Planning a John Muir Trail hike means arranging transportation, resupply, and a host of other matters. It is also useful, however, to plan each day of your hike. Here is how I plan mine. For this example I am going to use day 7: Lake Virginia to just across the bridge at Mono Creek.
I begin with backwards planning from my next zero day. I know it will come two days later when I reach Muir Trail Ranch. I also know I want to spend the night before I arrive at Muir Trail Ranch at Marie Lake (possibly my favorite spot on the entire trail). Last, I want to make sure I’m in a good position to get up the fifty-two switchbacks of Bear Ridge in the cool, shady morning, and with strong legs, and I know there are great campsites just across the bridge. Stopping here is a no brainer.
I choose Lake Virginia the night before because it’s a beautiful spot and because it seems like the right distance from Red’s Meadow. In the past, on my first day out of Red’s, I only went as far as Purple Lake. In each case I got there mid-afternoon feeling like I had a few more miles left in me; this year I’m going to spend the evening at Lake Virginia, instead of just passing by in the morning.
With my starting and stopping points set, I’m ready to do the part I find the most fun: looking for points along the trail where I can take breaks and where I can luxuriate in my favorite John Muir Trail indulgence: the two-hour lunch break. I use Google maps, Google Earth, and the various trail guides I own to look for spots. On this particular day I know that I will hike across the bridge over Fish Creek. This is a very nice spot, just 3.3 miles into my hike and almost all downhill. Here is where I’ll have second breakfast! (First breakfast will be some sort of energy bar or snack that does not take any preparation.)
Four miles later, in this case almost all uphill, I’ll arrive at the top of Silver Pass. This will be my second break, but I won’t take my long lunch here (although I will eat something). Instead, I am waiting for another great spot, where the trail and Silver Pass Creek intersect, a couple of downhill miles later. The views to the east in this area are really nice, and my experience has been that there is always water. I’ll probably arrive a little before noon, and I may not leave until 2 p.m. After all, I’ll only have 3.6 miles until I reach my campsite for the evening.
That will make for a 12.6 mile hiking day. I’ll set no distance records, but it will get me into a popular camping site early (so I can get a prime spot), and will give me time to wander around and talk to other hikers, something I really enjoy doing since I hike alone.
It wasn’t until I started using the various tools available that I realized how many interesting spots I was speeding by without noticing (okay, “speeding” might be a bit of an exaggeration). Often, a walk of just a few hundred feet off the trail can take you to an amazing spot. Once you’ve planned your trip, be sure to plan your days. Remember, you can always change the plan later.
Good hiking, Ray