After three years and three attempts, this summer I finally completed the 211-mile John Muir Trail entirely without shoes. Whether sensible or not, that was my objective all along. As my friend Mat reminded me, when I ran in to him at Red’s Meadow, “finishing what you start is a good habit to get into.” And then a few seconds later I realized that’s what I told him — in 2021 when he’d seen me struggling on Glen Pass, shortly before I gave up and pulled on shoes. So throughout my 2022 journey, especially when things got tough, I kept thinking to myself how much better it would be to report to Matt a successful outcome, rather than explaining why I failed again.
I’m working on a detailed write-up, which is quickly expanding to book-size length, adding to a great mountain of material that awaits the light of day. For now, this post contains links to a number of short videos I filmed while walking down the trail. You can also access these videos on my YouTube channel.
Update #1 – Descent into Lyell Canyon – August 3
Some quick views of the descent into Lyell Canyon and commentary on a difficult (rocky) section of the trail
Update 2 – Easy Walking in Lyell Canyon – August 3, 2022
Easier walking in the Lyell Canyon – a smooth dirt trail – the reward for putting up with rocky passes — views to the north and ominous clouds – the night before tentsite got flooded twice!
Gear lay-out prior to heading out for the southern leg of the JMT – August 10, 2022
Having completed 65 miles on the John Muir Trail, I’m headed out shortly to complete the remaining ~150. Here’s a short video going through my gear, which together with food/water/clothing, will range from ~18 to ~26 lbs vs. naked body weight. “Carry as little as possible, but chose that little with care” said Earl Schaeffer, first person to thru-hike the AT, and that is good advice. Hopefully this video will be helpful to those looking to try overnight camping or refine their kit, with the goal of minimizing weight, minimizing risk, and maximizing odds of successful completion of your trek
Update #3 – Views from Silver Pass – August 13, 2022
On Silver Pass on the John Muir Trail with views to the north, taking it easy on a sandy trail with some gravel. Two days into the southern leg during my barefoot thru-hike of the JMT. August 13, 2022
Update #4 – On the Way to Selden Pass – August 15, 2022
Early morning in the High Sierra, on a nice sandy trail on the way to Selden Pass on the John Muir Trail.
JMT Update #5 – the Hellacious Descent from Senger Creek
In 2020, this is where I gave up on hiking JMT barefoot and put on shoes. Why? Steep descent of 2,000 feet, southern aspect means the sand gets the brunt of the midday sun, little shade, and path full of granite and metavolcanic gravel. In 2021, I made it down more easily, but this year it was terrible. It took all afternoon. People kept asking, was I OK? By the time I reached Muir Trail Ranch, I was ready (almost) to give up. When you go barefoot, you have to take the good, the bad, and the ugly, and this is probably the worst spot on the John Muir Trail for me (actually, there’s nothing wrong with pulling on shoes when needed — I call that a “hybrid” approach, but my goal this year was to go 100% barefoot for the full 210 miles)
Update #6 – Evolution Valley – August 16, 2022
Views of McClure Meadows and The Hermit in the Evolution Valley along the John Muir Trail, including the Ranger Cabin and charred trees. A section with nice dirt trails — I actually broke into a run for short distance, I was so happy to have a break from the rocks. Currently about 10 miles behind plan, though
Update #7 – Evolution Lake – August 17, 2022
A quick video sharing the beautiful scene at Evolution Lake, along the John Muir Trail
Update #8 – Walking on Cobbles – August 17, 2022
A short video which demonstrates how to walk across the piles of rocks that in some sections constitute the treadway for the John Muir Trail
Update #9 – Muir Pass and the Muir Trail Hut – August 17, 2022
The last few steps up to Muir Pass on the John Muir Trail (during a rainstorm with some hail incidentally) and I reach the Muir Trail Hut, built in the 1930s to honor the conservation work of John Muir and to provide shelter to travelers, since the weather is often difficult here.
