Bagby Backpacking: Dec. 2007

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Bagby Hot Springs Backpacking: December 8-9, 2007

The Catlin gravel parking lot looks different at 6:30am; it’s darker, frostier, more sinister, and I loose my footing on an icy log trying to haul my backpack to the bus. I pray it’s not a premonition of the Bagby backpacking trip that will unfold in the next two days.

Leaving Catlin, the sun rises into the clear blue sky against the Mount Hood-bound backdrop of Targets and car sales lots, a last glimpse at our modern consumerist culture before a weekend in the forest.

As we exit the highway to snake along narrower roads, Aiyana spots a bald eagle perched above the river, and its sharp profile is awe-inspiring. Once we arrive at the trailhead, we set off the two miles to the Hot Springs, following a relatively flat path through old growth trees and across a wooden plank bridge suspended above churning turquoise waters.

On the promise that we will return to the Hot Springs later, we hike another half mile to a beautiful riverside campsite, accessible by scrambling down a steep snow-tinged hill. After setting up camp and eating lunch, we explore the river by inching across ice-covered beaver dams and snowy fallen logs. Murphy, Max, and Luke lead us to their discovered island, home to frozen mossy boulders and branches with ice droplets gleaming in the afternoon sunshine.

Hiking up to the trail again, we travel into the Bull of the Woods Wilderness for about two hours, stopping only to hear stories of Snortle-pigs and Snaffle-hounds and to eat string cheese.

Suddenly we round the corner and a breathtaking vista greets us, a view of snowy mountains and deep valleys, all shrouded in steam with the sunlight and snow. We devour sugar bombs (candy coated peanuts) before heading back to camp for our elaborate feast of stuffing, ramen, macaroni and cheese and hot cocoa.

Finally it’s time for the hot springs, and we crunch through the snow lead by the light of our headlamps and the stars, arriving only to leap too quickly into the near-boiling water. There’s a trail below the wooden half-roofed hot springs building that leads to an icy stream, and we fill buckets to cool the tubs and hollowed logs.

After a few hours, our fingers and toes are pruney and we’re utterly at bliss. Our towels have frozen in wrinkled forms, and we fill our Nalgene’s with the hot water to keep at the foot of our sleeping bags. Back at camp, we make another round of mac n’ cheese and drink lots more hot apple cider, before bundling up for bed.

The next morning we sleep in, awaking to find anything once damp now frozen solid, and we pack up after a quick oatmeal breakfast. Returning to the hot springs, the daylight illuminates the graffiti of tourists across the wooden walls contrasted with the delicately suspended icicles.

During our lunch of semi-frozen pita bread with mustard and canned salmon, I smile at the bonds created between our group in the 30-some hours we’ve been away from Portland. Soaking away the sores of our hike, perfecting the ratio for mass hot-apple-cider (lots and lots of packets), and scooting across ice-covered logs suspended above a freezing river, it’s been the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure, and as we return along the trail, I’m half hoping the bus will have disappeared, and we’ll just have to stay a bit longer at Bagby Hot Springs.