Sunday, August 8, 2004

Scenic Hot Springs . . . Two Years Later

Scenic Hot Springs is still there . . . and a pool exists. However,
the site is in disrepair. Is there hope on the horizon?

Soaking late at night in the one remaining pool at Scenic Hot Springs

I was to meet Robert (aka the Naked Gourmet) and a few other "Friends of
Scenic Hot Springs" for a 'work party' at the springs on Saturday
morning. However, with the rain squalls of Friday and seemingly the
same early Saturday morning . . . I was the only one to show up at the
access road. There was one car there at 7AM so I assumed the work party
had gone up ahead. I proceeded up to the springs on my own. As the
morning was cool and threatening to continue the rains from Friday, I
wore my rain gear . . . mistake, would have been better to get soaked
because this hike generates lots of heat on the steep slopes.

The access road is gated about a quarter of a mile up. Unlike the last
time I went up, there was no "No Trespassing" sign . . . an encouraging
omen. Parking is limited and iffy at best. The rains didn't help much,
softening up the muddy shoulders. There is barely any room to turn a
car around. Beyond the gate, the road has been improved somewhat with
fine gravel at least to the power lines. The road beyond that is still
four-wheel, high-clearance drivable (assuming the gate ever comes
down). I hear that there is an unmaintained trail leading up to the BPA
access roads from the Surprise Creek Trailhead (which has plenty of
parking near the railway tracks for those with FS Passes). I intend to
explore that option at a later date . . . particularly as a winter
parking spot.

A Minimal Attempt to Keep the Last Pool There

The trail up has had work done on the lower sections . . . trees dropped
haphazard, etc., to widen it for ATV access (as I learned later).
However, it is still a hard hike with lots of large rocks and tree snags
to twist the ankles of the unwary. When I arrived at the springs there
was a group of teenagers soaking. The day was barely started and the
springs engulfed in heavy morning clouds and non-stop,
get-everything-wet drizzle. First sight was a huge disappointment.
What a f*cking mess. The remains of King County's 'dismantling',
lumber, piping and blue tarps haphazardly tossed all over the place . .
. and the trashed remains of someones squatter-campsite. The remaining
deck-work was in poor repair. Plus, it was raining pretty good now as I
scrambled down and surprised the half-drunken teenagers in the one
remaining pool. Beer bottles disappeared quickly and the guys seemed
embarrassed. Not the three girls with them though. Obviously
nowhere else for me to go, I was upon them. So I hung my pack up, found
the poncho to shield it from the rain . . . smiled and said my hellos,
and then undressed to join them in the pool.

They made room for me and the half-drunk bottle of beer eventually came
back out of the pigeonhiles they had hidden them. I even accepted a
beer, though I rarely drink. Nice soak. The water is hot. Not as hot
as Lobster before, but muscle-relaxing hot-tub hot. We all relaxed and
enjoyed it. They had spent the night there ducking in and out of the
pool throughout the night to keep warm. Eventually they left probably
because I suggested they clean up the mess they had made. I continued
to soak for awhile longer before I decided time to do something. I gave
up on the rest of the work party and started my own clean up of the site.

Garbage and Torn-down Construction Materials Abound

The irresponsible continue to party up here. From what I hear, not as
bad as in the heydays of the springs because of the hard hike all the
way from Hwy 2. However, the evidence is all around, from beer bottles
tossed by the hundreds down the slope from over the pool edge, to
discarded, forgotten clothing rotting in standing water . . . even some
condoms. No needles but I suppose drug-users are not going to hike
strenuously for an hour or two just to shoot up. Still, I wouldn't walk
about without good sandals on my feet.

I filled four-45 gal trash sacks and still made little dent in the
garbage. The site remains un-maintained with a lack of some responsible
person or organization; but to give the Friends of Scenic their due . .
. this was supposed to be the first cleanup since the destruction two
years ago. The only thing in reasonable shape is the remaining pool,
itself, which has a new liner. There looks to be attempts to
reconstruct an upper pool but even that seems to be an unplanned,
half-hearted attempt that got no further than some excavation. Run-off
from the rain and spring water from that abandoned work has deposited a
thick layer of mud and gravel on the decking below. I cleared the deck
of mud but without proper drainage, the slope will slide and run again.

