July 22nd- 23rd
Welp. I just learned that spider mites are a thing at some hot springs in Idaho. I was fortunate enough to not know of this possibility prior to marching up to Goldbug as the knowledge of such a horror would have surely stymied my attempts to get my ass up the mountain.
Not that getting my ass up the mountain was any easier even without that knowledge.
We arrived at the trailhead (down a short dirt road off Highway 93 just before mile marker 282 going North- excellent directions and other info can be found HERE) at exactly 5:00 pm- also known as THE HOTTEST PART OF THE DAY. The car temperature read 91 degrees, and a lovely collection of tumble weeds drifted by as I extracted myself from the air conditioned car. Even the stream flowing nearby was hot- but then, it did come from a hot spring 2 miles up.
My hiking mates were less than enthused at the idea of walking 2 miles up to some hot springs through desert mountains in the heat of the day through possible rattlesnakes, buuuuuut…I kind of insisted.
We walked across the bridge surrounded by cottonwoods, past the newly installed composting toilet, and onto the first part of the trail- a short-yet-intense set of switchbacks that got us up far enough to see down into the settlement that technically owns the land on which we were walking. My determination to see these damn hot springs was pretty off the hook because I remember seriously coaching myself through the slow but steady steps it takes to hike through 91 degree sunlight with 20 pounds on your back. We were looking down at this little homestead below the trail when Claire managed to step off the trail and each shit, landing hard on her knee and tearing most its skin off in the process. We took a few moments to First Aid it up, but then Claire insisted we keep going.
We crossed into the BLM land shortly after that, marked by a creaky, mostly dilapidated metal gate. The trail headed gently down towards the creek once more, into the welcome shade of the cottonwoods where we found the first campsite off the trail.The BLM (Bureau of Land Management for anyone who-like me- didn’t know) recently decreed that there shall be no camping within 500 feet of the hot springs due, I believe, to the frequent use of the hot springs and the consequential negative impact on the cleanliness and conservation of the lands that surround them. The notice on the trailhead kiosk read that there would be a fine of FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS for anyone camping within that distance, so I guess they really mean business up there at the BLM. That being so, there are several lovely camping spots along the creek on the way up that are shrouded and protected by huge juniper trees and make great-though distant- options for sleeping.
The shade of the cottonwoods did not last long. The trail meandered somewhat gently through the rough grasses, sage, wild sunflowers, prickly pear and junipers that populate the desert mountains of the Lemhi Range before meeting up again with the creek about 1.5 miles in.
Let me just take a moment to say that as a girl who has, in general, not LOVED the deserts I have experienced (Death Valley, Palm Springs), I LOVED those desert hills. The plants living there, the smells they made, the scale of the junipers by the creek, it was all so magical…despite the extreme heat.
At the third and final creek crossing, I found myself thinking, “Man, all those blogs really over reacted about how tough this hike would be. This isn’t bad at all!”
Famous last words, my friends.
The last half mile of the trail basically turns into a death march up Mt. Sinai. Only instead of God, we were looking for hot water….”WHY are we looking for hot water?” everyone practically screamed at me silently. Gone be the switchbacks, gone be the lovely packed-dirt trails. Instead, there was some pretty treacherous scree, and a gravely, steep trail relentless in its ascent.
Our arrival at the springs was somewhat rumpled and disheartened as we had just worked our asses off to not want to do the thing we went there to do. I felt positive, however, that once the sun went down, the temperature would drop with it, and the pools would welcome us in.
We made some dinner and waited for the sun to drop down behind the rough, coppery peak behind the springs, and watched from the pools as the sun turned the hills gold, the moths dabbed the water laying their eggs, and Venus started showing up in the sky. I had been wanting to see the stars during our whole trip to Idaho, but the extreme presence of mosquitos had stymied that goal. Finally, out there in the desert, my skin being warmed by these magical mountain springs, my heart full at being surrounded by my friends, the stars laid out their full beauty.
These are the moments I crave in the wilderness. The times when you get a sense that you are exactly where you are supposed to be and when gratitude moves from being a practice to being an overwhelming feeling of relief.