Day 3: Rae Lakes Loop, Kings Canyon National Park

Added on by taylor reilly.

The next morning I felt better, rested, and ready to hit the trail up and over Glen Pass.  We hit the trail and made it above 10,000 ft and eventually walked past the Fin Dome protruding from the High Sierra to the West side of the valley.  This dome is an awesome feature and again made me dream of one day making a backcountry big wall ascent.

When we made it to the famous Rae Lakes, that’s when I fully understood the popularity and beauty of this loop hike.  Rae Lakes is a beautiful chain of lakes in the High Sierra Nevada carved out by ancient glaciers having long since melted.  The trail cuts right between the two main higher turquoise colored lakes and across the moraine that separates them.  In the upper lake were a couple of rock islands that have trees on them that I wanted to swim out to and relax for the day, but we were driven to make the pass and start our descent, so we continued on.  Later we would independently tell one another that we wished we would have stayed at Rae Lakes for a rest day, and swam out to these rock islands to bask in the sun.  Though, we had no regrets and realized that this gave us another reason to return to Rae Lakes in the future. While walking around the lakes, I imagined what they would be like in the winter and how remote they are to get to. Winter, in Kings Canyon’s backcountry seemed like no laughing matter to me and was obvious that it would require a lot of commitment to get there.

As we made it past the lakes and approached Glen Pass the altitude and lower oxygen level was apparent compared to the thicker air of the lower valleys that we had been hiking through.  The North Slope leading up to the pass appeared big and steep to us, but it was made of a giant talus and scree field, so I imagined the large size was an optical illusion.  I then saw people at the top of the pass, which helped me to prove my judgment by comparing their size to the slope that the slope was not as big as it appeared.  After a nice rest in the shade under a boulder, we approached and knocked out the pass in no time and without much effort.  The approach was short and sweet and the view at the top was breath taking and amazing to say the least.  We spent some time on the pass summit, and took in the view for ourselves more than with our cameras.   From Glen Pass the uphill battle was over, and the downhill 18 plus mile trip back to Road’s End began.  Our hike just became a lot easier and the end felt closer than it had the entire hike.

Danielle and I wanted to get as close to Road’s End as possible that day and we even discussed hiking out in the dark all the way to the Roads End.  I know hiking in the Sierra Nevada forest backcountry at night is not safe, because of bear activity, so I wanted to play that by ear and make our decision to continue on the fly. Junction Meadow was our next goal and possible campsite for the night.  We quickly lost elevation on the South-Slope of the pass as we headed down hill.  Eventually the trail made a sharp turn to the west and into Bubb’s Creek Canyon.  From here we could see a heavy haze from fires and urban pollution that had really taken over the sky and had made visibility of the mountains very poor.  This was a big contrast to the clean clear air to the north side of the pass in the high sierra that we had been experiencing.

The forest was dark on arrival to Junction Meadow.  We could sense black bears lurking in the woods along the trail, so we decided to call it a day and felt setting up camp was the safest thing to do.  Plus we were pretty exhausted from the long days hike at higher elevation.  We decided to make dinner in one empty campsite and sleep in the adjacent one.  While we were cooking we took turns looking up and scanning the tree line around the camp keeping an eye out for bear.  Staying alert while cooking in the dark in the forest is very important.  As we were about half way done cooking, Danielle looked up and behind me and stared silently into the woods.  I could tell by the look on her face she saw something that scared her.  She told me that she could see eyes, so I turned around and shined my headlamp in the direction she was looking.  That’s when I saw reflecting blue-green eyes staring back at us.  They were spaced pretty far apart, low, and I could see both of them.  I knew the eyes were that of a predator, and specifically a black bear. I told Danielle it was probably just a deer to lighten the mood.  She didn’t believe me as I had a feeling she wouldn’t, and she expressed her concern about the lurking bear.  This was her first time in bear country, and she did not seem comfortable with the situation.  I worked as a Ranger in this Forest and I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with nighttime stalking bears, but I learned the best thing to do for me is to just think of them as being silly goofy bears that just want your food to take the edge off the fear of them.  Danielle hurried to make dinner while I kept my eyes on the glowing eyes and kept my hand on my hiking poles and large knife in case of an attack.  Eventually the eyes went out, we heard some rustling in the trees going away from us, and so I considered the bear to have left.  Though we did not put our guard down.  We ate quickly, packed everything in the bear box, and went to our tent the next campsite over, crawled in and quickly fell asleep.  No bear was going to get between our beauty sleep and us.