I’d been thinking about taking 5 days to hike the Rae Lakes Loop this summer, with a lot of time built in for side hikes to visit a few additional nearby lakes, peaks, and meadows. My daughter and I had backpacked the loop several years ago, and I thought a return would be fun and relaxing. Sometimes, though, life intervenes, and a hoped-for 5-day trip turns into 2 days. That’s what happened here. Solo.
Two days means a faster pace to cover the 42 miles. But I can think of worse things to do.
Some (well, me anyway) call Kings Canyon “Yosemite, without all of the people.” It has the majesty of the Sierra, but not the teeming hordes of Yosemite Valley. The Rae Lakes Loop, though, is a popular backpacking loop there, and it’s usually well-travelled. Still, I think it makes for an excellent introduction to backpacking, with easy-to-follow trails, great views, the gorgeous high mountain lakes, and a taste of elevation, especially the not-quite-12,000 ft Glen Pass. For me, it made for a scenic conditioning trip and a way to test temporary measures with my ankle (the rebuild is scheduled for November.)
The weather was good…if a bit on the toasty side down at 5,000 feet. For some reason, the trails seemed empty, too. Empty of people, that is. I saw bear, deer, raptors, and 9 rattlesnakes. On the last point, one of them was black. On exiting, I asked the ranger about black rattlesnakes, and she said there aren’t any. Then she looked at the picture and said, “that’s a black rattlesnake.” Yeah, that’s what I thought!
The first 22-23 miles up to 10,800 feet seemed pretty easy. I started early at the Road’s End station trailhead, took a break after the first 15 miles, and walked some more. Got in to a campsite at Rae Lakes early, enjoyed the lake which was warm enough for a quick “swim”, and passed out some of the trail magic I’d lugged along for JMT/PCT thru hikers: uncrushed potato chips, cheese, Reese’s pieces, and whiskey. With so few hikers to be found, most of the bounty went to a group of women from Humboldt just five days away from finishing the JMT. They were gracious enough to replace the weight with a 30 lb (it sure seemed heavy) bag of garbage so I wouldn’t miss out on training benefits on the hike out.
The second day started with the climb up through Glen Pass. And I mean started….didn’t even slow down for breakfast. This was partly because I wanted to make time. But mostly because my emergency bivy rather than a sleeping bag proved that while I could survive slightly sub-freezing temps in it, I couldn’t sleep well. I froze my arse off! I’ll call the system workable into the upper 40s, but no so much in the 20s and 30s. I got up at 5, packed, and started walking to warm up. And kept on going.
Beautiful couple of days. Tired legs. And now it’s back to energy-efficiency and rotten sill plates and the like.
See a bigger set of photos (warning: may induce the desire to hike this loop!)