When I woke that morning, wrapped in starchy white hotel sheets and surrounded by firm yet fluffy pillows at the Summit Inn, my first instinct was to look outside. I very gingerly hobbled across the room to the window and drew up the thick black-out curtains. The sky was white with clouds, fog and mist and a steady rain fell to the earth, making big puddles in the dirt lot. I sighed with a certain relief. I wanted a day off trail, and so here it was. I crawled back into bed and snuggeld in again, but within minutes I realized my mind was awake and I wanted coffee. I had discovered the night before that Snoqualmie had a little coffee shop, so I eagerly anticipated sitting in it all day sipping the hot brew and writing. Which I did. It was the perfect zero day, with such cold and wet weather I felt zero guilt for not hiking and staying indoors all day.
The next day when I looked out the hotel window, I saw blue skies and sunshine. Time to hit the trail again! Crush and I got organized with our resupplies and spent some time at the food truck talking with some other hikers we hadn’t met before. Some locals who were former PCT thru-hikers convinced us that the Goldmeyer Hot Spring Alternate was a worthwhile side trip, and that even though you need a reservation, as a thru-hiker you can usually just show up and get in. It was a toss up, as by doing the alternate we would be bypassing “the catwalk” on the PCT, which has some stunning 360 degree views. We took off from Snoqualmie undecided and thought we would just wing it. After about a mile walk along the road we came to the official PCT trail junction. We stopped, mulled it over by intuition, and collectively decided to continue on the road and do the alternate. Those Hot Springs just sounded like too much fun!
We had left town super late and were on the trail by about 2:00pm, thinking we were going to make it the 11 miles to the Hot Springs, camp there for the night and move on the next morning. Well, that was the plan, and if I’ve learned anything while on this trail, it’s that plans are only that, plans. Plans beckon to morph into some other kind of adventure, they get in your way, slow you down, sidetrack you, and generally are there to be changed. Kind of like rules. The rules are only there to be broken! We had a solid climb that afternoon up to Snow Lake, which took our breath away. Not because of the climb, but because of the beauty. There were thick gray clouds collecting on the horizon over the edges of craggy mountain tops dotted with hemlock trees, with the turquoise water below it provided such a delightful contrast. We almost camped there because it was so beautiful, but really that would have put us so far behind. So we stood several times in awe and soaked it up like sponges, holding onto the images for future reference and reflection.
At one point, as we traversed a few switchbacks, we accidentally got off trail, and upon turning around we met a couple young women who were super friendly and we began talking with them. They were day hiking and had solid interest in doing a long distance hike, so we chatted with them for about 15 minutes as wecwalked before we suddenly realized we were smack back at the same place we had been before. It was like deja vu.”Hey, hold on a second here, I recognize this tree” I said, confused. We all stopped and Crush and I looked around. Yes, we had definitely been there before, we spotted a trail junction sign too, and that confirmed it. Ha! We were so engrossed in the conversation with those two women, we followed them back “up” the hill we had just come down without even realizing it. Once we learned of this silly mistake, we had a pretty good laugh and then said goodbye to the two women, retracing our steps back down again. This definitely was not a first for me, nor would it be the last for Crush and Me. We scurried along, trying to make up for lost time, but it seemed like everything was just slowing us down. Life is like this though, it’s like when you are in a hurry to get to work or an appointment and it seems like you hit every red light and every car in front of you is an old beater full of construction equipment, doddling along. We ran into several blow downs right on the trail that took some fancy maneuvering to get over, especially me with my five foot stature! This trail, being an alternate, we had heard was less maintained than the PCT, but we just thought, awww it can’t be that bad, lets just go for it.
Good thing we love hugging trees! Shortly, we arrived at a steep talus slope covered in switchbacks that went on for what seemed like miles and miles. The thing was, we both had injured feet and walking on the talus just aggravated the pain. With every step you had to really choose your footing very carefully so as not to turn an ankle. Still, the uneven surface was just a breeding ground for inflammed feet. We both picked our way through it, taking our time, all the while wondering if we had made the wrong choice by taking the alternate. It was something like 24 miles total to get back onto our beloved PCT. I had flash backs to the alternate I took way back near Wrightwood, called the Manzanita Trail. I was there early enough in the season that there was still so much snow on Mt.Baden-Powell it was deemed unsafe without crampons and an ice axe. I remember taking the alternate and really gaining an appreciation for how “nice” our home trail, the PCT is. We are spoiled truly! Eventually the mean switchbacks stopped and we found comfort on a softer trail in the forest. By 7:00pm I was secretly praying that we would find a campsite and stop for the night, shy of our original destination. My feet were hurting bad and I could see rain was quickly approaching. However, the terrain was steep, nothing flat to pitch a couple tents on. We were looking though, I was relieved when Crush said she, too, was wanting to stop for the night. The darkness of night was closing in, we were both starting to think really creatively about where we could get away with pitching a tent, and how little water we could get by on, as there were also no water sources close by. This was when Crush says, once again, to me “worse case scenario, you can always sleep in my tent” and we laughed. Had we not found just the right spot just in the nick of time, this was a night I might have taken her up on the offer. We had reached a trail junction at about 7:15pm and we were either going to get our headlamps out, our rain gear on and hike in the rain and dark, or “what is that over there?” Crush points out an area that looks like it may have at one time been an old dirt road or wide trail. “Looks like home for the night” I offered enthusiastically. It was lumpy with decaying logs smothered in moss, and there were unstable trees hanging above our heads, but it was flat enough and safe enough, as we could skirt the dangling logs. It would do. We were able to fit both our tents there and it was settled in no time. As per usual, the minute we got into the shelter of our tents, it started to downpour. I was soooo glad we were not hiking out in that rain, in the dark. So we only made it 8 miles, oh well, we resolved to get an early start and make it to the hotsprings by mid morning, it was only 3 more miles, easy peasy lemon squeezy as Prince used to say. Prince! Oh how I miss you my friend!!
