Rae Lakes Loop Trip Report

Day 1

July 13, 2009

Roads End to Upper Paradise Valley

11.3 miles
Elevation Ascent: 2243 ft
Elevation Descent: 366 ft

Day 1 Profile
SEKI Day 1

We got up before dawn on Monday morning. The Lodge has a key drop so you can check out early if needed. The snack bar didn’t open until 7am, so we used our backpacking stoves to cook oatmeal and make coffee. We drove to Roads End and arrived at 6:45am. We were the first ones there, but by the time the Ranger station opened at 7am, there were several other groups lined up. We had reservations, but still needed to fill out the necessary forms and listen to the Rangers words of wisdom on rules and conduct. It was a good thing we were the first in line. The process took a while and there were still folks in line an hour later. We also rented our bear canisters (required). I rented the Bearikade Weekender. Rental cost was significantly more than the Garcia, but the Bearikade is also 12oz less than the Garcia. Getting 6 days of food into one of these is interesting. In the future I will re-package any freeze dried meals to reduce weight and volume. Once we were all packed and ready to go, I drove the car to the parking area and stowed our extra food and anything the bears might like into one of the large bear lockers that are provided next to the parking area.

Stuffed Bear Can
My Bearikade is stuffed
Final packing
Elena and Revan final packing
Roads End Bear Lockers
  Elena ready to go

We were finally ready to go and hit the trail at 9:08 am.  I was pretty excited to be doing some serious backpacking again. It was great to be here with my kids and sharing this with them. As is the custom with thru hikers everywhere (OK, we were doing a TINY “thu hike”!) we gave each other trail names during the first day or two. They named me “Lightweight”. I still haven’t decided if this was in reference to my obsession with my pack weight or about my hiking ability! Elena was “Trail Bunny”. She kept a pace that would have killed me. We let her run so she could hike her own hike, and caught up when she let us. Revan was “Skeeter Bait”. The poor guy must have had a sign on him (written in mosquito language) that said "Free Lunch Wagon". He must have had dozens of bites the first day.

SEKI Ready to Hike!
Bear lockers by parking area
SEKI day 1 profile
Skeeter Bait, Trail Bunny and Lightweight

The first two miles are almost level, with a sandy trail. Temps were perfect at 66 degrees, with clear skies. I remember this part of the trail being incredibly hot 30 years ago. We moved to the side of the trail to let a group of horses and riders go by. They were headed to Mist Falls for a day trip. By the time we hit the junction of the Bubbs Creek and Woods Creek trails, the mosquitoes were already thick. Trail Bunny brought out her mosquito head net. Little did we know that this was going to be the theme for the entire trip. I knew the mosquitoes might be bad at the lower elevation, but really expected them to thin out once we got past Paradise Valley. Not a chance.

sandy trail
Trail starts out nice and easy
Mile .7   9:24 am

N36 47.709 W118 34.453
Fern Forest - SEKI
Trail goes through a fern forest
Mile 2.1
N36 47.309 W118 33.365
Trail Junction SEKI
Bubbs Creek and Woods Creek Trail Junction
Mile 2.3  10:16 am

N36 47.353 W118 33.197

Since were doing the Loop clockwise, we headed up the Woods Creek trail towards Mist Falls. Our easy, level trail ended here and we started climbing. It is on this section of trail where you arrive at the first beautiful panoramic view, just before Mist Falls. I think it is this aspect of the Rae Lakes Loop trail that sets it apart for me. The sheer number of so many stunning views of the mountains, valleys and lakes is incredible. Perhaps something is added to the experience by getting there on your own two feet. I don’t know. Somehow, taking pictures from a car window just can’t compare. Mist Falls is a great place to have lunch and take a break. I expected to take a dip in the river at the Falls, but the mist from the Falls quickly cooled us down.  There actually is a lot of mist, depending on the time of year. There were some hikers who showed up, and we chatted for a while. They had packed watermelon and citrus fruits! They offered to share with us, and we happily agreed!   Make sure and refill your water supply here.

