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6553Re: [John Muir Trail] Question about cost and time

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  • John Ladd
    Dec 19, 2009
      Sorry - I keep wanting to do a long posting of thoughts about JMT on the cheap, but I keep putting it off.  So here's a shorter version that turned out to be not-so-short once I got going.

      1) As others have noted, there are acceptable hitchhike plus public transit options.

      2) Freeze dried food is a poor choice - expensive and hard to get anywhere enough of it into a bearcan.

      3) Resupplies are expensive.  But you can do the MTR on a single resupply at the midway point of the trip - Muir Trail Ranch.  You need to be careful about your food selection and be willing to carry 10-20 lbs of food as you start and when you leave MTR.  You need a good sturdy pack for this weight and a stove that will cook food efficiently.  The weight will push you in the direction of boots rather than trail runners.

      Each 5-gal plastic paint can at MTR will cost you about $75 (cost of the can, postage and the $50 MTR fee to bring it from the nearest post office). You can squeeze up to 25 lbs of food into a single paint can if you chose your foods carefully enough.  There are places where the resupply charges are somewhat less, but MTR is the only place where you can do the whole trip on  a single resupply.

      Note also that resupplies south of MTR are either VERY expensive (pay a mule team hundreds to pack food in to you) or take you WAY out of your way (Kearsarge Pass, Onion Valley Trailhead and Independence).  So you may well be forced to use MTR even on a multi-resupply plan.  So pay MTR the $50 fee and don't complain about it - they do a lot of work for their $50.

      You need to calculate your caloric needs carefully.  For me, experience tells me that I can afford to lose 1-2 lbs per week of travel without adverse consequences (like being really cold at night) or undue hunger, which means that I can burn 500-1,000 calories per day less than I eat.  (Figure 1 lb lost for every 3500 calories of shortfall).  I typically seem to burn about 2800-3000 daily calories on a trip and eat about 2000-2250). Your needs will be higher - one of the benefits of age is that we old guys use calories more efficiently than the young and you may be too skinny to afford the weight loss.  Lots of stuff on the web on calculating calories (some of it wildly inaccurate)

      Then figure the weight you are willing to carry to get the desired energy density of your food.  I go with very energy-dense foods (lots of oils and fats), so I can get by on about a lb. per day of food (2250 calories with 16 oz. of food at 140 calories per oz.)  If you are willing to carry 2 lbs per day, but need more calories, you might be something like 32 oz. at 120 cal/oz for 3,840 calories per day.  Most people would chose somewhere in between these.

      Chose energy-dense food (lots of calories per unit weight).  Due to the basic biochemistry of food, protein and carbohydrates are always less than 110 calories per oz. even with all water removed.  Fats are about 220 calories per gram.  So chose low-water-content foods which naturally have fats (hard cheese, pepperoni, nuts, peanut butter) or chose food where you can field-mix oils and fats into carbs or proteins.  E.g., buy dried Hummus powder or dried Tabouleh and field mix them with lots of olive oil.  My favorite food like this is my standard breakfast of 5-minute polenta mixed 50-50 with almond meal and cooked with an ungodly amount of butter oil (butter with the water simmered out and the solids skimmed off - surprisingly stable) sweetened with Splenda and a little maple sugar.

      To fit 10+ days of food into a bearcan imposes additional constraints - you need physically dense foods (calories per unit volume).  This pretty much rules out freeze dried.  The process essentially takes the water out of pre-cooked foods but leaves air voids in the food (where the water used to me) making them fluffy.  It also (sadly) rules out minute rice.

      I'm working on a little essay of how to cook in the field, which will include more on calorie-counting, a trail-food philosophy and a number of suggested recipes that are both energy-dense and physically-dense.  I'll post it in the group's files area and let you know when it's there.  I suspect the cost of the food would be under $4 per day if you chose some of the cheaper alternatives.  (I will also suggests some higher end alternatives if you can afford them - like using hazelnut oil sometime rather than olive oil or the wonderful-but-pricey prosciutto blanco rather than pepperoni)

      So you can get total food plus resupply costs down to about $80 for the food and $75 for the resupply = $155.  For another $80 you can eat pretty well.

      John Curran Ladd
      1616 Castro Street
      San Francisco, CA  94114-3707

      On Sun, Dec 6, 2009 at 7:33 PM, Jonathan <jonnyboy9543@...> wrote:

      Hey all, so I'm trying to get an average idea of how much it'll cost me to do the entire trip. I have all my own gear (or access to that which I don't own), but am on a tight (college student) budget. Does anyone have any suggestions for ways that I can save a few bucks here and there, and a rough estimate as to how much it'll end up costing? I know it's important to get good, healthy meals while on the trail, but I'm not sure I can afford all the prepackaged, dehydrated meals. A few per leg of the trail is fine, but other than that...

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