This website has reviewed the Tom Harrison Map Pack and the The John Muir Trail Atlas by Blackwoods Press. I’ve used both, both have advantages & disadvantages, and both come from small, cottage-industry, publishers.
There is a new map guide available this year, and it is from a giant in the industry: National Geographic. The cost is $14.95, plus shipping.
The guide measures 9 3/8 inches high and 4 1/4 inches wide. When open it presents itself almost as a square, at 9 3/8 by 8 1/2. It weighs in at 3 3/8 ounces and is forty-eight pages long.
Fourteen of those pages contain information other than maps. That includes a one-page primer on the trail and its history, including the comment that the trail “crosses seven high mountain passes.” It’s not clear which one of the big eight has been demoted.
Also included are pages on wilderness regulations, permits, resupply, and a twenty-one day itinerary. Nearly half of a page is devoted to “bear safety”, which might make someone (inappropriately) infer that bears are the biggest risk on the trail. Perhaps this was imported from a different guide for an area where there were grizzlies?
The twenty-one day itinerary is generally a good one, although I have two quibbles: first, the daily mileage varies widely, from as little as 4.9 miles to as much as 12.9 miles. Even in the second half of the hike, when you’ve gotten your trail-legs and are capable of higher mileage, three of the suggested days require less than ten miles of walking.
My second concern is the last day—or days. Somewhat confusingly, Day 21 starts at Crabtree Meadow and ends at Mount Whitney. Day 21a (I’m not sure how day 21a differs from day 22) runs from the summit of Whitney to Whitney Portal.
If you poll JMT enthusiasts, some will suggest stopping at Trail Camp or Outpost Camp on the way down from the summit, splitting the last eighteen miles or so (from Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal) over two days. Others will suggest camping at Guitar Lake, summiting early in the morning, and then heading down to the portal in a single day. I don’t know anyone who would recommend spending the last night at Crabtree Meadow and walking all the way out, and if the intent is to do that in two days, then it’s not really a twenty-one day itinerary.
Once you get past this front matter and into the map pages the guide really begins to shine. The maps are colorful, of a consistent scale, full of important data, and are generally up to the standard one would expect from National Geographic.
Contour lines are highly visible (the contour interval is 100 feet) and each page has a profile that includes the terrain represented on that page, as well as a bit on the page before and after. Sixty-one landmarks and waypoints are designated on the map; all appear on a two-page summary that includes lat/long and UTM coordinates. If there is a way to directly download those sixty-one points to a GPS, it wasn’t described in the guide. [Update: see link, below, in the comment section.]
Lots of helpful information is printed on the maps, like special camping or fire restrictions and dry stretches.
Those of us who like to make notes right on the map will find the waterproof paper less than optimal. Ball point ink smudges, and pencil marks are readable in good light, but are very light.
Unless you are really trying to do this hike as cheaply as possible, I would recommend buying the Harrison Mapset, the Blackwoods Press Atlas, and this product from National Geographic. All would be useful during planning, and you can decide which one you want to take with you while holding them in your hands.
Good hiking, Ray
As always, a very thoughtful and informative review. I find it interesting that they included so much information that would at the same time, preclude them from going into great detail. I would think most people doing the JMT would at least do some preliminary research, (just to get the permit) and would then of course get a talk from the ranger, (and it’s quite a detailed talk) so I am wondering who the target market is. The inability to download waypoints, and particularly the lack of a decent way to write on it, probably makes this less of an option for me. I wouldn’t have known that without your excellent review! Thank you!
Thanks, Kathy. I keep thinking that there must be a downloadable waypoint list, somewhere, but I’ve looked around the website and can’t find it. I’ll bet someone does one and posts it, eventually.
Nice review Ray. A commenter asked for the waypoints for the map guide. I provide all the waypoints all 5 jmt guidebooks have in my 34 page review of the 5 jmt maps here. http://www.trailtosummit.com/comprehensive-review-5-jmt-guidebooks/
It factors in things like of all the side-trails one walks by, which ones are exit trails to civilization, and how far to civilization is that trail and how much of the exit does the map show. It also shows you what supplemental map or electronic maps one needs to be able to know how to take advantage of every side trail. It also notes all the electronic apps out there. John Ladd’s survey of JMT hikers show that a significant percent of hikers (11%) needed such information on their JMT hike and it was on side trails that many of the maps do not fully show the “way out”.
