Friday, December 21, 2007

Olympic Peninsula Retreat

My Olympic Peninsula retreat was lovely--the motel was sweet, simple--
just what I wanted. There was a cafe run by the family and some farm
animals in the back.

Locals stopped in to get their coffee and chat with the proprietors about the holiday, going into town ('PA' one called it; I've never heard Port Angeles referred to that way before), and how they were still clearing trees and chopping wood from the big storm. Apparently, the wind even knocked over a dumpster into the lake! They watched it float for awhile before it sank.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the hot springs because the camera was charging. It was late afternoon and getting a bit dark, too. The hike to the hot springs was 2.5 miles and took about an hour going up the mountain. I had some vertigo on the climb, whether from elevation, exertion, anxiety, I don't know. I was scanning the rock faces for cougar faces (just-in-cases), and wondering what advice Ogden Nash would give on meeting a mountain lion (die tryin?). At one point I thought I heard a jingle and whipped my head around--did I think it would be wearing a big collar that said "Coug"? In defense of my cougar-paranoia, though, the sign at the trailhead on what to do if you meet a cougar said: avoid hiking or jogging alone. And yes, I volunteer at a wildlife center and know that wildlife does not usually attack unless provoked. I also know habitat is decreasing and there have been unprovoked attacks.

The path evidently used to be a road--it was paved, being reclaimed by the mountain. In places there were breaks between trees on the left and I could see the drop to the river below. More vertigo. Then there was a change in the trees with the appearance of a grove of leafless deciduous trees--some kind of birch? Tall, thin, white trunks. They were absolutely still and seemed to eradicate distance and perspective. The rushing of the river below contrasted with the eerie stillness of the birches, which seemed to exist near and far simultaneously. It was like looking at a still photo on television to which sound effects have been added.

I only passed a few people going the other direction. Afraid I would never reach the springs (there was a distinct lack of signs in that part of the Olympic National Forest), I asked a young couple if they've come from the springs.
"How are they?
"They smell terrible," says the boy. I expected that, the smell of sulfur.
"Are they warm?"
"Yeah. There's a group of hippies in the last one," the boy says.
"I can deal with hippies," I say (not bothering to explain I come from hippies).

The springs were a series of small, shallow pools. Most seemed to have water that spilled over the sides (water circulation being a good thing for the health of the water and the people soaking in it), leaving a pale, sulfur trickle across the path. I picked one that was a climb up from the path. It was only waist deep when sitting, with muddy floor and a stream trickling in that was hotter than the pool temperature. Getting in wasn't a problem, but getting out and back into clean, dry clothes proved to be tricky with the muddy slope. I had a plastic bag, but two--one to use as a mat--probably would have helped. I had a flashlight, though, and this came in very handy when heading down the mountain (and across a stream) in the gathering dark. I caught up to the hippies, who seemed to be unconcerned about night falling. I had a nice chat with one of them as we walked along in the dark. I didn't learn his name and just thought of him as "The Hippie". When I got back to my motel I was about to shower when I realized I could take a bath and not have to clean the tub. So I took a bath both nights I stayed there. I went to dinner in Port Angeles, came back to my motel room and plinked on the ukulele for awhile before I fell asleep.

Although I didn't spend much time in the springs, it was special to be soaking out there in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by trees and fog. I would have liked it if the pool was deeper, though. I am curious to try other natural (undeveloped) hot springs. I will let you know when I do.

Other people's pictures of Olympic Hot Springs:
National Park site