Hiking the John Muir Trail: 18 Days of Blisters and Bliss

Alison and I finished an amazing and exhausting trek along the John Muir Trail. We covered over 230 miles from Yosemite National Park to the summit of Mt. Whitney (the highest point in the continental USA) and then down to the Whitney Portal Trailhead. You can read more about the John Muir Trail (JMT for short) here.

Along the way we met some other cool hikers, saw plenty of wildlife and took close to a thousand photos. The entire journey took 18 days and spanned 13 different valleys and countless mountain passes. Most of the hike was at high altitude. It was one of the biggest endurance efforts either of us have ever endured, and it was worth it. To give you an example of the intensity, I lost roughly 16 pounds (almost all fat from what I could tell) over 18 days of hiking, despite eating as much as I could every day.

Pictures do really speak a thousand words, so we’ll be brief with the text and lay heavy on the photos. Below we’ve posted about 150 of our “top” ones. Perhaps in another post we will go deeper into the gear we used and other details if folks want to hear about that.

Here we go!
Here we go!
Weighing our packs before the hike. Mine started at about 26 lbs with 3 days of food for both of us. Ravi's was about  25 lbs.  We had to hike with bear barrels so that added about 3 lbs each.
Weighing our packs before the hike. Mine started at about 26 lbs with 3 days of food for both of us. Ravi’s was about 25 lbs. We had to hike with bear barrels so that added about 3 lbs each.
Note the last row "via John Muir Trail."
Note the last row “via John Muir Trail.”
Half Dome in the background.  Day 1 of the hike.
Half Dome in the background. Day 1 of the hike.
Little Yosemite Valley.
Little Yosemite Valley.

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Yum. For delicious vegan backpacking food check out Outdoor Herbivore-AMAZING dehydrated camping meals.
Yum. For delicious vegan backpacking food check out Outdoor Herbivore-AMAZING dehydrated camping meals.

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Happy hikers.  Earlier in the hike it was much warmer during the day.
Happy hikers. Earlier in the hike it was much warmer during the day.

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Super smooth granite, it looked polished and made for a nice campsite.
Super smooth granite, it looked polished and made for a nice campsite.
Chillin out at Cathedral Lake.  We made it out of the valley a day before they closed the trail due to a raging forest fire.
Chillin out at Cathedral Lake. We made it out of the valley a day before they closed the trail due to a raging forest fire.
Common granite peaks in Yosemite.
Common granite peaks in Yosemite.

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My over priced, but "I had to have it" ultra light titanium mug.  And it's pink!
My over priced, but “I had to have it” ultra light titanium mug. And it’s pink!
Food pick up at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, our first resupply.  And a visit from a friendly ranger and his horse.
Food pick up at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, our first resupply. And a visit from a friendly ranger and his horse.

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Yellow bellied marmot
Yellow bellied marmot
Wish we would have brought more of these tofu/seitan jerky strips.  They are amazing!
Wish we would have brought more of these tofu/seitan jerky strips. They are amazing!
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This forest fire closed the trail we just hiked the day before. Looking toward Cathedral Lakes from Donahue Pass. As we started the pass it was a very small plume, after an hour it had exploded into this. We were very glad to be on this side of the ridge heading south. Hikers heading north couldn’t finish the JMT because they ended up closing the trail.

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Thousand Island Lake
Thousand Island Lake
Pre dinner soup at Thousand Island Lake.  It didn't rain much, but we woke up to rain the night we camped here. Luckily it was brief and didn't soak everything.
Pre dinner soup at Thousand Island Lake. It didn’t rain much, but we woke up to rain the night we camped here. Luckily it was brief and didn’t soak everything.

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Nice choice for hiking through the Sierra's.
Nice choice for hiking through the Sierra’s.
Hanging out with other hikers at Red's Meadow resupply.
Hanging out with other hikers at Red’s Meadow resupply.
Where are we Ravi?  Oh we are right here at Red Meadow Resort, just outside of Mammoth Lakes.
Where are we Ravi? Oh we are right here at Red Meadow Resort, just outside of Mammoth Lakes.
Hiking through an old burn area near Red's Meadow and Devil's Post Pile National Monument.
Hiking through an old burn area near Red’s Meadow and Devil’s Post Pile National Monument.

