This year, our annual take-the-kid-summer-backpacking-trip commenced with much less anxiety than our first trip of this kind last year. Instead of worrying about all the possible accidents that could get us stranded in the wilderness I instead remembered the serene isolation, satisfying physical exhaustion, and the uninterrupted time together. I was delighted as we stepped away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and into a simpler, quieter world.
Post Guide (in case you want to skip ahead)
Part 1 – Narrative
This year’s goal was to complete the famous Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon California. We planned 4 nights and 5 days to cover the 42.5 mile trek up one side of the valley, over the 11,900 foot Glenn pass and back down the other side of valley.
Doing it with our two-year old daughter meant planning a less aggressive adventure than we would have without her. Hiking days require hourly potty breaks, time to run around, and potential changes of plans depending on her lack of happiness in the backpack.
The first four miles of the trip are beautiful meandering trails through the woods taking you to the fabulous break spot at Mist Falls. The climbing really begins after Mist Falls where the trees melt away and steep sun exposed steps take you up and over the first lip and into Paradise Valley. At the end of day one we camped at Upper Paradise Valley next to this delicious creek!
If you arrive at camp early the sun will be warm enough to make a swim comfortable. Even though it’s August, these creeks are icy. In fact I was enjoying our early arrival, dipping into the clear, cold, water when a foot long snake came swimming at me with the current. I screamed and clambered out of the water. After realizing my daughter, who I want so badly to be tough, was watching the whole thing, I proceeded to act like it really wasn’t that big of a deal. “Snakes don’t hurt you sweetie. Mommy was just… surprised! See Sage, Mommy is getting back in the water for another swim!” Except this time, as if she couldn’t see right through me, my dubious husband was ordered to hold my hand and keep a look out in case the snake came back. Peter is certain it was a twig or a branch. Yes, I am prone to exaggeration, BUT I know what I saw. I mean really…like I can’t tell the difference between a twig floating down a stream and a black snake twisting, and swimming right toward me. I’ve seen animal planet. If you want proof of what an outdoor badass I am watch the following video.
So if after watching that video you still trust my outdoor credibility then please..read on.
The blank faces of those who don’t backpack usually respond to my sharing of our backpacking adventures with questions of cleanliness. Coming from someone who spent ten years living in Manhattan and rarely seeing a tree outside Central Park I respect your concern. So, to address the question I know some of you are asking: backpacking doesn’t have to be dirty. Yes you are sweaty and swimming in mountain water and if the deodorant weighed too much (like ours did) then you are a little smelly but you aren’t actually covered in dirt. It is possible to stay surprisingly clean. Unless, now read this next part carefully: UNLESS you take a two year old with you. If you bring a toddler prepare to get full on filthy. It’s very likely your two year old will climb on top of you in her dirty shoes or discover that the poop shovel makes a great sand toy and will fling all the dirt she collected on the shovel into the air covering you and all exposed skin in thick layer of dust. She also might decide to make the summer version of snow angels, dirt angels, and then demand that you pick her up before you notice what took place. So, my recommendation is to find your peaceful place, take a deep breath and accept the dirt. With a different mindset you could look at it as liberating! At what other time in your life do you have total permission to be truly dirty? For days! Find the joy and get over it.
Day two took us farther into the valley where we met up with the John Muir Trail.
and over the fun suspension bridge at Woods Creek.
Following the suspension bridge was the unfortunate creek-crossing fall. We were making our way across a creek, stepping from rocks to logs, when I slipped on a wet log and a one-inch section of the log slid right into my leg. It was surprisingly painless and were it not for the lengthy lump under my skin or that when I pushed on one side of the lump the other side rose and fell, I wouldn’t have paid it much attention. Peter didn’t believe me- nothing new here- and said the lump under my skin was from where I hit the log. This would have been a PERFECT time for that water snake to have leapt out of the the stream and bit him.
Shortly after the fall, when we stopped to get water. I was examining the cut when I saw a group of hikers approaching us from the opposite direction. As they approached, I jokingly said, “do any of you have a medical background?” turns out they were all nurses. Yes you read that correctly. A team of nurses heading the opposite direction on the same trail. What are the chances right?! One eager nurse stepped forward, confirmed there was something in my leg, and offered to cut it out right there with his scalpel. I was ready but it turns out all he had was a jar of lidocaine. He didn’t have a siringe to administer it or the scalpel. Ugh! So the nurses left but encouraged us to hike out early and get the stick removed by a doctor.
So we pressed on, decided to stick to the original plan (for now) and arrived at Dollar Lake a few hours later. It was stunning, teeming with fish, and full of more clear, inviting water. I love this section of the loop because you share the trail with the ambitious John Muir Trail hikers. We were lucky enough to meet a few different people tackling the 212 mile distance from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney. I was especially surprised to see that many of the people making the journey were women, some traveling completely alone. I don’t know why this surprises me. Perhaps I should give my sex a little more credit!
On day three we attempted to find the backcountry ranger with the hopes that maybe he could help with the log in my leg. Yes, it started as a splinter but now it started feeling more like a log.
So we continued on toward the pass. The hike from Dollar Lake past Rae Lakes and over Glenn pass is Sierra beauty at its finest.