Update #10 – “Tired of Rocks” – August 17, 2022
This video is from the descent from Muir Pass towards Starr Camp, where the John Muir Trail passes around the backside of the Black Divide and through a region of metavolcanic debris, including piles of rocks and talus and scree in black, gray, orange, and green. This is slow and difficult progress while barefoot
Update #11 – Early Morning on the Way to Mather Pass – August 19, 2022
Early morning in the High Sierra, getting ready to head up to Mather Pass. Dead forest, but nice smooth trail heading toward the Golden Staircase on the John Muir Trail.
Update #12 – Starting the Golden Staircase – August 19, 2022
The Golden Staircase leads up into the Palisade Lake Basin on the John Muir Trail. It’s a mix of stone steps and rock cobbles, with some sandy stretches, too. Video ends with a view north of Sierra morning sunshine
Update #13 – View of the Palisade Creek, from the Golden Staircase
View of the rushing waters of Palisade Creek, as it tumbles pass the Golden Staircase on the John Muir Trail
Update #14 – Views from summit of Mather Pass
Stunning views to the north and south from the summit of Mather Pass on the John Muir Trail
Update #15 — On Top of Pinchot Pass — August 20, 2022
Here I am on top of Pinchot Pass on the John Muir Trail, showing the views to the north (apologies, I say “south” in the video) and to the south (this time I get it right). Includes an update on the trip, acknowledging the ups and downs of dealing with hot, rocky, descents, and the limitations on time (and the need to keep to plan) due to permits, travel, food, etc.
Update #16 — On the Way to Glen Pass — August 21, 2022
Moving through the night (needing an early start to make tomorrow’s resupply), I stumble upon a deer. Then explain some of the techniques I employ when moving at night — including frequent map checks. Also a quick comment on barefoot technique — keeping core aligned with feet. I end up wandering off path, but correct the mistake
Update #17 — Climbing Glen Pass at Night — August 21, 2022
Glen Pass is a relatively steep, rocky mountain pass on the John Muir Trail. But I need to get up and over it and down to the Kearsarge Junction on the far side in order to pick up my resupply. And I was 4 miles behind plan. So I struck camp at midnight. Slow, steady progress uphill, looking for flat places to step
Update #18 — On Top of Glen Pass — August 22, 2022
Reaching the top of Glen Pass around dawn, with views to the north and south (including a steep rocky descent into a basin with a lake, where last year I had to pull on shoes). This year, I’ve made good time and have 5 hours to make the remaining 2 miles. Which I think I can do
Update #19 – On the Way to Forester Pass
Forester is a 13,000-foot on the John Muir Trail, and the last (when heading south) before the southern terminus of the trail on the summit of Mt. Whitney. Here I point out the the direction of the pass and show the surrounding sights
JMT Update #20 — A Closer View of Forester Pass
Getting closer to Forester, although there’s still a mile to go and 1500 feet to climb. Rocky trails slowing me down, and more walking on cobbles — be careful stepping across streams for tilting rocks
JMT Update #21 — Camping Just Below Forester Pass
Forester was a little too much for me to get up and over during the day, so I’ve camped out at 12,250 feet next to a small lake, and will climb it early in the morning
JMT Update #22 – Passing Timberline Lake
Views of Timberline Lake and the nearby mountains as I near my camping site at Guitar Lake on the John Muir Trail, in preparation for tomorrow’s summit attempt on Mt. Whitney (sorry for the noise — military jets out of sight, flying in some nearby canyon)
JMT Update #23 — Climbing Mt. Whitney Barefoot and at Night
Some footage from Trail Crest, the southernmost section of the John Muir Trail and a crazy path full of granite jumbles and some interesting exposures (especially at night) which takes you to the top of Mt. Whitney
JMT Update #24 — The Summit of Mt. Whitney at Dawn
View of the sun rising in the east, and the chaos of granite spires and peaks to either side of Mt. Whitney in first light. This is the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail and marked the end of my 22-day barefoot trek
JMT Postcript — Reflections on Trail Crest in the Daylight
I’ve finished my barefoot trek on the John Muir Trail, and now I’ve got shoes on as I make my way down from Mt. Whitney. Hard to believe a few hours earlier I was navigating these jumbled granite rocks barefoot and in the dark. And look at the crazy granite peaks and drop-offs….