(Boring) Preplanning</h2>

A few years back I got interested in John Muir Trail, a 210-mile trip from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, by browsing backpacking information online. I read a couple of trip reports and decided thats what I want to do. It costed me an arm and leg but it was quite an adventure.</p>

After playing around a lot with other peoples trip reports, the first thing I had to do was to get the permit to whole JMT and a map pack. You have to reserve them half a year ahead. It took me a couple of attempts until I finally got the permit.</p>

Then I also bought some gear, like Osprey Volt backpack and did physical training for my trip. I went to gym regularly, jogged regularly, did some random HIIT and a few backpacking trips. I think being able to walk about 20 miles with your backpack is enough if you are going to finish the trip in around 20 days.</p>

Getting there</h2>

I made a mistake of a gearing up bit too late and I ended up not sleeping 20 hours before the flight. Perfect. Then I also made a mistake of not booking all flights in one package and having to wait about 7.5 hours in Helsinki. I was like a zombie on the airport. On the trip I met one American democrat, Finnish mechanical engineer and chinese student of finance studying in US. Finally I arrived to Holiday Inn SF Airport for some well-deserved sleep.</p>

My friend Joonas was helping me out, and her wife was picking me up from the hotel. After quite some confusion to find the right Holiday Inn, I was finally on my way towards Saratoga. There I met Joonas, toured a bit of silicon valley, stayed for two nights. I bought a metal bucket from home depot, put loads of food in it and sent it via USPS to Muir Ranch.</p>

On Sunday we ate at Cheesecake Factory at sunny Palo Alto. Then I took Caltrain to SF, met my friend Pasi, and geared up on REI.com. It took quite a while since Pasis backpack demolished in the store and he had to buy a new one.</p>

Next morning I left by Amtrak to Merced, and took YARTS from there to Yosemite. It was decent tour of some desert oil fields of San Francisco and loads of sweating in California sun. However at Merced, Pasi realized we did not have sun hats so he decided to stay in Merced, buy some sun hats while I would go to Yosemite to get the permits.</p>

When I was on YARTS, I saw huge plumes of smoke coming from Yosemite. This was the first time I felt quite uneasy of what I was doing. However the guys on the bus convinced me the fires were huge but were still far away from Yosemite Valley. Finally the valley and night approached. It was complete darkness when I arrived to Yosemite, so I decided to check in to the lodge (mistake).</p>

In hindsight I would have not done that, or rather arrived sooner. Lodge had some confusion with the reservation so I got to the best hotel there which was Ahwahnee. Crazy palace.</p>
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Day 1: Slow Start</h2>

Next morning I dined among some white-collared Americans in five-star hotel (while looking like a hippie hiker). Conversation with the waiter:</p>

"It feels like I should put a collar-shirt on..."</p>

"No need for that. It is required only for the dinner."</p>

I met up with Pasi, wasted quite a bit time shopping around the Valley, lost each other for a while and finally started the JMT from Happy Isles. Altitude gain was a lot, but I didnt feel much exhaustion. However Pasi was struggling to go up, as he had heavy pack (with a guitar no less!) and we took quite a bit of time going up. Slow and steady. First problem happened when my JMT map pack dropped out of my pocket, and I ran mile or two up and down to find it but it was gone. Too bad but I did come with a black&white copy just in case.</p>

Since we left late, and went up quite slow, we stayed in Little Yosemite Valley campgrounds. It was only 4.4 mile from the start but the amazingly stunning sunset at the Waterfalls, and equally amazing starry sky at the valley floor was worth it. Also while making food I melted part of my Jetboil, and got freaked that it would break but it was just a bit of cosmetic damage. Later at night there was a nice campfire at the campgrounds. There I met some guys, and one Californian woman whose husband was working on quite the same entrepreneurial idea as I was. Interesting coincidence! Our discussions at campfire ranged from Yosemite hiking to making kids and rabies.</p>

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Day 2: Fear and Hiking at Half-Dome</h2>

