For a few years now, a co-worker and I had been talking about taking a backpacking trip together. She had only ever been on one backpacking trip, and it did not go very well, due to a combination of factors including smoke. Nothing I could do about making the weather be not smoky, but I really wanted to put together a nice short trip that would wipe that bad experience away.
Naturally, my first thought was of Skillern Hot Springs. Not only is it a short hike out (about 3 miles), a well-maintained trail, and with a hot spring at the campsite, but it was where Ambrose took me for my first backpacking trip. I knew it could be a great experience; I just had to figure out how to pull that off while being the one in charge!
In some ways, the trip started before either of us left the house. We coordinated what gear she had and what gear I’d be able to loan out about a week in advance. I was providing meals; she drove – a nice opportunity to get her Subaru onto some dirt roads. And on a Saturday morning, we met up at my place, got her packed in the pack I was loaning her and headed out.
It isn’t a super long drive from Boise to the trailhead at the Canyon Transfer Camp. We chatted the whole way, some about the trip to come, but more about work and life. With the pandemic making us work remotely since March, it was actually the first time we’ve seen each other in person for nearly six months. I half expected to feel a little awkward, but I didn’t.
The drive was uneventful; I was glad that she is what I consider a safe driver. When I’m in the car with an unsafe driver, I get very anxious. There’s a “secret” hot spring on the road that didn’t have a sign when I first went to Skillern. I figured now that there’s a sign, it wouldn’t be a surprise, but we drove by the sign without her noticing it, so I would get to surprise her!
When we got to Canyon Transfer Camp, we parked and took care of some business at the trailhead before hiking out. It wasn’t crowded, but there was one truck parked in the lot, and several of the campsites farther from the trailhead were occupied.
I had been mentally preparing to restrain myself to a slow pace, but that turned out to be not at all necessary. She led the way with a great pace that I actually had a little trouble keeping up with before I got warmed up.
We hiked out a bit less than a mile before stopping to cook lunch. I picked a spot where we’d get some shade and led the way off the trail. I was looking for a spot that was decently flat, shaded, and didn’t have too much debris. The spot we ended up at mostly fulfilled those, and had the bonus of being right next to Big Smoky Creek so we were able to enjoy the water with lunch, which was Mountain House Chicken a La King.
|So nice not to be the only one with a camera 🙂
|We saw a snake!
|And spotted a bird.
Properly fueled, we continued on the trail. There’s a spot where this particular trail splits, and you can choose to take the high road or the low road. Going high, which is the only route that I’ve ever taken, you have to do some steep climbing, and the trail can be a bit scary if you look down too much, because it’s very exposed. Going low, you have stream crossings, and, in years past, the first one has always looked way too deep for me to cross.
This year, the low road stream did not look too deep, so I decided to keep an eye on the far side and then consider offering the option of low road for the way back. The way out, I definitely wanted to go high, in part to stay dry, and in part because I knew that route.
She successfully climbed and conquered the high road, and the far side stream crossing looked sufficiently low to make an attempt the next day.
I always seem to be surprised by how far it is from the end of the high road to Skillern Creek. I expect it to be right there, but it isn’t. There’s a good bit of walking before the trail crosses Skillern Creek. When we got there, I was glad to see that the water was low enough for us to use logs and rocks to cross. Score again for staying dry.
We chose the back campsite and I started leading her through camp chores. I tried to be conscious of talking through the steps for the chores, and I included her in them. Like with inflating the sleeping pads; it turns out that my new sleeping pad’s pump bag fits on my old sleeping pad, so neither of us had to blow, but we each inflated our own. Once that stuff was complete, on to getting water. I demonstrated how the life straw works, and how the Sawyer filter works. We used the Sawyer for this trip since it is easier to get water in bulk that way, but the life straw was her personal filtration and she needed to know how to use it.
After we’d completed chores, it was still too warm to head to the hot springs. I hadn’t been able to banish the smoky weather, though it wasn’t too bad. So we headed over to where Skillern Creek crosses the trail and sat with our feet in the water and talked. A tiny little fish came by and provided minutes of entertainment with its antics. A couple of motorcycles went by, but we were off the trail enough that we didn’t need to move for them.
Then, when it had cooled a bit, we headed over to the hot springs. I must admit, I hadn’t been there in a while, so there were new developments. New little trails down to the springs, a new tub… I took the wrong little trail down, but did point out which she should take if she comes back.
Part of the magic of the Skillern hot springs is that you have to climb over rocks, and it looks like you aren’t going anywhere, and then POOF! Like magic, you find a pool that is hidden from the trail above and has a view to the water below.
The water was cooler than I prefer, but it was just right for my friend. Usually, I’m at a hot spring with my husband, and he will always be the one to say it’s time to go. This time, I was at a hot spring with a fellow bathing aficionado. We stayed for more than 2 hours before my stomach grumbles became too loud to ignore and I, yes I, was the one to say we had to leave.
|Can you see our entertaining fishy friend?
|That inflation bag is called the Schnozzle Bag.
|Totally new addition to the Skillern hot springs.
|Truly, a great pool.
Back at camp, we got right to cooking dinner (Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings), and thence to eating. We continued to talk over the meal and after, until I got cold enough that I wanted to retreat into the tent. And we continued to talk in there, even after it got dark.
|Even the smoke couldn’t bring us down at the hot springs.
Right around when we were going to go to sleep, we noticed a light coming from the direction of the trail. It was late to be getting company, but company we were getting. If I were by myself, I might have just ignored it. If I were with Ambrose, I probably would have ignored it. But I was with someone on a what was essentially a first trip. I made the call to go over and say hello, because if we said hello, we could see who the company was and show them we were here and unafraid.
We walked up to one guy sitting at the side of the trail just as several other headlamps started flashing from the trail. Said hello, explained where we were camped, and wished them a good trip. I think they were surprised to see us, but they were polite.
And then we went to bed. And to sleep.