Navigating one of five snowfields on the JMT

This fall, we’re holding a series of Tuesday evening Pints & Paths programs with We spend the the first part of the evening socializing and enjoying a pour from Big Boss Brewing Co. Then, we help you launch the epic hike of your dreams by hearing a hiker who has done one (sometimes more) of the nation’s long trails (see below for a rundown of trails and presenters). In this space, we recap the hiker’s presentation, focusing on particularly pertinent (and entertaining) advice. Today: Marya McNeish on her recently completed (September 2017) thru-hike of the John Muir Trail.

Marya, left, and Dinnie

The trail John Muir Trail, California

The hiker Marya McNeish

Her story (briefly) Marya McNeish has been backpacking since her youth. But until August 23rd of this year, the longest trip she’d taken was 5 days. On the 23rd, however, she and longtime friend Dinnie set off down the trail from Lyell Canyon in Yosemite National Park for a 25-day adventure on the John Muir Trail. In preparation, she and Dinnie backpacked in Maine last year, the biggest benefit of which was trimming about 10 pounds from her pack, from 32 pounds (not including food and water) to 20-22 pounds (ditto). Below are 10 things we gleaned from Marya’s presentation.

10 things we learned from Marya about the JMT and prepping for a long hike

1. Low sodium diet? “As my friend Dinnie said, ‘If you think you have enough salt, you don’t.’ I’d use more salt next time.” (How much they had doesn’t really matter; you just need more.)

2. Laundry? Who knew you could do laundry on the trail. With her zip-lock laundry bag, Marya added a dab of biodegradable soap to clean water, zipped it tight, then agitated away. “I did laundry about every three days,” she said.

3. Sleeping bag? Though daytime highs reached 80, it often dropped into the 20s at night. She took a down-filled Big Agnes bag rated to 20 degrees — and stayed warm at night.

4. Stream crossings: There’s a bit of fear associated with High Sierra stream crossings fed by snowmelt from above. According to Marya: “We have five crossings. None were above the knee.”

5. And snowfields? Again, because the trail spends time at high altitude where snow may be lingering into summer: “We crossed five snowfields, none were were than 15 steps across.” And no crampons or Yaktrax were needed.

6. Prepared for the unprepared: Marya and Dinnie ran into 68-year-old Linda, who told them, “All my friends retired and went to Europe. I decided to start hiking again.” That was an opportune decision for a trail runner Linda ran into at high altitude, who was unprepared for a cold rain and whose progress was stopped by an electrical storm. The woman was dressed in running shorts and a top, nothing more, and was teetering on hypothermia. Linda insisted the runner use her sleeping bag, where she eventually stopped shivering and spent the night. “I can’t say for sure that she saved that woman’s life,” says Marya, “but there’s a good chance she did.”

7. Not one to skirt the rules (for good reason): A bear canister was required on the trail. One hiker said all you needed to do was buy the smallest canister available, which couldn’t hold enough food for even an overnighter. “You don’t have to worry about the rangers that way,” the hiker told her. Said Marya: “I wasn’t worried about the rangers, I was worried about the bears.”

8. Pace: “We covered 8 to 10 miles a day,” said Mayra. “Most people do 10- to 12-mile days, but we didn’t see any reason to.”

9. Thing you might not think about: Bugs. “We had to wear head nets for five evenings.”

10. The JMT in a nutshell: “Brilliant and grueling, and hard and awesome.


  • “John Muir Trail”: The essential guide to hiking America’s Most Famous Trail,” by Elizabeth Week with Kathy More (Wilderness Press). Includes lots of helpful information, including a variety of GPS coordinates, and separate directions for northbound and southbound hikers. “I’d never done this before, but I tore out and just carried the pages I needed,” says Marya.
  • John Muir Trail Facebook page. A good exchange of information by people on (and off) the trail.
  • Ladies of the JMT Facebook page. Another great resource, says Marya, though it isn’t for everyone … .
  • Inge Aksemit. “I own her Hungry Spork book and found it a useful resource,” says Marya. “She has lots of macro and micro advice. And some specific meals.  And cool tips like buying amazon pill pouches for seasonings and other small things.”
  • Homemade Backpacking Meals, Just Add Water.” Good, basic tips.
  • Permitting: “We had a northbound permit in waiting in case we couldn’t snag a SOBO permit.  Here’s the blog that gave me confidence NOBO would also be excellent. JMT SOBO permitting : “Our permit had us leaving from Lyell Canyon. We had decided SOBO was preferable so said yes tho this didn’t have us leaving from the pure starting point. We’ll go back and do the other 22 miles at some point, maybe.”
  • Maps: “We’re old school, so we carried these waterproof sequential maps via Tom Harrison. We encountered lots of folks using apps, esp Guthook.”
  • Going ultralight: “ is a great place to log your gearlist and have them calculate the weight. The ladies of the JMT facebook page peeps were also gentle and kind about suggesting stuff to ditch.”

Pints & Paths Schedule

September 19 Bartram Trail, Joe Miller

September 26 Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Jerry Barker

October 3 Appalachian Trail, Susan Levy

October 10 Colorado Trail, Kate Rice

October 17 John Muir Trail, Marya McNeish

November 7 Foothills Trail, Scott Hicks, Bill Downey Jr., Bonner Ballinger