The JMT: Peaks and Valleys Like No Other Trail

After walking the 211-mile John Muir Trail in August 2021, I returned home with an insatiable appetite for YouTube and written accounts of one of the world’s great treks. I am glad the first book I chose was Inga Aksamit’s Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail.

An experienced backpacker, Inga had never attempted a distance walk as long as the 165 miles she and her husband, Steve Mullin, planned to cover over 23 days. She had often walked the first southbound section, from Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows in California’s Yosemite National Park, so they began their 2014 trek at Tuolumne. As she points out, permits are also more difficult to get if hikers hope to start at Happy Isles. Inga’s goal was off the trail to Onion Valley, short of Forester Pass, the JMT’s highest pass. The last section of the book describes her and her husband’s walks over Forester Pass and to the Mount Whitney summit, completing their JMT in sections.

Older than most on the JMT, Inga writes an account that is realistic and approachable. Her book would be helpful to anyone contemplating the trek. But even if the book is the closest you will ever get to long-distance backpacking, you will likely relate to her narrative and honest storytelling about the mental and physical challenges.

The author describes her preparations, battles with migraines, self-doubts, and trail camaraderie in just the right doses, along with spot-on descriptions of the high Sierra Nevada landscape. Besides Yosemite, the JMT travels through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and undulates nearly 100,000 feet of accumulated elevation change.

The color photographs in the ebook I purchased made me even more eager to return to the John Muir Trail. A warning: If Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail draws you to the mountains, you are in for experiences that may create an addiction like the one that fills my heart.

For now, my addiction is being fed by preliminary work on what may turn out to be my third book, about my experiences on the trail named after the Sierra’s most famous mountaineer.