Rae Lakes Loop Trip Report

Day 5

July 17, 2009

Charlotte Lake to Roads End

18.3 miles
Elevation Ascent: 542 ft
Elevation Descent: 5521 ft

Day 5 Profile
Day 4 Profile

I got up today at 6:00 am. Elena was already up. The low temp for the night was 48 degrees. After breakfast Elena and I took another trip down to the lake to get more water and take some more pictures. (Although the distance from Charlottes Lake to Roads end is only about 16 miles, my total miles for the day was 18.3. This trip to get water added one of the extra miles). Revan woke up a little later, and we packed up camp and started hiking. We hit the trail at 9:42 am, and headed back to the JMT trail junction.

SEKI Charlotte Lake
Morning at Charlotte Lake Meadow
Heading back to the JMT junction
1.0 miles    10:01 am
N36 46.238 W118 24.974
  Our destination

After hiking for 3 miles, we stopped and had a discussion.
Our plan for the day was to hike 8.5 miles to East Lake. This would mean descending another 2600 feet, and then ascending 1700 feet to get up to East Lake. I think if we could have done this trip later in the summer when most of the mosquitoes were gone, and if we would have had that rest day we opted out of, we might have decided to forge ahead to see East Lake. We didn't have any hope that East Lake would magically be free of mosquitoes, and we really needed a rest day to be ready for another 1700 ft climb. It was about 16 miles from Charlotte Lake to Roads End, and we discussed how best to divide this into two days. I was thinking to myself that I really wanted to hike all the way to Roads End in a single day, but I couldn’t bring myself to suggest it. I felt that if I did, Revan and Elena would feel pressured to agree. Then, to my amazement, Elena was the one who suggested that we could do the rest of the hike in one day instead of two!! I was REALLY glad she was thinking the same thing I was. The thought of a hot shower and real food THAT NIGHT sounded so good. I was expecting Revan to veto the idea, but he was also game to give it a try. I knew we could stop at Sphinx Creek and camp there if we just couldn’t make it all the way. We decided to go for it.

I did the final 18 miles in my trail shoes since my pack weight was now below 35 lbs. It worked out well and I will most likely switch to trail shoes for most future hikes.

With the decision to not spend a day at Charlotte Lake, nor a day at East Lake, my fishing opportunities dried up for this trip. I was glad I had done the 10 minutes of fishing at Rae Lakes!

East Vidette
  Looking toward Vidette
  East Vidette
1.9 miles   10:51 am
N36 45.956 W118 24.478

We reached the Bubbs Creek trail junction at 11:30, and said goodbye to the JMT. As we reached Vidette Meadow, I was SO glad we had not decided to push on yesterday and camp at Vidette. I stopped to get a picture but in just the time it took to get my camera out and take a shot, I had mosquitoes crawling all over my face, inside my ears, and in my eyes. As soon as I snapped one shot I literally ran down the trail to get away from them. This could have been a scene from a cheap "B" Hollywood movie.
After taking the Bubbs Creek trail, the three of us were hiking at our own paces, and were spread out a bit. After about an hour, I was overtaken by a couple who described Revan and asked if we were hiking together. I said yes, and they told me he had looked like he was having some trouble about .5 mile back. They just said "he didn't look too good". I waited for a bit, and decided to hike back to find him and see what the trouble was. I found him, and he was just taking a break, tired but no big deal. That .5 mile back uphill really was hard after 5 miles going downhill. It added another mile to my total for the day, which explains the 18.3 total from Charlotte Lake to Roads End.  

Bubbs Creek Trail
Bubbs Creek Trail Junction
N36 45.613 W118 24.737
Vidette Meadow
Vidette Meadow
N36 45.513 W118 25.189
3.3 miles
Bubbs Creek
Bubbs Creek Trail

By the time we reached Sphinx Creek, we had hiked 14 miles and were ready to drop. I was really thinking one of us would cast their vote to make camp at Sphinx Creek. I guess the lure of showers, cheeseburgers, (and absence of mosquitoes) was just too tempting, because all three of us elected to continue all the way to Roads End.    
We saw several deer, and a couple of snakes (no rattlers) along the trail. As the afternoon wore on, clouds started to form, darken, and eventually we were caught in a thunderstorm. We were past exhausted by this point, and when it started raining I saw Elena stop in the trail and raise her hands. I thought it might have been the straw that broke the camels back and  she was going to point at me give me a verbal thrashing. Instead she chose to focus on the positive and saw the rain as a blessing and a welcome diversion. I snapped a photo of her standing in the rain with her arms outstretched, with a smile on her face, and I think this is my most memorable photo from the trip. Whenever I look at it, I am reminded of her resilience and what a wonderful example it was of how we can choose our response to challenges in our path.

