The Quest Survives

On August 18, 2016, I began what I hoped would be a 21-day thru-hike of the John Muir Trail (JMT) totaling some 245 miles without resupply, or at the least, I would do the final 43-mile section of my 40-some-year quest to finish the JMT.

I started at Horseshoe Meadow (10,000 ft elevation) with a heavy pack, but the altitude didn’t affect me too much and I was moving well. On the 4th day, I summited Mt. Whitney (14,505 ft elevation; highest peak in the lower 48 states) from the west side. I’d done it before from the east side, so this was a new route for me. It felt good to make the summit with surprisingly little effort.


Summit of Mt. Whitney (Red John and Steve from MN made a flag)

The 5th day seemed long and hard, although I rested for a couple of hours at midday waiting in a valley bottom for an thunder storm to pass by. I hiked into the late evening, and when I slid into my sleeping bag, I noticed a sore spot on the front of my right shin. Little did I know, it was the start of shin splints, which I’d never experienced.

On day 6, my shin hurt with every step as I hobbled over the highest pass on the JMT. At 13,153 feet, Forrester Pass is high and steep, and although I was moving, I needed to stop at every stream crossing to soak and numb my shin in the near-freezing water. On the way down the other side (going down was more painful), some friendly hikers gave me two 800-mg ibuprofen tablets. Half of one, plus more freezing water and leaning heavily on my trekking poles, helped me finish the 10-mile day, but I was beat and discouraged from the pain.


Soaking my leg in near-freezing lake water

I decided to make day 7 a short, easy day to let my leg rest, but by lunchtime, I decided that I needed to get out and sent Liz a satellite message to please come and pick me up. With the aid of cold water, trekking poles, and drugs, I could move, so I decided that I needed to move while I could. I spent the rest of the day hobbling over several more miles.

The next day, the 8th and last day, I hiked over Kearsarge Pass, a relatively easy pass at only 11,709 feet elevation, and down to the Onion Valley Trailhead (9,185 ft). Liz arrived shortly before I arrived at the trailhead, and it was quite a sight to come around a corner on the trail and see her coming up with an empty backpack to help me carry the load the rest of the way down.


Liz coming up the trail!

So although I hiked some 70 miles, I left 12 miles — only 12 of 211 — of the JMT undone. I came so close to finishing the quest that I started in 1973. Maybe it is good to leave a quest incomplete: now I have something to look forward to next year.


Done: Onion Valley Trailhead

After thoughts: Five days post hike: the shin is still unhappy but I can walk more-or-less normally. After about two weeks, my shin was more-or-less back to normal. Five months later, I’ve done a lot of hard hiking, but I not had any problem with the shin.


Results of the 2016 Trip relative to the Previous Hikes



  1. Sue Bright · August 30, 2016

    So sorry it turned out this way for you Jim. I’ve no doubt you’ll finish it someday soon. You’re still our hero!


  2. Pingback: Working on the Bucket List — John Muir Trail 2016 | birdandhike

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