eden rock, grand cayman

Iva Bell Hot Springs

...and the journey to the Lost Keys Lakes

The idea to backpack to the Iva Bell Hot Springs and the Lost Keys Lakes was born around the campfire during the Yosemite Trail Ride. More specifically, I was examining a trail map of the wilderness around Mammoth Lakes in search of lakes with fish that could serve as a destination for a 4-day / 3-night backpacking trip. This search led me to the remote Lost Keys Lakes, and as a bonus, the Iva Bell Hot Springs were en route to the lakes (I’ve had yet to experience hot springs in the wilderness). As soon as Mark confirmed that the Iva Bell Hot Springs and the Lost Keys Lakes were some of his favorite destinations in the Sierra, the decision had been made: I would be booking a permit to the Lost Keys Lakes with three companions. Jimmy, Ben, and Darcy signed-up for a 4-day backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend.

Day 1:
With a big 13-mile day ahead of us, we left Reds Meadow as early as the shuttle service allowed so that we would have time to stake out a campsite at Iva Bell and soak in one of the seven pools. The hike was relatively easy since it was a gentle downslope to Fish Creek (apart from the switchbacks) followed by a gentle upslope to the Iva Bell Hot Springs. Reading Iva Bell trip reports on the Internet told us that the pools were located at different altitudes and that the pools at the top commanded a spectacular view of the Fish Creek valley. So, we headed to the top and found the pools we had sought. After soaking in the mineral water for hours, I can say that I have never felt better after a 13-mile hike! Also, sitting under the stars in a wilderness “hot tub” is remarkable.

Day 2:
The ultimate destination of this backpacking trip was the Lost Keys Lakes, and the hike to them from the Iva Bell Hot Springs involved a 2,000 ft. elevation gain over 4 miles. Upon sighting the first lake, there was no doubt that our hike was worth it – the calm waters nestled at the base of granite cliffs provided ample opportunity for fishing and relaxing. After picking out a campsite, fishing for a while, and cooking the keepers (delicious), we ventured to another lake in the Lost Keys group. The evening was spent around the fire eating smores and listening to some of our favorite backcountry music.

Day 3:
Apart from a group of forest rangers that were “renovating” the campsites around the lakes, Jimmy, Ben, Darcy, and myself were the only backpackers that had spent the previous night at the Lost Keys Lakes (a testament to the remoteness). Before beginning the hike back, Jimmy and I spent a few hours fishing and cooking the few additional keepers that we caught. The hike back went much faster than expected, and in no time we found ourselves back at Iva Bell. We spent a few hours soaking in my new favorite Iva Bell pool before continuing further down the trail so that we could make an early exit the next day.

Day 4:
Our early start made the shaded, uphill hike back to Reds Meadow very comfortable. Before finishing the hike at Reds Meadow, we made a quick stop at Rainbow Falls. Once we made it to Reds Meadow, Jimmy and I decided to treat ourselves to the famed chocolate milkshakes of the Mule House Cafe – it was a tasty end to an amazing summer in the Sierras. Until next summer, Happy Trails!

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