7-Day Forecast for Scenic Hot Springs Area (2,900 ft near beginning of Trail Head)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Alcohol & Soaking

This past week we again had to assist an group of soakers get safely off the hot springs property due to irresponsible use of alcohol.  Two young men and a woman went up to the springs (without permission).  When they were encountered up there it became not so much a matter of asking them to leave . . . but a recognition that once again people are under-estimating their ability to deal with alcohol, hot spring waters, and the wilderness conditions up at Scenic.

When encountered, the girl was seriously dehydrated, vomiting over the side of the pool . . . and obviously drunk.  None of them had brought any water up with them and none of them had any form of light to get back down the trail despite the oncoming darkness of evening.  The girl had to be carefully assisted (halfway carried) back down the trail in vanishing daylight and then driven down to the FS gate.  Their unpreparedness and irresponsibility could have become a recipe for disaster.

Rick on his soapbox . . .
I don't drink.  Nor do I do 'recreational' drugs.  Not that I begrudge anyone else enjoying a drink or a toke . . . alcohol and drugs are simply not for me.  Have your drink . . . or a bowl; but please do so responsibly.  Misuse or overuse of alcohol and drugs have been one of the primary excuses put forth by the county to put draconian requirements on access to Scenic Hot Springs.  Every young group carrying up cases of beer to the hot springs . . . despite our continued random patrols . . . is putting access to Scenic in jeopardy for everyone.  Drink responsibly . . . please.  Better yet, get your high out of simply being out in nature!
Rick off his soapbox

Now, what did this young trio do wrong?  One, they trespassed and did not have permission to be up there. Two, they brought no water with them . . . but had plenty of booze.  And three, no headlamps or flashlights.

Water is an essential when you are soaking . . . and alcohol is not a substitute for water!  The springs run 105F to 115F and quickly produce dehydration and heat exhaustion that depletes water by sweating.  Only by drinking plenty of water or a fluid-replenishment drink can you keep your electrolytes in balance.

Alcohol masks a lot of symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration and also hastens progress.  No one should ever drink so much alcohol that they lose common sense about what is going on . . . especially in the wilderness near quickly-approaching nightfall.

Guys . . . Gals . . . we care about you!  Please remember that you are several miles into the wilderness.  If something goes wrong you are a long way from help.  Drink responsibly and be prepared for the conditions, terrain, and nightfall that comes very suddenly on the mountainside.  Read the Conditions of Access instead of just saying you agree to them.  We wrote them for a reason and none of us need to give the county any more reasons to further limit access to Scenic Hot Springs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Quick History of Scenic Hot Springs

Often requested is a short history of the springs.  The history of the springs is fascinating . . . inextricably tied to the railway and the early history of Washington . . . at then, still a territory.  The story begins with the original federal land grants to the railroad and magnates like James Hill of the Great Northern Railroad (now BNSF) and Frederick Weyerhaeuser of timber fame.  The stories range from the diaries of a young girl growing up in Scenic, the construction camps of those early rail workers to the history still soaked up in the Iron Goat Trail . . . the original switchback route over Stevens Pass.  the stories include disasters like the Wellington Train Avalanche disaster on March 1st, 1910 that remains to this day the worst train-avalanche disaster in the U.S. history.

Scenic Hot springs has been known and used in recent history since the 1880s when it was delightfully ‘discovered’ by rail workers constructing the original rail route over Stevens Pass.   There is no history (traditional or otherwise) of the Native American population ever using the springs.  Native Americans had seasonally berry-picked the area, but used nearby Cady Pass at 4,300 feet to cross the Cascades, and had seemed to miss Stevens Pass at 4,000 feet as a suitable crossing point.  The nearest "Indian" tribe was the Skykomish people who populated the area now known as Index . . . and rarely wandered further east than the valleys around the present-day town of Skykomish (The Skykomish Tribe . . . now a part of the Tulalips) . . . traveled  mainly on the North Fork of the Skykomish River.

