Four Local Teens’ Summer Vacation No Walk In The Park
After walking 211 miles, climbing 47,000 feet of elevation gain, and hiking ten passes over 11,000 feet, four young Santa Clarita Eagle Scouts from Troop 2222 finished the John Muir Trail (JMT) in 19 days, with only one lay-over day.
They say you can know a man best if you walk a mile in his shoes, but you may have to go further than that to understand why four Santa Clarita Eagle Scouts took it upon themselves to walk 211 miles in only 19 days.
The young men, ranging in age from 17 to 19, admitted the longest backpacking trip any of them had done before was 6 days.
Troop 2222 Eagle Scouts Curtis Van Grinsven, Johnny Howell, Mark Seltzer, and Matt Van Grinsven recently completed the entirety of the famous John Muir Trail (JMT) in a 19 day backpacking trip was three times the length of any they had attempted before. They started their adventure July 18 and finished August 6.
“We started talking about doing a long backpacking trip during the first part of the year. We chose to hike the JMT,” Matt Van Grinsven commented. “Now we have completed it, and we walked the miles all by ourselves.”
The JMT starts at Happy Isle in Yosemite and officially ends on top of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,497 feet. Along the way, it traverses ten passes over 11,000 feet and makes 47,000 feet of elevation gain through some of California’s most beautiful backcountry.
Conquering Whitney on the final day, the four hikers were blasted with wind gusts and cold temperatures that froze drinking water and exposed skin. Unable to escape the mind-numbing cold, the boys savored the end of their hiking experience for 30 minutes and then quickly hiked down to the parking lot at Whitney Portal and headed home. The boys hiked approximately 20 miles the last day.
Describing the cold on the top of Mount Whitney, Seltzer quipped, “My jaw froze shut, and my lips swelled. I think even my drool froze.”
According to the boys, they would start hiking by 7:00 a.m. and generally reached their next camp site between 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.
As Howell explained, “We are fast hikers so we reached our camp sites early in the day. This gave us time to relax and play each day. We had some great times exploring, swimming, reading, playing cards, and just relaxing.”
Since the boys planned to be near a lake or river each night, the hot part of each day was spent swimming, jumping off rocks, splashing each other, and laying out in the sun.
All four young men agreed Evolution Valley, with its deep blue lakes, was the most scenic area, and they all agreed Bear Ridge, with 3,000 feet of elevation gain in 4.4 miles, was the most grueling climb. The boys found the passes about as grueling, and most of them were higher than Bear Ridge. After reading and studying Allen Castle’s guide to backpacking the JMT, the scouts expected Forrester Pass to be the worst obstacle, but afterwards, each named Glenn Pass as the killer.
Seltzer explained, “We trudged up the pass, climbing one steep switch back after another, and then we reached what we expected to be the top. It was not the top. We then could see the top of the pass way up further. The trail looked like it went up the side at a 90 degree angle. It was blasted out of the rocky side. To get to the top, we had to climb another hour. It was tough.”
Although agreeing the toughest was Glenn Pass, Howell exclaimed, “All the passes were at 11,000 feet or over. Forrester Pass was the highest at 13,100 feet. I still remember Donohue, Island, Silver, Muir, Pinchot, and Selden Passes. Crossing the passes was strenuous because of the quick gain in elevation. You could feel a pain in your lungs.”
According to the boys, the easy part of the backpacking trip was strolling across high lush meadows and jumping into the snow cold lakes and rivers.
“Hiking over passes meant long hiking days,” Howell explained. “When we had to go over a pass, we walked fourteen to sixteen miles to get to our next camp site.”
Mosquitoes were another big problem.
“I felt like I was being eaten alive. I had mosquito bites on top of mosquito bites. I was constantly scratching the bites,” said Seltzer.
All four boys agreed the pouring rain storms were worse than the mosquitoes. While on the JMT, the boys survived four nights of drenching rain storms. During the first rain storm, Seltzer discovered his tent was not waterproof.
“I woke up and found myself lying in a soggy sleeping bag on my air mattress with two puddles, one on each side of me,” exclaimed Seltzer. “I was drier sitting under the trees than in my tent. To keep my backpack dry, I put black plastic bag over my backpack, but the next morning I found a mouse had climbed into my backpack and made a nest out of my toilet paper. It was my worst day.”
Two other scouts, Christopher Howell and Luke Seltzer, hiked part of the way with the young men, completing portions of the JMT. Luke Seltzer, an Eagle Scout, completed eleven days, but left mid-way through to run 50 miles with his cross country team. Life Scout Christopher Howell hiked 60 miles, ending his hike on the frozen top of Mount Whitney.
The four Eagle Scouts discovered the people they met along the trail were the best part of hiking the JMT.
Matt Van Grinsven explained, “We met families hiking the JMT. We saw one family … a father and two kids less than 12 hiking. We met ladies in their 60’s hiking. We even saw runners on the trail. We saw one older gentleman backpacking who wore a skirt. One group… a father, two older sons, and their girlfriends … kept losing each other on the trail. We had a lot of fun talking with people and finding out why they were hiking the JMT. Most were like us. They were hiking the JMT for the fun.”