Strider’s JMT Itinerary (tentative) is Released!

The permitting process allows for (requires?) a daily itinerary.  Recalling my last post and the utter frustration one meets in trying to complete this process before a 5-minute timeout, only to find out the system accepts incorrect destinations once you are past your entry and exit point, I had to go back to fill it all in with the right stuff.  So after careful research and planning out reasonable daily mileages I came to realize that most of the campsites are not available in the drop down menus of the permitting process so officially, I am spending most nights at a place called “other”.  I really hope it’s nice and there’s water.

As Patton said, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy,” which calls into question why one would even try to plan out an itinerary.  My AT thru hike itinerary many years ago was pretty much blown up the first day.  But the value in planning is not the end product, but the process of thinking through various strategies.  In this case, where to re-supply.  There are a number of resupply points along the first half of the JMT, but there is only one for the last half and that is at Muir Trail Ranch.  Since I am actually entering the trail officially at Rush Creek, I only need 5 days of supplies to get to Muir Trail Ranch so I guess it’s just one re-supply for me.  Much more on that later. My itinerary calls for 10 days of supplies from there to Whitney Portal.

There are some excellent resources to help plan a thru hike of the JMT.  Most promote a 21-day itinerary, which I loosely followed.  Here is the list of references that were helpful in this project:

  • The John Muir Trail:  Through the Californian Sierra Nevada by Alan Castle
  • John Muir Trail: The Essential guide to Hiking America’s Most Famous Trail by Elizabeth Wenk
  • John Muir Trail Data Book by Elizabeth Wenk
  • John Muir Trail Topographic Map Guide by National Geographic

I am hopeful of beating this schedule to some extent as I generally hike 15 – 18 miles a day but there are a couple caveats – First, the highest mountains on the east coast are only 6,000 feet, while much of the JMT is above 10,000 feet.  I am brushing up on those who have had bouts with altitude sickness and the general word is that hiking south, you get to acclimatize to some extent.  The second issue is the specific exit date, which is required of the permitting process.  Who knows what happens if you try to leave early…  Do the rangers make you go back and wait it out or do they just write out a ticket?  Who knows?  I imagine this will be a topic of conversation once I am on the trail.  At the very least, maybe I can save up some time for a zero day somewhere really nice.

So here is it, the published itinerary:

JMT Itinerary

That is all…

HikerHead 2   Strider Out!

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Newton Bald Trail

Date: March 4, 2018

Miles: 5.5        Elevation Gain: 2982 ft.         Elev./Mi: 542        Grade: 10%

Difficulty:       Hiking Time: 2:03      Pace: 2.2 mph       Avg. Temp.: 52

Newton Bald TrailNewton Bald Elevation

DSC01007

Meigs Falls

Springtime was on a preseason tour the first weekend of March and stopped for a couple days in the Smokies.  One of the secret blessings of being a 900 Miler is you get to drive the though our beautiful park early on a weekend morning when the rest of the world is wondering why none of the breakfast places in Gatlinburg open before 9:00 am.  The Little River was proudly sporting Class II rapids as the kayakers were gathering in the parking lot at the Townsend Y, donning winter wet-suits.  Meigs Falls were in full glory and the fly fishermen were congregating near the bridge over the Oconaluftee on the Kephart Prong Trail.  My target for the day: Newton Bald Trail.  Newton Bald could be put together with the Mingus Creek Trail for a pseudo loop but you have to get from near the park entrance back to Smokemont or just walk it.  In my case it was an orphan, having completed Mingus Creek so I decided on an out and back for the 5.5 miles.

The first thing one should know about Newton Bald Trail is the fact that Newton Bald is not.  The Wise Guide mentions that it used to be a bald years ago before the park but as the Brown Book says, there are no views except through the winter trees.  The elevation profile in the Brown Book shows a scary climb at a 45 degree angle and it is a 10% grade gaining nearly 3,000 feet at 542 ft. per mile.  That said, I found the climb steady but not particularly strenuous.

The temperature had just passed 40 degrees as I started the flat section along Newfound Gap Road.  The easy flat hiking was short lived as the trail bent left and started the 4 1/2 mile climb at 0.1 miles.  The Newton Bald horse loop joins in a couple hundred yards in a wide gravel path before it turns left and the trail heads straight in a single track as the steady climb begins in earnest.  The early climb is through rhododendron and mixed hardwoods.  The first discernible landmark is the first stream crossing at about 1.2 miles.  There are a few bends in the trail along the way, some involving small streams in the springtime.

