It’s no secret that the John Muir Trail in California is one of the most scenic trails in the US. It runs 211 miles from Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states to Happy Isles in the Yosemite National Park. It’s so popular that sometimes it’s a challenge to even get a permit for it. Many try each year, but come up empty handed. So when me and my buddy Chad “Stick” Poindexter over at Stick’s Blog started talking about attempting a thru-hike of the JMT I was beyond stoked, but understood the challenge of getting the permits.
During the planning stage of our hike I was pretty busy hiking other trails. So Stick took the lead on all the planning and he did a phenomenal job. He also did an article on his blog about the process of abstaining the permits. Here’s a link to the article, JMT Summer 2018 Permits & Plans.
Getting there was almost as much fun as the hike itself. Stick and I decided to make the nearly 2000 mile drive out there. But this gave us some flexibility and allowed us to do a little sightseeing along the way. We caught a sunrise at the Hoover Dam, went to the Badwater Basin the lowest point in the northern hemisphere. It’s located in Death Valley National Park, we spent the night in Mammoth Lakes and Onion Valley Campground so we could acclimate a bit. We were able to park the car in Lone Pine for a fee and we shared a shuttle with a family from Canada up to Horseshoe Meadow where we spent our final night before we officially began our hike.
The Thru-Hike Begins
We began our thru-hike on July 4th 2018 around 7:30 AM PST at the Cottonwoods Lakes Trailhead at Horseshoe Meadows campground. After only hiking 100 yards and trying to shoot introductory video. I could tell I was already getting short of breath. My East Tennessee lungs weren’t use to the 10,000′ elevation yet.
The trail was like nothing I had ever hiked before. I was captivated by all the beauty around me…… well minus Stick of course.. The rugged granite mountains, the clear blue lakes full of golden trout and the tall redwoods were absolutely amazing. I kept thinking this must be what heaven is like… or at least I hope so.
The weather was great. It was in the mid 50s at night and 70s during the day. We had mostly sunny weather the whole time with the daily obligatory passing thunderstorm. The thunderstorms we pretty fierce though. Lots of cloud to ground lightning and lots of pea size hail. Usually I would set my Zpacks Camo Duplex up when it would start raining. I would eat a little snack then take a short nap. Once the storm passed, I’d pack up and push for a few more miles. This was my daily routine that I’d sometimes repeat several times a day. Lightning is a real danger on the JMT.
Special Locations on the JMT
There are locations along the JMT that are more special than other. Locations that make you not ever want to leave them. I came across a few of those on my thru-hike. They were so beautiful and so majestic that I was in complete amazement that those place existed. Here are the locations along the John Muir Trail that were the most beautiful places in my opinion.
And to finish my JMT thru-hike with a sunrise on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park could not have been more amazing. It’s a definitely MUST.
I shot video every single day of my thru-hike. I wanted to capture every thing I could. After all this was my “dream hike”.
I used my GoPro Hero 5 Session to shoot video and my iPhon 8 Plus to shoot stills. The GoPro stability wasn’t great and I destroyed my iPhone just after MTR. So in the end it turned out ok, but next time I go I’ll be using my new Hero 7 and iPhone XS Max.
Here is the link to the JMT NOBO Series on my YouTube channel.
Back on May 30th I kicked off a summer packed full of some of the best hiking the United States has to offer. And what better way to kick this adventure off than a thru-hike on the oldest long distance trail in the US, the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont. Built between 1910 and 1930, the Long Trail follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border as it crosses Vermont’s highest peaks. This trail was the inspiration for Benton MacKaye’s Appalachian Trail.
My journey began with a flight out of Knoxville, TN with a connector flight out of Charlotte, NC then on to Hartford, CT. Shortly after touching down Matt & Will from ZPacks and our friend Trystans flight arrived. We all picked up our packs and met up with our ride who generously took us to Walmart to get our food for the next 7 days.
The next morning we got a ride to the Appalachian Trail in North Adams, MA. where we geared up and began hiking the four miles in to the southern terminus of the Long Trail. Of course we signed the register and officially began our thru-hike.
It was great to be on the trail again with the guys. We mesh well and honestly it’s good to hike with others that you are in sync with, same speed and mind set. Compatible hiking partners are hard to come by. And people change too. Someone you use to hike with my not match up we now. The more we hike, the more we evolve.
Over all our weather wasn’t bad. It was in the 40s to 50s at night and 60s to 70s in the day. We had quite a bit of rain a few days but we also had a good dry spell. Water was pretty easy to find on the trail. There seemed to be a beaver pond or stream every few miles.
One of the things I remember most about this trip was our resupply stops in Rutland and Waterbury. Those were two incredibly beautiful towns. The people were super friendly and it wasn’t too hard getting a hitch in and out of town.
