Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nude Snowshoeing to Scenic Hot Springs

This past Tuesday (Feb 26th) was my first opportunity for a major nude hiking adventure and I so enjoyed the day that this report is going to be a major one with lots of pictures to share the sense of the day.

Tuesday was to be a break in the overcast and the warmest day of the week . . . a possibility of showers in the late afternoon (snow above 3,500ft) but for the most part nice. I needed to check the mail for Scenic Hot Springs anyway so I headed on up to Skykomish. Passing Sultan, the roadside sign stated 61F . . . warmer than I expected. So 10 to 15 degrees cooler in the mountains . . . doable. I picked up my mail, had a quick lunch at the Cascadia and then headed east towards Stevens and Scenic Hot Springs . . . unsure of exactly what the snow conditions were. I parked in the BNSF/Surprise Creek Trailhead parking area and immediately confronted this huge plowed pile of snow blocking the beginning route up to the springs. But there were old tracks over the twenty foot high pile of snow so I knew others had made the trek. Weather not too bad for 10am . . . the skies clearing with the promise of lots of sun for the afternoon.

The stub road leading to the highway (and also the back route)
to Scenic HS . . . it's behind that huge pile of snow!

Once that pile of dirty, icy snow was negotiated I was out of sight of the BNSF Yard and the highway. Off came the clothes . . . on went my snowshoes as the snow was wet, heavy and deep . . . yet not packed down enough to support weight. I left a top over my back as my body adjusted to the shade down at this level of heavy canopy. Though there were lots of boot and snowshoe tracks, they all appeared indistinct and old. I pretty much had the route to myself and was finally enjoying some extended nude time. I had no intention of taking the berm alongside Highway 2 up (something requiring me to put on clothes again). I turned off into the canopy for the back route up by way of Scenic Creek Falls.

Scenic Creek Falls (the lower ones) with the feathery tracery
of cascades into the pool. This is the knoll overlooking the falls.

I've always enjoyed Scenic Creek Falls . . . in all seasons of the year. Winter is nice because few, if any people ever seem to go this way yet it is so close to the highway. However, there were snowshoe tracks about and I noted that some of them lead off to the not-well-known back route up to the hot springs. That route is directly uphill to the left if you were facing the falls from this knoll. It is steep and difficult . . . but even more so with the heavy dump of snow we've had this year. Normally the thick canopy holds back a lot of the snow and this trail would be easy (except for the steepness.) Now I had to deal with five or six feet of slippery and treacherous snow on slopes approaching 60-70 degrees . . . and had to do that wearing snowshoes or risk falling through unseeable tree boles and wells. I followed the existing tracks up wondering how far the previous visitor had made it. Sure enough, barely halfway up and the tracks diverged in what I knew to be a dead-end. I blazed a new path through virgin snow. It's a short track, straight uphill . . . but the sunlight beckons from the top where you can finally enter the clearcut. Meanwhile, I have to contend with my snowshoes constantly breaking through weakened snow over the deadfall of previous storms. More than once I had to unhook a snowshoe and dig it out of heavy snow.

Immediately prior to entering the clearcut and easier tracking

Eventually I get to the top of this segment and can see my way out onto the open area of the BPA clearcut and sunlight.

The sun feels great. Even with my thermometer hovering around 40 to 45 degrees and a slight amount of breeze, the sun quickly warms my skin. Time to shed the rest of my clothes and enjoy a moment of vitamin D absorption . . . actually, several long moments of just enjoying the large expanse of perfect snow all about me.

The slopes are mellower up here outside of the inside trail I've just emerged from. I know there is a lot of snow beneath my feet; what I found out later was that the snow on these slopes averaged 10-20 deep and in some places, deeply fractured close to moving. Such concerns were far from my mind though . . . I simply enjoyed being out there letting the sun and slight breeze works it's magic on my skin.

Eventually I swing my pack back over my bare shoulders and head on up this second, untracked segment . . . the back clearcut to intercept the BPA maintenance Road where most visitors join the hot springs trail from FS850 a half mile further on.

The clearcut. Great snowshoeing!!!

Rising above the tower mound you suddenly see all the tracks from earlier visitors. Somewhat disappointing as the snow divets mar the otherwise perfect smooth blanket of snow. None of the tracks appear to be new . . . but all attest to how popular the springs are even with No Trespassing signs and bad weather. I wonder to myself as I make my way onto this more traveled area as to what an encountering hiker would make of a naked snowshoer. I was about to find out just a little bit further up the slopes.

