Jeff Hester

Jeff Hester - The SoCal Hiker

Jeff Hester – The SoCal Hiker

I had the pleasure to interview Jeff Hester, @TheSoCalHiker, the other day about his recent John Muir Trail adventure. This was his second successful thru-hike on the JMT, nearly 30 years after his first time! Jeff is one of the more giving people you will find in the online hiker community, often commenting and sharing other people’s stories. I have been following his adventures for quite a while and really enjoy his storytelling.

This Twitterview was conducted between Tim Miner (@TrailSherpa) and Jeff Hester (@thesocalhiker) via Twitter on Tuesday, August 24, 2010 and is part of the Trail Sherpa Blog Series #hike2020.

trailsherpa: Today’s #hike2020 interview – Jeff Hester (@TheSoCalHiker). He just finished the John Muir Trail and will be sharing the story.

trailsherpa:   Thanks for taking the time to share your story Jeff. How long have you been hiking and how did you get your start?

TheSoCalHiker:       Thanks, Tim. I started hiking as a teen in the midwest, although I really didn’t get into backpacking…

TheSoCalHiker:        …until I moved to California at 16. Been hiking and backpacking to some extent ever since.

TheSoCalHiker:        The youth group at church had some people who were really into backpacking, and that’s when I caught the “bug.”

trailsherpa:   I’ve been following your blog for quite a while and really enjoy your trip reports.

trailsherpa:   You just tackled the John Muir Trail for the second time. What inspired a second trip?

TheSoCalHiker:        The first JMT trip was a “trip of the lifetime.” Something that I’ve always remembered, and always wanted to share…

TheSoCalHiker:        I originally was going to do a 20th “anniversary” JMT hike, but my work schedule wouldn’t permit the time off…

TheSoCalHiker:        As the 30th year neared, I was running out of excuses…

TheSoCalHiker:        I was fortunate to meet my girlfriend, who in a moment of weakness agreed that it was a great idea…

TheSoCalHiker:        I got a permit for four, and as the trip grew closer to reality, we were joined by two friends from a local hiking club.

TheSoCalHiker:        Apart from myself, the longest backpacking trip any of them had taken was 5 nights, so this would be a whole new experience.

TheSoCalHiker:        For me, it was a chance to revisit an old friend — the JMT — and to see what it was like 30 years later!

trailsherpa:   You did this trip in 21 days and the first trip 30 years ago in 25 days. Which schedule did you prefer?

TheSoCalHiker:        21 days or 25? I think 25 would be nicer, but finding people who could swing 3 weeks off was tough enough.

trailsherpa:   I’m sure it was. Time may be the biggest obstacle for epic adventures like this. It’s hard to carve out that much time.

trailsherpa:   How did you train for this adventure? You’re not 18 anymore!

TheSoCalHiker:        When I was 18, I had just graduated high school. I ran cross-country and track for four years, and was in great condition.

TheSoCalHiker:        30 years later, I couldn’t make the same claim. I did decided to make some changes though.

TheSoCalHiker:        I lost about ~40 lbs by eating healthier and exercising regularly, mostly hiking and biking.

TheSoCalHiker:        For specific training, we did some multi-day backpacking trips like the Trans-Catalina Trail.

TheSoCalHiker:        And to test ourselves at altitude we did a series of local peaks. I called it the 6-Pack of Peaks.

TheSoCalHiker:        With more time, I would recommend at least a one week backpacking trip up in the Sierras.

trailsherpa:   Our friend @100peaks gave you a shout out for the 6 pack during his #hike2020 interview a week or so ago. It’s a great “program”.

TheSoCalHiker:        Awesome! It worked well for us. The best way to training for a hike like this is… hiking!

trailsherpa:   How did you determine your schedule during the planning phase for this JMT trip? What was the main consideration?

TheSoCalHiker:        The best “window” for the JMT is July-Sept. We started there, then checked our work schedules.

