Back to the Sierra, Day 3: The Glow

August 30, 2017
Rae Lakes / Sixty Lakes Basin to Twin Lakes Plateau


At three we wake to the sound of rain, soaking again the still-damp ground. I stumble out to make sure all our things our stowed, and watch our half-dozen friends appear along the lake, fumbling lights affixing rain flies and covering packs. Then we all drift back to bed, the fumbling lights and I, to the sound of distant thunder. Our lamps blink off across the valley, disappearing dots surrounded by colossal dark. But we’re immediately replaced by full-sky flashes of lightning, bright enough to make moments of day appear in the middle of the night.


The rain comes and goes for the rest of the night. It mostly comes. But there’s a break around eight, and we furtively rush around, getting everything packed before the storm comes back.


We leave camp just as rain starts again. The trail crosses a thin land bridge between two Rae Lakes, then meanders along the water’s eastern edge, tucked between it and the main Sierra crest, towering just above. Storms come and go all morning, rain and thunder and sun all overlapped and crisscrossing. We play a sort of game, putting on our coats then taking them off, in an endless loop.





There’s a crowd of campsites at the lowest lake, all full of big groups just setting out for the day, hoping to make it over Glen Pass. Kids doing the JMT.

There are a few deep crossings, every one surrounded by more groups, all making meals out of the whole thing, taking off their boots and happily screeching their ways across the cold water. Krista splashes through, laughing.


We stop at the Baxter Pass junction, the precise place where we decided to keep going last year, despite the smoke. The place still seems to glow.



The trail down to Woods Creek is a revelation. The whole sky’s here, amplified by the streaks and shadows it casts. Clouds pass quickly, rain and sun in the same view. Down our valley, bright light burns white granite, and waterfalls rush from Window Peak.



A storm comes from behind and absolutely envelopes everything. Sheets of water, shredded by wind. We shelter under a short shrub, laughing.


The sun comes back just after we cross Woods Creek. We stop on a smooth granite slope to dry our things and watch the water go by. Storms still serge over Glen Pass. I hope those SOBO kids we met this morning are okay.

There’s a small granite perch above the river, just big enough for the two of us to sit on and soak our feet. Trail mix and dried mango. All the water we want to drink. A new glow.



The last climb of the day, out of Woods Creek and onto the plateau beneath Pinchot Pass, goes slowly. Old avalanche tracks and snowfields and energetic mosquitoes. The afternoon drags. So do my legs.




But just as the sun starts to set, the terrain turns easy. All the hills are filled with pink and purple and gold reflecting off the granite. The plateau’s so flat that one could sleep anywhere. We find a perfect little spot under an ancient pine, watered by a thin, seasonal, snowmelt stream, the width and speed of water from a kitchen faucet. There’s a family of five or six deer grazing in the boggy meadow below.



We throw up the tent, fetch some water, and eat a quick dinner in the last of the evening light. Then stars appear. I amble out into an upper meadow, and watch them fade in, so subtly that no change is ever really obvious. But soon the whole sky is full of blinking lights. A new moon just breaks the horizon, and the whole meadow glows.

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