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#156990 - 11/08/11 02:36 PM JMT in Winter? Or Arizona Trail?
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Hey all,

I had planned to travel to Ireland this December for 27 days to explore the country as well as some backcountry trekking. Due to recent financial complications, this trip is no longer feasible.

I am now thinking of thru-hiking the John Muir trail. Wanted to see what the feasibility of this trip is in the winter time. I have been reading a great deal of literature regarding the trail, but wanted to get some opinions from the forum.

A few questions I have are...

1. Will I need full mountaineering gear for the mountains on the trail(Ice Axe, snowshoes, Crampons)?

2. Along with that, do I need mountaineering experience for the summits(only one reaches above 14,000. Most are at or below 12,000)?

3. Is it possible to do this trip in 27 days in the winter time(Including travel time out there)?

I have more questions, but those will be the real determinants of whether I am able to do the trip or not. Dates of travel are December 11th, 2011- January 7th, 2012.

Thanks for your time.

All the best,
Mark


Edited by OregonMouse (11/21/11 08:10 PM)
Edit Reason: edited by moderator to change title
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"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
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#156999 - 11/08/11 04:41 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
Pika Offline
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1736
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
"Hiking" the John Muir Trail in the winter is possible but it would be a major undertaking. First, most of the trail is usually under several feet (6' to 10') of snow by that time of the year (read the accounts of the Donner Party). So, route finding would be difficult at best and you would need skis or snowshoes to travel. Second, none of the resupply points are open in the winter so you would have to carry all of your food and fuel with you from the start. At 2 pounds of food per day, 27 days of food would weigh 54 pounds. You would also need a lot of fuel because you would often be melting snow for water. Third, it is cold in the Sierra in the winter. Check the weather statistics for Mammoth Lakes to get an idea of temperatures and snowfall and then remember that most of the JMT is as high or higher than is Mammoth. Fourth, you would need winter mountaineering experience and equipment. Crossing Muir, Mather, Pinchot and Glen passes are well over 12,000 feet high while Forester Pass and Trail Crest Pass are both over 13,000 feet and have steep pitches. Finishing the trail on top of Mt. Whitney would take you to nearly 14,500'. Winds can be fierce at these altitudes. Winter in the High Sierra is not for sissies.

To camp and move you would need specialized knowledge and equipment. You should be comfortable with techniques such as knowing how to use crampons, skis and/or snowshoes and how to self-arrest from a fall. You would need a four season mountaineering tent, mattress and sleeping bag and the equivalent in clothing.

I seriously doubt that one could cover the full JMT in 27 days in the winter; it would require averaging over eight miles a day. This would be tough sledding grin in the winter. . Were I you, I would wait and do the JMT in the summer.


Edited by Pika (11/08/11 04:46 PM)
_________________________
May I walk in beauty.

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#157006 - 11/08/11 06:14 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
skcreidc Offline
member

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 1590
Loc: San Diego CA
I fully agree with Pika. In addition to having to average 8mpd to complete the trail without any additional time for exploring, do you really think that you can get away with 27 consecutive days in those mountains at that time of year without getting hammered with one or more severe storms? There goes your 8 miles per day because your going to be hunkered down during those storm events. Now we are talking 10 plus miles per day.

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#157011 - 11/08/11 06:45 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: skcreidc]
OregonMouse Online   content
member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6401
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Not yet mentioned is the danger of avalanches. Do you have any training in avalanche avoidance/snowpack assessment?
_________________________
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

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#157014 - 11/08/11 07:21 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
lori Offline
member

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
The fact that you are asking these questions tells me that you need mountaineering classes and some experience with short winter camping trips to even begin to think about doing such a trip.

In short, it needs more than you currently have - a real solid sense of whether or not you can do the trip. If you have solid winter skills, you would not ask the questions at all.

If you can't afford going to Ireland, you probably can't afford to do the JMT - winter trips have an entirely different gear list than 3 season trips. A month in high elevation Sierra would mean 4 season gear, full mountaineering style, tent and crampons and all. Also very good routefinding skills. And you should not do it alone unless you have years of experience in winter mountaineering, and you don't mention any companions...
_________________________
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

http://hikeandbackpack.com

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#157015 - 11/08/11 08:10 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: lori]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Lori, you, as well as the others, have hit it spot on. I had no idea what I was getting into. Thank you all for your timely and in depth responses. It was just what I was looking for. High altitude packing and mountaineering is a skill that I hope to acquire, but I DEFINITELY am not ready for any type of trip right now. So, we can solidly say that the JMT is out.

Does anyone else have recommendations for another trail that I could hike look at? Would love for it to be a consecutive month, but I will certainly field other options. Perhaps the AT would be a better option since I am located in Georgia?Thanks!

