Written By: Ryan Eula
Roughly 2 years ago I entered into the world of backpacking. Not the type of backpacking where you stay in hostels, drinking cheap beer with other American travelers every night and riding EuRail trains to Western European cities. No, I’m talking about the kind of backpacking where you carry your tent and bare essentials on your back and trek miles into the wilderness to camp and experience nature firsthand. This type of backpacking leads you explore the freedom of the wild, and the open mind, and the curious soul.
Those short treks and humble beginnings 2 years ago lead me directly to a mildly impulsive decision: I’m going to backpack the John Muir Trail.
The actual journey will begin on August 14th but the real work began as soon as I made the decision to go. I didn’t just decide to backpack the trail for the sport and adventure of it — but I decided to turn it into a fundraiser as well. The money raised will go directly to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Brain Tumor Society. My sister has MS and my Aunt passed away from a brain tumor in January of this year. True to what the purity of backpacking means to me, I hike in honor of those who cannot.
The John Muir Trail runs 220 miles along some of the most beautiful stretches of the High Sierras in California. I will be following it from the North to South route, which begins at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley, continues through the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and ends atop Mt. Whitney. Mount Whitney alone, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) makes this trip enticing, but so does the relative ease and accessibility of the trail. It is easily accessible from either Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area and embodies much of the best of California. The John Muir Trail has often been called “America’s most beautiful trail,” yet still remains untouched in many aspects. Our peaks are passable, and our winters are short, but surprisingly the JMT is only hiked in its entirety by approximately 200-250 people per year.
Most of the research necessary to safely hike the JMT is easily found with a quick Google search. There are many websites and blogs dedicated solely to providing information and tips, including a Yahoo group for prospective JMT hikers. Permits tend to be difficult to obtain, so starting that process early is best. Additionally, coming up with a rough calendar and some flexibility can help with the permits as well as the planning processes. The hike is so long, that you need to resupply along the way, and the remoteness of the trail can make that a little difficult at times.
I strongly recommend devoting time to figuring out alternatives to freeze dried meals. They get old — really quickly. You’re bound to get sick of eating re-hydrated Beef Stroganoff every night for dinner. You burn about 2,000 calories/day while backpacking so you constantly need to replenish and provide energy to your muscles. Planning your meals is a really important part of the process.
Gear is tricky too, and can get a little overwhelming at times. I like to use Backpacker.com as a resource for gear tests, general recommendations, and suggested items to bring. If you have a local REI (or similar) they often have used gear swaps where you can purchase items at huge discounts and gather more information from talking to those who attend or work at the event. I’ve found that backpackers like to trade stories and a lot can be learned from other’s experience – especially when it comes to staying healthy and safe. Every action you take while backpacking has a purpose, and the key is to enjoy it while staying focused. Nature will win, quickly, if you don’t respect the power it has. Follow your maps to make sure you’re on the right path, and think ahead when it comes to water sources and setting up camp.
The most rewarding part of the planning process so far has been the offers of help, assistance, and donations that I’ve received. If you have help in terms of a ride to the trail-head and resupplies along the way, it can make the whole process much easier. There are already a few people who have committed to hike the whole trail with me and many others who will be meeting up with us for smaller sections. My family and friends have offered to resupply and provide rides at the beginning and end of the trail. Sometimes you set out to do something on your own and realize that it inspires others to join simply because of the pure energy involved. My initial goal was to simply hike and raise money/awareness for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Brain Tumor Society. As this project has progressed, I’ve realized that I was heading towards a more personal goal. I understand now that most of us are searching for an outlet to express our generally positive nature and provide good to the world. This is my journey home.
To donate to our cause and learn more about the hike, please visit: www.fundly.com/jmtmazula
To learn more about the National MS Society, please visit: www.nationalmssociety.org
To learn more about the National Brain Tumor Society, please visit: www.braintumor.org