So extraordinary is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees….
South of Upper Basin to Rae Lakes
Miles: 18.8 Elevation Gain: 4335′
Trip Miles: 164.3 Elevation Loss: 4083′
Pinchot Pass, 12,130′
Max elevation: 12070 ft
Min elevation: 8661 ft
Total climbing: 4911 ft
There was a lot of elevation gain ahead of us on this day, too, but not as much as we’d originally planned for. Our itinerary had us doing both Mather and Pinchot on this day. Since we’d taken care of Mather already, all we had to deal with was Pinchot. The day’s climb didn’t get to me, though, it was the long descent that caught me off guard.
In the morning, that was all still far ahead of us and on the other side of a pass, though. We did our morning thing and got ourselves back on the trail. It was less than a mile from our campsite that we hit the lowest point. From there, the trail started upward, making its way eventually to Pinchot Pass.
The trail meandered upward, not quite committing to switchbacks yet. It broke out of the woods into a meadow in the basin that would lead eventually to the pass. The scenery was beautiful. Tall mountains on three sides and an open view behind us that stretched all the way back to Mather Pass.
The climb up to Pinchot was easy compared to Mather. The wind was whipping, but at least the ascent didn’t whip us. As before, there were a few lakes helping us mark our progress toward the pass.
By 10:00 we were on top of Pinchot, taking in the views to the north, where we’d come from and to the south, where we were headed. The colors at Pinchot Pass were different than what we’d seen so far. Mixed in with the grey granite were a few rusty peaks. After our obligatory pass-top rest and picture snapping, we were ready to head down the other side. It was already past our typical 10am snack time, but we needed to get to water before we could take a real break.
We stopped at the first stream we came across, set our packs down and had our morning snack. As we were eating, one of the guys we’d met on top of Mather the day before came down the trail. We all agreed Pinchot had been much easier than that day’s climb.
After a short period of flat, the trail descended into a steep canyon. For about four miles, it was a steep, stepped, rugged descent through the valley of Woods Creek. Nearly at the bottom, the trail finally offered access to the water that courses down its side. We stopped there for a rest, a drink, and some cheese, tapatio, and frito burritos.
At the bottom, the trail crosses Woods Creek on a big suspension bridge. On the other side was a campsite with several tents and people milling about. From there we started our ascent toward Rae Lakes. The uphill wasn’t tough, but the long descent had sapped my energy and made my feet sore, so the last few miles were tough.
As we were passing Arrowhead Lake, we came across the guy from Mather and Pinchot passes again. The three of us hiked together the last mile or so to Rae Lakes. We snagged a spot at the beginning of Rae Lakes, eager to finish the day’s hike, and he continued on further.
There were not many spots available. Lots of people seemed to want to get to Rae as a good starting point for the climb up Glen Pass in the morning. We were able to get a secluded spot under some trees near the lake, though. The water was cold, but we jumped in to wash off before dinner.