In celebration of my birthday, a trip was made to Goldmyer Hot Springs, November 26-28, 2010. We began at the Middle Fork trailhead parking area, about 12 miles up the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road from North Bend. From here, you can reach the springs by hiking ten or so miles up the Middle Fork road (currently closed to vehicles due to washout), or by taking the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Trail (#1003). The journey entails only a few hundred feet of elevation gain, but there’s a little up and down on the road, and more so on the trail. Northwest Forest Pass required to park, and there’s a fee of $15 per person per day to use the springs, details on their website, www.goldmyer.org.

Going was more difficult than it had to be due to a few simple mistakes on our part. Our first mistake was believing the ranger station when they told us we wouldn’t need snowshoes. The friend who had myriad pairs to lend out flaked on us, and we chose not to rent snowshoes because when we called, the ranger station said, ‘Little if any snow.’

False.

There was a good deal of snow. In some places, as much as a foot.

Our second mistake was choosing to hike the trail instead of the road. We sat for a moment at the trailhead considering our options, someone suggested the trail—possibly one of our party had stepped away to use the latrine and was replaced by a shape shifting trickster spirit, I can’t really say—but none of us were sensible enough to dissent, and so we set off.

It is no exaggeration to say this was the most grueling hike I have yet undertaken. Trudging through slush [“Ze Yaktrax! Zey do nothing!”], being rained on, my glasses fogbound, shoes splorching with every step—the first lesson we learned from the Pacific Northwest winter is this: Everything is soaking wet forever—and downed trees. Oh, the downed trees. Sometimes there was one tree down across the trail. No problem, just climb over it, or scramble under it. Sometimes there were 5 trees down across the trail. In these instances we had to labor to find a path through these lovely obstacle courses Mother Nature had left for us, feeling all the while like we’re clambering through the series of traps Schwarzenegger left for the Predator—and upon emerging from the other side, figure out where the trail had gone. Upon reaching a creek where a fallen tree had come darn near to taking out the bridge, we determined to switch from the trail over to the road at the half-way point, where they intersect. Thus the first five miles of our journey. The next day at the hot springs we met some people who said when they had called the ranger they were told the trail was closed. So.

Some 4.5 miles from the hot springs, the trail meets back up with the Middle Fork road at the Dingford Creek trailhead—when that washout gets repaired, you’ll be able to park here. This is where we stopped for lunch. This is also where things stopped being quite so slushy and the stuff on the ground was more honestly snow. Going was much easier, and the rain had turned to fluffy little snowflakes, so my glasses were no longer wet and foggy, greatly improving my mood. Sadly, though, the first leg of the tramp took so much out of me that it was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other—in the dark—for the next few hours. We reached a turn-off, and a member of our party scouted ahead. “It’s not Goldmyer,” came the report, “but there’s a decent place to set up camp.” Being utterly exhausted, that sounded like the best idea in the world. And so we erected tents—no bed like packed snow atop riverbank rocks, right?—shiveringly ate dinner, and retired.

Then dawned the most picturesque morning I have ever fallen privy to. Peeking out of my tent to assess my place in the world, I saw first a burbling river, and on the far bank, a stand of snowy trees. And fog. But as the sun continued to rise, the mist slowly lifted, revealing inch by inch the snow-blanketed, pine-forested mountains amongst which we were nestled.

After a moment of breathless wonder, we ate a chilly breakfast, stowed our wet tents in our wet packs, donned our wet gear, and set back off along the road. We discovered that when we had decided to camp for the night, we were a mere mile from our destination—surely a mile that I didn’t have in me that night, but I can’t speak for my companions.

We arrived, checked in, set up camp, and spent the day frolicking at the hot springs. Words cannot describe the beauty of that place, so I shan’t try. Suffice to say, after an odyssey so torturous that you’re certain it must amount to penance for all the wrong you’ve ever done in life, sitting in a cave full of 109 degree mineral water and watching a gentle snow fall mere feet away is that much more rewarding; and all the more so for good company.

Then Sunday came, bringing a new merciless cold with it. “Happy Birthday,” it said to me. “Now you must hike ten miles in me.” Camp was struck, a hot breakfast was savored, wetter-than-ever gear stowed in wetter-than-ever packs, wetter-than-ever garments donned, and we departed. We were still exhausted in body and spirit from Friday’s hike; innumerable as the stars were the bruises and cuts covering our bodies; more stiff, sore, and cramped had we never been. But so we journeyed, and that makes us mighty.

Ten miles later—all along the road this time—we reached the trailhead, and our car, and a note some kind stranger had attached to said car. “There is a 10-12 inch diameter tree down about 2-3 miles back along the road. Your car will not make it. I will call the ranger as soon as I have signal. -Aaron [phone number]”

Calamity. We have soaking wet clothing and gear, maybe half a day’s food left over, no cellular reception to even inform anyone we’re alive but stuck, no telling how long it will take the Forest Service to get around to clearing a downed tree on a backwoods road with a foot of snow on it, and a 13 mile walk back to civilization.

Jurgo

We were commiserating and considering contingencies when into our parking lot who should appear, but two hicks in a giant pickup truck—and I can conjure no better descriptor than ‘hick,’ though it pains me to apply a word with such derogatory connotation to our saviors. Perhaps ‘upstanding rural folk,’ or ‘gentlemen loggers.’

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