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Rae Lakes Loop

Day 3 of 6

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Tuesday, September 11th
Woods Creek Crossing to Rae Lakes
6.3 miles
2250 vertical feet (ascent)
310 vertical feet (descent)

We awoke at 6:30am to overcast skies. Andy mentioned it looked like it might rain today. I hoped not. He headed off north up the JMT while we were still eating breakfast. Monica and Hugh left, on their way to Rae Lakes, as we were breaking camp. We eventually left at about 8:30am, this time armed with Tang. We'd brought powder for four 32-ounce servings, and this was the first day we'd use it. Yum.

Mountains behind us, to the north

Aspens next to the trail

Jean on the trail in the open forest

The trail climbs steadily through a virtual junkyard of rocks strewn throughout a wide valley. Here and there are aspens amid the pine trees. Mountains of bare rock lay on either side. Soon after we left, the East Coast pair passed us by. We played leap frog for a while before they passed us for good. Martina and Hillmar passed us later. They zoomed off ahead of us. Martina wondered why we were still wearing fleece; they were wearing shorts and t-shirts. Truthfully, at the time I was considering taking my fleece off. But as we continued our climb, the clouds continued to form above us, and the wind picked up. I never did get warm enough to take off the fleece.

Meadow to the left of the small foot bridge

Somewhere along the way there's another drift fence. Sorry I can't tell you where it is on the map. After passing the fence we made a short descent and then soon crossed a small foot bridge -- just some wooden planks set close to the ground. There's a pretty meadow backed by mountains to the left. We rounded a corner and took a break underneath some trees, just before starting another climb.

Nature's hat rack

Aspens and conifers near Baxter Creek

We climbed higher still, passing by a few scattered Foxtail pines. The clouds were dark behind us, and it looked as if it was raining on the mountains north of Woods Creek. The rain never reached us on our hike today, thankfully.

Jean still has energy

Looking back down the trail

After 3.5 miles of climbing, we reached Dollar Lake. There's a sign at the lake pointing out that there aren't really any good camp sites near the lake, and suggests backpackers continue on past the lake. The sign also states the camping limits in the area, including 2 days for Rae Lakes. So that settled it -- we would stay 2 days at Rae Lakes, and do a day hike the next day.

Fin Dome rising behind Dollar Lake

The East Coast pair were at Dollar Lake, watching as the sun played hide and seek. We talked to them a bit. We learned that one was from Kentucky (and wore a Purdue Rose Bowl shirt), and the other was from Pennsylvania. We took a break to filter water and have something to eat.

Scott showing off his quick catch

A closer look at the small trout

Twisted trunk of a tree next to Dollar Lake

The East Coast pair left, soon to be replaced by the guys from Virginia. Scott immediately took off his pack and cast his line into the lake. Almost as quickly, he caught a small trout. Steve also started fishing, while Kenny took out his camera to take a picture of Scott's catch. The fish was too small to keep, so Scott released it back into the lake.

Dollar Lake from further along the trail

Trail above Dollar Lake

Fin Dome rising above creek flowing toward Dollar Lake

Jean and I continued on past Dollar Lake while the guys from Virginia stayed and fished. The trail heads into a beautiful area which is one of my favorite parts of the trip. The south fork of Woods Creek snakes through green marshes. I was so engrossed with taking pictures that Jean ended up going far ahead of me. A ranger came up to me and said that Jean said I had the backpacking permit. I did; I took off my pack and showed it to her. She noticed my photography equipment and suggested that if I wanted to photograph wildlife, I should visit Dragon Lake, where seven bighorn sheep live. There's no marked trail, but a large cairn sits at the intersection of the main trail with a use trail which heads up to the lake. Unfortunately I hadn't brought my 300mm lens, so I didn't know if I really wanted to head up the next day.

Fin Dome and waterfall

Fin Dome

The ranger saw I had PowerMax fuel and asked if I needed any more (she had extra), but I assured her I had plenty. She also mentioned that bear activity was high in the Vidette Meadow area. Monica had mentioned this also. We intended to stay at Charlotte Lake instead, but I made a note of it. The ranger continued on toward Dollar Lake, and I joined Jean at Arrowhead Lake. There's a bear box here, and one person was camped here. The lake is larger than Dollar Lake and looks like a nice place to camp, but we were headed on to Rae Lakes today.