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Happy hiker getting started.
Happy hiker getting started.

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We didn't see a lot of flowers as the wildflower season is earlier, but there were enough late bloomers that kept our eyes happy.
We didn’t see a lot of flowers as the wildflower season is earlier, but there were enough late bloomers that kept our eyes happy.

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Bald Eagle. Really look close, it's there.
Bald Eagle. Really look close, it’s there.
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Lots of switchbacks. This was a pretty easy section.

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Another pass complete.
Another pass complete.
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Chipmunks and squirrels chewed through these dense pine cones for the pine nuts. They are super heavy and those squirrels have their work cut out for them to eat them.

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Where is all the water?  The reservoir is depressingly low.
Where is all the water? The reservoir is depressingly low.
First beer at Vermillion Valley Resort is free for hikers.  VVR is a resupply point and we wanted to stay for the experience as we heard it was super backpacker friendly and all part of the experience. We were glad we made the stop.
First beer at Vermillion Valley Resort is free for hikers. VVR is a resupply point and we wanted to stay for the experience as we heard it was super backpacker friendly and all part of the experience. We were glad we made the stop.
We splurged and stayed in a yurt for a night at our resupply at Vermillion Valley Resort.  The shower, bed, and beer was lovely.
We splurged and stayed in a yurt for a night at our resupply at Vermillion Valley Resort. The shower, bed, and beer was lovely.
Boat ride in the reservoir. Sad to see how the drought has affected the water supply.  Made us want to conserve water even more when you see how low the water supply really is.
Boat ride in the reservoir. Sad to see how the drought has affected the water supply. Made us want to conserve water even more when you see how low the water supply really is.
After our stay at Vermillion Valley Resort, a resupply point. Usually this is a reservoir but the drought in CA has drained it to practically nothing.  This was the marker for where the boat pickup/dropoff is.  Over a mile into the lake.
After our stay at Vermillion Valley Resort, a resupply point. Usually this is a reservoir but the drought in CA has drained it to practically nothing. This was the marker for where the boat pickup/dropoff is. Over a mile into the lake.
We thought this was maybe a mountain lion print for a while. Then we realized it was just a really big, cute dog that we met later on the trail.
We thought this was maybe a mountain lion print for a while. Then we realized it was just a really big, cute dog that we met later on the trail.
Walking though an Aspen Grove.  Both Ravi and I (Alison) liked the forests, meadows, alpine lakes, and just below treeline.
Walking though an Aspen Grove. Both Ravi and I (Alison) liked the forests, meadows, alpine lakes, and just below treeline.
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The pools on Bear Creek were so inviting. I took a dip in this one.

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Typical morning routine, coffee while snuggling in our sleeping bags.  It was cold at night and warm during the day for most of the hike with the exception of the last few days.
Typical morning routine, coffee while snuggling in our sleeping bags. It was cold at night and warm during the day for most of the hike with the exception of the last few days.

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We resupplied and MTR and enjoyed an evening soak in the hot springs.
We resupplied and MTR and enjoyed an evening soak in the hot springs.

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We saw lots of deer throughout our hike.
We saw lots of deer throughout our hike.

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This shelter on Muir Pass was constructed in 1930 by the Sierra Club on a long stretch of exposed trail.
This shelter on Muir Pass was constructed in 1930 by the Sierra Club on a long stretch of exposed trail.
My feet hurt and I did a lot of this. Note the water is super cold! But it felt so good.
My feet hurt and I did a lot of this. Note the water is super cold! But it felt so good.
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Luckily Ravi escaped the rock monster!
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The colors of the meadows seemed almost surreal. Being surrounded by such beauty all the time is awe inspiring and brings a deep sense of gratitude and peace.
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View from hiking up the “Golden Staircase.” This was after our resupply at MTR with 9 days of food so our packs were super heavy (35 lbs). It was a long hike up.

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If you trail run or hike in dusty places these dirty girl gaitors are awesome. Also, get trekking poles they take so much impact off your legs. We both used them the whole trip.
If you trail run or hike in dusty places these dirty girl gaitors are awesome. Also, get trekking poles they take so much impact off your legs. We both used them the whole trip.

