TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

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wsp_scott
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TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by wsp_scott » Sat Dec 01, 2018 8:16 am

Onion Valley Trailhead
8/1 - 8/8/18 (7 nights)

After a lot of backpacking in KY heat last summer, I decided that I was going to escape the heat/humidity this summer. My wife was already planning on taking the kids to see her parents and I had already said that if I got on another plane this summer, I was flying somewhere better than upstate NY :)

So, Wed am wake up really early and drive about an hour to Cincinnati, then direct flight to Vegas, then car rental, then find Home Depot for denatured alcohol for my stove, Walmart for a cheap beer cooler and a beer/ice stop, then about 4 hours of driving to get to the permit place and then another 30 minutes to get to the campground. I knew that the campground was popular, but I was hopeful that getting there early enough in the middle of the week would let me find a spot. When I got there about 5pm, there were still a couple of sites. I got set up and while I was enjoying a beverage a couple women came by looking for a site. I told them that I did not mind if they squeezed into my site. It turned out they were hiking the JMT southbound and were planning on hitching into Independence for their last resupply. I gave them both a beer after they got there tents set up and we chatted a bit, they were both teachers in Vancouver. As I was getting ready for bed, I realized that I had not brought my toothbrush. I told the women that I would be heading into town in the morning to find one and I'd be happy to give them a ride to the post office.

The next morning I relaxed and read for a bit and then we headed into town. I was able to find a toothbrush (and some beef jerkey) and the women were able to get their resupply buckets. And then we headed back up the long road so they could pack up and I could do a little bit of hiking.

Originally I was going to hike up to the Golden Trout Lakes above the campground/trailhead, but I ran into thunder and lightning that made me think climbing higher was stupid, so I headed back to camp and read a bit before making the climb to Robinson Lake.

This waterfall is on the way to Golden Trout Lakes, note the darkening sky, I turned around not long after this photo.
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The next day, I packed up and moved my car out of the campground and headed up the trail. The Trail to Kearsarge Pass is steep and sunny. I'm very glad I did this in the morning because it was still pretty warm at 9am. This was a good resting spot with a little bit of shade and the sounds of the roaring creek.
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It ended up taking me about 3 hours to get to the pass. There were a bunch of people hanging out at the pass, so I took a couple photos, had a snack, and moved on down the trail.
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The Kearsarge Lakes area was beautiful. I filtered water, had a snack and left my food in the bear locker to go explore with my camera.
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After making my way around the shore of the Kearsarge Lakes, I gathered my stuff and continued on to Charlotte Lake. I found a campsite near the lake shore and set up camp. It appears that this is a very popular area, there was a noisy group of young kids swimming in the lake and making lots of noise, they were having fun, but they were a little annoying. I then went exploring further down the lake before heading back to camp for dinner and a sunset. I swatted at some mosquitos as it got dark, but they were never bad enough to need bug stuff.
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One of my goals for this trip was to take advantage of the dark skies to practice some astro-photography. I got lucky with clear skies every night of the trip, but it got cold enough after dark that it was hard to stay up late.

I deliberately set up camp on the north shore of Charlotte Lake so I could see the Milky Way (Jupiter is on the left).
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Climbing back out of the Charlotte Lake valley.
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My goal for today was the Rae Lakes area, I was a little nervous about staying there since it was the weekend and everything I have read suggested it could be a zoo. I was thinking about checking out the Sixty Lakes Basin, but I did not have any real plans after Charlotte Lake, so I could do what ever ended up feeling right.

So out of Charlotte Lake and on to the JMT, also known as the Hiker Highway. It was a beautiful Saturday and the JMT was crowded. I passed about 50 people in a couple of hours going in both directions. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't solitude either.

The climb to Glenn Pass on the JMT was steep and hot, but as I got higher, the wildflowers began to be more plentiful. I pulled out my camera a lot which meant that I kept getting passed by people and then I would catch up to them again as I got moving.

A tarn below Glenn Pass
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I got to the top of Glenn Pass and there were about 25 people hanging out, so once again, I took a couple photos, had a snack and continued down the trail.

