I set out to run the Rae Lakes Loop from Road's End on Saturday July 18th. With almost all races and events canceled this year my thoughts turned to adventure runs in the Sierra. After a good training stint in Mammoth Lakes in early July I decided to go for a day long adventure on the Rae Lakes Loop. Having never done the loop before my intention was to take my time, stay safe and use it as a training run for a bigger fall project. We drove to Kings Canyon on Friday and intended to dispersed camp along 180E but found new ranger orders prohibiting road side camping along the entire stretch of 180 approaching Road's End. Luckily we were able to snag a campsite at the Kings Canyon Lodge, just before Convict Flat and slept there Friday night.
Saturday morning dawned windy and hot. My original plan was to run the loop with my good friend Fernando due to the remoteness of the Rae Lakes section. But we agreed that if either of us were having good days we could separate and run on alone. We tried to break camp as fast as possible and drove to Road's End. The temperature at the start was in the high 60s already, and I knew it would be a hot and thirsty day. I packed my vest with everything I would need for the day, all my food and two 0.6L Katadyn BeFree soft bottles.
We left the trailhead at approximately 7:17am and headed out towards Bubbs Creek to run the loop counterclockwise. I ran behind Fernando for about 3 miles, I paused to adjust my shoelaces and lost sight of him. I never saw him again until I got back to the trailhead and parking lot! From then on I maintained steady effort up the proper climb up to Junction Meadow. From Junction Meadow to Vidette Meadow I started feeling the heat and started dunking my hat at every stream crossing. I knew at this point I was feeling good on the climb and was running a lot of it, interspersed with power hiking. After Vidette Meadow I could glimpse the approach to Glen Pass and the gorgeous amphitheater of the mountains. I kept steady effort up to the top of Glen Pass and gained the highest point of the loop about 3 hours and 41 minutes in. There at the top of the pass I stopped for photos and chatted briefly with a group of backpackers. They told me Fernando had passed about 15 minutes earlier and was moving fast. I retied my shoes, ate part of a bar and started the run downhill.
The descent from Glan Pass was very hot and exposed, my pace was measured on the more technical sections and the views of the lakes awaiting kept me moving forward. I am admittedly not a super strong descender on technical terrain and my number one priority was to stay on my feet and safe! Once I reached the shores of Upper Rae Lake I paused to drink in the superb view, appreciate the beauty and to refill my bottles. I ran on, at this point realizing I was moving well and loving the magnificent landscape. Fin Dome was grand and inspiring, and I reluctantly left the shores of Arrowhead Lake anticipating a thirsty and hot last 18 miles.
After crossing the Woods Creek swinging bridge, I was still feeling relatively good even in the heat. I stopped at every opportunity to dunk my hat or refill my bottles but the water sources were already few and far between. The last mile or so before reaching the river crossing and washed out bridge at the South Fork, I was out of water and dreaming of a rushing river. A dry year meant the river crossing at Upper Paradise was no problem and I spent some time soaking my legs in the delightfully cold flow and refilling my bottles. Descending Paradise Valley was more difficult than I anticipated. I was running low on calories and wished I had carried more gels. The sections through the shady forest were a welcome relief from the sun. The dramatic views of the canyon and cascades were also a lovely sight, as were the many hikers and backpackers out on the trail. I was so excited to finish the descent and rejoin the trail back towards Road's End.
The final two miles back to Road's End were hot and sandy! As I neared the final mile a group of approaching hikers warned of a bear on the trail and sure enough a large black bear was ambling down the trail towards me. I stepped off the trail and gave him plenty of space to pass before continuing onwards. A short while later I arrived at Road's End tired, thirsty, hungry and full of amazing memories of and love for the mountains.
I completed the loop in an elapsed time of 8 hours 26 minutes and 12 seconds. Fernando was waiting for me at the trailhead and he had finished about 20 minutes before me. Thank you Rae Lakes Loop for an incredible and inspiring day!