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The High Sierra Trail (8/1/1998-8/15/1998):
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Text and Photos ©Tom Reynolds. All Rights Reserved.

Middle-Hamilton Lake to Kern Hot Springs

We have crossed Hamilton Creek and are drying our feet preparing for the climb to Kaweah Gap.

The switchbacks go SFU. After two hours we aren't any closer to Kaweah Gap than we started but we gained lots of altitude. We take a break and level off to a gentle ascent to Hamilton Gorge. At one time, in the 30's, there was a bridge across the gorge. It was wiped out be an avalanche so the Park Service built a tunnel across the gorge. As we climb towards the tunnel a lone hiker approaches us. His backpack is huge. He isn't using the hip belt and is only using one shoulder strap yet he is walking at triple our speed. He is from Nepal and arranges tours for a living. Mountains? What mountains?? He shoots past us. I am reminded that, no matter how far, how fast or how long you walk, someone is always stronger, faster and more dedicated.

We go on to Upper Hamilton Lake. It is right on the edge of the precipice and ought to be named Precipice Lake. There is a little snowfield just before the lake Soon the snow is solid. . At Precipice Lake, almost 500' higher we are exhausted but make good time across snowfields and snowbridges across water. The snow lessens and we reach a bowl where the trail is invisible.  Working forward in the direction we must  we find and climb a little ridge --Kaweah Gap, 10,700. We have crossed the Great Western Divide.

The guy from Nepal, is planning to cross the Kaweah range [13000 foot peaks] via a cross country col called Pants Pass [it is called Pants Pass because it its pure loose scree and one slides down on his pants]. We take the High Sierra that goes south, around this mountain range.

Big Arroyo is a side valley of the Kern. It runs between the 13000' Kaweah Range to the east and the Great Western Divide on the West. At 10,500' the 13,000' peaks look small. Down valley is easy walking. Late in the day we  ford Big Arroyo Creek. Finally we arrive at our destination, the junction of several trails where an old cabin

The Big Arroyo trail junction is where the High Sierra Trail junctions with the trail down the Big Arroyo and with the trail to Little Five Lakes and Black Rock Pass. Several years ago I hiked over Franklin Pass from Mineral King, then over a plateau down to the Big Arroyo Trail.


The trail climbs the northeast wall of Big Arroyo. Looking over and down I can see Rattlesnake Creek, Lost Canyon and the Big and Little Five Lakes basins. It sure looks steep. I musta been in good shape back then when I hike the area. The trail crests at 10,700' at a little pond. Kaweah Peak looks small even though it is a 13000+ peak. In fact the entire Kaweah range is less than impressive. Sorta little hills. Course I have been viewing them from above 10,000'.

The Chagoopa Plateau is a disappointment. I have checked the snow pillow regularly to find about snow melt and I expected a lush plateau with magnificent vistas. Instead I have scattered trees, bare dirt with a few ground plants and a red hill in the background {the red hill is Kaweah Peak}.

At the trail junction we take the spur loop to Moraine Lake. More dirt and scattered tree cover but the lake appears soon. No one is at the camp. The wind off the lake blows the bugs away. No mosquitoes!! Checking the lake, I find the water quite warm. Everyone takes a welcome swim. The view of Mineral King across the lake is lovely. It is a relaxing camp. By nightfall no one has shown up. We have this huge camping area and the entire lake to ourselves.


I considered a layover day at Moraine Lake because it  was so wonderful. Our next stop, Kern Hot Springs, is sure to be crowded. We rejoin the High Sierra trail making good time on the flat plateau and reach the lip of the Kern trench. The direction is SFD. Fortunately, the switchbacks are very good. At the bottom the going gets tougher. Working up the Kern is real work. We are following an overgrown trail. The trail gets boggier and boggier. We work over logs and fight for solid ground. The trail is now a tributary of the Kern. This is taking forever. Finally we cross Chaoogopa Creek and spy dry trail . The scenery is beautiful; lovely ferns and Chagoopa Falls in the background.

We reach the bridge across the Kern. It is intact. Looking at the Kern there is no way we could have crossed it. Another dry manzanita section awaits us followed by an unwanted stream crossing.  We reach the hot springs and look around for campsites. The first we find are less than stellar but we soon fine a fine spot. We also find a pit toilet! It is 1 PM. There is no one but us here.

 Kern Hot Springs is an improved version of nature. Someone has constructed a concrete bathtub. Water from the hot spring enters through a small pipe. It is too hot for me. I use the wooden stopper to stem the flow. My son empties buckets of cold river water into the tub until it is just right. It takes time to figure out how the Hot Springs exactly works. You need to picture this. The Hot Springs is set in a small meadow next to the rushing Kern River. I am sitting next to the Kern River taking a hot bath. No mosquitoes, the wind is too high.

Tom Reynolds | << Part 1 << or >> Part 3 >>

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