Next morning Pasi found a walking stick from the ground, but after walking up near the Half dome, Pasi felt a bit of fever and some water in his lungs</em>. It sounded serious and apparently, altitude sickness can cause that. I was quite worried about what was going to happen. Luckily it passed, but for this reason we did not do Half dome. I was considering running it up and down, but decided not to. After Half Dome trail, we continued over Sunrise Creeks, with stunning view of the valley, and massive red pine trees, huge pine cones and more altitude gain. On the way we met Allan who was hiking also JMT, but grouping up with some friends from Mammoth. When going up some nice uphill again we lost the trail for some time but found it in decent time. There was had another stunning but different kind of sunset, painting redness all over the gray and white Sierra mountains. We camped at High Sierra Camp, which had lottery-based huts for day hikers.</p>
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Day 3: Tasty burger</h2>

We started off the beautiful valley floor, it had huge vista of the Sierra mountains and more. We also saw the Columbine Finger, and climbed up that a bit. We could easily see the drought going on in Yosemite with the drained swamps. There I met a couple from New Hampshire, Bill & Elaine who were big hikers. I think we got interesting discussion about hiking and err.. taxes. Finally after some long downhill, we ate some lunch near a bridge, and then arrived to Toloumne Meadow Resort. There was a grill there and you can bet we both enjoyed a tasty burger. We camped at Toloumne campspot and resupplied for the next hike.</p>
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</h2>

Day 4: Secret Paradise</h2>

Next morning we got back on the trail. After some curving, we ended up in the very beautiful Lyell River and Lyell Canyon. It was amazing walking down that canyon in the sunbath. There I also met Jose who was clear ultralight backpacker and we got nice chat about gear. We wanted to get out off the Lynn canyon though since park ranger told me before that "Gummi" bear was patrolling the canyon at night for human food. The Gummi bear apparently got the name from not having any teeth. I also met some self-claimed "gold diggers", but honestly I think they were just fixing the trail or doing some geological survey.</p>

Finally the altitude starting increasing as we approached first pass. The canyon just looked ever amazing from the end as well. We finally climbed all the way up to small meadow and stream, where we had astonishing sunset. It was like a hidden paradise up in the mountains. There we met a couple from Washington DC, Joel & Kim. They were UL backpackers which made even more envious of not going UL. The couple had quite a story. Apparently the black bears cannot open bear canisters so one bear had been waiting for them 6 A.M., and then driven them off near the Cathedral Lakes. Luckily Joel managed to close the canister before the bear got it. The bear had tried to open the canister but failed and left. They also had a tree fall 25m in front of them to the trail. They seemed kind of freaked out, but we took a happy picture together!</p>
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</h2>

Day 5: Smoke and lakes</h2>

Next morning we start off towards the Donahue Pass. I ate some breakfast near a stream and waterfall. After some climbing I was finally at the pass. The view back to Lyell Valley was just amazing. Smoke from the Yosemite was spoiling a bit of view, but in a way it also made everything look a lot more like a dream. After going up, there was quite a bit of going down. We stopped at a stream, where Pasi had fever again and said he might have to quit. We ate some lunch. I also met Bill & Elaine on the stream. We continued and concluded it might have been a sunburn. We ran into some mules for twentieth time. Allan also caught up with us, and the ever-increasing smoke was starting to bit quite a nuisance for the scenery. We want to get to the Garnet lake, and on the way there I we passed the beautiful Thousand Island lakes which were unfortunately spoiled by the smoke. If we had arrived earlier, we would have swam there. On the way to Ruby lake, we heard a couple seeing a black bear cub on the way. I was wary we might run into a defensive mother bear, so we decided to put some R.E.M. and C.C.R. from Pasis iPad. Hilarious.</p>
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</h3>

