High Sierra Trail: Roughing it in the Hot Springs

Day Three and Four (August 6 & August 7)
Day 3 – Big Arroyo to Upper Funston Meadow via Moraine Lake
Mileage: 12.8
Peak Elevation Gain: 705 ft
Camp Elevation: 6,730 ft

Day 4 – Upper Funston to Junction Meadow via Kern Hot Springs
Mileage: 9.7
Peak Elevation Gain: 1,350 ft
Camp Elevation: 8,080 ft

Our third day was spent walking.
I know, I know. But the third day was kind of like the second book in The Lord of the Rings: you know it happened, you got somewhere, but all you really remember is the walking. The endless walking.
We went up a bit from Arroyo, traversing the ridge of the canyon on our way to Moraine Lake, where we rested for thirty minutes and a lame horse picked at things on the beach’s shore.

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The water we meant to get after Moraine Lake in Sky Meadow Parlor was either dried up or we missed it so we were just about out of water at one point, with still miles to go. There was a river that we could hear, but for the most part was too steep to get down towards. Until I decided to gamble and make the steep descent down loose rock to Funston Creek to fill our nalgenes. It was one of my dumber moves of the trip, something I knew even as I was scrambling down to the river. I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to get back up, and in fact it took me long enough that Sam came to check up on me.

Immediately after this, we had endless switchbacks back down into the canyon – something that did a number on one of Sam’s knees. Upper Funston was to the right about five minutes up the trail after it Ts at the end of the switchbacks – there’s no sign to tell you this, you just have to figure it out. Ideally by you know, looking at the map, but we did meet a few people that missed this. It’s not the best campsite – too close to still, swampy water (read: mosquitoes) with poor running water options for drinking, and a pit toilet you’re supposed to use but would probably give you tetanus if you tried. But there’s a bear box, so there’s that.

Our friends the Ultralight Brothers (our nickname for them, they were super speedy and it didn’t matter how early we got up, they’d pass us a couple of hours later) were also camped there, but the five of us were it. They had a campfire that night – something we enjoyed when available to us but never bothered to light ourselves.

In the morning (Day 4) we rolled out without breakfast to hike the just over 2 miles to the Kern Hot Springs. It’s a cement tub between the natural hot spring that feeds into the river and the river itself, with a crude pipe and plugs so you can fill it up with 115F water and scrub yourself down with a beautiful backdrop. With water that feels amazing to tired muscles and sore feet. (Surprise: turns out my legs were dirty, not tan.)

We spent almost two hours there, eating breakfast, feeling moderately clean, and chatting with the Pennsylvania Couple and the Ultralight Brothers when they caught up with us. Day 4 was our “easy day” of relatively mild elevation gain and under 10 miles of walking, so we took our sweet time. The Ultralight Brothers caught sight of another rattle snake that I got a photo of – yes, I paused to take a photo of the agent of our worst case scenario.

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Shortly after the snake, we found a swimming hole along the river and I got slightly more clean, bucket shower style combined with a quick swim in the chilly river.

As I said, we took our time.

Along the way, we met one of those Old Guys Who Talk Too Much who joked to Sam – “I’ve got to ask. You’ve got an ugly mug and probably the personality to match. What are you doing here with two girls?”
I think he was joking.

Eventually, we made it to Junction Meadow, which was probably my favorite campsite. It was almost manicured it was so pretty and flat. The water source was solid, the bear box right in our campsites (we were the first ones there) and the bugs were non existent. Of course, being at the bottom of the canyon, when we woke up the morning of Day 5 we had every intention of getting up at 5:30 when my alarm went off. But it was so damned cold without the sun in the canyon that we spent about thirty minutes lying in our respective sleeping bags being like: Nope. Just. Nope.

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