Thru-hiking the John Muir Trail as a modern pilgrimage: implications for natural resource management

Abstract

In many religions, the simple act of walking from one point to another, sometimes over great distances, becomes a life-changing event, often undertaken only once in a lifetime at great financial and physical cost. In recent decades, walkers often label themselves or are labeled by others as pilgrims, and their walks parallel traditional religious pilgrimages such as the Hajj or the Camino de Santiago. In this article, we examine 26 travel blogs of thru-hikers (or intended thru-hikers) of the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, U.S.A., for elements of spirituality that correspond to discussions of religious pilgrimages.  We also examine the ways that thru-hikers discuss management of the trail; like pilgrims on other trails, John Muir Trail (JMT) thruhikers convey simultaneous annoyance and appreciation of rules that restrict behaviors on the popular trail. We contend that understanding a thru-hike of the JMT as a form of pilgrimage has important implications for natural resource management and can help wilderness managers better meet the needs of this type of trail user, one who crosses multiple administrative boundaries, often seeks a distinctive combination of comradery and solitude, and for whom a backcountry hike may be a transformative xperience.

  • Citation: Hitchner, Sarah; Schelhas, John; Brosius, J. Peter; Nibbelink, Nathan. 2018. Thru-hiking the John Muir Trail as a modern pilgrimage: implications for natural resource management. Journal of Ecotourism. 14(4): 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1080/14724049.2018.1434184.

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