Route: Yosemite to Whitney (North to South)

TR #: 12

Category: California      Elev: 4,000-14,500 ft     

Partners: Jenny Cribbs, Paul Dehaye, Josh Traube

This was a fun way to spend the last 3 weeks of summer vacation. September is a great time of year to hike this 222-mile trail - no crowds, no bugs, no rain!

The JMT is a beautiful, wonderfully long, and challenging backpack trip. A lot of the hiking is above 10,000 ft (especially nearer to Mt. Whitney at the south end of the trail), and there are several high passes to conquer. The above illustration is distance/elevation profile of the route from Yosemite to the Whitney Portal, showing various locations along the way.

In early 2005, 3 friends and I decided to plan a hike of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevadas of California. This is a 222 mile hike from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney through some of the highest and most beautiful sections of the Sierra Nevadas. We planned to hike the JMT in September, North to South, and in 3 weeks; we wanted to give ourselves enough time to scramble up some nearby peaks and explore some of the beautiful high country around the trail.

We had a lot of planning and coordination to do: planting a car in Lone Pine, getting to the start of the trail in Yosemite, planning and making the food drop at Muir Lodge, sorting out group gear issues, etc. We ended up deciding to do a food drop at Muir Lodge (about half way through), and at the last minute, shocked by the weight of our packs, we decided to personally drop off some buckets of food at Red’s Meadow (4-5 days hike into the trail, but easily accessible from the road too) on the way to the trailhead. Most of our logistics issues were resolved after some online research. Here are a couple good websites I found when researching the JMT logistics:

We found the Tom Harrison JMT map pack to be the ideal maps for this hike. The trail is divided into 13 8.5x11" maps, which is very convenient for pulling out the 1 or 2 you need for the day and just hiking with them in your pocket.

It’s been in the back of my mind for awhile to post my trip notes and some photos, so here it is! September was the ideal time of year to do this hike: great weather, no bugs, no crowds!

Trip Summary with Photos

Butterfly on Daisy off the side of the road.

DAY -3: Aug 28 (Sun)

Stanford --> Tioga Pass

NOTES: Josh, Paul, & I (we would meet Jenny later) traveled by car to Tioga Pass; we camped about 1 mile off road just east of pass

Seagull chasing bugs at Mono Lake (we stopped at Mono Lake on our way to Lone Pine).

DAY -2: Aug 29 (Mon)

Tioga Pass --> Lone Pine

NOTES: After dropping us off in Lone Pine, Josh dropped his car off at Whitney Portal and hitchhiked back to Lone Pine; we camped in park in Lone Pine.

Flower in Bishop.

DAY -1: Aug 30 (Tue)

Lone Pine --> Bishop --> Mammoth Lakes

NOTES: We traveled by buses, from Lone Pine to Bishop and Bishop to Mammoth Lakes ($5-9 each); we met up with Jenny in Mammoth Lakes, and made an impromptu food drop at Red’s Meadow (we would come through there after about 4-5 days of hiking); Jenny dropped her car off at a friend's house in Mammoth Lakes; we camped in Old Shady campground in Mammoth Lakes.

Josh and Paul cooling off in the Upper Lake near our campsite.

DAY 1: Aug 31 (Wed)

Mammoth Lakes --> Tuolomne --> Upper Lake about 600 ft below Donohue Pass

HIKED: 11.4 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

NOTES:We got to Tuolomne by an early-morning YARTS bus, and started our hike from there. Heavy packs!

Josh and Paul playing Yahtzee at Marie Lakes.

DAY 2: Sept 1 (Thu)

Upper Lake --> Marie Lakes, NE of largest lake

HIKED: 6.4 miles (4.4 along JMT); hiked over Donohue Pass (11,056 ft)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds/bit windy

NOTES: I climbed a peak west of camp at Marie Lakes.

Thousand Island Lake with Mt. Ritter in background.

DAY 3: Sept 2 (Fri)

Marie Lakes --> Rosalie Lake

HIKED: 13.2 miles (11.2 along JMT); hiked over Island Pass (10,205 ft)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds/bit windy

NOTES: Josh and Paul caught a fish at Rosalie Lake and threw it back for good karma.

Rainbow Falls near Red’s Meadow.

DAY 4: Sept 3 (Sat)

Rosalie Lake --> Red Cones, just on south side of Crater Lake

HIKED: 15.5 miles (12.8 along JMT)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

NOTES: We stopped at Red's Meadow store to pick up food drop #1; we took a side trip to Devil's Postpile and Rainbow Falls.

Cooking trout on the fire at Purple Lake.

DAY 5: Sept 4 (Sun)

Red Cones --> Purple Lake

HIKED: 10.8 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

NOTES: Jenny hiked back to Red's Meadow to get a lost handkerchief and met up with us at Purple Lake; Josh and Steph climbed Red Cone Crater to the south of camp to see sunrise on Minarets; Jenny climbed Red Cone Crater on return trip; Josh and Paul caught 2 trout and cooked them on a fire.

Long exposure of the stars at our camp just south of Silver Pass.

DAY 6: Sept 5 (Mon)

Purple Lake --> Lake just south of Silver Pass

HIKED: 8.7 miles; hiked over Silver Pass (10,895 ft)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

NOTES: I climbed up a ridge to southwest of camp.

Squirrel on trail.

