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Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

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Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Sep 20, 2011 4:37 pm

Rae Lakes Loop Plus Gardiner Lakes and Window Peak Lake
Sept 11-19, 2011

The weather turned out to be as challenging as predicted! Fortunately, the storms waited mostly until late afternoon so I was able to make my destinations walking in cold, but relatively dry conditions. I left at 7AM and got my permit at Road’s End by noon and started up the trail at 1PM, reaching Charlotte Creek in four and a half hours later while a few sprinkles fell. Here a group coming out graciously asked me to join them at their fire. They were drying out after two days of downpours.

Second day was a long hard day from Charlotte Creek to a small pond just above Rae Lakes (10.5 miles, 4900 feet gain). Although a bit tortuous, scenery was great for the nearly 9 hour hike. I quit counting all the people I met along the JMT after 20 had passed. Black threatening clouds were chasing me down off Glenn Pass! I chose to camp at the first spot I found, rather than drop to Rae Lakes. Rain started just as I got the tent set up. Unfortunately, in my haste, I did not do a good job on drainage, and by 8PM ended up in a puddle. Thank goodness for my little sponge! First it drizzled, then a downpour, then hail pounded on the tent making all the condensation “rain” on me, then it turned to sleet, finally snow. By 10PM stars were out, but globs of snow fell off overhanging tree branches. I have always wondered if camping in the shelter of trees is worth the dripping.

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Lakes south side of Glenn Pass

On the third day I anxiously waited for the sun to hit my campsite. My single wall tent was frozen, inside and out. I got out at 7AM wearing everything I brought and cooked breakfast. Finally the sun hit and I dried the tent making for a later than desired departure, a bit before 9AM. The mountains around Rae Lake got a good dusting of snow. Rae Lakes were beautiful! I headed up the pass to 60 Lakes Basin, and clouds again were building when I reached Lake 3304 where there was a nice established campsite with good drainage. It was not even noon and I was sure I could make it over the pass to Gardiner Lakes. By the time I reached the pass snow began to fall. I descended the upper part on a nice low-angle snowfield. Although anxious the mile of walking over difficult talus to reach the outlet of Lake 3477 (11,411 ft), it turned out OK as the snow quickly melted and my shoes stuck to the rock just fine. As I headed towards the east side of the lake, I changed my mind and traversed the west side, finding a use-trail. At 3PM I found a nice campsite and the sun peeped out just enough for a bath (brrr!). I took a quick hike over the rocky shoulder to view the small lakes southwest of Mt. Cotter. Just as I started cooking dinner, rain began, so I had to eat it inside the tent. Then it was a repeat of the previous night! This time drainage was good and by 10PM moonlight shone.

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Snow on mountains by Rae Lakes

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Upper Lake in 60 Lakes Basin

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Camp at Gardiner Lake 3477

By early AM on day 4, my tent was like a scene from Siberia- frost inside and out. I shook the tent and a snowball fell out. I put out my sleeping bag a bit too early- soon it turned to frost. I did not get rays until 8AM. I packed up and left at 8:30 for a short trip down to Lake 3214 (10,552 ft). The unnamed lake at 3400 was exceptionally scenic. In 2 hours I reached the outlet and found a campsite near the smaller lake just downstream. After setting up camp, I hiked over a rocky shoulder to the many lakes in the cirque to the west. It was overcast so the photos do not do these little lakes justice. Returning I quickly took a bath and then fished both the lakes near my camp, catching four little fish. The lakes are just full of fish, but all small. Light rain started at 3PM, then hail. It cleared enough to start dinner. Clouds soon were creeping up Gardiner Creek. Again I had to finish dinner inside the tent. A severe storm raged- lightening, downpours, hail, sleet. By 7PM I was flooded! I stuffed my sleeping bag, put on raingear and sat in the “lightening safe fetal position” inside the tent until it stopped by 8PM. In the dark, I got out, dug drainage ditches with my pot lid, and sponged two gallons of water from under the tent. At least all that hard muddy work kept me warm! By 9PM I was back inside my sleeping bag, for the most part able to stay dry. It was another very cold night and everything froze.

