The beginning or the end?
JMT Overview: The JMT is a long distance trail that runs 211 miles between the summit of Mt. Whitney in Sequoia National Park to Happy Isles in Yosemite. The JMT is considered one of the premier hiking trails in North America as it passes some of the highest peaks and most pristine lakes and rivers.
Although the trail can be hiked either northbound or southbound, the following description will describe the segment from Mt. Whitney to Forester Pass as it is hiked northbound. The Sequoia NP Segment is arguably one of the most challenging sections of the entire JMT as it contains the two highest points on the entire trail: Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet and Forester Pass at 13,153 feet. Despite the segment length of only 20.6 miles, one must still take into account the nearly 11 mile hike between Whitney Portal and the summit of Mt. Whitney that is not "officially" considered part of the JMT.
Warning: Anyone planning to hike the JMT, either in full or part, should be aware of the risks associated with hiking a long distance trail and make adequate preparations. From Whitney Portal to Tuolumne Meadows, the JMT runs almost 200 miles without crossing a paved roadway. Although the trail passes close to several ranger stations along its route, the cabins are not always staffed and rangers could be out on patrol for days or weeks at a time. Cell phone service is almost non-existent along the route and can not be counted on should an emergency arise. The trail runs between 4,000 and 14,000 feet, and can be subject to rain, hail, or snow during almost any month.
Hike: From the summit of Mt. Whitney, head down trail for 1.9 miles to the Crabtree Ranger Station & Mt Whitney Trail Junction. At this junction you will turn west towards Crabtree Ranger Station and follow a steep series of switchbacks that will descend into the basin that contains Hitchcock Lakes & the ever popular Guitar Lake. As you reach the base of the switchbacks, the trail will begin to curve its way northwest, passing Guitar Lake and crossing Whitney Creek.
Past Whitney Creek, the trail will climb a small rise before it begins another gradual descent towards the Crabtree Ranger Station. Just over a mile past Guitar Lake you will reach scenic Timberline Lake where camping is currently prohibited. From here the trail will generally parallel Whitney Creek, which is sometimes visible running near the trail and other times only audible through the trees. Approximately 1.3 miles past Timberline Lake, you will pass a marked junction to the Crabtree Ranger Station, which can be reached by taking a .2 mile detour south from the JMT.
Past the Crabtree junction, the trail will turn southwest for .8 miles as it works its way to a junction with the PCT. Although the PCT is a major trail, the marker does not actually make any reference to it. Instead, the signage indicates that Forester Pass is 12.8 miles to your north and Rock Creek is 6.3 miles to your south. Here you will turn north toward Forester Pass.
As you work your way north along the PCT, you will soon pass Sandy Meadow on your left, the first of many meadows that line the JMT. After passing the meadow, the trail will make a short, moderate ascent to a small saddle that offers decent views to the north. Continuing past the saddle, the trail will descend just under 600 feet in 1.7 miles as it drops to an intersection with Junction Meadow & Kern Hot Springs.
Past the marker for Junction Meadow & Kern Hot Springs, the trail will begin to gain elevation as it works its way towards Bighorn Plateau. As you climb, the trail will cross Wright Creek then slowly begin to rise above timberline. Your arrival at Bighorn Plateau is marked by a shallow unnamed lake on the west side of the trail and expansive views to your north, west, and south.
Beyond Bighorn Plateau, the trail will begin to drop in elevation as it works its way towards Tyndall Creek. The trail hugs the west side of the hillside as it quickly drops into a thickly forested area. Just over 1.5 miles past Bighorn Plateau you will reach an intersection that points the way to the Tyndall Creek Ranger Station, .6 miles to the southwest. Continuing north past this junction you will quickly arrive at another intersection for Shepherd Pass, followed by your arrival at the Tyndall Creek crossing.
Beyond the Tyndall Creek crossing, the trail will pass the turnoff to Lake S. America & the Kern River as it begins its steady uphill climb towards Forester Pass. Keep in mind if you are running out of daylight that it is a long 4.7 miles from the Lake S. America junction to the top of Forester Pass. The closer you get to the pass, the worse your camping options become.
As you approach Forester Pass, you will work your way through a lake filled basin before encountering the final switchbacks. Once you begin the switchbacks, you will have just less than a mile before you reach the top of Forester Pass. Pay attention as you climb, approximately .2 miles into the switchbacks you will encounter a metal plaque installed in the rocks on your right in honor of Donald I. Downs. According to the plaque, Donald was engaged in trail construction when he was killed during an accident on September 2nd, 1930.
The remainder of the switchbacks go by quickly, with the views to your south opening up with every turn. The trail soon arrives at the top of Forester Pass, where there is just enough room for a sign that indicates you are leaving Sequoia NP & entering Kings Canyon NP.
Water Sources: Water is plentiful on this segment of the JMT. The longest waterless stretch you will encounter is between Guitar Lake and Trail Camp: a distance of 8.4 miles if your include the summit of Mt. Whitney or 4.7 if you choose to skip the summit. Although there are some springs & flowing water up to switchback #25 above Trail Camp, I have heard stories of people urinating & vomiting along the switchbacks and would personally avoid filtering this water.
Camping: Guitar Lake is the last water source before Mt. Whitney for southbound hikers, as such it is an extremely popular camping area. If you wish to avoid the crowds, you may be able to find some small sites by hiking off trail to one of the small lakelets that abound just south of Guitar Lake.
Your last camping on the south side of Forester Pass is immediately before the switchbacks in the barren rocky area on the west side of the trail, coordinates: 36.6891 & -118.376383. If you choose to push beyond the pass with fading light, there are some poor sites at the outlet to lake 12,248 1.2 miles north of Forester Pass.
Check out the Official Route.
This is a difficult hike. It would be insane to attempt this entire hike without prior experience hiking.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.