DAY 7: Sept 6 (Tue)

Silver Pass --> on north side of Bear Creek about 0.1 mile down Bear Creek Trail

HIKED: 12.9 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

Our granite campsite at Marie Lakes. We stayed here 2 nights.

DAY 8: Sept 7 (Wed)

Bear Creek --> west side of Marie Lakes, near middle

HIKED: 6.5 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds except some cirrus in east in afternoon/cold and windy night

NOTES: I climbed the ridge to the east of camp and climbed the spire to the west of Mt. Senger; others explored also, although Jenny’s heel was hurting her so she took it easy.

Steph bouldering on our exploration day around Marie Lakes.

DAY 9: Sept 8 (Thu)

rest/explore day at Marie Lakes

HIKED: 0 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds except some cumulus around sunset

NOTES: Josh and I explored to the west of Marie Lake, scrambling up a prominent class 3-4 ridge system.

Our food resupply at the Muir Trail Ranch. Heavy packs again!

DAY 10: Sept 9 (Fri)

Marie Lakes --> east side of Piute Creek just off trail

HIKED: 11 miles (10.2 along JMT); hiked over Seldon Pass (10,880 ft)

WEATHER: cumulus clouds/brief rain at ranch

NOTES: We picked up our food drop at Muir Trail Ranch; also we bought some fuel and sent emails.

Big Dipper and tent in Evolution Lake basin. This was one of the first times we used the tent, since it was beginning to get colder at night. Click here to be directed to my webpage devoted to my night photography.

DAY 11: Sept 10 (Sat)

Piute Creek --> SW side of Evolution Lake

HIKED: 11 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds except a few cirrus

Looking back from Muir Pass.

DAY 12: Sept 11 (Sun)

Evolution Lake --> unnamed lake 0.5 mile east along trail from Helen Lake, just after Muir Pass

HIKED: 7.8 miles; hiked over Muir Pass (11,955 ft)

WEATHER: sunny but cool

NOTES: I climbed Mt. Solomons (13,034ft) SW of Muir Pass.

Lunch break and bath time at a stream.

DAY 13: Sept 12 (Mon)

unnamed lake --> Deer Meadow

HIKED: 12 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

Evening light near our camp just south of Mather Pass.

DAY 14: Sept 13 (Tue)

Deer Meadow --> Lake east of Mather Pass

HIKED: 7.5 miles (7 along JMT); hiked over Mather Pass (12,100 ft)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/cumulus clouds in adternoon

NOTES: I explored around the lake in the evening; Josh and Paul caught 2 fish and cooked them on the stove.

Mile-long shadows on our climb of Split Mtn.

DAY 15: Sept 14 (Wed)

Lake after Mather Pass --> North end of Lake Marjorie

HIKED: 7.5 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

NOTES: Josh and I did a morning climb of Split Mtn (14,058ft) east of Mather Pass (2h up, 1.5h down); I explored cool geologic area east of Lake Marjorie in the evening.

Sunrise colors at Lake Marjorie.

DAY 16: Sept 15 (Thu)

Lake Marjorie --> Dollar Lake

HIKED: 12.8 miles; hiked over Pinchot Pass (12,130 ft)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

Our camp at Bubbs Creek. The last time we would be low enough to have a fire.

DAY 17: Sept 16 (Fri)

Dollar Lake --> Bubbs Creek, about 1.5 miles from Road’s End junction

HIKED: 10.4 miles; hiked over Glen Pass (11,978 ft)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds

NOTES: Paul and I hiked 1 hour to Rae Lakes in the dark to see sunrise at 6:30am.

Forrester Pass.

DAY 18: Sept 17 (Sat)

Bubbs Creek --> Lake about 4.2 miles south of Forrester Pass, just off trail

HIKED: 10.3 miles; hiked over Forrester Pass (13,180 ft)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds until some cirrus in evening to south

Looking towards Mt. Whitney, just before Guitar Lake.

DAY 19: Sept 18 (Sun)

Lake after Forrester Pass --> Guitar Lake just west of Mt. Whitney

HIKED: 12.7 miles

WEATHER: sunny/hot/cirrus cloud build-up in west around sunset

NOTES: A ranger told us a storm might hit the area within 36 hours, so we decided to do early morning moonlight climb of Mt. Whitney the next day.

The four of us on the summit of Whitney (from left to right: Jenny, Paul, Steph, Josh, (bear))..

DAY 20: Sept 19 (Mon)

Guitar Lake --> summit of Mt. Whitney (14,498ft) --> Consultation Lake east of Mt. Whitney

HIKED: 11 miles (5.5 along JMT); hiked over Trail Crest Pass (13,650 ft)

WEATHER: sunny/hot/no clouds/cold on top of Whitney but not too windy

NOTES: We all woke up at 2am to summit Whitney (14,498ft) in the moonlight and see sunrise from the top; we got to camp at around noon and relaxed for rest of the day

Morning snow at Consultation Lake. It was ironic to end in the cold and snow, since we had had warm sunny weather the entire hike.

DAY 21: Sept 20 (Tue)

Consultation Lake --> car at Whitney Portal

HIKED: 5.5 miles

WEATHER: rain below 10,000ft, snow above/no sun/mild temperatures

NOTES: We woke up to a snowstorm at 2:30am; hiked out at 7:30am; got to car at 10:30am; stopped for lunch at bakery in Bishop; got back to Stanford by 9pm.