In the previous post, I discussed the general process for obtaining a wilderness or backpacking permit. I mentioned how it can help to get creative as the process, for most parks, is highly competitive with a very low number of permits issued in advance.
This past week, I obtained a highly coveted permit to backpack the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park. This 42 (+/-) mile loop is one of the most popular loops in the Sierra Nevada mountains, crossing roaring rivers and streams, past scenic alpine lakes and valleys and over a 10,000+ foot pass. If you want to reserve a permit in advance, 40 spaces are available for each day (20 clockwise, 20 counter-clockwise). Forty hikers per day entering the loop might seem like a lot, but it’s not . The Rae Lakes Loop permits get snatched up real quick as people come from all over the world to hike it and view such iconic mountain scenery.
With regards to planning this hike, the first thing I did was find it! In addition to doing general searches online and regularly reading Backpacker magazine, I also own backpacking books I frequently consult to find future trips. In fact, I think these reference books are often easier than searching online. The books lay trips out by region and some also have handy charts that allow you to compare the pros of various hikes. Backpacking books usually tell you the best time of year to go, too, which is very useful when trying to plan a spring hike into higher elevations (but not too high because of the snow). A simple Amazon search will reveal a myriad of books specific to your region, state or park.
As I perused my books and online resources, such as Outdoor Project, I also began researching permit information on park web sites. This trip will occur over the Fourth of July week and I knew Yosemite was out of the question; their permits were all spoken for the day they were released. Too late to get July permits in advance. I came across the Rae Lakes Loop hike in one of my books and a quick check of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks website (the two parks share one website and are commonly referred to as SEKI) confirmed that permits for the entire season would be released in one lump at 12:01am on March 1st. I still had time!
Once I knew the date they would be released, I put that date and time (3/1/17 at 12:01am) in my calendar with a reminder set for the day before at 6pm. Then I read about their permit process and found applications must be emailed. Some places prefer fax and it’s important to know what is required at the specific park you are applying to lest your application be denied on a technicality.
Knowing the permit process is highly competitive, I got creative. This trip will include my husband and possibly two other to-be-determined friends, so we needed a permit for four people. We were somewhat flexible on our start date and could start on July 2, 3 or 4. We were also flexible with regard to completing the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise. As is standard, each permit application form allows you to list your top three options for where and when you want to start. I completed an application in my name with various combinations of start dates and the two trailheads (clockwise and counter-clockwise). I then completed a second application in my husband’s name for the same various start dates and locations. If I had known who our two other hiking partners would be, they could have each filled out an application as well. Between all of us, we would have had a better chance of securing a permit (remember, you only need one permit per group, not one per person).
Now, I am generally a rule follower and it always kills me a bit to break the rules or even bend them in any way. If you ask a ranger, they will tell you not to do what we did because it can create confusion and cause issues. And this can be true. I’ve heard of groups whereby more than one person applied for the permit and more than one person confirmed and paid for the permit, not realizing the other person in their group already did that. This means double the number of spots needed was reserved, meaning someone else missed out.
But I’m super conscious about the possible complications and am diligent about the process. Don’t get creative unless you are paying close attention!
On Feb. 28th, I got online and found out how to schedule emails for my email provider. I then drafted two emails, one from me and one from my husband, containing our applications and scheduled them to be sent out at 12:01am on March 1st. When I woke up on March 1st, the first thing I did was check my sent folder to be sure they got sent. If I couldn’t schedule the emails to go out at 12:01am, I would have set an alarm and woke up to do it. Applications are processed on a first come, first served basis and I wanted a permit! The early hiker catches the worm.
Later that same day – BINGO! We heard back from SEKI. Both my husband and I received permits for our first choice date and trailhead! Even though we only needed one, I felt oddly proud of myself! I got TWO Rae Lakes permits! But, I immediately contacted SEKI to let them know we didn’t need one of the permits and they could release those four spots back into the pool for someone else. I did get a lecture about not having two people in one group applying for a permit. I felt a twinge of guilt for breaking the rules, but….I had my permit and my trip is a definite go now!
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“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ― Ernest Hemingway