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Sunrise at Gardnier Lakes

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Beautiful Lake at 3400.

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Upper Lake in cirque to the west

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Here comes the storm!

The 5th day I was up in the frosty conditions by 6:30, but again my tent site did not get sun until 8AM. Shaking the tent out, I got another snowball. I left at 9AM but soon clouds appeared. I really needed the weather to hold so I could get back out over the pass to 60 Lakes Basin. I found a better route going back, and reached the pass by noon, leaving me enough time to “lake-hop” through all the upper lakes on my way back to the trail. My original plan was to camp at the northernmost lake, but looking at the map, the little lakes at 3350 northeast of Mt Cotter grabbed my attention. Up I went, finding a protected campsite under huge trees, between the lakes (no fish in these lakes). A bitter wind howled. Although very cold, it only spit rain now and then. I slept warmly on thick forest duff.

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Lakes northeast of Mt Cotter

Day 6 I was up at 6AM. Although still cold I was keen to get up out of the tent after nearly 12 hours inside. It was a slow morning and I did not get going until 8:30 spending about half an hour photographing the lakes in the nice morning sunshine. Back down to the 60 Lakes Basin trail, it took some backtracking to find the pass to Arrowhead Lake. Although taking the higher notch seems odd from the west, once you see the east side, it is clear why this is the pass! There is a nice use-trail once over the pass. For four days I encountered zero people; in one hour on the JMT I passed 25 people! I now needed to make good time so I could get up to Window Peak Lake. If I could reach the bridge by 1PM, I could make it; I reached the bridge at noon! I had calculated 4 hours maximum to get to the lake. Fortunately it only took 3 hours even when I did not take the best route. I got a bit too enthusiastic going uphill and ended up traversing horrible steep talus to the lower lake. Arriving at Window Peak Lake at 3:30 I hunted for a campsite for an entire hour, ending up camping on the grass near the outlet. The wind howled making fly fishing futile and it was too cold for a bath. At least there was no rain. I was tired. It was a long day of nine and a half miles and 2,500 feet of gain. I did not even take a photo with the gloomy overcast. Surprisingly, about half way up to Window Peak Lake, I ran into Topix Forum member Rich Apple, who was coming down after three days at the lake! It was another bitter cold night- I slept in all my clothes.

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Window Creek in the distance, from the JMT

I was up by 6AM on Day 7 even thought this was a “rest day”. I was cold, hungry and had to pee! Again I had chosen a campsite where the sun was late arriving. I was greeted with a spectacular sunrise and breathless conditions. Fish started rising. I grabbed my rod and on the third cast, caught a big fat trout on a tiny fly! By 8AM I packed up for a day-hike up the drainage. I tied the fish on a string in the water, hoping it would still be there for lunch! I ascended past the upper lakes, then came back a bit to the east and peeked over into the White Fork drainage. On this high route I saw lots of hoof prints in the grass. Back for lunch I cooked up the fish. Then moved camp over to the southeast shore, where I set up on a small sandy patch on top of the rocky cliff above the lake. This time I tried fishing the deeper water, but the fish were jumping just out of my casting distance. No matter, I really am not sure I wanted to eat another fish! Sunset was lovely, and for the first time of the trip, I just sat out in the sunshine; Sierra summer had returned! I took a bath and even washed my hair.

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Sunrise at Window Peak Lake

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Looking back at Window Peak Lake on day hike

I had originally planned on going over into Arrow Creek but instead decided I had enough “adventure” for one trip, so on Day 8, I would just return to the JMT and camp in Paradise Valley. Just below the lower lake, as I walked around the corner, eight mountain sheep were right in front of me! I missed the photo of the closest, but got a good picture of the remainder in the distance. I found a much better route on the descent and was down to the trail in less than two hours. It now was downright hot! A mosquito bit my eyelid, so I took an antihistamine. Between the heat and medication drowsiness, my pace slowed to a crawl. I met a few people, but not nearly as many as on the JMT. I reached the lower camp at Paradise Creek by 3PM. I jumped in the creek! Then my attempts at fishing were comical. Only a few were jumping and not interested in my fly. Somehow I got the leader wound up in the line. Now I had the biggest mess of line and leader and had to cut the leader off just to get the rod free to take down. I was tired, had no patience and stuffed the mess in my fishing supply bag. I cooked dinner at the stream edge, and now the fish were jumping like crazy. Oh, well, the fish were small. Soon, across the creek, a black nose peeked out of a bush that was rustling. Mr. Bear was just waiting to get my dinner! I just picked up my tent and all, and moved up to a higher site. Luckily Mr. Bear did not visit me that night. Next morning I got up early and walked out in the cool of the morning. All in all, a good trip, if a bit on the stormy and cold side.