Thanks, Roleigh. Strongly recommend folks take a look at the document at the link. It’s a terrific resource.
Nice review, Ray.
Here’s a discussion of pens that write well on waterproof paper:
I’d be interested in seeing how readily one could remove pages not needed or no longer needed on trail – I liked being able to leave behind Tom Harrison map pages for the part of the trail I had already hiked with my “resupply partner” and pick up the pages for the upcoming parts of the trail.
Thanks, Betty. Some pages could be removed, but it would come at the cost of the integrity of the “book” since the pages (at the beginning) that you want to remove share the same paper as the maps (at the end) that you want to keep. Thanks for the link regarding waterproof paper.
I found on my Tom Harrison pages that a sharp soft-lead art pencil works well. It can be erased easily but doesn’t “self-erase.” I hate to mark a map in ink because I seem always to be redoing things.
Ray, nice review. I have the same map book and have been meaning to write a review too. You beat me to it, congrats. Anyway, I hope you compare the 3 guide books you mention with another super great one, the John Muir Trail Data Book by Elizabeth Wenk.
Each book has pluses and minuses. One thing I look for in the books is how well they help people bail out of the trail if worse comes to worse. So I look to see if they cover some of the famous side trails. Only E. Wenk’s book shows the complete Goodale Pass Trail to Vermillion Resort route. Only E. Wenk’s book shows the complete Le Conte Canyon/Bishop Pass/JMT junction to South Lake Trailhead route.
The Nat’l Geo map shows the complete Taboose Pass bailout route though.
Both Wenk’s and Nat’l Geo guides show the complete Kearsarge Pass to Onionvalley TH though. Both of these books show the exit route over Duck Pass and both guides show the maze of trails including the High and Low River route out to Agnews Meadow at Thousand Islands, including the Devil’s Postpile area.
The Natl’ Geo has lots of nice written notes on each page of the map that are very helpful.
The Natl’ Geo guide does mislead one into thinking they need to get a separate California Fire Permit (not true at least if you get a Yosemite Wilderness Permit, as it substitutes for it).
As I lead group hikes, I like having all the guides available, but only one per person. So in a group of four people, I’d recommend all four guides/map packages being in the mix. That way if bailouts have to happen, people know their choices.
PS, I agree with you, the 21a hiking day is silly. They should have called for a 22 day itinerary. And camping at Mt. Whitney is not recommended in case of storms and limited camping spots. They should have day 21a start at Guitar Lake (or Twin Tarns above it) and end at Trail Camp or Outpost Camp.
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Thanks, Roleigh. I do intend to review the Wenk data book and eventually do a post with more of a direct comparison. I agree completely about having all the guides available if you have a group. Appreciate the comment!
I don’t know about hiking from Crabtree Meadows and all the way out, but this summer at the age of 64 I hiked the last 110 miles or so, from Muir Trail Ranch in 8 days and my last day was from Crabtree Ranger station to Whitney Portal. And I did about 18 miles the next to last day. I think it is quite doable. I started early and was at Whitney Portal before dark. I think it was September 4. I couldn’t have done this the first week, but you get trail hardened.
Great job, Keith. If one is fit enough you are right…it can be done. The campsites at Crabtree are less exposed, too. Thanks for the comment.
I camped a short distance after the junction to the Crabtree Meadows ranger station (where the wag bags are located). I think that it was about 1/2 to 3/4 mile beyond that point and the campsites are documented in the Wenk guidebook. I chose that location since the weather looked threatening and I did not want to be exposed at Guitar Lake. I started my hike super early the next morning in order to see the sunrise and it only took around an hour (maybe 90 minutes) to get to Guitar Lake. So I’d say that staying below treeline near the Crabtree junction is possible for many hikers intending to summit Whitney and exit assuming an early start.
One other thing to note: While the Guitar lake sites are crowded (and some say polluted), there was no one camped at my location near Crabtree even though the site could hold many tents. Also, it is possible to dig a cat hole at that location to take care of business prior to starting for the day which could eliminate the need for using the wag bag.
