Easy Returns & Free Exchanges Always.
THIS IS MY TRAIL
Zayne Crow
Zayne is a UK based endurance athlete who has completed over 40 marathons and triathlons.

John Muir Trail

Hiking the Pacific crest via the
high altitude John Muir trail
is no mean feat

start

The John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail is 211 miles in length, starting in the Yosemite Valley and ticking off Ansel Adams Wilderness, the Sequoia National Ark and King’s Canyon National Park along the way before ending in spectacular fashion summiting Mount Witney. Zayne Crow and her companion Anna Crossley are only covering the final 50 miles of John Muir’s glorious trail, hiking the pacific crest, but that’s more than enough to experience genetically mutated mosquitos, the mysterious Wag Bags, and the ever-elusive marmot.

  • Trail length: 211mi
  • Climb: 46,700ft
  • Fastest known time: 84h 41m
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The Pacific Crest

I think I’m going to have to admit defeat and retract on my statement that my tent mate and I take turns to carry the tent. We are only 15 minutes into the start of our trek in part of the naturalist John Muir trail and an unending series of brutal switchbacks have my shoulders aching from the weight of my pack and my quad muscles screaming down to my mercifully breathable boots for a break. I am inwardly panicking about my previously relaxed training attitude to this trek where I believed “maintenance training” of regular running and cycling would be enough.

The suggestions of friends who lead a more sedentary lifestyle to train in the gym on a step machine in preparation for the John Muir are not so farcical in retrospect but to add insult to (impending) injury, my face is swollen from the mosquitoes who had gorged themselves on it the previous evening whilst my companions and I basked in the setting sun next to our tents, plotting today’s leg of the trail. Our food has been carefully selected according to weight, calorie content, ease of preparation and how easy six days worth would pack into a bear barrel (point to note - a foot long salami proves challenging).

We start our trek at Onion Valley and are soon rewarded with the beauty of Gilbert Lake reflecting granite peaks in its crystal clear waters before joining the John Muir trail after Kearsarge Pass on the Sierra Crest. The pine trees provide a welcome reprieve from the intensity of the sun at altitude but also harbor genetic mutations of DEET resistant mosquitoes. Their needle sharp proboscis penetrate every inch of skin, exposed or not, and their bothersome presence necessitates some interesting hiking clothing amalgamations from Queen Mother headscarves to improvised beekeeper suits; nothing works. The John Muir Trail meanders through rocky outcrops, glades of towering pines and green meadows more naturally suited to high-altitude golf courses.

I think I’m going to have to admit defeat and retract on my statement that my tent mate and I take turns to carry the tent. We are only 15 minutes into the start of our trek in part of the naturalist John Muir Trail, and an unending series of brutal switchbacks have my shoulders aching from the weight of my pack and my quad muscles screaming down to my mercifully breathable boots for a break. I am inwardly panicking about my previously relaxed training attitude to this trek where I believed “maintenance training” of regular running and cycling would be enough.
The suggestions of friends who lead a more sedentary lifestyle to train in the gym on a step machine in preparation for the John Muir Trail are not so farcical in retrospect, but to add insult to (impending) injury, my face is swollen from the mosquitoes who had gorged themselves on it the previous evening while my companions and I basked in the setting sun next to our tents, plotting today’s leg of the trail. Our food has been carefully selected according to weight, calorie content, ease of preparation and how easy six-days-worth would pack into a bear barrel (point to note - a foot long salami proves challenging).
We start our trek at Onion Valley and are soon rewarded with the beauty of Gilbert Lake reflecting granite peaks in its crystal clear waters before joining the John Muir Trail after Kearsarge Pass on the Sierra Crest. The pine trees provide a welcome reprieve from the intensity of the sun at altitude but also harbor genetic mutations of DEET-resistant mosquitoes. Their needle sharp proboscis penetrate every inch of skin, exposed or not, and their bothersome presence necessitates some interesting hiking clothing amalgamations from Queen Mother headscarves to improvised beekeeper suits; nothing works. The John Muir Trail meanders through rocky outcrops, glades of towering pines and green meadows more naturally suited to high-altitude golf courses.
Never more true is the saying ‘what goes up must come down’. For the sweat and toil, the clambering up boulders, the delicate tiptoeing over steep, snow covered gullies; we reach Forester Pass at 13,200 ft. We celebrate with 2 jelly babies from the strictly rationed supply before plunging down into the Sequoia National Valley Park below and beginning the process again. The track forges ahead, passing lakes and open grassy plains dotted with alpine flowers.

