If I were to list all the highlights of my JMT thru-hike it would take me, well, almost as long as the hike itself. The wildlife encounters, each mountain pass, the people I met, and the scenery I saw all left big impressions.
But some of the highlights were far less significant. Like tiny, delicate ice sculptures carved in July, they didn’t last long and didn’t amount to much, but they were great while they lasted.
One such highlight came just after sunset, each evening of the second half of the hike.
While on my rest day at Muir Trail Ranch I spent much of the afternoon reading, with my feet up, in their snug and comfy lounge. The book I choose was an Agatha Christie novel, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”. By the end of the day (due to an irresistible compulsion to nap) I found myself only about a quarter of the way through the book. It was neatly tucked into my backpack when I departed Muir Trail Ranch the next morning.
Thereafter, each night, once I’d crawled into my sleeping bag, I would write a bit in my trail log, review the next day’s route, and then read the pages I had allotted myself of the Christie novel. (I apportioned them so that I would have some to read each night. I found out “whodunit” at my campsite next to Guitar Lake.)
This turned out to be a surprisingly delightful daily distraction, but it took more than just a well-written mystery. The key to the whole experience was comfort. The inflatable sleeping pad was thick, my down sleeping bag was warm, my socks were the special clean ones I wore only in my tent, and my silk-weight long-underwear, which I wore each night, felt almost luxurious. Once I slipped into my bag I was comfy and content.
This is exactly what I expect from my sleep system. After a long day of strenuous, demanding hiking, a refuge into which I can retire is essential, and so is a good night’s sleep.
In a former life, as a U.S. Army Infantryman, the motto was, “travel light; freeze at night.” There are a lot of ultra-light backpackers out there who seem to abide by the same motto. That’s not for me—not anymore!
In “Planning Your Thru-Hike of the John Muir Trail” I have a diagram, and a concept, I refer to as “The Gear Triangle.” It boils down to this general (though not absolute) rule: you can have it light, cheap or comfortable; pick any two.
Your sleep system may be the best example of this principle. If you are attempting to be frugal with the dollars spent on your gear, and if you’re looking to target expenditures where they’ll make the most impact, splurge on a warm—but light—sleep system.
You’ll find more on sleep systems in a future blog, including the advantages and disadvantages of down. In the meantime consider making your rest in the woods a highlight of your trip, instead of something to suffer through.
Good hiking, Ray