Hike One: Bear Basin & Trail Creek Hot Springs (McCall/Cascade, ID)

In addition to hiking more in 2018, my goal is to also write more. As a Master’s student in English, it would make sense that I enjoy writing, though I’ve found the frequency with which I do it when not forced to in an academic setting is pretty low. But the only way my non-academic writing is going to get better is if I actually do it so here we go! I’ll try to keep this clean, but I guarantee nothing. An English professor of mine told me I have a mouth like a longshoreman, and there’s very little you can do to change that once you’ve managed to use f*ck as a verb, noun, and adjective all in one sentence.

Emily and I decided to head up to McCall this weekend to stay at her family’s condo. This winter in Idaho has been pretty much the exact opposite of last winter: where the east coast is held hostage by this winter vortex, we have seen very little snow and even less cold weather. Last year, it snowed almost 40 inches in Boise, which caught everyone here off guard. This year, though, we have only seen a few days of snow, which were quickly followed by rain. But don’t worry–the inversion is still here! We thought McCall would have a bit more snow being higher up in the mountains, and in fact, snow had been predicted, but the warm weather meant that we only got rain on Friday night, which made our snowshoe excursion a bit more difficult (though there was still about a foot or so of snow up on the mountain).

I think it had been a while since I had been up to McCall in the winter. McCall is a great place year-round, but I’ve always been more of a summer activities sort of person, so Emily and I would come camping or hiking near McCall during the summer months. Driving up Highway 55 past Cascade, it’s a bit eerie to see the familiar landscape almost frozen in time. The once raging river that winds next to the highway now carves lazy paths through the thick snow blanketing the ground; the usually green pine trees dotting the mountain loom like dark shadows; the colorful valley, which seems so alive in the summer is completely still; the restaurants along the highway are empty, posters that say “closed for the winter” propped up in the windows or spelled out with missing letters on their roadside signs. Driving into McCall, however, the Christmas lights are still up, casting a colorful glow along the road as we drive to the lake.

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On Saturday, we headed up the hill for a bit of snowshoeing. We started our journey at Bear Basin Trailhead, just outside of McCall (right before you cross from Valley County into Adams County). The trailhead is well marked and there is ample parking. When we drove up, there were dogs running all over the place as their owners struggled into their winter gear. In addition to offering snowshoe trails, Bear Basin is probably more well-known for their groomed cross-country ski trails, and the fact that the trails are “dog-friendly.”

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Since we had never snowshoed in McCall before (and we had listened to the “Spooked” podcast the entire drive from Boise to McCall), we headed over to the small house next to the parking lot, where we had to pay $5 per person to use the snowshoe trails, but also to talk to the guy who seemed to know his stuff (based on the fact that he was collecting our money). He cracked some joke about not being able to see the wolves in the fog that had settled over the looming pine trees, chuckled to himself for a good five seconds, and then explained the different trails around Bear Basin, including the groomed snowshoe trails and the groomed cross-country ski trails. I made sure he remembered our faces and the truck we were driving, in the event we were eaten by Sasquatch or, more probable, the wolves lurking in the dense fog (case in point, I’m fairly certain there are no wolves, but after all those podcasts of unexplained phenomena, I wouldn’t be surprised if some giant alien-like wolf ate us). Though Bear Basin offers pre-made snowshoe trails, they aren’t exactly plentiful, but the guy let us know that the cross-country trails were all over the mountain, and we could create our own snowshoe paths wherever we saw fit. It is one of my favorite things about snowshoeing: a lack of path or groomed run won’t stop you from exploring exactly what you want to explore.

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In addition to the map he gave us before sending us on our way, cell phone service is not an issue on the mountain, and we had clear signals throughout our 3.5-mile journey. Thank God, too, because we had several instances where we had to stop, look around, and lament out loud “where the f*ck are we??” Something I think we definitely will be investing in in the future is some sort of gps tracker or watch or something that would let us know where we are, and also let Search and Rescue know.

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After our first snowshoe/hike of 2018, we headed back to the condo and watched the American Pie series. I’m not even embarrassed to admit that. Because those movies are amazing, and more so, a complete testament to our teenage years.

On our way back to Boise on Sunday, we decided to take a “quick” 40-minute detour off Highway 55 by Cascade and head to Trail Creek Hot Springs. Trail Creek had been recommended by a friend of mine, as well as the Outdoor Project. I plugged the name into my Apple Maps, and I’ll just say it, Apple Maps is the worst. It at least took us in the right general direction, but stopped about 30 minutes before the actual parking area for the hot springs. Thankfully Google Maps had us covered. We took Warm Lake Road back for about 25 minutes, and the views in the mountains were absolutely stunning.

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I love the way the trees look frozen in place with snow weighing heavy on their branches. The road was incredibly icy and incredibly snowy, so snow tires or some sort of 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended, at least during winter months. When we found the parking area (or what we assumed was the parking area), we couldn’t find where the hot springs actually were. The snow from the plowed road was piled high off to the sides, making ascertaining anything below the snow mountain difficult to see. Luckily there were other people at the hot springs, and we heard voices below the road (the steam coming off the side of the mountain was probably also a good indicator).

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Attempting to get down to the hot springs, I’m sure, is no sweat in the summer. However, in the middle of January, the snowy path had frozen over from frequent use, and the only logical way to get down was to sit on your ass and slide (there are ropes tied to trees, so coming back up you can pull yourself along as your legs slide left and right out from under you). I almost took out a couple of trees on the way down, but we made it! There are two naturally heated pools nestled in a creek, with cold water being piped from the creek and cold pools to the hot pools. The temperature was insanely hot in some places and insanely cold in others, which just meant we had to move around frequently in order to avoid burning up. We shared our pool with another couple, and a group of 20-somethings had set up shop in the other pool (with lots of beer). We were able to relax for almost 30 minutes before the afternoon crowd descended on our quiet area, and soon there were almost 15 people there with dogs running around, digging furiously at rocks and splashing cold water as they galloped through the creek. We decided at that point it was time to head back home.

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All in all, 2018 is off to a good start! Stay tuned!

For the mood of the hike, check out Agnes Obel’s “Under Giant Trees.”

For the mood of the hot springs, check out Amanda Shires’s “When You’re Gone.”

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