We stayed at the Yellow Deli in downtown Rutland. It was centrally located to the grocery stores and post office. In Waterbury we stayed at the Best Western. It was close to the grocery store, restaurants and of course Ben & Jerry’s. It was the first time I had eaten any of their ice cream. It was pretty dang awesome. I would later have some in Burlington, VT.
I also remember the summits we made. Glastonbury, Stratton, Bromley, Mt Abraham, Burnt Rock, Camels Hump, Mt Mansfield and Jay Peak. Now don’t get me wrong, Glastonbury was cool, but Stratton to me meant more simply because of it’s history. Stratton Mountain was the sight where Benton McKaye envisioned the Appalachian Trail. So to stand on the same ground as Benton was very inspiring. Mt Abraham was our first alpine zone (above tree line). It was cool being able to see the Adirondacks in New York to our west and the Whites in New Hampshire to our east. We did Burnt Rock and Camels hump (both alpine zones) in perfect sunny weather. 360 degree views were amazing.
But my favorite summits came on Mansfield and Jay Peak (also alpine zones). We did both of those during storms. They were completely socked in the clouds with rain and winds blowing in sideways. The most sketchy ascent was Mansfield. The rocks were wet and the wind was blowing us around. A Long Trail thru-hiker from Canada we met named Bulletproof nearly slid off the side of a boulder on the ascent. But in the end we all made it to the top completely soaked and exhausted, but safe. As if that wasn’t enough, it was time to descend off Vermont’s tallest peak and that’s were it got really sketchy….. There were some areas that you had to climb or in our case slide down the face of boulders with only a 2’ ledge to stand on near its bottom. Then traverse to the side just to drop another 20’ or 30’ between other boulders.
After this exhausting ascent and descent of Mt Mansfield, we all decided to go stay at Stowe Mountain Resort. We all needed to dry off, warm up, rest up and fill our bellies. It was at Stowe where the biggest impression was made on me. Us four dirty-smelly hikers showed up at a very high end resort. There were people pulling up in Porches, Lamborghinis, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. at the resort as the valet attendants would go and park their cars. At no time did the resort employees treat us less than the other guest. They were all polite and eager to help. In fact the next day the resort gave us a ride back to the trail in a Mercedes SUV. That is text book how you should run a business. Very impressive, some day I will have to take my beautiful bride there.
Near the end of our hike was the last summit, Jays Peak. When we got to the base of the mountain a pretty bad storm moved in. We found refuge in the emergency shelter that still standing. We were wet and cold once again, but we were determined to summit JP that day. Watching the weather closely on an app, we could see an opening about 2 hours long. That’s when we made a decision to make a run for it. Matt and my beardedself took off as fast as we could up the mountain. The trail was like a stream over flowing its banks, but we kept pushing forward. Before we knew it we were in the clouds and we started experiencing some of the highest winds we had ever hiked in. Once at the summit, the clouds were whipping by has if they were cars on a freeway. The visibility was down to about 40’to 50’ and the wind was so loud we couldn’t hardly hear ourselves yell at each other. After a few photos and videos, we began our descent off of Jay Peak. A short while after reaching our last shelter on this thru-hike, the storm quickly moved in for the night.
The next morning we were full of anticipation since we only had 8 miles to go to the northern terminus of the LT which was at the Canadian border. The trail was full of standing water and moose poop. Churned up by us walking through it creating a not so please soupy mix. But as the day went on it began to dry out and the sun actually came out to more less help us celebrate the completion of our thru-hike.
And just like that, the forest opened up into a clear cut area which looked like power lines would be there, but there were no power lines. It was the border. It was cut in a straight line as far as the eye could see. And then I noticed the monument, signifying the official borders of the United States and Canada. What a cool feeling knowing I just hiked 273 miles to the Canadian border. And to do this hike with my close friends made it even more awesome. I really appreciate Matt inviting me on this hike. It was absolutely awesome to hike the “oldest” long distance trail in the US. These are truly special friends that share the same passion for long distance hiking as I do and these guys get it done.
Once we were done at the border, we took the “Journeys End Trail”, a shuttle took us to Burlington where we stayed one night. Then it was off to Montreal, Quebec the next morning for a very quick tour of the city before heading home.
I honestly have to say that this was the toughest hike I’ve ever done. The LT is as rough as the Green Mountains are beautiful. This trip was filled with so many moments that I will never forget.
Here’s the video of our hike.
