Day 15: Baxter Creek over Glen Pass to Charlotte Lake (≈10.4 mi.)

August 11:  Today is Pat and George’s last day with us.  They will hike out tomorrow over Kearsarge Pass, which is when our resupply will arrive.  I’m going to miss them, as the three of us usually walk at about the same pace.  But before they can leave, we all have to get over Glen Pass (11,978).  It’s not as high as the last couple, and since Kris and Tony don’t remember it from when they did the JMT before, it shouldn’t be too bad.

Knowing we have a long day ahead, we’re up early to get an early start.  Of course, before we start hiking, we have to recross the creek.  It feels a lot colder at 7:45 in the morning than it did yesterday afternoon.  After retaping my feet (for plantar faciitis) and reapplying all the moleskin and duct tape I use to avoid blisters, I’m on my about 8:15, heading up.

I think I’ve seen this part of the trail before!

Soon after passing the no fire sign, the trail reaches Dollar Lake, then Arrowhead Lake, and finally the “most beautiful high mountain lakes along the Sierra Crest”--Rae Lakes.  On the other side of the lowest Rae Lake is Fin Dome, and we meet some climbers who are camping at Rae Lakes.  The trail follows along the shore of the middle portion of the lake and then crosses over to the other side on a narrow strip of land and a ford.  Just as the trail turns onto the promontory, we take a break and I eat a Power Bar.  It’s a lovely spot with the closest thing to a beach I’ve seen on the walk.

With the exception of the initial climb, the ascent so far today has been gradual.  Now it’s time to get serious.  It’s only 2.4 miles to the top, but we’re at about 10,600 and the pass is at 11,978 feet.  We leave Rae Lakes about 10:45 and start to climb.  It’s far more difficult that anything we’ve tackled so far.  The trail itself is rockier, and there are lots of “steps.”  It’s almost impossible to get a rhythm going.  After climbing almost an hour and a half, we reach a sort of plateau.  Among the surrounding rocks and boulders are several tarns.  Pat, George, Andrew, and I stop and take a break. 

Glen Pass in the distance The trail to the top People on the pass

For once, we can see our destination.  Way up there, we can see people walking on the ridgeline.  But, between here and there are a set of very steep, rocky switchbacks up a talus slope that turns out to be the worst we’ll tackle on the entire trip (at least in my opinion.) 

I reach the top at about 12:45 p.m.  There are lots of people here, including Andrew who is well into his lunch by the time we arrive.  Neither Pat nor I are very fond of heights, and we can’t wait to get down off the narrow knife edge, especially when we foresee the downside to be even scarier. 

True to form, there’s a set of steep switchbacks on loose scree plunging down the cliff to a pothole lake.  Starr’s Guide says that the trail here is “far less difficult than the Rae Lakes side.”  Well, sort of.  It’s shorter and doesn’t have the giant steps, but going down steeply on loose stones with steep dropoffs is still not my favorite part of hiking.  Glen Pass gets my vote as the most difficult on the JMT.

The trail skirts the lake and then takes another plunge, but on better footing, following a stream down to another lake.  It’s along this stream with its narrow band of vegetation that the three of us finally stop and have lunch.

The worst is over, and we only have about 2.5 miles to go to reach our destination—Charlotte Lake.  The trail curves around an unnamed peak—first west and then southeast—as it gradually descends.  For the longest time, we can see Charlotte Lake (10,370) down below us, but then it disappears from view.  The trail continues eastward about a half mile beyond the end of Charlotte Lake and then turns southwesterly.  In a sandy flat area, we reach the junction with the trail to Kearsarge Pass that Pat and George will take tomorrow.  Only now do we take the turn-off to Charlotte Lake, which is almost a mile to the west.  It seems as if we have just hiked at least an extra mile out of our way.  (We later find out that we have.)

When we’re about half way down the access trail to the lake, John Summers, the owner of MLPO, passes us with several mules.  (At least part of our resupply is here!)  We reach the ranger station on the north side of the lake about 3:15 p.m. to join the rest of our party, except for Kris and Tony.  Summers is in talking to the ranger.  Mark has already talked to the ranger about potential campsites and walked down to scout them out.  It’s clear that the ranger thinks we should continue along the lake’s north shore and then further westward to a big meadow where the mules can graze, but he’s not going to tell us what to do.  (No grazing is allowed near the lake.)  The problems are that the meadow campsite is over a mile away and has no view.  With the next day being a layover day, it really would be nice to have a view and be near the lake to swim or relax.  But, on the other hand, with the resupply coming in tomorrow, the cook and packer would find it more convenient to have the mules near camp.  Moreover, the meadow site is larger and more secluded with more forest cover. 

However, with Tony being our leader, a decision can’t be made until he and Kris arrive.  So, we kick back and soak our feet in the lake.  Kris and Tony arrive about an hour later, reporting that they found the old unmaintained trail down to the lake, which took about a mile off their trip.  (An advantage of being the person carrying the guide book.)  Now Tony goes in to talk to the ranger and John Summers, and he reports on our options.  He, also, doesn’t want to dictate where we should camp, so there’s lots of discussion.  One of the deciding factors, at least in my opinion, ends up being that we can have a fire at the meadow site, while we can’t if we stay by the lake.

Even though we don’t get to our campsite until about 5 p.m., we still have a while to wait for the mules.  Debbie gets in around 5:45, and, as usual, James and Andrew help her unload and set up the kitchen.  Since we have part of our resupply, she breaks out a couple of packages of cookies, which we devour while waiting for the rest of our gear and food.  They arrive around 6:45. 

The good news is that we have fresh grilled mahi mahi with cole slaw and wild rice for dinner.  The bad news is that we don’t eat until 9 p.m.

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