Backpacking the John Muir Trail

Just recently, I returned from a backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail.  My twin sister Leigh, by sheer persistence, wrangled the permits that allowed us to leave from Happy Isles in Yosemite.  Our intention was to finish at Mt. Whitney, but we chose to exit earlier due to a large and growing forest fire that jumped the middle fork of the King’s River while we were hiking.  The fire is called the Rough Fire and as of today it has grown to 79,000 acres and only 25% contained.  We had been following the smoke and poor visibility of the fire for days on the trail, but as the smoke increased I had experienced some difficulty breathing one evening.  It was an eye opening experience as I have never had any respiratory issues in my life and didn’t even think of getting an inhaler for our first aid kit.

It’s always a difficult to decision to leave a trail that you’ve called “home” for many weeks, but it is made more sad by feeling like you let your traveling companion down (let alone a twin sister).   It was ultimately her energy that brought me to the trail this summer, and it was with her love that we left.  Without a doubt we will return to finish the small section to Whitney.  I am forever grateful to my sister, as I have been transformed by all the dirt, the simplicity of life on the trail, the perspective found while in the presence of mountains, and above all else –  the freedom.

It seems that many folks go on “the trail” looking for answers to a difficult question in their life or to have some sort of epiphany.  To be honest, my only expectation was to enjoy being outside everyday.  I am continually surprised by the humility I find when in nature with only the things you “need” on your back – it reminds me of the things in life that really matter.  But this backcountry trip has been unique from others I’ve been on…  I can’t quite articulate how I’ve felt since I’ve returned, but the best I can share is that I feel very, very calm, and peaceful, with a great deal of space around me.


That’s my sis Leigh in red


L. Robinson

People and their Gear

As a product designer, I was able to connect with my passion of outdoor gear in the most basic way possible. Without a doubt, having to use and rely on certain objects each day gives new perspective to design functionality. Equally valuable was the ability to spend time with other hikers along the trail.  I gained a better understanding of the current outdoor market, the needs of the consumer, and the changing demographics of the customer.  I have an entire notebook of thoughts (so, so many), but for brevity sake I only included a few below.

Here are a few thoughts from the trail:

My favorite trail personality – Flo Anderson (age 78)  
She was out on the trail by herself and hailed from the Mt. Shasta area.  She was beautiful and simply awe-inspiring.  3 years ago she climbed 13 pitches to the top of Bear Spire.  Yes, please do the math – she was 75!  She is an avid climber, backpacker, skier, and shared many of her stories with us.  She did say, that yes, she moves a bit slower than she did in her 60’s…  Need I say more?

Most seen pack brand – Gossamer
Gossamer’s Mariposa 60 Liter and Gorilla 40 backpacks were very popular.   Their tag line, “Take Less – Do More” seems to be resonating with all sorts of hikers.  This pack brand isn’t new having been around since 1997.  It use to be that the ultralight-weight market was limited to ounce counting trail geeks primarily doing thru-hikes, but something has changed.  I believe the prevalence of baby boomers and women on the trail could be one reason for the change (and there were huge numbers of both on the trail).  They simply don’t want to be burdened by 40-50 lbs of gear, and they are willing to spend money on well thought-out light weight products.  In fact, my heroine Flo was carrying an ultra-light backpack made by ULA.  Of course, these days, outdoor gear in general is lighter and smaller.  This fact alone will help the ultra light backpack market become more “mainstream” as hikers realize that they can’t fill their “gigantic” 70 liter packs with today’s smaller and lighter products.

Going solar – Suntactics
I feel as if I could write an entire article on backpacking solar panels and how it is (or should be) changing pack design.  My sister, after trying many panels prior to our trip, ended up bringing a solar panel made by Suntactics, to charge her iPhone which we used for music and as a GPS unit.   We were not alone.  It was enlightening to speak with folks on the trail about their solar panels, how they are using them, and what they liked or disliked about their chosen model.  I love gadgets but I try to keep electronics out of my backcountry adventures.  However, I will admit that having a fully charged device for occasional music or taking pictures was a luxury I didn’t expect to enjoy so much.  Thank you solar energy!

My favorite gratuitous addition to my gear – Luci Light
Yes, indeed, it is a solar item – a small, inflatable light made by Mpowered. Initially, it seemed silly to bring along as a headlamp always provides enough light, but I fell in love with this little gadget.  

L. Robinson