Take a Trek

JMT Prelude

Merced, CA to Yosemite National Park

Merced, a city in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California, is a miserably humid place for someone that just arrived from the Green Mountains of Vermont. I’m sweating profusely beneath the weight of my pack, lurking my way towards an Amtrak station, thinking about the JMT wilderness permit that I don’t have in my possession. In order to access the JMT from the Happy Isles Portal in Yosemite National Park, the official starting point of the trail, you must have the correct paperwork. The difficult thing about snatching one of these permits is a matter of supply and demand. Since hiking out of Happy Isles, into the backcountry of Yosemite, is such a popular endeavor, foot traffic is limited. you need to apply for the right to do so about 24 weeks in advance. In case math isn’t your strong suit, that’s six months or half of a year. That’s a long time. While basic math is something that I excel at, planning ahead is a different story. I didn’t actually commit to doing this trip until five or six weeks ago. At the moment, I’m less than 24 hours away from beginning a trail that I legally can’t step foot onto.

I arrive at the Amtrak station and a shirtless man, drinking a can of Bud Light, eagerly greets me. “You hiking that trail? The Muir Trail?” he slurs, while gesturing towards my backpack. “Yeah, that’s the plan, anyway,” I reply. “Well, God damn it, there’s another one of you inside!” I consider California’s open canister laws, before the idea of meeting another JMT hiker overwhelms me. I thank the shirtless Bud Light mascot and give him a thumbs-up, as I head into the station.

I easily identify the girl that’s “one of me,” and take a seat next to her. I learn that she’s doing a five-day stint on the JMT, and ask for advice about finding a wilderness permit. She tells me that I might be able to get a day-of permit, if I make my way to the office at the crack of dawn, or I can get an entry permit for Tuolumne Meadow. From Tuolumne, I would hike north to Yosemite, then take a bus back to the point that I started from, and finish the rest of the trail going South. They’re unfavorable options, but it’s nice to know that I’m not completely screwed. Abruptly, a man sitting on a bench in the corner of the room yells to me: “Hey! You need a permit for Happy Isles? I’ve got an extra!” Dressed from head to toe in the typical beige drab of backpackers in the High Sierra, he has a smile that spreads from one ear to the other. My new favorite person is gesturing me towards him, and I’m quick comply. Ladd and his friend Derek are also beginning their JMT thru-hike on the fourth of July. Originally, there was a third member of their party, but he had to back out at the last minute. Ladd and Derek brought the extra permit with them, so they could help someone who is in my exact predicament. Ladd and Derek are awesome.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley

We arrive in Yosemite Valley, the permit is transferred into my name, and the three of us make our way to the designated backpacker campground that is only a mile or so from the northern terminus of the JMT. Here, we mingle with others that’ll be venturing into the backcountry tomorrow morning, including a young lady named Ruby. The four of us sip whiskey, drink beers, and marvel about being on the brink of what we know is going to be an unforgettable adventure.

Ruby, Ladd, and Derek

Ruby, Ladd, and Derek