A few weeks ago some friends made reservations at Goldmyer, a natural hot springs located in the Upper Middle Fork Valley about 25 miles northeast of North Bend. Water from the source flows around 125ºF and cascades down into progressively cooler pools with a cold plunge pool at the bottom. The hot springs is surrounded by beautiful old growth forest and requires at minimum a rough drive on 17 miles of forest service roads and a 9 mile round trip trek to visit. When the road is impassable, Goldmyer can be a 20+ mile round trip outing. Reservations are required as the number of visitors is limited to 20 per day.
I was really looking forward to my first visit to the springs on Sunday. However, as the week went on the weather forecast became increasingly dismal with a 100% chance of rain. My original party decided to postpone and visit another time. Not to be deterred by rain, I easily convinced my friend Brian and his friend Mac to join me for a Sunday afternoon hot springs outing. We took my Jeep Cherokee since the drive is rough and with the rainy forecast we expected mud and water in places.
We left Seattle around 1:30pm, headed to North Bend, and then up the rough and bumpy Middle Fork Road for about 12 miles before turning towards the Dingford Creek Trailhead. The drive took about 2 hours and despite the bumps the roads were in good shape. We left the trailhead around 3:30pm to run the mostly flat 4.5 miles to Goldmyer, hoping to arrive just before dark. We had packed some food and a small stove to heat up soup while at the springs. There was a light dusting of snow in the trees and the road was covered with about 1-2″ of slushy snow and water, some spots much deeper, making for a pretty wet and cold run.
We paused at the bridge crossing onto the Goldmyer property about an hour later and snapped some photos of the beautiful view before continuing on to the caretaker’s cabin. The cabin is a sort of gatekeeper to Wonderland. You ring a little bell to check in with the caretaker and then hike straight up the hill about a half mile to the hot springs. I’m so glad we had just enough light to see the towering old growth trees on the property, many being 900 years old!
The friendly relief caretaker had just arrived that morning with his brother to manage the springs for the following week. We had the place all to ourselves and spent the next 4 hours laughing, chatting, relaxing, eating hot soup, and enjoying the amazing ambiance of this really special place. Around 8:30pm we reluctantly put our wet gear back on and hit the trail for the return run back to the car.
The last few hours of steady rain and rising temperatures had melted some of the road slush and created a cold wet mess. I was so happy I was wearing my Storm Socks over my wool running socks. They’re far from waterproof and won’t keep you warm and dry in these kind of conditions but they were definitely keeping my feet from freezing completely. We ran a steady pace to get quickly back to the car and out of our soaked gear. A waterfall near the trailhead was now raging like a freight train!
Back at the car I changed into dry clothes and as we headed down we grew a bit concerned about road conditions. There was an awful lot of water coming down the mountain. A few miles later we were stopped by water rushing swiftly across the road. We got out to look closer and after 10-15 minutes of accessing the terrain we made a group decision to go for it. The Jeep handled it well and while we had little trouble we all let out a sigh of relief. That was tricky and potentially dangerous. We high-fived each other and celebrated.
We made it maybe another 500 feet before getting stopped again by a second washout that was deeper and swifter. The crossing was narrow and looked manageable with the Jeep but the water was flowing so swiftly that it had cut a pretty deep channel through the road. We were nervous. We looked around and found a possible crossing up higher but it would require going through quite a bit of rock, dirt, and small debris. Very worrisome if we got stuck or hung up. As we stood there trying to pick a way across, the water surged and within minutes we saw a noticeable increase in volume and current.
If we tried to cross and got stuck we’d be right in the middle of rapidly rising water. Not a good idea and we had no cell service up here. We all agreed it wasn’t worth the risk and it was clear we weren’t making it out tonight.
We weighed our options and decided to turn around, backtrack through the first crossing, and head back to the Dingford Creek Trailhead. From there we’d be in an easier spot to run back to Goldmyer, get a call out, make a plan, and let them know about road conditions. We turned around and were dismayed to find the first crossing had quickly grown larger and was no longer safely passable by car or by foot.
We were trapped between two raging road washouts. Great.
