Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Skies clear for a few hours for a spectacular show
Well folks, you missed one spectacular stellar show of the Orionids Meteor Shower this past Monday night. Though the weather at first didn't seem like it was going to cooperate, the clouds did part and clear at the elevation of the hot springs for a few hours just as the constellation Orion was coming into view directly above the hot springs. The trails of meteors streaked across crystal-clear skies every couple of minutes and I can't think of any better way to watch the show than to lay back in very comfortable water far away from extraneous lights.
Ten people had responded, giving desire to join in. As one of the stewards of Scenic Hot Springs, we don't often give permission to visit the hot springs at night . . . the dangers of hiking in the dark, misbehavior by visitors at night . . . being the primary reasons. A night visit doesn't happen too often. So I was a little disappointed when no one showed up at the gate after having responded positively. The weather, I guess. Fog was thick and the weather cool and on the damp side. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was committed because I'm hosting this event and I'd like to get any visitors up there before nightfall makes the trip iffy.
Eventually, I give up and head into the clearcut to park. The fog (or clouds) are thicker up here. The outside temperature gauge in my car says it is 46F outside. The air was still which helped. By the time I reached the trailhead proper at 3,000ft, I knew I was hiking directly into the heart of a cloud latched onto the upper mountain slopes. It got heavier and moister the higher I hiked. I could feel the dew beading on my skin, but I was feeling comfortable and enjoying every moment of the slow stroll up.
I reached the springs right as the last of the day was slipping below the western ridges. Time to set myself up, pull out those trash bags to protect my gear from dew (and possible rain) . . . and get into that marvelous water. Immersion into 103F silky water has a decidedly sensuous rush to cold-tightened skin. The water was perfect! The only disappointing part was that I could see no more than fifty feet or so above me. The springs were smack-dab in the middle of an obstinate cloud! No star views.
Night darkened and I soaked, alternating between the comfortable Bear Den pool and the much hotter 118F Lobster pool . . . and then out to stand and cool on the small deck with a cup of coffee before slipping back into the springs.
Around 8-8:30pm the clouds slowly oozed downward on the slopes. Some action of thermodynamics as the temperatures lowered? It was getting colder out. Below, on the slopes, I could see the top of the cloud bank, almost touchable . . . any potential head and tail lights from Hwy 2 far beyond seeing. Above, crystal-clear and millions of stars peppering jet-black heavens. I lay back to watch.
The Orionid Meteor Showers are the dust-particle-sized remains of Halley's Comet during it's last pass through the inner solar system. Once a year, during October, the Earth passes through that region of space and those tiny particles get swept into our atmosphere to burn up as meteor trails. The Orionids are so named because they appear to originate from the constellation Orion (those three closely-spaced stars in a line near Sirius . . . the brightest star in the sky . . . that we have all seen, but maybe not recognized).
Orion was due to rise directly overhead around midnight (from the southeast). At midnight the meteor showers would appear to be coming in directly from above. In the few hours before zenith, the showers would be streaking across the sky from the southeast . . . a much more persistent view. As I watched, lo and behold . . . there was one, directly over the crest of the slopes. A minute or two later, another. In the untainted black of the skies far from city lights the trails were stark and long lasting until the final burnout halfway across the skies.
Guys (and gals), you missed a show!
The shoulder of Orion was just coming into view when a new bank of clouds started occluding the stars above. Well, I got the best part, I suppose. I waited, hoping the mists were just tempoary but no dice. They just got thicker . . . and my soles and palms were getting wrinkly from prolonged soaking. Time to head back down.
The headlamp was almost useless, the hike slow and with very careful footing. By the time I reached the clearcut 500ft below, the wind had picked up and misting rain begun. Near the bottom I did get disoriented for a moment, wondering where my car was. I started to turn toward Scenic Creek until I stopped, thought about it and reasoned it out. Wrong side trail. Fifty feet away and totally obscured sat refuge and warmth. Moral of that thought . . . don't ever get so complacent or cocksure that you make a mistake that can get you completely turned around. Weather changes in an instant in the Cascades. That's the reason I carry survival supplies in my backpack . . . I know Scenic as well as most people (perhaps better), but I almost went off in the wrong direction.
Back inside the car as the heater is getting up to strength, the temperature gauge shows how much the weather has cooled. 36F. I'd been peppered on the final stretches by the light sting of snow. The windshield has a patchwork of those wet, melting particles now. Cold enough.
Yeap, you sure missed a great stellar event, folks.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Here's your chance for an escorted and permitted nighttime visit to Scenic Hot Springs to lay back in the hot springs waters and watch the annual Orionid Meteor Showers at their best on Monday night with a new moon. Conditions are predicted to be optimal.
