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Rae Lakes Loop

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Joined: 28 Nov 2010
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Location: Claremont

PostPosted: Sun Oct 04, 2015 7:56 am    Post subject: Rae Lakes Loop  Reply with quote

September 23-27, 2015

I wanted to do a long walk this year and after canceling due to a root canal over Labor Day, last week was a good opportunity. I had in mind to do the Rae Lakes Loop, which is one of the more popular backpacking trails in the Sierras. Most people go in via Roadís End in Kings Canyon National Park, which is a bit shorter and has the advantage of heading downhill at the end regardless of the direction chosen. Going over Kearsarge made it about 10 miles longer for me but the drive is much easier. When I got my permit and noted my itinerary, the Ranger there mentioned that I would be heading towards the Rough Fire and that I should be prepared for smoke in the afternoons.
Day One
Starting so late meant that I needed to make up some time for my plan of Junction Meadow. I saw a sign at the intersection of the JMT saying that Roadís End was closed, and it had been since August 22. I didnít think much of it since I wasnít going quite that far and I headed on my way. After a while it occurred to me that meant no one would be on the trail from the west, meaning it was unlikely that I would see anyone. Itís a different feeling to be totally alone, I usually hike by myself but we're never exactly alone in the Sierras. This time I wasÖ. It was getting pretty dark and I wasnít sure exactly how far I needed to go, and unfortunately there werenít any other camp areas available to me. Finally I noticed a little spur trail in the night and reached a nice camp spot. Lesson to everyone, make sure you know how to set up your gear in the dark, itís not the time to be reading directions. I have a headlamp but itís not the same as a sunny afternoon.

Day Two
I was feeling pretty lazy in the morning, with no real schedule I felt like I could afford to be that way. Walking downhill to begin the day was nice, although I knew I would have to turn and go back uphill sometime. The trail was getting a little overgrown from disuse, in fact I didnít even see any human footprints at all. I had some annoying bugs in front of my face for a few hours but I ditched them upon reaching the Roadís End junction. Here I cooled off in the river and had the rest of my Subway sandwich from yesterday. I got to laugh at the signs saying no camping between Sphinx Junction and Paradise Valley, thinking no one was there to stop me. Turned out there arenít many places to set up there anyway. Somewhere along the way I saw a couple of bears on the trail, a cub and mother scouting for food. This is actually my first bear sighting in the wild, the only place Iíve ever seen them before is in parking lots. Not knowing exactly what to do, I stood there and yelled at the mother and after ignoring me for about five minutes she finally went up the hill on her own. It was a pretty hot day, so once I reached Lower Paradise Valley I wanted to just cool off and hang out by the river. Once I put my pack down I knew it was the right place to spend the night, so I hung out and set up camp.

Day Three
I knew I had some climbing to do today, going from the valley to over 10K after crossing Woods Creek. I also saw another bear, this one a big black-colored animal. She stood up on the trail and then moved on ahead of me, so I watched for a while and then figured I had to move too. Fortunately she turned off in another direction so the trail was clear. Going back up was harder than I expected, out of shape plus the hot sun conspired to wear me out. On the map the trail is next to Woods Creek, however much of the time I was a couple hundred feet above it. Finally I found a place where the creek was next to the trail and spent some valuable time cooling off there. When I reached the JMT junction I got to cross the infamous suspension bridge, all the while wondering exactly how it was built out in the middle of nowhere. Plus I met up with some folks hiking the JMT, and we ended up camping together that evening. I still had some uphill to go, as it was another four miles and 1700 feet to Dollar Lake which was our intended overnight spot. When I finally got there, I saw a message written on the trail to go forward to Arrowhead Lake. After pondering that for a while I heard another bear, this one walked out from some rocks I had just passed, and nosed around for a while before heading back in. When I got to the camp  I just set up camp and hung out with the guys for a couple hours. We shared some scotch and that made it a pretty good night. They were heading over Kearsarge Pass for a resupply on Saturday, so I gave them the key to my truck so they didn't have to hitch to Lone Pine and back. I figured they could pick me up on Sunday at the trailhead. Got me some hiker karma too....