Now our only option was finding the safest high ground between the two, staying put for the night, and hoping for better conditions in the morning. We had shelter inside the Jeep and plenty of food, water, and supplies. Our biggest concern was getting everyone out of wet clothes so we could stay warm and dry. Standing out in the pouring rain trying to assess the water crossings had gotten some of our dry clothes pretty soaked.
We all quickly went to work picking out the most essential clothing and drying it with the car heaters. I raided my stash of stuff in the Jeep and found extra lights, batteries, two emergency blankets, and extra food. Brian’s friend Mac was the most in need of dry clothing. Lucky for him I had a pair of short shorts and a t-shirt in the back of the Jeep. Ha!
Once settled we tried to get some sleep but being stuck between two washouts doesn’t equal a restful night. We’d hear a noise, wake up, turn on the headlights, and check out what was going on. At one point Mac moved around in the backseat and I awoke to the Jeep shaking, freaked out that we were being washed down the road. Every hour or so we’d turn on the car a bit to get heat, dry more clothes, and then try to get back to sleep. Sometime around 3am we started laughing at the absurdity of it all.
The plan was to wait until morning light, check out the crossings, and head back to Goldmyer by foot if we couldn’t safely drive over them. With the rain continuing all night long we were surprised to wake up, drive down the road, and find the water levels had lowered. With the light of day we could see much easier, safely crossed over, and were headed back down towards the Middle Fork. Yippee! We were happy that we’d soon be able to call people to let them know we were ok.
There was still a lot of water running down the road and a fair amount of debris in places so we took it slow. We crossed the Taylor River bridge and were surprised by the volume and current of the Snoqualmie River. It was incredible and scary. Once we made the turn back onto the Middle Fork Road and hit the stretch of new pavement we were certain we’d be out of there shortly.
We were in the middle of planning our big breakfast feast once back into town when we rounded a corner and immediately knew our breakfast would have to wait. One of the two newly installed bridges over a creek crossing on the Middle Fork Road was plugged with debris and water was flowing so fast and high there was no way across. Elation went to deflation pretty quickly.
We sat there a while trying to imagine a way through but knew there was no chance. I doubted the bridge was even still safe with so much debris. I checked my phone and somehow I had barely a bar or two of service. Yes! At least we might be able to call out and let people know the situation. For whatever reason calling 911 seemed silly. We were safe and still had plenty of supplies to get us through one more day if needed, but seeing how fast the water was flowing over the bridge and how much debris was being carried along made us worry that we might need help getting out even when the water eventually receded.
A little unsure who to call, I called my friend Scott who lives in North Bend and was elated when the call went through. I told him our situation, where we were stuck, and that we had supplies and were safe. He called King County Search & Rescue and I talked to the King County Sheriff’s department about 15-20 minutes later to clarify the details. They told me there were several major washouts on the road and that the Middle Fork had been closed down at Valley Camp. Brian and Mac took turns using my phone to let work and friends know they were ok.
With sporadic cell service, Scott acted as our liaison between Search and Rescue and by mid day they told us we would have to stay one more night until they could get in to help us the next day. At one point Scott asked if we had enough water and Brian quipped “Yep, about 20,000 cubic feet of it. I’m trying to drink it so we can get out of here.” We all had a good laugh.
We sorted out what was left of our food and backtracked up the road to find a safe place where we could sleep a little sounder for the night. We pulled into the Middle Fork Trailhead and made use of the bathroom shelter to get out of the rain for a while and stretch our legs.
The realization that we were likely the only people between here and Goldmyer was surreal. What a fantastic place to have all to ourselves despite the circumstances! The rain stopped long enough for us to get out a bit and we found an amazing bridge across the Snoqualmie River. Afterwards we got back to work organizing the car and drying out more clothes.
I still had some champagne mini bottles left in the back of the Jeep from our New Year’s Mt. St. Helens climb. Thankful I had brought my MSR pocket rocket and stove, we heated up some Lipton soup for lunch and shared a little champagne. We laughed about the whole situation. Here we were stranded on the Middle Fork enjoying champagne and Lipton soup. We sure hoped Search and Rescue wouldn’t find us this way, haha!
Unfortunately we had no cell service here so we decided it best to head back to the washout so we could stay in contact with people and see what the road conditions were like now that we had found a safe spot to be for the night. We almost couldn’t believe our eyes when we returned. The current and volume of water had hugely increased. The bridge was a raging river carrying logs and all sorts of debris in it’s wake. WOW!
