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Beautiful ridge below Duck Lake east of Fish Creek

August 15, 2000
Iva Bell Hot Springs to Reds Meadow
Six gorgeous miles of Fish Creek Valley ... six forgettable miles of fire desolation


0745-0930 — Iva Bell Hot Springs
          The morning continues much as the evening and middle of the night had gone ... gorgeous. We jump back into the hot spring for a final soak and meld with the warm water massage. There should be some of this at the end of every day of hiking. Unfortunately, you can't bottle it for another day so we make the most of it while we can.

          We are slow to break camp and head back to the dusty trail. It is difficult to find the motivation to leave the comforts of this home away from home. We could lay over and stay another day. But, could another day be as sweet in comparison? Can perfection be duplicated? Is it not best to appreciate the good, savor it and believe our destiny holds many "other" goods further along the trail? Sometimes moments are so special you just want to cling to them forever, but just as the hot water continues to drain from the spring, so too we must go with the flow.

          Going with the flow, we stop briefly below the hot spring meadow to pump cold drinking water and have our granola before gearing up for the day. It is still fairly early and a comfortable 73° in the woods. Fish Creek Valley trail is a beautiful hike down through the forest with many small creek crossings and occasional views of the towering rock cliffs that form the southern wall. The weather is pleasant and the mosquitoes are inconsequential.

1115-1215 — Fish Creek Bridge 37°32.037 / 119°04.396 - 6,600K' (82°F)

          As we approach the bridge the trail begins to deteriorate due to excessive horse traffic. And sure enough, there is a pack in preparations as we pass. The horse people had roped off the bridge so their stock don't take themselves home during the night. Rather than fuss with the hitch, we decide to take a lunch break and rest our feet. Soon the pack arrives at the bridge. The gal has a little trouble convincing the lead horse to cross the bridge but once underway the rest of the train follow obediently. This herd includes a couple white mules. I've never seen a white mule before. I wasn't sure if I could "stamp" (lick your thumb, press it into your palm and smack it with your fist) white mules for good luck like you can white horses, so I let them get away; I will settle for my natural good luck.

          The day is heating up, now 82° in the shade by the ambient cool of the Creek. We are facing the climb out of Fish Valley dead in the middle of the hottest time of day. From a former trip we remember the climb as quite exhausting, but that was years ago and we have seen much worse since then. As a matter of fact, we saw much worse a couple days ago.

          We pass three young men just off the JMT out of Reds Meadow with the same idea of a detour to Iva Bell Hot Springs. The guy in voluminous dreadlocks asks us where the springs are since they are not on his map (must have the same maps as the British). From this rise above the bridge, you can see up the Valley to the very end where the meadow is obvious and the old mud slide at the top of the hill stands out clearly even at four miles away. I simply point to it. They are excited. Shortly after we part with the three JMTers a family of five passes us also headed for the Hot Springs, and they look like they could use a bath. So, it will be a "hot time" at the hot springs today; that is, of course, if you like crowds.

1430-1500 — Cold Creek 37°33.205 / 119°05.345 - 6,818K' (115°F on trail)

          The trail begins to really get soft, dusty and hot. We are on the slopes of Pumice Butte and the trail is pretty much loose pumice (like walking on a beach) for the next six miles to Reds Meadow. The temperature I take radiating off the trail is 115°. What little shade there is cools us off to a balmy 89°. We are headed into the desolation of the Rainbow Falls fire which took out the entire forest south of Reds Meadow. Many of the seasonal creeks are dry. The constant horse packs have torn up the trail and a thick dust covers the plants and rocks for ten feet both sides of the trail. We must wear our kerchiefs for about six miles just to breath in this choking dust. It is dry, searing and ugly. I thought Heaven comes after Purgatory not the other way around. Are we now in hell?

          We pass another family group who are much too cheery for this trail. Perhaps they are headed for the hot springs, in blissful anticipation, unaware of this nasty path they are on. And which, they will be on for a good bit further. The father does jokingly complain about his kids out front dragging their feet stirring up the dust but other than that they are on vacation. We on the other hand, must look like hell, because both the eldest son and father sympathetically offer us food and water. For us, six miles out of two hundred and twenty is not a bad percentage of awful trail, but for backpackers just out for the weekend, I can't imagine enduring this trail even if there are heavenly Hot Springs at the end. We vow never to come this way again; that is how bad it is. (But we'll probably forget about this vow. It will go the way of the other aches and pains that come when trekking the Sierra. All agony dissipates quickly when your heart is in the right "place".)

          Through the dead burnt out forest we trudge wishing we had energy to run. But it is like three steps forward one step back in this thick pumice. We can't wait for it to end. There are yet a couple switchback climbs we forgot about. More people pass us headed out into oblivion. We drag ourselves forward. Whatever it takes, we WILL be done with this today.

          Finally, we reach the Rainbow Falls path junction. A group of young people enjoying their leisurely day hike to the Falls take one look at us and hurry horror struck up the trail back toward the safety of civilization. I suspect we look like Bedouin slave traders blown in on a sand storm. We detour toward the pack station to avoid traumatizing any more tourists. Another seemingly endless leg of trail. We eventually cross the JMT and reach the Reds Meadow Store.

1730 — Reds Meadow Store 37°36.903 / 119°04.495 - 7,808K'

          Exhausted and dazed we just buy stuff and beer. The Store and Restaurant close at 1900 so we must get organized. We must get organized ...

1800-1830 — dinner at Reds Meadow Cafe

          If you want dinner you must make reservations by 1530. So that is out for us (I think there was one group of five who were having the twelve dollar spaghetti and meatball dinner). You can, however, order lunch at dinner time. Sorry, no french fries (it is strange but the one thing you crave after eating Ramen for two weeks is french fries and you're out of luck at Reds Meadow. Of course, you could ride the bus into Mammoth Lakes if your condition is really severe). You get potato chips with your burger.

          We telephone the family to check in. We are pretty much on schedule without making an effort to stay on any schedule. We are full if not perfectly satisfied and now ready to get cleaned up.

1930-2015 — hot spring showers

          The Reds Meadow showers are about eight individual bath rooms with hot spring water piped in through a shower head into a tub but other than that no amenities. It is late and dark so we shower by candle light. I'm surprised how many car campers are here taking their showers right at dusk when they had all day to use the facilities. We get our turn and then some. However, I am so dusty dirty, I feel like I have only scratched the surface on the way to clean. It is pitch dark (the moon not yet risen) and time to bed down.

2030 — outside Reds Meadow Campground 37°37.220 /119°04.591 - 7,668K'

The designated camps here cost fourteen dollars per night for a patch of dirt and a picnic table. They are pretty much all taken except for a couple set aside for through trekkers. We head out of the campground and scurry up a sixty foot rise to a flat little spot. By the light of the full moon we make our bivy camp. The smoke from the campfires is intense and the campground noise continues for a while but then after half a beer I'm knocked out. We came a little over twelve miles today to rejoin the JMT. It was a challenge of mythical proportions, a stagger into and out of Hades. (Perhaps, I exaggerate ... perhaps not)

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