Day 4: Rae Lakes to Sixty Lakes
This day was meant to be fun. It was our lay-over day, meaning that we’d be camping in the same spot tonight, so we could leave the tent and the big backpacks, and simply hike out and explore the area to our heart’s content. But at the same time, we had a vague plan: To hike up and over into the Sixty Lakes Basin. I’d heard that it was much less traveled than the Rae Lakes area, but was similarly beautiful. So we wanted to check it out. The original plan had been to backpack there, and spend the night deep in the basin. The next day we would make it a cross-country loop by fording Woods Creek near Arrowhead Lake and heading back south on the PCT. But that plan was dashed by the big snows this season, and that many creeks were still running dangerously high. So we changed it to a lay-over day.
We woke up early, well-rested from the easy day yesterday, and I took a bunch of alpenglow reflection photos in the still air of dawn. We ate breakfast while watching the sun light up the nearby peaks. Very peaceful.
After that, we got dressed for the day’s hiking, and put some essentials in Vicki’s pack, which I would carry. We hid the bear cans under some big boulders so they’d stay in the shade all day, and left any other gear inside the tent. Then we headed south cross-country until we met with the Sixty Lakes Trail. We hug a right and began climbing. It was about 800 feet of climbing and a bit more than a mile until we reached the pass. Along the way, we had great views down into the Rae Lakes Basin. I got out the PeakFinder app on my phone and we put names to all the peaks around us.
We came upon a beautiful lake up at 11,200 feet elevation, near the summit/pass of the Sixty Lakes Trail. We really liked this lake, and I took way too many panorama photos of it, from many different angles. This was another high lake that had only recently finished thawing out from Winter. The water was still icy cold.
We climbed up and over the pass above the lake and took in the views to the west, down into the Sixty Lakes Basin. To the left was the highest lake, Lake 11001, and its waters drained northward to the right, down into the basin. We couldn’t see all of the Sixty Lakes from here, of course. Even after looking at the map, I’m still not sure why they called it that. But there were at least thirty, which it still impressive. It all depends on your definition of “lake,” I suppose.
Across the way on the rim of the basin were a number of named peaks, and once again my phone app proved quite useful. Some of them I’d heard of before, like Mount Clarence-King, which was the name of a 7.5 minute series USGS Topographic Quadrangle. These were paper maps that people used to order from the government and carry with them, or buy at a camping store, back in the days before GPS receivers and easy-to-read glossy waterproof maps were available. And, no, I’m not calling those the good old days. It was too easy to get lost back then! I like knowing where I am, thank you, and I’ll leave the compass buried in my pack, for emergencies only, if you don’t mind.
Of course, Vicki also took a look at the basin and realized that if she hiked down into it, she’d have to hike back uphill to get out of it, and she’s not a big fan of UP. And besides, the best part of the hike is always the view from the top. So we reconsidered our plan for the day. We looked around, and there was Fin Dome, not far down the ridge from us. We knew we couldn’t climb it (not without ropes and skill) but staying up on the ridge might be fun. We could search for better views and explore a rarely visited section of the park. So we left the trail and headed north on the ridge.
Panorama video looking out over the 60 Lakes Basin
We climbed along the ridgeline, which was quite a challenge due to the vegetation and large granite boulders, and got views to the east as well as to the west, depending upon where the terrain sent us. To the west was the Sixty Lakes Basin, of course, and to the east was yet another high pond, or tarn, that was shallow and clear and cold. We were up so high that we could even see Dragon Lake all the way across the Rae Lakes Basin. We intended to hike up to see it tomorrow, so this was a sneak preview of sorts.
GoPro panorama view from the ridge between the Rea Lakes and 60 Lakes Basins
Video of Vicki glissading down the pink snow along the 60 Lakes Trail
Video of the water flow between the upper and lower Rae Lakes
For a topographic map of the hike see my CalTopo Page
For LOTS more photos of the trek see my Flickr Page