john muir trail

How to Conquer the John Muir Trail 

Words: Megan Michelson
Photo above: ERIC LEIFER 

Learning a new sport in a far-flung locale this summer is one thing. But what if you gained more than just a skill from it? The keys to conquering some of the most striking landscape in California’s Sierra Nevada range.

Do This

The 211-mile-long John Muir Trail travels through some of the most striking landscape in California’s Sierra Nevada range, from Yosemite National Park to 14,494-foot Mount Whitney. Give yourself between 17 and 27 days to walk this historic stretch of the famed Pacific Crest Trail, allowing plenty of time to soak up the views through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. 

john muir trail

“What research tells us we really need is resilience. It’s not just randomly persisting through some terrible thing, but it’s coming back from difficultly and knowing that you can overcome it. If you’re frustrated or tired but you don’t give up, that’ll teach you that you’re not a quitter and that you can keep on going,” says Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing

© Ron Koeberer

Gain This

You’ll develop hefty doses of stamina and endurance while trudging hundreds of miles through high-elevation wilderness and carrying all of your necessities on your back. Learning not to give up is where the real life lessons come into play. Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, also points out studies that have found that carrying heavy items on your back can be a mental load as much as it is a physical one. “Literally, the physical weight of a pack can become psychologically taxing,” she says. “So if you’re on the trail and you’re getting overwhelmed, just put your pack down for a few minutes and you may feel better.” 

john muir trail

“This stretch of the Sierra Nevada offers a fantastic mix of big mountains, generally good weather and tons of lakes, forest and babbling brooks. The John Muir Trail is also a convenient and accessible thru-hike for people with jobs,” says Jack Haskel, trail information specialist for the Pacific Crest Trail Association.   

© Dmitri Alexander

Get Started

Before you go, get in good physical shape (you’ll be crossing peaks at 11,000 feet), learn how to use all of your backpacking gear, and consider taking a wilderness first-aid course to prepare for an emergency. The John Muir Trail is best hiked mid-summer, between July and September, and you’ll need to apply for a backpacking permit well in advance. Pick up the John Muir Trail guidebook written by Elizabeth Wenk for more details on how to plan and prepare. 

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05 2015 The Red Bulletin

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