Day 5: Hot Tub Time Machine

Junction Meadow to Big Arroyo
(19.5 miles, +4,000/-2,500 feet).

We both slept really well after our big 24 mile day to Whitney and back.  The lower elevation and our lovely campsite on spongey duff by a singing stream also probably helped.  We awoke refreshed and ready to go.

The Kern River runs along a massive fault line here and as a result lies in a very straight canyon.  It also descends very gradually, making the hiking extremely easy (especially compared to what we’ve been through the last couple of days!).

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Morning light on Kern Canyon
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Kern Canyon walls

We got engrossed in conversation and before we knew it we had hiked 8 miles down to Kern Hot Springs.  It was almost like we had been put in a time machine!

I originally did not think the hot springs would be our scene — I was imagining some kind of backcountry ‘Boogie Nights’ — but as it turns out it was extremely mellow.  Only one other hiker was there when we arrived and the water temperature of the springs was perfect for soothing our aching muscles.

The Park Service has built a small single person concrete hot tub with a wooden enclosure, and behind it is a slightly warmer natural spring.

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Kern Hot Springs
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UltraShuffle takes the tub
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JimmyJam takes the natural pool

We spent about half an hour there resting and soaking and then continued our hike down the Kern.

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UltraShuffle crosses the Kern
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Kern River near Kern Hot Springs

Shortly before hitting the trail junction near Funston Meadow, we were walking through a rocky field and I heard 3 feet to my left the characteristic white noise hiss of a rattlesnake warning us to keep our distance.  I jumped, but by the time I realized what was going on it had hidden itself well within a rock pile where it could not be photographed!

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Wait, we have to climb now?

We took a break at the junction and started our 4,000 foot ascent.  As usual, I coped with a hot climb by raising my umbrella and listening to music on my headphones (though with volume lowered given my recent encounter!).

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Climbing above Upper Funston Meadow

We took breaks at a couple of places where Funston Creek crossed the trail.

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Funston Creek
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A lizard enjoys the heat more than me

As we climbed higher, we passed through several burn areas where ferns and flowers thrived.

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Field of ferns
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Beautiful yellow flowers

Clouds started to build, and at one point even sprinkled on us a bit.

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Rain threatens

We took another break at Chagoopa Creek where we made friends with an amphibian.

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Froggy friend

Above 10,000 feet the trail started to get really beautiful, with a variety of colorful microclimates.

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Golden leaves in the meadow
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UltraShuffle hiking through beautiful white sand…
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…and past Mount Kaweah
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More golden leaves
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A meadow stream outlet
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Looks like storms over Mineral King

We gradually reached the peak of the trail, where a dry tarn sits at 10,700 feet.  We took a nice long break to soak in the scene.

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Dry tarn at 10,700 feet
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Ultra-relaxing

The rest of the day would be a gentle descent to Big Arroyo Junction at 9,500 feet.

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A gentle descent

We looked at the map for a source of water on trail near our camp that we would not need to filter.  We found one not too far away and filled up our bottles in the beautiful spring.

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Mmmmm, delicious mountain water

Soon we found the historic Big Arroyo Patrol cabin, and a nice flat place to camp nearby.  In no time we were sawing logs.

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Historic Big Arroyo patrol cabin
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UltraShuffle checks his pulse before bed
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