TheSoCalHiker:        At the time we submitted our permit application, it was just my girlfriend and I, so that simplified things.

TheSoCalHiker:        For a North-South route, you request your permit from the Yosemite Ranger station exactly 6 months in advance.

TheSoCalHiker:        The set aside 40% of permits for walk-ins, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

TheSoCalHiker:        So the start date was set way back in January 2010.

TheSoCalHiker:        As for the specific itinerary, we roughly followed the schedule outlined in Alan Castle’s JMT guide.

TheSoCalHiker:        But we flexed. The only “firm” dates were our resupply points, and our exit date (due to work schedule).

trailsherpa:   Did you deviate from the plan very much once you hit the trail?

TheSoCalHiker:        You need to allow yourself the freedom to be flexible with your itinerary to allow for the unforeseen.

TheSoCalHiker:        I’m going to go back and revisit the original itinerary posted on SoCal Hiker and update it with what we actually did.

trailsherpa:   That will be an interesting post. Fun to see how much changes along the way.

trailsherpa:   You had to hit several resupply stops along the way. How many were there and how did you plan this out?

TheSoCalHiker:        We had four resupply stops: Tuolumne Meadows, Reds Meadow, VVR and Muir Trail Ranch.

TheSoCalHiker:        Those are the four “easy” places to mail resupply packages and pick them up without going too far off trail.

TheSoCalHiker:        We would’ve done more, but the only options after MTR are using a pack station drop, having friends hike in with food, or…

TheSoCalHiker:        …hiking way off the JMT to a town. We wanted to keep it simple.

trailsherpa:   You had an issue at your last resupply point. Can you share that story and anything you learned from it?

TheSoCalHiker:        Yeah, using MTR as our final resupply point was challenging. It meant we had to carry 10 days of food!

TheSoCalHiker:        To top it off, we shipped 5, 5-gallon resupply buckets to MTR, but only 2 showed up!

TheSoCalHiker:        This required a little improvisation and creativity. Fortunately the people at MTR were great.

TheSoCalHiker:        The MTR folks invited us to dinner that night, and breakfast the next morning.

TheSoCalHiker:        And MTR has great “hiker bins” with food that other thru-hikers decide they don’t want to carry, or…

TheSoCalHiker:        …resupply packages that are donated by hikers who had to leave the JMT earlier.

TheSoCalHiker:        So fortunately we were able to cobble together great meals and snacks for the entire group.

TheSoCalHiker:        Oh and the three missing buckets were returned to my house by the post office, without explanation.

trailsherpa:   MTR plays a pretty pivotal role for north-south hikers it seems…as does the USPS!

TheSoCalHiker:        MTR is great. Great people.

trailsherpa:   What were some of the essentials that you packed that came in handy?

TheSoCalHiker:        FOOD! Snacks in particular. We knew we would be running a caloric deficit, so we planned some high-cal options for the last part.

TheSoCalHiker:        Clif bars, Snickers, olive oil. But a surprise fave were the beef sticks.

TheSoCalHiker:        I sliced them up, sautéed them with a little oil and added to powdered eggs. Magnificent!

trailsherpa:   That’s a great idea! That’s a recipe to remember for next trip.

trailsherpa:   Anything you would consider not taking next time?

TheSoCalHiker:        Playing cards. Had a mini-deck that we never used. I’d probably leave the GPS (and batteries) at home, too.

trailsherpa:   GPS and batteries add a bunch of weight. I agree for such a long trip.

TheSoCalHiker:        Yeah, I thought it would be cool to record the track, but what I didn’t account for was that there was TOO much data to store.

TheSoCalHiker:        We did bring along a paperback book. My girlfriend and I took turns reading aloud at night, and we’d rip out pages as we went.

TheSoCalHiker:        I would do that again. It was fun and entertaining.

trailsherpa:   Great idea, Good fire starter too. I read your post about the trip. I have to ask about the “big salami” story. Care to share?!?

