We were lucky enough to be in California for a sales meeting, last time we visited Yosemite. This time we wanted something different and opted to backpack the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park. Even in May the weather up high in the Sierra can be challenging and this year was a much needed record year for snow so it was uncertain how far we would get and what the conditions were. I had decided to go as light as possible and after lots of research decided that the ULA Circuit would be big enough to handle what I needed. We set off from Roads end and were well warned that it would not be easy and few, if any had attempted the route so far this year. Considering how light it is and how much I had packed in there, the ULA pack was really comfortable to carry. I had kit/clothes for winter camping, an MSR Reactor, two medium gas canisters, an MSR Guardian filter and food for 4 days in a Bear Barrel. I even had a pair of MSR snowshoes strapped to the outside so it was very adaptable. The external pockets were really useful and its the first time I have been able to easily reach round and access the side pockets and grab a water bottle without having to dislocate an elbow!
After a bright and sunny walk in we spent the first night at middle Paradise campground, the next day we hit our first challenge just past Upper Paradise, the bridge was out and the river was not safe to wade so we opted to scramble over what was left of the bridge, which was pretty solid (we hoped). Beyond that the trail gained height and there were a number of river crossings and avalanche debris to negotiate. At the head of Woods Creek we joined the John Muir trail, part of the PCT, and that's where it got tough. There was a significant amount of snow so the MSR snow shoes I had strapped to the ULA came into use. We eventually made it as far as Dollar Lake after a long day and camped there, it was a cold night and the weather closed in on us. Frozen boots (I never learn) were defrosted over the MSR Reactor the next morning and we decided to retrace our steps and head back rather than risk Glen Pass and get trapped somewhere by rising river levels or get caught in bad weather. The only company we had that morning were a pair of Coyote crossing the frozen surface of Dollar Lake. We retraced our tracks in the snow and luckily the rivers had not risen and the bridge had not been washed away so we made it back to a snowy middle Paradise campsite. Another cold and snowy night followed and we walked back out the next day to End of the road and the car. After 4 hard days of use with more than 15kg of kit, the ULA pack shows no wear at all so I am really pleased with how it worked out and I’m looking forward to planning my next trip.