I know this is not a universal truth, but for me, planning the trip is half the fun of actually doing the trip. I love pouring over topo maps, books, online reports, and random photos during the planning stage. Mostly I’m just figuring out the route, how long it will take, what kind of terrain will be encountered, etc. I’m also getting myself psyched about what I will be experiencing on the trip. Recently I’ve been pouring myself into my big trip to California this upcoming August.
The plan is to hike a modified version of the John Muir Trail, starting on August 17th. Our estimate is that it will take my friend Steve and I thirteen days to finish the trip, however we are giving ourselves a full seventeen days on the trail. It’s not that I think it will take an extra four days, but to give us a break day if we feel it’s necessary due to outside influences like weather, or if we find we overestimated out abilities to hike this modified route in the time frame we planned.
Now to the modified route part. The official trail is 211 miles long from Yosemite Valley to the top of Mount Whitney. Hikers will also need to get descend Mount Whitney, so if using the standard route, the total trip to Whitney portal is approximately 221 miles. Because Yosemite Valley and Mount Whitney are so popular, you will need to be drawn in a lottery for your permit, and if you’re not picked, you’ll need to show up in person and hope to get a walk-in permit on the day you want to start. After failing to get picked in the Yosemite lottery a week ago, I decided I did not want to leave my trip up to the chance we could score a walk in permit, possibly leaving us hanging out in Yosemite valley for days before being able to start the trip. I wanted to have a set date with a secured permit to start the trip, so that I knew that all the red tape was out of the way.
That led me to the alternate start of cottonwood lakes. The cottonwood lakes trail head is the start of the standard route up Mount Langley, the southern most 14er in California, which is not too far from Whitney. After doing some research, it seemed common to hike directly from Langley to Whitney taking a cross country route. There were two main routes, going through Arc Pass or Crabtree pass. Crabtree pass is the most direct route if you’re willing to do some route finding, so we selected that route through miter basin, planning on spending the first night near the pass.
After figuring out our route to Mount Muir and Whitney, we needed to figure out the rest of the route. Both Steve and I enjoy mountaineering. We recently did a winter accent of Pikes Peak in February using the Barr trail and the incline, which included 7500 feet of elevation gain and 24 miles, spending the night at the A-frame near 12,000 feet. We also backpacked and climbed three 14ers in the collegiate peaks area in late November, and completed the decalibron (five 14ers in the mosquito range) in less than 6 hours on an extremely windy day in early November. So when I told him my idea of climbing thirteen of the California 14ers while we were on trail, I thought he would be right there with me. Steve recently moved from California and initially thought it was a bad idea, citing some of his experiences with attempting and succeeding on his sierra 14er trips. After discussing it and looking at how close we would be to some of the 14ers while on the trail, and how many days extra it would take to hike them in addition to the trail, he decided it would be a fun way to add some climbing into the miles of backpacking. Since all the climbing would be in the first section, with no 14ers left after the north palisade traverse, I added two bonus peaks to be done if conditions are perfect and we have the extra time near the end of the trip, Mount Ritter and Mount Lyell, two apex peaks that we will be passing after devils postpile.
By using the starting route we already picked out, we already had three of them planned. Next would be Mount Russell on the north side of Whitney. After discussing the trip idea with Sean O’Rourke, the current California 14er speed record holder, who I had inadvertently met in Ouray while ice climbing over the New Year, a plan formed. He recommended going down the mountaineer’s route of Whitney and up the south face, right side route of Russell, descending the north ridge of Russell into the WallaceLakes area, spending the second night near the lakes. It would keep the whole route to class three and reduce our mileage and elevation gain. This sounded like a good plan to me, and Steve agreed too.
More planning went into forming the rest of the trip, and the rest of the route ended up like this:
Day 3 – Hike close to ShepherdPass (drop packs), continue onto Williamson and Tyndall. Camp where we dropped packs. If time, hike back down Shepherds pass trail back to main trail.
Day 4 – Hike over ForesterPass to Charlotte Lake\Vidette Meadow. (Best place to get food if needed. Come from OnionValley). Continue onto DollarLake near BaxterPass junction. Total mileage – 20 4,000 gain
Day 5 – Start at DollarLake. 15 miles to where we break for SplitMountain. Spend night at lakes on West side of trail towards Split. Climb Split that afternoon/evening if time allows.
Day 6 – Split mountain in AM (if still needed), Middle Palisade mid day, spend night at PalisadeLakes or Palisade basin. Meet group of friends for north palisade traverse on day 7.
Day 7 – Follow High Sierra Route to Palisade basin, drop packs, Thunderbolt to Sill traverse, pick up packs and go down BishopPass to reconnect with Trail.
Day 8 – Hike from Le Conte through EvolutionBasin to Piute Canyon Trail junction. 24.6 miles.
Day 9 – Picking up food at Muir Ranch, hike to Pocket Meadow. 23.5 miles
Day 10 – Pocket Meadow to south of Devils Postpile. (Food pickup at red meadows) 24 miles
Day 11 – Hike to just before DonohuePass. 21.2 Miles. If doing well on time, side trip to MountRitter and stay night at EdizaLake. Otherwise push through to lakes on south side of Donahue pass.
Day 12 – If all to schedule, hike over Donohue pass, and side trip to Mt.Lyell. Hike into Tuolumne. Either spend the night in Tuolumne, or Hike to Lakes before Cathedral pass. (Food if needed)
Day 13 – Finish Day!! CathedralPass to Happy Isles. Can do Half Dome (need permit).
Remember, this is not a set in stone. The hike will be very similar though, and if weather keeps us from doing any of these peaks, it might even be faster. If one of us gets hurt or sick, it might be slower. If something disastrous happens, the backup plan is to call my aunt and have her pick us up at whatever exit point is closest and we’ll just hang out with her in the bay area till our flight back to Denver. I really believe every part of this route except the north palisade traverse is within our ability to complete “on schedule”, where the north palisade traverse is dependent on a few friends that will meet us out there with some technical gear for protecting some of the harder sections of the traverse. If we get the JMT with all the 14ers and possibly the two bonus apex peaks, I think it will definitely be a feat. I have not found a report of anyone who had done this before, although I doubt we will be the first to do it.