This event will be escorted by a couple of volunteers from just before nightfall until the wee hours of the morning (midnight brings Orion, where the showers are coming from, and Sirius above the horizon for the best view in Scenic's awesome star-gazing vantage point). Participation is limited at a cost of $10 per person.
Dress appropriately, bring a snack and drink . . . and lay back for this stellar event!
Hike in begins one hour before sunset on the 19th of Oct, 2009 (Monday).
Advance registration only (email) or sidebar link
Advance registration only (email) or sidebar link
From Mike Sato:
Meager Creek this past June (before the slide)
Meager Creek Hot Springs was closed on September 19th due to a mudslide that occurred at Capricorn Creek. The Upper Lillooet River campsite and Meager Creek Hot Springs were fine. However, about 200m of Meager Creek FSR was washed out. Also the Capricorn bridge was washed out. So visitors will not be able to access Meager Creek Hot Springs until next spring. The mudslide damage was very large, so Meager Creek Hot Springs's reopening will depend on how fast the BC Ministry of Forest can fund the reconstruction of the bridge and access road.
Meager Creek this past June (before the slide)
People, fortunately are beginning to request permission . . . and that's good. But handling requests to visit takes shuffling and time so if you note the sidebar, as people request a date to visit (and there are no other priorities) I will be entering them on the Google Calendar so that we have some idea of who's going up.
In talks with the owner, we've also introduced a method to contribute to the cost of maintaining these pools for your visit. A five dollar fee ($5) per person, per visit is now expected in advance of all users requesting permission to visit the hot springs. Visitors caught at the hot springs (or on the trail) without advance permission will first be assessed as to whether they should be allowed on the property and if so, then asked ten dollars ($10) per person or turned around. There will be no exceptions to this policy!
Contributions are used to maintain the pools, cover some of the costs of continually having to respond to incidents up at Scenic and for necessary pool maintenance (relining, etc.) to make this an enjoyable location for a soak. If you want to enjoy it then pitch in!
On a different note . . . nighttime visits are continuing and, we are going to put a stop to them. A number of volunteers have come forward to help Matt, Bob and myself stand guard duty with authority to turn around people heading up to the springs near nightfall. A benefit of being up there is that we are not going to begrudge the volunteerism of their time for a soak, themselves.
I didn't get a soak, myself, this last Tuesday . . . but I did turn back twelve people intent on sneaking up to the springs at night. Six of them were understanding and polite . . . the other six (a group of young men and women) were outright obnoxious . . . even claiming after they asked how to get permission . . . that they had permission. Sorry . . . that was a lie and you're still not going to get permission to soak up at Scenic in the dark.
One additional note: There is likely someone camping in the trees near the springs. One car . . . a beat-up red Toyota with Oregon plates has been there for several days, getting moved around (on Tuesday, actually parked on Hwy 2 . . . hope it got towed). I could not account for that person with the count of people asked to leave, but there is evidence that someone is living up there. I felt the same thing a week earlier when I spotted a candle flicker near the latrine but was unable to follow through the fresh snow.
I would ask everyone (volunteers and visitors) to protect the integrity of Scenic and help keep us informed of problems happening up there. Don't put yourself in jeopardy by confronting . . . just inform and let us know. We are fully prepared to start pressing charges against troublemakers.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Monday, October 05, 2009
. . . or, how do you get out of that wonderful water and get dressed without freezing your buns off?
I'm often amused by the hopping antics some soakers go through after a long and relaxing natural hot spring soak when they have to get out of the toasty warmth into cold weather. Some delay the inevitable for as long as possible and then go through a mad rush to find clothing and cover themselves amid 'brrrrrrrr's and wrapped arms around chests and one step, two step gingerly hopping on snow while shivering and declaring, 'Damn, it's cold out here!' Others again delay and quickly slip back into the pool amid growing worries that the day is getting long . . . the sun is sinking and sooner or later they're gonna have to face the cold if they ever want to get back home. It's only going to get colder out.
I'm amused because it's not that traumatic an event . . . if you're prepared and you know the secret to getting out of a superheated hot spring pool into freezing weather without yourself becoming a popsicle. Let's debunk one myth; you're not going to freeze. You might feel a little bit of the cold . . . how much depends on how you get out of the pool and whether the clothes you wore in are still dry. Two steps ...
Keep Your Clothes Dry
This is the 'be prepared' part. It does your soul no good if you emerge comfortable and toasty warm from a hot springs pool only to have to put on wet and cold (perhaps frozen) clothes. While you were wearing those clothes on the hike in they stayed warm along with your body . . . they wicked out sweat from the exertion of the hike. It doesn't take much time for really cold weather to freeze and stiffen those trace amounts of perspiration and moisture in your clothing into a shivering nightmare of redressing.
An intelligent hiker practices layering, avoids cotton and then forgets that these principles only work when the heat of your body is powering the system. Remove the clothes to partake in a soak, and your clothes are now subject to the environment on their own. Any moisture in them will freeze if the temperature is low enough . . . and you have to put that clothing back on . . . frozen as it is. Even if temperatures are not below freezing, there is nothing more miserable than having to put wet socks and boots back on for the hike out. As a hiker who hikes nude in cold conditions all the time (and enjoys it), I can attest that if my feet are dry and warm the rest of the body does not feel the cold quite as much. Get my feet wet and bone-chilling cold and I won't be hiking long.
Soooooo . . . while you are soaking, keep your clothes dry! That starts with having somewhere to keep your clothes while you are soaking away. The simplest answer is to carry a couple of plastic trash bags in your pack and use them to keep your clothes out of the elements. Plastic sacks also come in handy to sit or stand on and keep bare skin off snow, ice or frozen surfaces.
Ideally, segregate outer damp or wet clothing from drier inner clothing using two plastic sacks. Don't forget to protect your boots from the elements as well. A good approach is to pack a second set of dry inners wrapped around an activated foot warmer to keep them warm for when you need them. Whatever approach you take, the idea is not simply to hang your clothes from a tree or a post nearby, but to keep them dry and warm for a comfortable hike out. The sacks you used to protect your clothes can then be used to pick up a little of the trash left by less considerate users and pack it out.
Emerge in stages
This is the real secret to getting out of a hot spring into cold weather. Don't just hop out and madly try to dry yourself while shivering. Dry yourself from the top down while still in the pool, rising higher as you dry. For example, sit up exposing the upper chest and towel your head, shoulders and arms off. Stand up and towel down to the waist . . . and so on until your merely have step out of the pool (perhaps onto the plastic of one of your trash bags) to dry your lower legs and feet off. The process is as simple as it gets yet I see few who practice it, instead ending up hopping around sopping wet and barefooted on the snow complaining about how cold it is!
Water (and water-dripping humans) conduct heat 50 times more effectively than still air. You've probably spent a good part of an hour soaking in 105 to 115F water . . . superheated your body . . . and then you complain when the environment soaks that heat away 50 times faster than if your skin were dry? Stay in the pool and rise in stages to dry yourself off, limiting the amount of time wet skin is in contact with cold air. It works . . . trust me.
Three parts of your anatomy are particularly susceptible to the cold. They are: your scalp, your hands and your feet (no, that other part is not as vulnerable as you might think). The scalp, with close surface blood vessels, radiates as much as 30% of the available heat in your body. The hands and feet have limited peripheral circulation and especially feel the cold. Pay special attention to drying these areas and then get them covered and out of the cold soonest (hat, boots and gloves).
How you dry is just as important. Forget thick, plush bath towels. They soak and hold water without really drawing enough moisture off your skin to be dry. Drying with a cotton bath towel in cold weather is like re-wetting your skin with the absorbed water after a few passes . . . and that towel is now cold as heck! And heavy to hike back out with because you're hiking the water out.
I prefer using a hiker's chamois (like the chamois we dry our cars with but marketed for backpackers). This item will suck an amazing amount of water from your skin, works wet and is easily renewed by wringing out. Another cheap alternative are the Shammy's and Sham-Wow's now advertised on TV. These viscose materials also make great cloths to use in the pool to wipe the face, cover the head, etc. A small chamois dries you much more effectively than a cotton towel.
Dry, you withstand the cold better . . . your superheated skin guarantees it. A small, dry cotton washcloth finishes the drying of head, hands and feet. Get a knit cap on your head, then fresh, dry socks with the boots . . . gloves if needed. Then you can get around to dressing the rest of yourself, knowing that most of the moisture is off your skin and your not going to saturate your inner, wicking garments on the way out because your skin is still slightly damp.
Better yet, stay nude and see how long you can withstand the cold with the heat you've absorbed from the hot springs. You'd be surprised at your endurance level if you keep moving and generating additional heat. Of course, know your limits and dress when even the first hints of cooling too much (mild hypothermia) become evident. You'd be surprised at how pleasant cold weather nude hiking feels . . . especially after a hot springs soak!
The following is provided by a visitor to the springs who asked and was authorized to visit this past Saturday.
Rick, we had a great time, the tubs and the site looked great. however a [eastern European ethnicity-deleted] dad and 5 teenagers showed up, without permission, I filled them in on the rules and how to get permission. but then on our walk down we saw raisin wrappers and empty water bottles all over the trail on the way down, and they were not there on the way up. we picked them up and put them on the hood of their car. so if you get a e-mail from some [eastern European ethnicity-deleted] in Lynnwood I would deny the litter bugs permission.
Well dad . . . and kids? Sound like you? Are you teaching your children to be responsible citizens?