Date: Thursday, August 5, 2021
Mileage: 14.4 miles
And on Day 4, we hiked 14.4 miles. Holy hell.
We got up around 5ish again this morning, and I immediately tried to fill up our waterbottles (I did not listen to my top tip for new backpackers and filter the night before – shame). Our filter, unfortunately, was shot. It was barely filtering any water at all. I stupidly decided not to bring the cleaner that MSR provides with their filters (shame again – it’s not like I’ve been backpacking for 19 years or anything), so we tried to clean it with our hands, but it was still going beyond slow. I think the water at Moraine really clogged it up – kudos to the ranger who tried to warn us, no kudos for us for not being able to listen to his advice.
Upon leaving Moraine at 7:30am, we started our descent down to the Kern River. I knew today was going to be painful – my lungs appreciate downhill, but my body and balance HATE it. The descent initially started gradual though, snaking its way past Sky Parlor Meadow and the Kaweahs. It was a very stunning and serene morning!
It wasn’t long until the real fun began. We started heading down a super steep trail filled with rocks. Laura absolutely FLEW down the descent, leaving me and Erin in the dust (although Erin was trapped on the trail behind me, so lawd knows how fast she would have hiked down if she had been in front of me). Overall, we had about a five-mile descent where we lost about 2500 feet. It was painful, but the views were really beautiful!
The Kern River has carved such a beautiful canyon – and I couldn’t shake the idea that some old glacier activity helped. It is the most perfect u-shape, with towering granite peaks on all sides. Truly breathtaking.
Once we finally hit the bottom, we turned north and began our long 9.2 mile march up the Kern River. We initially thought that the hardest part of the trail was over (our rocky descent), but the first mile of the trail past the Kern River takes the form of secure scree and larger, sharper rocks. We were all indeed surprised to find out that the trail took the form of actual hell for a hot second there. We also all then agreed that secure scree made up of larger, sharper rocks was indeed the worst kind of trail to walk on.
I don’t know why (maybe I read too many trail reports with warnings of rattlesnakes near the Kern), but I was on HIGH ALERT all morning for rattlers. It probably did not help that there was also a junction to Rattlesnake Creek – two miles south of us. I seriously imagined in my head that the Kern Canyon was essentially just a pit of snakes – I had actually been dreading this part of the trail ever since we started planning our trip. Fortunately (and not surprisingly – I guess that is the one good thing about exponentially building something in your head to be way worse than it actually is), we did not see a single rattlesnake all day. Yay Kern Canyon!
After our scree escapade, the trail grants you the most beautiful gift of all for making it through – the magical Kern River. There is a really impressive backcountry bridge that takes you to the other side of the Kern, and we had originally been planning on stopping there for lunch. We didn’t realize, though, that it was only about a half mile further to the hot springs, so we put on our big girl pants and continued on (the call of the river was no match for us!).
When we arrived at the springs, we knew we had made the right decision. The hot springs are a built-up concrete bath right next to the river. We had the springs and the river all to ourselves, and it took about twenty seconds from our arrival for me to be in the river. Since it was a warm day, the springs weren’t as attractive as the river for me, but Erin ended up putting her feet in the hot water for awhile and said that it felt great!
After dunking and swimming in the river, I tried to fill up our water bottles once more, and once more, our filter was still giving us so many problems. It was to the point where only mere droplets of water were being filtered into the waterbottle, and the rest was being shot back out into the river. By this time, another group had arrived at the springs (they were doing the HST in reverse!). We asked the group if they had a sponge or other filter cleaning device and they straight up gave us their cleaning syringe to keep for the rest of the trip. It instantly helped, and we were so beyond grateful. Truly lifesavers – I don’t know what we would have done to get water without them. Kern Hot Springs Group, if you are reading this, we can’t thank you enough for your generosity on the trail.
We played in the water for a good 45 minutes before eating lunch, and upon getting out of the river, I seriously felt like a whole new woman. I drank about a liter and a half and finally felt hydrated for the first time all trip. Those waters are magical I tell you!
We finally got back on trail and started up Kern Canyon. Very quickly, we were in a major burn zone from the 2020 fire. It was so fresh and soot got everywhere. We wanted and had planned for another swim break, but we also wanted shade – and our desire for shade outranked our desire to swim, so we pushed on.
It was so crazy to be in such a fresh burn. The stark black trees against the bright green new growth was something that I had yet to ever experience before – and for such a long time as well. It lasted about 4 full hours. This area was probably such an awesome area to hike in before the burn – I’m sure it had tons of shade and trees and was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately for us, it was just super hot and long and we were quickly ready to be done.
At one point, we heard a cracking of a tree and all INSTANTLY scattered from the trail (even though we had no idea where the cracking was coming from). A tree branch about 3 feet in length came falling down about 50 feet away from us. Talk about a mid-afternoon scare! You definitely could not camp anywhere in the burn zone – so take note that you have to either commit to another (at least) 4 miles after Kern Hot Springs or camp at Kern Hot Springs.
We pushed on… and on… and on. I was nervous about the last 1000 feet of elevation gain up from Kern Hot Springs to Junction Meadow since we had such a long and high-mileage day, but it was so gradual that you couldn’t even tell that you were hiking uphill. As for the cherry on top of our brutal afternoon – we had one last creek crossing before camp and of course I fell in – perfect. Just what I wanted.
It felt SO GOOD to arrive to Junction Meadow – I have never been more excited to see camp in my life. We immediately jumped into the river and began pumping. Our water filter was still very much on the fritz so it took a full hour to pump 10 liters. It gave me an hour ice bath for my feet though, which was nice.
We got into the tent at an early 7:30pm after a nice cocktail of ibuprofen and benedryl. Overall, a very tough day, but we have set ourselves up nice for Whitney. I was glad to have two shorter days coming up!
More Posts on the High Sierra Trail:
Day 1: Crescent Meadow to Bearpaw Meadow
Day 2: Bearpaw Meadow to Precipice Lake
Day 3: Precipice Lake to Moraine Lake
Day 4: Moraine Lake to Junction Meadow
Day 5: Junction Meadow to Crabtree Ranger Station (coming soon!)
Day 6: Crabtree Ranger Station to Guitar Lake (coming soon!)
Day 7: Guitar Lake to Whitney Portal (coming soon!)