Thursday, October 2, 2008

Scenic Hot Springs Night Visit

We had rather unseasonably warm weather this past Tuesday and Wednesday, both of which days I took advantage of to get out. I also had an excuse . . . seems someone had decided to break the Forest Service lock off the gate on FS850 (the FS Road that leads partway up to the springs). Without that lock the gate stays wide open and access is even harder to control . . . with the yahoos driving all over the place up there. Mike called and asked me to get a replacement.

Got a late start on the day just to make sure an episode wasn't in the making and if it was that I had the meds in place. Clusters always give you warning (at least, in my case). The day starts out with anxiety and hard-to-pin uneasiness . . . a light general malaise . . . and eventually to the subtle aura and growing nausea just before an episode. I'd been a little careful the last few weeks . . . sometimes holding back doing things just in case one was coming on. I felt fine.

I picked up the replacement lock at the Ranger Station in Skykomish . . . had a nice chat with one of the LE Rangers I know well . . . and then realized, 'hey, I'm running out of time to enjoy the sunshine!'

Still, I dawdled at the gate after I replaced the lock and checked to make sure both ours and the FS ones worked right. I decided to do some cleanup I've been meaning to organize a cleanup party for, yet never seemed to find the time.

Just half of the garbage - the rest of the
sacks were stacked in the backseat of my car

The cleanup was done just inside FS850 near the gate . . . a mere 300ft off busy Hwy 2. When I head up to Scenic I usually get nude right here and head on up, either driving to the clearcut or hiking the entire distance. I usually don't dawdle about nude at the gate . . . too often someone turns in . . . hoping to sneak in. Heck, it was a fine enough day. I fully expected to see a few cars round the turnoff and chug up that short stretch to the gate. Not that I really care about being seen nude. Nevertheless, no one came while I was busy picking up trash in the dense undergrowth below the road.

A big surprise was a large cache of canned and bottled foods stashed beneath a tree burl. At first I thought it was just someones garbage . . . sacks of garbage in the obscene . . . all cleverly hidden and disguised with branches and such. But it had been there for a long time. The plastic grocery sacks were decomposing and many of the cans rusted and bulging. What a waste of food!

There persists in Scenic lore a story of a homeless person having build himself a shelter of purloined plywood in the dense woods east of this area. I've never come across this lean-to, nor met the man, but the rumors continue. This might have been a food cache for this person, however, all of the food was ruined by the elements. I removed all the bursting cans and shattered glass jars.

In the end I had over ten sacks of garbage. Half I managed to get in the back seat of the Honda for later disposal. The rest I hoped some good-Samaritan visitor would cart away. By the time I was done the sun was getting low in the sky. If I intended to make it up to the springs I had to leave. So it was off . . . no cars at the gate . . . ergo no hikers on the trail up. Nude it was, all the way.

Bear prints on the upper BPA road . . . a yearling

The hind paws of a large bear to the side
of the trail near the Meadows Spring area

When I hike I try never to be pressed for time. For me it's not the destination that is important but rather the journey . . . the experience. Today was no different than others. Though the sun was getting close to the western ridges, the weather was so pleasant that I strolled more than hiked . . . taking my time to see things (and hear and smell them as well). For me, I can't think of any better way to enjoy nature than to immerse yourself in it. It's amazing what your senses become aware of when you take it slow and easy . . . like indistinct but fresh bear tracks right on the trail with you.

Bears don't bother me much. They are just another part of the environment that I try to intrude lightly upon. There is one confirmed female bear roaming the Scenic slopes . . . last seen with her two yearlings in tow. A mile to the west there have been several other bear sightings, but 'mama' owns the Scenic slopes. The yearlings seem to still be around, kind of unusual. I can only guess that the poor summer berry season is changing some behavior. The springs area has certainly seen more than normal bear activity (including rooting and tree scratching right up at the springs, themselves). This time of year bears will be out more often, packing on the necessary calories for the upcoming winter hibernation. So seeing signs of bear is not unusual. Just something to be aware of. I often wait about on upper open slopes just in the hopes of spotting a bear down below and photographing it. No such luck today. Quiet and warm and nothing stirring.

