This winter, there has been much discussion in the Eastern Sierra community about John Muir Trail permit administration.
Background: There is a long-standing agreement between national parks and national forests for local wilderness permits in the Sierra Nevada region (Inyo National Forest, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Sierra National Forest, and Yosemite National Park). This agreement means that these national parks and forests will accept hikers with a permit issued by another of these agencies where the trip begins, and a permit is valid if the trip itinerary consists of continuous wilderness travel. The four agencies have agreed to apply a consistent definition of “continuous wilderness travel.”
Exiting to resupply was never part of a locally issued wilderness permit. This includes a JMT permit.
However, in the past, Inyo National Forest trail rangers would make an exception to allow resupply. In recent years, it has been an accepted practice for a hiker to leave the trail even although it has never been a term of the wilderness permit.
Wilderness rangers have been documenting trail use, and there has been increasing misuse of permits.
Example: People have been leaving the trail for extended periods for a variety of reasons not related to resupply: waiting for snow to melt or water crossings to subside, to heal an injury, attend to a personal matter, and myriad other reasons. They then return to the trail where they left off but well past when they were “permitted” to be traveling through the area. These misuses are well beyond the spirit of exiting for a resupply then returning within a day or two to resume the hike.
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When hiking the John Muir Trail or Pacific Crest Trail, the longest part of the trail without an on-trail resupply area is from the northern boundary of Kings Canyon National Park through the southern boundary of Sequoia National Park. Last year, the Kearsarge Pass trail, which exits the JMT/PCT in Kings Canyon to head east into Inyo National Forest toward Independence — the closest community to the trail in this area — had four times the traffic of previous years, greatly exceeding the quota mandated to manage impacts at Kearsarge.
Inyo National Forest, as well as neighboring communities that provide resupply services, are working toward addressing these resource impacts and wilderness management issues.
Concern: Local businesses that provide resupply services, the John Muir Trail communities, and many others have expressed concern for loss of business and experience if resupply was restricted or not allowed.d
Solution: Inyo National Forest representatives want to be responsive to the neighboring communities, as well as the experiences that people seek in the Sierra Nevada. They also want to be good partners with the neighboring public lands administrators and help address the collective concern for managing an increasingly popular and busy trail corridor.
“The Inyo will continue to allow exit for resupply for JMT and other local permits with a long-distance hike,” said Tammy Randall-Parker, Forest Supervisor for the Inyo National Forest. “However, we are asking our community, both locally and in the JMT community, to adhere to the spirit of a resupply and to offer constructive solutions that help us manage these wilderness areas.”
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The Inyo National Forest will be reaching out to its partners, stakeholders, and interested public over the upcoming year to define what resupply looks like in the Sierra Nevada region.
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Mount Williamson Motel and Base Camp
This lodging facility in Independence, California, has grown a successful business by providing transportation from Onion Valley (Kearsarge Pass trailhead) to the motel in Independence (15 miles), accepting resupply buckets via mail and storing them for through-hikers, luggage storage, bear canister rental, laundry facilities, and other services for hikers. Of course, local businesses that cater to Sierra hikers are concerned about the U.S. Forest Service’s new attention toward long-distance hikers’ wilderness permits.
Here is what Mount Williamson Motel and Basecamp has posted on its website:
You can count on us for your resupply needs this summer.
There have been some recent wording changes on the Forest Service website with respect to JMT travel. The wording seems to indicate that leaving the wilderness at any time causes your wilderness permit to be voided, and that a new permit would be required to re-enter the wilderness. Taken literally, this poorly worded sentence would mean that you must walk from Yosemite Valley to Whitney Portal without exiting the wilderness. That is obviously not the intent of the wording change, because that would eliminate all but the hardy few who can make the ~220-mile trek without a resupply (or those who can get their friends to bring their resupplies to them in the backcountry).
We are in the process of contacting officials in the US Forest Service to get official, non-ambiguous documentation on their policy. Until we have this in our hands, it is futile to speculate about it. It is possible that absolutely nothing has changed other than some words on a webpage. This seems to be confirmed by a recent posting by the Inyo NF on their FB page. Read about it here.
One thing certainly has not changed, and that is our commitment to make your resupply experience as hassle-free, comfortable, and enjoyable as ever! Without risk, you can reserve your resupply package now.
If you have already attained your JMT reservation, congratulations! As a precautionary measure, we suggest that you reserve a second permit that begins in Onion Valley on the day you plan to return to the trail. The exit trail doesn’t really matter, but it may be best not to attempt to reserve an Onion Valley to Whitney Portal permit because those are very hard to get. If you are North-bound, you’ll need a hiking partner to get the reservation, because you can’t have two trips with overlapping timelines. Once you are back on the JMT, your original permit is perfectly valid as long as you aren’t in the wilderness beyond your exit date.
We will provide transportation to the Lone Pine wilderness permit office at no extra charge for those who are spending at least one night with us and who have a wilderness reservation.
If you have questions, call us at +1 760 878-2121, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org