . . . and . . .
Yeah, I don’t like the valley––take away all the people and everything they bring to it and I’d love it, but I still wouldn’t find it a fitting way, given the option, of ending such an adventure there or on top of Whitney . . .
Think about it this way––very few lofty goals (like walking over 211 miles in a few weeks) are reached by starting at the top and working your way to the bottom––unless you’re sponsored by Red Bull and jump out of a balloon or whatever at a 130,000 feet.
Everything in our way of thinking involves, getting to the top, being on top, #1. . .
. . . and there’s nothing like (well, in my small world, anyway) being on the JMT and getting into the high passes, Muir, Glen . . . climbing up and over them, each one higher, each one closer to the goal . . .
Maybe I should just adopt a different way of thinking about it––be more Zen––more about just being there, experiencing it and be less worried about the ending up in the heavenly skies, above it all, glorious in my achievement (but I still have to get to the Portal) and thrilled that I can see it all––looking north from the top of Whitney and remembering every foot step, every pass, every moment.
For me, the summit of Whitney and the subsequent descent to the portal and eventually––the hot tub at the Dow Villa, down in Lone Pine––it’s all about a slow re-entry into earth’s atmosphere.
Go the other way and end up walking down into the valley, blinded by the glare from all the clean white- socked civilians, buses, cars, lost children, fast food and more fast food and . . . you can barely look up to take it all in, before getting run over by some guy (ha, it happened to me once before I started) on a bicycle.
And before I forget, or more importantly, start giving away all the great secret spots where the magic of “just being” occurs, there really isn’t any place in Yosemite––at least not on the JMT––that compares with being able to spend some time, saying goodbye to it all, like on the Bighorn Plateau.
Whitney is one thing, for sure––it’s grand and full of celebration, back-slaps and smiles and for so many, the culmination of a dream, no matter from which side you came, but the summit, the moment, is always the same––it’s all about being there, doing it and like any other goal, mountain-wise, all that work, for a few minutes of glory and then, it’s all about getting off the top, finishing.
Once everyone gets up top of Forester, they can all feel the pull of Whitney, of finishing––and so many set their minds and legs on getting to Guitar Lake by the end of the day––not a bad place to be.
I used to do the same thing––hustle as much as I could and get as close to Whitney in as big a hurry as everyone and I ran across the Bighorn Plateau, noting it, but barely noticing it, and always thinking, one day I’ll actually stop here.
There’s just no place like the Bighorn Plateau*––desolate, barren, great views––and most people blitz right across it. ( and feel free to keep going if you see me out there)
I finally stopped, slowed down, figured out that this was/is that place to take it all in, visually and more importantly, emotionally––the Bighorn is kind of where my JMT adventure has ended these last five or six times.
Even if I get there early in the day, I just stop, walk way out onto the sandy shore of the little “no name” lake and just sit, think, process, take it all in.
And again, there ain’t nothing like it on the last fifteen or so miles if you’re headed into the valley . . . . . try having any deep thoughts, sitting on the trail with all the Half Dome folks, charging by.
Anyway, it’s all subjective, all about what you are in it for and for me, it’s all about . . . well, I still don’t know, which is why I keep doing it, north to south.
*Luckily I am one of the few that thinks it so grand . . . and remember, stay off the grass!