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[pct-l] FW: John Muir Trail Report

Got this off the Ultra Running List, and it often strikes me how similar
through-hiking and Ultra Running are (Ultra Running is going farther than
a marathon - 26.2 miles) We sometimes go 30-40 hours non stop, so night
travel is not unkown to us. I recently did a 100mile run through the San Juan
Mountains of Colorado - some on the CDT/Colorado Trail - that took me 45 hours
nonstop. http://www.run100s.com/HR

This JMT trip report might add some diversity to
the list by showing a different way of doing that most
 lovely 211 mile section of the PCT.

Hike your own Hike



Date:    Thu, 20 Aug 1998 10:17:41 -0600
From:    "Blake P. Wood" <bpw@PLASMASYS.LANL.GOV>
Subject: Five day run of the John Muir Trail (XP)


Last week (8/9-8/13) I ran the John Muir Trail, which goes from
Mt. Whitney to Yosemite Valley in California's Sierra Nevada, covering
the 223 miles in five days.  This required three nights camping out in
the backcountry, and one night (the last) sleeping in my Dad's car in
a campground.  I carried all my stuff on my back, but in order to have
the load light enough that I could run, I didn't take a sleeping bag,
tent, or stove.  My gear and warm clothes weighed in at 12 lbs.  At
the start I carried about 5 lbs food for the first three days.  Dad
carried food in for me on the third day, and met me where I crossed
roads twice thereafter and at the end.  His support was a BIG
psychological boost!  It turned out to be much harder than I had
anticipated, and I spent much longer on the trail each day than I had
planned.  I typically slept in my clothes until I got cold, started at
midnight, and went until 5 or 6 pm.  I walked the uphills and ran most
of the levels and downhills - just like any mountainous hundred.
There was snow over the passes (including one 5 mile stretch on
crampons) and enough high creeks and water on the trail that my feet
were nearly always wet: blister-city!  The weather was great (although
hot), and the views and wildflowers sublime.  The remainder of this
note is intended to supply some more details in case anyone else is
interested in trying this way of covering lots of territory.  I found
myself surprised at a number of things that happened.



When I was 13 (in 1972), I planned to do the whole JMT in a month with
some older high school buddies of mine.  The trip fell through at the
last minute.  I've wanted to do it ever since, but with college, a
job, grad school, a family, etc., I could never spare the 2-3 weeks of
precious vacation.  After I started running ultras a few years back, I
had a revelation: I could RUN it in a week!  As this summer was the
big 4-0 for me, I decided now was the time.


I'd heard of other ultrarunners fastpacking it in 8-9 days, and my Dad
simply backpacked it in 9 days a few years back.  This didn't seem
like enough of a challenge.  It wasn't my intention to attempt some
sort of record for the JMT.  I don't know what the record is, but
assume someone has probably done it at least a day faster than I did
(for the record, my elapsed time from the Whitney summit to Happy
Isles was 4 days, 15 hours, 37 minutes).  I simply thought that 5 or 6
days seemed like a pace that would be reasonable, but still enough of
a push to make it interesting.  My ultrarunning buddy Joanne Urioste
had invited me to do it in 6 days with her two years ago, but it
conflicted with Hardrock.  Joanne made it to Red's Mdw (160 miles) on
schedule, but had to drop with terrible shin splints that she blamed
on having to walk due to her too-heavy-to-run-with pack.  Some
compromise would be necessary if I was to run it, and I decided to
leave behind the sleeping bag, tent, and stove.  This is not as crazy
as it sounds - the bivouac is a time-honored technique in
mountaineering that I'd exploited a number of times.  However, I'd
never tried to do it more than one night at a time, and here I'd have
to do it for the first three nights.  Still, it seemed like a safe


To a first approximation, the JMT is two Hardrock Hundreds, back to
back, without aid stations.  Sure, it's a bit longer (223 vs. 202
miles), but has a somewhat less climb (83k' total climb/descent
vs. 132k' for two Hardrocks).  My Dad supported me throughout the
whole thing, transporting me to the start, beginning the hike up
Whitney with me, and driving back and forth across the Sierra over the
next five days to carry food in to me on the third day (a 25 mile
round trip hike), and to meet me with the car at Red's Mdw (160 miles)
and Tuolumne Mdws (198 miles) on the fourth and fifth days,
respectively.  He also met me at the end in Yosemite Valley, and drove
me back to SoCal.  Yeoman duty, indeed, but he was as excited about
this trip as I was!  I started each day at midnight and hiked/ran
until 5 or 6 pm, which gave me enough time to set up camp, cook a bit
of hot food over a small wood fire, and get four hours of fitful,
uncomfortable sleep before starting over again.  Three of the
mornings, I took a short (30-60 minute) nap just before dawn.  I
planned the trip so all my nights would be at relatively low
elevations (8000'-9000') for warmth.  My daily mileages were 42, 42,
42, 39, and 58, and I camped at Vidette Mdw, Grouse Mdw, Hilgard
Creek, and Red's Mdw.  I made it down to Yosemite Valley at 10 pm on
the fifth day.  I got lucky with the weather - it only rained hard
once, out of Tuolumne Mdws, when I was on my way out and didn't care.
The weather was unusually warm - I didn't need more than a long sleeve
shirt while I was moving, even over the high passes before dawn.  This
helped me be comfortable at night (when I still got cold), but cut
both ways - it was brutally hot during some of the long climbs and
descents.  I scheduled this trip to be the week after the full moon,
so there was plenty of light at night to see some of the scenery.


