If you're truly looking for solitude on the JMT, the time to come is winter, when snowfall and chilly temperatures -- which often drop below freezing -- deter many would-be hikers. Sunny but crisp days are interspersed with heavy snowfall from December through March, but expect rain and snow to begin in October and last as late as April.
Whether you love snow or are just bent on celebrating Christmas on Mount Whitney, consider the following tips before you pack up for your winter on the JMT:
- Bring emergency equipment, such as a whistle, emergency blanket, flashlight, and extra batteries. Yosemite and other areas of the JMT are known for their sudden snowstorms; if you get stuck, these items can keep you alive.
- Remember that your pace may be slower than it would in warm weather, so don't push beyond your limits.
- Plan ahead! Snowfall in the Sierras is measured by a unique system of pillow-like sensors that weigh the snow at various points throughout the mountains. Hikers can access this data through the California Snow Survey Page to better plan for hiking conditions [sources: National Park Service, Pacific Crest Trail Association].
There are no truly bad seasons to hike the JMT, but prospective hikers need only to read a few Jack London stories to fully understand the import of winter preparedness on a long excursion like this. First-timers may be better off -- not to mention safer -- hiking in summer.
If you love the California Sierras, there's plenty more to learn about the John Muir Trail. Explore lots more information about the trail -- and Muir himself -- on the next page.