JMT: September 2009 Archives


September 20, 2009

Transportation to and from the JMT seems like a perennial problem for people. The basic issue here is that JMT is a point-to-point trip and so if you want to drive, you end up leaving your car at Whitney or Yosemite. Here are your major logistical options:
  1. Get someone to drop you off and pick you up.
  2. Drop your car off at the finish and have someone shuttle you to the start. I suppose you could do the reverse too.
  3. Take mass transit to the start and back from the end.
  4. Drive to the start and take mass transit back.

The first two options require having friends, so I was left with the second two. I originally intended to take mass transit both ways, but due to an airline scheduling screwup (details here), I didn't have time to take transit and had to drive out to Yosemite. I figured that maybe I could bum a ride back from Whitney from some other hikers and in the worst case, I could take transit back.

I really do mean the worst case here, since the transit situation is pretty grim. The nearest trailhead to Whitney is at Whitney Portal, which is basically just a parking lot, campground, and store in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town to Whitney Portal is Lone Pine, 11 miles away. The official story about getting from Lone Pine to Yosemite Valley is that you take CREST from Lone Pine to Mammoth (leaves Mon, Tue, Thur, Fri at 6:15 AM, arrives Mammoth at 8:20 AM). You then take YARTS from Mammoth to Yosemite Valley (leaves 7:00 AM, arrives 10:55 AM). Yes, you're reading that right: CREST arrives in Mammoth 80 minutes after YARTS leaves for Yosemite. Now, I've never personally been to Mammoth and I hear it's kind of nice, but after a couple of weeks on the trail, I suspect most people are ready to get home—I know I was—so this doesn't seem like a real attractive prospect, and I went looking for alternatives. First, I'll tell you what I did and then I'll tell you what I probably should have done.

You may have noticed that I've left something out of our little trip. When you get off the trail you're still stuck at Whitney Portal and you need to get to Lone Pine. There are shuttle services, but really this part is pretty simple; the road to Whitney Portal (cleverly named Whitney Portal Road) from 395 runs right through the center of Lone Pine, so more or less anyone leaving Portal is going to go to Lone Pine. A decent fraction of them have room in their cars and are happy to pick up backpackers, so hitch-hiking this section is easy. That said, I was hoping that I could get a ride to Yosemite or Mammoth from someone who was executing the aforementioned option 2. I hadn't met anyone who fit the bill, but I figured some people might come off the trail so I made a "Yosemite/Mammoth" sign and stood by the exit to Portal for an hour or so. After about 10 people had stopped and offered to take me to Lone Pine, I got the idea, put down my sign and stuck out my thumb and got a ride within 5 minutes.

This got me as far as the Whitney Portal Hostel, but again I was hoping to avoid two overnights (one in Lone Pine and one in Mammoth). One of the other people staying at the hostel suggested I try hitchhiking [remember, 395 is the main strip in Lone Pine]. After a few minutes with my sign, I ran into a woman pushing her kid in a stroller who said that her family was driving to Tuolumne the next morning and they could probably take me. After some negotiation with her and her husband, we were on. I met them at their hotel the next morning and they dropped me off at the Tuolumne store around 11 AM. Now remember, I really wanted to be in Yosemite Valley, which isn't exactly an easy walk from Tuolumne. Luckily, there is a bus that leaves from the store at 2:15. This isn't a a terrible option but it still leaves me sitting around for three hours, so I figured why not try to hitch it the rest of the way? Five minutes with a marker and a cardboard box and I had a new sign and was standing out on the road. A few minutes later, another hiker who had come off JMT the same day as I had walked over. She helped me improve my sign (with a better pen) and we chatted as people drove by without picking me up. After 45 minutes or so a van full of Italian tourists (I hear Europeans are better about this than Americans) came by and picked us both up, taking us to one of the Valley parking lots by around 2 PM. From there, you can take a quick shuttle to the trailhead parking and your car.

Anyway, what I learned from the other hiker was this: don't take the bus to Mammoth. Instead, take the same bus all the way to Lee Vining (a town right near Tioga Pass and the entrance to Yosemite). Because Lee Vining is more or less at the intersection of 395 and 120, it's easy to hitch a ride from people driving into Yosemite from the East Side; she said that she spent about 5 minutes waiting before she had a ride into Tuolomne. Even if you can't hitch a ride, the worst case scenario is that you take the same YARTS bus the next morning into Yosemite Valley, so aside from having to spend the night in exciting Lee Vining instead of Mammoth, you're no worse off. Of course, this advice only makes sense if you don't mind hitch-hiking; I usually wouldn't be willing to, but it's common enough near Yosemite that you don't have to feel too awkward and I generally feel like I can take care of myelf. Your mileage may of course vary.

UPDATE: The CREST bus arrives in Mammoth after, not before the YARTS bus leaves. Thanks to Eu-Jin Goh for pointing this out.


