With a whole day ahead of us and nowhere to be (the bowl is closed now, after all), my S.O. and I decided to take an impromptu trip to Weir Creek Hot Springs. We shoved towels and beers and Nalgenes into the backpack, loaded up the dog, picked up some sandwiches, and headed down US 12. The whole drive took place in snow. Sometimes blue sky poked through the snowstorm, with sun hitting my arms, but snow piling on my windshield.
We took this as a good sign.
We sped past an almost empty Jerry Johnson parking lot, a rare sight, and:
Another good sign.
But then, coming around that last bend, we found the small Weir parking lot crammed with at least ten cars, including an RV. !@#$.
A guy stood near the trailhead, making a fire. He told me at least 25 college kids were having a big, drunken hoopla in the eight-to-ten-person pool. Another couple our age walked up to him and received the same news. We stood around the fire, wondering what to do. Jerry's pretty cold this time of year, but who wants to drive two hours back to Missoula, defeated? So we said we'd give it an hour to clear out. The fire had the same effect as the hot springs, and we quickly befriended each other.
Two cars full of more kayaks than people pulled in, heard about the party, and quickly turned around and left. Two more cars came, and, not discouraged by the hoopla, forged the trail anyway to join in. Four large Russian men clad completely in camouflage came out of the trail, hair still wet. They fed pumpkin seeds to my dog and laughed. One had a large glock attached to his belt.
Four down. Six up. The number of people in the pool since we got there had increased by two.
At five, we gave up our post and headed to the Lochsa Lodge for coffee and jalapeno burgers and beer-battered mushrooms. We went back to find an almost entirely cleared out parking lot, and we started our hike in.
The trail wasn't too bad. YakTraks helped. We stayed high on the trail, not chancing the lower trail that often disappears into the fast-moving creek. We passed a few stumbling college kids, navigating the trail with their arms out in front of them, too concentrated to notice us, too walk to drunk. But when we got to the pool at last, it was almost entirely empty. Seconds after sinking into the warm water, we looked at each other and agreed:
We soaked from 7:30 til after 10, with snow falling heavily around us, covering out bags, obliterating our trail. The water never felt too hot, and the company was great. By the way, did you know that one reason your fingers and toes prune in water is to help give you better traction? Worried a bit about the snow on the roads, we slipped out of the pool and began the awkward dance of getting dressed in the dark and snow and sand and cold while wet, trying to keep our clothing as dry and clean as possible.
Several inches of snow covered our trail and we held flashlights or phones to get out. Snow is better than ice, though, and provided some traction. The hike was actually invigorating, with steam still rising off our bodies by the time we reached the trailhead. We gathered around the fire one more time as our cars warmed up and cast nervous glances at the four or six inches now covering US 12.
And then we set out in a caravan with our new friends, not able to go over 25 miles per hour through the fresh snow. It took an hour to get to the Lochsaw Lodge—a drive earlier that had only taken 10 minutes or so. Our friends in their front-wheel drive Honda, decided to stop. We pulled into the lodge to find it closed up for the night. So, stopping was not an option, and with white knuckles, we started up the pass.
It wasn't as bad as we expected and we had grown resigned to the 25 mph rate we were going. Even after the snow melted towards Lolo, we stayed going slow because of all the deer along the road. But at 2:15, 12 hours after we left Missoula, we returned home. Wet, cold, tired, and happy.