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TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

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TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Mon Aug 01, 2011 12:00 pm

We had been planning a South Lake-North Lake trip trip with a lot of cross country. Heavy snow and water ruled that out. Our second option was a trip through the Golden Trout Wilderness. The Lions fire smoked that one out. After a review of many options and much debate, we called the forest service to reserve a wilderness permit to do the Rae Lakes loop entering from Onion Valley--two days before the trip.

We entered on Sunday, July 24. There were a few snowy patches on Kearsarge Pass, but nothing hard. There were rumors of a ban on fires on the loop, but the NPS ranger we met on top of the pass knew nothing of it. We dropped past Kearsarge Pinnacles, Kearsarge Lakes and Bullfrog Lake, which were all gorgeous as usual. We camped at lower Vidette Meadows. It was buggy, but tolerable. Nice evening, nice fire. ;)

In terms of skeeters, at camps the whole trip was level 2-3 depending on the breeze. On trail, only occasionally were the skeeters annoying so long as you kept moving. Some of the stream crossings and meadows were buggy, too. Two of us went through most of a tube of Ultrathon, which isn’t all that much for a seven-day trip

Monday, July 25, we dropped down the canyon of Bubbs Creek to camp at Sphinx Junction. The canyon was beautiful, exceeding our expectations. Bubbs Creek was still impressive in volume and was very cold.
HST 0067.JPG
What's all the hubbub, Bubb?
All the water on the trip was exceptionally cold; there’s still a lot of fast moving snowmelt flowing up there.

Interesting on the whole trip was the number of sites with serious avalanche damage. Trees on the slope opposite from where the slide started were snapped; some were 18-24” in diameter. In this picture, there is still snow in the trees at the fringes of where the avalanche had run.
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Avalanche damage

At Sphinx Crossing, we camped across the bridge, up trail a bit, and to the left. I recommend it over the main camp on the trail side of the river. There is a nice smaller site on trail upriver, too. I heard what was probably a bear in woods above camp, but it left us alone. The mosquitos weren’t as kind, but they weren’t very bad, either.

Tuesday, Juy 26, we had a long, early morning descent to confluence of Bubbs Creek and the South Fork of the Kings River, as the Sphinx watched over us. We ran into baby bear on the trail. No problem, except mama bear was in the woods above trail. We got the heck out of there, but they didn’t care about us.

The forest at the bottom (5120’, the low point of our trip) is beautiful with a mix of trees, including oaks and cedars, and a carpet of ferns. I saw what I interpreted as trees felled by very high winds, possibly microbursts. I saw something similar in a grove on the trail above Paradise Valley a day later. A ranger near Charlotte Lake thought the damage may be from avalanche blasts, but it looked more like mircobursts or high gusts to me.

Up the Kings River we met a very nice couple heading out. They warned us of the rattlers on trail, having had seen three that morning and one a few days earlier at Sphinx Junction near where we had camped. We didn’t see any though. The snakes were probably out hunting once they had warmed themselves in the early morning sun.

We passed Mist Falls, which were as impressive and misty as advertised. The climb upriver was hot, even in the morning. We usually stick to the higher elevations and were not mentally prepared for early morning heat! We even got chased by some biting flies, bees and wasps, which was definitely not fun.

Then we entered Paradise Valley. Whatever we were expecting, the scenery certainly exceeded it. Looking around I realized that there was a lot of debris above the river. In this shot, I’m standing on debris near the high water mark.
HST 0074.JPG
During spring flooding, the river’s flow must have been a magnitude greater than now to have flooded the valley to this depth.

We had lunch at a beach at Lower Paradise Valley camp, then made our way to Upper Paradise Valley camp. The falls on Arrow Creek were beautiful, although it was hard to get a good photo.

We met a very nice family at Upper Paradise Valley camp, two young children and their masochistic parents. They warned us of rattlesnakes they had sighted in the rocks at the camp. Yeesh.

It was moderately buggy there. We had a nice, small fire using the substantial amount of downed wood just downriver from camp. It was evident that the camp had been underwater for part of spring. Many deer came through camp in the evening.

Wednesday, July 27 was a long day up Woods Creek. We were wary of rattlers but didn’t see any. I heard a rattle on the slope about 10 feet above trail, but it didn’t sound like the rattlesnakes I heard as a kid in the San Gabriels. Maybe it was an insect, I thought. In retrospect, I realize it was a rattlesnake rattling in High Rattler, not that slurred southern dialect I’m used to. Next time I’ll bring a translational dictionary. :rolleyes:

Lots of trees and waterfalls, and lots of climbing. In Castle Domes Meadow we saw this snowfield with interesting tracks.
Den.JPG
Thar be bears here.
Methinks there is a bear’s den in there. Sure enough, less than a mile up the trail was a bear ripping apart a dead log. That bear didn’t care about us, either, and went back at the log after we said our hellos.

After the rubbery bridge over Woods Creek, we headed up the South Fork of Woods Creek on the JMT. Within a mile we saw bear #4.
Bear.JPG
Go Bears!
I whistled the Cal fight song and he left us alone. Good thing he didn’t know my partner was a Cardinal.