All the best,
Mark

P.S. hey, Pika! Just cause I'm not going on the JMT now doesn't mean I'm a sissy, does it?! Haha!


Edited by MPCWatkins (11/08/11 08:12 PM)
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157017 - 11/08/11 08:37 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
Pika Offline
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1736
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
No, you are wise, not a sissy. smile

If you are interested in winter hiking, you may want to look at the southern half of the Arizona Trail: Winter is the preferred time of the year to hike this section. The full trail goes from Coronado National Monument on the Mexican border to Utah near Knabb. At present, the trail is nearly 800 miles long and parts of it are along old jeep roads. The southern Arizona part of the trail is largely upland desert although it also traverses the Huachuca Mountains, The Patagonia Mountains, the eastern Santa Rita Mountains, the Rincon Mountains and the Santa Catalina Mountains. If you hike at night you will share the trail with a few undocumented immigrants. You can easily hike 300 miles of the trail in winter and only occasionally have to route find on snow-covered trail. Water is usually available along the trail in winter but not in summer or fall. Once the trail reaches the Mogollion Rim, it is continuously above 7000'; it is snowing there as I write this. A GPS would be useful for much of the southern Arizona part of the trail; there are parts that are not yet well mapped. Check out the web sites listed below.

Three season gear would be quite adequate for winter on the southern Arizona trail if you have a sleeping bag good to about 10 to 15F.

http://www.greatoutdoors.com/published/hiking-the-arizona-trail

http://www.aztrail.org/


Edited by Pika (11/08/11 08:44 PM)
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May I walk in beauty.

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#157018 - 11/08/11 08:43 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: Pika]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Wow! That is a great option. That gives me some great reading for this evening. Thank you! Would this require any mountaineering gear? How about resupplies?

Will ask/update as I read into it. Again, Thanks.

All the best,
Mark
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157019 - 11/08/11 08:45 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: Pika]
Heather-ak Offline
member

Registered: 07/11/10
Posts: 597
Loc: Fairbanks, AK
How dangerous is it with undocument immigrants using it? Not necessarily the people immigrating themselves but both the wolves from across the border as well as the Arizona "posse".

I wonder if I could talk my husband into hiking next January (2013 not 2012) (for the entire month - or heck even two weeks.) I get squirrelly here in January - and there has to be at least some sunshine in that area in January.


Edited by Heather-ak (11/08/11 08:48 PM)
Edit Reason: next January meaning next, next

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#157020 - 11/08/11 08:50 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
Pika Offline
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1736
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
No mountaineering gear required as far as I know. There may be a few icy stretches where instep crampons would keep you from slipping and sliding. Resupply is pretty easy: there are towns along the way and it is easy and legal to cache supplies along the way ahead of time. Just don't forget where your cache is. That is one of the uses of a good GPS.
_________________________
May I walk in beauty.

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#157021 - 11/08/11 09:07 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: Heather-ak]
Pika Offline
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1736
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
Heather, you can hike beyond the "undocumented zone" in a day or two. If you choose your campsite away from the trail, are quiet and don't build a fire, there is relatively little risk of encountering illegals or drug smugglers. If you are aware of the possibility and keep your eyes open then there is not much risk; they try to avoid hikers.

Most of the Arizona Posse types don't get more than 100 yards from the beer coolers in their pickups and thus are not much of a risk.

In most years January here is sunny eight days out of ten. Most days are in the 50's to 70's and nice and sunny; nights are cold (not by Fairbanks standards though); it can get as cold as 10F in higher locations at night and into the 20's in the desert lowlands.

There are occasional frontal winter storms that come into the area with rain or snow but these seldom last more than a few days and are not usually of the sort that keep you from hiking. I would not leave my rain gear behind.
_________________________
May I walk in beauty.

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#157022 - 11/08/11 09:38 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: Pika]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Pika,

That's great information. I appreciate all of your well developed posts. One question, is there any other map than the one on the website? Is it worth spending the $30 on their map? I know they offer GPS as well, but I prefer the National Geographic maps over any other maps I've had experience with.


All the best
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157037 - 11/09/11 09:01 AM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: Pika]
skcreidc Offline
member

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 1590
Loc: San Diego CA
I have enjoyed the Mogollon Rim portion a few times, including once in winter. (My parents moved to Payson about 12 years ago, but unfortunately stopped backpacking). I am somewhat envious of anyone who can spend the time to do the whole or large portions of the AZ trail as I have to struggle to get more than a week at a time. Definitely a great winter trip to do !

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#157039 - 11/09/11 10:10 AM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: skcreidc]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Skcreidc,

Glad to hear that you enjoyed your time on the trail. What's stopping you from coming out this December?! Haha!

