No one wants to contemplate the unthinkable, "What do I do if I have to bail out of the trip at some point?"
Accidents happen, people get tired, some realize they're in over their heads, others just want to go home.
I think it only prudent that each person has a plan about what they're going to do if they have to bail out. This includes the guide. Especially the guide!
None of these exit options are optimal, but please remember that you're doing the unexpected and the unplanned. Each option is fairly clear, but could be a bit expensive. Be prepared!
There are several places along the 211-mile route at which it is convenient and relatively easy to leave or join the trail. I've marked those on the Mile-by-Mile page with little Merge or Exit signs.
Those merge-and-exit points, in order from north to south, are:
- Tuolumne Meadows Backpacker Camp (Day 3 / 23.9 miles)
- Red's Meadow (Day 6 / 57.3 miles)
- Muir Trail Ranch (Day 12 / 106.4 miles)
- LeConte Ranger Station (Day 14 / 135 miles)
- Kearsarge Pass (Day 19 / 177.9 miles)
Okay, you've realized you need to bail out and you've selected the exit point. Now what? Well, you've got to get from wherever you are back to civilization, then get back to Tucson.
If you leave the hike at Tuolumne Meadows, you can catch a YARTS (Yosemite Area Rapid Transit System) bus to Mammoth Lakes. From there, you can book a flight to LAX and on to Tucson. There's only one flight a day out of Mammoth Lakes, so you might have to stay overnight and catch the flight the next day.
Departing from Red's Meadow (Devil's Postpile National Monument) also brings you to Mammoth Lakes, with the same options noted above.
Deciding to leave at Muir Trail Ranch is definitely NOT your best option if you intend on going east. That means you'll be hiking out to Bishop via Pine Creek, Piute, or Bishop Passes. Any of these passes may require a two- or three-day hike to get out! Once again, you'll have to be prepared. Personally, if I were to decide to leave at Muir Trail Ranch to head east, I wouldn't. What I mean is that I would continue to LeConte Ranger Station, then hike out via Bishop Pass from there. Much easier.
If you insist on leaving, and intend on heading west, bring some money. You can probably get to Fresno for about $200.00. Once you're in Fresno, you should be able to catch a bus or a flight to get back home to Tucson.
Getting off of the JMT at LeConte Ranger Station requires a hike out through Bishop Pass. This 13-mile trek takes you to South Lake, which is 22 miles from the town of Bishop.
Once you're in Bishop, you can catch an ESTA (Eastern Sierra Transit Authority) bus north to Mammoth Lakes (again!), and catch a flight to LAX and on to Tucson.
Another possibility is ESTA service south to Lancaster, where there is a connection to Union Station in Los Angeles via MetroLink, where you can get to LAX via Flyaway Bus for your flight to Tucson. There is only one bus each day in each direction, and only three days a week! Those days are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The southbound bus departs Bishop at 9:00 AM and will get you to Lancaster at 1:15 PM.
You can also take ESTA north to Mammoth Lakes for that flight option to LAX and Tucson. The bus heading north to Mammoth leaves Bishop at 7:30 AM and gets you to Mammoth at 8:20 AM. This service runs four days each week - Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday - so may be a better option that going south to Lancaster. It's your choice.
Bailing out at Kearsarge Pass means a nine-mile hike out to Onion Valley. From there, you'll have to catch a ride to Independence, fifteen miles away. Once you get to Independence, you're going to have to catch the ESTA bus at the Independence Courthouse at 6:30 AM Then you can follow the info above. Another option would be to head south to Lone Pine and wait for the rest of the group there.
Having provided that information, my hope is that no one will have to bail out!