The Sphinx SEKI
The first of many stunning views. The Sphinx is the mountain in the distance

Revan and Elena SEKI
The Sphinx, Revan and Elena
Mile 4.0   11:15 am
N36 48.377 W118 32.816

Mist Falls SEKI
Mist Falls
Mist Falls
Mist Falls
Mile 4.5    12:03pm
N36 48.728 W118 32.900
Cooling off in the mist
Taken by our hiker friends
after sharing their delicious watermelon
and tangerines with us!

After leaving Mist Falls, we headed up to Lower Paradise Valley. This part of the trail is pretty steep, and on an exposed face of the mountain. It takes its toll and can get pretty hot with the constant sun exposure.

Up, up, up

Hard to believe we have climbed this far already

Finally, a spot of shade to rest
5.6 miles   12:56pm
N36 49.153 W118 32.937

Just as we hit Lower Paradise Valley, we met a deer on the side of the trail. She was totally unconcerned with the fact that we were 30 feet away. She finished grooming and strolled off. The South Fork of the Kings River levels out here and we stopped for over an hour. The water was COLD but felt GREAT! We all rinsed off the trail dust and cooled off in the river. Our plan was to hike to Middle Paradise and make camp there for the night. After taking a long break at Lower Paradise, we decided to push on to Upper Paradise instead. I knew that day 2 was going to be hard, so if we could knock off another couple of miles today it would really make day 2 easier.

Paradise Valley Deer
Doe checking us out

Entrance to Paradise Valley
Entrance to Lower Paradise Valley campsites
7.4 miles    1:55pm
N36 50.038 W118 32.547
Kings River SEKI
Cooling off

We left Lower Paradise a little after 3pm, and continued hiking. The trail wasn’t as hard as it had been, but by the time we reached Middle Paradise, we were beat. We still pushed on to Upper Paradise however. It’s interesting how different sections of the trail, on different days affected the three of us. Each of us hit “walls” where we were beyond exhausted, but we hit them on different days and at different points. The last 2 miles between Middle and Upper Paradise was one of Elena’s “walls”. In hindsight we should have stopped at Middle Paradise. We covered over 11 miles today, and although it might have made day 2 easier, we really pushed too hard for the first day. It was some beautiful country though.

Middle Paradise Valley SEKI
Just past Middle Paradise Valley
9.5 miles   4:05 pm
N36 51.230 W118 31.929

We finally made it to Upper Paradise at 5:12pm. I was glad to finally make camp. Although this was not the roughest day for me, I was still bushed. We were the first to arrive, and had our choice of campsites. We picked site #2, which was the only site on the river side of the trail. Nice! Within an hour, some of the other sites were taken. We made camp and got dinner (and coffee!) going. One of the luxuries we brought on this trip was fresh Starbucks ground coffee and coffee presses. Yum!
This was the first time I had set up my new Tarptent Contrail while on the trail. I was glad I had practiced getting the pitch correct at home. Although it wasn’t difficult, I was too tired for learning the do’s and don’ts on the trail. I was wondering if we would get any bear visitors, since Paradise Valley is known for their presence. Perhaps with the introduction of the required bear canisters, they have moved on to other food sources. I hope this is the case. Upper Paradise does have bear lockers available. We used them to store some of our gear, like toothpaste, sunscreen and a little food. The rest was tucked back into our canisters and placed away from our tents. The only downside was the constant swarms of mosquitoes and flies. Although we all were slathered in Deet, the little vermin were relentless. They would land in your ears, mouth, eyes, and on any exposed skin. Revan and Elena were getting bit, even through the deet. They were irritating me also, but not biting. I did have Permethrin on my pants, shirt and hat, which I think helped. We hit the sack early since we were all tired. I was wondering if I would sleep well in my new bag and tent, and if we were going to have any nocturnal visitors. Elevation at our camp in Paradise Valley was 6916 ft.

Upper Paradise Valley SEKI
Upper Paradise campground
11.5 miles   5:12 pm
N36 52.171 W118 31.039

Getting camp setup

Tired but still smiling!

Tarptent Contrail
Tarptent Contrail

Day 2

Videos from Day 1

  These are LARGE files
SEKI Video
Above Mist Falls
6 MB
SEKI Video
SEKI Video
SEKI Video

Additional pictures from Day 1

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