An imposing granite face over Flower Lake was the first to catch the morning’s light. The sun started peaking through the trees and gave all the leaves a golden glow. Another magical morning in the Sierras! We finished packing up after breakfast and quickly got on the trail knowing we had some climbing to do today!
Hoodies off, we set out, Izzie in the lead pushing strong after resting her foot/ankle in the afternoon before periodically forcing it into the shivering lake. We both kept our stride, even when the wind started whipping as we approached Kearsarge Pass. Down in the lake below the switchbacks we could see the wind and sun’s work on the water’s surface. It whipped and swirled while the sun gleamed on its surface making rapid moving shapes like a murmuration of starlings.
Finally we reached the pass and instantly put hoodies back on, the wind was unforgiving on the west side of the pass and nipped at our heels as we quickly descended, seeking refuge in the trees below. Small patches of ice were surprisingly still present on trail, we carefully navigated around them. Down, down, down, we went until finally reaching the trees, yet the wind still persisted. We could see Kearsarge Lake in the distance, and after a small hillock, the green Bullfrog Lake came into view.
We trekked on and soon found ourselves back to the junction where the JMT meets the trail to Kearsarge Pass. From there the hoodies were peeled and a good climb soon ensued north on the JMT. Not many people talk about the effort it takes to gain the view from a pass. You can’t get it daydreaming at camp, or really experience the feeling watching a video with some epic sound track in the background, it takes work to get there, and work we did. The work was good, and so were the views!
The climb persisted after a short respite on a leisurely plateau, we climbed up above Charlotte Lake, which was set in a beautiful valley that was clearly shaped by a traveling glacier. On the far end of the valley a U shape was left in the granite face, and it was so cool to see its mark still remained!
Climbing still, we entered the final approach plateau to Glenn Pass where all the trees were hooked and bent towards the top of the pass as if to praise it or simply point the way. The way was up! We kept climbing, and after a few false summits we found the jagged lip of the pass and paused for a snack and to soak in the view.
We started to run into people, Ghost a NoBo PCT hiker stopped for some small talk, 2 JMTers from Sacramento looking like they were having the time of their life, and finally at the bottom of the snow patched pass we met a couple who had just got engaged at Rae Lakes! The gal beamed with delight and we chatted on for a bit about their 60 Lakes loop.
After leaving the couple we bombed down towards Rae Lakes. The upper lake was crystal light blue in the middle, green turquoise towards the edge and finally orange at the rim from the vegetation and shallow bank. It looked almost like a human Iris, glinting in the light, and absolutely breathtaking. We soon found a nice spot for lunch and took a cold plunge in the clear waters. Although the wind still lightly blew, the sun warmed our cold skin and we laid out like lizards hoping for warmth.
We packed up and headed around the lake. Grey Jays flashed by in streaks of grey, black, and white. Brook trout swam just feet from the water’s edge and in the distance a quaint cabin stood overlooking all this beauty. I could only imagine what it must be like to live there, even for a brief season.
We started descending moss filled valleys crisscrossed with creeks, sprinkled with flowers and lush meandering meadows took over the plateaus. We descended a long staircase of plateaus from which each had its own lake and accompanying meadows, each lake would deepen in green as its size grew until towards the lower steps of the stair case the lakes were forest green.
On one such stairstep we met a Ranger named Mike and his wife Leanna who were staying in the Ranger Cabin for the summer. It sounded like a dream job, well perhaps not policing the public and making sure they are properly burying their feces, but I guess that’s a small price to pay for living in paradise. We chatted on about fish, fire, browning trees, mountains, all the important things, before finally saying goodbye and heading farther down the valley.
We headed down and at the far end of the valley a large granite south facing wall named Castle Domes could be seen that was clearly formed by a glacier. It looked like a big blob of ice had slowly slid down its face making new wrinkles and curves that still held up to the test of time. We soon found the flora starting to change. Around 9050 feet we found our first aspen trees of the trip! Soon after our first purple lupin, followed by Indian paintbrush, sage, and beautiful little green ferns. Cedars started to appear and soon after silver firs.
We took it all in until finally we reached the suspension bridge giving passage to hikers over Wood Creek. We passed over one at a time (as recommended by the signage). The bridge swayed as we walked, not only up and down, but also side to side, finding a wave pattern in harmony with the rhythm of our stride, it was a pretty cool experience to have in the middle of nowhere!
After crossing the bridge we started pushing up the final stretch of trail before camp. It immediately amped up the elevation gain. This southern facing hill was dominated by Jeffrey Pines, as it was in full sun most of the day, and only broke by small streams running down towards the canyon bottom where more lush loving foliage clung. A large creek rushed down slickrock in the belly of the canyon trailside as we hiked north. The sun began threatening to hide behind the mountains just before we finally reached camp! It was a mashed potato kind of night and we were both thankful to find refuge in the tent on a flat pad beneath the shelter of a birch tree. Man what another great big day!
- Hike Stats
- Miles: 13.7 Total:
- JMT Miles 4 (36.5 – 40.5) + Kearsarge Pass Miles (9.7)
- GPX Track
- Miles: 13.7 Total:
- Gear: JMT Backpacking Gear List