Backpacking the John Muir Trail

Yosemite National Park to Mammoth Lakes

 
 Brita enjoys a yoga break on top of Half Dome before climbing down the cables.

Brita enjoys a yoga break on top of Half Dome before climbing down the cables.

 

This trip report comes to us from Brita Salzmann, who took some Roam Oatmeal on a great backpacking adventure into the High Sierra on the John Muir Trail. We loved the photos and the story, and are excited to share that with you!

My friend, Amalia, had the crazy idea to invite me to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and backpack on the John Muir Trail (JMT). Despite only having backpacked once before in my life, I was up for the adventure!

We headed out for Half Dome well before sunrise. Who needs coffee when you have a 9 mile hike to a set of cables anchored to the side of a mountain? The views atop the granite did not disappoint and were well worth the daunting cable ascent.

The next day we double checked our bear canisters and secured our permits for the JMT. For the majority of the first segment we enjoyed snaking through meadows spotted by occasional deer. On day three we roamed past two mountain lakes, where we were lucky enough to run into fellow hikers to take our classic jumping photo. Then we exited Yosemite National Park over Donahue Pass into Ansel Adams Forest.

 Amalia and Brita before crossing out of Yosemite Nation Park via Donahue Pass.

Amalia and Brita before crossing out of Yosemite Nation Park via Donahue Pass.

While meandering through the Ansel Adams Forest we dubbed it Fairy Land. Winding creeks were surrounded by vibrant wild flowers and crooked pine trees all accented by 360 degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges.

We crossed the unmarked Island Pass and descended to Thousand Islands Lake which was awe-inspiring with towering peaks flanking the opposite end. The weather started to turn and we tried to out-hike the incoming grey clouds. We intended to camp a couple of miles further at Garnet Lake, but were cautioned by a park ranger to avoid the illegal campsites too close to the water. Instead, we were supposed to take a spur trail to a proper campsite. Half way down this trail we realized it would add an uphill mile in the morning and we quickly scratched that idea. Instead we trekked back up to the JMT, crossed another bridge, and checked the map again for our next best bet. Amalia and I were set to hike to a campsite far enough from the lake, but we didn’t check the elevation gain. We hiked up and up the trail with the hope that every switchback brought us closer to our home for the night.

 Descending on Thousand Islands Lake.

Descending on Thousand Islands Lake.

At this point, I was hungry, exhausted, dirty, and none too happy that we hadn’t pitched our tiny tent yet, but I didn’t have an alternative option. The funny thing about backpacking is that there is no room for complaining. It doesn’t make a suitable campsite appear. It won’t make you a warm meal. It doesn’t get you a foot massage. It certainly won’t make your limited time in the great outdoors more enjoyable.

Luckily we were not disappointed when we reached the top of our incline. Perched on the rim surrounding the lake was the best campsite I had ever had. The sun poked through the lingering clouds on top of the mountains. The final ascent of the day was worth the extra effort.

 Campsite view of the sun setting over Garnet Lake.

Campsite view of the sun setting over Garnet Lake.

After a re-energizing night’s sleep, we were ready to wake up and roam. We eagerly trekked up and down switchbacks from one lake to the next, passing by rivers and waterfalls. It was a bitter sweet moment to see the fork towards Devil’s Post Pile, leaving the JMT. We were tired and sweaty, but happy with the experience we had. One thing is for certain, I this will not be our last wilderness adventure!