Friday 9th August 2013
Twin Lakes to Rae Lakes – 11 miles
One of the most hotly anticipated days started off as the coldest! Today we would reach the well-known Rae Lakes, the stunning centrepiece of the Rae Lake’s loop – the best-known trail in Kings Canyon National Park. Chris had hiked the loop previously and from the pictures and his descriptions Luke and I couldn’t wait to see it.
Temperatures had plummeted to the lowest we had experienced over night; we all wore every possible item of clothing and still struggled to sleep. We woke early to find our tents frozen both inside and out – even the sandy ground we were camping on was frozen solid. We decided to get going as quickly as possible to try and warm up but this proved difficult as our hands did not have the dexterity needed to break camp due to the cold. Luke refused to leave his sleeping bag until the last possible moment and we eventually managed to get going a little earlier than normal. For the first time we started the day in trousers and fleeces, this didn’t last long though as it warmed up very quickly when the sun appeared.
With just 11 miles to complete it was good to get going promptly, we wanted to get to Rae Lakes as early as possible to get an afternoons rest and enjoy this famously beautiful area. The plan started well as we made pretty quick work of the four and a bit mile 2,400ft descent down to the Woods Creek crossing. The well-photographed suspension bridge marks where Rae Lakes Loop meets up with the J.M.T. We took it in turns to have our photo taken crossing the bridge before searching the campsite bear boxes situated immediately beyond the crossing. We thought this is where Chris’ Canadian friend had left some supplies. The search was unfortunately unsuccessful, leaving us extremely tight for rations over the coming days. We really needed to find some extra supplies to see us to the end.
Luke’s blisters were causing him serious grief today forcing Chris to try and withhold the obvious “I told you so” after blister-gate the day before. He wasn’t feeling confident in finishing and was working out how he could leave the trail. The only option left to him was tomorrow, turning east after climbing Glen Pass for an eight mile walk over Kearsarge Pass into Onion Valley. Then aim to get a bus, find somewhere to stay and try and meet up with us in Lone Pine in four days time. This was obviously not ideal, as we had come this far and wanted to complete the trail together. Chris and I tried to convince him that giving his blisters a good clean and airing at Rae Lakes, letting us dress them properly as we had done before and relaxing for the afternoon would see him through to the end.
We left the campsite empty handed and deflated, the path turned into a steep and hot four mile 1,900ft slog back up to 10,200ft. In comparison to the days easy start the change of gradient and temperature really took it out of us. The gradient eventually began to ease as we reached Dollar Lake. The first views of the Rae Lakes Basin started to unfold, starting with the unusual and dramatic sight of Fin Dome – aptly named for its shape and the way it appears from the lakes below. We stopped here to refill our water reservoirs, have a snack and recover from the previous challenging two hours. Luke was obviously in a lot pain but with it only being midday and just three gentle miles left we encouraged him to soldier on. With every corner turned the landscape became more and more magical, the famous ‘Painted Lady’ peak came into view and when we came over the crest with the lakes coming into view at its base the picture was complete, it was everything we had anticipated and more.
It was 1 o’clock by the time we reached the large campsite on the edge of the middle lake and our first course of action was to search the bear boxes for food. Thankfully, we found the powdered puddings we were hoping for plus Chris and Luke had some chicken noodles and I was left with an appetising packet of wet Tuna paste. Oh well, food is food. While we set up camp and sorted clothes for washing Luke had a reassuring chat with the ranger situated up here about blisters and the possible walk off.
We then spent some time down on the lakeside swimming, washing, sunbathing and taking photos. My skin now looked old and haggard even after it had been washed. It was dry and dark from the sun and the days of ingrained dust. We enjoyed having some time to relax and take in our surroundings with no physical exertion involved. Our spirit was definitely lifted at this campsite as we started to reflect on what we had achieved so far and gave the aches and pains an afternoons relief.
As the sun set we sat in marginally cleaner warm clothes reading and writing before enjoying the novelty of eating another meal without having to walk since the last one, the day was topped off by being able to eat a dessert before bed. This was the most Luke had smiled all day, could this be the key to him finishing the trail? AB