All true, Ravi. There is also a composting toilet at Crabtree, if you know where to look. (If you have my book, see page 101.) Thanks for the comment!
Just joined this group and need help in finding out why I lost the trail at Lake Virginia?
We were doing fine up to that point. Was using the Tom Harrison Map-Pack.
At lake Virginia the map shows the trail to go to the top of the lake in between two smaller lakes.
continuing on the south-east side of the lake towards Tully Hole.
When I tried to follow the trail as indicated I could not find a trail that continued on the other side of the lake
We spent a few hours trying to find it. There were other trails which led in other directions and one which was well maintained led directly to the lake, but it ended there. That’s when I got lost and when north rather than south. I tried using google earth and found a trail which seem to resemble the route on the map. But its void of trees near the northern tip of the lake shore, which I found when I was there.
Can you shed some light on what I did wrong? Is there a better map with more detail so that when I do it in 2015 will stay on trail? Thank you for any help you can give me and a better map to buy.
Thank you again, onegreywolf
Thanks for the comment and question, Earnest. I recommend you go to Google Maps, type in Lake Virginia in the search window, and take a look at the satellite and regular map images. It shows exactly where the trail is. (In some cases you can actually see the trail itself on the satellite image. Very cool.) I like the TH map set very much, but each sheet does cover a lot of ground; that can make navigation a little tougher. All of the other options are pretty inexpensive. I would buy them all and take what seems best for you. One last note: if, during your map reconnaissance of the route, you see places you think may give you trouble, enter a way point before and after that area. That could provide some assistance (assuming you are carrying a GPS).
Earnst, I did not see your question to me until today. Sorry. Postholer has 2 scaled-versions of the JMT map, one of them has the most zoomed-in info of the trail. You can download it as a file that comes up on your smartphone, or at least print out the Virginia Lake page. Also on a smartphone, you can have the Kindle version of E. Wenk’s JMT Guide book and you can read the pages on Virginia lake there. For more info, see http://www.trailtosummit.com/comprehensive-review-5-jmt-guidebooks/
I’m hazarding a guess here, since I haven’t seen the Nat Geo map book, but it sounds like the “21 day itinerary” is for the JMT itself, which ends at the top of Mt. Whitney. So day 21a would be to get you out, although technically you’ve already ‘completed’ the JMT. Not exactly intuitive, and as you and other bloggers have pointed out, it makes no sense to describe a hike day that ends at the summit since it’s a poor place to camp for the night. Another indication that the folks who put this together really weren’t familiar with the JMT. Oh well, sounds like they at least succeeded in compiling some good information (even if by luck!). Thanks, as always, for your excellent blog. Now if only I could find the time to put all your good advice into action and actually make the hike myself….
(Palms slaps forehead.) Of course, Bob, you are precisely right. Now that I understand it I will make the case even more unequivocally: except for the ultra-fit, if you intend to exit Whitney Portal after summitting Whitney, you should spend the last night at Guitar Lake or further. Thanks for comment!
The waypoint list is available on the Natgeomaps.com site under the product page natgeomaps.com/ti_1001. I have posted a link here.
Outstanding! Thanks for the link, Eric.
I finally finished my 34 page analysis of all five portable JMT Map Guides, and it includes the new 2014 2nd edition of Erik the Black. It is a comprehensiveanalysis of the 5 JMT map guides, all of whom have a 2014 publication (latest edition) date. I worked with the cartographers of each publication. You won’t find a more comprehensive review of JMT map guides elsewhere! Provides an Excel Spreadsheet so you can modify the scoring algorithm to create your own scoring!
I worked closely with all 5 cartographers and got special comments from them included in the review.
Terrific piece of work Roleigh. Thanks so much!
We noticed the latitude and longitude information on the NG map does not match GPS or Google Maps. Have you heard of this and if so, do you know why the discrepancy?
Great question, Jill. I did not notice that. If it is a small difference I would guess that a different map DATUM was used. I’ve reached out to NG and asked. Thanks for the question.
Thanks Ray! We noticed it when comparing Mt. Whitney coordinates. The degree coordinates aren’t even close.