TR: Rae Lakes Loop September 2016 (counter-clockwise)

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mapster
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop September 2016 (counter-clockwise)

Post by mapster » Sun Mar 12, 2017 12:35 pm

Day 4:

We had a great night’s sleep next to the babbling brook and at lower altitude, and after our oatmeal and coffee we were back on the trail at about 8:00. Our destination was Lower Paradise Valley, about 10 miles away.

In our research of trail reports and videos of the RLL, we noticed that folks seemed to mention the beauty of all sections of the trail except the one in which we would be passing through that morning. Not sure why, perhaps because most don’t travel counterclockwise, don’t stay at Woods Creek, and don’t see it in the early morning light like we were. But it was spectacular. With Castle Domes on our right and the peaks bordering the Gardiner Basin on our left, Castle Domes Meadow was truly breathtaking.
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We would have loved to spend more time there, but Susan didn’t know how long her Morton’s Neuroma would be ok on this downhill section, and she needed to keep the lollygagging part of our itinerary in reserve in case we needed to slow down.
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We eventually passed through another drift fence and were descending gradually, with Woods Creek always on our left, sometimes close to the trail, and other times down a steep gorge. We were surprised to see a few campsites along this stretch of trail, especially since they didn’t show up on our trail map (Tom Harrison).
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Right around lunchtime we crossed the South Fork of the Kings River and entered the aptly named Upper Paradise Valley. We had visited this section a couple of years ago and couldn’t imagine a prettier place (of course by now our imaginations have expanded), and in fact it was this section that gave us the fever to do the entire Rae Lakes Loop. The trail alternates passing through stretches of forest and bordering open meadows. Although still beautiful in September, the river was nothing compared to the majesty of it in May (right before mosquito season). With the idyllic memory of it still fresh, we were naively expecting the same rushing torrent as before, but of course the dry year produced a sedate, totally different, river. All that to say, there’s a huge difference between early and late season here. Quite possibly the over-the-top beauty of the rest of the trail paled it in comparison, as well. But it’s still amazingly pretty.
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After a relaxing lunch we began our journey south. We passed Middle Paradise Valley campground, which Susan refers to as Middle Apocalypse because of the apparent catastrophic event that downed trees and left it barren looking (but it does have that open-air toilet with a view, so it’s got that going for it). We made it to Lower Paradise Valley early in the afternoon and found a lovely spot near the river to set up camp, spending a leisurely afternoon soaking our feet in the river and taking photos. Other campers made their way in next door, but we called it a day and retired to our tent, reading our book.
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mapster
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Joined: Tue Feb 14, 2017 7:52 pm
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop September 2016 (counter-clockwise)

Post by mapster » Sun Mar 12, 2017 6:44 pm

DAY 5:

Since we were now without a noon meal, having replaced our moldy chili meal with our day-5 lunch, we were hitting the trail at 7:00 to make it off by lunchtime. As we were leaving camp, we met some neighboring campers who had arrived in the evening and who regaled us with their tales of their 10-day adventure bushwhacking over 9 passes up Copper Creek into the Lake Basin areas. We both wished we had been less introverted last night so that we could have visited with them around a campfire, hearing more about their trip.

The thought of the Grant Grove burger was now dangling like a carrot before us, leading us onward, and since we were familiar with this section, our feet seemed to fly. We were looking forward to the good view of the Sphinx (which can possibly be missed going the other direction, as it is behind you) and Mist Falls.
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I remember reading a report on Mist Falls, with the reviewer not understanding what all the hoopla was about. I thought as I read it that the person apparently had no eye for aesthetics, but now I see that he had just missed out on seeing the falls when the water is high. Huge difference. Late in the season, Mist Falls becomes Missed Falls.
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Before long we reached the flat, sandy, interminable last two miles. Up to this point we had been totally bug free, but this unseasonably warm day brought out the ubiquitous pesky, albeit non-biting, black gnats. Susan willed herself to ignore them, but in the moments when she could resist no longer, I saw her wildly waving them away, using her trekking poles like some manic version of Wolverine, and like a good husband I pointed out the futility and waste of effort for shooing away just a few gnats. But she quickly pointed out that in the stratosphere where I live at 6’5”, I was above the fray, and instead of the couple of gnats I was experiencing, she was being swarmed relentlessly by at least twenty apparently dead set on becoming intimate with her nostrils. But we focused on the sweet fragrance of perfumed day hikers coming our way, and we made it back unscathed by gnats or flying trekking poles.

We checked in at the ranger station, highly disappointed that Ranger Rick didn’t even ask us if we had made it to Vidette Meadow the first night, but we were pleased with our effort on this hike of which hyperbolic description of its beauty is impossible. We can't wait to return to SEKI for more backpacking adventures.
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