Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Stretching out along the spine of the Sierra Nevadas, the John Muir Trail unwinds like a languorous serpent sunning itself on a lazy afternoon. Those who have completed its entire length have navigated a narrow, winding dreamscape that roller coasters over 14,000-foot mountain peaks only to tumble into 5,000-foot prehistoric canyons. In certain parts of the trail, the very path itself disappears and hikers must resort to landmarks, compasses and dead reckoning to regain their bearings. Stitched together between 1864 and 1938 by multiple generations of surveyors, naturalists and conservationists, the 211-mile trail is a finely woven tapestry of glacier-fed streams, alpine vistas, glittering waterfalls, crystalline lakes and primeval forests. As the trail ascends to the higher elevations, hikers must deal with altitude sickness and lunar-like terrain that is littered underfoot with broken, loose shale rock and shifting gravel. In addition, trekkers must adapt to temperatures that can range from the 70s to near freezing in one day. Separated from hunters and human development, however, the trail has also become a rare sanctuary for a wide assortment of wildlife that now thrive because of their protected habitat.