The Gear List:
•Zpacks Arc Haul Backpack
•Zpacks Trekking Poles
•Zpacks 20 Degree Sleeping Bag
•Zpacks Camo Duplex & Tent Stakes
•Zpacks Stuff Sacks & Dry Bags
•Zpacks Zip Pouches
•Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket & Pants
•Zpacks Trucker Hat
•GooseFeet Gear Custom Down Jacket
•Black Rock Gear Skully Beanie
•North By North Handkerchief
•Patagonia Lightweight Capilene Long Sleeve
•Uderarmer Stretch Running Shorts
•Darn Tough 1/4 Hiking Socks
•Brooks Caldera Trail Runners
•Dirty Girl Gaiters
•Thermarest Neo Air XLite
•Thermarest ZLite Seat
•Sea To Summit Pillow
•Vargo Outdoors Dig Tool
•Hygeinna Portable Bidet
•Anker 13,000 mAh Battery Bank
•Anker Double Wall A/C Charger
•Gua Sha Orthopedics Tool
•GoPro Hero 5 Session
•Extra Mini SD Cards & Holder
•Southern Terminus to Congdon Shelter
•Miles Hiked: 10.0 (plus 4.1 of approach trail(AT))
•Total Miles Hiked: 10.0
•Remaining Miles: 263.0
•Total Elevation Change: 3,968.6’
•Congdon Shelter to Glastenbury Tower
•Miles Hiked: 14.7
•Total Miles Hiked: 24.7
•Remaining Miles: 248.3
•Total Elevation Change: 6,741’
•Glastenbury Tower to Stratton Mt. IF Road
•Miles Hiked: 18
•Total Miles Hiked: 42.7
•Remaining Miles: 230.3
•Total Elevation Change: 7,640.4’
•Stratton Mt. IF Road to Bromley Ski Patrol Shelter
•Miles Hiked: 14.7
•Total Miles Hiked: 57.4
•Remaining Miles: 215.6
•Total Elevation Change: 4,840.5’
•Bromley Ski Patrol Shelter to Little Rock Pond Shelter
•Miles Hiked: 16.8
•Total Miles Hiked: 74.3
•Remaining Miles: 198.8
•Total Elevation Change: 6,292.6’
•Little Rock Pond Shelter to Governor Clement Shelter
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to preview the latest documentary by Chris Smead at Outmersive Films (formally known as Chris is Productions) called “The High Sierra Trail”. I consider Chris as a friend of mine and when he reached out to me to asked if I’d be interested in watching the documentary and tell others what I thought about it, of course I said yes.
The documentary is captured with the essence that you are on this backpacking trip on the High Sierra Trail with Chris and his friend John, but at the same time you’re receiving a history lesson about the different areas you’re entering along the way. Historian William Tweed, a 30 year national park service veteran does an outstanding job both narrating and explaining the significance of each specific area that Chris and John entered as they hiked the High Sierra Trail. He explained the history of the trail is such great detail. Honestly I could sit and listen to William all day. The tone of his voice and his unending knowledge of the High Sierras grabbed my attention and had me hanging on for more.
I was also quite impressed with the animation in this documentary. Chris made it seem that the historical photos were coming to life as if it were videos instead of photographs. It brought each of these old photographs to life right before my eyes. Matching these up with Williams Tweeds historical knowledge was a perfect match.
Now Chis is a great videographer in is own right. I loved that he was able to capture the real essence of every situation. The humorous situations (which there were many) along with the reality of life on the trail, Chris captured it all. I also love that he wasn’t afraid to be real in front of the camera. It’s so easy to be fake or not be our true selves when we’re being filmed, not with Chris. He seems very comfortable and very much himself when in front of the camera.
After watching The High Sierra Trail I honestly wanted to cancel my up coming John Muir Trail hike and do the High Sierra Trail instead. It looked absolutely amazing. Even though both trails join together for about 15 miles and summit Mt Whitney ( the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states) together. The rest of each trail are very different from one another.
The Team Behind the Film:
Outmersive Films is a newly formed arts collective founded by Chris Smead. He had previously operated solo, under the name “Chris Is Awesome Productions” when the direction of his hobby was unclear. As things turned more serious and other collaborators began joining in, it became obvious that it needed to be reinvented.
Soon after shooting the film and making the trailer, Chris was approached by Bruce Goodman, a professional colorist who had worked on countless Hollywood films as well as Mile, Mile and A Half. Shortly after, Bill Meadows and Alex Knickerbocker (of Mr Robot, Fast and Furious) reached out and offered their post sound talents. Long time friend Jacen Spector joined the show to save Chris from his notoriously terrible marketing skills, and Emma Massick recently joined to help lead marketing and social media management. Gordon Gurley, an experienced videographer and audio engineer has provided a lot of guidance during the project and will be taking a much more active role for the next project. The Outmersive family is growing and we’re excited to see what we can create together.
Here’s another teaser trailer for Outmersive Films newest film, The High Sierra Trail! Be sure to check out his page for upcoming showings of the full film… it’s worth watching!!
Want to know where and when you can get a chance to see this film? Here is all of Outmersive Films social media accounts. You can follow them to keep up with what all is going on with the High Sierra Trail documentary.