When I first read up on the Women’s Only Weekend trips that were scheduled for the 2021 season, the one that struck me the most was the trip to Bear Valley Hot Springs. I kind of mentally skipped over the part where it was a backpacking trip as opposed to the typical car camping trip that I’d done in the past. I also didn’t realize it was over Labor Day Weekend. But why should I notice those things when the trip was full and all I could do is get on the waitlist and hope that other people dropped out?
Because hot springs!
As it turned out, some people did drop, and I had my chance to hop in. I also had to make a choice at that point, because I was planning on doing a backpacking trip with my husband over the Labor Day weekend. But he insisted that I take advantage of the volunteering opportunity, in part because I’ve never backpacked with so many people before, let alone so many women. An unparalleled chance to learn how other women do it!
I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to the hot springs, but, alas, they were not meant to be. See, there’s a fire (again) up at Dagger Falls, and Bear Valley Hot Springs got included in the closure area about 5 days before the trip. So our trip leader had to scramble for another project for us, and she found one: Caton Lake.
Not a hot spring, but I was committed. I’d dropped out of one of these trips in June because I wasn’t feeling well, so I was determined not to be that person again. Besides, the drive to the trailhead was one I was mostly familiar with.
However, it would involve driving on an unknown dirt road near or after sunset, and I really didn’t want to do that. So, I let the leader know that I’d be overnighting somewhere on the way and would be there Saturday morning before it was time to leave.
I don’t particularly like driving unfamiliar dirt roads late at night, and my vehicle, while well able to handle those types of roads, is fairly new. But I also wanted to be alone. Being in social situations is not my natural element, and I was about to spend a LOT of time with these mostly strangers. I wanted a night to myself to prepare, so I took it.
Unfortunately for me, I forgot that the Trout Creek Campground does NOT have a pit toilet. Other than that, the campsite was fine. There were others camped there, but enough spaces that I didn’t interact with them. I just picked a spot and set up my in vehicle sleeping system.
I hadn’t actually slept in this car yet, so it was a bit of an experiment. I’ve got the back seats folded down and I planned to stretch out with my head behind the front passenger’s seat and my feet just touching the hatchback. I brought a yoga mat for cushioning, but it wasn’t quite thick enough so I ended up moving a blanket underneath me as well. My goal was to sleep without having to break into my already packed backpacking gear, and that I was able to achieve.
It was pretty cold outside, but I got so warm that I actually cracked a window and took off my thick socks. It wasn’t the most comfortable, but I’ve definitely had worse nights in cars.
I woke up early to get to the trailhead, and I was so thankful that I had taken the exact course that I did, because Ditch Creek Road at sunrise is stunning. The road climbs a couple thousand feet, and as you get higher and higher, the views to the east just open up. There were clouds catching the sunrise color in pinks and golden oranges, and it was one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve done in recent memory.
At the Caton Lake trailhead, there WAS a pit toilet, so I made use of that as soon as I arrived. Then I found my group and got changed into my hiking clothes and ready to go, finding out people’s names as the morning went on. At first, I was using pneumonic devices based on the colors of the other women’s jackets, but later in the day when they took them off, that plan was foiled.
The group leader led us through ground rules for the trip and then we got the gear lecture. I have done trail work trips before with this group (just not while backpacking) so I knew a fair amount about the tools we’d be using and I didn’t have a preference for which I’d be carrying.
I let others pick first and ended up with the large silky saw and a shovel. Lucky for me, the silky fit in my pack’s side pocket, so I only had to carry the shovel. Unlucky for me, I need two trekking poles to erect my tent, so I had to put one of my trekking poles in a side pocket as well.
From the prior trips, I know that I don’t enjoy carrying around equipment. My arms get tired fast and it’s way harder to get my camera out for pictures when one hand has a shovel in it that’s nearly as tall as I am. But I made do.
Once the tools were distributed, we got ready to go. Before heading out, we decided to consolidate our cars at a campsite so we wouldn’t be hogging all the parking near the trailhead. I ended up moving mine and blocking in two others in the process, but it was all part of the plan.
Then we headed off.
|The trail started off flat and straight.|
|Junction for Rainbow Lake.|
This was my 6th big hiking/backpacking trip of the season, and my body let me know it was tired. I hiked towards the back of the pack and didn’t worry about being slow, but it did irk me that I wasn’t feeling as energetic as I used to. My tummy issues were also acting up quite a bit, but I tried to ignore that and push through.
The morning was only a little hazy, which was a nice relief after the smoky summer we’ve been having in Idaho. I got some nice pictures of nearby peaks as we hiked the first, fairly flat, sections of trail. Not long after we reached the junction for Rainbow Lake, we found a large tree partially on the trail.
AKA an invitation!
Packs were dropped and we discussed what the best tool for the job might be – should we hack off the protruding branches? If so, a silky saw or a pulaski? After some consideration, we went with the power of feet. Eight women sat on the ground and we braced our legs against the deadfall, giving a mighty push at the count of 3. One push, two push, three push! The tree, and its limbs, was scooted nicely off the trail.
