Day 1: Rae Lakes Loop, Kings Canyon National Park

Added on by taylor reilly.

After leaving Sequoia National Forest, Danielle and I arrived to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon National Park in the late afternoon on July 21.  As we drove into the massive glacier cut canyon there was lighting striking the High Sierra and a torrential downpour had begun.  Kings hadn’t seen rain in months prior to my knowledge, so this was big news for the Park and surrounding Forest.  By the time we made it to the backcountry ranger station at Roads End to get permits and plan a backpacking route into the High Sierra, it was closed.  The rain had calmed at this point, so we headed to a nearby designated campground to setup camp and managed to get dinner made right as it started to rain heavily again.  Not having set up our tent yet we crawled in the back of my truck under the camper and laughed as the rain and lighting picked up locking us inside.  The rain came in waves the rest of the night, which helped to keep us asleep and get some much needed rest to begin our hike into the High Sierra backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park the next day.

The next morning we awoke early and returned to the backcountry ranger station at Roads End to get our permits before the allotted number of permits ran out.  After speaking with the backcountry ranger about specific trails, he told us Rae Lakes Loop had 2 permits left and that it was the most popular hike.  Having only two permits left we decided Rae Lakes Loop was the trail for us and that it was meant to be.  I had heard great things about Rae Lakes Loop in the past when I worked as a U.S. Forest Ranger in nearby Sequoia National Forest.  I remember my ranger partner always talking about the loop and wanting to us to make the hike.  We received our backcountry permits for 5 days, made our campsite locations along the route, and planned to do the 40 plus mile loop in a clockwise direction.  We were pumped and felt lucky that we received the last two permits for Rae Lakes, and headed back to camp to pack up and hit the trail as soon as possible.

Danielle and I left the trailhead at Road’s End for our 4-5 day hike around noon on, July 22.  We checked the weather forecast at the ranger station on our way by one last time. We learned the storm system that was brewing the night before was still in the region and there was a chance of afternoon thunderstorms for the next two nights.  We had clothing and outerwear for any weather, but the risk of lighting, fires from lighting, and falling trees from potential wind was apparent and more of a concern than the rain.  We hiked through Kings Canyon to the East, until we turned north and headed uphill on the South Fork Kings River towards Paradise Valley where we would camp that night.  The trail passes by beautiful Mist Falls where we could tell that the rain from the night before had raised the level and flow.  As we were hiking the clouds opened up and it started to sprinkle a little.  I knew with this sprinkling, already overcast sky, and experience with the torrential weather the night before in the Valley that we would have some burley weather later that evening and night.

Along the trail we walked over a good amount of bare granite where I noticed the topsoil had been eroded away in a downhill direction starting at the trail.  In these rocky outcropping areas, we stumbled upon two rattlesnakes hanging in the middle of the trail in two different places.  We waited for them to mosey off the trail then made our way by.  I have all the patience in the world to wait for a rattlesnake to do its thing and get out of my way.  There is no reason to ever get near or pass by a rattlesnake, especially while in the backcountry far away from help. 

When we arrived in upper Paradise Valley a black bear cub greeted us then turned and ran away into the forest.  Yes the cub was adorable, but I did not want to scare a momma that we did not and could not see, so we kept moving instead of taking photos.  We set up camp on a large rock bank along the river and an appropriate distance from the water.  We could have camped in the woods in an already established campsite, but knowing that more lighting, wind, and rain was coming that night I did not want to sleep under massive pine trees and snags that could fall on us.  Plus, by camping on river rocks we did not disturb the forest floor and vegetation, and an area of the bank made of small pebbles provided a nice soft tent pad to sleep on.  We made dinner, and called it a night as the evening’s storm rolled over the High Sierra and into the canyon above us at full force and then proceeded to rain throughout the night.