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Rae Lakes Loop

Day 2 of 6

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Monday, September 10th
Middle Paradise Valley to Woods Creek Crossing
7.8 miles
2200 vertical feet (ascent)
390 vertical feet (descent)

We woke up at 6:30am, had breakfast, and broke camp. We hadn't been able to fit everything in our bear canisters, so I had put some of our overflow food and scented items into the shared bear box by site 2. When I retrieved them, everyone else had already taken out their items. We were the last to leave, at just past 9am, on another perfectly clear day.

The trail goes through more beautiful forest before opening up into a meadow. Some scattered trees here showed the effects of a past fire. More mountains lay in front of us as we followed the river upstream. We had brief glimpses of small waterfalls as we continued along the trail, which goes up and down toward Upper Paradise. The Rae Lakes Loop map says it's only 1.5 miles from Middle to Upper Paradise, but I think that's not true. It took us a long time to get there. Eventually we had to stop for food and to apply sunscreen. When we finally arrived at Upper Paradise, the sign there says it's 2.2 miles from Upper to Middle Paradise. I believe that more than the 1.5, and that's what I'm basing the 7.8 miles on.

There are 6 sites and two bear boxes at Upper Paradise. No one was camped here; in fact, we hadn't seen anyone so far today. We now had the task of crossing the South Fork of the Kings River. Two narrow logs fed into a very large log across to the other side. Jean began to walk on the two logs, but soon decided she couldn't do it. She carefully backed up and decided to rock-hop instead. She picked her way across and, with the help of her trekking poles and one small leap, made it to the other side still dry.

Crossing the river

After catching her in action, I put my camera away and did the same. When I reached the other side I found I had to climb onto the large log or tear my legs up in a patch of thorns. It was quite hard for me to get onto the log with a 58 pound pack on my back, but somehow, after much struggling, I managed to do it. I then stood up and walked along the large log to safe ground. We now had 5.6 miles to go, albeit mostly uphill. It would feel like the longest 5.6 miles I've ever hiked.

The trail heads into the forest and starts climbing immediately. After climbing for awhile, we stopped for a break under some trees. While we were there, a group of 6 or 8 backpackers passed by in the opposite direction. Those were the only people we saw for some time as we climbed up, above Woods Creek. While the trail parallels the creek, it spends much of the time far above it.

View looking back toward Paradise Valley

The trail closely approaches the creek in one spot, and we found the East Coast pair and the pair of hikers including the woman with the bandaged knee here, resting and filtering water. Jean and I stopped to check our water supply, and it was a good thing we did, as I was completely out. I filtered water while Jean and the woman discussed the merits of Luna bars.

The others left while we were still there. After our break, we continued up the trail. Now, the map shows two creeks perpendicular to the trail where I had hoped to filter water. But we never found them -- they must have been dried up at this time of year. So if you go late in the year, don't count on them for water.

Resting by the trail

Drift fence

The valley ahead of us

Trees along the trail

The sun was hot, the trail climbed relentlessly, and seemed to stretch on forever. Eventually we reached a drift fence which is marked on the map, so we knew approximately where we were. We closed the gate behind us and continued on down into Castle Domes Meadow. The meadow is filled with aspens, their leaves fluttering in the wind -- nature's wind chimes. The aspens in the meadow were twisted and short, but the ones in the forest stood tall. I haven't seen many forests like the one we passed through - a mixed forest of pine and aspen. The trees grew side by side, intermixed. A few of the aspens were showing hints of turning yellow, but most still had green leaves.

Castle Domes


More aspens

To our left, above us, Castle Domes was clearly visible. In front of us, the valley culminating in a set of mountains. We knew we had to reach nearly the end of the valley, just before those mountains. At least now we knew our target. But the trail still seemed to stretch on forever. Eventually we grew close. We passed a second drift fence which isn't marked on the map. Soon I smelled a campfire and we passed a set of horsepackers who had set up camp near the creek. Soon after that we crested a short hill and descended to a trail junction -- the John Muir Trail!