On the one hand, the Newton Bald Trail is rather unremarkable with no views, no waterfalls and it is up hill mostly the whole way.  Perhaps it was the great weather or joyful ride through the park putting me in a great mood, but I would call the hike rather pleasurable, despite the steady climb.  The trail is well graded through forest that was clear of undergrowth and there are really no places where I would call the trail rugged; just a steady walk over a carpet of leaves.  The streams are all rock hoppers and fortunately, only a couple small blow downs at this point in the season.

The steady climb takes a break at about 4.1 miles for a hundred yards or so and continues up over Newton Bald at about 4.7 miles.  Newton Bald is covered with mixed hardwoods.  The guidebooks mention grasses and flowers evident in the warmer months but in winter, one is left wondering why the name “Bald” is involved, although shortening it to “Newtons” doesn’t make any sense at all. The trail levels out all the way to Campsite #52 at 5.3 miles and beyond to the intersection with the Thomas Divide Trail at 5.5 miles.  I made the 5.5 miles in 2:03 for a pace of  2.19 miles per hour.

Lunch and some mind out of time back at the campsite.  The stillness was sublime with a hint of birdsong once in a while and the occasional low rumble of a jet engine leaving the McGee Tyson airspace.  I wouldn’t call my mind out of time a nap because I really didn’t dose off but I did loose track of time in the warm sunshine listening to the faint, quiet sounds around me.  Although it was warm and springlike, the wild world was still asleep and the earth felt that way.

After an hour, or a moment, I’m not really sure, I was ready to head back.  I am a pretty fast hiker, especially with well over 5 decades in my knees but the descents are never easy.  But that is the beauty of Newton Bald trail.  The steady decrease in elevation and the absence of stumbling rocks and roots made for a fast retreat.  I made it back to the trailhead in 1:37 for a 3.4 mile per hour pace and happy knees in the end.

Data Book:

Newton Bald Databook

Be well, do good, walk humbly!

HikerHead 2

 

Strider Out…

The Elusive JMT Permit: An Alternative Plan

The magazine blogs with the “Top Ten Bucket List Hikes” usually mention the John Muir Trail like it’s something you decide to do tomorrow.  I’m spoiled here in Tennessee because we can actually decide to take a hike the next day in the Smokies and just go… most of the time.  But our national parks are being loved to the point of overuse and high impact. Crowd control, even in the back country, becomes a necessary evil.  Such is the case with the John Muir Trail in Yosemite.

Image result for Permit requests for JMTThe Park Service and the US Forest Service have an impossible task.  With serious under-funding, they have to find a way to manage millions of visitors while trying to maintain the integrity of the wilderness experience, not to mention the wilderness herself.  And so they implement controls and bureaucracy.  Perhaps the most difficult part of hiking the JMT is actually the permitting process and the blogs fail to point that out beyond a brief mention that you can apply for your permits six-months in advance.  The National Park Service issues 45 permits a day to exit Donahue Pass.  During my efforts I was told by the Park Service that the chances of getting a permit in advance for July are about 5%.  I have an email folder with no less than 32 denied permit requests.  The other option for Yosemite is to show up the day before you want to start your hike, hoping to get one of 10 walk up permits issued each day.  That guy five people in front of you getting permits for a group of 6 means you’re done.  A JMT hiker named Sprout shared her experience with the walk up permit process. on The Trek.

The Park Service made it more convenient when they let you put in a range of dates over a over 21 days whereby you can automatically be re-entered for the next day’s lottery.  It was halfway through this process that I decided that “getting a JMT Permit for Yosemite needs to be plan B”

“Getting a JMT Permit for Yosemite needs to be Plan B”

Other options include hiking north from Mt. Whitney, getting a 500 miler PCT Permit, and the option I chose, starting the JMT about 3 miles south of Donahue Pass in the Ansel Adams Wilderness.  The permitting process is perhaps no less onerous but at least your odds of securing a permit are much greater.

JMT Permit - InyoPermits outside Yosemite are managed by the Inyo National Forest  The trick here is you have to apply for an entrance permit AND and exit permit if you are going to exit at Whitney Portal.  Just like Yosemite, you can apply up to six months in advance.  Permits are limited, especially for Whitney Portal, but their availability is much greater than the Yosemite permits.  The Rush Creek trail joins the John Muir Trail just 3 miles south of Donahue Pass and as of early-February, there were plenty.  The exit permits for Whitney Portal were more of a challenge and I should have applied a couple weeks earlier, but luck was with me and I secured an exit date.  If Whitney Portal permits are not available, one option is to hike past Whitney Portal to the next trailhead 35 miles south.  The Yosemite permits do not require an exit permit for Whitney Portal.

