“In a cavern, in a canyon…” As I hiked along deep creek that one line from oh my darling clementine kept echoing through my head. I was actually rather glad that it was just that one line since the rest of the song is so depressing. Although I suppose the other lyrics were piercing my subconscious with a subtle reminder that if I wanted to take my eyes off of the trail to enjoy the views I should probably stop moving my feet first. I definitely didn’t want to take a spill that would land me in the brine!
Though I’d originally planned on doing a short hike that day, the thought of celebrating Easter morning with a soak in the Hot Springs had spurred me onwards. Especially since I had fresh memories of the pouring rain and 40 degree weather of the previous day.
I figured I’d camp somewhere a couple of miles short of the hot springs and then arrive early in the morning for my sunrise soak. As I hiked through the canyon, however, it became clear that there wasn’t anywhere to camp on the side of the ravine. I was going to have to go all the way to the hot springs. Though it would make for a really long day, an evening soak sounded like a mighty fine addition to my plan!
As I rounded the final corner to the hot springs I could see tents off in the distance. Clearly I was not the only one to have had this idea! There were at least a dozen tents pitched among the trees down below me… I was used to seeing at most one tent pitched near where I intended to camp, so this came as a surprise. Where did all of these people come from?
As I descended the final 1/4 to 1/2 mile to the hot springs my disbelief increased. Not only were there a lot of people at the hot springs, there were a lot of completely naked people there! Apparently the hot spring was both very popular, and very clothing optional. Having hiked a hard 23 miles to get there I found it all a little overwhelming, but in an entertaining way.
One of my fellow thru-hikers saw me standing there at the edge of the crowd, clearly confused about where I should go and handed me a bottle of whiskey, “here, this should help.” It turned out that the two thru-hikers that were there had staked out an area by the creek and invited me to set up camp with them.
As I settled in they complained that all of the naked people in the hot springs were men and assured me that I would enjoy that much more than they did. I told them I wasn’t so sure, being the only woman in a hot spring full of lots of strange men (naked or not) didn’t sound like the most comfortable situation to me.
After settling into my little camping area, I changed into my swimming clothes and went over explore the hot springs. By that time it was almost 7 pm and I had the hot springs to myself for a few minutes. It was amazingly relaxing and just the right temperature (somewhere between 101 and 104F) as the chill of the evening started to settle in.
As I was sitting in the pool two other women (also in bathing suits) came and joined me. I really enjoyed relaxing and chatting with them. Especially since conversation with other women has been a bit of a rarity for me on the trail (so far I’ve seen 35 solo male thru-hikers, 3 solo female thru-hikers, 3 couples, and 1 horsewoman).
My guide book had said that there was plenty of good water at deep creek hot springs, but I didn’t want to fill my bottle from pools people were soaking in, so I asked where my new friends were getting their drinking water. They responded, without hesitation, that I should just go and get my water from the spring at the womb.
I imagine I must have given them a very strange look as I repeated, “the womb?” They looked at me and laughed before explaining that the “the womb” was the central hot spring up above us. Then they gave me directions to the copper pipe driven into the rock there where everyone gets their drinking water.
As I got out off the pool they continued to reassure me about the water… “It gets tested a couple of times a year and is completely clean, the only thing is you’ll want to let it cool down before you drink it.” I thanked them for the information and started wandering back towards my campsite. “Oh, and by the way, the water will give you a bit of a lift… it has lithium in it!”
I wondered about the lithium in the water… First whether or not it was true, and second whether or not I wanted my water with a side of lithium. All in all it still seemed like a better bet than the creek or the other pools of the hot springs.
When I got up to the womb I found a line a people filling their water bottles from the tiny little copper pipe. I waited my turn, filled my water bottles, and then let the water cool down. It seemed like the water coming out of the pipe was about 112-115 degrees. Though I’m not sure what kind of bugs might live in the water at those temperatures, having gotten giardia once, I always treat my water, and I certainly didn’t make an exception this time.
Easter morning I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise, a lot of naked people, and a comfortable soak in the hot spring affectionately called, “the crab cooker.” Though I really enjoyed my experience at the hot springs, I was looking forward to leaving the crowds behind and heading back into the wilderness.
The six mile walk from the hot springs out to the dam convinced me that I was way too close to LA. There was lots of graffiti (largely gay bashing) on the bridge and on the rocks of the canyon walls as I hiked out along the PCT. A fellow thru-hiker told me that a bunch of the other graffiti was gang related. It made me really sad to see some of the harsh realities of civilization encroaching on the trail.
It was also strange to encounter people heading into the hot springs carrying large machetes and swords, yes, swords (not boffer swords, not Japanese swords, not epees… Swords of a confusing make), strapped to their backs. Even though all of the people I met at the hot springs and on the trail as I headed out of the hot springs were very friendly, I enjoyed my newly regained solitude as I left deep creek behind and headed back into the desert.
P.s. The only official word I’ve seen about drinking from the hot springs is
the USDA’s report, which is kind of scary
Please don’t drink the water directly from the pools!