The next morning was a bit more leisurely than I wanted. But I more wanted the experience to be a positive one for her, so I didn’t start nagging her to get out of bed until about 11 am. I really wanted to eat lunch on the trail, because eating lunch at the campsite would tend to keep us there longer instead of getting us on the move to the night’s campsite at Skillern Creek. Still, I’d been up since 7, making breakfast for myself and her (she did not end up liking the breakfast burrito of leftover rice, spam and eggs, but I liked mine), as well as coffee for me and tea for her. The tea ended up being dumped, but it was all good. Once I got her moving, her inertia kept her moving until we were well on our way. 

We stopped not too far in, just before Barlow Creek, to make lunch in the shade by the river. This was the first dehydrated backpacking meal, and I just hoped that she would be able to eat it. Thank goodness for Backpacker’s Pantry Three Cheese Mac and Cheese! It was a hit, though she thought the spices made it taste like meat. It took me a bit to get used to the pepper in this particular mac and cheese, but I’ve come to love it for rehydrating into gooey cheese. And the noodles are small and thin enough that they don’t end up crunchy, which I’ve experienced with Mountain House mac and cheese. We filled up her water bottle at this stop, and then kept on hiking up the trail. 

Before too long, we came to the junction. To the left is the high road, climbing up and over the river. To the right, the low road, which requires four separate fords of the river. She would have preferred that we take the low road and avoid hiking uphill. I would have preferred doing one on the way out and the other on the way back. But when we went to check out the low road, I had to make the call. The water was simply too high and fast for us to safely cross. 

Now, if it had been Ambrose and I, I might have gone with that crossing. Heck, even if Ambrose had been there at all I might have let her do it. But the safest way to cross that kind of water is a tandem crossing. In a tandem crossing, the larger person is the anchor and walks on the upstream side. I was not going to try and teach her how to tandem cross when she would have to be the anchor. That did not sound safe to me. I mean, even the motorcycles were taking the high road, though that may have had more to do with the large log wedged across the low road just before the first ford. A couple with two dogs hiked up on us while we looked at the water, and I wondered if they would make the ford or follow us. 

While I wasn’t going to take her on the low road, I did climb over the log to get our hats wet, which would make the uphill climb a bit more bearable. I did warn her that her hat would dry out pretty quickly, but at least it shaded her face pretty well. Normally, I’ll do just about anything to avoid hiking between noon and 3 pm. I get up super early most backpacking days to try and get as much hiking as possible done before the heat of the day comes on. But I was okay with my decision to let the teen sleep in a bit, or just lay there and relax, whatever she was actually doing. This trip was supposed to be about having fun with new experiences, not being forced to get up early just so I could hike when I’m most comfortable. But I did tell her about how it’s nicer to hike early in the day. 

We climbed up the first bit to the junction with Poison Creek with relative ease. There was a guy sitting at the side of the trail in the shade. We exchanged greetings and he asked if we were going to the hot springs. I said that we were and he replied, with a tinge of defeat in his voice, “Do you know where they are?” I assured him that we did. I mean, I did at least. From his voice, I figured he hadn’t known exactly how to get there and his party may or may not have made it. As my niece and I hiked on, I got to demonstrate to her how to let people pass on a narrow trail, by putting one foot off the trail on the uphill side and leaning over so the pack is no longer impinging on the path. We got to let two small groups by in that manner, which served as a good distraction from the uphill hiking still to come. 

With a few breaks for water and catching breath, we made it to the top out. Now my niece got to learn how to hike downhill safely. There were sections of this particular trail where we could kind of put our heels down first, which helped prevent sliding on the very loose rocky surface. It was hard for her to get a hang of, and we needed to go slowly so that she wouldn’t fall. The last thing I wanted to do was deal with an injury out there, so I took it nice and slow. Behind us, I could see the couple with the dogs coming down. They’d taken the high road too, which made sense to me. Even if the people might have been able to do the ford, it would have been dangerous for the doggies. 

My niece and I took a break at the junction, in some shade, and when the couple passed by I asked where they were headed. Turns out, they were also going to the Skillern Hot Springs, so I told them we’d see them later. They seemed a little disappointed, but they mentioned that it’s a big site. And it is, there’s room for two or three separate camps. I just hoped they’d take the one closer to the trail, because I like the one in back best. But they’d get first pick, so I’d just have to wait and see. 

After a bit, we hiked on. I assured her that it wasn’t much farther. And we did at least get more shade on this section of the trail, as well as more proximity to the water, though it wasn’t convenient to reach for filtering and she was running low. But I knew we’d be coming up on Skillern Creek very soon, so I pushed for us to keep going rather than refill. Before we got to the creek, I felt a rumble in my tummy and dug out an energy bar. I tore it in half and gave half to her with an order to eat up. It’s important to not let yourself get too hungry on the trail, because it’s harder to make up a deficit than to stay on a relatively even keel when it comes to food, water and warmth. 

