Leor Pantilat - FKT Rae Lakes Loop

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FKT on the Rae Lakes Loop

By Leor Pantilat

According to the park service, the Rae Lakes Loop is one of the most popular backpacks in Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, if not the entire Sierra. The loop is ~42 miles long and climbs from 5,035 ft at the trailhead to 11,978 ft at Glen Pass. The portion between Vidette Meadows and Woods Creek Crossing is along the John Muir Trail and passes through the Rae Lakes area, a chain of large alpine lakes over 10,500 feet with views of rugged Sierra peaks. The trailhead is at Road’s End in magnificent Kings Canyon and travels along Bubbs Creek and Woods Creek, including Vidette Meadows, Castle Domes, and Paradise Valley. I completed the loop in 7:29:50.  This is the fastest known time, with the prior FKT of 8:56 held by Dana Taylor. After completing the Rae Lakes Loop in challenging late-season conditions last October, I wanted to come back and run the loop for speed. Conditions this time were idyllic with the trails in great shape and warm temperatures. I got into a nice rhythm heading up Bubbs Creek toward Vidette Meadows and knew it would be a good day when I reached the high point at Glen Pass (just under 12,000 ft) in 3.5 hours. Fortunately, smoke impacts from the Sheep Fire were non-existant with beautiful clear skies. While I took less photography than last time, I couldn't resist snapping a few pics as I passed Glen Pass and the lovely Rae Lakes. The park service describes the loop as 46 miles but other reports and my experience place the mileage closer to 42 miles. More photos here.

Location Time Elapsed Split Real Time
Road’s End (5,035 ft) 0 0 5:40
Sphinx Junction (6,240 ft) 41:49 41:49 6:22
Junction Meadow (8,136 ft) 1:49:02 1:07:12 7:29
Vidette Meadow (9,514 ft) 2:22:16 33:14 8:02
Glen Pass (11,978 ft) 3:30:10 1:07:54 9:10
Woods Creek Crossing (8,492 ft) 5:10:41 1:40:31 10:51
Road’s End (5,035 ft) 7:29:50 2:19:09 13:10

Comparison between 2010 and 2009:

Location 2010 2009
Road’s End (5,035 ft) 0 0
Sphinx Junction (6,240 ft) 41:49 45:03
Junction Meadow (8,136 ft+) 1:49:02 2:11:59
Vidette Meadow (9,514 ft) 2:22:16 3:06:09
Glen Pass (11,978 ft) 3:30:10 4:55:49
Woods Creek Crossing (8,492 ft) 5:10:41 8:46:16
Road’s End (5,035 ft) 7:29:50 12:31:37

Why faster? 

  1. Snow: Last year on October 24th there was 1-3 feet of snow from below Charlotte Lake to below Dollar Lake, around 8 miles. There was no evidence of trail for long streches and time consuming post-holing in talus feels descending from Glen Pass. This also tired me out for the running sections along Woods Creek.
  2. Less video/photography (but still some!)
  3. Better acclimated: I hiked up 11,204 ft Alta Peak the day before. 
  4. Route Knowledge: Having done the loop, I knew where to run and where to walk
  5. Lighter: Warm weather so no need to carry extra layers.

More photos here!

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