Most who arrive at Roads End Ranger Station in Kings Canyon National Park end up doing the popular Rae Lakes loop, which in of itself, is an amazing Sierra Nevada trail.
For a more strenuous and less-traveled hike, head to the Copper Creek trailhead.
This is not a day-hike. You’ll put the effort in at the beginning to enjoy near solitude, granite crag, and alpine lakes at every turn. To start, the ascent is steep. You spend the first 7.5 miles climbing 6,000 feet, gaining great views of the valley below (including the Sphinx) until you reach the Lip. At that point, feel free to go off trail and find a campsite at a nearby lake (ex. Grouse Lake). You just did the hard part!
Now, you can use this as a basecamp, because you have several day hikes available. Spend some time at Granite Lake perched on its own plateau, or follow the ridge line along Goat Crest and across several glacial alpine lakes. Bring your favorite route-finding devices and skills as you can truly make your own adventure at 10,000+ feet. At this point, you may not see anyone, so soak your feet in a lake, go for a swim, or just enjoy the serene landscapes that the Sierras provide.
Should you want to make a loop of it, you can pick up basecamp and finish out Kennedy Canyon, where you’ll end up back at Cedar Grove Village. You’ll be several miles away from your car, so either be comfortable with hitchhiking, or have two cars available to shuttle yourself from trailhead to trailhead.
For the full story on how two intermediate hikers prepared for this hike and how they tackled this trail, listen to Broken Laces‘ episode 1 on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or you favorite podcast provider.
It’s billed as the most southerly established hike in the world.
HOWEVER the Lago Windhond hike also out of Puerto Williams goes further south. But it’s far less popular.
From Here to Nowhere:
… Now, after failing to reach the Windhond trail from the Dientes Circuit a few days before due to dangerous snow conditions, my plan was to reach the lake via the Rio Ukika valley and, if time permitted, walk around the eastern edge of the lake to truly reach the southern end of Isla Navarino. Beyond that point Cape Horn is the only land before Antarctica. …
For the first half of the day the Windhond trail follows the Ukika valley, gradually climbing to its head, passing several pretty lakes which are the source of the Rio Ukika, and offering magnificent views of the backs of the mountains I walked along only a few days before on the Dientes Circuit.
Ahead, the Dientes de Navarino slowly come into view – and to be honest, the views of the mountains were better than those from the Dientes Circuit. …
Compared to the Dientes Circuit there was very little elevation change involved, and after my experience on that circuit I decided not to be too fussy about following the path exactly when the markers disappeared because of beaver damage. …
Then watched carefully as the guide showed his 3 clients how to do it. I hadn’t done one of these in decades.
It actually screwed up for this girl. The small rope used to pull back the pulley got tangled. The guide earned his money — and impressed me — by sliding over on the cable using his emergency back-up carabiner … and got her untangled.
It went fairly well for me, though I was very tired by the end.
We wore our packs, but it would probably be smarter to tow the backpack like this guy.
Here’s the gap crossed from above.
Actually, you can often wade the river instead. AND it looked to me that you could go around the lake to the left avoiding the crossing completely.
From here the views were spectacular. This was easily my favourite day.
I stayed close to Glacier Río Túnel because it was so cool.
In Patagonia people pay a lot of money to walk glaciers. And have a shot of whisky.
My map showed this campground at the end of Glaciar Río Túnel Inferior. Sounds like it is no longer legal to tent here, however.
The guide had taken his clients up high immediately after the Tyrolean. Eventually I was forced to scramble up the loose moraine scree to catch up.
It was work. But with great views.
From here in good weather it looked an easy up-and-over.
Not so. It seemed to take forever to reach Windy Pass (Paso de Viento).
But the astonishing first vista on to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field was the highlight of the entire hike.
Though a bit windy, I stayed quite a while at the top. I tried to recall any hiking vista that impressed me more. Anywhere.
Travel 2 Walk compares this with the Paso John Gardner looking on to Glacier Grey in Paine. I concur that Windy Pass is even more impressive.
From the pass it’s a long but comparatively easy descent down to the moraine wall. There’s no real trail, but you can’t get lost.
I decided to stay at the assigned bleak Paso del Viento Refuge and Campground as I wasn’t sure I could find better protection from the wind anywhere else.
The building is mainly used for cooking / eating. You’d only sleep inside in terrible weather. But it does seem to have wifi. 😀
My biggest problem hiking over the years have been my feet.
Yet despite appearances, they are almost zero problem for me now. I’ve got them figured out. I wear the over-sized very wide shoes (for the bunions). Apply petroleum jelly each morning. And wear neoprene booties instead of socks on wet trails like these.
Here’s my tent site selected for wind protection.
Since I was carrying a climbing harness, I used it as a tie-down, as well.
Travel 2 Walk calculated 3055 ft ascent and 2214 ft descent on the day. Only 7.8 miles, but slow. Tough. And with PLENTY of photo stops.
Tired, I fell asleep by accident after dinner and wine. And therefore kept my food in the tent.