Arrowhead Lake, I think

The map shows that Rae Lakes is just past Fin Dome, which is easily identified, rising up above the mountains to our right. We used Fin Dome as a target. There's a bear box at the beautiful lake below Fin Dome, but we kept going. As we approached Rae Lakes, we saw the Painted Lady and a host of other peaks rising up in front of us. Rae Lakes is surrounded by mountains on three sides. There's Black Mountain to the east, Fin Dome to the west, the Painted Lady and Glen Pass to the south.

The final stretch towards Rae Lakes

Mountains behind Rae Lakes

We began searching for a camp site. There was no sign by the trail telling us where the bear boxes and camp sites were, like at Woods Creek. We continued along the trail, passing the cairn designating the trail to Dragon Lake. We kept going, starting onto the isthmus between the two Rae Lakes. It was then that we found the sign telling us that there's no camping on the isthmus, and that we'd passed the bear box. We turned around and headed back along the trail. We eventually found a nice camp site near the East Coast pair. It had a large flat area, with ample space for a tent under a tree, and an area sheltered by rocks which we could use for our kitchen area. It also had one of the most incredible views of any camp site in the area -- the Painted Lady and friends towering over the southern Rae Lake.

Painted Lady above Rae Lakes

The East Coast pair claimed they liked Evolution Lake in the John Muir Wilderness better, but maybe that's just because the weather wasn't that great today. It was still a bit chilly, but at least it hadn't rained on us -- yet. In fact, the ranger had mentioned to Jean that a storm was coming and that it could rain.

Our camp at Rae Lakes

We went over to the bear box to put our overflow away and we ran into the guys from Virginia. They'd all caught some fish at Dollar Lake. They were planning to catch some to eat the next day here at Rae Lakes. They also told us about the World Trade Center disaster. Details were sketchy; they'd heard from Monica, who had heard the news from the ranger stationed here. We heard about the hijacked planes, and as many as 20-40,000 people dead. The news was in the back of our minds the rest of the trip.

After dinner we prepared our camp for the possibility of rain. We used the clothesline as a guy wire for the tent rain fly. We put the bear canisters upside down on top of rocks so the contents wouldn't get wet in case of rain. We put our packs underneath my poncho.

Darkening sky over Fin Dome and Rae Lakes

The sunset was amazing. The clouds above Fin Dome slowly turned color from light pink to a deep purplish color. It grew more and more intense, and then quicker than it appeared, it was gone. The light faded and the sky began to turn dark. Still, it was one of the more memorable sunsets I've seen.

Sunset over Fin Dome and Rae Lakes

Sunset over Fin Dome and Rae Lakes

It was quite windy, and the tent flapped around, making it hard to sleep. You could hear the wind high up on the mountains, and then 2 seconds later, it would arrive at the tent, shaking it. At 9pm, the precipitation started. Only it wasn't rain -- it was tiny balls of ice. I guess you would call it hail. It would make a racket bouncing off our rain fly, but it was otherwise harmless. Around midnight it seemed to calm down a bit and I went outside. The sky looked completely clear, and I set up my tripod to take a picture of the stars above the silhouette of the Painted Lady. I intended to take a half hour exposure, so I went back inside the tent and waited. Just before the time was up, I started to hear the hail on the tent again. I quickly unzipped the tent and went outside to save my camera. When I got outside, I felt nothing. I stuck my hand out and couldn't feel any hail falling, and the ground wasn't turning wet. The sky above was still perfectly clear. The only way I could tell the hail was falling was by the sound of the tent. I put the camera away after a 27 minute exposure. That should be enough.

Stars streaking over the Painted Lady

Today felt like an expedition. All of us were all headed toward Glen Pass. We left Woods Creek separately, but all arrived here at Rae Lakes, at about 10,600 feet, at the base of the climb to Glen Pass. I could tell I needed the extra day of acclimatization; I was glad to just be doing a day hike the next day.

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