Friday, January 30, 2015

High Sierra Trail Part 5 - Kern Hot Springs To Wallace Creek Junction

Day 5: Kern Hot Springs to (almost) Wallace Creek Junction; 12.1 miles and 3,525 feet elevation gain

Wondering why there's an "almost" on that little sub-heading? We didn't think we were going to make it to our Wallace Creek junction stop. This post would have been "Kern Hot Springs to somewhere in between Junction Meadow and Wallace Creek Junction". That would've meant we stayed somewhere along a 4 mile trail LOL. But it turns out we ended the day just on the other side of the river from it.

The following morning we woke up still dazed from losing all those elevation the previous day. We stumbled out of our tents to fumble between making a quick breakfast and hurrying to make it to the hot springs tub.

As was expected, the tub was empty on this glorious morning! However, Joe was but the only one to brave the morning cold, stripped and jumped right in the tub. I just sat at the edge and soaked my lower limbs. But it was nice to feel like it was our own private hot tub in the middle of nowhere! We had it all to ourselves.

The tub was built along side the river. The hot spring is being directed towards the cemented tub by a pipe. It's a continuous flow of hot water and there's a stopper at the bottom of the tub to keep the water in. You can unplug and plug it back in, as you see fit to change the water. It drains out onto the ground (no plumbing out here!), hence the sign: No soap! The tub is pretty cozy, enough to fit 2 people sitting inside or 4 sitting on the edge with legs soaking (5 if you're feeling extremely close to each other).

We could've stayed longer, but things needed to be wrapped up back at our camp and we have a big climb to do today. In our minds we knew those numbers in feet we lost joyously gliding down the day before, it was gonna bite us back today.

Our minds were in so much denial that we subconsciously procrastinated the morning away and had welcomed with open arms the El Vortex while breaking camp. She talked.. we talked and packed. She was staying another night at the hot springs while we needed to inch our way back up to 10,000 feet.

It was late-morning by the time we left. The sun was in its full beam. We followed the trail that passed through the camp and maneuvered our first water crossing for the day, just beyond the camps. Then the trail did not waste time kicking our butts. The incline started.

We climbed up and out of the river. The sun was hot and the trail had little to no shade. Tried to stop in the shadow of some trees when we'd find one. It became a game of chasing shadows, helping to forget the climb we're doing. One foot in front and higher than the other.

We crossed another tributary and eventually entered a wooded, more shaded area and enjoyed a momentary relief from what seemed like a 10000% grade. We've been traipsing on mostly flat trail.

The trail of relief is now interrupted by the most challenging water crossing we've yet encountered. Our legs (at least some of us hehe) were already wobbly from fatigue. There were two log options to cross with, couldn't find a shallow part of the river to wade in and not enough rocks to play hopscotch on.

The guys chose one log to get across and us girls rode the other one that was a bit more down stream. Yes, we rode it. Haha. Sat on that log and scooted our way to the other side. Unconventional. But fun! Mechanical bull ride practice anyone? Where one mistake throws you onto a raging river! LOL.

It wasn't long after that crossing that the trail eventually led to Junction Meadow. The area is good spot to pitch a camp, flat with lots of trees. A bear box/ food locker is also available for use.

It was inviting to stay here, but the day was still a long ways to its end. There's still lots of daylight to consume mileage with. After a quick look up to the direction where the trail headed to, we trudged on. Still roughly another 2,000 feet up to Wallace Creek and 4 more miles. But 4 less miles to Whitney though!

The trail started going up again.  A little over a mile of just incline, we reached another trail junction.

And we continued our one foot in front and higher than the other. It was a good thing the clouds started covering the sun. The trail was mostly exposed. I could smell the makings of rain but no signs of thunder and lightning. We're in the clear.

That last climb got the best of us. After a beautiful water crossing (Dunno why, but I really liked this water crossing!), we exhaustively stumbled on our camp site for the night. A good, flat and cushion-y clearing with water access. Traces of previous campers were evident. Fallen logs surrounded the small clearing in a square form with an already built fire pit in the middle. And it was all ours.

Pitched up just before dusk. We were just less than a mile short of Wallace Creek junction, the intended destination. That last push of a mile? Yeah. Out the window. We're done. 3,500 feet later, we're throwing in the towel. We're willing to throw that extra mile for tomorrow's journey. At least we're back at 10K feet now.. or so our altimeter says.

We're ready for dinner.

But it was a good call. We'd find out the following morning.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

High Sierra Trail Part 4 - Big Arroyo Junction to Kern Hot Springs

Day 4: Big Arroyo Junction to Kern Hot Springs with a Moraine Lake side trip; 14.3 miles - 420 elevation loss

Done a quick breakfast, we're back on the trail after a really cold previous night, but nothing that a bottle of hot water inside my sleeping bag couldn't cure, though.

We started the hike with a solo hiker we met early on, whom we dubbed possessed the El Vortex, a situation of endless enjoyable conversations. She was doing a series of trails that will have her visit a few hot springs in the Sierra Nevada and hopes to write a book about it. Minus the book part, it was a mission that we found was the same for another solo female hiker we met at Kaweah Gap the day before.

El Vortex was half more than any of our ages but uber filled with energy and so lively that we soon find ourselves eating her dust and eventually losing her. We waved our goodbyes to her (all solemnly vowing to have her life and energy when we get to her age) with a bid to hopefully see her at the next camp stop, the Kern Hot Springs.