Day 6: Red's Meadow</h2>

The next morning the smoke had disappeared and the Garnet lake was still and beautiful. We left that and hiked towards Shadow Lake. Eventually we put some distance between us since we were going 12 hours non-stop together for quite some time, and both of us appreciated a bit of solitude. We crossed a forest full of dead tree trunks. A whole bunch of them, and I had to be careful not to sit somewhere to have one dead tree fall on me. Eventually we hit a stream, and closed up on Red’s Meadow. There was Devil’s Postpile and lots of dayhikers on the way, and then after some hit-and-miss we found the camping area and the resort itself. Pushing too hard for the last few miles caused me to have my toes to be taped for the remaining of the journey. Don't let that happen to yourself folks!</p>

We ate some really tasty burger meals on the Red’s Meadow resort. Finally we got to take some rest. Woman called "Butter" who I met before in Toloumne caught up with us. Apparently she was a bartender from an English bar from Seattle and her brother had got her to backpacking which she had done over 1000 miles! At night I tried to take some long exposure shots of the beautiful starry sky. There I also observed the “American” weekend nature holiday. Lots of big cars, loud music, lots of lighting, scent of BBQ, huge amount of camping stuff and people enjoying themselves. I kinda wished I had joined some of those camping feasts.</p>

After the whole day was over, and we were about to sleep in the tent, suddenly lights appeared and a big pickup-car almost drove over us! Jesus. I went up in a blaze. After that we realized they had reserved the camping spot for the night, but I had missed the sign in the dark. They were very friendly and let us just camp where we were for the night (for free, although I left money on the windshield).</p>
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Day 7: Delay</h2>

The day started with some resupplying, great “Backpacker’s Breakfast” which had three huge hotcakes. A bit later though Pasi thought it was best for him to leave here because the blisters were getting out of control. That came kinda out of the blue. I wasted a lot of time resupplying because I wasn’t sure I could buy anything for the remaining 150 miles. When I left though, there were thunderclouds around a big open area, and I was not so happy about crossing that. Given that it was so late I decided to take a rest day at the ranch. In the evening, I met up with Bill & Elaine. We got up to a nice chat, and apparently Bill was a Vietnam war veteran who was happy on the trail that nobody was shooting at him! They also had hiked Kilimanjaro and lots of other trails. I also talked with an ex firefighter who told me to just “finish what you started” and that they’d call me a chicken at home if I quit! He apparently also had built some of these trails. I went to set up my tent but suddenly in the middle of the early night, Pasi appeared out of the blue and he said “lets do this”. For a while we were considering doing night hike. Female hiker who heard what we were about to do, told us to be aware of mountain lions. Because of cougars and fear of getting lost we decided not to hike, and slept the next night.</p>
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Day 8: First thunder</h2>

Today day we left early. I also ate at the Red’s Meadow Resort for some great breakfast. Then we had some really nice altitude gain ahead of us. I met Israeli couple on the way. I met Bill & Elaine en route, and there was some mileage without water. Thunder appeared but not straight on top of us. For a while I was worried if the stream had gone dry but there was plenty of water as I arrived at Duck Pass creek. When we left the creek, I forgot the current day’s map in a tree branch, which I had to run to get back. I also dropped my other glove which I didn’t go back to pick up. Finally we arrived at Purple Lake. I think Pasi saw some eyeballs gazing back from the darkness from the headlight, and I think I woke up during the night thinking a bear go to our bear canister.</p>
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Day 9: Foot Pain and Silver Pass</h2>

Next morning I went up a mountain in speed. I bypassed Carina, another solo female hiker from Los Angeles. I enjoyed a great breakfast on Lake Virginia which had a lot of open area. Read books on my kindle too. Then there was steep downhill down to McGee Pass Trail hammering my ankles. I bypassed the Israeli couple who weren't very talkative, and crossed a bridge just to lose the trail for a couple of minutes. Pasi caught up with me, and reported some foot pain which sounded serious. We hiked separately, and I went up over the Silver Pass. The thunderclouds were awfully close, but disappeared and I went Mono Creek where I waited for Pasi. The Mono Creek kept going down a little forever. There was a really nice meadow before us, but we camped next to a British couple more near the creek floor.</p>
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Day 10: Crossroads</h2>

