Dollar Lake to Charlotte Lake
Total JMT miles — 7.2 Side trip miles — 3 Elevation gain/loss — +2150/-2015
My perfect campsite at Dollar Lake was even more magical with the promise of morning sun. It was still mostly dark when I emerged from the tent, but I could tell the skies were clear. I was extremely grateful to have weathered rain for parts of three days, and figured I was due for a return of that good old Sierras-in-August sunshine! With the weather stabilized, I let my mind wander, and became somewhat melancholy as I prepared breakfast. I realized that my trip was slowly coming to an end. As I ate and wrote, watching the morning sun glint off nearby Fin Dome and Mt. Rixford, I became reflective. Dollar Lake, at 172.4 miles, was less than 50 miles from the summit of Whitney, where my trip would end. I wasn’t anywhere near ready for it to end, and thankfully I still had five more days. I vowed to myself that I would enjoy each of the last five days to the fullest.
I took my time over breakfast and coffee, taking advantage of the sun’s rays to lay out my tent, fly, and sleeping bag for some solar drying power. I was in no hurry. The days mileage was short, only 7.2 JMT miles to where I was meeting Dave for a food drop at Charlotte Lake Junction. My plan was to scoot down to Charlotte (.9 miles off the JMT), find a campsite, then hike back up to meet Dave at 3 pm. Along the way, I planned for a swim in Rae Lakes, a set of three lakes that are simply divine. I had not been in the water for five days, due to the rain. I was ecstatic that the weather looked like it would cooperate with my intentions for a dunk on this day. All told, I descended from my morning camp in a fabulous mood.
It was still early when I arrived at Middle Rae Lake, the lake of choice for bathing. I had the place almost to myself, with only one late start backpacker still lingering. I found a small beach off a meadow by the lakeshore. I rinsed some clothes, then waded in fully, completely enjoying the cool water and glorious sunshine. I sat on the shore of the lake for a long while, basking in the warmth and beauty. I was supremely content and feeling great. While I was reluctant to leave the lake, I was looking forward to the next several miles which are beautiful beyond description. The trail continues around Middle then Upper Rae Lake, then two other lakes above, as you ascend Glen Pass. Views surround in every direction…looking ahead, around, and back at the lakes while climbing the pass. I remembered this pass from last year as being challenging, as it has a “false finish” where you think you’re done but you’re not. I was mentally prepared on this day, though, and moved quickly up to the 11,970 ft. pass.
It was busy at the pass. There was an extended family of sorts, an 11 year old son with his father, mother, and grandfather. The 11 year old was doing great, and I could tell the parents and grandfather were very proud of him. They were out for five days, not doing the entire JMT, but were really enjoying having their son/grandson out in the environment for likely his first time. I had a good time people-watching, both this group and several others who were up there. For some reason, all of the people on the pass that day were ones I had not previously met or encountered. It is at this point, in fact, on the JMT, when you run into backpackers traveling the High Sierra Route (click here for more info). This route travels 200 miles in the High Sierras, and rarely drops below 10,000 feet. The route is also rarely on a formal trail, and very challenging on all levels — the route-finding, the extreme nature of the route (33 passes in 200 miles), and the uneven nature of the terrain. If I was 20 years younger, I would no doubt be considering this route as a possible one for next summer’s adventure. I remember from last year the jealousy I felt for people that were doing such an “extreme” version of the JMT, that their young bodies could pull off something that, sadly, I will probably never be able to do. But chatting with some folks up to just that on the top of Glen Pass gave me a sense of being right there with them on their adventure.
Dropping down off the pass, it’s a short 2.3 miles and 1200 feet loss in elevation to the junction to Charlotte Lake. I knew I was on schedule to reach the junction early enough to make it down to the lake to find a campsite before hiking back up to meet Dave at 3 pm. I cruised right along, comforted and watched over by all the surrounding peaks. I passed the sign to Kearsage Pass, the pass that Dave would be hiking in on, and soon after arrived at the big, open, sandy area that was the junction to Charlotte Lake. I hiked down the steep .9 miles, and started looking for a site. I found a prime spot, close to the incoming trail, at the beginning of a second trail that parallels the lake, and got all set up. I scurried back up to the sandy junction, arriving there at 2:45. I sat on a flat rock right in the middle of the junction, eating the last of my food, knowing that Dave was bringing me five days worth. As I polished off my last packet of peanut butter, I wondered for a brief moment what I would do if Dave didn’t show up. I knew that was extremely unlikely, as Dave is as reliable as they come. Just in case I made a quick back up plan, to hike out Kearsarge Pass and get food in Bishop if absolutely necessary.
