Miles: 11
Camping: Goldmyer hot springs (detour from the PCT)
Miles to go: 245.96

Waking up was a little rough this morning, considering that we’d all stayed up late last night. We had fun catching up and having drinks at the hotel bar, watching Thursday night football and playing pool. Fortunately the restaurant is attached to the hotel, so I ambled through the labyrinth of hallways to the pancake house, which quite honestly has pretty subpar pancakes. Even with this information under my belt I ordered pancakes, and was not shockingly unsatisfied with my decision. It is hard for me to resist banana pancakes, a favorite since childhood. I’m not quite sure how you can mess up pancakes, but the Pancake House did it somehow. No matter, I ate what I could storing calories for another cold day of hiking in Washington. I packed without enthusiasm, but was excited about our plans on this day. We (Hugs, Pockets, Dayglo, Steeltoe and I) had decided to take an alternate trail that would visit some hot springs in an old growth forest. It was only 11 miles of hiking and then we would spend the night at the hot springs.

As I was getting ready Rush came into the room and announced that he was leaving the trail. I stared at him in shock, “but, we’re so close!” I insisted. He shook his head, and with confidence asserted that he was happy with his decision and that he’d be returning next year to finish with his uncle. It was hard news to take, but it’s ultimately his choice and we had to honor that. I feel sad and sentimental enough these days, but losing a friend on trail is about as heart-wrenching a thing as I could imagine on a day that I woke up drowsy and had to eat subpar pancakes. Rush and I haven’t even hiked together that much, but I felt as if I was losing something important, and I was. He has been a great friend and I’m so happy to have known him at all. I wish him the best of luck no matter what, we will miss you so much Rush! So much!!

I decided to head out solo and wandered up a small road to the alternate trail. The town had a lot of Swiss architecture and with the giant mountains all veiled in fog as a backdrop, I felt as if I was walking in a different country. My pack was heavy, and I knew this alternate was going to be steep and ultimately crowded. The trailhead was full of cars, indicating one of those days where I will encounter a ton of day hikers. I can always smell them from far away (I’m sure they have things to say about how we smell too), and sometimes I can tell you exactly what kind of soap/shampoo/laundry detergent/deodorant they are wearing before I can see them. It’s amazing how out of place those smells are, and how I never really catch the scent of my fellow hikers. The only time I notice the smell of hikers is when everyone takes their shoes off in the same room at once. It’s pretty gross. So it was today, I could smell all of the scents of civilization as I climbed deeper and deeper into the forest. The trail climbed up and up over a ridge, steep switchbacks with countless day hikers coming and going all over the place. I counted nearly 30 before I gave up trying. A small child told me to watch for dinosaurs, a man with a camera told me the lake ahead was the most beautiful thing he’d seen, a group of folks asked all of the questions we are used to hearing. Yes, I’ve read Wild. Yes, I started in Mexico. Yes, I plan to finish in Canada … and yes, I do hike in sandals. No, it isn’t difficult. Dayglo and Steeltoe caught up and we pushed through the masses until we reached a giant lake. A beautiful lake surrounded by steep cliffs and mist enshrouded summits. Hugs and Pockets were already there eating lunch so we joined them.

We ate our lunch overlooking the lake and the guys broke out their slingshots. They launched rocks into the water below, and the rest of us just lay there watching lazily. I ate chicken salad in a tortilla and nibbled on M&M’s while Pockets learned how to use the slingshot. We laughed a lot and then decided to hike the remaining 5 miles to the hot springs so we could lounge in luxury. I took off with Hugs and Pockets while the guys hung back for a while longer. We wanted to go fast, as we were coming out of town and eager to get to our destination, finally broken from the masses of day hikers, but the terrain wouldn’t allow it. There were miles of loose/sharp/giant/small rocks in the trail as we descended steeply into a valley. It was all we could do to maintain 1.5 mph … at least half of any of our usual paces. The mountains were large against the sky; a waterfall dropped hundreds of feet into the valley below. We made jokes and laughed as we stumbled on rocks and dreamed of hot springs. Finally, as the descent mellowed out, we found ourselves entering an old growth forest on soft spongy ground. Everyone picked up their pace, we passed countless springs, and the trees grew larger, the moss more dense, ferns as big as our packs. There is actually no old growth on the trail until a few hundred miles north of here, so this extra stroll through a fairy tale land was special. It felt amazing to stand next to trees that had to be close to 1,000 years old, to smell the damp earth, drink from the springs.

As the 5 of us arrived at the cabin at the hot springs, we were met with a nice smiling couple. They were the caretakers and checked us into a campsite as they listed their basic rules of use. We each shelled out $20 for camping and soaking rights then pitched our tents next to a roaring river. The forest was so beautiful and old and perfect; so full of peace. I already didn’t want to leave. I wanted to move into the small cabin and stare out into the dense forest forever, able to walk around the grounds whenever I was moved to do so. The walk up to the springs was about 1/4 mile uphill, passing trees that are bigger than city buses, everything dank, rich and magical. The hot springs themselves were mesmerizing. There was a cave dug into the rock that went back about 20 feet. This is the source of the hot spring, flowing at 3 gallons/minute – dumping into 3 soaking pools via small waterfalls. We made our dinner and climbed way back into the dark cave; the hot water enveloping our aching muscles. It was like a sauna/hot tub in the cave, too hot for me at the time so I climbed down to one of the lower pools and laid back on a chair made from smooth rocks. I laid there for over an hour; Dayglo and Steeltoe stretched out beside me; the girls lounging in the pool above us. There has never been a more soothing or relaxing moment on trail until now, it was a moment I would have loved to bottle up and enjoy for eternity. Eternally soaking in a natural hot spring with ancient trees in an ancient forest, a wild river roaring nearby, my friends in equal states of euphoria.

It was hard to draw ourselves out of the tubs to head back to camp, but it was getting dark and we were getting sleepy. We had a big day of hiking tomorrow and we still had to hike back to camp down the steep hill. The air was cold on my wet skin, but my muscles felt relaxed, and I felt calm. So calm. Arriving back at camp I climbed into my sleeping bag, and plan to drift off into a state of peace, a peaceful sleep. If I’d only known how amazing this place was I would’ve planned to stay longer. It is exactly where I’d want to stay forever if I could, and I will most certainly return. I lay grateful to have experienced it at all, that I could share it with my friends, that we had it to ourselves. We are so lucky, and we most certainly earned it.

Hot springs