I carried my regular running belt and a day pack.  As I mentioned
earlier, I didn't carry a sleeping bag, tent, or stove.  For warmth, I
carried a light foam pad, polypro sweater, rain jacket, long sleeve
shirt, tights, wind pants, balaclava, and gloves.  I carried a small
aluminum tea kettle to cook my one luxury - mashed potatoes at night.
I carried a 20 oz running bottle, but left it empty, instead relying
on a filter bottle to carry about 8 oz water at a time and sipped it
all day as I went.  This worked really well, and saved me a lot of
weight compared to if I had treated water 20-40 oz at a time.  I
carried all the normal essentials: DEET, sunscreen, TP, matches,
ibuprofen, chapstick, maps, sunglasses, toothbrush, athletic tape,
etc.  I carried some fishing line and hooks, intending to suppliment
my food with trout, but never had the time to use them.  I carried
instep crampons for the first three days, and used them over Muir
Pass.  I carried a big 2-D cell focussing flashlight with extra
batteries for nighttime use.  During the first night (going up
Whitney), I spend a lot of time hiking by the nearly full moon.

For food, I relied on home-dried apricots, homemade beef jerky,
granola, crackers, and a maltodextrine/dextrose mixture.  I carried
about 4500 calories/day, but ended up with lots of food left over - I
don't think I ate more than 3500 calories/day, and rarely seemed to be

On the last day (from Red's Mdw to Yosemite Valley) I only carried the
running belt, since I didn't need all the warm clothes, sleeping pad,
cooking pot, or as much food.


I had expected to spend 12-14 hours/day on the trail, having lots of
time left over to relax, fish, clean up, etc.  In reality, I ended up
spending 17-18 hours/day on the trail, so there was little time to do
anything except get to camp, eat dinner, catch 4 hours of fitful
sleep, then get up at midnight to do it all over again.  I felt rushed
the whole time, but it did keep me focussed on the task.  I found that
I could reliably and consistently walk uphill at 2 mph, and run
downhill at 4 mph.  That doesn't sound very fast, but think of it as a
25 hour hundred and you'll have a better idea.  Those paces included
breaks (typically 5-10 minutes every hour), stream crossings, and
sections of rough trail that I couldn't run, and I was carrying a pack
as well.  I could hold the same pace during the 6 hours of nighttime
travel.  I consciously held back a little, remembering that I had to
get up and do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after

Brick Robbins had warned me that there was a lot of snow still in the
Sierra, and he was right - there was snow over every pass and water
everywhere.  The only pass that caused me problems was Muir Pass,
where I was on crampons over about 5 miles of deep suncups - VERY slow
going!  The highest lakes were still frozen over in the southern half.
There were many creeks I had to wade, which in a normal year I could
have hopped across on rocks.  Due to this, my feet were continuously
wet, despite carrying spare socks, and this caused my feet to blister
terribly.  I ended up with nine toes taped, as well as the heels and
balls of both feet.

One thing that pleasantly surprised me was that my quads didn't get
sore at all until the end of the fourth day.  I had expected them to
get hammered early, but suppose that the slow pace delayed this until
the end.

I didn't have any trouble with bears, and used a bear box only once,
in Vidette Mdws.  I only met one ranger, north of Whitney, and she
didn't ask to see my wilderness permit.  There were mosquitos and
black flies, but I've seen them worse.

My biggest crisis came at the very end - only two miles from the
bottom of Yosemite Valley.  At the last minute before leaving Tuolumne
Mdws, I decided to carry my Dad's small AA cell flashlight to save a
few ounces over my big 2-D cell flashlight - after all, I would only
be a couple hours in the dark.  This was a mistake.  I had sworn off
these little flashlights for running years ago - they just don't throw
enough light for me to run by.  In addition, this was too spur of the
moment - I took what Dad had handy, including spare batteries, without
really knowing whether they were fresh or worked at all.  To make a
long story short, I was around the top of the Mist Trail, which
descends next to Vernal Falls, when I noticed that my light was
getting awfully dim after less than one hour use.  I switched to the
spare batteries, and my blood went cold when I discovered they were
dead!  This was no joke - for the first time ever, I was honestly way
over my head while running, and could feel disaster looming.  Picture
a wet, water sprayed, narrow, steep staircase without a handrail,
clinging to the face of a sheer cliff, and you have a pretty good
picture of the Mist Trail, and I was on it in the dark without a
light.  It's wonderful what a little adrenaline will do for you - 30
minutes before I had been sleepy-tired, terribly sore, and beyond
exhaustion.  Suddenly, I was tuned in, aware, and without a pain!  I
managed to descend the Mist Trail by the dim glow of the nearly dead
flashlight, which would vaguely illuminate two steps at a time if I
held it close to the ground.  When I finally got down to the final
mile of paved path, it was like being reborn.  THIS I could do safely
in the dark!  While descending the Mist Trail, I had wondered why it
didn't hurt when I stubbed my blistered toes.  Now I found out - it
hurt like hell, but had been masked by the adrenaline!  I learned (or
rather relearned) a good lesson from this - NEVER rely on equipment
that you don't KNOW works, and don't make substitutions at the last

Doing the JMT in five days was a fun and interesting challenge, and I
feel great to have accomplished it.  I don't think I'll ever try doing
it that fast again, however.  Too intense and too lonely.  Taking an
extra couple days would have allowed me to relax a bit.  Also, I
hadn't anticipated how much I would miss having another person along
to discuss the things I was seeing.  Rebecca and I plan to return in
two years to backpack the whole thing in a couple weeks for our 20th
wedding anniversary.  Now THAT will be fun!

- Blake

Blake P. Wood
Physics Div., Plasma Physics Group P-24, MS-E526,
Los Alamos Nat'l Lab, Los Alamos NM 87545
(505) 665-6524  Fax: (505) 665-3552  bwood@lanl.gov

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