To paraphrase Andrew Skurka (from his terrific book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide) there are two types of fun: Type 1 Fun is fun to do and fun to have done, while Type 2 Fun is fun to have done, but not so fun to do. Thankfully, thru-hiking the John Muir Trail is definitely Type 1 Fun (at least for most people). That doesn’t mean that you will be comfortable at all times. The various pests you may encounter along the way are unlikely to ruin your hike – or even your afternoon – but knowing what they are and how to mitigate their impact is a handy skill to have.
Other Hikers. This happens less frequently than you might expect. You will see people every day on your hike, unless you are well outside the normal season, but they are almost invariable pleasant, polite, and well informed regarding trail etiquette (like Leave No Trace). There are rare exceptions. For me, the worst was a group of about a dozen I encountered a few years ago. They were using an itinerary very close to mine, were loud, and consisted of hikers who walked at different speeds, almost all of whom were faster than me. They also liked to take breaks every forty-five minutes to an hour. Typically I would first see them early in the morning as they passed me. Then I would pass them while they took a break. Then they would pass me; them me them, etc., etc, etc. After three days of this I had to do something. What I ended up doing was spending a half-day longer in camp and adjusting my proposed campsites for the rest of the trip. That did the trick! I didn’t see them again until Guitar Lake.
If you encounter a hiker or hikers who are spoiling your experience you need to do one of two things: either get ahead of them (perhaps by getting up a few hours earlier and making some more miles) or let them get ahead of you.
Bears. I’ve written about bears before, but they have almost ceased to be a problem since we all started carrying bear canisters. Where might you still have a run in with an unwelcome ursine guest? The most likely areas are those where you will find the most people: Little Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Lyell Canyon, near the Devils Postpile, and the Rae lakes area. That’s not to say that there are not bears all along the trail – there are! But bears associate humans with easy food mostly were there are lots of people without bear canisters. Keep your scented items in your canister and you will be fine.
Marmots (and other small mammals). It’s possible – even likely – that you will hike your entire hike without seeing a bear. You will see marmots almost every day. Oh, and they know where you keep your goodies: right in the colorful backpack you leaned against that boulder before wandering off to get water. The further bad news is that they do not know how to operate zippers. Instead, they will chew right through whatever fabric separates them from the meal within. A few simple rules have kept me from being burglarized over the years: keep all scented items in your canister; during breaks, keep your backpack close at hand; and at night hang your backpack from a tree. Hanging your backpack at night is a good idea even though it doesn’t have anything edible in it. The sweat-soaked straps on the pack are an excellent source of salt.
Mosquitos. The best way to avoid these bloodsuckers is to hike late in the season. Failing that, you can still avoid the worst while you hike by wearing pants (instead of shorts) and a long sleeved shirt, applying some DEET, and using a headnet. I’ve walked through a virtual fog of insects using this technique without getting a single bite. To avoid them while on breaks and camping overnight, get your water along the trail, then find a spot at least four or five hundred yards from the nearest water source. You should find that it will be relatively insect free, especially if there is a bit of a breeze and little shade.
Good hiking, Ray