In regards to my previous question, what map did you use? I'm having a hard time finding anything besides the the one on the trails website. If this is the only place to get a map, then I'll get it, but I would really much rather have the Nat. Geo. maps. I'm just worried that they will not have the updated trail included on them. I'm also worried about where to get GPS coordinates. Any feedback you can give me? What did you use?

All the best
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157065 - 11/09/11 01:52 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
skcreidc Offline
member

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 1590
Loc: San Diego CA
Hmmmmmmmm. I have been thinking about this....but family comes first that time of year. So in part it depends on if Christmas is in Southern California or at Payson. Also, I could do only a portion of the trial with you at best. With the kids and all I am not sure how much time I could break away for.

Info wise...I am a USGS 7.5 min quad guy. When I went to the Mogollon Rim in late December, there was 1 to 2 feet of snow along much of the trial and was kinda cold. Even though I had been there before I had some troubles in the flatter terrain staying on trail. GPS would have been handy. My off-trail and compass skills are good though so it wasn't too much trouble.

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#157108 - 11/09/11 08:19 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: skcreidc]
intrek38 Offline
member

Registered: 11/29/03
Posts: 430
Loc: Hesperia, Calif
Sorry, I can't get this out of my head...
The South side of Forester Pass in the middle of Winter !!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmcpU_xvMTw&feature=related

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#157116 - 11/09/11 09:43 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: skcreidc]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
I understand. Well, I would love to have you out on the trail with me, even if it's only for a few days! Hopefully it will work out for you to come out!

Hmm ok. I'm going to call National Geographic's map service and see if they can help me out.

I'm planning to pack for snow and 0 degree temperatures. Question on that. I am looking to get the Mountain Hardware Phantom 0 bag, but am pulled towards the 15. Which would you guys recommend? The 0 is 75 dollars more and 13 oz's heavier than the 15. I figured it's worth the initial investment since It will fit me in more winter circumstances(Mountaineering, storms, etc). Am I over-exaggerating the temperature bag that I'm needing?
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157135 - 11/10/11 09:36 AM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
Pika Offline
member

Registered: 12/08/05
Posts: 1736
Loc: Rural Southeast Arizona
Like most of the folks that hike the AZ Trail, I use the USGS maps for the area. For planning, I prefer the 1:125,0000 scale and if I feel the need for more detail I will get the 7.5' sheets. Map expenses can mount up quickly if you get complete coverage of 300 miles of trail in the 7.5' maps; that is why I prefer those that cover a larger area. You can easily hike across a 7.5' map in less than a day. Here is the USGS map website, check it out.

usgsstore.usgs.gov

Unless you plan to do mostly cold weather camping, a 0 bag would be more of a liability than an asset. Sleeping, or trying to, in a 0 bag when the temperatures are in the mid 40's is hard. You would be better off buying a 15 bag and wearing clothes in it if it gets too cold if you only anticipate a few 0 days. I have done a lot of mountaineering, both summer and winter, in the western states and have seldom had need for my "Arctic" or 0 bag. On many occasions I have taken it on a trip and, as I lay in it, sweating, wished I had taken my lighter bag.

Buy a bag that will handle most of the conditions you anticipate, not the worst. And remember, sleeping bags come warm, light and cheap: you can choose two of the three in any bag.


Edited by Pika (11/10/11 09:38 AM)
_________________________
May I walk in beauty.

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#157151 - 11/10/11 01:17 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: Pika]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Good to hear from you again Pika!

Thank you for posting the information on USGS. I looked at the USGS website, but am running into the problem of what USGS maps should I get? There are 5 different maps covering Arizona, and I don't know what map covers the beginning of the Arizona trail. Plus, the maps that I was looking at in the store were from the 70s and 80s. I think that might be too outdated for the Arizona Trail to be located on it. Is that something you could help me with?

As far as a sleeping bag goes, I'm going to go with the Phantom 15. With a silk liner, clothes, and a good tent, I'm sure that it would take me to or even below 0. I appreciate your wisdom on that, saved me some sweaty nights! Haha your anecdote on the "choose two out of the three" is incredibly insightful! Haha I laughed out loud in my perfectly silent library. Woops.

EDIT

Just wanted to add a quick update to my map situation. I was doing a bunch of research on Nat Geo maps as well as USGS maps, but couldn't find anything solid. I got the idea to call the local REI to see if they could recommend good maps, and lo and behold, one of the AZT board members works at the store! So, she's going to call me when she gets to the store and help me decide whether to get the official AZT.com map or look elsewhere. Will update with more info when I talk to her.

A quick note to any moderators that drop in. I realize this topic has gotten quite far from the John Muir trail, so if you feel like a renaming is in order, I totally support it. It would be more beneficial to name something more relevant to the AZT for those that are looking to do the AZT in the future. Just a thought.

