This summer I’ll be spending three weeks in August backpacking the Sierras, partly with others and partly on my own. The “on my own” part has been giving me anxiety. I’ve never backpacked alone! Heck, I’ve actually only backpacked twice and that was 13 years ago. Every time I’ve tried to plan a solo backpack I chicken out. Hiking alone is one thing. Sleeping in the woods alone in the dark is entirely another!
This past weekend I finally got out on my first solo backpack adventure and I can’t tell you how excited I am to have finally checked it off! And what a fantastic Wild Kingdom weekend it turned out to be.
I’ve written about Goldmyer Hot Springs a few times and what a special place it is. Every time I go it seems to offer a new adventure. Despite visiting the springs numerous times I’ve never stayed there overnight. When I heard the Middle Fork Road would likely be reopening to weekend traffic soon I knew Goldmyer wouldn’t have many more quiet weekends. Already familiar and comfortable with the area I decided to make it my first solo backpacking destination.
Spending a whole weekend there is a treat and should be on your must-do list, especially when access becomes easier. The property is beautiful and their campsites are large, gorgeous, and very private with easy access to the river.
When I arrived Friday night I was surprised to have the entire place all to myself!
After a late night hot springs soak under starry skies I returned to my tent and slept surprisingly well for my first night alone. I had picked a secluded camp site right next to the Burntboot Creek. It roared so loudly it drowned out all sounds but the water. A strategic decision I made on purpose so I wouldn’t lie awake all night listening for little noises in the woods.
Saturday I took a 12 mile hike up valley towards Dutch Miller Gap, a place I’ve always wanted to explore but had yet to go. I hiked through a grove of huge old growth trees, found a warm springs geyser on the trail, and marveled at how wild and scenic the Snoqualmie River gets the deeper you go. This river valley is extraordinary!!
I had a 20+ mile hike back to civilization on Sunday so I stopped a few miles short of Dutch Miller Gap to save my legs and take a lunch break on a small sunny sandbar along the water. I stayed a while watching birds, butterflies, and of course the beautiful views. It was perfect solitude! I can’t wait to go back and explore the area more!
Saturday afternoon after a post-hike hot springs soak I finally got some company. Three bikers came in and set up camp on the opposite side of the property from where I was. I crawled into my tent after a second soak at the springs and promptly passed out by 10pm. Around midnight I awoke with a start. The Goldmyer caretakers, Phillip and Willow, were outside my tent. Cue the Wild Kingdom fun about to begin…
“Christine… We weren’t really sure we should wake you but there’s a black bear on the property.”
Barely awake all I heard was “bear”. Oh shit! Funny since Friday night I had mentioned this was my first solo backpack and we talked about how rarely they see big animals on the property. Well it’s me so of course it’ll happen the weekend I’m here!
The bear had come near the other party’s campsite and given them all quite a scare. It moved away when they made noise but since he was headed in my general direction and I was out here alone, Phillip and Willow wanted to let me know. This was certainly one way to get prepped for the Sierras right?! I felt so much better knowing all my food was inside the bear canister that I just happened to bring along but I was still nervous. I had picked a secluded campsite and couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the creek! Ok, I admit it. I was terrified!
Willow offered me bear spray and noise makers and would help move me nearer the cabin or the other campers if it made me feel safer. They didn’t want me to be scared and I can’t tell you how comforting and accommodating they were, especially since I was out there alone. I know that most black bears are harmless and with my food safely stowed I decided to stay put. Dealing with bears and wildlife IS part of the wilderness experience and if I didn’t face it now I would have to at some point.
The caretakers returned to their cabin and as their lights faded away my fear went wild. I was awake for over an hour, like a deer in the headlights, staring into the darkness, scared to move or breathe. It was ridiculous!! Finally I got so exhausted that I fell asleep. Sometime later I accidentally knocked over the bear noise maker in my sleep and gave myself a stroke before dozing off again.
Then I woke abruptly a second time. I heard a faint noise just barely audible over the sound of the creek. Was it… Screaming?! I saw the trees illuminated by headlamps and could only guess that Willow and Phillip were going to investigate.
I buried myself deeper in my sleeping bag and covered my head. I had no idea what was happening but since they never paid me a visit I guessed no one had been mauled by a bear. I spent another 90+ terrified minutes staring into the darkness, desperately trying to hear anything over the sound of the creek. My body finally gave up and went back to sleep.
I would find out the next morning that one of the campers had kicked the tent while dreaming. His brother thought it was the bear they had seen earlier and awoke screaming and kicking back. All three in the tent then spent the next few minutes screaming and kicking only to realize there hadn’t been a bear at all! We spent Sunday morning laughing about all the night’s excitement.
Saturday night’s antics left me with little sleep until morning so I started Sunday’s 20 mile hike out at a very late 12pm. I brought along a noise maker and was aspecially attentive given last night’s wildlife excitement. Barely 3/4 mile from Goldmyer something moved and caught my attention. I banged my trekking poles together and looked through the woods to find two very large mountain goats staring right back at me.
We looked at each other for a while through the trees before going our separate ways. Aside from some unidentified rustling in the woods from time to time and me furiously smacking my poles together, the hike out was mostly quiet. Miles later a little fox darted down the trail in front of me but was much too fast to photograph.
By the end of the weekend I’d tally a good wildlife count: elk, mountain goats, a fox, garter snake, frogs, and lots of birds and butterflies. Unfortunately (or not?) I never saw the bear.
I considered my 28 lb pack to be fairly lightweight and for a good portion of the hike I was feeling great! But I vastly underestimated how heavy that 28 lb pack becomes after 15+ miles. By the time I had hiked out Sunday I was practically crawling! My shoulders and neck were destroyed, my feet shredded and blistered. I guess 40 miles in 3 days will do that! Luckily only half were with the heavy pack but I certainly have some work ahead of me this summer. Backpacking is tough business!
Despite the bear drama I had a fantastic weekend! Visiting Goldmyer and chatting with the caretakers is always wonderful. And I feel like my trail confidence grew a few sizes this weekend. Noises in the woods that sometimes used to scare me became business as usual and I loved all the wildlife I encountered.
If you’ve ever thought of backpacking solo you really should! I admit that I was scared several times but then on the hike out I realized that when you spend a few days out there you just become an extension of the wilderness. Being scared is as much a part of the experience as being awed, excited, and humbled.
And this concludes another chapter of fun in the Middle Fork Valley adventure saga. Can’t wait to see what happens next time! Hopefully it’ll entail less nighttime scares and more sleep!
Camping at Goldmyer
Weekends at Goldmyer will be pretty booked once the road reopens but if you’re looking for a great weekend getaway you should plan ahead, make reservations, and put it on your schedule. I consider it a safe, relaxing, and fun solo backpack destination with lots of trails to explore outside the property. The caretakers are always kind and welcoming and especially if you’re alone, they’ll look out for you. The property is beautiful and has some of the most amazing old growth trees I’ve ever seen! And what better way to relax after hiking than with a hot springs soak!
The Middle Fork road will remain closed through the week due to ongoing construction but you can alternately hike in from Snow Lake to access the springs on a weekday.
For more information about Goldmyer visit their website.