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Adventure Magazine

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Sierra Nevada
The Plan: Tackle California's Rae Lakes Loop
The Payoff: Adams's pools and peaks, in living color

Photo: Boulder hopping in Kings Canyon National Park
Ansel's Amphitheater: Boulder hopping in Kings Canyon National Park

In 1936 photographer Ansel Adams, wearing black jeans, a black shirt, and an oversize Stetson hat, showed up in Washington, D.C. His goal was to convince Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to protect a prime slice of the realm Adams cherished most—California's High Sierra. His means of persuasion? A stunning group of images that would soon be published as Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. Four years later—with the backing of Ickes and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, both of whom had been won over by Adams—Congress created Kings Canyon National Park.

To hike the entire John Muir Trail is to see Adams country in full: 211 miles (340 kilometers) along the spine of the Sierra, from the Yosemite Valley south to the summit of Mount Whitney. Through-hikes take about 20 days, but you can sample a prime stretch of the Muir on the five-day, 42-mile (68-kilometer) Rae Lakes Loop, which explores the remote high country of Kings Canyon National Park. Begin by following the Paradise Valley Trail to Mist Falls, one of the largest cascades in the park. On the second day, you'll hit the Muir Trail below the soaring white granite of Castle Dome and turn south. Mount Clarence King—a pyramidal, 12,905-foot (3,933-meter) summit photographed by Adams—soon comes into view. The following days bring a series of more than a dozen tarns, including a famous Adams subject: Upper Rae Lake, a blue-green pool with two tree-topped islands, set in a basin of rock. The high spike of Fin Dome (yet another Adams favorite) rises above.

Contacts: Kings Canyon National Park (559 565 3341; www.nps.gov/seki). The Pacific Crest Trail Association offers detailed information about hiking the John Muir Trail (916 349 2109; www.pcta.org/about_trail/muir/over.asp).

For 12 legendary adventures you can do right now, pick up the April issue.

Photo courtesy of PatitucciPhoto

From the print edition, April 2004

The American Icons
- Backpacking Ansel Adams's Sierra Nevada
The Indie Traveler's Handbook

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April 2004

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