We slept in. I didn’t set an alarm or anything. The plan was just to get up when we got up and go from there. We had an easy 3 miles back to the car; no need to rush. 

I woke earlier than I would have hoped, but not much earlier than I expected, considering my bladder tends to wake me up before I’m done sleeping. I got up to water the bushes, and I was very quiet. Then I got back to the tent and was startled by the sight of the hikers from last night headed our way. 

I had made a point of showing my friend how I would put the pot on a carabiner hanging right outside my door. The idea is, if anything scares me in the night, I can just hit it and make a racket that would scare most animals away. 

Well, I managed to make quite a racket when I saw those hikers approaching, and I woke her up. I apologized and told her they were coming by. They headed up Skillern Creek, along a trail I’ve taken before. In fact, that’s the trail where an elk cow came charging at Ambrose and I, only to stop, regard us for a minute, and then turn off the trail and cross the creek. 

She accepted my apology for waking her, and we both tried to fall back asleep. Tried being the operative word here. Neither of ended up falling back asleep, and after nearly an hour of desultory chatting, we agreed it was time for breakfast. 

Now, I hadn’t specifically recommended that she bring a down jacket. Those things aren’t cheap and I didn’t know if she had one. I’ve got one for backpacking that I had with me, and I knew from my earlier trip outside the tent that it was pretty chilly. Too chilly, in my opinion, for her to wear just a fleece. So I told her to take the down quilt that she’d slept in outside and use it as a cloak. Not ideal, but sufficiently warm for the task. 

I got the ursack from where I’d tied it, about halfway between our backside campsite and the frontside campsite. Then it was time to do breakfast. We had talked about how much she loves coffee, so I decided to make her a big coffee. Well, technically, this was powdered instant espresso – my go to coffee these days. If she hadn’t told me black coffee was her preference earlier in the week, I would have bought some instant latte powder, but this morning’s coffee would be black. 

Naturally, I made the coffee first. Priorities! Then I did the Mountain House Raspberry Crumble. 

Now, you might say to yourself, isn’t that a dessert, not a breakfast? 

And to that I say, breakfast is the first meal of the day, no matter what it happens to be composed of. If leftover pizza can qualify as breakfast, then so too can a dessert. Plus, it’s not like this is much different from eating a Pop Tart for breakfast. 

While we waited for the raspberry sauce to finish rehydrating, I made my friend get up and walk a little bit. Not too far, just far enough so that we could look in the direction of the hot spring and she could see the steam rising up. I love when it’s cool enough to see that steam rising, betraying the location of the spring that could otherwise be hidden. 

Having something hot and sweet to eat first thing in the morning, especially when it’s chilly, is such a treat. The lunch and dinner from the previous day were packed individually, but this one we had to share a bag. I told her the tactic that Ambrose and I use – choose a number of bites to take and then alternate. I said three bites first, but then I took my first bite. It was very sweet, very rich and still quite hot, so I revised to two bites. 

A motorcycle roared up the trail at one point, carrying a man and a woman. They parked it by the trail, and then walked up the Skillern Creek trail. They were clearly hunting; the man carried a compound bow and both wore camo. I told them there were some more hunters that had headed up that way earlier this morning and wished them good luck. 

After breakfast, we talked some more while finishing up the coffee. Then it was time to break camp. I had her get the water this time to fill the dirty water bag, and then she got to filter her own water. We took the tent down together, folded it, and I started to stuff it in the bag to show her how it was done and then let her finish stuffing it in. 

I’m really not very good at keeping surprises secret. I told her about the “secret” roadside hot spring the night before while we were at the Skillern hot spring. And I told her as we were packing up about my intention to give her the pack that I had loaned her. It was the second backpacking pack that I ever bought, and I learned a lot from it about what I didn’t want in a pack. But I never ended up using it very much, and I wanted her to have it and use it. 

When we were ready to hike out, I told her I wanted her to pick whether we did the high road or the low road on the way back. I mean, I would make the safety call – if the crossing on this side did not look good to me, I would veto and we’d take the high road. But it was up to her if we tried. 

We hiked on past Skillern Creek, and I noticed something hanging in the trees to the creek side of the trail. Several bags were up there; I figured it was from the hikers from last night, though I couldn’t figure out why they’d store gear in the trees here. 

Goodbye, hot springs!

Never seen a tree growing so much gear before 😉

At the junction of low road and high road, my friend picked the low road, and I grinned. I’d never gone that way before, and it was so special to me that I’d get to experience something for the first time with this friend, on this trip. 

The junction is far enough from the first crossing that you can’t see it. We had to walk a bit farther before I could take a look at the crossing and determine its safety. The depth was reasonable, ankle to mid-calf, and not too fast flowing. I deemed it safe, but told her that I would go first to demonstrate how to cross safely. 

We both adjusted shoes before crossing. She had brought shoes specifically for stream crossings, and I was taking off my socks and the liner from my shoe. We also needed to lengthen our trekking poles a bit, and then put packs back on. I explained that while I learned from Ambrose that you should do stream crossings without fastening the pack straps, that there were arguments to be made for keeping it fastened. See, if it’s unfastened and you fall, you can easily bail out from the pack rather than letting it drag you into a drowning situation. But an unfastened pack balances differently from a fastened one, so crossing with it unfastened can impact your balance, and with a crossing this shallow, a fall would just get you wet. This creek was not sweeping anyone our size away any time soon. 

