TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

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jfr
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TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by jfr » Wed Mar 11, 2020 7:07 pm

Last Summer, my wife and I spent a week backpacking to the Rae Lakes. We started from Onion Valley, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada in the John Muir Wilderness, and climbed over Kearsarge Pass into Kings Canyon National Park. We then climbed over Glen Pass to the Rae Lakes Basin, and hiked on one of the most scenic sections of the John Muir Trail. Along the way, we day-hiked to the Sixty Lakes Basin and also climbed to see the rarely-visited Dragon Lake.

I'd also like to apologize to the forum members for the extreme lateness of this Trip Report. It's taken me over seven months to get this together! I've had a busy year, I guess. Anyway, this report will have to be made almost entirely of photos with captions, or else I'm never going to get this thing posted!


Day 0: Robinson Lake from Onion Valley

We spent the first day (Day Zero, sort of) picking up our permit in Lone Pine and car-camping in the Onion Valley Campground. We wanted to spend a night at high altitude before the main hike, and figured that a day-hike to Robinson Lake would be fun, since we'd never been there.


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Looking northwest over the Onion Valley Parking area from the Robinson Lake Trail, with Kearsarge Peak on the right


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Panorama shot of Robinson Lake. The water was clear and the bottom was blue.


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Walk-In Campsite 24 in the Onion Valley Campground - a good way to get acclimated to the hike tomorrow


Day 1: Onion Valley to Flower Lake

My wife, Vicki, is NOT a mighty hiker. She has trouble breathing up high the first few days of a trek, so we planned to take things easy. Thats why we backpacked to Flower Lake the first day. It was only three miles, so we were able to set up camp early. That way we also had time to visit Matlock Lake. It was a very mellow day.


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Vicki at the Kearsarge Pass Trail trailhead sign in Onion Valley - ready for seven days of hiking


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Looking back toward Onion Valley from the Kearsarge Pass Trail below Gilbert Lake - last chance for Cell Service!


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The iconic panorama shot of Gilbert Lake from the big boulder on the western shore


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We headed for the south side of Flower Lake to find a secluded campsite, with Mount Gould, center


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Panorama view of Matlock Lake with University Peak behind it


Day 2: Kearsarge Pass to Glen Pass

We planned a long day of hiking (long for us, only 7 miles, wimps that we are) so we started hiking before dawn in order to get over Kearsarge Pass in the cool of the morning. Then we continued west to the PCT/JMT via the high trail through the Kearsarge Basin, which provided great views the entire way. We headed north on the PCT above Charlotte Lake, with more great views, and continued uphill toward Glen Pass, but stopped to camp at one of the small lakes just south of the pass.


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Dawn Alpenglow panorama over Flower Lake


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Traversing some icy residual snow on the Kearsarge Pass Trail at 11,000 feet elevation


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Heart Lake was far below us as we climbed higher


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Big Pothole Lake still had ice left over from last Winter, and it was the end of July!


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Vicki entering Kings Canyon National Park at Kearsarge Pass, 11760 feet elevation


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View of Bullfrog Lake from the high trail


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Timer shot using my phone camera of the two of us posing with Bullfrog Lake


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Panorama view of Charlotte Lake, Mount Bago, and Charlotte Dome from the PCT


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Zoomed-in view of Charlotte Dome. Good old Glaciated Granite.


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A tarn on the PCT south of Glen Pass. We found a good campsite not far away


Day 3: Glen Pass to Rae Lakes

This was planned to be another short and easy day, less than four miles, up and over Glen Pass, then down to lower Rae Lake, where we hiked along the seldom-visited western shore and discovered a perfectly secluded camping spot on a peninsula jutting out into the lake. We planned to camp there for two nights, which is the maximum allowed. This would be our base camp.


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View of the lower lake south of Glen Pass, which still had melting ice


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Glen Pass is on the left, and below us is the higher lake, at 11,500 feet


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It was 9am and the snow was already soft and melting. The trail crossed the snow several times.


