The Rae Lakes Loop is a premier backpacking route in the heart of Kings Canyon National Park. This 40 (ish) mile loop climbs from around 5,000ft to nearly 12,000ft of elevation at Glen Pass. Most people take anywhere from 3-7 days to complete the loop, but Cosmo and I decided this would be a great single day run to celebrate my 35th birthday.
It was dark outside and the streets were empty when we left Los Angeles and drove north to Bishop. It's Labor Day weekend and we chose to celebrate our hard work with a brutifully challenging 55 mile hike in The Sierra. The North Lake to South Lake hike travels through the Evolution Valley and up and over Muir Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail.
Waking up on the side of the road feels different than waking up in the woods. The sour stench of soggy hiker clothes combined with the petrified sulfuric smell that has been so well preserved in my sleeping bag, sits stagnant in my car. I open the side door and gasp for air. Groggy-eyed I reach for my contact lenses and then slip into the front driver seat in search of a bathroom, as I am pretty sure there’s a $1 million fine for digging a cat hole on the side of the Million Dollar Scenic Byway.
Starting this final section is exciting not just because we are so close to the end, but because I wasn't sure whether or not this part of the trail would be open for us to hike. The 416 Fire in Durango had segments 26-28 of the Colorado Trail closed until just a couple weeks ago.
We spent the morning sitting at a real table, eating leftovers, and working on a crossword puzzle. In retrospect, this scene doesn't sound very exciting, but in the moment it felt like luxury. Thru-hiking takes me away from the ordinary comforts of home and when I return I feel a much stronger joy for the simple moments I so often take for granted.
This morning we hiked up a dirt road which led to the base of Monarch Pass. Along the climb up to the pass we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular scenery. Flowing rivers, green pine trees, and fields of tall grasses sprinkled with colorful bouquets of wildflowers lined both sides of the trail.
It was a beautiful, clear Colorado day and we were finally set to begin our journey. The first six and a half miles from Waterton Canyon Trailhead followed the South Platte River, along a wide dirt road. Along that brief section we saw goats frolicking in the water, mule deer, and a herd of big horn sheep sunning in the grass.