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John Muir Trail

Day 17 of 22

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Friday, August 1st
Woods Creek to Rae Lakes
6.7 miles
2200 vertical feet (ascent)
90 vertical feet (descent)
4:29


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GPX File

Today would be one of the shortest hikes of the trip, as we were planning to meet up with our resupply friends (Neil and Jon) at Rae Lakes. I had intentionally planned to make this a short day, in order to arrive at Rae Lakes earlier in the day. We'd been here before on the Rae Lakes Loop (14 years ago) and knew we wanted to re-visit it.

We took our sweet time getting ready in the morning. By the time we left, at 9:35am, I joked that Neil and Jon were going to beat us there. They were starting at Onion Valley, a 12 mile trek over two passes, but there was also the chance that they would start a day earlier and camp at Kearsarge Lakes or Charlotte Lake.

It was mostly sunny and warm when we left camp. Despite the fact that today's distance was short, we still had to climb over 2100 feet. The climbing started immediately, but it was steady, not steep at all. It was fairly consistent all the way up to the lakes.

Looking back toward Woods Creek junction

We played leap frog with a large group of hikers. The group included a man and his 12 year old son (his two younger brothers "didn't make the cut"). They were on a 10-day trip, doing the Rae Lakes Loop with some extra side trips. They asked us about our trip. At one point the man asked me if we had any planned "zero days" (days without hiking, or at least camping in the same place). I told him "*This* is our zero day." Really, because of the fact that we could only carry up to 8 days (7 nights) worth of food, we couldn't afford any true zero days.

After climbing and crossing a few streams, we took our one break of the day at 11am. We enjoyed the dehydrated granola with blueberries and milk that we'd picked up from a hiker a few days ago. We continued climbing up to and past some pretty pine trees. Much of the trail looked familiar, but parts of it didn't; it's amazing how much you forget in 14 years.

Looking back down from the climb

Foxtail pines

Foxtail pine

Foxtail pines

We passed the 10,000 foot sign, where the other group was resting. They weren't nearly as acclimatized as we were, of course, and they made note of that. We kept going. At 12pm, I turned on our radio as planned. I checked to see if Neil and Jon were on the radio yet, but not surprisingly didn't get a response. We passed Dollar Lake, where lots of people were enjoying the lake, some jumping into and swimming in it.

Dollar Lake

Fin Dome over Dollar Lake

Dollar Lake

We next came to one of my favorite stretches of trail, where a stream courses through a meadow, with views of Fin Dome ahead. I think I took some of the same pictures this year that I had 14 years ago. Also, when we'd come through here last time a ranger had checked our permit. True to form, we ran into the Rae Lakes ranger here. He didn't asked to see our permit, though. I asked him about the weather, and he said there was a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon, and it should be clearing tomorrow.

Fin Dome over stream between Dollar Lake and Arrowhead Lake

Fin Dome over stream between Dollar Lake and Arrowhead Lake

Stream between Dollar Lake and Arrowhead Lake

Fin Dome over stream between Dollar Lake and Arrowhead Lake

At 1pm, the radio crackled on. It was Neil and Jon, and they were already at Rae Lakes. They had beaten us! I'd find out that they had started yesterday, camping at a lake just before Glen Pass, then going over the pass and to Rae Lakes today. We were at Arrowhead Lake, about a mile from the first Rae Lake and about two miles from where they were. We were excited that everything was coming together, that all our planning was working out.

Arrowhead Lake

Arrowhead Lake

We continued on to the first lake, but we were still quite a ways from our camping spot (and a lot of it still slightly uphill). We passed the ranger station, then came to the sign for the bear box at 2pm. At this point we saw Neil and Jon up on a hill nearby and went up to them. They'd found one small campsite up there. We started looking for more. Eventually I found a site closer to the water that was big enough for all of us. And in fact, it was very close to the same site we'd used 14 years ago (it was now occupied). Nearby we had great views of the Painted Lady to the south and Fin Dome to the northwest.

Painted Lady and first Rae Lake

Painted Lady over middle Rae Lake

Painted Lady over middle Rae Lake

Fin Dome over middle Rae Lake

There were lots of people camping at Rae Lakes, including apparently a Boy Scout troop near the bear box. But there were still plenty of sites. We met Patrick, who was from Michigan, doing the latter part of the JMT. He had a similar remaining schedule to ours (Center Basin creek crossing, Tyndall Creek, Guitar Lake). Originally I had planned to camp at Upper Vidette Meadow tomorrow, but after checking out the map, I would end up changing my mind and camping near the Center Basin creek crossing, as well.

Arriving in camp at 2pm, for once we had time to relax. I kind of wanted to jump into the lake like Neil and Jon did, but it was now cold and overcast, and it started to rain lightly. The rain came and went and was mostly just an inconvenience, but I never did jump in the lake.

Jon and Neil had carried about 20 pounds of our food, fuel, and other supplies. They also brought their own food, which they shared with us. Nathan gobbled up several tortillas. They'd even gotten my email message (sent from MTR) to bring corn nuts (our kids' newfound snack of choice). We transferred all our food into our bear canisters, and gave them all our trash to carry. While I'm sure they couldn't have been happy with the contents of their canisters now, they had to be happy with the weight trade-off.

After witnessing an epic sunset here 14 years ago, I was hopeful that we'd get more of the same, especially with the storm clouds still lingering. Unfortunately it didn't clear up enough and the sunset was a bust. Still, we were happy to be with friends, have our final resupply, and be camping at a beautiful lake.

Fin Dome sunset

Fin Dome over middle Rae Lake

During the night I woke up around 2am and was happy to see the clouds were mostly gone. The moon was still almost full, and I was happy to take some pictures during the night.

Stars over Fin Dome and Rae Lake

Stars over Fin Dome and Rae Lake

Night sky over Painted Lady silhouette

Campsite at night


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