Day Four
I felt a little better in the morning, and finally ate some breakfast. Num num, hot chocolate and peach oatmeal. I thought I might just go to Rae Lakes today, but I reached them in just an hour after leaving camp. While sitting at the rock crossing between the Upper and Middle lake, I decided to tackle Glen Pass. Iíd read about this one, JMT hikers frequently mention it as the hardest. Itís 1400 feet up in less than two miles and stands at 11978 feet. That one took me more than two hours, including a break for some M&Ms and grape electrolyte mix. By the time I reached the top I was pretty worn out but the view from up there is amazing. Walking down, I started to get a bit low on water, but the map showed the trail going between two large tarns. Unfortunately, both were dry this late in the season, so I tried to ration from there. When I got to the Charlotte Lake junction, I figured I would take the high trail and stay at Kearsarge Lakes for the night. Only 3 miles ahead and I could fill up with water and cool down in a familiar place. There was a trickle of water crossing the trail, so I drank a 16 ounce bottle of water and put another 16 into my Camelback. However, when I reached the junction I had already decided not to go down to the lakes, since the next morning I would just have to walk back up. Scouting around, I found a spot that appeared level enough to set up the tent. Turned out it had a little slope but I managed to sleep.

Day Five
Waking up before sunrise, I got up in time to watch what John Muir called the Range of Light change colors as the sun created the unique rose colored glow on the peaks. I chatted with a couple hikers on their way to Kearsarge Pass, then packed up my camp and got on the way. I had stopped the night before with only about 12 ounces of water left over, so I wanted to start before the sun got things too hot. Reaching the outlet stream of Flower Lake was especially gratifying, since I was completely out of water then. It was nice to take a break and refill the bottles, also I knew it was just another three miles down to the trailhead. When I reached the rock garden below Gilbert Lake, I sent a message to come pick me up in about an hour or so. I got the chance to talk with a gentleman in the parking lot about the different lakes he had fished and the trails I hiked, so the time passed quickly. My ride showed up pretty soon, then we went off towards Lone Pine for a few hours. Taking a shower at the Mt Whitney Hostel is about the best five dollars I have ever spent, and devouring half a pizza with a cold beer was a great celebration of a completed hike. It was cool to hang out with a couple other hikers for half a day or so, and pretty soon it was time to drop them off at the Mt Williamson so they could continue their adventure the next day.

All told it was a nice expedition, the feeling of being totally alone was something new for me. Two days afterward, my muscles arenít so sore and I think Iím ready to get out again. Total for the trip was about 52 miles, I had one long day of 14+ and my last day was just 6 miles.

Gilbert Lake on the way up. My kind of infinity pool.

Heading towards Bullfrog Lake. Smoke in the air was obvious but not annoying.

East Vidette Peak in the late afternoon.

Bubbs Creek in the morning. Camped right next to this spot.

Heading down Kings Canyon toward Road's End. I was thinking Taco would like all that granite.

Bridge at Road's End junction. Hung out for a while here.

Wildlife on the trail. I saw a few deer too.

The mighty Kings River, lazy in late summer. Camped next to this spot too.

Third bear I saw. Didn't get my camera out of my pocket in time for a photo.

Fall colors while I'm headed up canyon towards the JMT. This section was rather hot and dry.

Woods Creek suspension bridge. Kind of an engineering marvel considering the location.

Almost to Arrowhead Lake, Fin Dome is the prominent feature.

I had a little condensation on the side away from the tree. Drying out in the morning.

Middle Rae Lake. Pictures just don't do the area justice.

Sierra staircase heading up Glen Pass.

Glen Pass. The trail follows the ridge for about 40 yards and then drops off to the left side.

Above Charlotte Lake, I stayed here in July.

View east from Kearsarge Pass in the morning. Five miles to go....
"Argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours"
(Donald Shimoda)
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Cucamonga Man

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1105
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Location: Monterey Park, CA

PostPosted: Sun Oct 04, 2015 5:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great trip report. Thanks! Those are some beautiful pictures. You're very trusting. I'm not sure how much scotch it would take for me to hand my car keys over to a stranger.
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Uncle Rico

Joined: 20 Mar 2008
Posts: 794
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Location: Pleasantville

PostPosted: Tue Oct 06, 2015 5:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Really great trip and photos Jeff. I've thought about that trans-Sierra trip from Road's End to Onion Valley, have just never gotten around to actually doing it.

You're very trusting. I'm not sure how much scotch it would take for me to hand my car keys over to a stranger.

Several years ago, I was descending the Cottonwood Lakes trail after a day hike to New Army Pass when I ran into a cute girl who was backpacking in solo. As we passed each other on the trail, she started a conversation with me during which she told me she thought she had left the lights in her car on and asked whether I'd check and turn them off for her when I got back to the parking lot. I told her I would and she handed me the keys to her BMW. When I got to the parking lot, I found her car and sure enough the lights were on. I got into her car, turned them off, and let her keys in the bear box.

Sometimes when I tell that story I like to embellish it a bit so others think this cute hiker-girl found me interesting and irresistible. In reality, she just didn't want to deal with a dead car battery when she returned after a couple of days in the mountains.    Razz
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