In the afternoons and evenings we would sometimes smell the smoke from the Lions fire and the air would get hazy. This afternoon the wind shifted and we got a lot of smoke. I hoped the wind would shift back and clear the air. I got my wish at a price.

The crossing of the outlet of Sixty Lakes Basin was a ford and will be for some time. It’s kind of rocky but not deep. There is a log upstream that could be crossed, but it’s high and probably risky. The toll to cross the log is free; you pay in blood at the ford.

We were joined at the ford by a tour bus of Koreans. Apparently, this is a popular route for tour groups. Who would have known?

We camped at Dollar Lake.
HST 0012.JPG
Fin Dome from Dollar Lake
When we got there, we were alone. Solitude at last! But as we set up our tent we were joined by some noisy Germans. Sigh. And noisy mosquitos, too. The wind shifted that evening with a cool blast. Hmm.

Thursday, July 28 we continued up the JMT following the South Fork of Woods Creek. The ford across the river below Arrowhead Lake was about thigh deep and the current is stronger than it looks, but nothing dangerous. The toll to cross the ford is the usual blood sample given to the local mosquito corps.

Given how tired we were, stopping at Dollar Lake was the right choice. But Arrowhead Lake was more scenic and easily within reach from Dollar, although more buggy. I would recommend Arrowhead over Dollar if given a choice.

We got to Rae Lakes early to hear the typical sounds of a wilderness area: Campers whooping it up and circular saws and hammers (a log cabin is being built for the rangers to replace the old tent cabin). We skipped the Bear Box Inn at Rae Lakes and made our way to Dragon Lake, 500’ above. I’d definitely recommend this lake.
HST 0042.JPG
Alpenglow on Dragon Peak from Dragon Lake
And I’d sincerely like to thank all of you for not camping there that night. We had the lake to ourselves. The use trail up was somewhat steep, but easy to follow.

As we were scouting sites, I noticed some small clouds moving from the southeast. That’s never a good sign in the Sierra. We decided to stay and risk the rain. No precipitation that evening, but a lot of clouds and some thunder. The breezes kept the skeeters off us, which was nice.
HST 0045.JPG
Sunset and clouds behind Mt. Cotter and Mt. Clarence King from Dragon Lake


Friday, July 29 started clear.
HST 0002.JPG
King Spur over Rae Lakes in the morning
I knew very well that wouldn’t last. By the time we started up Glen Pass the clouds were building quickly.

There were some snowfields to cross, particularly one near the top, but it was all soft and fairly easy. That said, I wouldn’t want to go down the north side of the pass on a day when the snow had refrozen.

We didn’t dally on Glen Pass (11,978', our high point), and at 11:30 we got the first showers and heard the thunder that would last into the evening.

Under light to moderate showers and moderate thunder, we went all the way to the highest Kearsarge Lake under University Peak. Unfortunately, we were unimpressed (and grossed out by the poo left by some !@#$% climbers). We decided to camp at some sites we knew on the SE shore of the main lake instead. So, back down we went to the most partying place in the Sierra, the Kearsarge Lakes KOA. Camp fires, hollering, throwing boulders into the lake…everything you want at a high elevation lake in a wilderness area. :mad:

We set up camp and were tent-bound for a good two hours as it poured rain. But the clouds began to clear, leaving us a nice sunset.
HST 0041.JPG
Sunset behind Mt. Bago from Kearsarge Lakes
The breeze and cold temperatures kept the vampire insects from doing too much more damage to my blood supply.

Saturday, July 30 we went up and over Kearsarge Pass. All the snow was gone, except one place where a path through was dug. Again the day started clear with very quick build as the morning progressed.

Re-entry to the kind-of-real world was odd this time. The crowd of dayhikers (where do they all stay?) made me feel young and fit and even somewhat normal by comparison. The guys planning to hike to Whitney Portal had music blaring from speakers. A young woman in a skirt stopped in the middle of the trail like a toddler in a grocery store aisle and pouted, “I’m taking a break here, Mike.” Lots of dogs, including a overheating fat pug. A pug? Nearly to the car a fighter flew supersonic overhead.

At the trailhead were a couple of guys who had been chased off Cottonwood Pass by the weather the day before. They told us of flash flooding and evacuations out of Whitney Portal.

The drive to Lee Vining was tense because of the heavy rain and hail after Mammoth Lakes. Up 120 and within a couple of miles we were dodging rocks and boulders on the road. One was half the size of my car. Caltrans was running a snowplow to clear debris. Still, many cars were pulled to the side with flats. Hail had accumulated on the roadside and could be seen on the opposite canyon wall.

We went over the top and it looked like an exodus of traffic as people bailed from Tuolumne Meadows. But as we made our way west, the road and ground became drier. By the time we were to Crane Flats, the rain was only a distant rumor. Yet even crossing the Livermore Valley, I could see thunderheads over the Sierra in my rearview mirror.



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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby Hobbes » Mon Aug 01, 2011 1:01 pm

Great TR! Ah, the Rae lakes loop; reminds me why I try to avoid everything between WP & Tioga. If one limits themselves to the two ends of the high Sierra (Cirque & Matterhorn), it's still possible to enjoy a quiet experience while also periodically meeting other like-minded people.

