27 November 2016

Rae Lakes

Kings Canyon National Park

August 1992

Rae Lakes loop with a couple little spurs

Day 1

My dad saw an opportunity to revisit the famous Rae Lakes loop from Roads End in Kings Canyon by taking myself and my little sister around it. Plans were for a week in the wilderness taking some time to head on down to Charlotte Lake and a day up in the Sixty Lake Basin. We got to the ranger kiosk to get a permit around the time it opened, but this was already too late to get three for Woods Creek. Instead, we got three for the less popular counter-clockwise direction up Bubbs Creek. We had day hiked up to middle Paradise Valley at one point, so this was the unfamiliar side. (I distinctly remember that hike, 14 miles and the longest I had done for many years, as the one I broke in my boots that was wearing and I later cut up on my second trip up Mount Whitney.) The permit being the last thing to pack, we set out on the trail.

It starts off very easy on an upward grade next to the river that is so gradual it is difficult to notice. The trail is sandy. We were not in a hurry, so we rolled along through the sand using the least amount of extra energy. Sand mostly punishes those in a hurry. It was not long before we came to the river crossing and obediently followed our permit on the serious climb up Bubbs Creek. The other direction is popular because it is a gentle climb all the way to the lakes.

Kings River
The view while climbing up Bubbs Creek.

Bubbs Creek
A little bit of water.

The switchback climb really does not last all that long. I remember at least one long rest to look out at the massive canyon below us. The climb continues along the creek once the switchbacks end and so we went generally upwards for the whole day. We stopped somewhere a mile or two short of Junction Meadow after feeling like we had done quite a lot of uphill.

Bubbs Creek
Up in the canyon.

Day 2

My dad seemed to have gained a romantic view of Charlotte Lake. He was determined to visit it on this trip so that was our destination for the second day. We had a little bit of easy climb to Junction Meadow, then got started on some more determined climbing. There was a rest for more meadow, then more climb. I got ahead of the other two on this to get to the sandy top. There are a couple junctions and I followed everything down to just short of the lake where my hip belt broke. Or rather, the pack broke away from the hip belt on one side. There was a nice, big rock which I sat on waiting for the others. A faun came down the trail first.

Charlotte Lake
Charlotte Lake.

It was a while before the others got down near the lake and I got quite a scolding for continuing past the intersection above. It was well signed and everything agreed with the map I had been looking at, but that was not considered a good reason to continue. We continued on to the camping area while I held up the loose side of my pack. It was a rather miserable way to be traveling and the short bit of trail left seemed about four times as long as it should have. Once in camp, we tied the belt back onto the pack with a bit of bear rope through a hole punched in the belt. Then we poked a little way around the lake, mostly to the outlet. We also looked in at the little ranger station, but the ranger was not in that day.

There were a few deer down by Charlotte Lake.

Early on the trail this day, we met a fellow who said he frequently hiked this loop. One time, he and his friends tried to do it as quickly as they could and managed it in three days. It sounded amazing to me at the time, but seems a bit less so now.

Day 3

This new day brought the biggest challenge of the trip: Glen Pass. Beyond it are the lakes the loop is known by. We climbed out from the lake and met someone who shared the secret to getting downhill quickly without ruining the knees. He said to walk like Groucho in Duck Soup. I said I was far too young to know who the Marx Brothers were. I still have not seen Duck Soup, but a good bent knee walk does make the downhill easier on the knees if one has the strength for it.

Once back to the large sandy flat of the upper junction, we turned for ever more climbing. The pass teased us particularly badly. We climbed to a big corner up ahead where things seemed to go through. A pass! We got around the corner and it did go through to a lot more climbing. In the distance was another corner where things apparently broke through. They broke through to more climbing still. So we climbed again not daring to hope that the top really was near and finally came to it.

Rae Lakes
Looking down on the Rae Lakes from Glen Pass.

