Published on July 3rd, 2014 | by tanya0
Discovering the Magic of the John Muir Trail
The start of summer brings many things—the smell of burgers cooking on the grill, late nights chasing fireflies, and the itch to go explore some new trails. With 220 miles of breathtaking scenery and unforgettable hikes, the John Muir Trail is the perfect place to plan a summer getaway. We are excited to share with you fellow hiker Lucy Fitz Gibbon’s wonderful review of Elizabeth Wenk’s John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America’s Most Famous Trail (5th edition).
Elizabeth Wenk’s John Muir Trail: The Essential Guide to Hiking America’s Most Famous Trail (5th edition) is not only an invaluable resource in exploring this beautiful section of the Sierra Nevada, but a thoroughly enjoyable read as well. This exhaustively-researched book combines practical details about trail conditions, campsites, and permits with the fascinating human and geological history of the JMT. Ms. Wenk’s thoughtful prose provides insights to even the most seasoned backpacker, and her lifetime of experience both as an explorer and a scientist is abundantly clear in these pages. It is evident from the beginning that Wenk’s book seeks to help the reader enjoy the many beauties of the Sierras much as Muir would have intended, rather than seeing the journey as a 220 mile checklist. Consequently her descriptions of the trail not only provide practical information about water availability and trail conditions, but also explain the changing geological landscape and how it affects the similarly varied flora and fauna. Ms. Wenk writes thoughtfully and carefully about the many ecological challenges facing this well-trafficked trail, explaining the importance of packing out one’s toilet paper, the risk of soap to amphibians, and taking a very sensible (in my opinion) stance on the issue of water purification. As the book is designed as a travel companion, whatever Ms. Wenk does not describe in detail is augmented by resources for further exploration, both within the text and also in a bibliography found in the appendixes.
The updates in this version reflect the rapid cultural and ecological changes we face along the trail today. There are increased resources for e-media savvy travelers (with links to electronic maps and information about charging cameras and other electronic devices) and for those using GPS and emergency beacons. The climate and changing conditions in the Sierras also play into these updates, particularly the severe 2011 windstorm that felled countless trees and made some drastic changes along the trail, but also discussions of the disappearance of glaciers and even animal behavior. Ms. Wenk decided to focus this book solely on the vastly more popular north to south route, with additional online resources for those traveling in the opposite direction. Though this may not be as welcome to those seeking to explore the trail from south to north, it is a sensible decision on her part that will save valuable weight in packs. One of my favorite new features is the Peak Panorama, which appears throughout the trail description section of the book. At each major pass, there is a labeled photograph of the surrounding peaks integrated into the text, allowing travelers to accurately identify the mountains around them.
There are also brand new, beautifully detailed topographical maps, reflecting six years of GPS data collected by Ms. Wenk and a few colleagues, which have also provided her with the data to plot campsites and junctions, and to create an updated mileage table. Ms. Wenk is always careful to point out discrepancies and inaccuracies in the USGS maps to help those using both resources. Those already familiar with the JMT may be excited to explore the lateral trail table and suggestions for side trips, also updated and revised for this new edition.
All in all, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the John Muir Trail, novices and experienced hikers alike—even those familiar with a past edition. Reading it has left my feet itching for my hiking boots and dreaming of the sweet smell of the Jeffrey pine. – Lucy Fitz Gibbon