Getting closer to Rae Lakes, not a lot of solitude
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I soon got to the Rae Lakes and realized that even though it was early, my legs were pretty tired and I did not really feel like climbing some more, so I decided to stop. I found a good nice campsite away from the JMT side of the lakes hoping that would keep the crowds away. It mostly worked, but I was not accounting for the way sound travels across water. Even though I was .25 miles away from the nearest person, I could hear them very clearly. This would prove to be very annoying in the morning when some guy would not shut up about how good his breakfast was. I assume his hiking partner was too nice to tell him to shut up, but I almost yelled across the lake at him :)

The "Painted Lady" above Rae Lakes
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The stars began to come out pretty quick, but it wasn't until about 9:30 that it was totally dark.
Milky Way over the Painted Lady
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I woke up to a gorgeous morning that was only a little spoiled by noisy people across the lake.
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I decided that I would head to the basin that was my goal yesterday. Where I ended up is not a secret, especially if you read this report, but I don't want to put a name to the photos, since this was the quietest part of the trip. It felt like I had the whole area to myself and I see no reason to potentially add more people to the area. Everyone can stay on the JMT and enjoy the beauty of Rae Lakes.

I set up camp and had the whole day to explore the basin. I had seen mention of an off trail path out of the basin that was intriguing, so I hiked in that direction to check things out. It was very nice hiking without a pack. I found the exit point, but it was very steep and filled with scree. I decided that I did not want to go down it with a pack and by myself. I'm sure I could have made it, but it seemed like an unnecessary risk to take by myself. So back towards camp and a swim in the lake.

Sunset coming up
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Mars on the lower left and Jupiter on the right
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I took my time leaving the basin and at one point I dropped my pack and went exploring some more off trail. On my way out, I ran into a couple of guys who were planning of staying a couple nights. They said they had never been in the area, so I told them where I had set up camp and left them to enjoy the solitude.
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I headed back to Rae Lake and a different campsite that I had found the first night. I was hopeful that it would be less quiet since it wasn't the weekend. I set up camp and then headed north on the JMT to see what I could see. I spent a lot of time poking around the shore of the lake and talked to a couple people.

At one point I heard a woman off in the trees clapping her hands and yelling at a bear. I went to see if I could see the bear and maybe help scare it off since she sounded a little freaked out and it also sounded like the bear wasn't moving away very quickly. Of course, the bear disappeared before I could see it. I talked to the young woman for a moment and told her where I had seen other people camping since she was alone and a bit freaked out. I'm a little disappointed that I spent a week in the Sierra and did not see a bear. I've seen a bunch in the southeast and for some reason really wanted to see a Sierra bear. Maybe next time.

Milky Way and the Painted Lady again (this time with my 65 lens vs the 15)

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I woke up and got moving a little quicker than the previous mornings, I had to go back over Glenn Pass and wanted to do it before it warmed up too much. The climb wasn't too bad in the morning, I was at the pass by about 10 and there was only one other person who was a little behind me on the trail. We talked a little bit, he was doing the Big SEKI loop and blogs at http://timeforahike.com/

Bullfrog Lake
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I was aiming to camp at the Kearsarge Lakes, but after filtering water in the afternoon, I twisted funny as I picked up my pack. For a moment I thought I had torn something in my bad ankle. I had visions of a helicopter ride out of the park, thankfully the pain subsides and I was able to move it and hike on it, so I slowly made my way down the trail.

I got to the junction for Kearsarge Lakes and had a decision to make. If I hiked down, I would have to hike back up and then keep going over Kearsarge Pass. I had visions of my ankle tightening overnight and decided that I would tackle the pass today and camp on the other side. Then I would only have a couple miles, all down hill to get to my car. So goodbye to Kearsarge Lakes, hope to see you again.

I set up camp near Flower Lake and explored a little bit. I talked to a fly fisher who was camping a little bit higher up at Matlock Lake. I woke up feeling fine, so I followed the trail up to Matlock Lake and poked around a little bit and then headed back to camp and then down the hill to my car.

