Dad, daughter spend start of summer away from civilization
The route features a 45,000-foot elevation gain (amount of ascent) and does not cross a single road, requiring hikers to carry three to six days of food and supplies into the wild. The trail was named for naturalist John Muir, who was a founding member and first president of the Sierra Club.
The John Muir Trail, for the most part, sticks to the High Sierra backcountry and wilderness area. It shares 160 miles of its length with the Pacific Crest Trail. Theodore Solomons had the initial idea for the route, and when the Sierra Club was founded in 1892, he began to advocate for its construction. It took many years, but a grant of $10,000 was secured from the California legislature and construction began in 1915, one year after the death of Muir, who was never alive to see the finished trail that bears his name.
Sterling and Ted Dintersmith left Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley on June 19. As of June 28 they had covered approximately 80 miles and were in Vermillion Valley. At that point there was 140 miles left, including the several high-elevation passes to cross.
The trail’s seven passes in excess of 11,000 feet are Donohue Pass, Muir Pass, Mather Pass, Pinchot Pass, Glen Pass, Forester Pass and Trail Crest.
“The trip so far has been fabulous, with some spectacular mountains, alpine lakes and camping spots,” said Ted. “On our very first day, we came within 10 yards of a big mama bear and two of her cubs. We’ve also encountered mosquitoes almost as big as bears.”
Already, the father-daughter team has had to trudge through rain, hail and snow.
“There are days when this is fabulous beyond words,” said Dintersmith. “And times when Jamestown looks oh-so appealing.”
Dintersmith said he and Sterling in the past have done a few smaller hikes on the Appalachian Trial, the longest being five days and 50 miles.
“But we’re taking on much bigger distances, elevation gains and altitude on this hike,” he said. “Most of the hike is at 10,000 feet of elevation.”
The trip ends with an ascent of Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park. Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. The pair expects they will complete the hike on Thursday, July 11.
Sterling is 15 years old and will be a sophomore at Milton Academy in Massachusetts in the fall. She loves backpacking and the outdoors, she said. Her grandfather died of lung cancer before she was born, and to honor his memory Sterling is using the hike to raise funds for the American Lung Association. Friends and family have been asked to pledge some amount of money per mile, and so far $15 a mile has been pledged, which means $3,300 will be raised when the hike is completed. But Sterling isn’t content. She wants to solicit as much as she can for the cause. (Sterling said interested donors can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about contributing a per-mile pledge to the lung association.)
The young hiker has been keeping a trail journal during the trip, a daunting challenge given the lack of connectivity on the trail. The journal begins with an entry on June 10, which lays out plans and her charitable intentions of the trip. The next few days feature photos and descriptions of some of the equipment that is being used for the hike.
She also updated readers on the team’s arrival in Yosemite.
The June 18 journal entry included the following:
“Tomorrow, we will start the first 6 miles of the trail, and then take a 4-mile round trip detour to climb half dome,” she wrote in her June 18 journal entry. “Well, I’m not sure how high my dad will get, but I hope to climb all the way to the peak of half dome. This morning, we explored Yosemite Valley on bikes and hiked up to Yosemite Falls.”
The journal is silent, as might be expected, for the next 10 days as Sterling and her dad made their way to Vermillion Valley. They took a rest day on June 28. That was the first and last time Sterling would have Internet access.
“So far the trip has had very few negatives other than two days of straight rain and dozens of mosquitoes everywhere you look,” she wrote. “In two days we will be at Muir Trail Ranch, our last glimpse of civilization before the 110- mile, 11-day final stretch to Mount Whitney.”
Back home in Jamestown, Elizabeth Hazard waits for nightly updates from her daughter and husband via satellite phone. Even that contact is limited in an effort to conserve battery power. Hazard said she is naturally worried, because that’s what a good mother does. However, she is thrilled that Ted and Sterling are having such a special father-daughter bonding experience.
“They will remember it for the rest of their lives,” Hazard said.