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John Muir Trail Part 1: Happy Isle to Red’s Meadow

Segment One: Happy Isle to Little Yosemite Valley

Mileage: 4.7 mi

Start day! We had spent the preceding two nights prepping for the trip at Wawona (now known as Big Trees Lodge) on the edge of Yosemite. We drove down into the Yosemite Valley midday and finally started the short hike up to Little Yosemite Valley campground in the late afternoon. We hit the trail with packs weighing 18lbs stocked with nearly 3 days of food. Essentially, this was the hike to the real start of the JMT hike, with some awesome views of Half Dome and other iconic Valley landmarks – and the company of all of the folks who do day hikes to take them in. Little Yosemite Valley is a partially developed campsite, and there were lots of people – JMT thru-hikers, and folks on shorter trips. We camped next to a guy who had rode his bike to California from Florida to hike parts of the Pacific Crest Trail!!

Segment: Little Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows

Mileage: 19.2 mi

Today felt like the real start of the hike! After the crowds thinned out beyond the Half Dome junction, we climbed further out of Yosemite Valley, heading south toward Tuolumne Meadows. After a series of switchbacks in the woods, we broke out of the trees and descended a bit to eat lunch at Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Weather looked to be coming, and as we continued south we had a short rain/hailstorm. It sounded from northbound hikers that we had lucked out, missing the worst part of the storm. From Cathedral Lakes, we descended into Tuolumne Meadows and camped at the backpacker section of the busy campground. Another night with a permanent bear box meant less stress about storing all of our food and toiletries safely.

Segment Three: Tuolumne Meadows to Thousand Island Lake

Mileage: 19.1 mi

Early this morning we woke at our 5:30am alarm and moved through Tuolumne Meadows and into Lyell Canyon as the sun came up over the surrounding peaks. After several miles of flat trail through the valley and meadows, we began to climb toward our first of eight mountain passes – Donahue, at 11,066’. This first pass definitely got our excitement going at what we had embarked upon – the landscape was opening up into an endless view of range after range, and the scale of our undertaking started to set in. Northbound JMT hikers were in super high spirits to be reaching their final pass, and we congratulated them – without really understanding how hard they’d worked to get that far. We were about to find out! As we climbed past Rush Creek and headed toward Thousand Island Lake, the wind picked up and howled for most of the night. Very cold night – the first time we realized that wearing our rain gear in our sleeping bags might sometimes be necessary to stay warm!

Segment Four: Thousand Island Lake to Red’s Meadow

Mileage: 14.3 mi

Resupply day! Departing early from Thousand Island Lake, we expected an easy day. The descent into Devil’s Postpile and the Red’s Meadow area took more out of us than we anticipated – long, dusty stretches of descending through the woods. We added some time to check out the Postpile (Sarah has a thing for geological formations), and eventually found our way to Red’s Meadow, our resupply bucket, and the (fairly well stocked) camp store. After a relaxing afternoon, we stayed in the backpacker campground at Red’s overnight.

At dinner in the cafe (cheeseburgers and IPA – sooo good!!) we sat with a young woman who was thru-hiking on her own. It turns out that she had worked with one of our first grantees, GirlVentures! It was incredibly gratifying to spend time with one of their staff and experience how committed she was to the organization’s mission.

Some lessons from the resupply: enjoy the cold beverages; this is the last place directly on the JMT you can find them! Consider using the washing machines and dryers – if you rinse your shorts in the sink and hang them on a tree overnight, they may be frozen icicle shorts by the time you need to put them on the next morning. Duh.

About 9
Sarah Castle
Founder - The Cairn Project | Read More Posts

Sarah Castle grew up in a small mountain town west of Denver, Colorado, and has spent most of her adult life a stone’s throw away from the Rocky Mountains. Though she held a fascination for wild places at a young age, it wasn’t until late high school that she became captivated by the high elevations and unbeaten paths of the mountains in her backyard. Merging her love for both exploration and grit, Sarah pursued a career in soil science, studying the effects of global change and land use on natural and managed ecosystems. Currently living in Saint Paul, Minnesota, you’re likely to find her either trail running or logging one of many 70mi. weekend bike rides. Sarah holds B.A. and M.S. degrees from the University of Colorado and a Ph.D. from the University of Montana.

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Alison Wright
Founder - The Cairn Project | Read More Posts

A San Francisco native, Alison grew up in a family that enjoyed the privilege of outdoor access – many memories were made in California’s iconic mountain and coastal landscapes. Alison has spent her career in the philanthropic sector, advancing initiatives for justice and empowerment internationally and closer to home. In addition to her leadership at The Cairn Project, she directs the Environmental Defenders Collaborative at Global Greengrants Fund, channeling support to frontline environmental activists around the world.