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Eastern Sierra Magic: The John Muir Trail in Photos

In 2017, my partner, Amanda, and I hiked the John Muir Trail from Yosemite National Park to the summit of Mt.Whitney. It was a spectacular 15-day trip that tested our spirits, our relationship, and our physical abilities. But like so many big adventures that give us insight into the very fabric of what makes us human, words often escape me when I try to describe it. The sheer magnificence of the Eastern Sierra landscape that we called home for two weeks cannot be captured in words. It must be experienced. The scale of our surroundings shattered our egos and reminded us that nature is indifferent to our existence. And as we wound our way through the quiet, humid valleys, past raging torrents of melt-water and across craggy granite ridges, we thought to ourselves, this is living. Would I embark on this journey again? In less than a heartbeat.

The same year we hiked, a handful of people perished in river crossings which had become dangerously high due to above-average snowfall in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. We waited until August to embark on our journey, but the waterways were still swollen with icy snowmelt. Despite the summer temperatures in the valley bottoms, the mountains reminded us that winter’s icy grip rarely leaves this alpine wonderland.


There is something special about the early morning and early evening light—a magic quality really. Must be why they call it magic hour.

Hiking through a burn scar reminded us of nature’s fragility. Hundreds of years of growth wiped out in a brief inferno, only to give way to new life. Saplings sprouted forth from the ashes of their parents.


What goes up must come down. On the JMT, high mountain passes constantly test your resolve, blocking easy passage into the next valley. Fickle afternoon weather means early starts are crucial, lest you get caught on an exposed granite outcropping with lightning bolts nipping at your heels.


Sunrise on the highest peak in the lower 48 looks like this. We concluded our journey on the summit of Mt.Whitney as the closest star to planet earth slowly rose from its smokey, hazy slumber.

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Matthew Swartz is originally from Connecticut and currently lives in Denver, Colorado where he passionately pursues rock climbing, trail running, and skiing. Matt’s love of travel has inspired him to through-hike the JMT and part of the PCT, bike across the United States, and explore the West coast of South America from Ecuador to Patagonia. Matt and his partner Amanda have also travelled across much of the Western US in their 1964 Clark Cortez RV, which they lived in, on the road for the better part of three years. Matt has worked for the USFS as an Interpretive Ranger and Wildland Firefighter and Matt's photography and writing has been published in Rova Magazine, the Leatherman blog, 'Hit The Road' by Gestalten Publishing, and Forbes.