On thursday morning we hiked down to Vermillion Valley Resort junction. I made some breakfast there, and also met Louis from err.. I forgot. There we decided with Pasi that it would be a good idea for him to quit there because if any new problems would happen, it would be hard to quit after Muir Ranch. The lake was dry, and the ferry didn’t work so Pasi had to go around the lake to the get to the resort.</p>

First time I was now alone in John Muir Wilderness, and I had about 130 miles ahead of me. I must say I felt quite uneasy, and just hiked as fast as I could. If anything would happen, any help would be far away. I went over Bear Creeks in a big hurry to make it to the next pass. I was confident I could do a lot of miles but after about 10 miles of rough uphill, my feet felt quite abused. Marie Lakes were beatiful and I bypassed some German campers. I didn’t want to repeat my mistake and kept constant breaks. Finally I went over the Selden Pass before the dark. Next to me was some UL hiker sleeping in a bivy bag. He was coughing hard, and later I learned this guy was running the whole trail in three days! I also saw a beaver when I went to sleep. It was first time sleeping alone in Sierra Wilderness.</p>
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Day 11: JMT Ranch, Floating Boot & Hot Springs</h2>

I woke up and UL hiker was gone. The morning was just amazing. When I reached Sallie Keyes Lake, I just wanted to stay there and enjoy the scenery. After that, elevation started going down hard. At the bottom of valley was Muir Ranch. Ranch had a helpful old lady to get my resupply. There I also met Erin & Mindy. Erin was quite a delightful meteorologist who was my personal fan for hiking so fast over the mountains. Carina also arrived there. My resupply arrived and I filled my pack. I got some leftover chocolate (“anyone want a KitKat?”) which got some new friends around the ranch.</p>

Funny thing happened when I went over for some solid dump. I couldn’t find a suitable place, so I had to cross a stream. Well when crossing the stream, I had my stuff (camera, money etc.) in my left hand and my shoes in my right hand. I dipped the bag to the water, and then got a bright idea to throw my shoes over the stream. Splash! There goes my boot. I had to run in the stream to get my boot back. And I repeated that same mistake like twice the same day. You should have seen me running after my boot in the stream. It was funny (to watch).</p>

I decided to stay there for some rest, and found hot springs there. Some guys there told me about a lake behind the springs. We found it and jumped off some cliffs to the water. Fun day. Finally I ate and camped. Louis arrived and helpfully stashed some leftover food that didn’t fit in my bear canister.</p>
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Day 12: Back on the trail</h2>

I started the morning crossing the stream… and throwing my boot into the stream again. Jesus. I resupplied at the ranch, and started going. After crossing a bridge and some really tough uphill, I bypassed a few hikers, threw my boot again into another stream, and went towards Evolution Lake. I ate some lunch near McClure Meadow. Some of hikers I saw in the morning had already camped near the stream. I decided to go uphill even though it was getting late. I met some other (British?) hiker going down and asking me: “Are you okay?”. I think I clocked about 16 miles for the day. Before the dusk, I had to clean up my backpack’s pocket at a stream because chocolate had melted and I didn’t want animals dealing (esp. bears!) dealing with it. I camped at North Evolution lake near some photographers. They took a nice picture of me. During the night, vultures kept me some fun company.</p>
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</h2>

Day 13: Rocks everywhere</h2>

I woke up literally freezing. There was little bit of snow in the ground outside. I started hiking fast because I wanted to do a lot of miles today. There were a crapload of lakes before pass hiding up in the mountains. I bypassed a really beautiful lake called Wanda Lake which just seduced me to stay there enjoying this beautiful scenery of rock, some moss, lake and sunshine hiding up in the mountains. The water was very clear and I saw some frogs swimming there.</p>

I continued towards the Muir Pass. My feet were getting hammered due to rocky mountain. The Pass had a nice little cabin made of rock. Some hikers going other way took a picture of me. I went down, and saw kind of pretty Small and Medium Lakes. Difference shades of rocks colored these lakes. Purple, blue etc. The downhill was just brutal, big rocks and smaller rocks. Also on top of that the trail kind of disappeared and you had to scout for terrain.</p>