"The John Muir Trail meanders through rocky outcrops, glades of towering pines and green meadows more naturally suited to high-altitude golf courses."

Lost in the scenery

Sometimes we talk, but often there is no need. If you lose yourself in the scenery, the flash of a marmot retreating to the safety of a burrow focuses you back to the path ahead. These over-sized squirrels vanish the second you reach for your camera, yet inquisitively appear beside you when you hide behind a rock to relieve your bladder.
At Crabtree Meadow a large storage box sits next to the path, inviting trekkers to delve inside to a collect a gift. This is no lucky dip – we each pull out a Wag Bag. There is considerable hilarity for us about the naming of the equivalent of a bin bag toilet (in the UK, WAG is a catch-all term for glamorous soccer players’ Wives And Girlfriends) – I doubt a player’s prettier half would even consider squatting over a plastic bag.
We have entered the Witney Zone. From here until the exit of Witney Portal, the daily forays to spend time convening with nature in a quiet forestry patch with the green spade will be a memory. The Wag Bag is a plastic bag you go to the toilet in and carry out with you. The choice is this or constipation.
The dream of a refreshing swim spurs us on to the glacial waters of Guitar Lake. My tent mate and I have been dreaming of this moment for four days, with the opportunity to wash the sweat of daily trekking from our bodies and allow a reprieve from the heat. Having made the error of dipping a toe in first, it takes serious inner strength and a good run up to launch ourselves in. The brief dip invigorates tired limbs, refreshes the soul, attempts to wash a layer of grime off, and nearly induces cardiac arrest for those who can brave it.
The 3,400 ft ascent to summit Mount Whitney, standing proud at 14,494 ft, is our ultimate goal, and the official end point of the John Muir Trail. An icy wind requires down jackets and hats to be donned from the early morning start at Guitar Lake to the summit. The path weaves its way steadily upward through granite and shale, hair-pinning around impossibly tight bends next to sheer drops as we pick a route through boulders and across snow fields.
Finally, we reach the summit. Slabs of rock jut out over an abyss below. No words can accurately describe the view - it needs to be experienced in person. Suffice to say, dipping just below the summit to a sun warmed rock, cradling a cup of coffee to quietly sit and look at range after range, peak after peak, never becomes dull.
Reluctantly we must leave; signing the book stored in the steel box outside the stone shelter is the only mark we leave behind, but smiling summit photos on the austere granite slabs will remind us of our achievement long after our bodies have stopped aching. We leave via Guitar Lake, take a final jump in the water and collect our WAG-Bags to the amusement of some and the horror of others. The long trek out to the Cottonwood Pass begins.
Much of the unending sandy trails allows the mind freedom to roam... can 50-plus mosquito bites cause anemia? Will my metatarsel-phalangel joints ever recover? How many showers will I need to actually be clean? Why don’t American maps have grid lines? While the bright lights of Las Vegas beckon, experiencing the beauty of the John Muir Trail and summiting Mount Whitney is a privilege. To quote John Muir, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

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"Finally, we reach the summit. Slabs of rock jut out over an abyss below."

View John Muir Trail in a larger map

John Muir: Plan your trail

Our guide to planning your journey – plus essential links to find out more

When to go
The best time to go is from mid July to September. At other times, there's a high chance of snow.
How to get there
The closest airport is Reno, Nevada, although San Francisco and Los Angeles are also close by. Trains regularly run from San Francisco to Merced, from where you can catch a bus to Happy Isles.
Visa
Visas and passports required for visitors from outside North America.
Gear
English
Length of Trip
Super fast athletes can expect to complete it in a week. However, most people allow between 2 and 3 weeks to hike the entire trail.
Difficulty
Suitable for beginner hikers, although the final stage up Mt Whitney could tax the less fit.
Accommodation
Free wilderness permits are require if you're planning an overnight stay. These must be applied for 24 weeks in advance. More info: Yosemite National Park
Food and Drinks
There are four places on the trail where you can get resupplies.