Red Mountain Basin: August 2010


Four backpackers in deep conversation at Rae Lake

Saturday, July 31: The flight out.

Our various flights having gone smoothly, our group of nine met in San Francisco and, while driving through various traffic hindrances were reminded of the virtues of living in Michigan. The group consisted of four Hendriksmas (Jane, Nick, Katie, Jess) and friend Jeff (whose sole deficiency was his choice of Hope College), Dan Vandersteen, Ed Van Beek, Paul Vander Weide, and myself. Seven of us have some connection to Calvin College, the other two expedition members snuck in as friends of expedition veterans. Dan has hiked with me for at least twenty years, Ed five times, and Jane once. The rest were innocent victims.

We did need to pick up a variety of supplies and rent some bear canisters, which was conveniently handled at REI in Fresno. In past years, we'd sometimes had difficulty finding the necessary supplies further into the mountains. They do take reservations for equipment, which was useful, since I reserved their last available bear canisters several weeks in advance.

Being substantially older than I was during my first summer in the Sierra (1972), I now take advantage of packers to take the unpleasantness out of the first day. This time, we used the Clyde Pack Outfit, which has two large tents available for customers the night before. This is a fine idea, since it both eliminates the need for motel rooms and saves one the task of getting up early enough to drive to the packer. They also provide wood for a campfire. Packer Dr. Clyde, who apparently decided the mountains were more attractive than standard medical offices, does do some work with wilderness medicine and rescue.

Clyde Tent

Tent at Clyde Pack Outfitter


Sunday, August 1: Post Corral Meadow

We left our gear at the pack station and headed for Courtright Reservoir. The parking lot at the trailhead was relatively empty, a happy state of things.

I often schedule a warm-up hike, but the first day’s hike on this expedition left us at about the same elevation we started, 8100 ft., so I thought we could get started immediately. Post Corral Meadow has several good, and frequently used, campsites. We arrived a little after noon, and enjoyed a pleasant evening.

Monday, August 2: Rae Lake

The hike to Rae Lake involves a fairly stiff climb, but over a generally pleasant trail. The nine of us made good time, and set up camp at Rae Lake. There are several good sites at Rae, and since no one else was there, we had our choice.

Rae Lake

Rae Lake from our Campsite

I plan these trips in March, by which time one usually knows how much snow will fall in the Sierra. This year, the heavens opened up after I had set the date. In mid-March, snowfall was almost exactly at the annual average. A few weeks later, it was 150%. The result: bugs.

The mosquito reports from hikers I read before we left were unsettling, but fortunately the bugs were on the decline by the time we arrived. There were still more than one would like (I suppose one mosquito is more than one would like....), but a combination of head nets, DEET, and a campfire reduced the annoyance to a tolerable level. We even had a piece of technology that I first laughed at: Paul brought along a ThermoCell. This is a light device that burns a very small propane cartridge, which in turn sends repellent into the air. The mosquitoes were out, and Paul got it going. The bugs went away. I still scoffed. The next night, he got it going again. The mosquitoes went away. I began to believe it worked. It was particularly valuable when heeding nature’s call or taking a solar shower, activities that necessarily require exposing acreages of skin. Unfortunately, Paul had hoped to buy cartridges in California, but was only able to buy the last ThermoCell in Fresno, which came with enough fuel for about two hours of use a day — but those two hours were delightful.

We also benefited from master fire-builder Ed Van Beek, who invariably improves fire rings, often by reducing their size, and produces appropriately-sized fires that are works of art. Ed and Paul first had to take a tour of the heights surrounding Ray Lake, however.

Tuesday, August 3: Day hikes to the Indian Lakes area

With packs left behind, we set out to explore. We later determined that we should have gone straight east over the ridge toward Lower Indian Lake, but the trail got us there soon enough. Lower Indian is a fine lake, but the mosquitoes were the thickest we encountered, and we charged through the meadow as best we could on the way to Upper Indian. That was significantly more pleasant, given the stiff breeze that kept bugs away. After lunch and pleasant meandering, Ed and Paul decided to head east toward the Le Conte Divide and lakes like Davis. The rest of us climbed Zingheim Heights. Although not the most imposing summit in the Sierra, it does have a fine view.

Ed took a picture of us from the ridge opposite. Several of us are barely visible in the picture below.

Zingheim Heights

Near the Top of Zingheim Heights

In part to avoid mosquitoes, in part to vary the route, the seven of us followed the summit of the ridge back to Rae Lake, eventually arriving there relatively free of annoyance from them. Ed and Paul returned a bit later. We saw no other hikers the entire day.

My hiking plans are usually loose, and I'd announced that we would decide tonight whether to move on or stay at Rae Lake. No one had any great interest in carrying a backpack more than necessary, particularly since there were good day hikes remaining, so we agreed to stay put.