At the top, I learned that Nalgene bottles can become quite brittle. We had a half gallon bottle of water to make flavored drink to have with lunch along and today was my turn to carry it. Maybe that is part of why the pass seemed to tease me so badly. I also had my own 1L bottle that I had not been drinking on the way up and gulped down at the top sitting on a big, high rock. I then pulled out the other bottle and set it down in front of me on the rock, but soon found my thin nylon soccer shorts were peculiarly wet. Looking down, I was sitting in a puddle. I had set the bottle down on a slight corner and it cracked. The water I had worked so hard bringing up was draining out into the depression in the rock I was sitting in. I squeezed the crack together and the water stopped flowing. It was mixed and drunk down quickly after that.

from Glen Pass
More of the view from Glen Pass.

from Glen Pass
And even more of the view from Glen Pass.

After a good long time enjoying the pass just eight feet short of 12000, it was time to drop a lot of the elevation we had been gaining up until then. Time to try out walking like Groucho. We got down to the lakes and found a spot in the well populated camp area. Since we had so many neighbors, we were able to find someone with some extra duct tape for the bottle. We also found a few people who had Nalgene bottles that were completely covered with duct tape since cracking turns out to be a common problem for them.

It was getting colder that night and just a bit windy too. My little sister was getting cold, which somehow was the first I found out she had not actually packed a jacket. Apparently I used to pack extra warm things for her when we go camping because she often forgot them. I did not have extra stuff this time. You do not do that sort of thing when backpacking. I offered her my wool sweater that I really wanted to have on under my jacket. I doubt it was too useful with the cold wind, but it was all I could offer.

peaks around the lakes
The peaks around the lake. Is there a dragon there?

We chatted a bit with an older neighbor who was through hiking the John Muir Trail and was worried about the last bit of trail up to the top of Whitney and how it might play with his vertigo. Since I had been on the trail the year before, I could tell him what I thought of it. He seemed genuinely interested in my childish opinion even though he had to explain what vertigo was. I could not tell him anything definitive. There had been some scary spots, but the trail leaves plenty of room for hikers. He would just have to try. He also showed us what he had done to his pack to help him get up the hills. He had speakers attached to either side of the external frame so he could dance up the passes. Overall, he was quite silly.

We also met a fellow trying to be a trail runner. He was wearing the exact same shoes I had for track to be out in the woods. His daily goal was 35 miles but he was only actually getting about 27 miles each day. While doing the loop in three days seemed difficult, the idea of doing 35 miles a day seemed like an absurd impossibility. Still, he was managing to do something quite impressive even if it was well under where he aimed.

Day 4

Our plan for the day was to day hike the Sixty Lake Basin. The weather had its own plan of storming a bit. We started upward, but things started to rumble and flash. As rain started, we found a sheltering rock. It did not have a lot of height, but it was deep and stayed dry. Ultimately, the day was a bust. We did not get to explore the basin.

stormy lake
A bit of stormy weather.

Day 5

It was threatening to rain some more as we packed up to head back down to Paradise Valley for the last night. The rain materialized for a few hours requiring hiking in our ponchos. What was two days of uphill was now two days of downhill. Some spots required some care in the rain, but mostly it was just the easy downhill stroll that might be expected.

Woods Creek
Heading down on a dark day.

lake in the canyon
A lake along the way.

The sun came out in the early afternoon and it even got quite comfortable out. We found ourselves a campsite and had a lot of afternoon left, so went swimming in the river. We kids went in first, quite slowly. We had a nice swimming hole that was deep enough to sit in up to our necks but quite cold. When dad decided to go in, he of course asked how it was and we of course assured him it was surprisingly nice. It was a little shocking to him when he jumped in and he did not stay in for very long. Maybe we should have told him honestly. We did not stay in for much longer either, but it was nice to be somewhat clean.

Paradise Valley
Kids in Paradise.

Day 6

One last day and it was sunny again. Paradise Valley is a long, generally flat section, but after it starts on a steady downhill again. So we had another long downhill.

somewhere in the canyon
Continuing downward.

Kings River
Falls along South Fork Kings River.

After a long downhill, we finally were back to the last sandy two miles back to the road and finishing.

©2016 Valerie Norton
photos scanned from slides ©Ken Norton
Posted 27 November 2016

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