26 September 2014

Golden Trout Wilderness tour: Kern Flat

Inyo National Forest

Sequoia National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6 | DAY 7 | DAY 8

(Day 7 of 8) My attempt at getting some sun in the morning has failed as my camp is still deep in shadow as the buildings and trees across the creek gain the sun. The original plan has three days to hike out, but that was really to give an extra day "just in case". Under normal circumstances, I would hike most of the next two days in a single go and the mention of the first weekend of hunting season provides a little extra motivation to get out earlier. With a reasonably early start, I should be able to get down to Kern Flat and loaded with water by 1PM. If I start the "six mile climb" back out of Kern Canyon, really only 1500 feet up, I should be able to stumble into a camp I know has water by sunset. The GPS shows sunset is somehow half an hour earlier than it was when I started this trip. The days really are growing shorter quickly. First, I need to get started even though the sun has not hit the flat. One or two mornings have been near freezing, but this one could not be below 40°F by the feel, yet somehow a few yards down the trail I am walking over a once soggy but now frozen solid piece of ground. It is a curious place. The hike down is almost entirely bad burn area and there are few places where it feels safe to sit.

denuded hills still pointy with trunks
Some hillsides have new trees growing up among the toothpicks, but far too many look like the forest has been lost.

composite flowers above the creek
A few late season flowers.

blue belly almost showing
A lizard adds a bit of bright blue.

The fighter jets start earlier today with the first one not much after 9AM and the second with a timing that makes me suspect it is the first one coming around for another go. The way the second one sounds, I expect it to be directly overhead, so I look. I find myself looking directly along the line of the wings and instincts that find it hard to understand that large metal objects can stay up in the sky under normal circumstances think that this sight of one sideways directly over my head is a good excuse to kick out some adrinaline. There is a nice clearing just past yet another inholding, this one flying flags but shuttered, that looks like a good spot to dig through the pack and up my sugar. It turns out that the cabin looks almost occupied because it is almost occupied. A helicopter comes up the canyon low to deliver the residents, then heads off even lower. The pilot probably does not want to end up like a mosquito on a jet fighter windshild. Ah, the peace and quiet of Congressionally designated wilderness areas. As I continue down, he is back again with a second load.

helicopter in an inholding
Flags flying and the shutters opening up now that the owners have come in the easy way: by helicopter.

From the inholding, the trail drops a little further past a wet spot where a four foot log cut is being held up above the trail by surprisingly strong brush and to an unsigned junction. Someone has stuck a branch across the trail that seems to be a shortcut to the Kern River for those heading downstream. It is brushy at first, but after an "entering Inyo National Forest" sign, has had recent trail work. This trail work continues to be haphazard, but at least I am not skirting under a short log held over my head by relative twigs. The worst head scratcher is a tree that has been cut to slightly reduce the walk around. It looks like maybe the crew did not have the level of certification, or the tools, to cut the tree where the trail goes through, which is much thicker than where they did cut it. In spite of the attempt at clearing the trail, I start to feel like I might have lost it for all the side trails to walk around trees. Eventually it gets down next to the river and seems to calm down a little.

exiting Inyo National Forest
A sign to mark entry into Inyo National Forest as I exit it.

granite canyon becoming hills
The changing character of Kern Canyon in this area.

Kern River through the cedars
There really is a river down here somewhere.

A little bit further and there is the expected bridge to cross over the river. The trail back up to Trout Meadows is somewhere downstream, so I continue that way. Much more quickly than expected, there is a campsite signed "Kern Flat" complete with a non-stick aluminum pan marked "property of Kern Flat campsite #1".

Kern River bridge
I have been expected this bridge, it is labeled on the map.

view back the way I came
Looking up the river from the middle of the bridge.

campsite along the Kern River
Kern Flat campsite #1.

Lunch and water gathering is finished a few minutes earlier than hoped and I am ready to start on the climb, but first have to get there. This side of the river seems to have seen a lot more cows recently. Multiple trails make their way down the side of the river and many show use by travelers in the form of footprints and hoof prints. The cow pies get very thick as the area widens into the real Kern Flat. I generally follow a slightly higher route and eventually come to a mysterious three sided structure. Beside it a trail starts to climb up from the canyon, but it does not look much like an official trail. Recent running show prints come down it, so I decide to go for it. More trail continues along into a large and lush meadow that starts just downstream.

mysterious three sided structure
Three walls between three upright logs with no markings whatsoever.

The slope of the trail quickly calms down and old cut trees make me feel better about following it. It crosses back and forth through a major wash as it climbs, then climbs out and flirts with other drainages. The climb gives me good views of the meadow below, the canyon walls, and the jet fighters that continue to come through every hour or so.

lush green grass below
The lush green meadows of Kern Flat.

well eroded granite shoot
One spot where the trail crosses a wash. I would not want to be on this trail in a downpour.

jet fighters runnig the canyon
The last two jets I watched run the canyon. The one on the left is making the turn up Ninemile Creek and the one on the right is still will inside Kern Canyon.

The last part of the climb up to the edge of Kern Canyon feels more like pacing than climbing. The switchbacks seem to be meandering back and forth through a large bowl with plenty of evidence of recent cows. After 3.5 miles of climbing, I finally top out. So much for a six mile climb. The trail drops gently down the other side a short way to Cold Spring, a developed spring with a large trough. The area around the spring is so well trod that it takes a moment to figure out where the trail that takes a turn to the north is going. A very abused sign on the ground by the spring box gives the distance back to Jordan Hot Springs as 11 miles.

looking up Kern Canyon
One last look over Kern Canyon.

spring and tub
Cold Spring. The spring box is just above the muddy spot.

After the spring, the trail is easy enough to follow, but then there is a junction that is not on my Harrison map. Trail goes off on either side of a tree and leaning against the tree is a block of wood with a trail designation on it. My Harrison map also does not have trail designations. I figure it all looks well used and all gets to the same place, eventually, but I want to finish a couple miles north of Trout Meadows, so take the right that heads north. Most of the traffic that goes this way actually just drops down to a meadow and the trail itself quickly becomes very light. It loses some more traffic as it blunders into some fallen trees and some of the walk around trails seem to never come back. Little traffic has come this way recently, but in the dust I can see those same running shoe prints heading the other way.

trails wander off to either side of a tree
A fork in the road.

The trail is not challenging to follow after the trees. There is a consistent dip in the pine needles, gates when it comes to fences, and even a sign to clarify which way at one point where a traveler might accidentally go along the fence instead. It winds this way and that through the trees past meadows and eventually dumps me on the trail I traveled before. There is no sign, but the running shoe prints are here too, coming up from the south and finding this dim trail without any problem. I head north to find the cow camp at Willow Meadows, arriving with plenty of light to settle in.

four deer in the meadow
Deer in the meadows. Watch out, guys, hunting season starts tomorrow.

Continue reading: day 8

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 5 October 2014

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