Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rae Lakes Loop

June 3-7, 2008
Beautiful, Snowy, Solo Backpacking

Trip Stats:
Distance: About 50 miles (with side trip to Charlotte Lake), 47 without
Start/End: Roads End in Kings Canyon National Park
Gain/Loss: About 7,000 ft / 2100 m
Time: 5 days, 4 nights
Difficulties: Snow and light mountaineering on Glen Pass (in June, otherwise all trail); five days with me, myself, and I; not wanting to depart such a beautiful place

The Rae Lakes Loop is a spectacular hike. Especially in June, which keeps away the crowds because of the snow, the difficulties of crossing Glen Pass, and the impassibility of Kearsarge Pass (the short way in from Onion Valley), it is quite amazing to have the place all to oneself.


Otherwise, enjoy!

Day One (June 3): Road's End to Lower Paradise

No one was at the Ranger Station, so I self issued a permit and started off. I drove in that morning, and started hiking at around 1pm. The South Fork of the Kings River roared down the valley, creating the beautiful Mist Falls:

Looking back downcanyon toward the Sphinx, I could tell I was in a beautiful place:

Day Two (June 4): Lower Paradise to Wood's Creek Crossing

After the constant uphill of Day 1, it was nice to walk along flatter terrain for a while in the morning. After crossing the bridge over Arrow Creek and turning onto the northern leg of the loop, green and meadows greeted me everywhere:

Thankfully, mosquitos were still at a minimum due to the early season. Near the Wood's Creek crossing over the suspension bridge, I was awed by the amazing undercut roof of the main Castle Dome:

In the evening, I reached the campsites after the suspension bridge and camped there for the night.

Day Three (June 5): Rae Lakes, Glen Pass, Charlotte Lake

As I climbed steadily up toward Rae Lakes, the true beauty of the alpine area began to show:

There was still a lot of snow up there. The Painted Lady (rock formation to climber's left of the North side of Glen Pass) stood guard above a frozen upper Rae Lake:

The pass itself was quite snowy, and didn't seem so bad from the bottom. However, as the upper final 700' became visible, it was obvious that it would be exposed and somewhat difficult (it ended up being 2nd class on snowy rock, with ice and snow travel of course).

The best path proceeds up the left rock ridge (hidden behind the boulder) and then up across the top of the cliff bands and diagonal through the upper rock band to the low point on the horizon:

It was definitely more exposed and therefore hazardous than I expected. I appreciated my crampons and whippet pole. However, I mostly depended on good footwork because self arrest would have been quite difficult in the short and steep space above the rocks.

The south side of Glen pass was relatively snow free (unlike the rest of the trails on the south side) but the snow was covering the important part (the trail) and so some scree skiing and scrambling was in order:

I had intended to camp at Rae Lakes, but because the snow was good I decided to cross the pass (if the snow is good - you go!) and then traveled cross-country to Charlotte Lake to camp. This put me one day ahead of schedule. Here is the moon above trees at Charlotte:

Day 4 (June 6): Charlotte Lake to Charlotte Creek

There was a great deal of snow (and thus and trail-less routefinding) from Charlotte to Vidette meadows. However, I was compensated with gorgeous views of East Vidette and the Bubb's Creek valley:

After passing Bullfrog Lake, Vidette Meadow, and Junction Meadow, I stopped at Charlotte creek (the second-to-last campsite before Road's End) for the night.

Day 5 (June 7): Charlotte Creek to Road's End

I arose early and headed down the trail. It was good to walk the last bit of trail and complete the loop, but it is such a great hike I was sorry to go:

I closed the trip with a poem I wrote for Roy while on the loop. Enjoy:

In this Wildness
I put dried figs in my pocket
And depart
For civilization
Makes wind and roaring water
Echoes across the canyon
In my mind
I must remember the silence
Of knowing no force but time


stunn71 said...

Great hike info! Great photo's! Was wondering, what brand is your hiking "stick" / ice axe head? Never seen that before (especially around Florida).

Cora Shea said...

The ice axe pole is a Black Diamond whippet. It isn't really an ice axe... more like a trekking pole with a very helpful and sharp grip.

stunn71 said...

Did you ever have need of crampon's during your early June hike?

V.J. said...

Hi, thanks for posting this trip report and photos. The snow discussion was particularly helpful. I'm heading to the Rae Lakes Loop this year---early season in June---and your report gives me some confidence that the route is reasonable with crampons and axe. Cheers!