Wednesday, August 3: Hell for Sure Pass

How can one resist something called Hell for Sure Pass? Today’s goal was the upper end of Red Mountain Basin. We managed to take a fishermen’s trail instead of the main trail, which led us to a look at Dale Lake, followed by pleasant cross country walking to Disappointment Lake, then Hell for Sure Lake.

Hell for Sure Lake

Hell for Sure Lake

We’d met a hiker on the way up who said Hell for Sure Lake was one of his top five Sierra Lakes. How does one judge? It certainly is a stunning lake. After appropriate relaxation, we headed up to the Pass, which leads into Le Conte Canyon in Kings Canyon National Park. We encountered two single backpackers heading over the pass — a tad more ambitious than we were.

Looking Down at Hell for Sure Lake

Looking Down at Hell for Sure Lake

The view from Hell for Sure Pass is imposing. We lacked the energy to climb Red Peak — but could see a lot from where we were, including a look at the waterfalls plunging into Goddard Canyon.

Goddard Canyon

Looking Down into Goddard Canyon from Hell for Sure Pass

After pleasant hike down, we spent the afternoon swimming, enjoying solar showers, and swatting insects.

Thursday, August 4: Lost on the way to Devils Punch Bowl

The previous day, we’d managed to leave a few items around Hell for Sure Lake, so when the group arrived at the junction to Devils Punch Bowl, Nick went up to look for the missing items, Ed and Paul headed off to try the fishing, and the rest of the group waited for me (I’m always the slowest hiker in the group). Katie, Jess, Jeff, and Dan decided to head down the trail. I gave them a map and sent them on their way.


Trail Junction

When Nick returned (empty-handed), he, Jane, and I set off. We managed to lose the trail. That was annoying, but after about 10 minutes of heading toward where it had to be, there it was. The trail was more demanding than I expected, but we made it to Devils Punch Bowl in good time, only to find Ed (Paul was off fishing), but no one else. The other four, like us, had somehow missed the trail — but unlike us, had not found it. I was not too concerned, since it was noon, and they had almost certainly headed down and to the right. I figured they would either head back and wait for us at the junction, or meander to the right place eventually, which in the event is what happened. They had stayed appropriately calm, figured out roughly where they were on the map, and chugged to where they were supposed to be, looking both relieved and pleased (which applied to Jane, Nick, and me, too).

Devils Punch Bowl

The newly-named Hendriksma Heights

Katie, Jess, Jeff, Nick, and Dan resolved to climb the ridge above Devils Punch Bowl, which was slightly more work than expected, but easy enough. Jane and I wandered around the circumference of the Lake, Ed explored in every direction, and Paul caught fish.

Again, we saw hardly any other hikers. Ed encountered a solo hiker heading cross country into the basin above Devils Punch Bowl.

Now, although I have been hiking in the Sierra for nearly forty years, I have never fished, nor taken anyone along who fished. For the first time this year, I had fresh Sierra trout. Paul caught a fish for each of us at Devils Punch Bowl and cooked them that evening back at Rae Lake. Tasty little things!

Friday, August 5: Back to Post Corral

Wanting to be sure of a good campsite, Kate and I headed down to Post Corral relatively early. Again, no one else was there. The rest of the group enjoyed a last morning at Rae Lake, and eventually wandered down. The mosquitoes had not disappeared, but were notably fewer. We had a camp deer that afternoon and evening, who thought it necessary to observe us from all available angles.

Saturday, August 6: SFO and home

The hike out was pleasant and cool. We got an early start, since we needed to be back in San Francisco for red-eye flights back to Michigan. Perhaps it was that the mosquitoes were dying off — the trailhead parking lot was a lot fuller than it had been a week before. And we had encountered a fair number of peop;e heading in as we were heading out.

After a celebratory lunch of non-freeze dried food, we reached the airport in good time, noting the oddness of beginning a day at 8100 ft. in the Sierra Nevada and finishing it at sea level in crowded airport.

Notes of possible use to those planning a hike in the area.

1. I do recommend Clyde Pack Outfit. Up until my 40s, I sneered at packers, but I now find that taking some of the pain out of the first day of hiking is well worth the cost.

2. Rae Lake is a great base camp. The whole Red Mountain Basin is in easy day hiking range. However, Devils Punch Bowl would also make a fine base camp — although the trail from Rae to there involves a significant amount of up and down.

3. I'm still not sure how seven of us managed to go astray at the trail junction shown above — but if you manage to follow our example, the trail is over the ridge to the left (east) of the lakelet encountered soon after the junction.

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Contact: Randall Bytwerk ( — Change the "2" to a "@")