Category Archives: John Muir Trail

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 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!


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!