Thursday, September 08, 2016

High Sierra Trail – Day 4 (Thursday)

[Maryanne]Waking at Moraine Lake, the plan was to hike along the Kern Valley, towards Whitney Creek (about 10.5 miles). The plan was to reduce the mileage daily, making for shorter days as we progressed. The hike started at 9,300’ with a short climb to get out of the lake basin and then nearly all descent. Much of the descent was very steep, with switchbacks down into the valley to about 6,700’.

Breakfast with a view (while filtering water) - at Moraine Lake

Early in the day's hike we passed Junction meadow where deer were grazing. We still have seen no bears (despite the need to keep food in special bear proof canisters and away from the tent at night)

Along with the views, we see plenty of wildlife as we hike, and even a long abandoned cabin

As we descended, the heat climbed. Greg and Julio would pass us as we rested or took pictures, and later we’d pass them. With each passing came a little extra snippet of conversation, and we quickly felt as friends.

The steep descent eventually levelled off

The highlight of the day was a small dot on the map – a hot spring! Greg and Julio planned to stay overnight, while we had planned to simply enjoy it for an hour before moving on. The hike to that spring was, despite being basically down hill or flat, tough again; the heat was intense, every patch of shade from a tree was welcomed and relished. The trail was made up of such giant boulders making every step difficult, with no enjoyment of the view as any deviation from your path would result in a nasty fall. Arriving at the hot springs was EXTRA welcome. We almost missed it, a small gate like barrier alongside the river. Greg made it there first, but was at the campsite when we arrived. It was great to drop the packs and change into bathing clothes. The natural hot spring was VERY HOT, and is piped into a concrete tub, which itself drains into the river, into a mixing patch with the river where a perfect medium warm temperature was found. The hot water was too hot for me, while Kyle enjoyed it (odd since I normally like my bath water way hotter than Kyle does). We each found a patch of water with our preferred temperature and let muscles feel the effects. Heavenly. Eventually we climbed out, and had lunch while our clothing dried. It was quite tough to leave, but we wanted to make as much progress in the valley as possible as we knew the next day would involve yet another climb.

The hot spring and onwards

The hike from the springs started to climb somewhat, and we’d lingered in the spring longer than we ‘should’ have. So we decided to just walk as far as we could until around 5:00pm, and take the first suitable camping spot with water after that. We found a spot about 5 minutes past Whitney Creek (meeting the original goal). Once in the wilderness, there are no regulated camp spots. The only rules are that you must not camp on any vegetation (only on dirt or rock), and you must be a certain distance away from the water.

Throughout the trail we’ve had to cross a number of streams. Generally the crossings have been relatively easy, with perfectly placed stones or logs. Today those options have been less obvious – each step was a little too big, or too far to be comfortable with. We made good use of our poles, but spent some time walking up and down the bank trying to find the best spot to cross, the crossings were no longer fun, but a tad challenging.

Kyle has taken to calling his shoes ‘Foot Prisons’, and every time I stand up after a rest I feel my feet being flattened by the weight so I’m calling them ‘pancake feet’, so miserable is the feeling, it seems sensible to simply not sit and rest if I know I have to keep going, but to rest standing and therefore avoid that pancake feeling as I first stand.

Hiking I’ve decided is misery with a view. I feel the thoughts ‘wow – what a view’ as often as ‘f**k, this hurts’.

As an aside, I have a serious skin allergy to pine oils. Generally this doesn’t bother me (unless I choose to wrestle with a Christmas tree, or bathe in Pine bubble bath), but out here, every suitable sitting place seems to be a pine log, and there are pine needles everywhere else. For the most part I’m managing to avoid them, but I did get one reaction (luckily I carried the required steroids just in case, and this managed to check it in time to prevented anything serious) Still no bears!! But plenty of deer.

At the end of day 4 we had made it around half way along the trail. Turning back now adds no benefit to going forward – so on we plan to go! Our camp site was at 8,000’ – Mount Whitney, the highpoint of the trail is almost twice this altitude. On we go (gulp)!

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