The trail runs along the side of a mountain and we seem to either be walking on a stream of water that had taken over the trail or constantly cross-hopping on one, trickling down the mountain slope. A cool morning start, hiking with the sounds of water flowing at your feet as your backdrop sound.

We'd be walking amongst the trees at first. The sun had started filtering through the trees. A promise of maybe another rain-less day. Yay! But in the Sierras, it is best not keep your hopes up and always be prepared!

Eventually, the trees would give way to sweeping vistas and we'd be climbing on exposed sections, then back on through being enveloped by the trees again.

On our trip of the High Sierra Trail, we opted to bypass a portion of it by skipping the portion of Chagoopa Creek and choosing to do the side trip to Moraine Lake. The mileage total is only slightly affected, an estimate of 0.8 mile is added, didn't even feel it! but then.. to what comparison? Haha.

We arrived at the junction where we'll be leaving the HST. The area is in ever abundance of meadows over meadows.. if that is even possible! Meadows galore! Our excitement of taking meadow photos was eventually given up, finally succumbing to defeat against all the meadow-bounty-ness. Really, just too much to take photos of!

We took a short break at the junction and went on our way taking the right fork of the trail towards Moraine Lake. The trail goes on in a slow decline almost flat on most parts. There's a lot of washes that seems to have slightly swept the trail away but it's not a real issue. The trail can easily be picked up again, just pay attention to the surroundings and a clear idea of the direction you're supposed to be heading are an excellent formula (hint, hint a well studied map is a plus along side bringing one!).

We sped on through on this part, stopping twice to fix my blister coverings (apparently, they don't like to stay on when you're speeding through in downhill motion lol) and the usual bathroom breaks (hydrating and dehydrating, the cycle). This trail albeit not part of the HST, still had grand views.

We rounded a small hill then spotted an orange dot from afar, a tent! As we got closer to said orange dot, glimpses of the lake sparkling on the high sun came into view in between trees. Steered a little away from the campers and another hiker also taking a break, we claimed a small spot on the beach under some trees as protection from the blistering sun and plopped down for lunch, a quick wash of ourselves and some clothes.

The lake was serene. The entire area was quiet, not as busy as the other spots we've camped at the past few days. But then we've probably just have missed some campers who might have left early in the morning and just caught layover-ers, who knows. We just noted a couple of tents right along side the bear box/ food locker and a couple of folks fishing a bit away from us.

Giving up on ever taking a nap and having the clothes we've washed (if you can call soaking and feebly scrubbing the fabrics against our hands that) already dried, we packed up our stuff and decided to get back on the trail and try to aim for the Kern Hot Springs for the night. That is, if we arrive early enough at Upper Funston Meadow. Otherwise, it'll be Upper Funston Meadow for the night. That was going to be our deciding factor: Time at Upper Funston.

The trail out of Moraine Lake, on the other direction from where we came from was even less clear. It skirted around the very lush Sky Parlor Meadow before meeting up with the High Sierra Trail again.

Immediately after leaving the lake, the trail gets lost in between overgrown shrubs and a lot of downed trees, some on top of each other, that it was difficult to go up and over. Some trees showed signs of their previous towering size during their upright days that they had to be walked all the way around, sometimes having to climb a hill up then back down again. We passed by some remains of an old log cabin before eventually meeting back with the High Sierra Trail.

For what very little I could find on trip reports for trips, one thing was certain, there were major rattlesnake warnings by others for this area, from Sky Parlor Meadow to the Kern River . And with good reason. as a few crossed our paths along the trail even at dusk.

It was all some major downhill climb approaching Kern Canyon down to the Kern River. We lost about 3,740 feet of elevation from Sky Parlor Meadow (9,140 feet) to Kern River (6,880 feet). The knees I can feel were taking its beating rather well, either that or we were just enjoying speeding through the trail.

We arrived at Upper Funston Meadow, debated the situation in front of us; camping out at mosquito laden, eerie looking spot but have a chance to put up our feet already at this very moment.. or push on the last couple of miles to Kern Hot Springs and enjoy a hot bath tonight or first thing tomorrow morning. It was a debate.. but the hot springs won.

The last couple of miles were hiked out in the dusk. The sun was still out but does not shine all the way down at the bottom of the canyon. We were surrounded by ferns and we can hear the sounds of a creek flowing but could not clearly see it. We were swatting mosquitoes as went by. Leaving the Funston area, we entered a wilderness gate with a sign that instructs the passers-by to keep it closed. The rest of the trail were occasionally along dirt but mostly walking on granite rocks blasted out to create the trail.

We got closer to a wooden bridge to cross a wide portion of the river. Grateful for these occasional conveniences! We had one more tributary to cross, minus the convenience of a bridge and this one was smaller, before we would find everybody convening at the hot springs tub towards our left. Can you say hot tub partay?

It was getting dark already, we opted to find a spot to pitch our tents, settle down and have some grub instead to end the day. Tomorrow, we will have first dibs on the hot springs tub in the morning.

There were several flat spots to pitch a tent but it was a fairly popular area, a lot of the good one were already taken. Bear boxes/ food lockers are available and an outhouse can be found a little ways far from the river, though neither any of us were brave enough to make use of it. I'll have my shovel, thanks!