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Difficulty descriptions are by nature very subjective. The categories below represent generalized distinctions in terrain, level of commitment, time spent at elevation and overall trip duration. Level of commitment refers to the ability to opt out of activities such as peak ascents from a base camp. A committing trip requires a daily mileage to be completed each day.
These trips typically travel on groomed trails at a leisurely pace. You can expect maintained trails, gentle grades and more flexibility in terms of your destination for the day. Hikers will carry mainly the essentials in a light daypack and travel anywhere from 3 to 8 miles depending on the trip or preference.
These include hiking, backpacking, or stock-supported trips that take place mostly on maintained trails to get to camp. These trips hike into a set basecamp and then offer optional destinations with varying degrees of challenge. You can expect modest climbs on uneven terrain. Total distances are often 4-7 miles of hiking per day over 3-4 days of hiking.
These trips include on- and off-trail hiking or backpacking or stock-supported trips. The trails can consist of uneven terrain with modest to difficult climbs and some steep passes (gains of 1000-2000’). These trips are typically 3-5 days in duration but can be longer. For backpacking trips, they can include carrying a fully weighted pack (30-42lbs) and travel 6-10 miles per day.
These trips include on- and off-trail hiking, backpacking or stock-supported trips with uneven terrain and steep grades and passes. These trips are more physically and mentally challenging and usually 7-8 days in duration. For backpacking trips, pack weight will consist of (30-40lbs). Because these types of trips have a required mileage to complete each day, the level of commitment is high. Trips in this category spend significant time at higher elevations and often cover 8-12+ miles per day with average gains/losses of 1,500-3,000’ per day. The most successful people on these trips have some prior overnight backcountry experience.
These trips include on- and off-trail hiking or backpacking on uneven terrain with steep grades. These trips travel 10-12+ miles per day and can vary from 8-21 days in length. Given the mileage and duration, there is an increased amount of physical and mental challenge throughout the trip. Pack weights will consist of 35-45lbs depending on the resupply schedule. Because these types of trips have a required mileage to complete each day, the level of commitment to reach your destination is high. The most successful people on these trips have extensive overnight backcountry experience.
The John Muir Trail is one of the most classic backpacking trails in the world and what better way to experience it than with National Geographic's pick of “The Best Outfitter On Earth”! Following the rugged spine of California’s High Sierra, we climb 8 high-mountain passes, traverse 3 national parks and attempt the summit of Mt Whitney, (14,500’) the highest point in the contiguous US. Expert guides, seamless logistics and world-class scenery make hiking the John Muir Trail the true “trip of a lifetime”.
Accommodations: We provide 21-24 nights of tent camping (depending on direction) and the last night’s lodging (pricing based on double room occupancy).
Equipment: We supply all group camping gear (stoves, cookware, water filters, group first aid kit, etc). We can also supply personal camping equipment (backpacks, sleeping bags, ground pads, trekking poles, and tents) upon request with no additional fee. You are welcome to bring your own personal camping equipment if you prefer. A detailed gear list will be sent to you upon registration.
Meals: We provide all backcountry meals starting with dinner on Day 1. Front country meals are not provided (more specifics can be found on individual trip itineraries). Our "Backcountry Gourmet" meals have been acclaimed in Sunset Magazine and we take pride in providing excellent meals even in remote surroundings. If you have a specific dietary need or allergy, let us know and we will do our best to accommodate your request. Due to the nature of this rigorous and long expeditionary trip, there may be some limitations to what we can accommodate. Please reach out to our friendly office staff if you have any questions or concerns about this.
Your Cost Includes: Meals (as noted above), group camping gear (as noted above), personal camping equipment (as listed above), 4 remote food drops, accommodations (as listed above), transportation to and from the remote trailheads, applicable permits, professional mountain guide(s), pre-trip planning packet, redundant emergency communication devices, and trip support from our friendly, knowledgeable office staff.
Not Included: Personal clothing and footwear, personal gear not listed under “Equipment” above, meals in the front country (including dinner at the end of the trip), tips for guides (10-20% of trip cost is customary), transportation except as noted above, and optional but highly recommended trip cancellation insurance.
Prior Experience: We strongly encourage having recent backpacking experience or practice before embarking on the JMT. The most successful people on these trips have completed several backcountry trips carrying a fully weighted pack (35-40lbs) for at least 5 days. If you do not have this experience, we recommend joining us on a "shake-out" trip prior to joining the John Muir Trail trip.
Preparation: The JMT is our most difficult trip. It travels long distances over high mountain passes with uneven terrain for 21-24 trail days. Not only do we want you to complete the trail with us, but we want you to have fun doing it! Training is paramount to the success and enjoyment of your trip. On the JMT, it’s not a question of whether you can climb a high mountain pass, but if you can get up the next morning and climb another... and then another... In addition to the physicality of the John Muir Trail, long sustained periods in a remote wilderness setting require a unique mental toughness.
We strongly recommend rigorous exercise in the months prior to your trip to bolster sustained cardiovascular/aerobic activities as well as core and leg strength. Day hikes with a weighted backpack, preferably on hilly, off road terrain, is the best way to train for our trips. Activities such as cycling and step-master type machines (or stadium stairs) are excellent for training as well and are preferable to a routine comprised solely of running. Be sure to include hill and steep climbs wherever possible on all training. More detailed information about training will be sent to you upon registration.