TheSoCalHiker:        Hmmm… Okay. One of the guys, Hari, had brought a couple salamis but they didn’t sit well with him, so he offered it to us.

TheSoCalHiker:        My girlfriend and I ate the entire thing as part of a lunch (too much!) and it didn’t sit well with her, either.

TheSoCalHiker:        When we reached MTR, we had a couple salamis in our own resupply…

TheSoCalHiker:        She wasn’t going to eat it, so I offered it to Jeff A (the “other” Jeff in our group).

TheSoCalHiker:        Later that day, around the campfire, we were talking about the weight we were carrying…

TheSoCalHiker:        and I commented that I “unloaded a big salami on Jeff earlier today…”

TheSoCalHiker:        I seriously did not mean anything by that, but there was an awkward silence around the campfire.

TheSoCalHiker:        My girlfriend said “Do you realize how that sounds?” We were laughing about it for days.

trailsherpa:   I bet you were! Classic! It’s the stories and interactions that make outdoor adventures priceless.

trailsherpa:   You started the trip at the north end, in Yosemite. What can you say about your side trip to Half Dome on day 1?

TheSoCalHiker:        Half Dome isn’t officially part of the JMT, but if you haven’t done it, it’s worth the side trip.

TheSoCalHiker:        It adds some mileage, and some serious elevation gain from the valley, but to be so close and skip it would be a sin.

TheSoCalHiker:        I climbed Half Dome once before, but it was my girlfriend’s first time. Totally worth it.

TheSoCalHiker:        If we could’ve, I would’ve preferred to camp just beyond the Cloud’s Rest/Half Dome junction rather than in Little Yosemite.

trailsherpa:   Can you share any thoughts on your best day and worst day?

TheSoCalHiker:        The best day? Tough question! Possibly the first day, or the last. Both were brimming with emotions and excitement.

TheSoCalHiker:        The first day we were expectantly venturing into the wilderness. A great feeling of adventure.

TheSoCalHiker:        The last day, we were triumphantly returning home as successful JMT thru-hikers. The feeling of accomplishment is unbeatable.

TheSoCalHiker:        As for the worst day? I’d be hard-pressed to pick one. There were many long, challenging days, but they all had happy endings…

TheSoCalHiker:        Beautiful scenery, great people on the trail, a warm meal and all is well.

trailsherpa:   You met Reinhold Metzger on the trail. Can you share some of that experience?

TheSoCalHiker:        We met a lot of really wonderful people along the trail, and I enjoyed hearing their stories.

TheSoCalHiker:        I was struck by Reinhold because he was an older, solo hiker heading towards Mather Pass at 7:30pm!

TheSoCalHiker:        I didn’t know who he was, but we said hello, started talking, and I asked if I could take his picture.

TheSoCalHiker:        He explained that this was his 14th JMT. He was hiking a “yo-yo” route; south-north-and back again in 14 days without resupply.

TheSoCalHiker:        And that he previously held the record for an unsupported thru-hike: 5 days, 7 hours and 45 minutes.

TheSoCalHiker:        Metzger was a lot of fun. He says “the JMT is like a beautiful woman. Once you’ve been bitten, you keep coming back!”

TheSoCalHiker:        Must be some truth to that, since I was back 30 years later!

trailsherpa:   So what were the total stats for this trip? Miles, elevation, peaks, etc.

TheSoCalHiker:        Stats? This is where I was supposed to do some homework, eh?

TheSoCalHiker:        I need to fact check some of this, but near as I can figure we hiked about 233 miles, with 46,700′ of vertical elevation gain.

TheSoCalHiker:        Joan and I summited three peaks (Half Dome, Cloud’s Rest and Whitney) and Jeff A. and Hari added Donahue Peak.

trailsherpa:   That’s a big feat all around in 21 days.

TheSoCalHiker:        Of course Mt. Whitney was a thrill. We woke up at 11pm, broke camp and started hiking up in the dark.