IMPORTANT TIP:  The Recreation.gov website that manages the permits for the USFS gives you a limited amount of time (5 minutes or so) to complete your permit request.  The JMT Trail requires 15 – 20 days to complete and the website requires a specific location for every camp.  So you get your start and end date and then you begin inputting your camping nights when the website times out.  After three attempts and pulling part of my beard out in frustration, I called the Inyo Forest Service Permit Office.  They were sympathetic and gave me a clue.  The website does not have any logic about your camping schedule between start and exit.  All you have to do is put anything in those fields, pay for and submit your permit request, and then fix the schedule later.

So now the plan is to day hike sections of the JMT in Yosemite.  But even if you simply must start your hike in Yosemite, I would still have the Forest Service Permit ready so if the walk-up strategy fails, you have a backup.  Just make sure to cancel your Forest Service permit if you happen to get one of those rare 10 passes.  I think I’ll sleep in that day and just go with my Inyo permit.

HikerHead 2

 

Strider out!

Big Creek to Baxter Creek Loop

Date: February 23, 2018

Miles: 17.2 miles       Elevation Gain: 4029 ft.         Elev./Mi: 363        Grade: 7%

Difficulty: Class 3    Hiking Time: 7:52      Pace: 2.8 mph       Avg. Temp.: 76

The forecast for Friday was 76 degrees, 10% chance of rain and 59% humidity.  It was for FEBRUARY 23!!!  I have no illusions that winter won’t try one more kick but this day was made for hiking and there were no meetings scheduled.  I got a really late start, which for me is unusual.  Normally I am on the road by 7:00 and on the trail no later than 9:00 but that day I slept in and hit Big Creek around 10:30.  I really love the east side of the park.  It is more remote and less visited.  The big attraction for Big Creek is Midnight Hole for its swimming but there would be none of that in February.  That said, the parking lot had about 15 cars despite the facilities being locked up tight.  There was not even a trash can to be found.

The route for the day was Big Creek Trail to Swallow Fork Trail to Mount Sterling Ridge, Mount Sterling Trail to the tower and back down Baxter Creek.  I chose that order because I figured the 4,00 ft climb would be easier spread over 11 mile than the 6.2 up Baxter Creek.  I was right!

Cascade on Big Creek

Mouse Hole

Mouse Creek Falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Creek Trail has to be one of my favorites.  It follows its namesake all the way to Walnut Bottom, which is one of my favorite camping areas.  The hiking is easy and the creek offers one who saunters its surprises and gifts.  the trail is a wide gravel path its entire length and the 4.7% grade is quite friendly as ascents go in the Smokies.  The views of the creek all along the path are spectacular.  There are many opportunities to take in a cascade.  Midnight Hole is at 1.4 miles.  This is a popular swimming hole in the summer attracting visitors sporting swim suits and flip flops in sharp contrast to those in hiker garb.  But Today, there were only a couple other hikers taking in the morning and I had Midnight Hole to my self for a few “peopleless” pictures.  The lovely Mouse Creek falls is a mere half mile ahead and is a great place to pause and enjoy a concert of water music.  The sun was high over the falls reflecting back a wash of white light but a couple suitable pictures were captured.  Big Creek continues on another lovely 3.2 miles to Walnut Bottom and Campsite #37.

I have a really fond memory of a night spent in CS#37 back in July of 2016.  As I drifted off to sleep, I awoke later in the night to this bright flashing of light coming through the tarp of my hammock fly.  Wondering why there might be a vehicle this far up the trail spurred me to exit my cocoon and to my utter surprise and amazement, it turned out to be the synchronous fireflies the Smokies are world famous for. There were no crowds, no shuttles to Elkmont, no noisy people, no traffic.  Just thousands of fireflies that somehow manage to blink in unison for several seconds before the rhythm breaks down.  And then someone gets it going again and they all chime in.  I wish the bands I have played in were this tight.

There is a wide bridge over the creek in Walnut Bottom.  I enjoyed my lunch near the bridge down at the side of the creek.

Swallow Fork Trail leaves Walnut Bottom and heads 4 miles up to Pretty Hollow Gap on the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail.  The climb is no longer easy at this point gaining 2,200 feet in 4 miles at a 10% grade.  There are 4 stream crossings starting with a footlog over Swallow Fork on the route, none of which involved a wet ford.  The climbing is mostly steady.  The trail is pretty brushy in places but clears up about a mile in becoming a nicely graded single track.  There is much winter greenery including moss along the fallen trees and rhododendron.  At around 2.7 miles, the climbing turns from steady to strenuous, which is a wake-up call for legs that have had a long winter off.  The trail leaves the company of the Fork at about 3 miles and turns up the ridge.  The stillness surrounds you with an occasional bridsong for entertainment as you continue the climb.  At 4 miles, you enter Pretty Hollow Gap where I enjoyed a brief nap in the warm February Sun.  The gap has some briar growth in the summer but there is still plenty of cool grass to stretch out upon for a welcome break after all the climbing.

