It has been a couple years since I visited the marvelous Rae Lakes region so it was time to return. However, having run the loop straight through twice in the past (deep snow in 2009 and FKT of 7:29:50 in 2010) I thought it was time for something new and Sixty Lakes Basin was intriguing place I’ve been wanting to explore. My original plan called for summits of Mount Cotter, Painted Lady, and Mount Rixford as an out-and-back along Bubbs Creek, but this plan changed along the way with time constraints and my proclivity for aesthetic loops kicking in. Instead, after climbing Mount Cotter and completing a photography extravaganza in the Sixty Lakes Basin, I decided to finish out the loop and descended towards Woods Creek and Paradise Valley. Total time was 12h28m with the Rae Lakes Loop portion taking around 8h15m. Joel had completed the loop straight through enjoying the amazing scenery and idyllic early fall weather. We had agreed to make best efforts to finish by 5 pm in order to allow for a sane arrival time back in the bay and I was able to accomplish that finishing before 4:50 pm. Complete photo album here.
We started at 4:18 am on a clear and unseasonably warm fall night with a full moon providing extra light. With anticipation for a beautiful day ahead, we wished each other enjoyable trips. The first switchbacks up Bubbs Creek were uncomfortably warm, but fortunately the temperatures dropped into a nice running range during the ascent and I even needed my gloves past Junction Meadow to Glen Pass. I made it to Glenn pass in 3h45m, only 15 minutes slower than my FKT effort in 2010. This gave me confidence that under similar conditions I could hopefully dip under 7 hours for the entire loop. From Glen Pass, I made my way down the north side and marveled at the beauty of the Rae Lakes, magical as ever. At the middle Rae Lake, I left the trail and found a rock balcony above a small inlet and peninsula that provided a breathtaking vista, a feature I dubbed “postcard peninsula” (pictured above in the first photo).
From Rae Lakes, I ascended granite slabs to a small lake below Rae Col, the entrance to Sixty Lakes Basin, which features more of the same stunning scenery as Rae Lakes. The novelty of the peaks and lakes in this region proved especially enjoyable for me. After passing numerous lakes, I began the ascent up Mount Cotter on slabs and then talus and gravel. After a few minutes of scrambling on the final ridge line I found myself on the summit. The top of Mount Cotter features an impressive view of the the Sixty Lakes Basin on one side and Gardiner Basin’s numerous lakes on the other. Mount Clarence King towers to the north and Mount Gardiner dominates to the south. Interestingly, I hadn’t met anybody in the Sixty Lakes Basin until I was a couple hundred feet from the summit, where I passed a recent Cal graduate who was in the midst of an extended JMT trip with extensive peakbagging aspirations. It was fun hearing about his plans and pointing out peaks and features from the summit. After 25 minutes on the summit, I made my way down Cotter’s slopes and through Sixty Lakes Basin, stopping to photograph the amazing scenery. My favorite lake in the including a long narrow lake with a palette of turquoise to deep blue set amidst granite cliffs, my favorite lake in the Basin. More photo stops and scenery gawking welcomed me back to the Rae Lakes. After nearly 300 photos, it was time to start the ~22 mile trail run back to Road’s End. Having prior experience on this trail, I knew exactly what to anticipate and ran this last stretch in under 3.5 hrs, stopping for a break at Woods Creek Bridge and the Castle Domes. Complete photo album here.
- Road’s End: 0:00:00 (4:18 am)
- Sphinx Junction: 42:06
- Junction Meadow: 1:55:09
- Vidette Meadow: 2:33:13
- Glen Pass: 3:45:11
- Arrive Mount Cotter Summit: 6:45:34
- Depart Mount Cotter Summit: 7:10:20
- Rae Lakes (back on trail): 8:58:20
- Woods Creek Crossing: 9:58:16
- Road’s End: 12:28:55 (4:47 pm)