Clean clothes, a cool beer and a drive to Lone Pine to find a hotel for the night. I had considered staying at the campground again and then a shower in the morning, but decided that I would rather spend a little money on a hotel and pizza and more beer vs. having a rushed day tomorrow.

Another benefit of heading to Lone Pine is that the town is right next to the Alabama Hills. This area is pretty famous for all of the arches. It is also at a pretty low elevation (as is Lone Pine) so it was about 100 degrees in the shade. I found beer and pizza and then went back to the Sierra Permit place to pick some brains about future trips.

Once it got close to sunset, I drove up to the parking area near Mobius Arch. I took a couple beers, headlamp, camera/tripod and I headed into the desert to find Mobius Arch and wait for the stars. I was all by myself and was planning on a quiet couple of hours and then a mom and dad and their 4 kids came around the corner and started poking around the arch. I had visions of my carefully planned Milky Way photo disappearing, but they saw me and the tripod and got really apologetic. I told them I was waiting for stars and they weren't ruining any photos at the moment. I took a group photo for them and the dad said they were heading back to the parking area to set up a telescope and I was welcome to stop by on my way out.

Mobius Arch with Mars
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After a bit, I headed back to my car. I ended up chatting with the mom and dad for about 1/2 hour. They had driven over from the LA area and were camping up near Mt Whitney, but had driven to a lower elevation where it was warmer to set up the telescope.

Then it was time for bed. Woke up the next day, found breakfast and made the drive back to Vegas. Then a wait for my flight, a couple of hours to Cincinnati and a 30 minutes wait for my bag then drive home. I rolled in about 1 am after a very long day.

I hope to be back next year








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wsp_scott
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by wsp_scott » Sat Dec 01, 2018 8:19 am

It looks like I can't edit my post, so ...

there are a lot more photos on my blog if you are interested. Lots of flower photos
https://backpackandbeer.blogspot.com/20 ... -2018.html

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balzaccom
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by balzaccom » Sat Dec 01, 2018 9:34 am

Great report. thanks for posting this. I loved your photos of the sky--although in the first one, I think Jupiter is on the right, not the left...

As always in the Sierra, when you want solitude, leave the JMT behind.
Balzaccom

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cgundersen
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by cgundersen » Sat Dec 01, 2018 12:41 pm

Delightful TR and I too love the night shots; plus, I'm always impressed with folks who can coordinate a trip from long distance, even if it means an occasional toothbrush left behind!
Cameron

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wsp_scott
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by wsp_scott » Sat Dec 01, 2018 3:51 pm

Yep, Jupiter is on the right, I copied text from my blog and pasted a different photo.

I'm already trying to figure out a trip for next summer that will get me off the JMT as much as possible.

Glad you both liked the photos
My trip reports: backpackandbeer.blogspot.com

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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by wildhiker » Sun Dec 02, 2018 12:40 am

Nice trip report. I was last in that area in 1970, and there were a lot of people on the JMT even then! It was nice to see your photos and be reminded how beautiful those lake basins are.
-Phil

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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by levi » Mon Dec 03, 2018 4:17 pm

Thanks for the report and the gorgeous astrophotography... I'm still a novice with shooting the stars, and it's great to have inspiration to keep on learning and trying :) already looking forward to the next time I visit Rae Lakes, whenever that may be.

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davidsheridan
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by davidsheridan » Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:33 pm

Beautiful Pictures, and amazing area you visited. Thanks for the inspiration to return to an area I have been before, but then follow your lead to a couple areas I never made it to. You are a great photographer, glad to hear your trip out West was awesome! Many more adventures await you

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The Other Tom
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by The Other Tom » Tue Dec 04, 2018 7:01 am

Loved the photos, especially the milky way ones. Thanks for posting

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Jason
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Re: TR: Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Post by Jason » Tue Dec 04, 2018 11:35 am

Fantastic stuff and a welcome respite while sitting here in my cubicle on a rainy December day.

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