9/2/09; Distance Traveled = 17.5 miles
I wake up and lie quietly waiting for Jon to stir. He likewise is lying quietly. We continue this cat and mouse game for maybe a half hour until my bladder demands I get up. As morning routines go Jon and I differ in that he usually packs up, starts hiking, and then eats at his first stop, while I first get water cooking, then start packing, and have a cup of coffee with breakfast before starting to hike. He adjusts his routine and eats breakfast with me, but had he started hiking that would be okay too.
The trail continues its downhill track hugging the canyon wall north of Woods Creek. As we hike I pepper Jon with questions and learn that he and his wife lived for awhile in Culver City near the Helms Bakery of all places, a few minutes from downtown LA. Culver City incidentally is my home town; small world. Interesting to me is they managed this without owning a car; an Angelino with no car?! They now live in San Francisco which to me anyway makes much more sense if you choose to forego car ownership. Our conversation wanders on to other topics, including whether Walter made it over Pinchot Pass yesterday. We conclude probably not, yet just a couple minutes down the trail we cross a creek and to our surprise and merriment we find him sitting back and cooking sausages for breakfast. We all have a good laugh, Walter shares a chocolate bar, and we agree to watch for him midday at Rae Lakes. Do not underestimate The German!
Below us, Woods Creek is a series of slides, cascades, and pools. We drop off the trail and hike the polished granite slabs imagining how much water runs this way during the early season snowmelt and the possibility of kayakers running it. I know they run the Middle Fork Kings, so maybe. Jon talks of running it on an inner tube. We finally reach a section where we can go no further and have to bushwhack back to the trail. A few more minutes of hiking lands us at the Woods Creek Crossing and its wood suspension bridge the “Golden Gate of the Sierra.”
“Golden Gate of the Sierra”
After a lengthy break we leave the bridge and start, under an increasingly cloudy sky, the hike into the Rae Lakes Basin. This section of the JMT is part of the Paradise Valley loop and I expect to see quite a few people, and do. Minutes after starting we pass a young couple; he has a huge pack and she a small one. A short time later we meet a guy and his elderly parents; I think dad said this was their first backpack in 30 years. Hat’s off to them. And at the Baxter Pass Trail junction we meet two women. That’s three groups in less than 4 miles. They suggest we walk over to Dollar Lake for the view of Fin Dome; would be a spectacular mirror image on a still sunny day.
Middle Rae Lake and Fin Dome
Before long we reach the Rae Lakes. I’m disappointed with the lack of sparkle and reflection, the gloomy sky prevents that “pop.” We stop for lunch and a swim at the west shore of the upper lake. The sun makes a few attempts to shine, but the clouds win out. We discuss camping here, but decide to race the weather over Glen Pass. Before we leave Walter arrives at the isthmus. We shout and wave, and wait for him to cross, but he vanishes near the Sixty Lakes Basin Trail junction; farewell friend.
The hike up Glen Pass is longer and more difficult than I remember. Most likely it is the 3500’ climb and the 8½ miles from Woods Creek Crossing that I feel; last time, I hiked this after camping at the middle lake. We reach the saddle stopping just long enough to take pictures. South of the pass heralds an embattled sky, ½ rain, and we’d rather it not catch us. Hopefully Walter, wherever he is, also beats the rain.
The descent from Glen Pass steers us around Mt Rexford’s western shoulder and away from the darkest sky. Charlotte Lake lies far below; its beauty calls us, but it sits a mile off the trail. We resist, deciding instead to camp at Vidette Meadow a few miles further. The trail soon flattens out and crosses a one mile long sandy saddle laced with trail junctions. We stop at the first and rest. Jon finds a bear paw print and hopeful harbinger of a night time visit, which never happens. Leaving the saddle tiredness once again kicks in just as the trail begins a 500 foot drop to a crossing of Bubbs Creek. The never ending switchbacks at last relent. We cross the creek and start up Bubbs Creek Canyon for a final 2 miles to Upper Vidette Meadow.
Upper Vidette Meadow has a bear box and large camping areas. We choose the more forested site left of the trail. The sky spits as we set up camp, and then thankfully starts to clear. Our chosen site has a fire ring and log benches, and a nearby down tree provides a limitless supply of firewood. We have a fire as planned; Jon’s excellent idea. We talk about food; hamburgers and beer at Whitney Portal. Jon makes a call on his sat phone and asks that his wife include fennel salami in his end of hike care package. Is it the same with all thru-hikers, do we all always think of food? At last we sit quietly; the dancing flames hypnotize and relax.