One of the reasons many people hike the John Muir Trail is to experience some solitude. Both of my thru-hikes have been solo affairs, so I can relate.
It’s getting harder and harder, however, to walk the trail by yourself. Thanks to the internet and other media, a lot more people are hiking the JMT. But just because there are lots of people on the trail doesn’t mean you have to see them all. Here are several things you can do to get some time to yourself.
Hike late in the season. If all or part of your hike occurs after Labor Day you stand a much better chance of avoiding families with school-aged children. Also, you will avoid the herd of Pacific Crest Trail hikers. By August and September, they will be far north of Yosemite. (The speedier ones will be far north of California!)
Hike southbound. You will have a far better chance of avoiding folks if you are traveling in the same direction as the crowd, and nearly 90% of JMT hikers hike southbound. You will only see others going south if they are hiking substantially faster (as they pass you) or substantially slower (as you pass them). That often occurs when you (or they) are on a break, which makes the interruption short-lived. One exception: if you are hiking slower than the groups just behind you, but you are hiking for more hours each day, you may find yourself seeing the same people over and over again. This happened to me last year. Each morning, normally around lunch time, there were three small groups who would pass me, dumbfounded that I had managed to get in front of them when they had passed me early the day before! There really wasn’t any mystery, I was simply walking a few hours before they left their campsite each morning.
Camp at dry campsites. This technique has the added benefit of no mosquitos and, often, great views. A dry campsite that is several hundred yards off the trail will work even better. I don’t do this often; although I like the solitude during the day, I actually prefer having some company in the evening. When I do decide to “go dry” it’s quite a different experience; you really get the feeling of being alone in the woods!
Take your breaks well off trail. You would be surprised at how little you have to travel to establish some separation. Often, just a four or five minute walk means all the difference. A little map reconnaissance is in order, however. I did this once, several miles south of Red’s Meadow, by turning perpendicular to the trail and walking uphill several hundred yards. I found the perfect spot (convinced that I was the first person to ever find it), slipped off my backpack, and started preparing a snack. Three or four minutes later a couple practically tripped over my backpack. Instead of getting off the trail, I had simply cut short a long, looping, switchback, and had settled just a few feet from the trail!
If you truly want to never see another soul for the duration of your two- or three-week hike, the John Muir Trail is probably not for you. But if you simply want a little time to yourself to experience nature’s wonders, it can be done.
Good hiking, Ray