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Panorama looking south at the upper lake as we got closer to Glen Pass


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The final approach to Glen Pass on the northbound PCT


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Panorama view north toward Rae Lakes from Glen Pass


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The residual snow on the north slope at the end of July in 2019 - it was a big snow year


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So many people hike this trail over Glen Pass that the snow traverse was almost a snow trench!


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Looking west at the unnamed lakes in the basin below Glen Pass as we continued downhill


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Vicki decided to do a short glissade on the slushy snow to save herself some tedious scrambling


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Looking back behind us, south toward Glen Pass


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We arrived at Upper Rae Lake, with Black Mountain (left) and Painted Lady (right)


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A small lake with Dragon Peak (left) and Painted Lady (right) reflecting on its surface, from the Sixty Lakes Trail


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Dragon Peak (with the red streak) from the western peninsula of lower Rae Lake near our campsite


Day 4: Rae Lakes to Sixty Lakes

This was our lay-over day, so we decided to hike up the Sixty Lakes Trail. The original plan (that morning) was to go up and over the pass, then down into the Sixty Lakes Basin. But my wife wimped out once we got up to the pass, and didn't want to go down. Why? Because she'd have to climb back up! The logic was inescapable, I know. So we aborted the downhill part of the plan and made do with viewing the basin from up on high. We decided to head cross-country along the ridge toward Fin Dome, instead. Which we did. But we didn't dare climb on the fin, as we aren't rock climbers, so we admired it up close. Then we hiked over to a parallel ridge to the east and got some great views into the Rae Lakes Basin to the south, as well as Arrowhead and Dollar Lakes to the north. It turned out to be a fun day after all.


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Dawn alpenglow reflection over the Rae Lakes, with Painted Lady right of center


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View looking over Upper Rae Lake as we began climbing westward on the Sixty Lakes Trail


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Panorama view of the high lake near the pass on the Sixty Lakes Trail


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Panorama view looking down into the Sixty Lakes Basin


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Panorama of the Smiling Lake (or so we named it), looking east


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Vicki standing at the base of Fin Dome on its southern face


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Panorama shot of Fin Dome, Arrowhead Lake, Dollar Lake, the lowest Rae Lake, and Diamond Peak


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Panorama shot of the Rae Lakes Basin from the high ridge near Fin Dome


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Hiking down toward the Rae Lakes on the Sixty Lakes Trail


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Painted Lady blushing in the evening alpenglow from our campsite


Day 5: Rae Lakes to Dragon Lake

Technically, we were only allowed to camp at the Rae Lakes for two nights, but we really wanted to explore the area more, so we figured out a way to bend the rules a bit. We decided to day-hike to Dragon Lake, then when we came back to the campsite, we'd pack up everything and hike another mile or so south on the PCT to set up camp just this side of Glen Pass.

The only thing we hadn't counted on was that the trail to Dragon Lake was utterly unmarked and unmaintained! Using the GPS, we almost got cliffed-out at a waterfall, but we eventually managed to ignore the USGS track and find the actual trail, which was faint but much easier hiking. And Dragon Lake turned out to be a beautiful spot, with good campsites and a lot of fish in the lake.


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Dawn light reflecting on lower Rae Lake as Vicki cooked breakfast - we wished this was the view from our kitchen!


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Reflection of Painted Lady in upper Rae Lake with a small rocky island, from the PCT/JMT


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Looking northwest into the Rae Lakes Basin from the Dragon Lake Trail, Fin Dome right of center


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Panorama view of Dragon Lake and Dragon Peak


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Several trout swimming along the shore of Dragon Lake - if you came here you'd have the lake to yourself


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Painted Lady (left), Glen Pass (center) and upper Rae Lake from the Dragon Lake Trail


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It was just after noon when we arrived back in camp and finished packing - time to leave Rae Lakes


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Heading south on the PCT as we leave the Rae Lakes Basin, with Diamond Peak and Black Mountain


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Our tent and campsite at 11300 feet elevation, just to the north of Glen Pass - yes, that is Glen Pass, center


Day 6: Glen Pass to Kearsarge Lakes

This was another long day for us, so we got up in the dark and started hiking before dawn. We wanted to climb it when the air was cool, but it turned out to be freezing cold that morning. The snow was solid ice. After climbing to Glen Pass, we continued south on the PCT past Charlotte Lake, and eventually headed east on the Bullfrog Lake Trail. Then we continued onward to the Kearsarge Lakes, where we spent our last night on the trail. We explored the lakes, and ended up having a really fun day.