The trail started climbing right around that point. Nothing too horrible, but I was feeling it way more than I thought I should, huffing and puffing. I didn’t mind being at the back of the pack, but I was very aware of it. Aware that two years ago, I’d have been up front.
We took a break as a group close to our top out point, ranging up the hillside. I still didn’t know everyone’s names at that point, but I was too shy to ask. I figured I would pick up on the remaining names eventually if I just paid attention. Of course, I was also thinking about retaining the names that I did know.
The next section of trail was rolling, ups and downs, minor stream crossings and then a junction. We took a left at the junction and the trail began to descend. On that descent were several sections that were just crying out for a water bar to keep them from being washed away, so once we got to a flat spot a stop was called.
|Somebody picked up a hitchhiker.|
|The air is practically haze free.|
|Heading down to cross a stream.|
|Let’s get some work done, ladies!|
First, we took a break, and then we split up to do some drainage work. I ended up going back up the trail with three other women and we built two water bars. I mostly worked the crosscut saw with another woman, creating the logs that would serve as the body of the water bar. Two other women dug out the trail where the logs would rest, and we all helped put everything together and smashed the dirt down.
On the way back to lunch, I helped another woman to clear out a mud puddle where water was trying – and failing – to flow across the trail to a nearby stream. We cleared it out so that it was flowing clear and steady.
Then it was time for lunch.
Now, I thought we were going to go to our campsite, set up, and then do more work. If I had realized what we were actually going to be doing, then I would have topped off my water at this point.
We hiked on for a bit, and then started running into deadfall across the trail. So we started cutting, lopping, chopping, brushing and grading. The smaller diameter deadfall could be handled by the silky saw, so that’s what I started with as others wielded loppers and the crosscut saw and the pulaskis.
|This was thin enough for the silky – my first victim.|
|Another one for the silky.|
I was game while I still had water to drink. I feel like I got a good amount of work done, but then my gut started rumbling. I took advantage of the fact that I had carried out a whole dang shovel and used it to dig my hole – after I climbed way high above the trail to get some semblance of privacy.
After that, I felt very overheated, and I knew that I needed water. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few years trying to do the Idaho Centennial Trail through the Frank Church Wilderness, it’s that I need to pay attention to my body and take care of myself. I first asked if anyone had water to spare – one woman offered, but then realized she too was out of water. So three of us went on ahead to find water, and, hopefully, our campsite.
It was less than a mile, but it felt longer because the trail was not in good repair. Lots of deadfall to step over, and some to go under. Plus, near Caton Meadow, the trail simply disappeared, and we had to figure out how to get down to the bridge and the water.
One of the women dropped her pack and then went back to the working party while the other woman and I got down to the business of getting water. Rather than get water near the bridge, I went to a spot in the shade and dealt with some detritus getting in my dirty water bag. I let myself get wet to help cool my body down and drank until I felt like a normal person again.
|Where is that meadow exactly?|
|We made it to water!|
Then my new friend and I looked for a camping spot. We found a fire ring, and a long metal pole. We thought camping at the fire ring would be the thing to do, but when the rest of the party finally joined us, it was decided that we’d pitch in the meadow. The area around the fire ring was surrounded by dead trees still standing, aka widow-makers, so it wasn’t the safe option. And at this time of year, the meadow was dry enough for us to pitch tents.
I hiked back with some water to offer some to anyone who had run out. I only had one taker – the woman who had come with me and then left before drinking. My body is used to getting a lot of water, I suppose, and others don’t need as much.
We stacked the tools and helmets near the fire ring for tomorrow’s work, and then got to work setting up our homes for the weekend.
I picked a spot to pitch my tent and got to work setting up camp. The grass was so tall that it made walking a bit awkward, but otherwise the tent went up just fine. I got myself all set and situated and then headed over to the fire ring to cook dinner – and to see what everyone else had to eat.
Fresh vegetables. Fresh fruit. Oranges!
These women definitely backpack different than I do. Most of them were cooking meals (not rehydrating like I was) or eating things like tuna packets that didn’t need to be cooked. Conversations ebbed and flowed and I tried to contribute where it seemed like the right thing to do.
|Not a bad pitch for my tent.|
|Tens across the meadow.|
|I worked so hard, my glasses accumulated salt crystals. In three places (only one pictured).|
|Socializing around the fire ring.|
|Sunset put on a show.|
The one big mistake I made was actually to socialize as late as I did. See, when I’m backpacking/camping, I typically flee to the tent as soon as it gets chilly outside. That means that I’m not trying to warm myself back up from being cold, but staying warm. On this trip, I was trying not to be anti-social, so I stayed out and chatted even as I could feel the heat seeping out of my body as the sun sank. We didn’t, as a group, head to bed until the sun had dipped nearly below the horizon.
I did have some trouble getting to sleep. Not so much because of body aches as from the cold. I just couldn’t get and stay warm, despite wearing all my layers and snacking. I planned to drink a hot tea before bed the next night and dealt with the cold as best I could.