21 September 2014

Golden Trout Wilderness tour: Kern Lake

Sequoia National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

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

(Day 2 of 8) It is neither early nor late as I get started on the day's hiking. I need to make up four miles. Two trails are supposed to leave from near the bridge and go to Willow Meadows, according to Tom Harrison. As I follow the one trail I can find, I can faintly see a track leading steeply up the other side of the little canyon it has just traversed, but nothing that looks like trail. A little further is an unsigned, but real, junction for the shorter route that I hike right on past. This keeps me on a fairly level and easy route around the edge of old lava into Trout Meadows. The nearby roar of a chain saw adds to the wilderness noises, going for a short time and finishing again.

lava rocks in the grass
Looking out over the old lava flow in the morning sunlight.

Little Kern River valley
Looking down the Little Kern River valley.

There is another junction, this time signed, then I am upon Trout Meadows. The majority of the meadows are fenced for an inholding and a number of horses are grazing the grasses. This is likely the source of the noise. Further up the meadow is a ranger station and the flag is flying today. Springs pour water out of the ground in the middle of the horse pasture, but above there the meadow seems dry, which is what the water report for it claims.

horses grazing on the fields of Trout Meadows
The horses grazing on the fields of the inholding in Trout Meadows.

Trout Meadows ranger station
The ranger station at Trout Meadows.

Taking the pleasant walk through Trout Meadows does mean I have even more miles to make up in the next couple days. At the north end of the meadows, a sign points the way I will be coming from to finish the trip and the trail is difficult to see. After Trout, the trail climbs almost imperceptibly through woods past a string of other meadows to the expected cow camp by the signed Willow Meadow. The second trail is still not in evidence without poking around a bit south of the camp. Springs flow above the camp and a crude water collection by the kitchen makes getting some easy. The next camp that is the suggested first stop in the loop is also obvious as the developed spring is next to the trail with its output crossing the trail.

pool of green among the rocks and trees
A meadow so flat it looks like a green pool although it is dry.

cow camp at Willow Meadow
The cow camp at Willow Meadow. Water can be found on the green hillside to the right.

developed spring beside the trail
The next camp has a developed spring beside the trail that pours water across the trail.

A little more gentle climbing through trees backed by granite cliffs and the trees ahead start to thin out. A huge, but distant roar can be heard as the massive walls of Kern Canyon start to become visible. There are a couple good viewpoints for attempting to take in the massive valley as the trail drops into it. Small streams cross the trail to provide water along the way.

hints of a mighty canyon through the trees
A first glimpse into the Kern Canyon.

Kern Canyon
This part of the massive Kern Canyon is a water carved canyon.

Near the bottom, there is one of the benchmarks marked on the Olancha 1905 30' quad. It is not one of the ones I had planned to look for since it is not placed on an easily distinguished landmark. It does happen to be next to the trail, set in the vertical face of a boulder, so I notice it as I pass. Noticing it does mean I have failed to notice a trail junction for a spur that heads downstream.

USGS elevation marker: 5786 feet
An elevation marker set by USGS in 1905, just barely making it onto an old map I am carrying. It looks really good for 109 years old.

the Kern River flowing along
Plenty of water in the Kern River.

Once down to the river, the roar is generally louder. What sounded like a crowd of voices is now just a few as most of the crowd is muffled by the next bend. There is another cow camp just short of Leggett Creek. The creek is signed, but dry. The next creek along is flowing, not that water is a problem with the river running past. A table beside the trail and a sign on a tree mark Grasshopper Flat, which has a number of tables and campfire rings.

log based table at Grasshopper Flat
A log supported table at Grasshopper flat which has many tables and stoves, not to mention the odd horse skull.

Grasshopper Flat view
The view from Grasshopper Flat to the north.

After the flat, the trail climbs up and away from the river. Another creek runs down near the top. The top is open and rocky and fresh bear prints show the most recent trail user. At the north end of the high traverse, I head off trail to where things get steep to have a look over Little Kern Lake.

three big quail
Quail crossing the trail as it climbs under tree cover.

Kern River and some of Little Kern Lake
Little Kern Lake from above. The more visible water on the right is the Kern River flowing past the lake.

The trail drops again and passes through the first gate since the many near Trout Meadows. The next creek somehow deserves a bridge to cross it, then it is passing by Little Kern Lake. The trail splits for a lower route and a higher route by the lake and I take the higher route. Once past the lake, it climbs again for a short way.

Little Kern Lake
Down near Little Kern Lake.

Little Kern Lake and the river flowing out
Little Kern Lake with a bit of the Kern River flowing past it and out of its bowl.

up above many of the valley trees
Up high again, looking through the trees.

The trail drops into good views of Kern Lake. This lake brings some of the only mosquitoes that I have seen. As I drop down, I notice ducks sitting out on the water. Something large and very blue decides it does not like my approach and takes off from near the water to climb in huge arcs honking much like a Canadian goose all the way up until it disappears down the notch to the south. Otherwise, the river is very quiet through here.

Kern Lake
Looking down on Kern Lake with the river flowing past it. This lake seems shallower and scummier in some areas.

large blue bird
Something big and blue and honking all the way.

Kern Lake
A little more of Kern Lake.

Past the lake, there is another creek to cross, then there is a camp where someone has dropped off a table, complete with table cloth held on with clothes pins, tied down with rope, and held down with logs to be sure it goes nowhere. My plan for the day was actually to get up to get just a little past the lake and find a camp. I have made up most the miles I needed to and the shadows are getting long. The river is quiet here and the mosquitoes from near the lower end of the lake are gone again. It looks like a good place to stop for the night.

a cow camp of sorts
Another cow camp of sorts.

While collecting water, it becomes clear that the quiet of the river is very deceptive. The river has small surges from time to time, and when they come, a couple spots below where I am getting my water slap and churn. The sounds resemble a caged animal. Watch any part of this river long enough and no matter how calm it may have looked to start, it will show itself to be full of power.

Continue reading: day 3

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 2 October 2014

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