JMT Day 1: Waterfalls, up & down

At the northern JMT Terminus
At the northern terminus of the JMT

After arriving in Yosemite and setting up my tent in the backpackers campground, it is time for a first walk.

My permit requires me to start tomorrow at Glacier Point high above the Yosemite Valley, hence I will „miss“ the first miles of the „official“ John Muir Trail route from Happy Isles to Nevada Fall.

That’s not really a big „problem“ and I’ve hiked these first miles already in 1995 (as if I had known it back then…) but I’m here and a have a complete afternoon at hand – so a short warm-up hike is the logical thing to do.

From the backpackers campground I walk over to Happy Isles, the official starting point of the JMT. I find it a bit „shocking“ that first mile of the trail (up to the bridge crossing the Merced River) is paved.

But that’s probably due to the fact that Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall make such a nice hike: up via the JMT and down on the Mist Trail. Lots of day hikers are doing the round trip. I’m not going to be alone here, but I didn’t expect solitude in the beginning of the trail anyway.

The first meters of the JMT are paved! Let's hope that's going to change soon...
The first meters of the JMT are paved! Let’s hope that’s going to change soon…
I will soon see more of these on the trail: switchbacks
I will soon see more of these on the trail: switchbacks

Of course I have to take a picture with the sign saying Mount Whitney via John Muir Trail 211 miles / 340 km. Sounds impressive, huh? 🙂

Wow, so this is it! After all those months here I am. This trail will now be my „home“ for about the next three weeks.

John Muir Trail sign - soooo excited to finally be on the trail
John Muir Trail sign – soooo excited to finally be on the trail
The first glimpse of Nevada Fall. Mt Broderick and Liberty Cap on the left
The first glimpse of Nevada Fall. Mt Broderick and Liberty Cap on the left

The JMT bypasses the lower Vernal Fall and heads directly for Nevada Fall, after a climb of 600 meters (2000 feet) I reach the impressive waterfall. Since this is a dry year it has significantly less water than what I remember from my visit in 1995, back then there was no swimming in the river above the fall, people would have been swept over the edge immediately.

Nevada Fall
Nevada Fall
Low water levels allow swimming on top of Nevada Fall
Low water levels allow swimming on top of Nevada Fall
Looking down Nevada Fall
Looking down Nevada Fall

After a break I leave the John Muir Trail for today and start my descent via the Mist Trail. It is slightly more difficult (steeper and sometimes narrower) but still no big deal.

Nevada Fall, seen from the Mist Trail
Nevada Fall, seen from the Mist Trail

At Emerald Pool I’m tempted to stick my feet into the water or even have a swim, but I guess there will be plenty of opportunities on the trail in less crowded places, so I continue down to Vernal Fall.

Emerald Pool and a big water slide
Emerald Pool and a big water slide
On top of Vernal Fall
On top of Vernal Fall
Vernal Fall
Vernal Fall

After reaching Happy Isles again I take the shuttle bus to the Yosemite Grill and have a burger – the last food I’ll be able to buy until Tuolumne Meadows…

Back at the campsite Kevin (the Belgian guy with whom I’ll start at Glacier Point tomorrow) and I have a nice chat with our „tent-neighbours“ Nick and Shenan, a father-and-daughter team who plan to finish the JMT in 25 days. Very likely we’ll meet them tomorrow again at the campsite at Little Yosemite Valley.

Distance hiked on JMT: 3.6 mi / 5.8 km
Distance hiked off JMT: 4.4 mi / 7.1 km
Elevation gained: 2000 feet / 600 meters
Time spent hiking (including breaks): 4:05 h

Map of Day 1 (red = JMT, blue = other trails)

Campground - Happy Isles - Nevada Fall - Vernal Fall - Happy Isles
Backpackers Campground – Happy Isles – Nevada Fall – Vernal Fall – Happy Isles
  Day 1 >>> Day 2: Back to square one >>>


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