Day four of my SEKI Loop trail took me to the amazing Moraine Lake, one of the true highlights of the High Sierra Trail. Just a half day climb from the Kern Hotspring, I decided to stay there and enjoy the silence, the cool water and the shady trees.
Day 4: Kern Hot Spring to Moraine Lake
Start: Kern Hot Spring
End: Moraine Lake
Distance: 8.3 miles (13,4 km)
Elevation gain: 3,317 ft (1.011 m)
Elevation loss: –948 ft (–289 m)
Highest point: Moraine Lake, 9,290 ft (2.830 m)
Time: 4:20 hrs moving time; 5:30 hrs total time
Date: September 2, 2018
Day 4 of my SEKI loop, map base layer by Sierramapper.
Leaving the Kern Hot Springs
I woke up in Kern Canyon at 6 am – I must have slept about 11 hours straight. After packing up, filling up on fresh water and eating a good Indian Rice Pudding breakfast with my Lapsang tea, I was ready to go. It was tempting to take another bath in the Hot Spring, but I decided to just rinse my hands thoroughly in the stream for about 15 minutes. That’s one thing I have noticed. On the trail, no matter how you try, keeping your hands clean is virtually impossible. The dusty trail gets under your fingernails and fills the lines and grooves in the skin.
In the distance I saw Chagoopa Falls coming down from the high canyon walls, and later I crossed the Chagoopa creek, which was no more than a couple of shallow streams of water now.
The trail was still going down as passed some huge logs, freshly cut into pieces. The smell of fresh sawdust still hung in the air. I am always amazed about the people who do all this work: maintaining the trails, fighting fires, building bridges and cutting up big trees that obstruct the trail. I realized that they must bring all their tools, probably by mules or horses, but still they must hike days on the same trail as I was doing.
Leaving Upper Funston Meadow, the trail began to climb up now, starting with some switchbacks on hard granite rocks and gravel. The climb to Moraine Lake had begun. Compared to Forester Pass, two days before, I knew today would not be that difficult.
Next to the trail I found a small natural wonder. An egg-shaped stone, about 4 inches big, lying still on a giant rock. The surrounding rock had worn out exactly in the shape of the stone. The water of maybe thousands and thousands of years had smoothed out a perfectly fitting hollow shape where stone rests.
Up to Chagoopa Plateau
I reached the junction with Rattlesnake Creek and followed the sign to Big Arroyo Creek and Kaweah Gap. Two landmarks that I would save for the next day.
Leaving the wooded lower elevations, the edges of the Chagoopa Plateau came into view. The sun was also coming out now, it was getting hot again. The two liter bottles of water I carried were rapidly running on empty. There were not too many water sources along the trail, but after about halfway to Moraine Lake (at 4.5 mile / 7 km) I reached a tributary of Funston Creek. First I filled up on water, then took off my boots and cooled my feet in the stream.
The terrain was getting a bit flatter now, but it was very hot, and I was longing for some great views again. I have discovered walking in the woods is not my favorite thing. I like to to able to see far away. And no matter how beautiful these trees are, after a couple of thousand, yes – I’ve seen enough of them.
But then I reached Sky Parlor Meadow, a beautiful open grassy space. I saw a deer, just like it should in a meadow like this. Moving slowly, looking back and then suddenly disappearing.
Then, after about 8 miles of hiking, I caught a first glimpse of the lake. My heart almost missed a beat. The lake, surrounded by pine trees, shone a blue light through the branches. A promising sight, that would not disappoint me.
The scenery was so calm and silent, it was hard to believe I really was here. I wandered about the shores for a while, thinking about what would be the best spot to camp and where I could find a good spot for swimming. Then I couldn’t resist anymore, and before even setting up my tent, I stripped down to my underwear and jumped right in. Lovely cool water, what a delight to swim.
I pitched my tent in a perfect place under the shady trees. Actually a bit too close to the water, according to the regulations, which I was sorry for, but I couldn’t bring myself breaking it up and move.
Time to reflect on my plans. Doing only a half day of hiking today, I ’lost’ the time I was ahead of my schedule. So finally I was in sync with what I had been planning long before. But now I was wondering wether I would really be able to hike all those other passes that I had planned.
The silence of the lake was only broken by a distinctive call of a water bird, probably a loon, so I had read before.
After dinner: a beautiful sunset, the sun already behind the mountain range for a long time. A fresher breeze, moving the waters. The only sound: the water on the sandy shorelines, and the loons calling.
What a beautiful and unforgettable moment. Who cares about mileage and elevations today?