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Rae Lakes Loop

Day 1 of 6

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Sunday, September 9th
Road's End to Middle Paradise Valley
6.7 miles
1700 vertical feet (ascent)
170 vertical feet (descent)

My previous max for backpacking had been 54.5 pounds (on the Emigrant Wilderness trip). I figured I could carry a little more, but I figured 60 would be the absolute maximum. I wanted to keep Jean under 35 pounds. We spent awhile making some adjustments to distribute the weight accordingly and went with 4 pounds of water (64 ounces) instead of 5 pounds each. The advantage of backpacking is that, with the water filter, water is the one thing you don't have to worry about. Some backpackers probably carry even less than 64 ounces at a time.

There were a few other backpackers in the parking lot as we prepared. Eventually we made enough adjustments so that my pack weighed in at 58 1/2 pounds, and Jean's was 34 3/4. I'm sure that sounds like a lot, so if you're interested you can see what's inside our packs.

We started off under sunny skies at 10am. We'd done the trail up to Lower Paradise before, so we knew pretty much what to expect the first day. Though it would be different because of the pack weight, and we were going in September in a drought year instead of in May two years earlier, when the water had been gushing.

Jean taking a rest by the trail

The trail starts off through level, open forest. The first thing we noticed was bugs. Little gnats flying around in front of our faces. They didn't bite, but were very annoying. I kept swatting them away with my hands or trekking poles. After a while we applied some insect repellent which seemed to help a bit at first, but as we got closer to the water, the bugs just got worse.

During this first portion of the hike, a backpacker approached up the trail. We stopped to let him pass, but he had friends behind who were slower, so he told us to keep going. We didn't know it then, but we'd run into each other later.

Now we were in the shade, close to the river, and the bugs were driving us crazy. I felt like if I weren't careful, I'd inhale them with a simple breath. It became impossible to think about anything other than the bugs in front of our faces. They seemed to be attracted to our breathing, since they bothered us the most while we were moving and breathing harder. Eventually, I resorted to wrapping my handkerchief completely around my nose and mouth, so only my steaming sunglasses were showing. I must have been a strange sight, but at least I didn't mind the bugs so much anymore. Except for the two or three times when a bug found its way around my sunglasses and into my eyes!

We played leapfrog with another pair of backpackers, including a woman with a bandage wrapped around her knee. They mentioned that the rangers had said the bugs wouldn't be a problem above about 6500 feet, so we were thankful for that. We'd be camping just above that level tonight. Sure enough, as we got higher, the bugs became less of a nuisance.

The Sphinx

Mist Falls

We stopped to rest on a patch of granite where Jean had tapped my shoulder 2 years ago to tell me to turn around and look at the view of the Sphinx, rising above the valley behind us. The Sphinx was still there, minus the snow, but the water levels were much lower than they had been. In fact, this was most noticeable when we arrived at Mist Falls, 3.8 miles into our hike. Before, when we stood on the trail by the Mist Falls sign, the mist would reach us -- even though we were standing hundreds of feet from the falls. Now, there was no mist. In fact, the falls were tame and I walked down close to them with no problem. This wasn't all bad. It allowed me to enjoy the view of the river downstream from the falls -- something I couldn't see last time.

South Fork of the Kings River downstream from Mist Falls

This was the last time we saw day hikers for a while. We witnessed a women going up and down the trail, calling out her companion's name. She eventually found him, sitting at the top of the falls. A couple other day hikers came by while we rested, and then as we prepared to leave, an older man with a camera strapped to his chest came by (this one was a backpacker).

Sphinx from farther up the trail

The previously powerful section of falling water above the falls was no longer deafening. We passed that section and started the long hot climb up to Paradise Valley. Jean found the heat made it difficult, but I enjoyed the fact that the bugs weren't bothering us anymore. We trudged on until we saw the logjam in the river, which I knew meant we'd reached Paradise Valley. I was surprised to find that there was no one camping in Lower Paradise. We stopped to enjoy this beautiful area. We had it all to ourselves as we filtered water and enjoyed the views of the mountains looming over the peaceful water. I noticed there were aspen trees on the far shore, and speculated it would be a beautiful sight in a month when they turned colors.

Jean getting some water to filter at Lower Paradise

After a long rest, we returned to the trail. We passed the woman with the brace and her companion, who was playing a flute. They'd apparently passed us while we were at Lower Paradise. We now walked through a beautiful forest with trees and the creek to our right. The late afternoon sun gave the area a nice color. I felt like we were now entering bear territory, as we were past the day hikers and into more isolated country.

Ferns between Lower and Middle Paradise

I stopped to take a picture of the forest and the river. While we stopped, the pair we'd just passed walked past us, and so made it into Middle Paradise just before we did. There are just 5 camp sites at Middle Paradise (there are 9 at Lower). There's a pit toilet near site 1, and a bear box near site 2. While Jean waited at site 2, I scoped out the other sites. Site 3 was occupied by a pair of backpackers we hadn't seen yet (a couple of men who I will refer to as the East Coast pair for convenience). Site 4 was empty but didn't look very appealing, and 5 was occupied by the pair who'd just passed us. 5 looked like the best site, but I would say none of them was as nice as Lower Paradise. We ended up taking site 1, which has somewhat of a view overlooking the South Fork of the Kings River (which we'd paralleled all day).

An aspen at Middle Paradise -- a hint of things to come

I went down to the river to get some water to filter. I was glad I'd brought two flimsy Nalgene bottles; they were slightly different so that I could remember one would always be used for unfiltered water, and one would be for the filtered water. While I sometimes enjoy sitting by the water filtering, it makes it much easier to be able to bring the water to camp and filter there. Sometimes you just can't find a good rock to sit on near the water.

In front of our camp

We washed up (no soap), rinsed our clothes, and hung them up to dry on our clothesline hung between the trees. This would be our daily routine for the next few days. Afterwards we had dinner of pasta and flatbread, and went to sleep early. I was too tired to even get out of the tent and see the stars (we finished before the stars came out). I just had enough energy to take out my pulse oximeter and take readings. I read 92% blood oxygen, and Jean read 94. We were at 6600 feet after one night of sleeping at 5000 feet. 95-100% at sea level is normal, so they seemed like decent readings.

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