Friday, October 4, 2013

Rae Lakes Loop

I managed to slip into Kings Canyon National Park just before my annual park pass expired. Definitely an $80 well spent. This trip was planned at the last minute, which seems to be the way I roll these days. I had originally planned to yo-yo the Lost Coast Trail but as the departure date got closer I wasn't feeling very well prepared. On top of that, I picked up a cold from Lori a few days  before I was supposed to leave. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do any trip but after a couple of days the cold didn't get any worse and I felt good enough for something mellow.

DAY 1 ~ 7 miles

I left the house on Sunday at 8:30 and made it to the trailhead by 3:00. Spent about a half hour lost in Fresno looking for a couple of items. The road into Kings Canyon is pretty awesome, it is a really steep, windy road that descends down into the canyon. The trailhead is at the very end of highway 180 (Road's End) so I just kept going until the road ran out.

Rae Lakes Loop

Be careful!
Going around the loop clockwise is a little easier than counterclockwise. There is a total elevation gain of 8000 feet but it is more of a gentle climb. I made my way out of the parking area and took a left into Paradise Valley. At about 4.5 miles I stopped for a bite to eat at Mist Falls. I think it must be much more spectacular in the spring, this time of year the water was fairly low.

Mist Falls

Looking up into Paradise Valley

A few miles after the falls I came across the first of 3 campsites. Camping is not allowed south of these campsites. It was about 6 pm and I was feeling like stopping so I threw down my gear and took care of camp chores before it got dark. A couple came into camp about a half hour after me. It was nice to have some company and we had an enjoyable chat.

Sara and Adam

There were plenty of deer and they were not too concerned with us being there.

Actually, I probably saw the most deer of any trip I have taken over the course of the hike. All of them looked quite young, perhaps there was a population boom a couple of years ago.

Toilet near camp, nice not to have to dig a hole but it was a little wonky

Day 2 ~ 7 miles

Slept in and was slow to get going. I knew I only had to hike about 7 miles so I wasn't too concerned about the time.

Meadow below Castle Domes

I don't usually make a fire but it seemed like the perfect moment. What a great way to spend the evening, sitting by the fire, reading a book and watching the stars go by.

Castle Domes under the starry sky

Temperatures were near ideal, highs in the mid 70's and just hovering around freezing at night. A little frost on my bivy in the morning but I was warm and snug.

Day 3 ~ 8 miles

I hooked up with the PCT/JMT, this is normally a very busy trail but at this time of year there was almost nobody. I really can't say enough how lovely the weather was, the timing was perfect. Early October can be hit or miss in the Sierras.

Fin Dome in the distance

The ranger station is really well hidden, I totally missed it on my way by. But I happened to look back when wetting my bandana in a stream so I went back to check it out.

Rae Lakes Ranger Station

I watched the sunset over Rae Lakes and enjoyed the blue hour before dark.

Day 4 ~ 9 miles

I was excited to go over Glen pass, the highest point on my trip at just under 12,000 feet. It is really cool to go over passes, I put myself into granny gear and climb. The feeling of taking step after step, breathing rhythmically and slowly ascending is my kind of meditation. Forget sitting on a cushion indoors somewhere, I will take fresh air and exercise any day.

View North from the top of Glen Pass

This is the view going down switchbacks towards Vidette Meadow
 At the junction with Bubb's Creek trail I turn right and head west back towards Road's End.

That night I camped at Junction Meadow, I had the place to myself, along with the deer of course.

I will admit, I got a bit lonely towards the end and considered pulling a long day and hiking back to the car. Fortunately, common sense overruled my momentary weakness. Who knows when I will be back here, I should enjoy it while I can.

Day 5 ~ 10 miles

Today, I wanted to get an early start, so I was on trail by 7:30 and cruising downhill the whole way. Dropped about 4000 feet back into Kings Canyon, which is why going clockwise is really much easier.

Cool water spigot at the trailhead

I was a little surprised as I started to get closer to the park that I wasn't seeing anybody. In fact, I didn't see a single person on the way down from Junction Meadow. I understood why when I reached the trailhead and saw these signs posted:

Our Government at work (not)

 Apparently, I missed the budget deadline while in the mountains and I am glad I got into the park when I did.  Isn't Government great?