The John Muir Trail (or, more simply, the JMT) passes through what many backpackers agree is the finest mountain scenery in the United States. Some hikers may give first prize to some other place, but none will deny the great attractiveness of California's High Sierra. This is a land of 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks, of soaring granite cliffs, of lakes by the thousands, and of canyons 5,000 feet deep.
It is a land where trails touch only a tiny portion of the total area, so that by leaving the path, you can find utter solitude. It is a land uncrossed by road for 140 miles as the crow flies, from Sherman Pass in the south to Tioga Pass in the north. And perhaps best of all, it is a land blessed with the mildest, sunniest climate of any major mountain range in the world. Though rain does fall in the summer--as does much snow in the winter--it seldom lasts more than an hour or two, and the sun is out and shining most of the hours of the day. You are, of course, not the only person to have heard of these attractions and will encounter people daily, but the trail really is a thin line through a vast land; with little effort you can always camp on your own if you leave the trail.
This book describes the JMT from its northern terminus at Happy Isles to its southern terminus atop Mt. Whitney, and then to Whitney Portal, the nearest trailhead, for a total of 220 miles of magnificent Sierra scenery. For those who prefer to walk south to north, a description written in reverse is available in a separate electronic version of the book.
The book is aimed at all hikers: hikers completing the entire JMT in a single trip, as well as those walking a shorter section of the trail; hikers completing the route in 10 days and those taking a month. As a result, the guide does not include suggested daily itineraries, as each person or group has a different pace, different desires for layover days, lazy afternoons around camp, or detours to nearby peaks or lake basins. Instead, this guide is aimed to provide you with background knowledge and let you design your own trip, in advance or as you walk. The book provides information on distances, lateral trails, established camping locations, notable stream crossings, long climbs, especially splendid lakes, detours up worthy peaks, and a bit of natural history to encourage you to gaze at your surroundings. From there, you design the itinerary that best suits you.
Finally, one thought to carry on your walk: The nature of the High Sierra changes dramatically from north to south, and often from one mile to the next. With each step, enjoy and absorb where you are, rather than comparing it with where you have been or where you are headed. The grandeur and relief of the southern regions are undeniably striking, but there is no reason to expect (or desire) your entire journey to look like the headwaters of the Kern; if you did, you would spend three weeks sitting atop Bighorn Plateau. Instead, by hiking the length of the High Sierra, you are choosing to embrace the variation in landscape, topography, geology, biology, weather, and more. Could you possibly compare the domes of Tuolumne Meadows, the volcanic landscape near Devils Postpile, the dense stands of mountain hemlocks north of Silver Pass, the lakes of Evolution Basin, the foxtail pines on Bighorn Plateau, or the view from the summit of Mt. Whitney?
By the end of your walk, you likely will comment that they are all fantastic and memorable, each in its own way. If a section of the landscape doesn't grab you, watch a nearby stream tumble over boulders, stare at the plants by your feet, follow the sound of the birdcalls to the treetops, or look at the minerals in a rock. These are all part of the continually changing landscape of the magnificent High Sierra.