September 10, 2009

I've finally managed to get my JMT trail pictures up. You can find the gallery here. Each picture has meta-data indicating when it was taken, so you can work out some of it by reference to my itinerary, except that all the dates are off by one day (i.e., the pictures allegedly taken on the 14th were really on the 13th). I was just shooting semi-randomly, but here are some good ones if you're short on time:


September 7, 2009

Brett Maune just shattered the unsupported JMT speed record, going from Whitney Portal to Happy Isles in 3 days, 14 hours and 13 minutes. By the way this also breaks the supported record, held by Sue Johnston.

September 5, 2009

Probably the two pieces of backpacking gear where fit is most important are your pack and whatever you wear on your feet. In both cases, the gear is an interface between your body and a heavy load, so it's important to have something that works for you or you're likely to end up in serious discomfort. Back in the old days, everyone used to wear hiking boots but as lightweight backpacking has started to take off, it's become a lot more popular (and more practical) to wear something lighter, generally some sort of trail runner. I've always worn hiking boots but this time I decided to transition to trail runners. Since I already had experience with them, I decided to go with Inov-8 Roclite 295s. I've worn these for plenty of trail miles and I know they fit well and are comfortable, though they wear fast, so I bought a new pair and just lightly broke them in before my trip.

I had two major concerns about transitioning to a trail shoe: ankle protection and water resistance. One of the claimed benefits of a hiking boot is that the high top protects your ankles, but after my most recent trip to Emigrant Wilderness, my ankles were still pretty beat up in my boots so I figured trail shoes weren't likely to be much worse. A few short hikes with them seemed to confirm that. My second concern was water resistance. Like many hiking boots, mine are Gore-Tex lined and so waterproof at least until you step into water above the top of the boot. The Inov-8s are largely mesh and so not water resistant at all. I considered getting a Gore-Tex trail shoe, but the problem with those is that they don't drain and since a low shoe increases the chance you'll step into water above the top of the shoe, I figured better to have mesh shoe that drains fast. I also brought a pair of VFFs for stream crossings and use as a camp shoe.

As far as socks go, standard procedure is to wear two pairs: a liner sock and a thick hiking sock, but with a shoe this light I decided to skip that and just wear Injinji Tetrasoks. I've worn these for plenty of runs and races and know they're comfortable and wanted to give my feet some space to breathe. I initially brought two pairs of Injinjis and one of hiking socks as a backup, but I never wore the hiking socks and traded them in for Injinjis at Muir Trail Ranch.

Overall, this system worked out moderately well. While I was initially worried about the water issue, it turned out not to be a problem. On day 4 or so I stepped ankle deep in a stream and it just turned out not to be that bad. My feet dried quickly and I was comfortable enough that I didn't feel like I needed a water shoe. Unlike other trips I've done, my feet didn't feel horribly beaten up at the end of the day and I found myself just wearing the Inov-8s without socks and unlaced to walk around camp. I never wore the VFFs and when I got to Muir Trail Ranch I shipped them home: no point in carrying an extra 300g of useless shoe. The Injinjis got dirty fast but I was able to wash them in streams and keep them from getting too filthy.

I said I was reasonably comfortable, but I did experience two problems. First, by day 7 or so, due to some combination of rocky terrain forcing constant pronation and supination, fatigue, and maybe just being poked by the occasional rock was starting to wear on me and the outside of both feet started to hurt in mid-metatarsal. I was worried this would be trip-ending but keeping a high load of naproxen and wrapping a couple of strips of tape around each foot seemed to relieve the pain enough that I only got occasional twinges if I really stepped wrong. This was uncomfortable but not fatal and after the 9th day I was no longer seriously worried about this killing the trip—two weeks later my right foot still hurts though, so I'll have to see how long it takes to recover. It's hard to know if this would be a problem in hiking boots, since it only happened after a week or so and I've never been out that long before.

The second problem is that the Injinjis wear fast and by days 9 and 10 the pair I was wearing had gotten so threadbare that I got a blister on the ball of my right foot. This was my only blister the entire trip and I just drained it and kept going, so overall this was very minor. Still, it serves as a reminder that you need to pay attention to your sock wear and in the future I might bring one more extra pair of socks.

All things considered, I don't think I'd go back to boots. They're less comfortable for short trips at least and the weight penalty is just too extreme. However, I might try out other trail shoes or experiment to see why I started to develop foot problems towards the end. I should also mention that I beat up the Inov-8s pretty badly—200-300 miles is about normal for a trail shoe and the soles on these had worn pretty far down and the synthetic leather part of the uppers was starting to peel off the mesh. I suspect another week and they might have started to fall apart on me. Even as things were, I had to replace the Engo patches that stopped me from getting heel blisters. I'm not complaining here: it's just something you would need to keep an eye on if you were doing a lot of backpacking in lightweight shoes.