Forester Pass in High Sierra Mountains, 13,720 feet, looking north.
Prolog of JMT Revisited
I was a Boy Scout in the early 70s. The highpoints of that experience were weeklong backpacking trips in the Sierra Mountains. Typically, we would cover about 30 to 50 miles, set up a base camp, and then hang out for a week. Our heroes were backpackers who would do the entire JMT, including climbing Mt. Whitney. At the time, I thought such a trip was completely out of reach for me, but in the back of my mind I thought someday I would do it as well.
Anyway, I grew up, went to college, became a Christian, got a middle class job, married, and fathered four boys. Hiking the JMT was completely forgotten. Later on, I switched jobs and worked for a guy named Steve Johnson. Steve got me excited about hiking again. We climbed the local mountains in the Southern California area, usually with a few kids in tow. During this period I formed a plan: when all my kids where old enough, we would do the JMT together, sort of like a right-of-passage experience for the boys, and as a farewell expression of parenthood.
The timing of this super-duper JMT trip had to be chosen carefully, because there is a six-year spread between my oldest and my youngest. I had to wait until my youngest was capable, but do it before the older ones moved away, married, and started jobs that would not let them off for the necessary 2.5 to 3 weeks. The perfect time was the summer of 2001.
But, as most parents know, kids are fickle. My boys were not convinced that giving up three weeks of their summer was a good idea. My oldest, Ken, didn’t want to be away from his girlfriend that long. The others were concerned about lost time to do skateboarding, surfing and so forth. I said I was going even if no one joined me. I also teamed up with my good friend Paul who had similar aspirations to do the trip with his son Elliot. Finally the power of dad-ship won out, and I had three boys (Kevin, Tim, and Wes) fully on board by February 2001.
We planned the trip to the hilt. Permits, food drops, maps, satellite phone, meeting points with friends to support us, etc. We spent big bucks on camping equipment. We researched every aspect of the trip, including how the US military deals with bugs, and copied their procedure. In short, we were over prepared. During this time, I kept trying to convince Ken to go, but he wouldn’t budge.
Finally, we went without Ken, and all of us who went completed the trip. That July (in 2001), the Sierra’s had an unusual amount of rain. It rained non-stop for at least half of our fist trip. We hiked and slept in the rain for days. Paul, who had done the trip with the Explorer Scouts 25 years ago, and who continues to be a marathon runner, set the daily pace. He seemed to know my breaking point, and worked right up to it. Physically, it was the hardest three weeks of my life. Tim invented this saying: “JMT = Just More Torture.” Our whole focus was completing the trip and getting out of there.
Even with the “hardships”, this first JMT trip meant a lot to me. It was a great bonding experience for all of us. I finally did what I dreamed of doing in the Boy Scouts, and as a father. I was proud of myself and of my boys. Two of the three boys lost a lot of childhood pudginess, and became better athletes in High School. One coach was particular impressed, telling Tim that he had returned to the soccer field with a completely different “body type.” My only regret was that my oldest, Kenneth, didn’t go with us.
What a surprise it was in December 2003 to have Ken talk about doing the JMT! But, after that first experience, I wasn’t sure I wanted to ruin the feelings that I had gained from doing it the first time. Also, I didn’t want to face the agony again. But the thought of really completing the original goal of doing the JMT will all my boys won me over. But this time, I set out to do the trip with a different attitude: instead of merely completing the trip, I wanted to have fun and still complete the trip.
We named the trip “JMT Revisited”. Early on, we established who was going. To my surprise, both of my younger boys wanted to do it again. Paul couldn’t get off of work, but Elliott wanted to do it again as well. Amazing. I guess people forget bad experiences and remember the good things. All the boys wanted to bring friends. (None of their friends had done any real hiking before.)
Although we got permits in January 2004, we didn’t plan this trip nearly as well as the first. We pretty much piggybacked on the plans we made the first time. After all, we are old hands at this now. However, I was determined to have fun this time, so I did lots of practice hikes to get into shape. Also, after seeing how the first trip went, we made lots of customized modifications to our gear, like extending our ponchos. We even made our own tent – since none of the tents at REI are made for super quick deployment in summer rainstorms.
We paid lots of attention to the weight of our backpacks. Without food or filled water bottles, all packs weighted less than 23 pounds. A fully packed food canister added about 11 pounds per pack. Two filled water bottles added another 4 to 6 pounds, so a fully loaded pack weighed close to 40 pounds. But this was only for a day or two after a resupply. We were resupplied twice, by hiking a few miles off the trail each time.
All in all, “JMT Revisited” was more spectacular than the first time. It was actually fun. It rained, but not nearly as much. The boys were older, and they didn’t need adult supervision. After the first few days, they took over the trip, so I only had to concentrate on my own needs. We perfected a really fast and mess-free way to cook fish, so we ate a lot of fresh trout.
The trip didn’t replace my original feelings for the first trip, but instead added to them. Our experiences this second time were just as heart felt as the first. We met interesting people along the way. We stayed at Edison Lake as though-hikers instead of vacationers. We had to deal with more difficult situations, like a bear attack where we lost over a week of food. We met up with many of our friends in Dusy Basin, a hiking party led by my son Kevin. In all, it was a great trip.
(Now, Ken is talking about doing the entire PCT.)
What follows is a reprint and some editing of a log that I kept during this trip. Also, we show a few of our better pictures (almost all taken by Ken).