We looked for a little backpack for the summer and finally settled on something I’d done before, but knew was worth the repeat: the Rae Lakes Loop.
My previous trip was counter-clockwise, beginning from the West-side approach. This time, Jenna and I also began from Road’s End but took the trip clockwise.
We were up at 4 to drive from SF to the Road’s End permit station in SEKI. Take note, this is a reasonably long drive. You MUST call to let them know that you will not be there by 9 to pick up your permit – otherwise they will release it to any random fool who walks up looking for last-minute availability. The 50-60 y/o female ranger at Road’s End is awesome. The 20 y/o female ranger at Road’s End is lame.
Also, FYI: despite the fact that Carl’s Jr. will SELL you a cheeseburger at 7:30am, you may not wish to PARTAKE of said foodstuff.
Our original itinerary was much more interesting than what we ended up doing (including cross-country travel from JMT in to 60 lakes basin and one night at Dragon lake), but the mosquitoes on the stretch from Dollar Lake to the southernmost Rae Lake were absolutely obscene, so we cut out a day and a half plus one night. Total time: 72 hours almost to the minute.
Final analysis: views are better going counterclockwise, but the hiking is easier going clockwise.
Having done it twice, I’d do a four day loop with the following counterclockwise itinerary:
D1: Road’s End to as high as you can make it (Vidette Meadow, ideally)
D2: Vidette Meadow to Rae Lakes
D3: Rae Lakes to Upper Paradise Valley
D4: Upper Paradise Valley to Road’s End
Additional days are best spent in 60 Lake Basin or as layovers at the Rae Lakes (and it pains me to say that, given the amount of impact the Rae Lakes watershed sees…).
Day One: Road’s End // Paradise Valley Trail // Upper Paradise Valley (camp)
Day 2: Upper Paradise Valley // Castle Domes Meadow // JMT Intersection (Wood’s Creek Crossing) // JMT // Baxter Creek Crossing // Arrow Lake (camp)
Day Three: Arrow Lake // Rae Lakes // Glenn Pass // Bubbs Creek Trail // Vidette Meadow // Junction Meadow (camp)
Day Four: Junction Meadow // Bubbs Creek Trail // Road’s End