The most common route for the Rae Lakes Loop is starting from Roads End in Kings Canyon. However, coming from Tahoe I chose the shorter drive to the Onion Valley Trailhead on the east side of the Sierra. Starting here makes this version of the route approximately 50 miles with 11k feet of climbing. It is also a bit more committing to attempt this route as you drop all the way down towards the Roads End trailhead and must end with a long climb back up to Kearsarge Pass. Bailing on the Roads End side would involve trying to find a car ride 360 miles back to your car at Onion valley.
Jeff Dostie and Abe Haen did this route on 10/6/19 in 15 hours and 17 min (https://www.strava.com/activities/2769735743) although they went clockwise on the loop.
I chose to go counter-clockwise and head over Glen Pass immediately after Kearsarge and have the longer descent to the low point, but shorter/steeper climb back up to Kearsarge. This also paid off to have the sun coming up into the Rae Lakes basin just as I came over Glen Pass, which was stunning.
I made great time running from Glen Pass down to the low point and tried to balance moving quickly without totally destroying my legs before the long climb home. I stopped for about 10 minutes around mile 29 to filter water, refuel and reset, so I could get a "running start" up the climb to the Sphinx junction. I felt pretty good through 7 hours (39ish miles), but once I got over 8000' I started to struggle a bit more as the fatigue crept in with the ever increasing altitude and miles. I was shooting for under 10 hours, but realized around Junction Meadow that was unlikely. I stopped again for about 10-15 minutes for a snack break and filter water on the climb up to Vidette meadows around mile 41. Got back to the top of Kearsarge and luckily the legs still had some running in them and was able to get down fairly quickly and finish in 10 hours and 22 minutes.
The weather was perfect with slightly below freezing temps at night and highs in the 40-50's over 10k feet, calm winds and light cloud cover. It was starting to get warm on the climb back up to the Sphinx Junction, but not too bad.
It such a beautiful loop and I tried to make sure to pause and soak it in as much as possible and take some photos now and then. It's also such a beautiful time of year to be there with the fall colors. I saw more deer than people, 1 bear and 1 rattlesnake.
Onion Valley TH: 0:00
Kearsarge Pass #1: 1:05
Glen Pass: 2:05
Woods Creek Bridge: 3:22
South Kings River Low Point: 5:27
Sphinx Junction: 5:56
Junction Meadow: 7:24
Vidette Meadow: 8:20
Kearsarge Pass #2: 9:37
Onion Valley TH: 10:22