Granite, Grass, and Steep Grades; Thru-Hiking the John Muir Trail

A Ritt Kellogg Expedition

As a tribute to Colorado College alumnus Ritt Kellogg ’90, a skilled outdoorsman who tragically died in an avalanche, the Kellogg family established the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund in 1993. Each year, this fund provides students the means to carry out incredible backcountry trips in the U.S. and Canada for 12 days or more. Through a rigorous application process, students may propose virtually any trip they can dream up — from rock climbing in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in northeastern Canada, to sea kayaking off the coast of Alaska. This semester, the Active Life section will feature a group of fund recipients and their journey every week.

Photo Courtesy of Claire Tobin

In late July, Claire Tobin ’20 and Josh Raizner ’20 began their 12-day expedition of the John Muir Trail in Northern California. The trail extends 215 miles, beginning in Yosemite National Park and ending at Mount Whitney. The two hiked south to north instead of the traditional route of north to south. This decision favored them as it allowed them to evacuate early for fires in Yosemite more easily. Averaging over 14 miles a day, Tobin and Raizner got the most out of their adventure.

The Catalyst: What inspired the trip?

Josh Raizner: I heard about the Ritt Kellogg Fund from some older friends, and they were talking about applying for a grant, and I thought it was a really cool idea, and I wanted to do it. Claire and I got to talking, and we thought it would be the coolest thing ever to thru-hike something. Then we found the John Muir trail and thought it looked difficult and really beautiful, and we decided that’s what we wanted to do.

TC: What was the most challenging aspect of the trip? What was most rewarding?

Claire Tobin: The hiking itself was the hardest part. Our itinerary was hard to begin with. We originally planned to do between 8 and 16 miles per day. After we got on the trip, we learned that there would be closures in Yosemite, so we had to cut off two days of our trip and we ended up doing 14-mile days for about 12 days. We ended up cutting out a rest day so we could cut off one day and then [did] 5 extra miles a day to cut off another in order to hike the most distance while accounting for the closures. Mentally we were fine, but physically we were exhausted. At the end of the night we would be wobbling around camp; our legs were so tired.

JR: We also lost a mess kit on the trail and we didn’t bring a pan, so we ended up eating raw pancake powder or pancake soup. We ended up with one spoon and one Tupperware. Despite that, it was incredibly rewarding at the end of the day when we had the opportunity to just sit in the middle of the mountains surrounded by trees, streams, and lakes. Also, not having to walk anymore was really rewarding. I guess you could say we walked to our reward every day.

TC: Do you have any personal highlights?

JR: I can’t call it a highlight, but I lost my phone on my 21st birthday while we were going up Pinchot Pass, which was really tough. We were unsure of how far out we were, so we were looking at the GPS on my phone and we were 5 miles from the top of the pass. We reached the top and I went to grab my phone from my pack to take a video and it wasn’t there. We hiked back down the 5 miles to get to where I last had my phone and then climbed back up the 5 miles and didn’t end up finding my phone. It was about a 25-mile day. I did actually get a text the other day and someone found my phone and they’re mailing it to me.

CT: I thought we’d have to go without showering the entire time but Josh made the itinerary so we’d be camping next to a stream or lake every day. When we showed up to camp we would prepare dinner and then go for a dip in a beautiful river or lake surrounded by mountains. We also met a man from England who had hiked the Appalachian trail twice and had all these crazy adventures.

TC: Did you see any wildlife?

CT: We saw a lot of deer and so many cute baby deer. A lot of marmots, maybe about 200. They didn’t care that we were around. They would just come up next to us and sunbathe. Luckily we didn’t see any bears because the park took my bear spray because it turns out you can’t have bear spray in Sequoia National Park.

TC: What was your best camp meal?

CT: Tortillas with sunflower butter and bean flakes on top [Raizner shook his head]. We had a lot of Trailtopia (freeze-dried) meals. If you put some olive oil on the lasagna it tastes so good. We didn’t bring a lot of variety though.

JR: Milky Way. We were surprisingly not that hungry while hiking.

TC: If you could do it again, would you do anything differently?

JR: I’d bring more variety of food. We brought a ton of oatmeal and so many tortillas.

CT: I’d like to hike fewer miles a day. There’s a really good 21-day itinerary for the John Muir trail and I think that would’ve been really nice. Parts of the hikes felt rushed, like we were running down the trail and didn’t have time to fully enjoy the scenery. As for the application process, a walk-in permit would’ve worked just fine, but we didn’t want to propose a trip that wasn’t completely finalized to the board. I’m just really glad we went south to north.

TC: Do you have any advice for those applying for a Ritt Kellogg Expedition grant?

JR: Block out a large section of time so you don’t have to worry about getting back in time to do something. You don’t want to be distracted while you’re out there.

CT: Know what you’re getting yourself into, talk to people about your trip plan, look up forms you need, and definitely bring a journal.

Be sure to catch Tobin and Raizner’s trip presentation — along with those of all other Ritt grant recipients — on Oct. 9, at 7 p.m. in the Cornerstone Screening Room.

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