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Mountain Sheep



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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby caddis » Tue Sep 20, 2011 5:53 pm

Great pics and thanks for the TR :thumbsup:
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby Herm » Tue Sep 20, 2011 6:37 pm

WD;
Well Done, and thanks for the great TR and photos.
Herm
I am not in a hurry, so don't be hasty.
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby gary c. » Tue Sep 20, 2011 9:08 pm

Thanks for the great report and awesome pictures. That sure is some beautiful country.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby balzaccom » Tue Sep 20, 2011 9:58 pm

Great report Daisy! Thanks
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check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby bluefintu » Tue Sep 20, 2011 10:05 pm

Wandering Daisy,

Thank you for your trail report!!! Another great trip for you , even with the cold weather.
Don
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby DAVELA » Wed Sep 21, 2011 8:45 pm

Awesome!
Nice pix.
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby LMBSGV » Wed Sep 21, 2011 9:33 pm

Great report. I found it especially fascinating since I went over Glen Pass to Sixty Lakes at the end of July (I'll get a trip report posted sometime). The difference in the snow levels in the photos was quite striking. Due to the weather (it was the monsoon weekend) I didn't make it into Gardiner Basin as I intended. I'm incredibly jealous of your bighorn sheep encounter - I've only seen one one time from the distance going over Tioga Pass.
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby sparky » Wed Sep 21, 2011 10:10 pm

Wow, very cool running into those sheep!
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Sep 22, 2011 12:21 pm

I do feel lucky to have been so close to the sheep. My camera only has a 4x zoom so I was quite close. A biologist friend said they were all rams and of about the same age. About 8 years ago I also ran into several groups of sheep while up Tuttle Creek. I have seen more sheep in Wyoming- actually quite common to see sheep there. I saw the tracks the previous day so it was not a complete surprise to me to see the sheep. From the tracks I saw, I suspect they crossed over a high pass from the White Fork. The surprise for me was that it was such a large group. I counted eight but I think there was 9 or 10 because I missed a photo of the closest one (I aimed the camera too high- my new camera does not have a view finder- just the display and the sun was shining on the display so I could not see anything).
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby Cross Country » Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:08 pm

I loved your trip report because they're all places I've been, WP Lake 4 times. Like you, my wife (saint) Diane and I hiked up to go over to Arrow Creek (a place I later went with Mike) and changed our mind because of a building storm and the time of day (too late). On another trip we (the Ivies and I) hiked from WP over to and down the White Fork to the Woods Creek Junction in a day. I took a total of 6 (maybe 7) trips into this area. Seeing your pics was a treat that brought back many memories. Thank you! The weather on your trip was one of many reasons I'm glad I was a school teacher. I always took my high country trips in July and Aug. and if the weather was bad I'd just go back home until it got a lot better.

Steve and Steve Fisher at Window Peak Lake.
PS: The four of us ate all of those fish (not in one meal).
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S & S Fisher at WP.jpg
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Re: Rae Lakes Loop- PLUS

Postby lostcoyote » Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:38 pm

great trip report daisy, thanks for sharing.

i have abandoned my stephensons warmlite tent because it had "icing" problems and poor performance in the rain and have returned to my old trusty northface nebula & roadrunner. although heavier, the northface sure does stay dry in the downpours! which tent do you have?

and yes, lake 3400 in gardiner is awesome.... like a hanging lake and it's got an awesome sunset.
i've spent some good times there on two trips.
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