The Mount Sterling Ridge Trail runs through Pretty Hollow Gap and my route turned left heading along the ridge to Sterling Mountain.  The ridge is blessed with conifers along the top. The first 0.4 miles is uphill, then levels off for a half mile and then heads steady up to the Mount Sterling Trail.  The route heads northeast a quarter mile to the tower and Campsite #38.

Mt. Cammerer gets all the press for a great lookout view but Mount Sterling tower is a well kept secret.  Surrounded by fairly dense Fraser fir trees, the site is also home to Campsite #38, which is another bucket list campsite I have yet to enjoy for a night.  But I do plan to return soon.  The view from the fire tower is spectacular, even better in my opinion than Mt. Cammerer and the reward is even greater knowing one has to earn the view.  After many pictures from the tower and a good break and a stretch of the legs, It was time to find Baxter Creek Trail and head back to Big Creek.

 

 

View from Mount Sterling Tower

Middle Earth on Baxter Creek

The descent down Baxter Creek Trail is stark and wastes no time.  The trail descends 4,000 feet over 6 miles for a 12% grade.  Not the steepest but it is a steady 640 ft. per mile drop.  After 11 miles of climbing, it is still a physical challenge heading downhill.  The only charm of Baxter Creek Trail is the Middle Earth quality of the dense fir trees and the heavy green moss that carpets the ground.  The water source for CS#37 is about a quarter mile down as the trail continues its descent.  Fortunately, the trail is not very rugged.  About a mile down, rhododendron show up but the conifers are still in firm control of the landscape.  Along this section there are the standing skeletons of huge hemlocks that the Creator has not yet given permission to fall.  Large conifers are the old men of the Smokies, keeping watch over the centuries and it is sad to see so many will fall in the next time but the cycle of life continues as the mos and new growth spring forth from the giants once they rest on the ground.

The conifers leave you by the time you are 2 1/2 miles down Baxter Creek Trail.  With 57 years old knees, I find that steep downhills are less efficient than ascents.  My rate is about 2.5 miles per hour and while the heart rate is less, the legs (knees) control the speed.  There are few landmarks along the remainder save a switchback and a bend here and there.  At 4.3 miles the sound of water music encourages you to pick up the pace toward the end.  The descent levels a bit and the walking becomes more pleasurable.  At this point, I noted that the most exciting aspect is watching the GPS count the mileage.  About a quarter mile from the end, one can make out the pathway from the campsite across Big Creek until finally, the bridge comes into view and you cross over to the parking area.

It’s always good to get back to the car before dark although it was a bit too dark for a picture of the Creek from the bridge.  But I’ll be back!  It’s an hour drive back to Knoxville and  burger at Aubry’s.

Strider Out!

Back in the cloud… and on the trail…

… not that I have not been slowly adding to my second 900 miler map, but blogging had to make  way for research and dissertations and other life pursuits.  Now I have a few hundred miles to catch up on but I also have a new adventure in the works.

Permit to enter the Inyo National Forest south of Yosemite

I guess the adventure officially started with obtaining my permit to hike the John Muir Trail.  The adventure is a reward of sorts to myself on the completion of my Ed.D. this coming May.  Pursuing a terminal degree in your fifth decade is probably an odd thing to do, but it fits with other paths I have set out on in my life.  At the time, it made sense to cut a pathway to my last career leading into my retirement years. This in itself was a change for me because I have always had my finger in the wind and shifted direction when new opportunities revealed themselves.  But this was different.  I figured I could find a teaching job at a nice small college in the mountains somewhere and spend my off-days hiking.   I was offered some sage advice that obtaining a terminal degree might provide added credibility and qualification to such a pursuit so I found a way to ‘ejecate’ myself while maintaining my current lifestyle. So over the last 4 years, I have been writing papers, researching topics, and generally dipping my toes into the pool of the academic life.  Little did I know, my academic life would find me early than I had planned and I now have a great gig teaching entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, a medium sized city near the mountains where I can hike on my off-days. I must say, the pool of academic life feels just fine!