Standing Water is a Problem and will Eventually Destroy This Beautiful

The outhouse appears to be in good repair with someone keeping a
protected supply of toilet paper up there. The outhouse is an open
sided affair with a sloped roof on it just a little ways along a side
trail. If you are the sort of person who likes privacy in these
affairs, this outhouse is not your cup-of-tea. No walls and wide open
to any viewer. Better to hike up into the tree-line for your privacy
and dig yourself a cathole. The toilet is a composting type, though I'm
not sure it is in the right location on such a steep slope . . . and it
could certainly (in my view) be a lot further away from the springs and
possible ground water contamination.

That, again in my opinion, is the main problem with the springs and any
attempt to expand and build amenities into them. The water, because of
these attempts, is being forced to accumulate rather than run-off
naturally. The entire site has a stench to it. At first I thought it
might be the sulfur content of the water from the springs, themselves,
but that is not the case. The wood from the decking and tubs is
rotting. Water runs out the remaining pool over channels in the lips.
The water falls haphazardly, pooling around the base and forming
standing little pools just downslope. Additionally, the pipes that were
quickly re-routed after the original site was torn down in 2002 are not
protected nor maintained. They leak like sieves and form their own
standing pools and algae-encrusted channels under and around the
decking. That is the source of the smell that is not necessarily
overpowering (yet) but noticible if you go walking around the area.
With the garbage and unpacked out remains of food-wrappers, clothing and
so on . . . the area just around the site is becoming a cesspool.

Critters and Free Handouts are Expected

There is a problem with wildlife as well. After about an hour soaking
in the pool a cute little chipmunk scurried up onto the deck and stood
there waiting for a handout. It was certainly not afraid of us humans
which means it has been fed. Maybe I'm a purist but I think feeding
wildlife is always a mistake. My mind scape goes to images of bears at
Yellowstone harassing cars for a handout. The last thing we need is for
bears to start congregating on the slopes around the springs and perhaps
the unthinkable happening late one night to a soaker.

The work party never showed up (prolly rain-canceled, I thought and no
one let me know), so I packed out as much of the garbage as I could,
figuring a later party would take the rest. At least it wasn't on the
slopes waiting for an unshod foot . . . or still rotting at the base of
the pool.

The Friends of Scenic Finally Show Up

About halfway back . . . where the trail exits onto the BPA access road
. . . I met up with another of the work party on his way up. He looked
disgruntled also and even more so when I told him I was 'it'. We hiked
back down together and along the way he brought me up to date (most of
which my poor memory forgets . . . can't even recall his name but then I
was always bad at names). He is loosely associated with 'Friends of
Scenic' and a board member of Goldmeyer Springs. He mentioned that the
sale of the springs acreage is likely to go through this September. The
new owner *had* plans on commercializing the springs but has run into
code restrictions from King County. Any attempt to put a commercial
operation at the present site is going to require the owner to deal with
not only the sanitation problems (including a proper toilet), but the
county is going to force him to deal with the hot water effluent runoff
from the operation. The concerns are about hot water impacting the
streams and the Tye River down below. He says the county is requiring
the owner to pump the water back into the mountain . . . an unworkable
solution, it seems.

A Commercial Operation?

Instead, the prospective owner is exploring the possibility of drilling
for hot water sources on his property and then piping it back down the
slope closer to the access roads where it is believed, a commercial
operation can be conceived and eventually constructed. That site would
have all the amenities including restrooms, parking, and 'artificially'
constructed rock pools. What this means to the original site is iffy.
I was told that the 'Friends of Scenic' has an understanding with the
new owner to keep the original site intact and perhaps 'improve it'.
They would be left for the die-hard hiker to reach and presumedly would
be kept clothing-optional. Whether the proposed (but yet out of the
fancy of the owners mind) commercial and easily accessible lower site
would be clothing-optional was left unanswered.

