Ask Me: Tips On Backpacking Glacier National Park and the John Muir Trail
[Note: I recently received these similar questions from two different readers]
I wrote you last year about the Teton Crest Trail and my buddies and I completed it back in July. It was amazing. We are starting to plan our next backcountry trip and were thinking about Glacier National Park. What do you recommend for a 5- to 6-day, 35- to 50-mile trip in GNP? What about on the John Muir Trail? We are considering both. Thanks for the info, always helpful.
[Originally posted as a message at facebook.com/TheBigOutside]
Congrats, glad you had a good trip on the Teton Crest Trail. It’s a favorite of mine.
Check out my story about a long backpacking trip in Glacier National Park. You’ll see there are really two different trips described there; I recommend the longer, northern loop in that story if you want a big trip. You should also scroll through all of my posts about Glacier.
If you’re looking for a shorter section of the JMT, Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park south to Reds Meadow is about 35 miles and nice. Starting at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley instead of Tuolumne adds about 19 miles (and includes the viewpoint in the lead photo at the top of this story). But the southern JMT passes through the biggest peaks in the High Sierra. I’d say decide how far you want to hike, start that far north of Mount Whitney, and hike south to Whitney Portal, tagging the top of Whitney en route.
Some of the best stretches of the JMT require hiking longer distances because the trail is so remote. If you come in from Onion Valley over Kearsarge Pass (11,845 feet) and hike south to Whitney Portal, it’s a bit over 60 miles. It’s a similar distance coming in over Bishop Pass (11,972 feet) to the JMT in LeConte Canyon, then hiking south to exit via Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley. You could hike in over Bishop Pass and pick up the JMT southbound from LeConte to Whitney Portal—great stretch, but ambitious, upwards of 100 miles.
No matter how long a stretch of the JMT you’re planning to hike, I think you’ll find good tips on how to do it more enjoyably in my story, “Planning to Thru-Hike the John Muir Trail? Do It Right on This 10-Day, Ultralight Plan.”
What are your thoughts on starting the JMT at Mount Whitney with no acclimation—not me, two guys I might go with. They are flatlanders.
Well, plenty of people have done that and finished the trail. I would say it’s definitely harder to start at Mount Whitney than in Yosemite (I hiked it north to south, starting in Yosemite), because you’re immediately doing a huge climb, with the heaviest pack you’ll have for the entire trip, at elevations you’re not yet acclimated to, in heat that you may not be acclimated to yet. I would suggest they could maximize their odds of finishing the trail by going north to south. At the least, they might maximize their own comfort and enjoyment of the first days of the hike.
How well they ultimately do by starting at Whitney will depend on many factors, including their physical condition—although that doesn’t affect how well they react to elevation, it will affect how they feel—as well as the weather, how early they start the climb up Whitney (I would urge them to start every day on the JMT in the cool temps of early morning, because afternoons can be blistering hot), even how well they’ve eaten and slept recently.
Best of luck to you. It’s an amazing trip.
In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.
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