Thursday, July 7, 2011

Iva Bell Hot Springs

This past weekend we took a much needed (if short) vacation. This post should help you if you're thinking of doing a backpacking trip to Iva Bell Hot Springs, and it might be extra helpful if you are thinking of bringing dogs. Maybe it will also inspire you to take your own weekend vacation!

Carex in the granite on the way out.

We decided to start at the Devil's Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes, CA. We hiked Fish Creek Trail (Starting at the Rainbow Falls trailhead) out to Iva Bell, which is 11.8 miles one way.

We took off from work a little early on Friday, jumped in our van with the dogs, and headed to Mammoth Lakes. We slept in the van Friday night at a trailhead, and arrived at the Ranger Station before 8 am on Saturday to pick up our wilderness permit. We reserved a permit weeks beforehand online, so we just had to grab the permit and rent a bear can at the Station. Click here for more information about the Fish Creek trail and permits.

Hiking in.

Because the trail started in the National Monument, we had to take a shuttle to the trailhead (bought our shuttle tickets at the Mammoth Mountain resort--info here). Normally that would be simple, but with dogs, it's a little more involved and stressful! (Info on dogs in the Monument here.) We did survive. They allow dogs on all shuttles, but they have to wear muzzles. Our dogs (especially the German shepherd) aren't used to wearing muzzles, so that was a bonus fun factor (picture dog freaking out from being on full loud bus trying to madly scratch the muzzle off its face in very cramped quarters while you also hold a huge backpacking pack...).

There was a little runoff...(the trail is a stream)

Anyway, we made it to the trailhead in one piece (even the muzzles). The dogs wore their packs, and we had ours. The trail to the hot springs isn't particularly difficult, but it was hot and we wanted to do it all in one day. I'm not going to share exactly where the springs are--you have to find them like we did--but, this is a very handy resource: GPS track to springs. Sort of unfortunate that it's on the internet...but the number of people permitted on the trail per day is fairly low, plus the long hike makes it less likely the springs will be crowded. On the 4th of July weekend there were other folks out there but everyone was polite and quiet and twice we had a pool to ourselves!

Worth every step.

We hiked all 11.8 miles in one day (1 night camping at the springs), and made good time in and out (we'd approximate about 6 hours trailhead to springs). We are "pushers" though--we stopped for lunch and water but towards the end, when you really really want to stop, and your feet really hurt, and you just want to sit down...we kept hiking.

Dog bliss.

Wish you were here? Probably.

The springs are amazing--I have never before been to such a beautiful hot spring with deep and clear pools! Some are surrounded by meadows and some are in rocky areas (there are 4-5 pools total). The rocky pools are higher up and have amazing views of the John Muir Wilderness. Completely awe-inspiring! There are several nice campsites around the springs, we didn't get either of the best ones but ours was still good, a little farther from the pools but that kept it extra quiet.

Not a bad place to camp...

On the hike out we saw a bunch of wildlife! A deer, a black bear, and a rattlesnake. The bear was my first seen on the trail, and was actually a really good experience because I have an irrational fear of bears--the one we saw on this trip was totally scared and scampered off as soon as s/he saw us. Yay. The rattlesnake was also not dangerous as it had its mouth full with a bird! (Though rattlesnakes are a regular sighting at my place of work, so those aren't anything unusual to me.)

Siesta on the hike out.

On the way out we took it a little slower and stopped near a stream for a siesta in the shade. We rinsed off and ate and napped for a couple of hours, and refreshed hit the trail again. We got back to the Monument around 5:30 and walked by the Postpile (I hadn't been before) and took the shuttle out. We were lucky as the driver let us get on a bus going farther into the Monument (an empty bus!) so we could ride to the end and stay on for the ride back with our good seats (in the back, where our packs could go up behind our seats leaving room for the dogs on our laps/on the floor).

Camping Sunday night.

Once out, we got in the van and found a dispersed camp site to park at--it was amazing!! A large sagebrushy opening where we watched the sunset and made our dinner and explored. The next morning, we drove to Hot Creek, a geothermal area that used to be open to swimmers but is now closed. It's still a neat place to visit as the creek is in a beautiful canyon with a bunch of hot pools bubbling up around a very scenic cold water creek. We drove past the creek and found a spot off the road to park, and Adam set up the shower so we could wash off and make breakfast while the dogs explored. It was fantastic! Best morning I've had in a long time. Taking a shower in the warm morning sun of the high desert...not bad.

Hot Creek: apparently no hats allowed.

After our morning in the sagebrush we drove north on 395 to Virginia Lakes. We took the dogs on a short (probably less than 4 miles round trip) hike past three different high elevation lakes (above 9,000 feet), where we encountered more snow in that short hike than we had backpacking the previous two days.
Virginia Lakes: more snow, higher up.

After the hike, we piled into the car and headed home, north on 395 to Highway 88 back to the Valley. We saw some neat areas off of 88 that we hope to explore later this summer as we haven't been in that area yet. We stopped in a shady spot in some aspens for another afternoon siesta on our way home...we popped the top on the van and let the warm breeze through the car to sleep for about an hour (we tired ourselves out the previous couple of days)...again, heavenly! After all that, we still made it home by dinner time.


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