Twenty-One Days on the John Muir Trail

This inspiring Adventure of the Week comes from TMS hard goods manager Kevin O’Hara. He moonlights as a pro photographer, hence the epic shots of his John Muir thru-hike.

hiking in the rain at Tuolumne Meadows

WHO: Kevin O’Hara and Eric Yates

WHAT: Thru-hiking the 218-mile John Muir Trail

WHERE: The High Sierra, from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney

WHEN: Sept 12 to Oct 2, 2011

GEAR: Nemo Fillo Pillow, MSR Quick 2 System Cookset, Deuter Aircontact Pro 70+15 backpack, Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus Mattress, Snow Peak titanium spork (in purple),  Black Diamond Storm Headlamp, Outdoor Research Helios Sun Hat, Black Diamond Distance Z Poles, Icebreaker Oasis Crew, Mountain Hardwear Canyon Shirt, MSR Whisperlite Stove

JOHN MUIR TRAIL MAP: 3 needed, National Geographic Yosemite, National Geographic Mammoth Lakes Mono Divide and National Geographic Sequoia Kings Canyon

Twenty-one days. It was supposed to be twenty-two days, but the weather sometimes has a different itinerary. In this case the early exit to our thru-hike actually increased the enjoyment of our last day, and we met a few new friends the night before. Hiking the John Muir Trail is a pretty big undertaking with a lot of lessons, especially if you’ve never before completed a lengthy thru-hike. Lessons like how much food your body requires, and how your eating habits have changed since your last long hike. With supplies running short because of our misjudgement on how to ration, exiting a day early was a welcome change (the anticipation of greasy burgers and beer was becoming unbearable).

Ram Lake area, just above Purple Lake

I’ve heard many times before that it takes twenty-one days to create a habit. More than the views, or the mountain air, or even the solitude, I was looking forward to changing my habits. This trip became a form of self-improvement for me in more than one way, and after having done it, I couldn’t really think of a better way to work on one’s self. I began journaling every single day. First, to make a record of the day’s travel and sights, and then it became reflection and a way to process my thoughts about life back home. I also spent every night reading a couple of chapters from Caught Inside by Daniel Duane. A fantastic book that really struck a chord with me and affirmed the elements in my life that are important to me. Finally, I’ve become an incessant foodie. I cook constantly and spend more time on making sure I’m well nourished. This is not only food for eating, but food for my soul. Yes, it’s cliché, so what? All of this really boils down to making more time for me, and I’ve never felt better.

“What about the trip?” you ask? “What did you see? Where did you go? What was your favorite part?” The weather was fantastic. Even the few t-storms that chased us over passes were as humbling and beautiful as they were scary. The microclimates are strikingly different from one range to the next. The rivers and creeks flow with an openness and perfection of lines that makes you think of every perfect mountain stream you’ve ever seen in a film. Evolution basin is as spectacular as described. I could hardly pick my jaw up off the ground. I half-expected a film crew to be working just across the meadow because it is so outrageously picturesque. I had a very difficult time coming to grips with how the trip was panning out versus how I envisioned it. I did not have the time to spend with my Canon SLR and two lenses as I would have liked. Even with a three-week itinerary (most do it in around two) you are required to hike every day, and every day you are tired. The down time, the swimming and the lounging were infrequent events. I found myself wanting to stay in every place I saw. I had to instead make a commitment to return to these places, and devote my energy to attaining the goal at hand. When you are thru-hiking you are doing just that: a thru hike. The journey is the goal, less than each destination along the way.

The gear we brought worked out great for this trip. Our MSR Whisperlite never quit. The Whisperlite has a field-maintainability that is unparalleled by other stoves. We had some pump issues, but thankfully we brought a spare MSR fuel pump, as well as an MSR stove maintenance kit. The MSR Quick 2 System was also a great addition to our kitchen. Bowls and insulated cups are included, and the pots served quite well on fish taco night (yes, we had fresh-caught trout tacos with fresh tortillas). Plus the whole kit nests together while still allowing you to stash a sponge, soap and camp towel inside. My Nemo Fillo Pillow turned out to be my favorite piece of gear, along with my Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus Mattress. I could tuck the pillow under my arm when reading, and the two worked in tandem to provide the perfect napping/sunbathing spot next to Rae Lakes (the one time I got to nap on the entire trip).

I learned a lot about myself and my own personal needs on this trip. I cannot wait to go back again. Hiking the JMT has been life changing. Not in all the ways I expected, but I am definitely a better person for having done it, and I most definitely have a clearer mind than ever before. I highly recommend some extended time away to anyone looking for a change and a new perspective on their own life. Take twenty-one days (or more) to create some good habits. Make it something difficult that you will not only take great pride in when you’re done, but also something that will challenge you to the point of requiring introspection personal evaluation and change.

The Tahoe Mountain Sports Adventure of the Week blog series takes a walk (or hike, surf, climb or John Muir Trail thru-hike) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.



I'm Tahoe Mountain Sports' web editor and a 6-year Tahoe resident. Yep, I live the life, with a lake view from my desk, lunch breaks on the beach with my dog, and morning powder runs when the snow's good. I ski, snowboard, skate ski, and cross-country ski in winter, and hike, mountain bike, backpack, and lay around on Tahoe's beaches in summer.


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