Hiking the John Muir Trail

In early 2019 I was tremendously lucky to be the recipient of the Tony Balthasar Achievement Award. I had applied in 2018 however the award was granted to two other fantastic Rovers, but I see this as a blessing as it gave me more time to reflect upon my goals.

My goal was to hike the John Muir Trail completely solo over 21 days. The John Muir Trail is a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. From the northern terminus at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and the southern terminus located on the summit of Mount Whitney, the Trail’s official length is 338.6km, however, is often extended due to start and end points, with an elevation gain of approximately 14,000m. For almost all its length, the trail is in the High Sierra back country and wilderness areas. I planned to begin the hike further south for a total of 380km.

I began my trip at Horseshoe Meadows on the 19th of July 2019. I arrived here a full day before my trail permit was active as to acclimatise, eat lots of carbs and sleep as much as possible. I had never before been above 2,000m so the sudden change to 3,000m was sure to impact my body. My first leg was five days, where I covered 80km and had tackled three mountain passes with 10 remaining. My highest mountain pass was in this first leg, where I reached 4000m. I discovered very quickly that the scenery would be endlessly breathtaking, but this was not without working for it – my legs were burning at the end of every day!

After taking two nights to shower, socialise, rest and resupply in a nearby town I took my booked shuttle back to the trailhead. The next section of the hike was met with a lot of snow, wildflowers and mountain passes. I began to feel comfort in my being alone and I really developed a great daily routine and rhythm. In this leg I walked for seven days and managed to shave two days off my planned itinerary as I racked up the kilometers. I arrived at my next resupply at the end of this week – the Vermillion Valley Resort – limping and dehydrated, but after a 700ml bottle of Gatorade and seeing some friends I had made along the way, my morale instantly jumped. The VVR was one of the highlights of my trip as it was a beautiful location filled to the brim with fellow hikers and fantastic food. I spent a full day and two nights here.

The last few days of my hike did not go entirely to plan. Upon leaving Vermillion Valley, I was experiencing a searing pain in my feet. I took a night to rest in Mammoth after going off-trail after three days, and then made the decision to leapfrog part of the trail past Devil’s Postpile so I could continue on without worry of the distance. I made it out 13km, and then due to the amount of pain in my feet I made the decision to turn back around. Funnily enough, I ran into a Boy Scouts Troop and their leaders, so they took care of me and I camped with them. We shared our experiences in Scouting and it felt like a blessing. The next day, I walked back out with them. From here I sought medical advice and it turns out I had definitely made the right decision to end my hike at this point.

Whilst this was an extremely difficult decision to make, I was immensely proud at how far I had made it. I do know that I had challenged myself physically and mentally beyond anything I have attempted before, and I have learnt a massive amount of how to live a life outdoors. I believe that in Scouting it is important to lead by example, and by changing what I define to be my “comfort zone” and showing perseverance in all tasks, even those which are difficult. My total kilometers covered hit 300 over 15 days of hiking and two rest days, so an average of 20km a day and an average ascent of 800-850m through blazing sun, deep rivers and miles of snow.

My heart is full of gratitude for the Balthasar trustees and especially the fund’s benefactor Dick Smith AC, who enabled this opportunity, for my family and friends who support me endlessly and for the leaders in Scouting who taught me the skills to do something as challenging as going into the Sierra Nevada solo.

Brodie Miller
Normanhurst Rover Crew