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We finished packing up before 5am and started hiking up and over Glen Pass


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Three days ago Vicki glissaded down this slushy chute, but now she climbs the solid ice with her Microspikes


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Panorama view from the trail to Glen Pass, with Diamond Pk, Black Mtn, Painted Lady, and Mt Rixford


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Looking back down the icy snow on the final traverse to the pass


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Polemonium (Sky Pilot) flowers in the morning sunshine on top of Glen Pass


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Our final view of the Rae Lakes Basin from Glen Pass - Good-bye Rae Lakes! You were beautiful!


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Looking south from Glen Pass at the high lake - the PCT crosses the snow patches on the right side, below


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We arrived at the lower lake south of Glen Pass - four days ago there were still large floating icebergs, all melted now


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Panorama view of Charlotte Lake, Mount Bago, and Charlotte Dome


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Looking south into the Bubbs Creek Valley, with Center Peak (left) and East Vidette (right) just before leaving the PCT


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Vicki gets into the prone position for serious photo shooting over a small pond near Bullfrog Lake


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Bullfrog Lake panorama from the northeast corner


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View from our campsite at the Kearsarge Lakes, with Kearsarge Pass (far left) and Peak 12423 (right of center)


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Kearsarge Lakes (Lake 10896) and the Kearsarge Pinnacles


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View west down the Kearsarge Basin with Bullfrog Lake in the distance and Mount Rixford on the far right


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Vicki thought that she might want to try taking a shower under this small waterfall - but it was way too cold! Brrr!


Day 7: Kearsarge Lakes to Onion Valley

This was our final day of hiking. All we had to do was climb up and over Kearsarge Pass, then continue downhill another five miles until we were back at the car in Onion Valley. In case you hadn't noticed, Vicki prefers to hike uphill in cooler weather, to avoid overheating, so we tend to start early when there's a lot of climbing to do. And today was no exception.


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We woke up extra early, at 4am, in order to climb over Kearsarge Pass while it was still cool


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Looking back down at the Kearsarge Lakes from the trail, with the alpenglow on the Kearsarge Pinnacles


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Hiking east on the Kearsarge Pass Trail, with Kearsarge Pass (notch on the upper left) and Peak 12423 (right)


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One more view of the Kearsarge Basin as we prepare to head east over Kearsarge Pass and down to the car


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View south along the rocky ridge at Kearsarge Pass, with University Peak and Peak 12423


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Big Pothole Lake (11257 feet elevation) still has floating ice and it's already August


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Vicki and Big Pothole Lake as we continue down the switchbacks


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Heart Lake and University Peak


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Whimsical Rock Monster on the northern shore of Flower Lake, just below the main trail


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Gilbert Lake, always a joy to visit


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We can see our car near the trailhead in Onion Valley. A great week of hiking is over.


All in all, it was a lot of fun. And I have come to realize, from reading many other trip reports on this site, that most forum members consider the Rae Lakes area to be exceptionally pretty, but also too crowded, over-visited, etc. and therefore not worth it in the end. But how was I to discover the truth for myself? In the only way possible, by going there at least once in my life. So I did, and I'm really glad I did. All it took, in order to retain all of the beauty and none of the downsides was to camp where no one else goes. Namely: The far side of the lake. So simple, really. This strategy worked out great, and we had an excellent time in the wilderness.

Thanks for reading!


For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page

For LOTS more photos (and videos) of the trek see my Flickr Page

.