We spent a while watching this amazing surge of water and then noticed the rain had finally stopped. All of us had been trying to stay warm and dry so it was refreshing to get out and stretch. We walked up and down the eerily deserted Middle Fork Road and took our time to enjoy the beautiful area.
We checked the crossing again around 1:30pm and were surprised to find the water rapidly receding.
With so much debris and the bridge possibly compromised driving over was still impossible. But with lower water levels Brian, Mac, and I discussed gathering our gear, leaving the Jeep, and running/hiking out by foot. The only problem was that it was already 2:30pm and we weren’t certain what sort of conditions we’d find further down the road. We had at least 6-8 miles to cover. What if we couldn’t make it and had to ford back across the crossings at night? Even with headlamps it would be tricky. The safest plan was to wait until morning and then make a break for it. We communicated our plan to Scott and divided what was left of our food into a dinner and breakfast pile.
Once organized we set off again to walk, run, and stretch our legs. Brian had been running out in front of us when Mac and I came around a corner and saw him talking with 3 guys. “Whoah!” we thought. “Where’d they come from?” They didn’t look like Search and Rescue. We quickly walked up the road to meet them and they told us they were from ACI, the road construction company responsible for the Middle Fork paving project. They had driven up the road to check out conditions and were stopped on the other side of the washout. They looked about as surprised to see us as we did to see them!
Also with them was Monty VanderBilt, a sort of Snoqualmie Valley connoisseur who had hiked in 6 miles from Valley Camp to survey the damage. He’s written an entire chronology of the Valley and documents major storms. He excitedly asked to see all of our pictures and videos and couldn’t believe we had witnessed the entire event firsthand. He said the prior night’s predicted storm levels weren’t necessarily overwhelming, but when he woke this morning and heard the Snoqualmie River was pushing 20,000 cubic feet per second he came out to take a look.
The ACI team had a truck so we quickly grabbed our gear, parked the Jeep in a safe place, and then forded the crossing to catch a ride out of there with them. Even with lower water levels the current was frighteningly strong. The construction team told us the bridge was likely undermined and that it would have been dangerous to cross by car. They pointed out some areas of the road that had been under a few feet of water only hours prior.
Once back at Valley Camp we let a King County crew on site know that we were safely out and wouldn’t need assistance from Search and Rescue. The ACI Project Manager took my number to keep me updated on when I can safely retrieve the Jeep, and Monty gave us all a lift to the North Bend Bar and Grill, the only place we eagerly wanted to go for food and drink! My good friends Annette and Jed battled horrific traffic to meet us in North Bend and drove us back to Seattle. They had their van stocked with warm blankets and pillows. They’re the best!!!
We couldn’t have imagined our quick trip to Goldmyer would turn into such an adventure! Mother Nature sure is humbling and awesome. Seeing this event up close and personal was scary but also an exciting and amazing experience. I also couldn’t have had better friends to be stuck with! We turned a potentially dangerous situation into a memorable adventure by making safe, sound, and smart decisions. If nothing else this was another good reminder that you can never be too prepared. All of the extra food, clothing, water, and supplies made a big difference in keeping us safe.
Monty posted a NWHikers thread about the event with some great photos and information. It’s amazing to see how quickly the river volume changed. He also has a Flickr set of photos with one of us crossing the washout, me obviously with trepidation. Monty keeps a blog about the Middle Fork area that has some great history and information.
Once we were able to catch back up on reality we learned the storm was pretty epic even for Northwest standards. This was the largest flood the Valley has seen since 2009. The Snoqualmie River had a peak flow of 27,600 cfps at 9am on Monday before recording equipment malfunctioned and was expected to crest at 4am Tuesday at 59.27 feet, the 10th highest on record. Stream flow at Snoqualmie Falls was recorded at 50,000 cfps! Flooding and washouts were reported all over western Washington.
A big thanks to the ACI construction crew for giving us a lift out of there and to Monty for dropping us at the North Bend Bar & Grill. And many thanks to Scott for coordinating Search & Rescue. I’m glad we didn’t end up needing their help to get out and I’m always thankful for the amazing service they provide. And thanks to Annette & Jed for the ride home! What a day we picked to visit Goldmyer!