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!

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