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TR: Onion Valley/60 Lakes/Rae Lakes, Aug 2019

Posted: Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:36 pm
by adornowest
We just got back from 4 great days in 60 Lakes / Rae Lakes. Thanks to everyone, and especially Wandering Daisy and Maverick, for their advice. I really appreciate your generosity.

The trip was a ton of fun and the scenery spectacular. Every bend held another beautiful lake. It was almost too much to take in, too hard to appreciate so much beauty. Many lakes are worth several hours of contemplation and enjoyment, but on this trip we mostly (in part due to our youthful and athletic companion) kept moving. I don’t know how to balance my desire to see more and further with the desire to enjoy what is already too beautiful. I felt like a bit of lake glutton, having engorged myself on so many tasty lakes that I almost didn't want to see anymore—until, that is, I did see it and was enchanted all over again.

Day 1: Started at Onion Valley. We had planned to camp at the lake between the trail and Rae Col, but the excellent and friendly ranger at Glenn Pass told us the far side of Rae Col was probably pretty snowy, and we didn’t want to wait and have to cross snow in the icy morning. So rather than waiting for the morning, we picked our way down to the east side of lake 11001. The snow field constrained our route, probably making it more time consuming and a bit more sketchy then we intended. (There was some portions with moving big rocks that we could not avoid without braving the snow.) We ate our dinner and the mosquitos ate theirs.
Day 2: We had planned on making it into the Gardiner Basin, but unfortunately a long night’s sleep followed by a minor but protracted medical issue meant we didn’t start until noon. We decided to summit Mt. Cotter instead. I was tempted to go up the ridge nearest the 60 Lakes trail, but wanted to see the 60 Lakes Col, so we headed west in that direction. Because we were running late, however, we decided to try a promising but steep ascent to the plateau below Cotter just above the inlet to Long Lake. (Where incidentally is the catwalk? I was content with the easy route we immediately found, but did unsuccessful look about for the catwalk a bit. The only possibility I didn’t check out had trees blocking the entry that seemed to make it the unlikely ledge.) This was lots of fun, but toward the top we had to get to scrambling, and I was worried about my returning my nephew unharmed to my brother as I had sworn, so after checking out some alternative descents, down we went, retracing our steps up. We camped on a shelf NE of Cotter’s eastern ridge. This was a very pleasant area with lots of great views and camp sites.
Day 3: On WanderingDaisy’s recommendation, we headed to some lakes SE of Mt. King. These were lovely. We then crossed the chain of lakes in the middle of the 60 Lakes Basin on the way to the very easy Basin Notch. Arrowhead Lake from its north shore was spectacular, one of the very best views of the trip. Despite the bustle of the JMT a few hundred meters away, we had the shore to ourselves.

We rejoined the trail and the crowd at Arrowhead’s outlet. A makeshift log crossing with just a bit of wobble was decently safe, though I thought about crossing in the shallows barefoot. Rae Lakes was also spectacular, and I reluctantly concluded that Rae and Arrowhead do make the Rae Lakes Basin the more beautiful of the two basins, though the traffic is a tough price to bear.
A member of our party wanted to get Glenn over with, so instead of staying at Dragon, we made a late summit of Glenn and camped on the shelf shortly after the descent turns south toward Charlotte Lake. It was a lovely setting, though some thoughtful person left used toilet paper unconcealed and anchored by rocks in a corner of the tent site.

Day 4: We enjoyed the great beauty of Bullfrog Lake. It hadn’t looked all that interesting from Kearsarge, but it’s west shore has a fantastic view east of the lake framed by a distant mountain panorama. On our way up to the Kearsarge outlet, we encountered a NPS workcrew (as we soon found out) enjoying their Sunday. One of the employees accosted as we passed through—we hadn’t approached them—warning us that camping in the area was forbidden due to their presence. Her aggressive and officious manner--not her message--was the one sour note in the trip: she made it feel like we were trespassing on their private property.

After enjoying the Kearsarge lakes we headed up and over Kearsarge pass and down to Matlock. I had thought this was class 2, so was very surprised to discover what appears to be a maintained trail that leads to this beautiful lake. After some more jarring descent, we were back at the car, toilets, and a change of clothes.

Day 5/6: I am at that delicious post-trip stage where I only remember the glory of the scenery and am suffering none of the costs of being there. Any suggestions for what beats 60/Rae in terms of scenery for next year? I’ve always wanted to see the Ionian Basin, and parts of Skurka’s routes look really engaging…

Re: TR: Onion Valley/60 Lakes/Rae Lakes, Aug 2019

Posted: Wed Aug 07, 2019 7:11 am
by tlsharb
Really nice report. Thanks for sharing. Too bad about the NPS gal. On one hand I get it....they deal with idiots all day long doing illegal stuff. But that shouldn't carry over into how they treat the average hiker.

Re: TR: Onion Valley/60 Lakes/Rae Lakes, Aug 2019

Posted: Wed Aug 07, 2019 9:41 pm
by windknot
Great report and photos, thanks for taking the time to write it up.

Re: TR: Onion Valley/60 Lakes/Rae Lakes, Aug 2019

Posted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 9:24 am
by cgundersen
Gorgeous! Really like the tiny figures on the Glen pass trail. Thanks for the TR! cameron

Re: TR: Onion Valley/60 Lakes/Rae Lakes, Aug 2019

Posted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 10:03 am
by wsp_scott
Nice photos/report, sounds like a good trip

I talked to a guy on that same trail crew a couple days ago, he was very nice and seemed appreciative when I said thanks for all their hard work. Not an excuse, but maybe the woman was having a bad day?

Re: TR: Onion Valley/60 Lakes/Rae Lakes, Aug 2019

Posted: Thu Aug 08, 2019 2:08 pm
by adornowest
Thanks for all the replies.

I certainly don't blame the trail crew as a whole: they looked like they were enjoying a lovely day off. And as I mentioned in my TR, the ranger I met at the top of Glenn Pass--I think her name was Alexa or something like that--was really excellent. I am thankful for her and the other helpful NPS/NFS employees that I met.