Finally I got down to Le Conte Canyon. I saw some kind of tame White-Tailed Deer there. Mother with a fawn. This canyon was kind of rainy, and I met some hiker who was trekking the High Sierra Trail. That’s pretty astonishing. I just didn’t want to camp near the 8,000 elevation due bears, but could only barely gain some distance before the dark. I camped near the Middle Fork.</p>
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Day 14: Golden Staircase</h2>

In the morning I had to continue the canyon and go up a little thing called Golden Staircase. That was fun sport, and there were some pretty lakes basking in the morning sunlight. I met few students there working on fixing the trail. I caught up with carina. I made food near one of the lakes, and spilled a lot over for which I had to dig up a hole. Those were some damn important calories I needed! I went over the Mather Pass in a hurry. The climb was pretty heavy, and you will learn the meaning of switchbacks there. I went down in a hurry too towards South Fork. This valley was much higher up than the previous ones, around 10,000 feet (3,048 km). That’s the lowest part. I went up again, and saw beautiful orange Sierra sunset again. I met a Japanese hiker couple, Ayumi & Akuma. I camped near lake Marjorie at around 11,170 feet.</p>
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Day 15: Thunderstorm</h2>

I started going up real fast just as soon as sun started shining, and I met a Korean dude who took a picture of me on the Pinchot Pass. I continued down in a haste. You can see the ecosystem in power here. First there’s only rocks, then you get some water flows, then some grass, then some trees, then bushes and animals. I crossed a bridge was optimistic about the day and my mileage until thunder happened. When the lightning started, I just decided I would stay within the tree line until it passed. I just sat there near the rocks for some time. When the lightning stopped I continued over to Rae Lakes where I camped. I talked to some people there who told me that bears usually don’t come this high up but they had seen one last week. Lots of people camping there, and I smelt some local hikers barbecuing a fish there. Talk about jealous! Man I wish I had taken something I could fish with (although I could have improvised). I tried to take some long-exposure shots of the dark but beautiful starry sky of California.</p>
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</h3>

Day 16: More thunder delays</h2>

Next morning I started real fast, bypassed rest of the Rae Lakes, bypassed the Glen Pass, and went down around Charlotte Lake. When going down, running UL hiker bypassed me. I got a bit competitive and started running after him. I could keep up for quite some time until the damn thunderclouds appeared again and it was barely 11am. I got kind of depressed. I knew I could take the risk, but idea of being a mobile lightning rod on top of that pass was not really attractive. Carina, Tracy and Louis caught up with me. I just made some food, read some books on my Kindle and waited for the clouds to pass. When the clouds went off, it was kind of dark and I just camped at Upper Vidette Meadow.</p>
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</h3>

Day 17: Crazy run</h2>

I wanted to mistake of the previous day and woke up super early just in the dark. I hiked up towards the Forester Pass. Just some miles before the pass, around 9am, the thunderclouds were all over me again. I just started running for my life going uphill towards this 13,000 feet pass. The nearest tree line was at least 7 miles away! I think the choice between being a mobile lightning rod or exhausting myself to death triggered some kind of fight-or-flight response that gave my muscles some power to get over that pass. Finally I got over the pass, and saw some guy doing some kind of trail work with a parachuted.. drilling machine? Anyway, the clouds disappeared when I started going down and I met Tracy on the way. You could see a big vista of the upcoming mountains.</p>

Then I continued towards the Bighorn Plateau which turned out to be like a desert. I felt like I was in Sahara, and I thought the lake I saw was some kind of mirage. The variety of the scenery you can enjoy on the trail is quite astonishing. Finally I passed Sandy Meadows, and arrived to this huge but completely empty camping site. It had a ranger station whose ranger was on his work duty away from the place. I wanted to continue to the Guitar Lake but I didn’t want to enjoy the thunderclouds in open area so I just sat there waiting for them to pass. I was really low on food, and I had just done about 21 miles in 8 hours. It was about 2pm and I could have gone over but Mt. Whitney was full of thunderclouds.</p>
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Day 18: Ending</h2>

