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Surviving, Thriving, and Living in Nature: Backpacking the John Muir Trail in Mammoth, California

This is a recap of our three-day backpacking adventure on the John Muir Trail.  People frequent this area because of its great waterfalls, streams, mountains, and lush forests. Outdoor activities you can experience include skiing, camping, mountain biking, fishing and so much more.  Winter blankets this same area with snow, turning it into a popular ski season destination.


I grew up going to Mammoth, California countless times.  My father (also a physician), mother, and siblings frequented the mountains here during all seasons. So, not only is it very familiar but it is also a nostalgic area. It is not any wonder why people from all over the world frequent this area.   

The drive from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes is about a 5-hour drive, an easy getaway.  

Lisa never had been to Mammoth until we met.  She always wanted to go backpacking, sleeping in the mountains, and the month of September we made plans to do an intermediary trip. We gathered old and new gear to have a successful, fun trip. REI is known for much great outdoor gear. The new gear we added to our collection is a Big Agnes 3lb tent, REI Flash backpacks, and a Jetboil portable stove.


This scene was our reward after an all-day hike. We started the trail around 9 am and arrived in what I called heaven because we got to stop and make camp at around 5 pm.

Before arriving at our camp this day, Chris found a beautiful lake and spot to eat for lunch where he set up a hammock for me.  I took a short nap to recharge and dabbed in the lake to clean off a bit. I didn’t care how cold the water was at this point. Water was my friend.

I was extremely exhausted from carrying 35 pounds on my back, remember this is my first time doing this, but I was up for the weekend’s challenge. Chris encouraged me to keep going by enticing me with the rewards of this lunch break.  

“How much longer til’ we get to our camp today?” I asked hoping he’d say soon.

“About 3 more miles,” he replied.

Now 3 miles walking or running on flat areas is nothing.  But 3 miles with something the weight of a small child, different feeling.

Chris re-adjusted and rearranged my backpack and wow, did that make a world of difference.  Had he not been with me I would have stopped at the mid-way point.

We ran into about four sets of hikers along the path and stopped to have brief conversations about where they were going or where they came from.

To each of the hikers, we told about our today’s ending destination “the switchbacks” and the look on their faces suggested “hard, crazy, I wouldn’t do that.”  

Ironically, the last mile of the switchbacks was not that hard for me.  I much rather go down than up. It seemed kind of ridiculous, however, to go back and forth, zig-zagging all the way down with this beautiful lake destination in sight — “Why can’t we just walk straight down?”  I’d keep thinking, knowing safety was the obvious reason.

At last, we arrived at a beautiful scenic camp spot Chris picked out for us, even though I wanted to just plop down at the earliest sign of land by water.

Chris scouted some areas ahead as I took a break on a log.  He came back and helped me carry my backpack for a few hundred yards with some crossing a small cold river, removing our shoes and socks.  My feet were not happy, but steps away was our magical spot for the evening and morning!

How can you not enjoy a private, serene area with running river streams, lakes, mountains, and a fire pit?  While we took turns and helping to set up our camp, I gathered wood to stay up later tonight and beat the cold weather that comes quickly after the sun sets.  The advantages of hiking this month are the cool 70-degree daytime highs which you will enjoy with this incredible workout you do with each step.

Although for me it seemed hard to do a 9-hour hike as we climbed into the forest, we did it and it was worth every second.  

Our dinner was pad thai chicken, red zinfandel and freeze-dried ice cream while listening to music I downloaded on Spotify.  

Sunday morning was the best as it was time to go home.  But first we enjoyed coffee and a morning fire that Chris started so I would not have to be cold.

This was by far the best place I’ve ever been to and it is because of the planning weeks in advance to not be without.

@DrChrisAdventures is the one person you’d want to have by your side if you were ever stranded.    Today it is us voluntarily stranded on this mountaintop few people get to experience like this.  The addiction to find more places, more heights among the many we are afforded on this planet.

I/We now want to do more hikes and backpacking such as Mount Whitney, other countries like Switzerland, Iceland and more!

We do recommend being healthy and fit to do backpacking, although you can tailor such a trip to fewer miles if you’re a beginner.  This is a great way to stay fit and healthy especially for people or couples over 40. Also, we’d like to keep our camping spot where we found fire pits to keep us warm during the 30 degree nights a secret.   

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