Junction Meadow
Junction Meadow
5.9 miles
N36 45.267 W118 26.585
2 miles past Junction Meadow
7.9 miles
N36 45.992 W118 28.030
Thunderstorm rolling in
N36 47.089 W118 32.899
15.3 miles

Enjoying the rain
Elena embracing the storm

The last 4 miles pushed our physical limits close to the edge (at least for Elena and I). Elena and I discussed this after the trip. At what point does the feeling that you can't take another step become the actuality that you can't take another step? I have never been this exhausted in my life.  While I was wondering how I was going to find the strength to take one more step. Revan bounces up and starts to talk about a horseshoe he had found in the trail. Huh? I was ready to keel over and he has the energy to hold a conversation while hiking? I summoned some reserve from somewhere and explained that I could not talk if I wanted to walk. Still amazes me how he had extra energy after hiking over 16 miles.

  Sunset in the trees
Almost there!
N36 47.272 W118 33.116
16.2 miles

The last 2 miles of the trip were the same fairly level trail we had traversed on the beginning of the trip.
We finally reached the Ranger station at Roads End at 6:21 pm. We were all VERY happy to have reached the end of our journey. We made it! I was starting to panic though. I knew the showers at Cedar Grove closed at 7:00 pm. It was solely the promise of a hot shower that had sustained me the last 4 miles on the trail, so I REALLY wanted to get back in time!

Since we didn’t have a room at the Lodge, we had to use the public pay showers next to the Lodge. They were fine for dirty, exhausted hikers but not something I would want to have to use otherwise. We ate at the grill at the Cedar Grove Lodge, and I ate enough for three people. I guess my appetite was back! They actually have pretty good food there. Their cheeseburgers are excellent! I was hoping for a soft bed to sleep in, and we had reservations at the Lodge for Sunday, but since we arrived 2 days early, we were out of luck. We car and tent camped in the Cedar Grove campgrounds that night. 

We made it!

We talked about staying in Cedar Grove for the next day, but all three of us just wanted to be pampered for a day so we drove to Fresno, got a hotel room and spent the next day in Fresno lounging at the hotel, soaking in the pool, eating ice cream and watching movies at the theater. Sweet! We came back to Cedar Grove on Sunday, and spent the day exploring Boyden Caves and hanging out at Cedar Grove. It was funny watching us try to walk. All three of us were so sore we couldn't walk without hobbling, but it was good to get those muscles stretched out. We spent the night at the Cedar Grove Lodge. I had another of their wonderful cheeseburgers! Yum.
I did get a chance to do some fishing for a couple of hours in the Kings River on Sunday. Didn't catch anything, but it was nice to enjoy the quiet of the forest,  sit along the river and reflect on the trip we had just completed. 
Finally, we headed back to Fresno on Monday, and caught an early flight back to Minnesota on Tuesday.

Trip afterthoughts:
Of all the places I have hiked over the years, this is still my favorite. The views are breathtaking, the variety of ecosystems, terrain and geological formations are unparalleled in my experience. Forests, rivers, lakes, mountains, wildlife, and a well maintained trail, all rolled into one package. The trail is popular however, so if you are looking for complete solitude, this wouldn't be the trip for you. I wouldn't call it crowded, but you will definitely have company during the peak season. We would typically see 3 or 4 parties a day while on the trail, except for the section between Rae Lakes and the Kearsarge Pass junction where there were quite a few folks hiking.
As I read through what I had written about this trip, I realized I whined quite a bit about the mosquitoes.
I was mentally prepared for (and looking forward to) the physical challenge, and was ready to deal with hot days, cold nights, rain, blisters, and I thought, mosquitoes. All three of us are glad we did this trip, but it would have been much more enjoyable later in the season when the insects population was down.
 What was amazing is that although Revan and Elena were eaten alive through their DEET, and I had them landing all over me, I didn't get a SINGLE bite. On day 3 we all started using my DEET lotion, (Ultrathon) and it worked for all three of us. I have no idea why Ultrathon was so much better, but I will never use anything else now.
Boots vs Trail shoes:
I learned a lot on this trip (and subsequent trips on the SHT) about when boots are appropriate and when trail shoes are a better choice. For me, carrying any load over 35 lbs means boots. Cold or cold/wet hiking also means boots for me. For most other hiking or backpacking, trail shoes are a better choice since they are comfortable and are significantly lighter, which will reduce trail fatigue. Seems like everyone has their own opinion on this subject, so YMMV.
Things I would change if I could about this trip:
1.    Go later in the season to reduce the mosquitoes
2.    Lighten my pack so that my starting weight was < 30 lbs
3.    Bring less fuel. Even if we had done 7 days we still would have had too much fuel.
4.    Bring boots OR trail shoes, not both!
5.    Add deep lunges or more stairs to my training program to strengthen my quads (upper legs).   

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5

Videos from Day 5
SEKI Video
Birds at Camp
  3 MB
SEKI Video
Deer on Bubbs Creek
5 MB  
SEKI Video
Last View
5 MB
SEKI video
  4 MB
Rain Storm
  5 MB

Additional pictures from Day 5
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