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Rae Lakes Loop

Day 4 of 6

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Wednesday, September 12th
Rae Lakes to Sixty Lakes Basin and back to Rae Lakes
7.0 miles
1445 vertical feet (ascent)
1445 vertical feet (descent)

We woke up at 6:30am. The tiny balls of ice still dropped down on us as we ate our breakfast. They disappeared almost as soon as they fell, and the sky was almost completely clear. By the time we left at 9:30am, it was a beautiful sunny day.

We left our camp to do a day hike up to Sixty Lakes Basin. We were stopped at the sign we saw yesterday when Andy suddenly appeared next to us. He'd hiked north to Pinchot Pass yesterday and then decided to head back south and camped at the lake below Fin Dome the previous night. He'd exhausted himself, but was now headed up over Glen Pass today.

Rae Lakes from the Sixty Lakes trail

Andy continued on ahead of us. We crossed the isthmus to the other side, reaching a trail intersection. The sign there doesn't say it, but the right fork is for the trail to Sixty Lakes Basin. We took it. The trail is a bit hard to follow at first, as it winds its way northeast. Eventually the path becomes obvious, though, as we switchback up toward the pass next to Fin Dome. As we climbed, we got better and better views of Rae Lakes below. We climbed about 600 feet before reaching the saddle. From this vantage point, we could see Dragon Lake on the other side of Rae Lakes, perched at about the same elevation as us.

In front of us was the first of many lakes in the Sixty Lakes Basin. There's nothing special about this lake, except perhaps that it had gill nets placed to remove fish. The fish eat frog eggs, and the gill nets are part of a program to help protect the endangered frogs. The fish are all non-native species, so it sounds like the right thing to do.

Pine trees

Pine trees

We kept going past the first lake. The trail rises slightly and then begins a steep 300 foot descent down to a second set of lakes. Along the way we passed beautiful twisted pine trees. This second set of lakes is much prettier than the first. The map shows a series of five lakes extending southward from the trail, but we only saw the first two, separated by an isthmus. We crossed the isthmus and searched for a spot to have lunch. There's not much usable shore around the lake, or camping sites, but it is pretty. Eventually we settled on a spot closer to the trail.

Mt. Clarence King and the lake from our lunch stop

We ate and napped by the quiet waters. Mountains of bare rock loomed above us to the south and west. We could clearly see Mt. Cotter and Mt. Clarence King. Everything looked like Mt. Whitney.

At one point while we rested I heard voices coming from above, but couldn't see anyone on the trail. I'd later learn it was the East Coast pair, who'd hiked up and then went over toward Fin Dome. We, on the other hand, continued along the trail. At one point we discussed heading back early and then going up to Dragon Lake. But I figured given our effort to come this far, we might as well continue on the trail to see more lakes for relatively less effort than it would to see Dragon Lake.

One of the Sixty Lakes

Another of the Sixty Lakes

The trail descends some more. I wasn't expecting this, so I took out the map and confirmed that we would cross 2 or 3 80-foot contour lines on our way to the next set of lakes. So we descended another 200 feet. Soon we saw another lake below us. High above the opposite side of the lake, we saw a blue tent. Someone was camping out here, but in general we had a lot of solitude on this hike. While there were many people enjoying Rae Lakes, we saw no one on the trail to and from Sixty Lakes Basin (although we did hear those voices).

The backside of Fin Dome

Another of the Sixty Lakes

We continued on to the next set of lakes. There's a sign which states that there is no camping by this set of lakes. We figured this would be our turn-around point. We rested on the granite and took in views of the lakes and of the back of Fin Dome. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with the basin. With so many lakes in such proximity, I had been hoping for a scene similar in beauty to that between Dollar Lake and Rae Lakes. But instead of creeks and lush green marshes, we were met with hot, dry granite and pines interspersed with mostly unspectacular lakes.

Another of the Sixty Lakes

It was 2pm when we started the climb back up from the basin. We basically hiked non-stop up and over the saddle we'd reached in the morning. By 4pm, we were back in our camp.

Painted Lady above the first of the Sixty Lakes

Jean cresting a ridge in front of the Painted Lady

After a dinner of instant mashed potatoes, we settled down to enjoy the sunset. Unfortunately, it was a perfectly clear day and night, and no great sunset awaited us. In fact, late afternoon isn't the best time for photography at Rae Lakes. Fin Dome and the rest of the mountains to the east block the sun early in the afternoon, meaning most of the Rae Lakes area does not receive that magical late afternoon sunlight.

Painted Lady reflecting in Rae Lakes

With Scott's help we found Monica and Hugh's camp site. The five of us stood huddled around, talking. Camp fires aren't allowed at Rae Lakes, and as the night wore on we started shivering in the cold. Monica described the virtues of sleeping outside, under the stars. That was the last thing I would do considering how cold it was. Of course, she was wearing a down jacket.

Everyone else had spent the day at Rae Lakes. Scott, Steve, and Kenny had caught plenty of trout for dinner. While Jean and I hadn't stayed and relaxed and enjoyed the lakes, we at least did a good acclimatization hike. Eventually we returned to our tent and went to sleep, preparing ourselves for the climb up Glen Pass the next day.

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