Day 17: Twin Lakes to Rae Lakes
Once again the Sierras treated us to a beautiful alpine morning of crisp, fresh air and clear blue skies. We were actually excited to see some clouds that morning as we made our way down the trail from Twin Lakes.
Our day would be of slightly shorter mileage (only 10.5 miles…) and would involve a “reverse mountain” hike. This is a term given to me by another hiker we passed that morning. Our first 4 miles of the day would see us drop nearly 2000 feet alongside Woods Creek. Then the following 6 miles would have us climb over 2000 feet to Rae Lakes.
The hike downhill along Woods Creek was challenging. My legs and feet were tired from the previous day’s exertions and I struggled with the uneven, rocky trail. Thankfully the first couple miles kept us in cool shade, but eventually the sun caught us as we dropped deeper into the canyon and the heat set in.
As with many previous days on trail, Dan hiked happily along and was thrilled to capture a few more unique wildflower species, including White Monkshood, White Bog Orchid and Whitestem Hedgenettle.
We reached the bouncy suspension-bridge crossing of Woods Creek by mid-morning and took a short break.
The next section of trail was some of the busiest we’d been on since leaving the Mammoth Lakes area. The Rae Lakes Loop is one of the more popular hikes in the Sierras. Most hikers take 5-6 days to complete the 41.4 mile loop.
As we made our way out of the Woods Creek Drainage, I made sure to turn back to look North at where we’d come from, admiring the unique colours and shapes of the peaks.
The climb popped us in and out of shade, thanks to some groves of lodgepole pine. We crossed a few streams and then the valley opened up with more slabby granite rock, accompanied by the unique and rare foxtail pines.
We stopped for lunch at Dollar Lake after having successfully hiked 8 miles, the most we had done in a morning. Looking across Dollar Lake we got our first view of “Fin Dome.” We were also treated to some interesting clouds coming off the ridges and peaks.
We moseyed along the last couple miles, passing marshy meadows, Arrowhead Lake, and Lower Rae Lake.
We had pushed ourselves pretty hard that morning and I was feeling the efforts of our “reverse mountain.” I was very glad to reach the main campground at Middle Rae Lake.
Getting to the campground by early afternoon gave us the best pick of sites, and we were able to find a beautiful south-facing spot on a rise above the lake.
Our afternoon was spent in intense relaxation. We swam in the lake, baked in the sun, fished, napped, and knit, all under the watchful eye of the Painted Lady.
Rae Lakes was certainly a beautiful spot to spend an afternoon. I could see why it is considered by some as the crown jewel of Kings Canyon National Park. If you only have a week to escape into the Sierras, it is certainly a good option to consider. I expect we will try to stay longer at Rae Lakes when we do the JMT again.