I started really early up and went over to take my food from the bear locker where I had stashes them away from my tent. It was so dark in the morning, that I got lost in this huge empty camping ground. Finally some sun came up, I packed my tent and started going towards the Guitar Lake which got its name from its guitar-like shape.</p>

While going up, I bypassed a lot of hikers. I also met Tracy, Carina and Louis. After some climbing, which wasn’t all that painful after the previous day experience, I got on top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak of continental United States. It was quite a scenery and there were loads of people there. I sat on top of a big rock that had a death fall.</p>

“Wouldn’t it be funny if this rock started moving?”
“You mean funny in a way that is not funny.”</p>

I enjoyed the scenery for some time, talked to people, checked out the lightning shelter that looked like a gas chamber, and finally talked to “Pacer” who was going to San Francisco, and was willing to give me a ride.</p>

I went down from Mt. Whitney, and it was like 6,000 feet in elevation decline. My feet and ankles got a hammering that I felt for a month afterwards. Thunderclouds appeared again but weren’t doing anything more than that. Huge amount of tourists were daytripping along the trail and finally I arrived at Whitney Portal for some damn tasty burger (or so I thought after eating trail food for god knows how many days). I met Carina, Tracy, Ayumi&Akuma, Tad and Chris there.</p>

Tad and Chris gave me a ride to Lone Pine where I stayed at the local hostel with a private room. Shower was really nice. You get to appreciate these little things in life a bit differently after weeks in the wilderness. The woman running the hostel was apparently Argentinan hiker who had done the PCT.</p>
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Back to SF</h2>

I met Tad and Chris in the morning, who gave me a 400-mile ride through these Mad Max oil fields of California. I’m really thankful for the ride, and they didn’t even ask for money although I gave them a six pack of some local beer. We had interesting chats everything from hiking gear to Finland, and they even gave me a trail name Finlandia for our local vodka. It was a fun ride back to San Francisco! What a trip! I must say JMT is a great experience for anyone who likes hiking. I'll probably do this later in my life again, if practically possible.</p>
 

Lessons learned</h2>

I did learn a lot of valuable lessons about hiking, and life in general on the trip but forgot at least most of the minute details. Some remarks if you plant to do the JMT:</p>

  1. It's an amazing hike if you like hiking, but if you got only half the time, do from Muir Ranch / VVR to the Yosemite.</li>
  2. Take it slow. The sunsets are great, and you get to meet more people. This the only thing I regret is my fast pace.</li>
  3. Have common philosophy and common hiking experience if you plan to do it with a friend (applies to any hike)</li>
  4. Do not try to throw your shoe to the other side of a stream. Really.</li>
  5. Forest fires can ruin the view.</li>
  6. Bring fishing rod, pancakes or something in that domain.</li>
  7. Think about campsite placement so you can go over a pass in the morning, to avoid thunder-related delays.</li>
  8. Light, 60L pack will do fine if you can fit everything there. I would have taken my Granite Gear Crown.</li>
  9. It's possible to do the whole trip with about 1600€ budget ($2200) from Europe. Save money with these things:
    1. Take a straight bus from SF to Yosemite and hitchhike back to SF</li>
    2. Have flex flight times. I would only leave 1 day both sides extra if I would do it again.</li>
    3. Resupply at VVR, Ranch is too expensive solution and there's leftover food for a small army.</li>
    4. Try to buy everything possible beforehand to avoid expensive late supplies.</li>
    5. Reserve time for bus changes etc.</li>
      </ol>
      </li>

    6. Best advice: communicate with someone who has done this trip before. Send me email if you need help.'</li>
      </ol>
       

      Links & Resources</h2>
      Best Map for JMT is Erik the Black's map</a> but the Tom Harrison maps are nice extra.

      Backpackinglight.com</a> forums and articles provide lots quality information about hiking gear and trip reports (loads on JMT!).

      My Trip Plan, Gear List and Expense Plan</a> can be a decent starting point but reality was a bit different.