Day 18: Rae Lakes to Bubbs Creek plateau
Climbing a challenging pass is best done right before picking up a resupply. Shouldering our packs that morning at Rae Lakes felt pretty great. We were pretty well empty of food and fuel, which meant we were down to our pack base weights.
We actually set an alarm for that morning, wanting to get on the trail and over Glen Pass early in the day. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed watching the colours change on the Painted Lady as we ate our breakfast.
Once on the trail we rounded the south-east shore of Middle Rae Lake and then crossed between Middle and Upper Rae Lakes on a narrow isthmus, giving us full appreciation of the basin that the Painted Lady sits above.
Thankfully the first few switchbacks of our climb were still shaded, allowing us to stretch out and fall into our trail pace while staying cool. We made sure to continue looking back as we climbed to catch the many varied views of the Rae Lakes Basin.
The trail criss-crossed a handful of streams working their way through some beautiful alpine tarns, once again filled with wildflowers. Eventually we climbed away from the vegetation, passing through talus and granite slabs and reaching a high basin full of small lakes.
Dan had assured me that the last series of switchbacks to Glen Pass were moderately graded and shouldn’t pose too much trouble. Unfortunately the trail conditions had deteriorated somewhat in the twelve years since he had been through. I cursed his positive attitude as I made my slow way through the ankle-twisting, toe-jabbing rocks.
The last switchback or so did prove to be a bit flatter and slightly better graded, making me feel a bit better just before reaching the pass.
The view to the other side was quite different from our previous passes. We looked directly into a steep-walled cirque, the high ridges blocking most of our view South.
We enjoyed a short break in the pass and then dropped down the south face of the ridge to reach the lake below. The trail followed alongside the outlet from the lake, dropping into a canyon with one of the most beautifully vibrant-coloured lakes we had seen in the Sierras. Looking into the amazing emerald waters of that lake I could almost believe the old tales about purifying, healing waters.
The trail curved briefly west as we made our way out from beneath the towering ridges of Glen Pass.
Reaching the tree line, we got our first view of Charlotte Lake, our destination for that morning. Dan’s dad had hiked over Kearsarge Pass and was camped at Charlotte Lake with our last resupply of food and fuel.
The trail took us southward, dropping through dry and sparse forest to reach a trail junction in a wide, sandy flat. At the junction we turned west, heading half a mile and another 500 feet down to reach Charlotte Lake.
After being out of touch for over two weeks, it was a relief to see Dave waiting for us at the shore of Charlotte Lake.
We followed along the shoreline to his campsite where our resupply was waiting. I dug right in, pulling out some fresh apples that I had requested. Apples have never tasted so good!
Our reunion was unfortunately kept pretty short as we still had many more miles to go that day. After repacking our meals, we headed back up the half mile and 500 feet to regain the JMT.
The next section of trail dropped us another 1000 feet down. We were treated to awesome views south of Bubbs Creek Canyon, which we would climb through the rest of the day to reach Forester Pass.
We enjoyed a lunch break after reaching the valley floor. We had descended nearly 2500 feet from Glen Pass and found ourselves below 10,000 feet for the last time along the trail.
For the rest of the afternoon we made our way gradually upwards through the long valley alongside Bubbs Creek. The heat started to get to us so we strung up the hammock and took a long break at a campsite near Centre Basin Creek.
Our last push took us well above Bubbs Creek, climbing slowly southward along the lower reaches of Center Peak. We were forced to scramble off trail a couple of times to allow for two long pack-mule trains to pass by.
We reached a wonderful plateau right at the tree line and managed to find ourselves a sheltered campsite away from the rest of the hiking crowd who had pulled up earlier in the day. We were ringed by peaks and got to enjoy a great sunset down the length of the valley.
We had put in a very strong day on trail. We had hiked a cumulative 13 miles (21 km), including nearly two miles roundtrip to the Charlotte Lake campground. Our total elevation was even more overwhelming, as we had climbed up to Glen Pass, dropped to Charlotte Lake, climbed out of Charlotte Lake, dropped to Bubbs Creek and then climbed to the tree line below Forester Pass, for a total of nearly 3500 feet of elevation gain.
I was just starting to really feel strong on trail and it was a bittersweet realization that we only had a few more days left. We would certainly be making the most of those last days though as we made our way over the highest pass of the JMT and to the highest peak in the Lower 48!