I didn’t have long to entertain my worries. At 3:02 pm, a man in a pale blue dress shirt, no shoes, and head cover called out “Is that you, Kathie?” Dave had been sitting in the shade for 30 minutes, waiting for me to come from the direction of the JMT. Since I had dropped down to Charlotte first, I was not coming from the direction he predicted. In effect, we had both been sitting there for 15 minutes waiting for each other, me in the sun, he in the shade, without being able to see each other. I was relieved and so happy to see him! After a warm greeting hug, he told me Olivia had tried to hike in with him over the pass, but she got stopped because they had their dog. She was waiting somewhere along the trail, while Dave made the rest of the 7.4 mile trek alone. I told him of my days since I had seen him last, especially about the weather and summiting Split Mountain. It was a short visit, as he had to get back to Olivia and the dog, but I got my five days of food, and he took my garbage. Again, what a great deal for me — gain food, lose garbage, and all in the presence of a smiling and familiar face.
I dropped back down to Charlotte, happy as can be. I had the rest of afternoon and evening at Charlotte Lake, and now had food to get me through the rest of my trip. The sun was out, the temperature was perfect, and all was extremely well in my world. When I returned to the lake, I rinsed some clothes, read for a bit, then decided on an early dinner. After dinner, I was heading up to find a spot to serve as a bathroom, when I looked down and saw two male campers looking right up at me, almost directly from my campsite. Clearly, they were looking to set up camp right there…less than 30 feet from me. I was super irritated, again, as I KNEW there were multitudes of campsites all along the Lake. It was an odd and disturbing deja vu…of Red’s Meadow, and of South Fork Kings in the rain. Again, I asked myself, what is it about people that they would chose to voluntarily camp in someone’s space, when there are so many other sites around? When I dropped back down to my site, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, as I was frustrated and beyond politeness. So instead, I secured my camp, and went for a walk. I walked all along the shore of Charlotte Lake, and it was just lovely as the sun dropped low in the skies surrounding the lake.
I got back to camp, right as the sun set. I was a bit calmer, but still irritated with my campsite mates. I knew there was nothing I could do about it, and at least they were older men, and hopefully not too loud. They were just finishing up their dinner when I returned. We all went about our evening business, and they talked to each other but I didn’t say anything to either of them. I knew I needed to have a night’s rest to calm down, and decide how I wanted to be with them in the morning. I was still happy to be camping at Charlotte Lake, and vowed to be kind the following morning.
Highlights of the day
Rae Lakes in all their splendor!
The Rae Lakes are so popular and beautiful that they limit camping here to two nights per party. I don’t know how they enforce those rules, but it must happen, because the lakes were not at all crowded when I went by. To be able to jump in Middle Rae in the middle of the day, unclothed, and not be seen by anyone, indicates that they are doing something right as it relates to preserving this spectacular environment.
As mentioned, last year I let this pass get the better of me. I knew this year would be different, since I knew what to expect. I also have worked through to a large degree my pass dread, and I try not to get too wrapped up in worry about what is to come. And being on the pass was great too, as I got to watch families and those doing the Sierra High Route share stories and accomplishments. Once again, the passes never get old, and the victory of picking off yet another one was substantial.
Meeting up with Dave
What can I say? I felt incredibly fortunate to have Dave so willingly agree to bring five days of food over Kearsage pass. The original plan was to have Dave, Oliver and Olivia bring over all ten days earlier in the trip. This would have been a struggle on many levels, as carrying ten days of food adds over 20 pounds to one’s pack. I wasn’t at all excited about that. Plus, trying to fit ten days of food into a bear canister is simply not possible, at least with the amount of food I bring. So when Dave offered to split the food and hike the second portion over Kearsage, I was beyond thankful. I also know Dave well enough to realize that if he volunteers to do something, he is totally into it. And seeing his smiling face in the middle of the sandy pit just made my day!
Lessons of the day
The joy of sunshine after rain…
I cannot overstate how much the return of the sun improved my spirits. I find it simply impossible to be crabby when the sun is out. I think the perspective I gained from hiking in the rain was invaluable…and being on the other side made it all the more cheerful and special.
More mental adaptation is necessary…
I couldn’t believe I had another night of campers in my space! First I cannot fathom why people choose to camp right near where someone has already established camp. Granted, once someone has decided to camp near the lake, my spot was the first one they would come to. But there were many, many other excellent sites just a bit further down the trail.
But if I step back enough to walk in another’s shoes, I can empathize with a party trying to find a spot as quickly as possible. That was certainly the case with me on Day 8 (Goddard Junction), when I just plunked down wherever I could find a spot after an extremely long mileage day. So I tried to give it some perspective, and not be too irritable. In reality, their presence only slightly altered my enjoyment of Charlotte Lake. The the other side of the coin is how I can manage my attitudes and reactions, really the only two things I can control.
On the whole, It was a beautiful lake, with a great campsite, a supreme lake walk, and sunset views. It doesn’t get much better than that. And each time I am presented with an opportunity to adapt to change, it is worthwhile….despite my resistance. Apparently, life’s lessons keep showing up until we get them!