There is really only one way to treat elevation sickness … you need to get to lower elevation.
We started our John Muir Trail (JMT) at Horseshoe Meadows near Lone Pine. The drive up was amazing taking us past part of the Alabama Hills and then up 6300 feet in elevation to 9950 feet. The views of the valley were spectacular.
From there we accessed the Cottonwoods Pass trailhead. Instead of staying at Horseshoe Meadows for a night of acclimatization we decided to head up to Chicken Spring Lake for a short afternoon hike of 4 miles … up to elevation of 11,240.
The First Three Days Are The Toughest
For the first three days you are working on routine, figuring on how to set up/take down camp and carrying your heaviest pack weight. Add to this a (un) healthy dose of altitude sickness and in spite of fabulous scenery you begin to question your sanity.
The second day we headed to Rock Lake elevation 9820 and the third day to Crabtree Meadow at elevation 10320.
Here we were at the beginning of the famed West Coast Trail in June 1999 for our first ever backpacking trip. The experts say you shouldn’t pick the West Coast Trail for your first backpacking experience … ha, what do they know. We’d updated our last will and testament, told our kids we loved them, and packed everything except the kitchen sink to make room for the scrabble game and off we trekked.
The scrabble game is no lie, it’s tucked up at the top of my pack and we actually played until a seagull on a flyby mission took care of that matter. It’s the last time we took the scrabble game.
Since then we’ve cut our pack weight close to half . I aim for a base weight, before food, of 9100 grams/20 pounds for myself and try not to let Doris carry much more than 6800 grams/15 pounds total.
When coaching managers I try to get them to think of the one action they can take which will get them furthest towards their goals. In backpacking there are the big four biggies that will get you the furthest toward a manageable pack weight.
For the John Muir Trail I will be using an Osprey Volt 60 (1720 grams) and Doris will be using an Osprey Ace 50 (1440 grams). Actually these are always the packs we use. The company stands behind their Almighty Guarantee… we’ve had to use it when a mouse chewed through the mesh.
Our pick for a tent is the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 (1485 grams complete with footprint). I love the fact that you can set up the footprint, poles and rainfly as an independent quick shelter. It lets you set up/take down the tent body under the shelter keeping both the tent body and rest of your gear dry.
For the JMT we will be using the roomier Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3 … same features.
Sleeping Bag and Sleeping Pad
The last two work together. My usual sleep system is a Sierra Designs Quilt (800 grams) paired with a Neoair Xtherm (567 grams). A quilt gives me room to move, easy to get in and out for night stargazing … or other important matters. It’s performed well down to minus 2 Celsius.
For the JMT we are going to try a Sierra Designs Duo sleeping bag. Doris gets cold faster than I do so we’re going to follow Biblical principles that two can sleep warmer than one.
After saving weight with the four biggies … cut off all the tags on your clothes, bags, etc.
Enough of theory. Our actual full pack weights for the JMT Leg 1 are …
Victor – 33 pounds. Doris – 20 pounds
Not bad … small adjustments required to redistribute weight to get a couple of pounds off Doris.
“How old do you think I am?” he said I said, well, I don’t know He said, “I turned 65 about 11 months ago.” I was sittin’ in Miami pourin’ blended whiskey down When this old gray black gentleman was cleanin’ up the lounge There wasn’t anyone around ‘cept this old man and me The guy who ran the bar was watchin’ “Ironsides” on TV Uninvited, he sat down and opened up his mind On old dogs and children and watermelon wine.
The “rocks” were just out of town in the coulee. I spent hours as a young boy on the “rocks” carving initials in the sandstone, then wandering around the coulee eventually making my way down to Kneehill Creek to investigate the goings on of its meanderings. Perhaps this is where my love of hiking and backpacking began.
Why do I spend multiple days at a time in a tent, sleeping on the ground, walking along trails that have no purpose? It’s a good question.