Problems in Paradise

When we arrived back at the lower access road we encountered the rest of
the work party trying to rip the lock off the gate with a chain to one
of their four-wheelers. Seems that someone (Forest Service, BPA, owner)
had changed the lock from one that the 'Friends' had a key. There were
a few bad feelings going around including remarks about 'deals' and such
. . . and the 'Friends' were simply going to tear to gate open. I
figured this wasn't my idea of fun and made my excuses to leave.
Actually, my opinion of this group changed to the negative in those few
short minutes and I'm not sure I like the idea that they have any
authority and/or influence in the future direction of the original hot
springs site. They seem self-centered and possessive of the springs . .
. to me . . . to the exclusion of anyone else. My opinion, though. The
guy I hiked down with shared some of those feelings as well and believes
it will be a long time before we see any improvement of conditions at
the original site.

A Nighttime Return Visit to the Springs

It was only a little after noon when I got back down from the springs
and instead of wasting the day (which was turning out to be a very nice
day free of the clouds and drizzle of early morning) I took a chance on
hiking the Deception Creek trail two valleys down the highway. No
vehicles at the trailhead so nude from the get-go. Found a great
sunning ledge at the second log bridge and got three or four hours of
tanning done. Hiked back out nude, figuring I shouldn't surprise and
shock anyone as it was getting late and few hikers would be on their way
in, which was the case. Now I needed that soak and besides, I was
intrigued as to whether the gate still existed in its' original form. I
drove back up the highway and parked as usual. By now the sun was going
down and this became a personal challenge to me. A confidence-builder
about things that go bump in the night . . . visions of walking through
the Mirkwood Forest (from Lord of the Rings, book, not movie).

Cool out, but not too so. No cars so I was the only one heading up. I
stripped, tucked a few supplies (including a rain suit just in case) and
strapped on my headlamp. For those of you who do not own one of these
lightweight neon headlamp, get one. About $30 at any camping store,
they throw out a powerful cool-color beam that perfectly illuminates the
trail in front of you without destroying your night vision. Three AAA
batteries last an average of 40 hours of continuous illumination.

Also, I trying out one of those electronic mosquito repellents . . .
dubious at first, but I hate mosquitoes. Either there were no
mosquitoes (unlikely, they always seem to find me) or it really does work.

The gate was in place but with a different lock than I remember. But
the knobby tire tracks beyond it were obvious. The 'Friends' had gotten
through and I easily followed the ripped up tracks all the way to where
you turn off and up from the high-tension lines that hum and click in
the night. Fascinating is that some of the larger boulders also click
audibly along the road, which gave me a few starts in the darkness. I
conjecture that there is a sympathetic relationship between the iron
content of the boulders and the high-tension lines about. Anyway, at
least it's not a bear waiting to eat me as I pass by.

The return hike to the springs was uneventful and I actually relaxed,
only occasionally to start at a quick shadow . . . the headlamp does
produce some sharp and flitting ones as you pass foliage. I came upon
the springs and lit up a couple of the candles left there by previous
visitors. I had the springs all to myself and alternately soaked and
got out (to cool off) till way past midnight. Staring over the lip of
the pool downhill and to the right, you can watch the headlights and
taillights of cars on highway 2 far below. The State Patrol was out in
force that night as I made out several obvious pull-overs on the stretch
leading to the hairpin rise to Steven's Pass. At first I thought all
those lights were other hikers working up the trail but no one ever
arrived. Cars, my brain finally figured out. Absolute darkness does
funny things to your perception. You hears things and see things
without regard to distance. Several times I made out the bobbing
headlamps of other night hikers . . . and plainly heard their idle
chatter amongst themselves. Yet, they too, were not on the Hot Springs
trail and I have to presume they were way over on Surprise Creek which
is the next trail west of the springs.

The best is the night sky. Just lay back and stare up between the
towering evergreens and the stars blaze back at you in their
multitudes. Snuff the candles, let the darkness close in around you and
the sky landscape is mesmerizing. This is Scenic Hot Springs at it's
best and I plan on doing an overnight trip soon. There are a few good
tents site above the springs and if the burn ban ever goes off, a
beautiful fire ring in a cleared space to sit around and enjoy nature.
An occasional short walk down to the pool for a soak and back up to
toast marshmallows. Yeah, I could enjoy that. Now, if only all those
drunken teenagers would just stay away.


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