I knew going into the John Muir Trail that it would be a social hike. I told everyone who asked whether I was going alone: “I am going alone, but I won’t be lonely!”. This definitely played out. Not only do they call the JMT “The Highway” due to its popularity, the people that you come across are wonderful. Everyone seems happy and more than willing to share information with you or assist in any way they can.
There had to be at least thirty people I saw along the trail that I only shared a passing conversation that had an influence on my hike. Most of it was information about the upcoming trail or sharing suggestions, or to offer encouragement. There was plenty of positive feedback regarding Vermillion Valley Resort, which definitely influenced me to take a near-zero day there. There were so many people that were on a repeat (or multiple repeat) JMT trip, the information was invaluable. The vast majority of these hikers were going in the opposite direction (Northbounders).
As far as more lasting contact with other hikers, this happened as early as day two as I started coming across other Southbounders. After initial casual conversations, you would cross paths/leap frog with them again, and after a few of these, you would know their name, home, where they entered the trail, how many days they are striving to complete the trail and where they are headed for their next campsite. I count up to a dozen of these types of relationships during the 18 days.
The first was Mark and Jason from Indianapolis. I first ran across them on my Day 2 just before Cathedral Pass (their Day 1 as they entered at Sunrise Lakes TH). We both camped at Upper Cathedral Lakes (unknowingly), then ran into each other the next day in Lyell Canyon. On Day 4 we leap frogged each other for a while up Donohue Pass and ended up camping near each other at Garnet Lake, and then camped next to each other at Reds Meadow Resort.
After not seeing each other on the Day 6 hike (although we both camped at Purple Lake), I ran into them again on the way up Silver Pass. After communicating my desire to take time off at VVR, I convinced them to do the same, and after the “interesting” water taxi ride, we shared a Tent Cabin for the night and a couple meals. Mark and Jason decided to leave VVR a 1/2 day earlier than me, so I never saw them again. However, while hanging out at VVR, I discovered Jason’s headlamp was forgotten, and I carried it out the rest of the trip and was able to mail it to him after I returned.
Unfortunately, Mark twisted his ankle in LeConte Canyon and they had to exit the trail early.
The next longer-term relationship was with Cassie and Wyatt, a young couple from Sacramento (Davis). I first met them at the campsite at Reds Meadow Resort, and next ran into them at the Purple Lake campsite. Cassie and Wyatt arrived at VVR the morning after I did, and we had lunch together. I left VVR a 1/2 day before them, but our paths the next couple days were similar, however we didn’t see each other until reaching Evolution Basin, and camped next to each other at Wanda Lake.
I have to give Wyatt a lot of credit for two things: pushing me the next couple days to get me ahead of my schedule and finding great campsites. We camped near each other the next two nights before their youth caught up to me and their hiking days became a lot longer than mine! We did share some trail magic with each other as I was able to help Wyatt and his tweaked knee by giving him my knee brace as well as sharing my iPhone charger cable with him, while I received Advil, filtered water and excellent company!
It is also surprising how much impact people that you have shorter interactions will have on you. I hiked the morning on the trip to Reds Meadow Resort with Carly, an avid outdoors-woman from Revelstoke, BC. It was great to hear of all her experiences, and of course, the fit, younger companion really pushed me! As I was leaving VVR, there were a couple of young gals from San Francisco, Amanda and Svetlana (graduated from Dublin Scioto!) that left at the same time. We hiked the few miles together that afternoon and camped near each other, and then hiked the next day together. Unfortunately, Svetlana had hurt her back, and actually had to suspend the hike before the end of the day. I assisted by carrying her pack down a mile to a more palatable campsite, and I believe they had to exit the trail by going back to VVR. It was still great to spend time with them for those 24 hours and hear about their adventures.
I met a couple more interesting, young couples near the end of the trip. Noele and Leo (also from Davis) were on their honeymoon! They are avid climbers, and right in their element on the trail. They camped near me on Bighorn Plateau and Guitar Lake and shared their water filter with me. Melissa and Andrew (from the LA area) were another young couple I didn’t meet until Day 17, but after hiking with them a bit and camping on the other side of a big rock at Guitar Lake, enjoyed their company and discussions of the trail.
Another interesting couple were Hilda (from Norway) and Sebastian (from Sweden). They shared the VVR water taxi with me and I was able to learn their story of planning a JMT from oversees (which included buying almost all their gear at REI when they first arrived). Additionally, they were machines on the trail. They took four nights off at VVR and Muir Trail Ranch, and still finished the trail before me. Sebastian looked like one of those Nordic Skiers/Speed Skaters with huge thighs and carried most of their gear. An example of their stamina was that they did two passes in two days…. twice!!! The last was Glen Pass and Forester Pass, which just sounds insane to me.
One of the last people I met was Scott from Vancouver, BC, a retired fireman. We met on the trail on Day 17, and found out we had almost the exact same original schedule (17 days), except I took the extra time off at VVR. Scott had some great insight on other hiking trips I have considered (especially the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier). Scott also was staying in Lone Pine for two nights after the hike, so I was able to enjoy his company for dinner.
Meeting so many great people and sharing this experience with them not only helped make the 18 days easier, it also was one of the highlights of the trip.