The next morning Crush ventured out to find water and was successful. She graciously shared it with me so I was very grateful to be able to have coffee! That day was September 21st, the Fall Equinox and my 181st day on the PCT. I woke feeling refreshed after a good nights rest, and set off into a forest thickly covered in mosses and various types of greenery like ferns and vines, all dripping wet from the previous nights rain. Sun was bursting through the tree limbs, casting laser like beams of light into the dark, damp forest. I was struck over and over again by the beauty that surrounded me and took lots of pictures, surprise surprise. Eventually, we reached a sizeable creek that required us to cross a fairly large log, which brought us to the junction to the Hot Springs on the other side. It was good practice to cross the log, and I realized I’d become much more comfortable doing this and crossed back and forth a couple times. Plus, someome had actually hacked into this log to scarify the surface, making it much less slippery, huge help!
So there we were, just a short walk to the much talked about Goldmeyer Hot Springs, where we still did not have any guarantee of even getting to use them, but nonetheless we wanted to inquire. We arrived there around 11:00am and spoke with the caretakers who were formerly thru-hikers. They were super friendly and informative, welcoming and convincing. It honestly took very little convincing to get us to pay the $15 entry fee to go soak our tired bodies. Crush taped up her feet to “waterproof” them by wrapping them in plastic bags and then applying generous amounts of duct tape! She didnt want to get her healing blisters wet and cause a setback, so being the industrious person she is, figured out a way to make it work. We hiked up a small, rocky trail for about 10 minutes until we reached a small wooden hut next to the hot spring pools. There was a raging waterfall nearby and giant moss ladden trees all around. From inside a cave, flowed the source of natural hot water at about 112 degrees. That was the upper pool, deep enough to submerge and long enough to swim back about 30 feet into complete darkness. We left our belongings and clothing behind at the hut and joyfully, nakedly, slid into the lowest pool first. This was a temp of about 98 degrees and had about 6 inches of water spread out over some granite, with the hot water cascading down into it, making a small waterfall. Between the lower pool and the cave was a middle pool, about a foot deep and wide enough for two people to lay down side by side, the temp of this one was 104, perfect, in my opinion. The waters and the entire scene was totally serene, surreal and sublime. How did I get here? I remember thinking as I layed in the middle pool, my feet angled up into another waterfall of hot cascading liquid therapy, as I tilted my head back to gaze at the canopy of trees above me, loving the little drops of cool rain water landing on my face. There were only a few other visitors, only one of which was a fellow thru-hiker (from Germany) so the ambiance and vibe was very chill. We spent about 45 minutes soaking and eventually had to call it quits as, for me, that upper cave pool was cooking me like a lobster. It felt so refreshing to get back out into the cool, damp air and gulp down lots of fresh creek water. I am restored.
By the time we got out of there it was afternoon, so we only made it about 13 or so miles total that day. Yes, a plan that changed, but it was totally worth it! The next day we walked through Dutch Miller Gap around a lake that apparently had a trail that went on either side of the lake. I was up ahead of Crush and by the time I made it past the outflow of the lake, I wanted to wait for her, hoping she would catch up soon. It was just then that I bumped into two awesome women thru-hikers, “Oakley” and “Wonder Woman”. We chatted and laughed and they shared their gigantic gallon freezer bag size of salty-crunchy snacks with me. Crush arrived shortly and we all shared a moment of “trail chicks rule” kind of stuff. Really, there werent too many female thru’s on the trail anymore, so we had to give one another props! At that point, we weren’t far from re-joining the PCT, and I was eager to be back on “home turf”. It’s hard to describe, but for some reason being off the PCT on these alternates makes me weary. I think a lot of thru-hikers share this sentiment, there is definite reassurance that one gets every time we see those familiar PCT signs in the trees or posted on a wooden sign board. When we finally made it down the long, quite steep descent from the Gap, I spotted a tree off to the right with a white PCT emblem on it, and I ran over to hug it, so grateful and relieved to be “back on track”.
We decided to head on a few more miles before taking a lunch break, hoping to find a spot in the sun where we could warm up and dry out some gear. So after hugging (and kissing) that tree, I hurried on up the trail. Now, when I say up, I do mean up. After about 15 minutes, I began to really question why we were climbing so much. We were supposed to be on the “other” side of the water, the valley ridge, and we were not supposed to be climbing to boot. We discussed the possibility that we were going the wrong way, consulteded the “magic oracles” of HalfMile and Guthook, and still we were not certain. Finally, it was only by pulling out my trusty, tried and true paper maps (remember the ones I get made fun of for using?) that we could clearly see we were, in reality, headed South! We could have walked the catwalk afterall! Fortunately, we turned back and had lost about 45 minutes or so, about 2 miles, and we ended up right back at that trail junction, the one where I was hugging the tree, and stopped there for lunch. Within about 20 minutes, there were about 10 hikers gathered there for lunch and we swapped stories of the two different trail routes taken. The Hot Springs were absolutely worth it, and a unique experience, but I was a bit sorry I missed the catwalk, it sounded like it was stunning, I guess I will just have to come back!