Water: a bottle full from a creek or two; hot springs bath time!
It was chilly last night, up at 7000 feet with unseasonably cool temperatures all around. I wake and reach for my water bottle to see if it froze in the night. No ice. I venture a bit further from my sleeping bag, sitting up and mixing breakfast just outside the tent, eating still half in bed.
I leave alone, happy for some quiet morning walking. The trail parallels a creek, all bubbly down below, with a dirt road on the far side. The sky is grey and heavy with the threat of rain, but the descent is gentle and I move quickly in the cool air. I have my wind pants and rain jacket on. Partly to keep warm, and partly as insurance against rain. I warm up, but am afraid to take off the jacket, for fear it will trigger showers.
Soon my quiet descent is interrupted by laughter. Nic and Bad Camper are just up ahead and so is Emma, laughing to the point of tears. She had just been rescued from walking the road by mistake called over to the trail. She’s also had very little sleep, after a rough night’s struggle with a new tarp. She shows us pictures on her phone, a yellow swath of fabric that is supposed to be her shelter, all twisted on the ground to the side of the bivy. Clearly the tarp won.
We walk together, four of us now, with Shenanigans not far behind. Hiker train! I yell, and Bad Camper answers with a loud “choochoo.” The trail criss crosses the creek, and we ford on rocks. Bad Camper, who is six foot seven, politely waits (and watches with amusement) as Emma and I, who are both much, much shorter, puzzle our way across gaps he made in a single step. Later I count, and figure I take three to four steps for every two of his. It’s like he’s out for a gentle stroll, all doo-da-doo, and I am at a near run, pitterpatterpitterpatter.
The miles pass quickly with conversation, and we reach Deep Creek bridge for lunch, joining yet more friends. It is still chilly despite being midday. We rest only long enough to eat, though my map warns that the next section is very hot and exposed.
We trace the contours of the gorge, trail carved out from steep slopes far above Deep Creek. It is sort of warm, but not, gloves-hat-sunglasses on, off, on-again. I keep stopping to adjust clothing and gear, never seeming to get it right.
There are hot springs up ahead and we don’t quite know what to expect. Hippies smoking weed? A lone creepy naked man? A bunch of bros in board shorts with coolers full of beer? On top of this we’ve been warned that Deep Creek is contaminated, to the point we should not put our heads underwater. My map also notes that camping is not allowed within a mile of Deep Creek and that this is often enforced at busy times. I look at my phone to check the date – it is Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
We pass the marker for three hundred miles, the two hundred marker(s) seem like just a few days ago. But the last few miles to the hot springs draw out forever. Then there are people, lots of people, just ahead. A woman in a bikini asks if it is our first visit and kindly points out her favorite of the several pools in the rocks right on the river. I dip one bare foot in cautiously. Hot but not too hot. Seconds later I am submerged up to my neck, wearing my underwear and a ‘buff-kini’ top improvised from my headband. Bad Camper also jumps straight in. The two of us then make excellent use of peer pressure, until the pool is full of happy dirty hikers in their underwear. We jump between the hot pool and cold creek until our skin is wrinkly and almost clean. It is glorious and no one wants to move. “Screw Canada!” I laugh.
But we are also hungry, and drag ourselves from the creek to eat ramen in the gentle evening light. The ranger, we learn, goes home at 4, and though a helicopter may fly over to check for fires, no one should bother us if we stay. So we do.