For demonstration’s sake, I did leave my pack unfastened at this first crossing. The flow was low and slow enough that I had to remind myself to demonstrate good technique instead of just forging forward. Good technique dictates maintaining three points of contact at all times, moving only one foot or trekking pole at a time, and I mostly did that on this crossing. 

Then it was my friend’s turn. I took pictures, of course, but I also decided that I could do a video. I don’t often do videos because that mode drains my camera battery at a terrifying rate, but we were headed home and I didn’t need to conserve. I managed to turn the video on at exactly the perfect time.  

Once we were both across, I suggested fastening our packs and leaving on the crossing shoes – if they were comfortable enough to hike in. I figured we would be crossing back soon enough and it would be a pain in the butt to put everything back only to have to take it off again. Little did I know how smart that choice would turn out to be. 
The low road was quite pretty. Less exposed of course, and through forest instead of up on the side of a hill. I saw thimble berry bushes, but the only remaining berries were wizened and not good examples of the berry. 
Much sooner than I expected, there was a crossing. But it was not the crossing I expected. It was at the wrong angle and way too soon. I could see that the trail it crossed to was not the trail near the junction. Instead, the trail snugged up under the high road for a stretch and then crossed back again. 
The third crossing was probably the most challenging. A large rock had contributed to form a deep pool that we had to avoid, and even where we crossed it was deeper than the other crossings. But she got across with no problems. 
There were a few camping spots along the trail, including at least one fire ring. Over all, I rather liked it. It would certainly be a cooler hike than the high road, which could be nice in hot weather. Really, we should have taken the low road in when it was hot and the high road out in the cold, but it worked out. 
We could hear a motorcycle when we got close to the last crossing. She headed out first (as she had for every crossing after the first one), and I waited off the trail in case the motorcycle came by.
When we finished the last crossing, we sat down and got our hiking shoes set up again. She had boots to put on, and I had socks to put on and liners to put in my shoes. The shoes are not waterproofed, so they shed water pretty quickly. And I squeezed them a bit to get the excess water out. My feet were still pretty damp for hiking, but nothing I couldn’t handle for a couple miles. 
The Low Road

Careful crossing demonstration.

Successful first ford!

The low road is rather pretty.

Crossing number 2.

Hazy light reflecting on the water of crossing 2. 

That rock made a deep spot in the water.

Not too deep to ford!

It only came up to my knees.

Campsite along the low road.

Last crossing!

Very hazy still.

We continued to hike, not running into too much of interest on the way. Except for when I saw an orange thing in the trees and had to go investigate. I like to bring litter out of the forest, but this was a broken orange bucket filled with dried cement or something like it. Too heavy for me to carry, especially on a trail where motorcycles can much more easily reach and pack such a thing out. 
All dry and back on the main trail.

What’s over there? Well, there’s a bucket… but why? Beats me.

Just before we got to the trailhead, we saw someone hiking out. The man was alone, but it was his pack animals that drew our attention. We both wanted to take pictures, but my friend wasn’t sure of the etiquette, so I just asked him if we could take a picture of his pack train. 
Because I’ve seen pack goats here in Idaho, and I’ve seen pack horses, but I’d never, until that day, seen pack llamas. 

Whoop! She made it!
Back at the car, we got ready for the roadside hot spring. Her swimsuit had dried sufficiently from the night before, and I was just going to wear my bra and underwear, because that’s the way I roll. But I did make sure my clothes for afterwards were accessible from the front seat. 
We also unpacked the other loaner gear from her pack so as to be ready for her to take the pack home. Then, after a grateful visit to the pit toilet (well, my visit was grateful), it was time to hit the road. I still wasn’t paying much attention to the time, and that felt great. 
I was paranoid about missing the spring, but the sign really helps in that respect. She swung the car around so as to be parked facing the correct way, and then we got out. I went ahead to put the plug in the spring – there’s a plug that’s left out so the tub stays low, and I put it back in to bring the water level up.
That spring is pretty small. Two people who like each other can fit in it, maybe three if they’re all really close. Or really small. We sat next to each other on the spring’s bench; it’s a bit slimy, but I just ignore that. 
There were huge dragonflies dancing around us, with an orange-ish color that I didn’t recall seeing before. And a hawk perched on a tree across the road at one point. A few cars drove by, but most of them didn’t notice us. The parked car, sure, they probably saw that, but in the spring we were not very visible. 

The hot spring was hotter than Skillern had been. We got out before overheating, but just barely. I had to go chug some water right after; it really made me realize how dry I’d gotten. We got dressed and then it was back to the car. 
Once we hit Fairfield, it was easy to see that the smoke was worse than the day before. Foothills disappeared into the haze. The view was constricted, quite unlike how it usually is. I kept taking pictures to show Ambrose, because I knew he’d appreciate how smoky it was from what he couldn’t see. 
After a while, I put on some music from my phone. I wanted to share some of my music with her, and some of the songs sparked conversation. At one point, I learned that she had not heard of They Might Be Giants, and so I had to put on one of their albums (Severe Tire Damage). I was only a little self conscious of my singing along. It’s something that I love doing, and I have a hard time NOT singing along when I hear a song I like. 
She got me safely home, and she talked about how she wants to bring her boyfriend out to Skillern. I was so happy to have had a successful trip, so much so that she wants to pass on that experience to someone else. I guess that’s how backpackers are made. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *