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John Muir Trail

Day 18 of 22

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Saturday, August 2nd
Rae Lakes to Center Basin Crossing
9.5 miles
2570 vertical feet (ascent)
2640 vertical feet (descent)

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GPX File

As we prepped in the morning, a man walked by and recognized us. I had taken a picture of him and his companion at the Muir Hut. I didn't immediately recognize him, I think because he had several days more facial hair growth. Still, it was nice to see him. One of the neat things about doing a long trip like this is seeing people you met earlier in the trip.

Painted Lady reflecting in middle Rae Lake

Painted Lady reflecting in middle Rae Lake

Fin Dome reflecting in middle Rae Lake

Starburst at Rae Lakes sunrise

It was sunny with no rain clouds in sight when we left Rae Lakes at 9:40am. We returned to the main trail, which starts out flat as it travels the isthmus between two of the lakes. Then there's an intersection with the trail to the right heading toward Sixty Lakes Basin. We turned left and soon started heading up toward Glen Pass.

Painted Lady over Rae Lakes

Neil, at about 6 foot 4 and in great shape, took the lead. My 11 year old son Nathan kept up with him the whole way. The rest of us were spread out below, hiking at our own pace. We'd regroup at the top soon enough. Someone had said that it took them two and a half hours to reach the top, but I was very skeptical of that time. I was sure we would do it in under two hours. It's only 2.6 miles and about 1400 feet of climbing to the top from the campsites near the bear box at Rae Lakes.

As we climbed, we gained views of Rae Lakes below, and then several unnamed lakes above tree line. Nathan and Neil reached the top in about 1 hour 30 minutes. The rest of of reached the top about 15-20 minutes later. It sounded like a big party on top of the pass, with numerous groups of hikers sharing the pass. Patrick was there, and left while we took a break. Perhaps we'd see him at camp tonight.

View of Rae Lakes

Unnamed lake on way to Glen Pass

Climbing up to Glen Pass

Unnamed lakes below Glen Pass

Rae Lakes

View from near Glen Pass

After a break, we now descended the switchbacks to the first lake on the other side of the pass. This is where Neil and Jon had camped two nights ago. We stopped here so that Neil and Jon could filter water. Neil took the opportunity to jump right into the freezing lake, momentarily stunning himself in the process. I took a more conservative approach, putting on my water shoes and walking in. Even that was cold, but refreshing.

View looking southwest from Glen Pass

Descending to lake below Glen Pass

Unnamed lake below Glen Pass

After a long relaxing break at the lake, we left it at 1:15pm. The descent now continued toward the Charlotte Lake intersection, but there were a few brief sections here that were actually slightly uphill. As we descended, we had nice views of the Charlotte Creek valley leading toward a bare granite peak. Soon after that we could see Charlotte Lake itself. The lake isn't on the JMT itself, but is accessible via a side trail.

Charlotte Creek valley

Charlotte Lake

We reached the Kearsarge Pass intersection. A note on the sign mentioned a man of interest who the rangers were looking for (there was a similar note near the Rae Lakes ranger station). A group here said they'd actually seen him a few days ago heading in the opposite direction, and said he was harmless. I heard afterward that he had threatened some horse packers in some manner. We all joked that much of the description of the man in the note could have fit many people on the trail (5' 10", holes in pants, unusual social behavior).

After a break, we continued briefly through a flat barren landscape that looked more like a desert, before reaching another intersection for Kearsarge Pass (via Bullfrog Lake). Now began a long steep descent on switchbacks, with great views looking south.

Switchbacks down toward Vidette Meadow

View on the descent to Vidette Meadow

Descent to Vidette Meadow

Descending toward Vidette Meadow

Mountain view

We reached the bottom of the descent at 3:30pm. To the right was lower Vidette Meadow, which Jean and I had camped at in 2001. This time, we stayed on the JMT, headed toward upper Vidette Meadow. The trail starts out flat before starting an 800 foot ascent to the Center Basin crossing.

The map makes it look like a gradual ascent, but the first section of climbing is actually fairly steep. Along the way we passed many people camping near Vidette Meadow and along Bubbs Creek. Our goal was to get as far as possible to make the climb up to Forester Pass less daunting tomorrow. If we had camped near the Vidette Meadow intersection, the climb tomorrow would have been over 3650 feet, so anything we could do today to lessen that would be appreciated tomorrow.

Bubbs Creek

The climb started in the forest, then broke out into more open forest. We started to see some campers again. We came across a site next to the creek, but eventually decided it was too small for our three tents. We kept going a little further and soon came to the bear box just before the Center Basin creek crossing. Somewhat surprisingly, there was only one other group here. Apparently there was another set of campsites a little further up that was more crowded. We found a nice site here, away from the bear box.

Bubbs Creek near our campsite

We made the short walk down to the creek to get water and to play, but we didn't have long before the sun disappeared and it got cold - the sun disappeared behind a mountain at 6:30pm (even though sunset was about 8pm). At least we had a pretty campsite, with great views of the creek and the surrounding mountains.

Late afternoon light

Bubbs Creek

After we turned in for the night, we started to hear the all-too-familiar sound of horses with bells. They must have walked by our tents 4 times during the night. Back and forth. Neil said he saw one of them sort of circling our tent for some reason, and horses had come close to all 3 of our tents. Thankfully, no damage was done, though. We hadn't noticed any horse packers on the way in. We had passed some horses about a mile or two back, but I wasn't sure if these were the same horses.

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