17 October 2020
Junction Meadow to Upper Paradise Valley
(21 miles, +4,000/-5,000 feet).
Today is exactly the kind of day that I live for. I started hiking before daybreak, was above treeline by sunrise, and spent most of the day gawking at barren rocky passes, gorgeous alpine lakes, massive granite domes, and intensely yellow aspens and oaks that are quickly settling in for winter.
The polite campers who arrived late last night actually stirred before me. I previously thought I would wait for daybreak, but since I was already up, I decided to pack up and get moving. As I left they asked me if they had bothered me. I said “Not at all!” and “I was awake so it wasn’t a problem.” So nice.
I quickly departed and spent the first half hour in darkness with my headlamp. As day broke, I encountered a deer family up near Vidette Meadow.
I got spectacular alpenglow views of my favorite mountain in the Sierra.
I joined the John Muir Trail and soon I was climbing above Charlotte Lake.
I previously thought I might use this trip to explore Gardiner Basin, which is approached from a trail that climbs above Charlotte Dome. But I wanted to stay on popular trails for this late season trip, so I contented myself with some aerial reconnaissance.
As I climbed up below Glen Pass, I got a glimpse of Coyote Bowl, where Half Cookie and I camped a few years ago. This time it was bone dry.
Fortunately the highest lake below the pass still had water, and I stopped to fill my bottle.
Unfortunately I discovered that my Aquamira drops had leaked and I had no way to treat the water. But it will probably be okay (said the guy who got giardia earlier this summer!).
I discovered a pair of dropped underwear and momentarily left them behind, but my conscience got the better of me and I carefully rolled them up and stuck them in an outside pocket of my backpack to carry out. I have left so many things in the wilderness that I often feel like I should pick one or two things like this to carry out when I can.
I finished the climb and the view from Glen was lovely. I dropped my pack and ate a pint of breakfast cereal while other hikers coming from Rae Lakes congregated at the top.
The approach down to Upper Rae Lake is always magnificent.
Lower Rae Lake made a great mirror for Fin Dome, as usual.
I really loved watching Arrowhead and Dollar Lake slip by as I made my way down the John Muir Trail.
Lots of folks were milling about the Woods Creek Bridge, but I wanted to make Paradise Valley before sunset so I took only the briefest of breaks before pressing on.
By 5:30pm I was done. The South Fork of the Kings River was so dry, I was able to rock hop right across it without even thinking about it to the big Upper Paradise camping area on the other side. Once again I was camped near several others, but everyone was super quiet and polite.
I was tired, but I felt really good and healthy. After dinner I could only keep my eyes open for about an hour before drifting to sleep.