Becoming a “doctor” of anything is not a trivial pursuit.  It is, in part, a matter of survival in that research and academia has it’s own flow, its own culture and its own processes, into which one must acclimate.  The experience is intentionally rigorous as it should be and by the third year, you are over half way but still far from the finish.  But the underlying blessing is that you can begin to see  the finish line from where you are and it slowly gets bigger as it materializes from the desert mirage that has loomed before you for so long.  Then, just as momentum is gaining, you hit the last obstacle; a big pool of quicksand called the Dissertation.  It is the epitome of your introduction into the academic life and just like boot camp, it is academia’s way of making sure you are cut out for this life and it throws everything at you; literature reviews, comments from your committee, endless revisions, making changes for the sake of making changes.  But the biggest challenge no one prepares you for is the one that tests your perseverance to its very limits.  That is figuring out how to generate a Table of Contents in MS WORD.  I really wish I had those 6 hours of my life back.

Long into this experience, you provide yourself with motivation and encouragement by thinking of what life will be like on the other side.  If you notice, there is a quote at the headline of this blog by one of the founding fathers of the wilderness experience for its own sake.  This quote has been a guiding star for me ever since my awareness turned to it.  It is only fitting to celebrate the culmination of this life milestone by walking the path honoring the one who showed me how to walk in the Garden itself.

So now, my 2nd 900 Miler Map has an added purpose; to prepare me for the 217.9 miles of the John Muir Trail.  I’ll be sharing the planning of this adventure as it comes along.

“Between every two pines is a pathway to a new world” – John Muir

Strider Out!

 

The 900 Miler Data Book is in the works!

This is my 2nd 900 miler and this blog was created to document the experience and to share hiking philosophy.  The site continues to evolve and has become many things as I experiment with different ways to capture this odyssey.  One of these is an online guidebook.  Another is a thorough review and index of the campsites.

AT Trail Data BookToday, I am introducing another branch of this project which is the 900 Miler Data Book.  The idea came from the Appalachian Trail Data Book, which is updated and published every year by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  When I was a through hiker, I carried three pieces of navigation information; the section map, the Philosophers Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the Data Book.  The Data Book is a summary of each section of trail, along with major landmarks and milestones in a small, pocket-sized book.  On long trail sections, it was indispensable because it was often the only way to gauge progress  based on mileage.

As I was “mid-map” on the last 900 Miler, I found myself wishing I had a better idea of what lied along each trail.  Just how many creek crossing are on Eagle Creek?  Where am I likely to get my feet wet?  What is the elevation gain (loss) in either direction?  What interesting landmarks should I be on the lookout for?  Where does that side trail go?

“Hiking Trails of the Smokies” (The Brown Book) is a great guidebook, but it is heavy and the narrative style is not very concise for this purpose.  The National Geographic Map is also a handy resource that I carry at all times but it lacks the details I am looking for.  Ken Wise’s book, “Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains” is excellent, especially since I can get it electronically and download it on my smart phone.  Ken has done a great job combining a trail summary with a detailed narrative of each trail.  Again, I am looking for an abbreviated trail summary.

Low Gap II Data BookSo on this 900 Miler, I have endeavored to create a Data Book in the style of the AT Trail Data Book.  You have seen a section of the specific trail included on my more recent accounts.  Having completed nearly 60 trails so far, I decided to create a PDF of my spreadsheet and make it available.  I’ll add the details of each trail as I hike them.  By the end, I hope to be able to publish the result in a small pocket-sized version.

Here is the link to the PDF:   900 Miler Data Book Rev.1

Check it out and let me know what you think.

HikerHead 2  Strider out….

Campsite #35 – Gilliland Fork

IMG_2780Campsite #35 – Gilliland Fork

Lower Mount Cammerer Trail – 3.3 miles from the Trailhead at Cosby Campground and , 4.1 miles from the trailhead on the Appalachian Trail.  Elevation 2,680

Capacity: 12

Rating: 5

Water: Gilliland Creek

Gilliland Fork Campsite is a bit unusual in that it is arranged in several sections labeled A, B, C, D and E.  The first 3 sites are near the creek.  A & B have nice grassy spots that appear to drain well for tents.  Site C is a little more impacted for some reason and may not drain as well.  Sites D & E are about 100 yd’s further up the trail.  They are much more secluded although level ground may be a challenge.  It seems that often among the flattest best places for a tent is directly under the bear cables and such is the case here.  But for hammocks, the upper sites offer much more privacy.


IMG_2779Rating Summary:

  • Well Drained Sites
  • Low Impact
  • Good Water
  • Bear Cables
  • Leave No Trace Layout

 

 

 

HikerHead 2  Shalom…