Jean crossing the bridge

We turned right onto the JMT and then came to a bridge which crosses Woods Creek. The bridge is a suspension bridge, held up by cables, with wooden planks along the bottom. It sways a lot, and is meant for only one person at a time. I made the mistake of crossing while still holding my trekking poles in one hand. If I had to do it over again, I would have put the poles away, strapped to my pack somewhere. But I did make it across easily enough.

Woods Creek Crossing

On the other side, several people were talking to a stocky man who claimed he was trying to set a record for backpacking along the JMT from Yosemite to Whitney and back, 7 days each way (about 30 miles a day). He talked for a while, but ended up leaving to go hike some more while there was still light. The rest of us mere mortals set up camp for the night.

There were already several groups set up, but there weren't any assigned sites like at Paradise Valley. I set down my pack to prepare to look around for a camp site without it, and it was then that I noticed my squirt bottle was missing. I brought a small squirt bottle to help with washing dishes. I also use it for when I brush teeth, and for general drinking around camp and in the tent, since it's more convenient than a CamelBak for that purpose. I guess it must have popped out of my side pouch when I'd put my pack on after a rest stop. My guess was that it was somewhere a couple miles back on the trail, somewhere in Castle Domes Meadow.

I was disappointed about the bottle, but put it aside and looked for a site. Eventually I found one above the other sites. We set up camp, washed up, got more water from the creek, and I took some pictures of the beautiful afternoon light shining on the sequoias. Then we started cooking our dinner.

Mountain above Woods Creek camp

While we were cooking, a group of three came up the trail and started setting up camp near us. It was the first group we'd seen on the trail yesterday. I figured they must have been behind us the whole way up here, so maybe they'd picked up my water bottle. On the off chance they had, I asked them if they'd seen it. In fact, they had, and it was just on the other side of the bridge we'd just crossed! Thankful, I finished dinner and then walked across the bridge in my slippers, radio in one hand and headlamp in the other. It was still light, but I couldn't see my bottle anywhere. I kept walking up the trail, until I finally found the bottle, lying in the middle of the trail just past the JMT junction. Perhaps I'd adjusted my pack at that point and it'd fallen off. In any case, I retrieved the bottle and crossed the bridge for the third time.

Our camp site

There were a lot more people camped with us than the previous night -- perhaps because it was part of the JMT. The woman with the bandaged knee invited us to a camp fire they were setting up. There are a couple bear boxes and some fire pits here, at 8500 feet (campfires are not allowed above 10,000 feet). Jean and I decided to join them and meet some of the people we'd seen on the trail so far.

Around the camp fire, there was Monica (the woman with the bandaged knee), Hugh (her friend), Martina and Hillmar (couple from Holland), Andy (experienced backpacker going solo), and Scott (one of the three camping next to us). Scott was here with his brother-in-law Steve and his father-in-law Kenny; they were from Virginia. Also camped in the area was the East Coast pair, but they didn't join us at the camp fire. Interestingly enough, we didn't meet anyone from the Bay Area on our hike. Seems like not many people in the Bay Area even know where Kings Canyon is. It's a shame, but that's fine with me -- just means it's less crowded than better-known Yosemite.

We talked about all sorts of things ranging from hike-related issues to the excess of Americans (big food, big people, big cars). Scott, Steve, and Kenny had brought along their fishing rods, and Scott talked about going trout fishing in the lakes ahead of us. Monica said that the ranger back at Road's End had said that there was a 2-night limit at Rae Lakes. The map I had said there was a 1-night limit, which had been part of my decision to stay at Rae Lakes one night, and Sixty Lakes Basin the next. But hearing this, I began to think we could stay at Rae Lakes for two nights, and do Sixty Lakes as a day hike. That would make things more comfortable.

Camp fire

Everyone else had rented bear canisters at Road's End or the ranger station back at Cedar Grove. We'd brought our own; we could have saved ourselves almost a pound each if we'd rented the lightweight canisters. Oh well.

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