2012 Onion Valley to Rae Lakes

Description: 5 Day 38 mile solo hike from the Onion Valley trailhead in Independence to the Rae Lakes area and back

Day 1:

After acclimating at Mammoth Lakes for the night, I arrived at the Onion Valley Trailhead and began hiking shortly after 9am. I maintained a quick pace to Kearsarge Pass, eager to crest before the forecasted thunderstorms reached the area. I enjoyed lunch at the pass under partial cloudy but dry skies and then continued on to Charlotte Lakes, arriving about 2pm, making it a short day. I opted not to tackle Glen Pass today. Passing a number of tents at the lake, I found a pleasant spot at the northern end of Charlotte Lake, near a bear locker. Since I still had much of the afternoon, I tried to fish but the wind interfered with my casts and also disturbed the water surface so I couldn’t see below. At least those were my excuses for not catching anything at that time so I decided to explore the lake instead. After the wind calmed down, I took out my rod again and promptly caught and released 2 brookies. I had an early dinner and as I was cleaning up, the sky opened with moderate rain followed by the occasional distant thunder. I retired for the day and just as I was dozing off to the soft rhythm of raindrops on my tent, I felt a blinding flash and then heard the loudest rumbling. A tremendous light and sound show, blinding flashes followed by deafening thunder, continued for some time with great frequency as the rain intensity increased. Knowing that a thin sheet of nylon was my only protection from a 300kV elecrical discharge, I had never felt more vulnerable.

Heart Lake on the way to Kearsarge Pass

Big Pothole Lake below Kearsarge Pass

Kearsarge Pass

Kearsarge Lakes and Kearsarge Pinnacles

Bullfrog Lake with a backdrop of the Videttes and other mountains

Technology at work


I got a late start in the morning waiting for my tent to dry. On the way out, I ran into a ranger who said the lightning touched down about a half a mile away. At the trail junction above Charlotte Lake, I came across an elder Korean man who said he was waiting for his group to return from the Rae Lakes area and if I crossed paths with them, to let them know where he was. I saw that he had made it through the stormy night and seemed to be in good spirits so I wasn’t too worried for him and reassured him that I would keep an eye out for his group. On the slow ascent to Glen Pass, I knew I had made the right decision to exclude this from the previous day’s itinerary. Once atop Glen Pass, I had a great view of Rae Lakes. I made camp at the northern end of the middle Rae Lake and then considered exploring Dragon Lake but got lazy so took out my fishing pole instead. After making 6 casts and catching 6 trout, the excitement of fishing quickly wore off. At the end of the day, a large Korean contingent in matching expedition gear walked by my campsite. I relayed the message regarding the elder man at the Charlotte Lake junction. The group gave some concerned expressions. It was already late in the day. The elder man would have to wait another day.

Major trail junction

2 hikers coming down from Glen Pass. I'm on my way up.

Tempting lake just below the south side of Glen Pass

Magnificent view from Glen Pass

Hikers are visible at the top of the pass

Getting farther from the pass, closer to Rae Lakes

Campsite at Rae Lakes facing the Painted Lady

Plenty of these guys in the lake

Group of hikers traveling through

Day 3:

Today was a layover day so I went to explore the 60 Lakes Basin, despite the lakes there being fishless. On the way, I could see Dragon Lake across the valley. Naturally, on the way back, I took a detour to visit this lake as well. At the lake, I made a few unsuccessful casts. But then I moved to a deeper blue area and was awarded with fish as eager to bite as at Rae Lakes.

Island in Rae Lakes

Rae Lakes viewed from the trail to 60 Lakes Basin

One of the 60 lakes

Dragon Lake and Dragon Peak

"Dragon" trout

Fin Dome

Rae Lakes

Day 4:

On this 4th day, while moving around camp in the morning, I noticed that my legs weren’t sore anymore and I wasn’t short of breath anymore. The hike back up to Glen Pass was difficult but not as bad as I had expected. At the pass, I had lunch and conversation with one of my Rae Lakes neighbors, Patti from Cincinnati. She was waiting for her aunt who was about to achieve a significant milestone atop Glen Pass – crossing every major pass of the JMT. I continued on to Kearsarge Lakes in time to take a dip and have an early dinner, spending the rest of the evening watching the beautiful alpenglow on the Kearsarge Pinnacles.

Heading back up to Glen Pass

View after cresting the pass

Campsite at Kearsarge Lakes

Sunset at Kearsarge Lakes

Day 5: After a short hike back to Kearsarge Pass, it was a fast and easy descent back to the trailhead, passing many backpackers along the way.

Kearsarge Lakes and Pinnacles again