At the sources of the hot springs
(source: Seattle Times, March 11th, 1906)

The actual discovery of the springs is generally credited to Stevens and Haskell during their searches for a rail route over the Cascades.  During construction of the three alignments of the Great Northern route over Stevens Pass (culminating in the current Cascade Tunnel in 1929), Japanese workers used the hot springs at the sources.  Eventually, a hotel was built at the eastern terminus of the line from Seattle and water piped down to be re-heated.  The actual springs, however, remained the purview of non-white railroad laborers

Analysis of spring waters
Notably missing from the analysis is the Lithium content.
The flow rate of 4 Miner's Inches is equivalent to 30 GPM,
not far off the present flow rate.
(source: Seattle Times, March 11th, 1906)

During those early days the hotel (and later, the burgeoning community around it) were variously called Madison Hot Springs and Scenic Hot Springs.  On completion of the Switchback lines over Stevens Pass,  an upscale sanatorium and hotel (the Scenic Hot Springs Hotel) operated and boasted of the hot springs waters and the boons to health.  That hotel (and its previous two incarnations) were built by a Mr. Prosser next to the newly constructed Great Northern railway line over Stevens Pass (the Iron Goat Trail nowadays).  

The hotel in it's early days . . . later extensively landscaped.
(source: Seattle Times, August 27th, 1905)

The hotel was a luxurious resort for the rich and famous (and white) from Seattle . . . the hot springs water piped two and a half miles down the mountain to the hotel where it was reheated to 130 F.    Sadly, that hotel was torn down in 1929 to make room for the new Cascade Railroad Tunnel under Stevens Pass.  As recompense to the owner of the hotel, the Great Northern Railway deeded the 40 acres containing the hot spring sources within its railway land grant to Mr. Prosser.  Later a partnership of Seattle-area doctors bought the property as a recreational getaway.  In the fifties, the property was extensively harvested for its timber . . . there are still remnants of old logging spurs on the property to this day and, if you view the property from Hwy 2 closer to Stevens Pass you can clearly see the property boundaries where sixty years of new growth has filled in the forty acres.

Scenic Hot Springs in the late 90s . . . the large deck almost finished.

During the late 1980s and 90s Scenic was ‘rediscovered’ by a new generation. Elaborate pool construction and deck work on the steep forested slopes commenced without the property owners knowledge nor proper permits for sensitive and steep slopes. In the 90s into 2001 Scenic became a party destination, garnering too much attention. Alcohol and drug abuse was rampant, assaults common and car vandalism a major problem. In October of 2001 the King County Sheriff’s Department gave the owner an ultimatum . . .remove the illegal construction and abate activities at the springs, or face the legal consequences. A few days later deputies raided the springs and dismantled the pools and deck work. That destruction sat on the mountainside for the next several years until the present owner bought the property with promises to reopen Scenic Hot Springs legally to the public once again. Today we remain in sensitive negotiations to obtain those permits.

The present owner is Mike Sato.  He is Japanese.  Mike lives in Canada and is probably the foremost expert in North America on hot springs.  Mike has operated Meager Creek Hot Springs in Canada and has been involved in the management and operation of Skookumchuck Hot Springs (also in Canada).  Matt and myself (Rick) represent Mike's interests at Scenic Hot Springs.  Mike's intent is to keep Scenic rustic and eventually reconstruct three natural-rock soaking pools, a proper latrine, changing room and caretaker's cabin on the property.  Our job is to break the old, troublesome behavior of the past and control access to Scenic . . . make Scenic a good neighbor so the county will issue those final permits.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cold Temps Are Coming

Scenic traditionally gets its first snowfall around the middle of October each year.  I suspect that this year will be no different and, in fact, forecasts are predicting a wetter and colder winter season this year.  Already, the nighttime lows for Stevens Pass are dipping into the below freezing range.  Stevens Pass is at 4,000 ft . . . the hot springs are only 500 ft lower (at 3,500 ft).  It will not take much of a fluctuation in weather patterns to suddenly drop cold, wet, freezing weather onto unprepared visitors to Scenic Hot Springs.

