07.23.06 - 07.25.06
My trip to Stanley Hot Springs was full of surprises. This was my
first trip into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, which was the 1st
Wilderness Area designated in Idaho and one of the first of the
entire United States. It lies directly north of the massive Frank
Church River of No Return Wilderness, and is separated from the
Frank by only one road, the Magruder Road.
We broke camp at
Wilderness Gateway Campground at 4am in an effort to beat the heat.
We were unfortunate to arrive during a week-long heat wave of
mid-90s to 100+ temperatures. The last part of the hike down to Rock
Creek was rough. There was little water, the trail was thrashed and
loaded with horse poop due to extreme outfitter activity - in many
places it was like hiking up jagged stairs. And, horse traffic on
the trail proved cumbersome as the heat ratcheted up.
Horses have the
right-of-way here, so every time they are encountered backpackers
and hikers have to get off the trail, approx. 5-6 feet below the
horses and crush beautiful foliage as a result while the horses pass
and kick rocks and dirt all over the party below. This makes for
slow going, and if you have heavy backpacks on can really suck. We
had to do it 4 times. Some of the outfitters were actually upset at
having to deal with us backpackers, I think it was because our dogs
spooked their horses and one of them spilled their beer. All in this
particular party were drinking beer and smoking cigars while on the
It was more than
refreshing to finally drop down to ford Rock Creek slightly before
the hot springs. The cool creek water was a nice reprieve against
the hot, humid weather and biting horse flies. Upon arrival to the
hot springs I spoke with a friendly, traveling couple from Maine on
their way to Washington - hitting hot springs all along the way.
Once we decided on a
primitive camp from the many available we setup and prepared for our
first soak in Stanley. It was excellent to say the least. My
thermo-watch consistently clocked in at 103 in the optimal pool. The
deep and wide soaker washed the painful hike away.
In addition to the
traveling couple from Maine, there was another traveling couple that
spent the night, a naturalist lady who apparently was living for an
extended period at the site directly above the pool, a few day
hikers, another couple that spent a single night and a family that
arrived while we were leaving. The naturalist lady had tons of jars
of berries, roots and other edibles stored at her campsite along
with other items that suggested that she was living at this site for
an extended period of time.
At dusk, on the 2nd day
of our 3 day stay we were greeted by a legendary hot springs
soaker... the hot springs moose (see video clips). This was the
pinnacle of the trip to Stanley, and watching the moose enjoy the
hot springs reminded me just how truly unique this place is.