Glenn pass is extremely rewarding and at the same time laughably difficult. The steepest one I have hiked yet and almost hard to believe when you see it. It’s deceiving because it comes in two sections. Once I got over the first section I thought, “wow. that wasn’t so bad. I guess I am stronger than last year.” Then I walked a little farther, saw the second section, and thought, “Oh shit. For real?”
At the top of Glenn Pass we met my hero, who asked me not to share her name because- her words- ” if my clients find out my age they won’t trust me.” So all I can say that this woman is 81 and hiking the 211 miles of the John Muir Trail alone.” Don’t pretend you aren’t impressed.
We started the day still unsure about the decision to hike out early but after summiting Glenn pass and making our way down toward Charlotte Lake, the pain in my leg was severe so the decision became mandatory. Instead of stopping after the 9 miles to the Charlotte Lake junction we pushed on another 3.7 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation loss to Junction Meadow.
It was an exhausting day. The ascent and descent were steep but Sage was fantastic with the added time and mileage. She hung in there with little to no complaining and even took a second nap. How much do I love our kid?! She just keeps coming through. I don’t deserve her. Ask my sister.
Junction Meadow is a sprawling area with many different options to camp. Take your time and find a cozy spot. Then stay awhile. It’s lovely here.
Our last day from Junction Meadow to Road’s End was 10.5 miles. The steep descent continues but the views made up for how tired our feet felt from the constant pounding.
We arrived back at the trail head and I was hoping we could camp in Kings Canyon, but after the Ranger/EMT looked at my leg, we decided push on to Urgent Care in Fresno to get the log removed.
I was sad to cut the trip short but relieved that our time spent at the 24/7 Fresno Urgent Care clinic at 1:00am was worth it. Apparently the wound was already getting infected so the doctor removed a little over an inch of wood from under my right knee, gave me two stiches, some antibiotics and sent me on my way.
The moment you have all been waiting for. Meet the log.
Part 2 – Mileage and Elevation
Pack weights at the start of the trip.
Peter: 59lbs (carried our daughter, tent, water purifier, sleeping bags, down jackets, and daily snacks)
Liz: 39lbs (bear canister with all the meals, all clothing, our daughter’s sleeping bag, 2 sleeping pads)
Day 1: Roads End-Upper Paradise Valley1,841 ft elevation gain over 8.2miles
Day 2: Upper Paradise-Dollar Lake 3,400 ft elevation gain over 9.1miles
Day 3: Dollar Lake to Charlotte Lake 1750ft elevation gain, 1600 ft elevation loss. 9.5miles
Day 4: Charlotte Lake to Charlotte Creek3100 foot elevation loss over 8.4miles
Day 5: Charlotte Creek to Roads End 2200 ft elevation loss over 7.3miles
What we did instead:
Day 1: Roads End-Upper Paradise Valley 1,841 ft elevation gain over 8.2miles
Day 2: Upper Paradise-Dollar Lake3,400 ft elevation gain over 9.1miles
Day 3: Dollar Lake to Junction Meadow 1750ft elevation gain, 2500 ft elevation loss. 12.7miles
Day 4: Junction Meadow to Roads End trail-head. (Enter info here) foot elevation loss over 10.5 miles
For more specific information like a detailed list of what we packed, a spread sheet on item weight, and the map please check out the previous post-
Do it clockwise. Counter Clockwise has much steeper elevation gain making your first 2-3 days brutal.
In August there were a lot of mosquitoes from Roads End to Upper Paradise Valley. Bring bug stuff.
Upper Paradise Valley has a lot of great camp sites but there are no more camp sites past the bridge. There is a beautiful isolated spot a little farther up before bridge. You can find it by following the little trail back into the woods to past the big rocks on your left.
The main sites at Dollar Lake are just to the left of the trail as you approach the lake. Explore around here a bit, there are some campsites tucked away back by the stream. There is also one beautiful campsite just past the lake.
If you get the chance to camp at Rae Lakes do it. It is so incredibly beautiful. Make sure you get there early and save time to swim.
Don’t rely on a ranger being present at these back country stations. We tried to find the ranger at Rae Lakes and he was out on his “rounds” which means he was gone for days.
Vidette Meadow is stunning if you need a place to camp.
You can also do this loop entering from Kearsarge pass from the Eastern side off the 395. It’s harder but you still get the same beauty. I still recommend going clockwise.
Part 4 – Tips for backpacking with a two-year-old
If your child is wearing shoes that they can take off themselves (hello velcro. you suck!): let them ride in the pack barefoot. You don’t want to lose a shoe on the trail!
The bite size pretzels and the dried Mango from Trader Joes are an awesome snack to keep them busy in the pack. We put ours in one of the two upper side pockets in our Deuter Kid Comfort III so she could just reach over and help herself.
Give them their own buff to play with. My buff provided a lot of fun for Sage as she tried it on in many different configurations.
Brush up on your kids songs. You will be singing A LOT of them.
Don’t sing “The wipers on the bus go swish swish swish,” when hiking along a trail surrounded on either side by steep drop offs. An enthusiastic swish swish from the kid in your backpack will send you over the edge.
Bring a bottle of hand sanitizer. Helping them wipe after pooping in the wilderness has the potential of getting messy.
Stay positive and be open to changes of plans. As long as you have enough food and gave yourself enough time to accomplish your goal safely, relax and enjoy the journey!