All the best,
Mark


Edited by MPCWatkins (11/10/11 02:14 PM)
Edit Reason: Added info.
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157158 - 11/10/11 02:50 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
phat Offline
Moderator

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Originally Posted By MPCWatkins

A quick note to any moderators that drop in. I realize this topic has gotten quite far from the John Muir trail, so if you feel like a renaming is in order, I totally support it. It would be more beneficial to name something more relevant to the AZT for those that are looking to do the AZT in the future. Just a thought.


I'm not renaming this - this is a fantastic thread when you asked something, Got the answer I certainly would have given you about traipsing through the high Sierras in the winter, and then got some great advice for something that will probably worth doing for you.

Heck pikas got *me* tempted to think about it.. Winter came too soon for me up here - I spent too much time travelling out of the country.

_________________________
Any fool can be uncomfortable...
My 3 season gear list
Winter list.
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#157160 - 11/10/11 03:36 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
skcreidc Offline
member

Registered: 08/16/10
Posts: 1590
Loc: San Diego CA
MPCWatkins, are your expected travel dates still December 11th, 2011- January 7th, 2012? And you are set on doing the AZT or some portion thereof? If so I will see what I can do. If you can pull together some sort of itinerary, I have a better shot at plugging into some part of it for probably 5 days.


My window is probably going to be between Dec. 16th or 17th thru Jan. 2nd. Like I said, I will have to see what I can do. I should know better in a few days.

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#157169 - 11/10/11 06:58 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: phat]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Well good! If this thread can dissuade others from attempting an ill thought out attempt at the Sierras than I'm happy!

Hey man, the trails big enough for two! You're more than welcome to join me on my hike. Would love to have ya! Check the post below for more info! By the way, where did you travel to that was out of the country?
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157172 - 11/10/11 07:31 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: skcreidc]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Skcreidc,

Yes those are my travel dates. Let me give some more information of the development of maps, then I will talk dates with you.

After talking to Terri, the AZT representative that works at the Tucson REI, I've decided the best way to get maps specifically for the AZT is buying a membership on the trail's website. It offers two things that I couldn't find any where else.

1. The membership includes a guide book that lists water sources and food caches along the trail. It is published by the ones that made the trail, so, specifically for the AZT, it's the most accurate map out. The one downside to this is that you have to print these out yourself, so some laminating will be done on my part.

2. A membership comes with GPS for the ENTIRE trail. While I think it only covers the AZT, I could only find one other source of GPS and that was Nat Geo's $50 GPS of all of Arizona. While that may be better for Arizonian residents, I'm only doing the AZT, thus that's I went with. Plus the membership is $20 cheaper and comes with both GPS and paper guidebook.

So, Skcreidc, now that I have a good map source, I will begin typing my itinerary. I will most likely be done with it at some point this weekend. Too much schoolwork to justify dedicating my time to fun planning at the moment. Weekend will be much more relaxed. It will be up just as soon as I am done with it! I hope you are able to come, especially for 5 days! It would be fun to meet some of the people from the forum(<---This is a sly nudge to Pika and Phat to get out on the trail!)

A question on trail conditions will follow in another post. Trying to break things up so not to make you guys read a novella type post! Haha!
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157175 - 11/10/11 07:44 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
MPCWatkins Offline
member

Registered: 10/23/11
Posts: 40
Loc: Middle Georgia
Wanted to follow up with you guys about the issue of snow on the trail. I was talking to Terri today and she said that she bailed on a trip due to snow. Since bailing would mean a bit more than canceling my last minute weekend trip, I want to know how to prepare for "bailout" conditions.

I'm thinking that the biggest issue of snow will be on top of the mountain passes, and since those are relatively short, I'm leaning towards just slogging through the snow rather than packing in snowshoes for a few days of trail where I might not even need them. What are your guy's thoughts on how to deal with the issue of snow?
_________________________
"Brothers. What we do in life, echos in eternity."
-Maximus Decimus Meridius

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#157189 - 11/10/11 11:48 PM Re: 1 month on the John Muir? [Re: MPCWatkins]
oldranger Offline
member

Registered: 02/23/07
Posts: 1735
Loc: California (southern)
This time of year you can get anything in the way of snow in Arizona. I will never forget the monumental storm of November 16, 1958, which dumped six inches of snow in Tucson. Let's just say there was a whole lot more up in the mountains; the only way you could move at all was on snowshoes or skis. That was extreme, but it looks like storms are cranking up now. We are getting a storm tomorrow (So. Cal) and I under stand another is scheduled for the 19th. These will hit Arizona about a day later. I would really pay attention to the weather forecast for your area.

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