Rae Lakes Loop - We came, we saw, we didn't conquer! Kinda...
Ok, we needn't get into the finer details, but the one silver lining of our failed attempt to backpack the entirety of the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park was that we got to spend the week in Yosemite National Park's Tuolumne Meadows instead - a rare case when the consolation prize turned into the Grand Prize!
It started off innocent enough - the group that I completed the High Divide Loop in Olympic National Park a few years ago, wanted to do another backpacking trip and how was I to say no? This time, we decided on the Rae Lakes Loop in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park, a popular backpacking loop in the Sierras.
We spent a few weeks planning and preparing and hyping and training (OK, maybe not the training...), so once the group met up at the Kings Canyon Campground and we secured our permits, we were ready. We were ready to do this. So let's do this!
We had our final 'real meal' at the campground lodge, hoisted our 40 pound packs on our backs, and hidey-hoe'd our way through the first 2 or 3 miles quite painlessly.
And then the real trek began…
As we proceeded deeper into the canyon, the elevation gains became more and more apparent and as we meandered alongside South Fork Kings River, brushing by waterfalls like Mist Falls and the subsequence cascades, we covered roughly 1700 feet over the next 4 miles or so. The scenery and surroundings were absolutely fit for gods, however, the scorching midday sun bouncing off the white granite walls surrounding us was more fit for devils.
We made it to the Middle Paradise campground for our first night just in time to set up camp and stoke a fire as the final rays of the days sun slithered away through the pine canopy.
The next morning began a 'come to Jesus' moment. Originally, we thought we'd be able to cover more mileage per day, but a combination of ridiculously idyllic spots to stop at, pools to swim in, pictures to set up for and be had (sorry...it's an addiction...) made us quickly realize if we tried to cover as much as we thought we'd be able to each day, we would have no time, energy or wherewithall to stop and enjoy it all.
Being as we were looking at two back-to-back days of over 2500 feet elevation covering about the same distance ahead of us, we had some thinking to do...
Could we have done it? Sure.
Should we have done it? Maybe.
But the discussion centered around the fact that we see each other maybe once a year, perhaps every other year, so did we want to bond through treachery and pain simply to satisfy our pride and egos, or was the point of this to enjoy as many moments of the few days that we had together?
As everyone began packing their packs, it seemed the tide was tilting towards the latter.
As soon as I uttered the phrase "well, if we do decide to turn back now, we're only a couple hours from Yosemite, and Tuolumne Meadows is open this time of year...", it was over.
Being as how Tuolumne is only open 3 to 5 months of the year, there was little chance we were going to pass on seizing that opportunity.
So we packed our packs, headed back down the 8 miles we came, got into our cars, and made our way out of Kings Canyon and a couple hundred miles north to the next National Park in the Sierras, Yosemite National Park.
We made the obligatory stop at Tunnel View, and drove the valley loop just to show it off to a couple of Yosemite newbs in the group, and then left the circus that is the summer crowds of the valley behind as we made our way up Tioga Road, which just opened for the season a few weeks back. For those unfamiliar, Tioga Road is the route that takes you from the western side of the Sierras into Tuolumne Meadows at the top of the valley, and this is the part of the park that's only open a few months of the year. The rest of the time, it's snowed in.
For a quick primer, Tuolumne Meadows and this northern upper ledge of Yosemite National Park is the source of the waterfalls that cascade down into Yosemite Valley, including the famous Yosemite Falls themselves. It's also at the final (or first) leg of the John Muir Trail (JMT) begins, (or ends, depending on which way you take it).
After failing to secure a campsite the first night and taking a nap in a motel in Lee Vining, just outside the eastern entrance to Tuolumne, we were at the ranger station a few hours later at 5:30am the following morning and were able to secure a site once the first-come-first-serve batch began processing at 8am.
We set up camp, and began our Tuolumne adventures. Over the next 4 days, we explored nooks and crannies and trails and lakes and rivers and mountains and meadows and wildflowers all throughout this alpine-level northern ledge of Yosemite National Park.
And it was glorious!!!!!
Everything we had asked for and hoped for came to fruition here in Tuolumne.
Do I wish we had finished the Rae Lakes Loop instead? One the one hand, yes - it would have been nice to finish what we set out to do. On the other hand, absolutely not. The time we got to spend in Tuolumne Meadows is time none of us will ever forget. The conditions were perfect, the environment was, well, YOSEMITE, and it was beyond evident that none of us regretted it.
And selfishly, I've wanted to return to Tuolumne Meadows, a region of the park that's only open a portion of each year, since my first, and only time there 6 years ago, when I only had an appetizer - a single day - and have been craving the main course ever since.
Would I have been able to sit and wait for a deer to walk into the perfect sliver of fading sunlight as she drank from the banks of a river? No.
Would I have been able to marinate on the shore of an alpine lake for hours and watch the clouds drift by as those sunset rays draped the trees and mountaintops in the distance? No.
Would I have been able to lie on a slab of granite for an hour while a Park Ranger gave me a tour of the cosmos? No.
So while I didn't get to cross Rae Lakes Loop off my list (this time), I still got to cross a proper and comprehensive trip to Tuolumne off my list - and to be fair, that has been on that list for much longer...
In any case, here're are a series of images captures over the week from Kings Canyon Seqouia National Park as well as Yosemite National Park.
Hope you dig...