Trip Reports and PhotoJournal: http://hikingtales.com/






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wildhiker
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by wildhiker » Wed Mar 11, 2020 11:21 pm

Thanks for the report. Great photos! And by being "tardy", you are sure of a good audience, anxious to read a fresh report in the middle of winter. During the summer, the trip reports come in so fast that I don't get around to reading them all.

Are your Caltopo trails based on your own GPS readings?

How were the mosquitoes?

-Phil

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davidsheridan
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by davidsheridan » Thu Mar 12, 2020 3:58 am

Thanks for posting! fabulous photos, big passes, and beautiful lakes. Looks like a great trip in a magical area.

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kursavwilage
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by kursavwilage » Thu Mar 12, 2020 8:39 am

Thank you for the report. Love the photos and the old-school frame pack.
I have been avoiding that area because of the popularity. Maybe one day I'll have to trek through there.

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jfr
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by jfr » Thu Mar 12, 2020 4:27 pm

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. I can't take too much credit for the pictures - I give the main credit to the Sierra! I also take a LOT of photos, so a few of them are bound to be good. I think I may be one of the founding members of the "Shotgun School" of Photography. :cool: And those are all unretouched, btw, as I don't have the time or patience to make them works of art.

Wildhiker: Yes, those are my tracks. I keep a dedicated GPS running up on top of my pack while hiking, and then I use the tracks to geolocate the photos after I get home (using the free GeoSetter program). PM me if you want me to email a better version of gpx file - CalTopo doesn't keep all the points. As for the mosquitoes, I posted right away on last year's Mosquito Report: http://www.highsierratopix.com/communit ... 23#p149423 I love that report. And I'll be adding to this year's report soon enough...

kursavwilage: That old pack of mine is my teenager pack. Camp Trails. That baby cost over $100 back in 1972! Top of the line at the time. If it wasn't for my wife's sewing skills it would be in the trash by now. On the inside you can see the original color of the nylon, a deep dark blue, but the outside has faded to gray from all the sun and miles I've put on that thing. I've got modern gear for when I'm solo or with my son, but to get my wimpy wife over the Sierra Crest I have to carry almost all of the communal gear, and I can (and do) hike with 60+ pounds in that thing. Good times.

Also, I think I read on this forum about people hiking over the crest from Onion Valley to Dragon Lake via the trail to Golden Trout Lake, so if you really want to visit without crowds, you might have to go cross-country. I think it was called "Dragon Pass" but I'm not sure exactly where it is on a map. Otherwise, I admit the PCT/JMT is a bit of a superhighway, but it isn't as bad as they say. Go through Rae Lakes and keep on going to Sixty Lakes, and you won't be sorry.
Trip Reports and PhotoJournal: http://hikingtales.com/

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pakoR
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by pakoR » Thu Mar 12, 2020 7:38 pm

Thanks for sharing, and great pictures. I did a similar trip in 2014 over the 4th of July weekend. These pictures bring back good memories Thanks again!

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bobby49
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by bobby49 » Thu Mar 12, 2020 7:59 pm

I've gone in that way from Onion Valley a number of times, except that I go to Sixty Lakes Basin in one day, and I've never stayed around Rae Lakes proper.

Did you see any Bighorn Sheep? They are there, but you have to look hard to find them.

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sekihiker
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by sekihiker » Fri Mar 13, 2020 5:50 pm

Thanks for posting. I never get tired of seeing photos of this area and reading about adventures there.

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jeremiahkim
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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by jeremiahkim » Fri Mar 13, 2020 9:43 pm

Lovely photos, especially of your jaunt to Fin Dome and Dragon Lake. It's a popular area, but for good reason and it's great to see these familiar places in new ways. Have always wanted to venture up to Dragon Lake. Thanks for sharing.

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Re: TR: Rae Lakes from Onion Valley July 2019

Post by torpified » Sun Mar 15, 2020 7:06 pm

Good old Glaciated Granite, indeed! Thanks for brightening my ides of march!

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