TheSoCalHiker:        We wanted to see the sunrise from Whitney, and it was a highlight.

trailsherpa:   What technology did you use on this trip? GPS, camera, video, maps?

TheSoCalHiker:        I brought a Garmin Venture HC, not for navigation so much as for tracking our journey.

TheSoCalHiker:        The Garmin ran out of room for the data, and begin pushing the “old” tracks out of memory, so that didn’t work so well.

TheSoCalHiker:        I also brought my iPhone, although that was superfluous. I’d leave it next time.

TheSoCalHiker:        For photography I used a Canon PowerShot SD780, which I absolutely love!

TheSoCalHiker:        It also shoots HD video, although that was not a priority for us.

TheSoCalHiker:        You can check out the photos and judge for yourself.

TheSoCalHiker:        As for maps, I had the Tom Harrison JMT map set, and my girlfriend had Eric the Black’s new JMT Atlas.

TheSoCalHiker:        The Atlas was amazing. It’s pricey, but very compact, lightweight and easy to use. Highly recommended.

trailsherpa:   Did any new gear really come through for you? Anything disappoint?

TheSoCalHiker:        We had a new Mountain Hardwear Lightpath 2 tent that was awesome! Very light, very flexible.

TheSoCalHiker:        Cozy for two, but it was just what we needed.

TheSoCalHiker:        I hiked in Keen Pyrenees boots and have mixed feelings about them.

TheSoCalHiker:        On the one hand, I did not get ONE blister…

TheSoCalHiker:        On the other hand, the soles are not very grippy, and parts even starting peeling off (though never completely).

TheSoCalHiker:        My trusty old Snowpeak white fuel stove performed like a champ, as did my older (and heavy) Katydyn water filter

TheSoCalHiker:        One piece I will definitely be swapping out is my old synthetic fill Kelty sleeping bag. Too bulky and too heavy!

trailsherpa:   Not a single blister…impressive. I have a Snowpeak stove too. Love it.

trailsherpa:   You wrote the first post about this trip on your blog. What can we expect to see in the coming posts?

TheSoCalHiker:        As I mentioned, I’m going to do a comparison of our original JMT itinerary with the actual.

TheSoCalHiker:        I’ll also post some detailed observations about some of the equipment, food and menus.

TheSoCalHiker:        And ultimately a section-by-section trail guide, with maps, GPS data, elevation profiles and trail notes.

trailsherpa:   That’s a big series! Where can people connect with you online to hear more about this trip and the others that you’ve done?

TheSoCalHiker Here on twitter (of course) and at http://socalhiker.net I’m always happy to answer questions & hear from other hikers.

trailsherpa:  You’re one of the more active hikers I know online. I always see your contributions to other blogs, including mine.

trailsherpa:  Thanks for taking time so soon after your return to share your story with us on #hike2020. It’s been an awesome afternoon for me.

trailsherpa:  I can’t wait to see the other posts about your trip. I appreciate it Jeff!

TheSoCalHiker:  Thanks, Tim. It was a pleasure sharing with you!

This Twitterview was conducted between Tim Miner (@TrailSherpa) and Jeff Hester (@thesocalhiker) via Twitter on Tuesday, August 24, 2010 and is part of the Trail Sherpa Blog Series #hike2020.

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I'm the founder of Vestor Logic, the digital strategy and web design firm that created Trail Sherpa, ParksFolio, and Modern Steader. I'm a day hiker, top chef in camp, doting husband, and father to two headlamp wearing boys. My work in digital media brings those experiences to life.

  • Sonjia

    My parents met hiking Mt Whitney… then honeymooned on the JMT Trail over 50 years ago!!! Reading this interview made me think I should get out there too someday. Thanks for putting it out there!!!!

  • You are welcome Sonjia! Jeff is a great storyteller and he recalls a lot of detail in his reports. Doing an interview with him was a breeze. I can’t wait for his next big adventure so I can share in that story too!nnI think this is a very fitting trip for you given the family significance.