In next to no time, we made it to the creek. I led her across a combination of logs and rocks to get to the far side and then we dumped our packs to the ground and set about getting more water. To help her understand that the campsite was very close, I carried my half full dirty water bag in my hand instead of emptying it and putting it up. From the creek, it’s just a short length of trail with a tiny bit of uphill before the campsite reveals itself, spreading out in the space between Skillern Creek and the foothills of Skillern Peak. 

To my delight, the couple and their dogs had chosen the spot closer to the trail, so I made a beeline for the back campsite so we could claim it before anyone else arrived. We didn’t set up camp right away. Instead, we snacked and chatted and figured out when to go to the hot springs. I also finished up what was in my water bladder and got it refilling, which she helped me with by finding a nice high nail to hang the dirty water bag from. Then I got to cooking our first of two Chicken Alfredo dinners so we could have one before and one after the hot springs. As we waited for it to finish rehydrating, I showed her how the backpacking tent is erected, being extra careful with the rock I used to pound in stakes. I definitely didn’t want to have to do first aid on myself again because I pounded my finger between a rock and a stake! 

Normally, I’d make sure the tent was made up inside as well before going anywhere, but this time I went with the flow. We just put our stuff inside the tent and then got changed and headed over. 

The Skillern Hot Springs are both easy to find and difficult to find. From the trail, there’s a path down to hot water springing out of the hillside. But that’s not really where you want to go. You have to go down, and then traverse across, climbing up some rocks before you come upon the pool. It’s the size of a fairly large hot tub, and on this trip it was in very good repair, with a line of sandbags keeping the water level nice and high. What I love about it is that the rocks from above overhang and shelter the pool so it feels like you’re out there completely alone. The river runs below and the hot water falls from above. It’s idyllic. 

The water temperature was good. Hotter than it had been September 2020, for which I was glad. While my friend liked that cooler temperature on that trip, I prefer it a bit hotter, and I got my preference on this trip. My niece thought the temp was good, but we both got a bit hot in it. I found a place where cool water was trickling down the rocks and showed it to her. We spent some time just hanging out in the water, watching the river and the few clouds that made an appearance overhead. 

Eventually, the heat was too much, and we retreated out of the water to cool off and head back. I was glad that there weren’t a lot of bugs there to bother us. Some years, I’ve gotten horse flies attacking as soon as I get out of the water, but they weren’t around this time. Thank goodness! 

She had wanted to know what the temperature of the water would be like where the hot springs met the river, so we checked that area out on our way back. The answer, basically, is half freezing cold and half boiling; the water temperature doesn’t blend very well right at the intersection of hot springs and river. Then we made our way back to camp and finished making up our beds for the night. I assured her that the air mattress she’d be sleeping on this night was much warmer than the one in the big tent, because it has insulation inside of it. Between the better sleeping pads and a warmer forecast (which surprised me because we were at a higher elevation), I was sure we’d be warm for this night. 

We decided to include more water in the Chicken Alfredo for the second bag. The first one was delicious, but they do have a tendency to have crunchy bits of chicken. More water helps, but there was still some crunch to the chicken. And then we also had a dessert to eat, a chocolate mudslide that I liked and she tolerated. The sun disappeared more quickly from this position, but it didn’t get truly dark until much later. 

As we were in the tent, I showed her pictures on my camera from past trips, cute things like flowers and animals mostly. Before it got fully dark, we went out for a last pee break before bed. That way she wouldn’t have to wake me up for company if she needed to go in the night. I usually have to get up and go at least once in the night, but I’m used to sleeping out in the kind of darkness you can’t get within hundreds of miles of Chicago. 

Before we fell asleep, but after it was fully dark out, I got us both out of the tent to look at the stars. That was one goal that I had for this trip, to show her what the stars look like when you have zero light pollution to interfere. The sky didn’t disappoint, displaying a myriad of stars, a bit of galaxy shading, some satellites, and a plane or two. The moon wasn’t going to rise until early morning, so we got the full show. We stood out there for quite some time, just looking. But I got a crick in my neck and started to get cold, so I called it and we went back into the tent for the night. 

I got us packed up while she slept in.

The sun was shining on our campsite.

I wanted to share this deer with her, but it disappeared too quickly.

I was quite proud of this breakfast burrito. 

We managed to set off from camp before noon. 
Some flowers along the trail.

Moving along the trail.

Time to pick, high road or low road.

No way we’re fording that high water!

So we gotta take the high road.

Which does offer some great views, to be fair.

More shade after the high road.

We have arrived!

The hot springs don’t look like much, unless you know where to go.

A nice reinforced ledge kept the pool’s water level high.

Plenty of room to hang out in the hot spring.

I know I had a great time 😉

Last time I saw this, it was just a tub, but someone has gone to the trouble of wilding it. I like it.

A nice little camping spot. 

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