We arrived after dark with our packs loaded and ready to hike. There were four of us and we were all severely overloaded for an easy one and a half mile hike and two night stay. I was carrying eighty pounds of gear in my pack and I felt the burn of tired muscles just in the short walk from the car to the trail head. My dog carried my water, some cooking supplies, and his food, but the extra weight didn’t seem to phase him at all. The hike through the dim moonlight was like a dream. We moved silently and methodically, none of us speaking, using our energy and excitement to push our bodies on under the weight of all our unnecessary gear. Up a few switchbacks, through a gate, across a bridge… The trees and brush seemed to float around us like mysterious shadows and the distant sound of rushing water sent shivers up my spine.
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Finally, we arrived at our campsite, exhausted and sore from straining through the dark. There was no way to tell the time, as all four of us left phones, watches, and mp3 players behind. It didn’t matter. Where we were, time was irrelevant. We quickly set up our tents as best we could in the small patches of frozen earth between the large boulders with the sound of the water precariously close in the still dark.
It was difficult to sleep with the cold, hard ground pulling the heat from my body despite my down sleeping bag. It was my own fault, forgetting my sleeping pad. My only comfort was the pair of dogs curled tightly by my sides and the slow breaths of my boyfriend sleeping somewhere near. After a few hours of restless sleep, to the dismay of the dogs, I crawled from my tent into the frosty cold. It was still dark, but a thin golden glow was starting to rise above the rocky hills.
I had driven four hours west, from my home in Bozeman, Montana to a grocery store parking lot in Salmon, Idaho. There, we unloaded the car, bought some food items and water, and packed our bags as the sun set behind a nearby gas station. Another trip in the car delivered us to the trail head parking area. It seemed ridiculous to drive so far to hike only one and a half miles with an eighty pound pack, but there I was in the early hours of a cold March morning, scrambling across rocks in my bathing suit and bare feet, about to find out if the trip was worth it.
I followed the rising steam down the hill, through the dark, and slid into the comforting water of the hot spring. After a moment, my boyfriend slid in next to me, hair still smashed to one side of his head and eyes fighting to stay open. One of the dogs swam in after us. He immediately relaxed into the hot water and gently paddled around, blowing bubbles and searching for rocks on the soft sandy bottom of the pool. Neither of us spoke. We let the roar of the waterfall behind us deafen our ears and pound the sore muscles of our backs as we waited patiently for the edge of morning to peak over the mountain
When the sun rose just enough to warm the air the slightest bit, the thick steam rising from the hot pools parted and allowed us a look down on the valley and the trail we had ascended during the night. A cramped four hour car ride and thirty minutes of walking beneath the weight of eighty pounds of luxury items was definitely worth the breathtaking morning view.
The sun rose, melted the frost off the rocks, and warmed the chilly morning into a downright beautiful warm day. We took the time to explore all eight of the hillside spring’s pools, each of them connected by a hot, steamy waterfall and surrounded by steep mountains, snowy views, and ancient boulders. The water gushed from the ground in a series of waterfalls, never lending a hint to it’s underground origin.
Since there was no reason to count time, we climbed to the highest peak we could see, bumping and bruising our way over massive boulders, long ago displaced from their cliffs to slide down the face of the hill, destroying trees and life in their path, probably shaken by the same natural force that created the outlet for the thermal waters, pooled between the rocks. The dogs posed on every rock they stepped on, looking out over the magnificent views, feeling like kings of the world, as was I.
From the top of the mountain it was easy to see the magnitude of the hot springs. The resulting stream chiseled it’s way through the stony valley, eventually lending it’s warmth to the Salmon River miles below.
In full sunlight, the frosty, early spring air, surrounded by hills just beyond sight still in full winter conditions, had turned into searing mid-day heat, worthy of a summer in the desert South West. Fresh water below the temperature of one hundred degrees was nowhere to be found, so the twenty pounds of water lending itself to my eighty pound pack was worth the weight. The meals we prepared for ourselves between soaks were well worth the other few pounds. Rocks and boulders dominated the steep grade of the landscape. So much so, that we were very lucky to find a place for our tent. There was barely enough space between the rocks for a tired canine to curl up.
In the light of the day, it was easy to see what a rugged, foreboding place I had traveled to. We spent the last hours of the day soaking in the luxurious pools and waterfalls, watching the steam rise amidst the bright twinkling of stars seemingly untouched by any sign of the lights of civilization. That night I slept soundly despite the return of the chill to the ground. The peacefulness of the strong silent mountains and the relaxing sound of fresh, wild, running water carried me through the night and easily down the one and a half miles in the early morning light.
We silently and thoughtfully scoured the camp for any trace of trash, and left the hot springs area exactly as we had found it. I hope others will appreciate and help protect the rugged mountains surrounding Salmon, Idaho as much as I have, so in the future any one of us will be able to view that priceless golden glow of morning as seen through the mystical dewy steam of Goldbug Hotsprings.
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