Kennedy Hot Springs on Snowshoes (first published in Pack & Paddle, January 1995)
A Troop 70 Adventure
John referred to this overnight to Kennedy Hot Springs** at the end of November as a Troop 70 “Big Boys Outing” (those were the boys who had survived several years of going on outings with John).
Despite the snow John was determined to get to the trailhead. Many snowy miles later, the Happy Car* made it to the Kennedy Hot Springs trailhead. There was probably 8 or 9 inches of snow on the road at that point.
John, three veterans of Troop 70*** (Trevor, Andy and Jeff) and my friend Kathe Stanness and I unfolded ourselves from the jeep and proceeded to hit the trail. We needed snowshoes right from the beginning. We had 5-1/2 miles to go with 1,000 feet elevation gain.
Kathe and I had several months of talk to catch up on so we brought up the rear of the group. The weather was a mixture of sun, clouds, and very light snow showers. We felt like we were walking through a Christmas card.
The ups and downs are gentle – unless it is your first snowshoe overnight of the year. It didn’t take long for our heavy packs to take their toll on our middle-aged bodies. We were surprised to meet a young, long-legged man coming out as we were going in and dismayed to hear that we still had a “goodly” ways to go.
We continued on our “goodly” way. The ups and downs of the trail finally led to a flat and we could see in the distance the bridge that connects Kennedy Hot Springs was close.
There was about a foot of snow on the bridge and one of the planks was missing. The handrail was sturdy, though, so we hung on to that and walked sideways with our snowshoes on. The guard station was locked (I admit to having fantasies of it being open with a roaring fire inside and hot drinks waiting for us).
Kathe and I found John and the Big Boys camped across the bridge. It had taken us an hour longer to reach camp but I was secretly pleased to see that they were also tired from their journey,
Despite the unsanitary conditions I had read and heard about, I was cold and tired and ready to bask in the warmth of the springs, even if it did look like hot chocolate.
Andy was the first to jump in, followed by Trevor. Jeff hesitated, afraid of hypothermia as it was beginning to snow again but he couldn’t resist. Then John jumped in. Then I jumped in.
Bacteria be darned, I thought. When I saw the steam rising off the water I rationalized that probably winter is the safest time to indulge in the springs.
Kathe who does medical and scientific research knew better and stayed out of the unsavory soup but she did dip her hands in a couple of times to warm her fingers.
We stayed in quite a while, putting off the dreaded moment when we would have to emerge from the warm water and stand shivering in our piles of wet clothing.
What finally got us out of the water was the threat of darkness coming on. We had to get our meals and prepare for the long, cold night. I could devote pages to the agony of getting out of the warm water and walking back to the tents in damp clothing and wet boots but I will spare you.
Dinner was good, as always. We had potatoes, beef and gravy, and Trevor brought peach cobber for dessert.
John was still cold so right after dinner we went to our tents. We slept about 12 hours from 7pm to 7am. Kathe said it had been long enough since her last winter camping trip that she forgot some things she knew about winter camping – and so did I. I left my gaiters outside the tent: a frozen disaster the next morning.
There were a couple of light snow showers during the night of the 25th but in the morning things were quiet. We emerged from the tent and faced our morning chores. John prepared his usual omelet (in the winter it is scrambled eggs). It was delicious.
Packing up was the usual cold-fingered misery but somehow it all got done and we were ready to leave by 10am.
We’d gone out about a mile when we came upon the Mountaineers Youth Group, a party of five (three boys and two adults). They had had a long day the day before – they were not able to drive to the trailhead and had to hike an extra 3 miles to reach it.
Since they didn’t start until 1pm they were still on the trail at dark and had to set up camp before reaching Kennedy Hot Springs.
We also met a couple of young men about half-way who wondered if they had enough time to hike to the springs and out again. We advised them to turn back and they did.
Their dog had turned back before they met us and we hoped the dog made it back to the trailhead. They passed us but about a half-mile from the trailhead we met them again – their dog had taken the trail back to the car so they were going back to look for her.
Just when we reached the cars the young men came back out – with their dog. They were lucky!
We enjoyed dinner in Darrington at the Back Woods Café and relived the best parts of our adventure.
Notes: *Happy Car was the name given to the aging Jeep that delivered us to many happy places, at least most of the time. Happy Car had a habit of breaking down or not starting up again at a trailhead.
**Kennedy Hot Springs is completely gone as is the Guard Station, buried under piles of debris from floods and landslides in recent years.
***Troop 70 – The Big Boys have grown up to be fine young men. It is safe to confess 14 years later that John and the Big Boys enjoyed a cigar while they soaked in the hot springs (Kathe and I declined the cigar).