Conundrum Creek Hot Springs hike

This is a beautiful trail with green meadows and majestic snow-capped mountains. The plan was to hike up and spend 3 days at the hot springs. Our goal for the day was to camp about 1 mile below the springs for the first night. For a very popular trail, the parking lot was only half full and we only saw about 5 other people and they were coming down.

At mile 6 we had to ford the creek which was running very high and fast from snowmelt and recent rains. While the sun was starting to set, we still had time to get to our camp spot before dark. We had a hard time deciding where to cross the creek. We finally settled on a spot that looked the best. We switched to water shoes and rolled up our pants legs. Once we got in the icy water we saw that it was deeper and faster than we anticipated- almost up to our waist. It was a struggle to stand against the current but we got to the bank wet and without anyone falling in.

When we got to our camp spot about a quarter mile later, Trevor discovered the tent poles had fallen from my pack. While he went back to see if they were in the creek, Sarah and I gathered wood to build a fire. The rain soon started so we switched to trying to jerry-rig the tent to get some shelter ready.

We hadn’t been at it long when Trevor came back saying he couldn’t find the poles. Thinking the poles must be on the other side of the creek we decided to go back across, find the poles, and camp. With the rain falling, temperature dropping and near dark we knew we didn’t have much time.

To keep our clothes as dry as possible, we took off our pants and put on water shoes. As Trevor and Sarah stepped in they sank to their chests. The water started pushing Trevor away from the bank so we scrambled out. With the creek rising, we set up camp and got a small fire going to dry out.
The rain stopped for a bit and we ate dinner and stood around the fire drying out our clothes. However, the rain started up again after a couple hours. Knowing the creek would continue to rise we started immediately planning for an early morning exit.

We crawled into our sleeping bags and covered ourselves with the rain fly from the tent. This became wet on the inside from condensation and water leakage. Three people on 2 sleeping pads, a cold rain and covered with a wet rain-fly… worried about the morning creek crossing. Perfect conditions for a sleepless night.

Trevor got up when a splash of water from the rain-fly hit his face. He spent a good amount of time looking for the best crossing while Sarah and I got our gear together. Pack tightened and pants off again (I’ve never been sans-pants camping this much before) we started crossing the still raging, still ice cold stream. First Trevor, then Sarah, then me.

The water was waist deep and moving so fast it was hard to plant a hiking stick up-stream. I was determined to keep stable and keep moving. Bit by bit I inched across.

On the bank I once again realized how cold I was and dried off and got warm. Fastest I’ve ever gotten dressed. We got back on the trail and quickly found the poles where they’d fallen off my pack. Since a) our sleeping bags were wet, b) it was still raining, and c) we’d never be able to build a fire to dry out- we decided to head back down the mountain.

I’m sure we’ll be back.


  1. Oddly nervous, not sure why. Nerves calm as we hit the path, excitement takes over. Months of preparing and finally I’m here! Enamored with the beauty of the landscape, I relax contentedly over a picnic lunch. Enjoying every breathtaking moment of the hike and conversation with my family. Confidently passing campsite after camp site. Apprehensive at the sight of the water but trusting our guide. Complete surprise to find myself sitting on the log I just fell on. Determined to cross quickly, following without much thought. Feeling good to have made it across, albeit chilled. Hurrying to reach the warm fire promised just ahead. Momentary relief to see the tent laid out, melting into disbelief and sinking devastation as we realize the poles are missing. The trip feels over and yet so far from over at the same time. Nervous false hope as Trevor searches for the poles. Frustration at making no progress with either fire or shelter. Disappointment when he comes back empty handed, nervous about the impending dark and cold second crossing. Hurrying and knowing the dark is winning. Scared as the river is higher and pushes harder than before. Resigned to our situation, tackling one task at a time. Feeling the successes of making fire, a shelter, and food; I almost dare to hope we can salvage the trip. More rain brings frustrated disappointment. Long cramped hours of worry and dread. Nerves threaten to take over again in the morning – the feel of the river’s push is all too recent. One foot in and I feel strong – half way and I feel dizzy. Almost there and the swirling waters win – I fall into my brothers waiting hand, pulling me to the bank. Watch helpless and worried as Dad makes the same passage. Relief when he does not fall and we are all across. I heft my wet pack onto aching shoulders and begin the exhausted trip down. One step at a time, eyes threatening to close as I’m walking. My spent mind cannot even decide if this is success or failure. It is clearly both, which leaves me unsure of how to feel. Conundrum.

  2. Every experience is a journey, some ending in the ecstasy of success, others finishing in a lesson. Like good art it is our journey, our process of commitment that makes it unique. We may not have reached our initial goal as planned, but my experience getting to know 2 members of my family as I have never before is still a success in my eyes. We don’t always succeed in our goals but that doesn’t mean we failed either depending on what we take away. You win some and you loose some, but either way you get back out there and try it again, that’s what makes us strong. Can’t wait to do it again! 😉

  3. Great story! Nothing better than an adventure to make you appreciate your loved ones and keep things in perspective.

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