23-Day Southbound Itinerary:
This version of the trip begins in Tuolumne Meadows*, the high country of Yosemite National Park and follows the classic direction of travel along the John Muir Trail. On the first half of our journey we’ll travel beneath the Ritter Range, passing through Ansel Adam's and John Muir Wildernesses and making our way toward the heart of the trail: Evolution Valley. During this first section, we’ll receive two resupplies, the first at Red's Meadow on Day 4 and the second at Vermillion Valley Resort on Day 7. The second half of our journey will take us up the Golden Staircase and through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. We’ll receive two more remote resupplies brought to us by mule train in LeConte Canyon (Day 12) and Vidette Meadow (Day 17). After loading up our final resupply, we’ll continue hiking south and ultimately make our way to the summit of Mt. Whitney, before exiting along the Pacific Crest Trail.
26-Day Northbound Itinerary:
This version of the trip begins near Lone Pine, CA at the Cottonwood Pass Campground on the Pacific Crest Trail. After a few shorter mileage days to acclimatize, we’ll set off to summit Mt. Whitney! After our big summit day, we’ll receive a resupply at Crabtree Meadows (Day 5) and then continue our journey north into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. We’ll make our way up and over several high passes and camp at the stunning Rae Lakes just before our second resupply at Woods Creek (Day 9). The second half of this trip, well travel into the LeConte Canyon and Evolution Valley, arguably some of the most beautiful sections of the trail. Our third resupply will meet us at Piute Creek (Day 14) on the border of the John Muir Wilderness, before we continue north over Silver Pass and into the Inyo National forest. Reds Meadow is our last resupply (Day 20) as we enter the Ansel Adam's Wilderness. From Red's, we’ll travel past Thousand Island Lakes, over Donahue Pass and into Yosemite National Park. The final days of our journey will take us to our end in the “Incomparable Yosemite Valley”, having completed the entirety of the John Muir Trail proper!
*Actual Permit starts can vary for the 23-day Southbound Itinerary. You will be notified before departure.
I wanted to make sure that you all know how truly grateful I am for the superb job of guiding you did. The thorough preparation, the seamless execution, the compassion, support and concern for safety and comfort were apparent every step of the way. As I shared, I had wanted to undertake the JMT for over 6 years, but I was truly nervous as the departure date approached. Your leadership and genuine care made the trip achievable and super enjoyable. This trip made a significant impact on my life, and the personal reward of completing the goal has been huge; I thank each of you for helping make this happen.
-Karen Gilbert, 2017
Hi Ian. It's been almost 4 weeks since the JMT and a great big thank you to you and your SYMG team is overdue. Each and every one - yourself, Andrea, Mike, Fred and most especially Alex and Brendan - were in their own way, brilliant ambassadors for SYMG. For someone such as me who committed a lot to be on the trip of a lifetime, I can't speak too highly of the great job SYMG did to help make that happen and more!
From the very beginning, SYMG (you!) helped me with the wilderness permit application, Andrea then helped me with the logistics of sending a parcel early so that it could meet me in Tuolumne, Mike did a great job quietly and effectively supporting Alex and Brendan 'in the background' and Fred was a welcome sight with his picnic table at the end!
Ultimately though, Alex and Brendan put in the hard yards through the days and quite frankly they were amazing and an absolute pleasure to hike with. Real gems and I have them to thank for the fact that my JMT really did turn out to be the trip of a lifetime!
Many many thanks (from sunny Scotland)
-Paul Curran - August 2014
Ian- Thank you for checking in about the rest of the trip. It really was everything we had hoped for originally. Both Alex and Carlos were so adept at not only safely guiding us but also making the journey enjoyable. The two of them worked together well and offered so much expertise along the way. Even though our packs were still heavy and the mountain passes unforgivably steep, we both knew that with their guidance we could do it. I learned so much from Alex's knowledge of the Sierra's, of the plants, trees and geographically. And of course, we will always carry Carlo's infectious smile with us that usually convinced everyone that all is well and that each step along the way is to be truly savored. So, we truly did have a trip of a lifetime and would recommend it to anyone (who knows, maybe we'll get the chance to hike the JMT again) Happy trails,
-Karen and Russ Swinehart JMT Backpack 2013
The whole trip was everything I could have wished for. Booking a trip from the internet with a company of which I had no knowledge incurred some risk but your organization worked perfectly. Your information sheet and responses to my questions had me well prepared for the hike. Your staff are great ambassadors for SYMG, demonstrating a commitment and enthusiasm for their jobs and lifestyle. Csuri was the dream guide and her efforts ensured that we all had a successful and enjoyable trip. To hike the JMT had been a dream of mine since my first visit to Yosemite in 1970. Thanks to SYMG the dream came true and it was better than I could have imagined. Special thanks to Csuri- for a great job well done, Albert- especially for the food and drinks. To Sam for her enthusiasm and navigational skills, and Katie and Joel- for their enthusiasm, help, and good company. Regards,
- Viv Dore, Australia, July 2007