Sunday, September 26, 2004

Olympic Hot Springs Visit

It's been a long day and Sunday is going to prove to be no less but I wanted to post a quick synopsis of my visit to Olympic Hot Springs on Saturday.

Not a particularly long drive . . . two and a half hours if you opt for the ferry across the Sound. It has been years since I was over on the Olympic Peninsula and I don't remember all this urbanization, particularly around Port Angeles.

Arrived at the Elwa River gate and had to pay ten bucks. Forest Service Pass no good here so I opted instead to upgrade my pass to include National Parks ($35 more). Now I'm good on any Federal land (I hope).

The Elwa River has been in the news the last few years because of an old dam which is finally going to be removed. Driving into the Elwa River Valley through the Olympic National Park, I couldn't agree more with the dams removal. There is such beauty here that begs the river to run wild once more.

The drive is paved all the way in . . . about ten miles of constant switchbacks up into the mountains overlooking the Elwa Valley. At the trailhead I had to hunt for parking. Is Olympic HS so popular? True, the trailhead served other destinations as well but I think most were for the springs. I set out on the 2.4 mile hike up to the springs.

Easy stuff. Even the trail is more or less paved and level, though damaged in places by landslides and erosion of parts of the trail down the steep mountainside. But the grade is basically level with a few stretches of 10-15 degrees. Easy stuff. There is one ford to make but the creek was running low and it was easy enough to step from stone to stone. Another was crossed by a very well-made rustic log bridge over a washout and active creek. And a third by a more conventional wooden bridge near the split between Campsite and Hot Springs. Here and there there are large white sling pouches stuffed with chunks of asphalt awaiting removal by helicopter. The trail is being reverted back to a more natural state.

My memory of Olympic Hot Springs is of seven pools. I counted seven pools before I even reached the main area! Aficionados have been active. At a guess, I would say there are at least fifteen pools of differing size and temperature over the several acre area of the springs. Everywhere, steaming streamers of spring effluent deposit their high mineral content as white, feathery trails across every surface. Slippery especially on the rocks of which every pool is built of.

There are two-person pools tucked away in crannies off either side of the trail . . . and there are larger pools holding 10, 15, even 20 or more. Temperature range from tepid to quite hot. Ever-present is the sulfurous smell of their volcanic origin deep under the Olympics.

I finally met my friends at one of the larger and higher pools, stripped and slipped thankfully into the hot waters. The water is heavy. You can feel the minerals on your skin . . . alkaline and slippery . . . a slight yellowish cast to the water. I thought to myself that no self-respecting mosquito would dare alight on my skin because to the after-smell of sulphur and then noted that despite the nice weather and the dampness of the entire area . . . not one mosquito have bothered me during the trek up. Unusual. But it is the same at most other natural hot springs with a heavy sulphur smells. They must not like it, which suits me fine.

Wildlife the same, especially the birds including a mated pair of ravens. They knew and expected us humans to make or leave offerings of food for them.

We soaked nude in the upper pool and it must be a favorite because several times groups approached and seemed disappointed. All ages including little ones with parents came up, looked over the pool as if calculating room and then went off in search of another pool. We invited all and a few joined but by a large they were looking for room for larger groups to claim a pool to themselves.

No one complained about nudity. Natural to all. A group of young Ukrainians followed me up the trail. About ten young men and women. They wanted our pool and were hugely disappointed, even checked back several times to see if we were still there. I noted on my outbound trek that they had snagged one large pool lower down and were totally enjoying themselves au' natural. I stopped by and said hello. Ukrainian women are some of the most stunning beautiful women around although the guys seem protective of them (I had flirted with one girl at the trailhead earlier when their two vans arrived and disgorged next to my car).

Despite the numerous pools about, that area remains rustic and wild. The pools are all set back off the main muddy trail . . . secluded is a good word. There are no amenities so you set your pack and clothes where you feel they will remain dry and impervious to marauding birds. The pools are all rock lined. Many leak . . . or seep (the trails of white mineral tracks muddying the area). One or two have had plastic liners put in but most remain natural rock with a bed of black schist chips from ages of outflow and settling. Most pools also have stone seating inside. The depth varies but is usually around one to two feet. Adequate to sit in and alternatively lay back. Many pools have an ingenious pumping system to control the temperature.

I soaked and enjoy the company of friends until four pm when I had to leave and get back to Seattle. My body had been thoroughly heated and stepping out to dry, I felt rubbery. Not lightheaded like Scenic because of the whole body immersion in hot water . . . Olympic is not as hot nor deep as the remaining Scenic pool. The water is different as well and I felt the protective coating all over.

As I headed back out, more people were headed up into the springs than were leaving. Olympic seems to be popular during the late hours and I imagine many were camping overnight at the ancillary campgrounds nearby. Note, that you do need a camping permit to remain overnight in Olympic National Park. That permit is available at the same Ranger Gate where you enter the park.

The drive back was enjoyable though somewhat dangerous as I was so thoroughly relaxed I caught myself nodding off as I drove. Window down full. I spent the entire ferry ride back over to Edmonds on the foredeck letting the clod, crisp cut of sea air wake me up.

Olympic I would recommend. Though guidebooks recommend a bathing suit on weekends, we had absolutely no problem with anybody and most pools were a mix of nude and shorts. Do carry water. There is none drinkable available. Carry a pack lunch and a small camp stool and make a day of alternatively sitting in the pool and walking around (in shorts and shoes). The many pools are all little oases and people tend to congregate around their groups but I had some nice conversations and everyone seemed very friendly and not the least bit self-conscious. I even caught and held the sparkling eyes of the same young woman I had flirted with hours ago at the trailhead. She looked even better now in the pool. :-)

Driving Directions

Edmonds-Kingston Ferry Schedule


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