Hard to tell from a distance but that is twenty feet
of fractured snow there

Remember that hillside I stood on after emerging from the canopy? The photo above gives you some idea of the amount of snow I was perched atop . . . and of the fracturing of this heavy snow that is taking place. The image does the scene little justice . . . there are subtle hues of white and ice-blue crystalization in those snow layers . . . heavier snow on top and a melt going on in the Cascade Concrete. As if to add emphasis to just how dangerous this stuff could be, in the distance I hear the boom of avalanche control going off in the distance near the Pass.

While I'm studying the fractured snow and taking photos, two pitt bulls come scurrying down the upper BPA road. A moment later, their owners appear . . . all dressed up for some serious winter weather. So much for having the mountain to myself . . . instead of worrying about what they might think of a crazy nude hiker on the snow, I wonder about more mundane things like 'where did they park?' I hadn't seen another car at the only reasonable parking area. We exchange hellos and I ask about the springs. "Utopia!" is an happy answer as I'm passed with nary a sideways glance . . . except for a thumbs up and 'Rocking, man'.

Leaving the BPA Maintenance Road with it's wide open exposure over the Tye River Valley, Wellington and Stevens Pass for the sheltered, though ample, trail up to the hot springs is anti-climatic in a way. I feel a slight claustrophobia even though the trail is a full fifteen feet wide . . . a subdued feeling compared to the exhilarating expanses of the clear-cut. Quieter, as well . . . the sounds of far off traffic on Highway 2 gone . . . the senses attuning to the rustle of boughs occasionally unloading snow matched by the steady crunch of my snowshoes biting crisp, shade-protected snow. The first major treat to the senses is the fall of water to the left from Honeymoon Springs accompanied by a shroud of ground-hugging steam across the trail. Honeymoon Springs cuts across the trail and no amount of snow can long stand the ever-warm water from springs sources so near by. I have to carefully climb down the eight foot swath created by the springs effluent and then climb back up the other face. The year before I had to repeat this exercise twice more at where Meadows and the Main Springs runoff cross the trail. Not so this year. The snow continues to hold it's own.

Rock Alley . . . completely filled in with snow
Stay left here!

The snow actually helps. Rock Alley has stopped many people in past winters with it's insurmountable vertical walls of snow. This time it is filled in completely, making a smooth transit up. Eventually I make it past the worst of the steeper sections above and make the switchback to the bench above the hot springs.

Looking down, there is no way to make the traditional access. Twenty-five feet of sheer vertical, unstable snow. I have to backtrack and attempt my way in from above to old latrine. Gratefully I set my backpack down and anticipate immersing myself in that inviting water.

The snow around Lobster Pool. The best access is through
the gentle area just to the right of the tree trunk

Of course, I had to explore the snow pack, trying to figure
out how to take measurements from the sources

A large block of snow ready to fall down to the pool area

The reward for hiking up. Good flow, 105F in the cooler pool, 110-115 in the back one. Both pools could use a good scrubbing and siphoning but it seems the hose is buried beneath a lot of snow.

It started to rain a little while I soaked. Eventually, that let up but I kept watching the clouds forming up as the afternoon waned and knew temperatures in the mountains would soon drop. My thermometer said high 30's. I started down, fully reheated and just as nude as before.

Snowshoeing downhill is harder than going up. You must constantly plant and dig the cleats into the icy snow or risk falling on your bare butt . . . something I did a number of times on my way down. I also figured out I was out of shape as my quads started cramping up from the unnatural use of muscles attempting to control my descent.

I ran out of daylight about halfway back. Out came the headlamp . . . off stayed the clothes. I felt fine. No shivers, energy good and feeling unchilled. The worst of the descent would be under that canopy where I needed to see the trail and avoid pitfalls. Didn't work too well and at one time I had to dig my leg and snowshoe out of a very deep tree well while laying on my back, head down on a very steep slope . . . in darkness. I never had any strong desire or need to put clothes on . . . that may have protected my bare skin from the abuse it was taking. But I was glad to eventually get back to the large snow berm at the BNSF yard that shielded me from my car . . . and put some clothes on. What a great day . . . even if I did have to soak away aching muscles in my bathtub at home.

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