Six or seven years ago the owner and myself witnessed a man and his young son from Oregon heading up to the hot springs in late afternoon.  They appeared to be in good shape and wore bulky clothing that we assumed was adequate.  After stopping on the upper BPA Road and talking to them, Mike gave his permission to get in a quick soak before nightfall descended.  He had their assurances that they would be off the mountain before it got dark.  That was October 15th and it had been drizzling cold slushy rain all afternoon with traces of white snow beginning to stick to the ground.  Mike and myself were dead-tired, thoroughly soaked and cold beneath our rain-slickers, and starving for some chow.  We left them, thinking little to the potential of a sudden weather change.  After all, we had their assurances.

The next day Mike went back up to Scenic with another of our volunteers . . . it might have been Matt but I'm not sure.  The drive up to the trail-head was a treacherously slippery powering up with one to two inches of snow.  Halfway up they came across the young boy from the day before, exhausted and near collapsed . . . tugging and pulling on his father's arms . . . attempting to drag him down the BPA Road and the safety of their car still parked at the gate.

Mike and the volunteer got the two into the cab of the truck, turned around and got them to safety.  At the car . . . heater going full and father just coming around . . . they got the story out of the pair.  They'd made it up to the springs alright . . . soaked and dallied and lost track of time as the snowflakes fell faster and fatter.  The sky became a whiteout and snow quickly piled up . . . and just as quickly, suddenly it was getting dark.  Father and son decided it was time to head back.  Problem was . . . where was the trail?  Their footprints up had been eradicated by four to five inches of fresh snow. 

The pair made it halfway to the switchback and then did the only sensible thing.  They backtracked to known safety . . . the hot springs.  They risked a miserable night in the hot springs versus getting hopelessly lost like a lone hiker did in 1995.  I will recount that story some other time . . . as I witnessed some of the events leading up to a massive search and rescue effort and miraculous rescue after four days.  Our father and son team decided to stick it out in the one warm place within reach . . . the hot spring pools.

They spent the night there . . . miserable, without any lights and continuing snowfall.  By morning the snow had stopped and they decided to try and find their way out in daylight.  Unfortunately, all their clothing had become soaked through and through.  Try they did in wet clothing and near-freezing temperatures.  At some point on the way down, the boy's father simply couldn't go any further.  He was falling into hypothermic shock . . . given up and lay down in the snow.  The boy persevered and dragged his father down those slopes to the point where Mike encountered them.  Fortunately, everything turned out all right and both recovered quickly once back in their car with a change into dry clothes and the heater going full.  It could have turned tragic.

Weather in the Cascades can turn fickle very quickly.  As I sit here typing these words it is pouring outside.  Up in the mountains the snow level is quickly dropping.  Thunderheads are piling up over the Cascade ridges.  Will it snow tonight?  Probably not but are you willing to risk your life on going up there unprepared for our fickle Cascade weather?  Scenic gets some of the worst conditions as winds channel through the passes and dump moisture at record rates before climbing over the pass to the other side.  Don't underestimate Mother Nature.  Be prepared!

  • Cotton Kills:  When cotton clothes get wet they soak heat very quickly away from your body.  Wear wicking, synthetic underclothes and an insulating, water-repellent outer shell.  Layer your clothes to add or remove as the temperatures require.
  • Wear sturdy hiking boots:  This is not the time for sneakers, flip-flops, fancy dress boots with big heels.  Keeping your feet warm is half the battle . . . those feet have to carry you back out at the end of the day.
  • Wear gloves . . . insulating and water-proof.  The extremities feel the cold early and quickly become useless if cold forces cramping of fingers.
  • Wear a warm hat:  We lose sixty percent of all our body heat through our heads.
  • As snow deepens on the slopes of Scenic (and it can get to twenty feet deep at the height of winter), consider taking along your snowshoes and crampons to deal with soft snowfalls and icy slopes.
  • Carry a couple of large plastic bags in your backpack . . . they serve to protect your clothes while you soak, give you someplace dry to sit down upon, and in a pinch could provide a DIY poncho or shelter if worse comes to worse.
  • Carry your cell phone . . . fully-charged and kept warm to prolong battery life.  Cell phones often do work at the hot springs site in an emergency.
  • Have two to three different ways to light a fire in an emergency.  Invest in a $3 tube of fire paste that will sustain a fire even with wet, green wood.  Make your own water-proof matches by dipping wooden kitchen matches in paraffin and storing in a water-tight film canister along with a striking surface (such as a piece of emery cloth or sandpaper).
  • Have a couple days worth of high-energy snacking foods and water to sustain you in the event things turn really ugly and you have to sit it out.  Don't eat snow for water . . . you drive your core body temperature way down.  Don't drink hot springs waters . . . the mineral load will probably give you distress.
Above all . . . don't panic.  and you did let someone know where you were going and the expected time back, didn't you?