We were staying overnight in the SFV this weekend after attending the H-wood bowl. (It's too late to head back to OC after 'picnicking'.) We had a great view on the 22nd fl - I woke up Sun am to heavy clouds covering the entire valley. As we drove back through LA, there was some light rain - enough to make the roads damp.

BTW, this storm system was from a hurricane down off Oaxaca that was supposed to send some surf to SoCal, but it decided to head inland instead. So we got a two-fer: no surf and rain in the Sierra. Actually, the entire SW caught some significant rain from this system.

My hope is it helped dampen the Lion fire. I'm supposed to head out this weekend to the GTW for a quick 4-day strike, but I'm gonna push it back/cancel if it's still burning.
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby cgundersen » Mon Aug 01, 2011 4:10 pm

Thanks for the extensive report; yes, one can run into all sorts in the Sierra, but if one is looking for solitude, then places like Dragon Lake (and, even further off the beaten path) are essential. Speaking of the Cal fight song; about 4 years ago I ran into a guy out in the Mineral King boonies who was a '57 Cal graduate. I did the arithmetic and added him to my list of heroes. Hopefully, he's still pounding the granite.
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby windknot » Mon Aug 01, 2011 7:43 pm

Thanks for the report and pictures! Sounds like it was a great trip, and your report made for an entertaining read.

Oh, and go bears! ('10 grad, probably one of the youngest alumni on the board)

Matt
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Mon Aug 01, 2011 10:06 pm

Thanks, all, for the comments.

Hobbes (a soccer player?), I read that the rain dampened the fire, but not by a lot. I saw thunderheads over the Sierra again today; so, perhaps more rain.
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby bikebones » Tue Aug 02, 2011 8:21 am

Thanks for the great TR, photos, and laughs (got to laugh instead of cry when we see some of the yahoos out there..). Last time I was in the Rae Lakes loop, 1975, it was much the same. Something about that area attracts them. At least the scenery still inspires, though.

Jim
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby Dizzy » Tue Aug 02, 2011 1:09 pm

Thanks for the great TR. How cold it was during the night near Kearsarge lakes? I'm going there this weekend.
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Tue Aug 02, 2011 1:17 pm

Dizzy, it felt like it was high 30's in the morning, but it may have been a bit warmer. There was no evidence of freezing anywhere. We had the monsoon coming through, with very clear and still nights. Conditions will vary!2

There are a few sites across the ford or log crossing on the main lake. They are more private than the many ones with bear boxes when you first hit the lakes.
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby exodus » Tue Aug 02, 2011 1:31 pm

Wow, awesome report. I was passing you on the way down from Yosemite on that very same day. We got caught in a gnarly thunderstorm while day hiking the area... no skirts for us though. ;)
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby Hobbes » Tue Aug 02, 2011 5:00 pm

ManOfTooManySports wrote:Hobbes (a soccer player?)

Nope, the name of our cat, who was named in turn by our son after the late, great C&H.
I read that the rain dampened the (Lion) fire, but not by a lot.


According to the latest weather forecast (I know, I know), these clouds are supposed to head on out towards Nevada by tomorrow:
http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/sto/cafw/cafwfz ... f&zone=226

So, while the chance of precipitation drops to 0%, the storm clouds are supposed to be replaced with a SW flow. Hmm, seeing that the Lion fire is still going and is SW of GT creek + SF Kern (!), I'm now seriously considering following in your footsteps.

My conundrum is that our big family car camping trip @ June lake is coming up in 3 weeks, so I only have one more chance to do a quick 4 day BP trip (wrapped around a weekend) before Labor day. It's no good to drive up & back a few days apart, so my meter is ticking over the next 7-10 days, so to speak.

Even though I like to get north of Mammoth (seems like that's the cutoff for the LA crowds, while Tioga is the cutoff for the Bay Area [what's that again, 95% of all Yosemite visitors only go to the Valley?) - making the June lake/Lee Vining <-> Bridgeport/Twin lakes region the bitchinist zone in the E Sierra), it's almost another 120 miles past Lone Pine.

So, Kearsarge is beckoning. It's either that, or pray for waves and stay home.
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Tue Aug 02, 2011 6:25 pm

Hobbes,

Good description of where the cut-offs are. It's one reason I like to go to the Bridgeport area if car camping. The people who make it to that area usually are more than garden variety tourists.
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes Loop from Onion Valley (long)

Postby Cross Country » Tue Aug 02, 2011 7:08 pm

Your TR enabled me to relive my experiences of the loop. I never did the loop but visited almost all of it on 14+ different trips. Like you, Mike (my son 11yo then) and I stayed at Dragon (great choice, eh.) We then went to Baxter.
From this loop I (we) visited the Kids, Arrow, the lakes SW of the Woods Creek Jct., Window Peak, Woods Lakes, Sixty Lakes, Gardner Basin, Vidette Lakes.
Thanks for helping me relive these.
CC
Last edited by Cross Country on Tue Aug 02, 2011 7:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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