I set off from the Backpackers campground at 6.15am (first light around 6.00am) and took the ten minute walk to the beginning of the trail, expecting to be largely alone, in fact there were lots of walkers up and around and setting off for the ascent of Half Dome.
Almost without exception the path of the JMT is well presented, and in Yosemite it's wide and well travelled, travelling East you gain height through the forested granite catching glimpses of Nevada Falls as the sun rises ahead. The ascent is gradual which makes for easy walking and after a few hours you cross the top of the falls and continue on to Half Dome junction.
The JMT trail is coincident with the tourist route up Half Dome until 'Half Dome Junction' where the trails split. My guidebook suggests making the ascent of Half Dome then doubling back to the junction before camping a bit further on up the trail. In fact on the day I arrived the Half Dome route was closed due to a fatality the previous evening and it would only open again when the body was found - I therefore skipped it and headed on to the end of guidebook 'Day 2' at Sunrise High Sierra Camp.
The route continues up from Half Dome junction, breaking out of the woodland now and again to reveal magnificent views across the valley, eventually levelling off on the approach to a wide, flat meadow. A short distance across this, on the left, is Sunrise Hgh Sierra camp, a collection of 'tent cabins' and a rocky area set aside for backpackers to camp.
The decision not to wait for Half Dome to 'open' resulted in a long day of ascent, 13.5 miles, 10 hours and 5750ft of ascent. I arrived at the camp about 4.15pm with two companions I had met on the way up.
The evening was characterised by mosquitos! I had packed a headnet which became invaluable in the early stages of the trip, the Americans were also armed with DEET preparations which I later procured for myself in an effort to stem the onslaught. Wearing thin lightweight clothing was no protection and by Day 2 I was covered in bites, especially on my face, hands and legs.
The heat of the day gave way to the cool of the night and it was dark by 8.30, and I was asleep shortly after.
The next day I was on the trail by 6.30am, predominantly downhill today the walking was very pleasant - predominantly through woodland. Less than an hour out from camp there are superb views across to Cathedral Peak and Columbia Finger before the descent to Tuolumne Meadows begins.
You don't have to backpack this route - there are organisations that arrange for supplies to be taken ahead so that allyou need is a small daypack. The favoured method of transporting goods olong the trail is by mule, and I passed a number fo mule trains on my journey south.
I arrived at Tuolumne Meadows around 11.00am, this is the first and last road to be encoutered on the trail, the guidebook points to a Post Office, Shop, Restuarant and other facilities, it doesn't mention that these are all contained within one TENT! - I stopped for a soft drink then headed off up Lyell Canyon - a few hours of level walking along a the right bank of the river and I arrived at a place to camp.
With your wilderness pass you can camp virtually anywhere along the route, but there are also recognised campgrounds where people generally congregate - its up to you whether you want to use these or avoid them. I was about a mile short of the first regular camping place and decided to stop, firstly I'd found an excellent place, and secondly I was tiring - it was about 4pm.
The campsite had attracted me because there was a slight breeze that would keep the mosquitos at bay, which it did when it was blowing but not when it didn't! I managed to get a meal cooked then retired to the tent, relaxed with my iPod and settled down for the night - elevation 8540ft.
Woke at 3.30 am by shouting and banging of pots from up the valley, this went on for over an hour.
The next morning I had the opportunity to quiz the campers up the valley, they had lost touch with one of their party who had one of the 'Bear Barrels', this meant they couldn’t get all their food stored into their remaining one – so they’d hung the excess food from a tree. A bear turned up to claim the food and they had to chase it away – which took a long time.
Its now mandatory to carry bear proof food containers (Bear Barrels) along the JMT, previous practice of hanging food no longer works, bears are wise to it and are able to obtain the food protected in this way - as these campers found out.
The Rangers would say ‘I told you so’ and they take a dim view of such incidents. The onus is on the camper to ensure a bear does not successfully get their food, if a bear is successful it will try again and the Rangers will eventually shoot it out of necessity – ‘protect your food and save a bear’ is the mantra at Yosemite valley.
I climbed steadily out of the canyon up to Donohue Pass - the first of the passes on the JMT. It was a relief to get above the treeline - the views back down Lyell Canyon were exceptional. Almost at the top there was a bit of snow to be negotiated - it was soft and raltively level - so no problem. Met up with three others who would be my companions over the next few days.
Across the pass the trail continues through some spectacular scenery to Thousand Island Lake. Clear skies and high temperatures were taking their toll - at lunchtime we stopped by a fast flowing stream and cooled down. I was establishing my hydration routine, constantly sipping water from my 2L bladder supplemented by half a litre of Nuun electrolyte at lunchtime and just after the evening halt.
Although the trail is hot and dusty water is plentiful, with little need to carry more than a litre and a half at any one time. I was feeling drained so cooked up some flavoured cous cous for lunch - it was good move - cous cous is the ideal food for backpacking - I only wish I liked it!
My companions were determned to reach Reds Meadow by the following day and pushed on in the hot sun. By the time we reached Garnett Lake I was ready to stop again, but after a short rest we ventured on round the xxxern end and across the outlet to the soutehrn shore. There was some camping here but most positions were taken so we ventured up the other side, eventually stopping a few miles short of Shadow Lake.
The mosquito count was relatively low and we enjoyed a relaxed meal and examined the differences between US and UK cultures!
Managed to get a cell phone signal for the first time on the trail - spent quite a while on the phone, set off arond 7.30am. The walking today was mainly forest trail. Just before Reds Meadow we passed by the Devil's Postpile - naturally occuring exposed basalt columns are an impressive sight.
Arrived at Reds Meadow around 1pm, shunned a beer but tucked into salad and a burger - regretted it instantly - I obviously wasn't ready for modern convenience food and hit the trail quickly after saying goodbye to my companions who were off home from Reds.
Reds is a 'guidebook overnight' and/or a re-supply station - but I used it as neither, I hadn't been on the trail long enough to appreciate it. The guidebook sugegsted 9 days to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR), but I knew I could get some food on the way, so I started with food for 6 days. I had saved a day by missing Half Dome and was averaging about 1.5 guidebook days for every actual days walk, so it looked like I wasn't going to need to supplement the food I had.
After leaving Reds the trail threads through a fire-decimated area before disappearing once again into thick woodland. I finally arrived at Deer Crossing at 6pm, its an inconspicuous river crossing in thick woodland and when I arrived it was raining. The tent went up very quickly, I grabbed the water I needed and I did everything from inside the tent, ate, drank, washed, treated my feet, listened to music and fell asleep.