Hiking the John Muir Trail

Shadow Lake
Shadow Lake

Animal Problems

Experienced backpackers know not to leave food around where rodents can get at it, and they know that in bear country they must take special precautions. (You can expect to encounter bears on almost any part of the Muir Trail). Rodents will chew their way into packs if the packs are tightly laced but unattended. Bears will perform near-miracles to get your goodies. As more and more people have taken up backpacking, there has been more and more unnatural food for bearsthe food brought in by backpackers. Since this food is attractive to bears, and all too often easily available, the animals have developed a habit of seeking it and eating it. They patrol popular campsites nightly. As the bears have become more knowledgeable and persistent, backpackers have escalated their food protecting methods. From merely putting it in one's pack by one's bed at night, and chasing away any bear that came, backcountry travelers switched to hanging the food over a branch of a tree. But bears can climb trees, and they can gnaw or scratch through the nylon line that you tie around a tree trunk. When they sever the line, the food hanging from the other end of the line of course falls to the ground. This happens all too often in Yosemite Park.

To avoid food loss due to line severance, you can learn the counterbalance method of"bearbagging." First, tie a small stone to the end of a 30-foot length of nylon line (1/8" or so in diameter) as a weight to hurl up and over a likely branch. The branch should be at least 16 feet up, and long enough that the line can rest securely at a point at least six feet from the tree trunk. When you have the line over the branch, tie a bag with half your food to one end of the line. Now pull it up to the branch. Then tie a second food bag to the other end of the line, as high as you can reach. Now, using a stick, make the two bags equally high, at least 10 feet off the ground. Next morning push up either bag until the other descends to where you can reach it.

In recent years rangers have placed "bear boxes" at a number of popular campsites along the Muir Trail. These can replace hanging your food.

Remember: If a bear does get your food, he will then consider it his, and he will fight any attempts you make to retrieve it. Don't try! Remember also never to leave your food unprotected even for a short while during the daytime.


This protozoan can cause acute gastrointestinal distress. The illness is treatable, but prevention is best. I recommend that you treat all water to be sure. Filtration, boiling and additives should all work if conscientiously done.

Summer Rangers

To help you cope with difficulties and to see that hikers heed the rules for preserving the wilderness, a number of summer rangers are stationed along the trail in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and sometimes at Rush Creek Forks, from about July 4 to Labor Day. Two points deserve special mention. First, if you go to a summer ranger station to report a friend in trouble and find the ranger out, please realize he might be gone for several days, so leave a note for him and walk out for help yourself. Second, remember that the ranger has to buy his own food and camping gear, so he, not the government, is the loser if it is taken.

No-Fire Zones

Fires are not permitted above 9,600 feet in Yosemite, 10,000 feet in Kings Canyon or 11,200 feet in Sequoia National Park.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 4 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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