Enjoying a quiet cup of coffee in the springs

As expected, I had the springs to myself and quickly immersed myself in the crystal-clear waters. The pools are clean and the waters hot . . . 105F in the pool I'm sitting, and a toasty-hot 115F in the pool behind me (the pool feeds come from two very different hot springs). Both are pH-high giving the water a slippery sensation that feels wonderful on the skin . . . a sensation that lasts for hours later. Scenic waters are also lithium-rich. I don't know what the benefit of lithium-absorption is through the skin (or even if there is a benefit) but it must be good for soaking seems to relax everyone who spends some time in the pools. There is a slight sulfur odor to the water, but that is barely noticeable. The silkiness of the water is due mainly to the high calcium mineral levels . . . much like what it would feel if you took a bath with a bunch of baking soda in the bath water. Feels great.

In retrospect, the late afternoon is probably the best time for a soak (short of winter soaking). You avoid the heat of the day to withstand the heat of the natural earth waters that much longer. Eventually, it is time to head back down but before I do that I set siphons to change out the water.

Cleaning the pools as nightfall descents

The pools are flow-through but unfortunately the design of these pools does not allow for recharging the water at the bottom of the pools. For one, they are three and a half feet deep and the bottom is where debris and algae will congregate. The water is also noticeably cooler on the bottom. A complete draining and recharge is a good practice and since it takes three to four hours to refill . . . best done at sunset when soakers are not supposed to be heading up there anyway. I've pissed off more than a few of the uninvited whom I politely inform the pools are empty and the site closed . . . turn around. They don't belong up there anyway . . . I do (part of my association with the owner).

The self-limiting siphons do their thing . . . an hour and a half to drain followed by three to four hours to refill. It's getting dark. Just enough light in the tree-confined trail to safely make my way back down to the clearcut without the headlight.

Sultan (in the foothills) had gotten up to 78F in mid-afternoon when I drove through. The evening was not cooling down much more with night. It was positively comfortable out there and not a breeze anywhere. Of course, soaking in a 115F hot spring for awhile guaranteed that my superheated, nude body would not feel a chill anytime soon.

Sidestepping down a steep trail in total darkness

Remember those bear prints earlier? Well, hiking in darkness can be an eerie experience. I have a headlamp but rarely use it except on the rougher footing sections. Usually I can see enough from the ambient starlight and rising moon to really enjoy a slow night-time stroll. Whatever is out there just beyond sight is not speculated upon. I know there is a mama and two yearlings somewhere out there but I'm making enough noise that I believe (foolishly or otherwise) that I'm safe. It's as if I've drawn a safe-zone cocoon around myself.

But look carefully at the picture above, behind me in the black and framed by upright vegetation. See the two symmetrical 'eyes'? When I first looked at the picture I freaked out. Some animal out there . . . the night eyes reflecting back the light of the camera's flash. I kept looking at it and looking and feeling a chill down my back 'cause whatever it was would have been right in my path of downward travel. Was that a bear? For the rest of the night I pondered my sanity for hiking in the dark like that.

The next day, looking at the photo again, a different explanation came to mind which somewhat set my mind at ease. Right where those 'eyes' were was directly inline with where my car was parked way down below . . . and the 'eyes' in the dark . . . well, they were nothing more the the reflection back of the headlights. Sometimes we have too vivid an imagination for what's good for us. Hiking in darkness definitely does that. If I'd seen those 'eyes' that night I don't think I would have really enjoyed the rest of the hike down . . . and I really did enjoy it. It brings to mind that when we recreate nude in nature we are basically dropping our barriers to let nature in . . . we are purposefully making ourselves vulnerable in the hope that we can participate. One cannot be much more vulnerable that hiking nude in total darkness and wilderness. One cannot feel much more alive either. It is a wonderfully life-appreciation experience. You absolutely feel alive!!!

Illuminated in my headlights as I close the gate and head home

Back at the base of FS850 I open the gate illuminated only in the headlights of my Honda. Hwy 2, nearby is quiet. I will drive back naked tonight because I just don't want to have to feel clothes on my skin. The garbage bags I will drop off at the Ranger Station as prearranged.

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