Winter can be the best time to visit Scenic but please visit it safely.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Late Night Trespassers

A continuing problem and one we are going to deal with, involving law enforcement.  Two samples from last week . . . if this is you, you are not welcome at Scenic.  If we catch you at Scenic we will have charges pressed.

I'm particularly concerned with the individual carrying what appears to be a shotgun . . . accompanied by half a dozen dogs and inadequately dressed accomplices.  Are these also the people who tore down a metal roofing section, dragged it beside the soaking pools, and used it to hold a fire late at night?

A group of four (including a young child) and a guy with a gun.
The video shows numerous dogs running loose

The second example of trespassing is the guy in a full-body white pickup truck that comes rolling in about 10pm and doesn't leave until after 4am . . . at which time the video shows several other accomplices.  I've seen this same truck on surveillance before (which gives me the license plate).  Is this the same individual who has been making unauthorized changes to the springs?

Arrived around 10pm, left after 4am

Finally, an authorized visitor.  The video shows this GSA-plated vehicle going through the gate and up.  I bring it up because these Federal officers were responding to a complaint in the area.  Yes, they do have the key and we welcome their presence.  We do not welcome uninvited trespassers who jeopardize the future of Scenic and might bring law enforcement responses of a less-friendly nature through those gates.

GSA-plated law enforcement just back from the area above

Soaking in Wet Weather

Autumn is upon us with cooler weather . . . soon to be cold weather.  A sensible precaution from Matt . . . carry a couple of large trash bags with you and use them to keep your clothing and other belongings dry while you soak.  The plastic trash bag will keep your clothes safe and out of the rain . . . and also prevent the huge amount of humidity near the springs from dampening your clothes and making for a cold, miserable trip back down the mountain after your soak.

As a Friend of the Wilderness, that trash bag can also do double-duty to pack out some of the trash left by other, inconsiderate people.  And, in a sudden downpour, poke a couple of holes in an extra sack for arms and head to make a makeshift and very effective poncho.

Cold weather is coming soon.  In the last several years, first snowfall at Scenic has been around the middle of October.  Be prepared!  After soaking your skin will be thoroughly hydrated and very susceptible to cold injuries (frost nip, frost bite, hypothermia) Avoid wearing cotton as cotton, wet, saps heat faster than if you were nude.  The cliche with outdoor types is that "cotton kills".  Practice layering and wear a weather-proof outer shell.  Have gloves and some sort of warm hat.

Put away the sneakers and light-weight hiking shoes.  Time to pull out the hiking boots.  The trail up to Scenic is steep and rough . . . slippery in wet weather.  Protect your feet from rolling an ankle with sturdy footwear.

Lastly, if you haven't requested and received permission, do so before traipsing onto private property.  It's easy to do so with an email to and we rarely turn anyone down if they accept the Conditions of Access.  If nothing else, at least let somewhere know where you are going.

Finally, these activities are expressly prohibited on Scenic property:

  • Night time visits or camping
  • Campfires or fires of any kind
  • Pets (specifically dogs)
  • Motorized vehicles of any kind (with the exception of BPA, Law Enforcement, and Scenic reps)
  • Firearms (this also becomes a Federal offense if carried or fired within the BPA clearcut)