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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Woods Creek to the Rae Lakes

Rae Lakes and the Painted Lady

Day 18 on the John Muir Trail…

Yesterday we discussed our plans for today’s hike. We had originally planned to hike over Glen Pass to Vidette Meadow, but decided to modify the itinerary to have an easier day and leave us just below Glen Pass. Even with the modification, we would meet our original exit date to Whitney Portal.

John Muir Trail Day 18
Distance: 8.5 miles
Cumulative Distance: 178 miles
Total Ascent: 2,434 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 47,168 ft
Harrison Map Sheets 3 and 2
The first two miles the JMT followed the cascading creek down the valley to the wonderful Woods Creek suspension bridge. This is a marvel of engineering made even more remarkable by the fact that it’s located miles from civilization. Signs at the bridge instruct hikers to cross one at a time, and of all the footbridges we cross on the JMT, this one stands out.

Woods Creek Suspension Bridge on the JMT

On the other side, we paused for our first break, well aware that the remainder of our hike we would climb over 2,400 feet.

It was a warm, dry day, and the forest thinned as we climbed.  At the 5.8 mile mark, we stopped at Dollar Lake (10,200ft.). There were some beautiful shady spots, so we stopped and actually cooked a dinner for lunch — a first for us.

Dollar Lake

After a leisurely lakeside meal, we headed back up the JMT towards the Rae Lakes. This chain of three lakes are renown for their beauty, and the Rae Lakes Loop is a popular backpacking route in Kings Canyon National Park.

In the spirit of John Muir, we sauntered along the east shore of the lakes, stopping at the ranger station to check for word on Hari and Jeffrey. They outlined their plans for the remaining days, and were actually picking up additional miles with the goal of exiting at Whitney Portal one or even two days early. We added our plans, so the rangers would be aware, and continued on.

Rae Lakes

We paused to say hello to Steady, a north-bound Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker from Australia. He and his wife — Slow — had no prior backpacking experience. They had seen a documentary about the PCT and decided it looked an an adventure worth doing. They bought two tickets to San Diego, stopped at REI to buy equipment, and were on the trail a few days later. Slow and Steady had covered a big section of the PCT already, and did quite well in spite of their lack of experience. After 3-1/2 months on the trail, they had become experts.

Steady (of Slow and Steady)

As we headed past the second lake, we saw two 8-point bucks grazing nearby, unfazed by our presence.

Stag at Rae Lakes

But the best was yet to come, as the John Muir Trail threads between the second and third Rae Lakes, we had stunning views of the dome named The Painted Lady. Why is it called this? This photo says it all.


At the far side of the Rae Lakes, we found a campsite for the night.

Day 18 JMT Campsite

In the end, we had logged a mere 8.5 miles. It was an easy day, but we were well positioned to tackle Glen Pass tomorrow.

JMT-JeffHaving a plan is essential. Our planning prepared us physically and mentally for the rigors of the JMT. But having flexibility is also essential. We took a hard look at our itinerary and decided it would be worth having a lighter day today. Giving our bodies a chance to rest, and camping close to Glen Pass, we could make up the mileage over the next four days.

Plan, but allow flexibility.

Trail Map: Woods Creek to Rae Lakes

Download file: JMT-Day-18.gpx

JMT Day 18 Photo Gallery

Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.

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Tomorrow, we head to over Glen Pass to Vidette Meadow.

Originally hiked on August 13, 2010.

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