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We both used Granite Gear Crown V60 packs. We aren't totally ultra light yet but getting close and carrying much less weight than most of the people we met on the trail.
We both used Granite Gear Crown V60 packs. We aren’t totally ultra light yet but getting close and carrying much less weight than most of the people we met on the trail.
John Muir called the Sierras the Range of Light. You can see why...Morning and evening sun made the peaks sparkle with color.
John Muir called the Sierras the Range of Light. You can see why…Morning and evening sun made the peaks sparkle with color.
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Common scenery above treeline.
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Typical view hiking with Ravi.
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The JMT was constructed in the 1930’s and has been hiked by thousands since. The trail is well worn and late season the creek crossings are simple with well placed rocks so our feet stayed dry.

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Having soup after a dip in the super cold stream.  Another luxury item my pink titanium mug.
Having soup after a dip in the super cold stream. Another luxury item my pink titanium mug.
One of our new purchases for the trip-we used this for all our delicious meals. Boils water super fast, lightweight, and efficient.
One of our new purchases for the trip-we used this for all our delicious meals. Boils water super fast, lightweight, and efficient.
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At a pass, looking at the trail ahead.

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Fun suspension bridge.
Fun suspension bridge.

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Fin Dome
Fin Dome
Rae Lakes.
Rae Lakes.
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As we hiked further south the peaks got taller and more dramatic.
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Charging up and looking good. We loved our small solar charger to keep our camera powered up.

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View from Forester Pass.
View from Forester Pass.
One of many stunning meadows. Watching the deer hang out in the evening is better than TV!
One of many stunning meadows. Watching the deer hang out in the evening is better than TV!

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Picas.  These are Alison's Favorite.  They were in harvesting mode for the winter and we often saw them scurrying across the trail carrying a large bundle of grass in it's mouth.  They live at high elevations and actually don't hibernate during the winter and instead store up hay from the summer.
Picas. These are Alison’s Favorite. They were in harvesting mode for the winter and we often saw them scurrying across the trail carrying a large bundle of grass in it’s mouth. They live at high elevations and actually don’t hibernate during the winter and instead store up hay from the summer.
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Ravi on the switchbacks up to Mt. Whitney.
Whitney Pinnacles.
Whitney Pinnacles.
Just a little bit of snow on the summit.
Just a little bit of snow on the summit.
At the top.
At the top.

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Signing the summit register at Mt. Whitney.
Signing the summit register at Mt. Whitney.
We made it!
We made it!

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At the highest point in the US, Mount Whitney.
At the highest point in the US, Mount Whitney.
The Summit House on Mount Whitney.
The Summit House on Mount Whitney.
Yellow Bellied Marmot. We saw lots of these and we think they are adorable.
Yellow Bellied Marmot. We saw lots of these and we think they are adorable.
We hitch hiked from the Whitney Portal straight to pizza (vegan of course) and beer.
We hitch hiked from the Whitney Portal straight to pizza (vegan of course) and beer.
A much welcomed bed after our hike, Lone Pine, CA.
A much welcomed bed after our hike, Lone Pine, CA.
After the hike and back to city living.  Dinner with a friend near San Francisco.
After the hike and back to city living. Dinner with a friend near San Francisco.

 

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10 thoughts on “Hiking the John Muir Trail: 18 Days of Blisters and Bliss

  1. Awsome you people – stunning scenery. Great to see you are both enjoying a ‘free’ life for a while. Love from us, Wendy & Peter

  2. What a great collection of photos! I am starting a JMT hike on August 5. I am nervous, but working out pretty hard and doing everything I can to be successful. What is the name of the place where you got the vegan pizza in Lone Pine? I want to stop there too!

  3. Hi! My friends and I are planning on doing the JMT next year and I was wondering what your itinerary was since we’re aiming to do it in the same amount of days.

  4. What an amazing post. Started with 18 lessons learned from hiking jmt. Then checked out your photos. My daughters and I are planning to do the jmt this summer. Got the book you referenced which is a bit overwhelming. Any help on itinerary or supplies/gear would be much appreciated

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