Back in January 2015, I made my first long overdue visit to the beautiful Goldmyer Hot Springs, located 25 miles northeast of North Bend in the Upper Middle Fork Valley. What I didn’t expect? A rainy day and perfect storm would push the Snoqualmie River to reach its 8th highest flood stage in recorded history! Little did I know that two friends and I would end up stranded by historic flood waters and it would turn into one of my most memorable adventures.
A friend had booked reservations for three, including me, for a Sunday evening visit on January 4, 2015. As our date approached, the weather forecast turned dismal. My friend chose to postpone, offering her two reservations to me. Not to be deterred by typical rainy PNW weather, I convinced my friend Brian and his friend Mac to join me last minute.
At the time, much of the Middle Fork was being repaved thanks to a huge federal highway project. Though the drive to Goldmyer wasn’t as legendary as it once was, it still required driving five miles on a notoriously rough road between the Taylor Bridge and the Dingford trailhead. A high clearance vehicle and 4WD is highly recommended. If the road is impassable, Goldmyer can easily turn into a tough 20+ mile outing. Reservations are required as the number of visitors is limited to 20 per day.
From the Dingford trailhead, the hot springs is a 4-5 mile hike or bike. Back then I was trail running a lot, so my friends and I planned to trail run into Goldmyer late in the afternoon for an evening soak, before running back out. We left Seattle around 1:30pm, reaching the Dingford Creek Trailhead around 3:30pm. We ran the mostly flat 4.5 miles to Goldmyer in about an hour, arriving at dusk. On the way up there was a 1-2″ light dusting of snow on the road combined with some slush and deep water. It was a cold, wet run but we were well prepared.
Arriving at Goldmyer is always mesmerizing! The caretakers cabin is nestled into tall old growth trees like a little gatekeeper to Wonderland. We rang the bell to check in, then hiked 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 over 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 several hours laughing, chatting, relaxing, and enjoying the mesmerizing ambiance of this really special place. The rain had been falling steadily since our arrival, but wasn’t worryingly heavy. Around 9pm we packed up and reluctantly started our trek back to the car.
It wasn’t until we started running back on the road that we realized the hours of steady rain combined with rising temperatures had melted a lot of the snow and turned the road into a flooded, cold mess. I’ve never been so happy to be wearing neoprene Storm Socks over my wool running socks. Though far from 100% waterproof, they were keeping my feet from freezing completely.
We kept up a steady pace to get quickly back to the car and into dry clothes. As we neared my Jeep and the trailhead, we heard an incredible roar, finally realizing it was the Dingford waterfall raging like a freight train! There was a lot of water coming down from the higher elevations and as we began our drive out, we grew a little concerned. Water was moving swiftly down the road and cutting deep channels everywhere.
In only a few miles we were stopped by a small creek overflowing its bank and cutting across the road. We got out, probed around with sticks, and felt the water was low enough and safe enough to cross. We collectively voted to go for it and my Jeep had little trouble. Whew!
Unfortunately, only a few more feet down the road we encountered another overflowing creek, this time moving much swifter and cutting a very deep channel in the road. The crossing was narrow and looked very manageable with the Jeep, but I grew up off-roading and know that water is very easy to underestimate. We probed around with a stick and the channel was very deep with soft silt and rocks at the bottom. I didn’t like it at all.
As we stood there trying to find a potential safe way across, the water visibly surged and within minutes we saw a noticeable increase in volume and current. If we tried to cross and got hung up in deep silt or debris, we’d be stuck right in the middle of rapidly rising water. Not a good idea. We all agreed it wasn’t worth the risk.
It was clear our only option was to turn around, recross the first creek, and camp at the trailhead for the night. From there we’d be in an easy spot to run back to Goldmyer if needed to let them know about road conditions and at least get a call out. Happy with our plan, we turned around, only to find the first creek we had crossed just 20-30 minutes before had also exploded in volume and was no longer safely passable by car or by foot.
Shit. We were trapped between two raging creeks, slowly washing out the road. Great.
We found the safest high ground between the two and parked for the night, hoping for both better visibility and better conditions in the morning. Luckily, my Jeep was well stocked and I had plenty of extra food 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 road had soaked some of our dry clothes.
We all quickly went to work picking out the most essential clothing and drying it with the car heaters. I raided my Jeep emergency kit and found extra lights, batteries, two emergency blankets, and lots of extra food. Brian’s friend Mac was the most in need of dry clothing. Lucky for him I had a pair of shorts and a t-shirt in the back of the Jeep. We all laughed hysterically as Mac squeezed himself into my tiny size 0 clothes, haha!
Once settled we tried to get some sleep but it was more than a bit disconcerting being trapped between two raging creeks. 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 to get heat, dry more clothes, and then try to get back to sleep. Sometime around 3am we all got a little slap happy and found ourselves laughing at the absurdity of it all.
The plan was to wait until morning and if we couldn’t safely drive over either creek, we’d head back to Goldmyer on foot. The rain continued all night but surprisingly by daybreak, the water had crested and lowered substantially. With the light of day we could see much easier. We safely drove over both creeks and were soon headed back down towards North Bend.
It was now Monday morning and since we were all due at work and family and friends hadn’t heard from us, we knew there would be cause for concern. We were happy that we’d soon be reaching cell service and could call people to let them know we were ok. I was also incredibly worried about my dog, who was back home alone. At this point I thought our adventure was over.
I was wrong.
There was still a lot of water running down the road and a lot of washed out rocks and logs in places so we took it very slow. Once at the Taylor River bridge at the bottom of the road, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The volume of the Snoqualmie River was absolutely unbelievable! It was running so high in fact, that there was barely any space between the top of the river and the bottom of the Taylor River bridge. Knowing the bridge had been replaced in 2009 after floods washed it away made for a bit of an anxious crossing.
At this point, we were sure we had crossed the last of the obstacles and were in the middle of planning the breakfast feast we’d eat once back in North Bend. Then we reached the newly installed box culverts over Bessequartz Creek on the Middle Fork Road and again, couldn’t believe our eyes.
All we could see in the distance was a wall of water flowing over the road. We were so screwed.
These newly installed box culverts were plugged with all kinds of debris and water was flowing so fast and high over the road 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. We had no idea if the culvert bridges were even still intact under all that debris. I checked my phone and somehow, miraculously, had one tiny bar of service. We couldn’t believe it!
For several minutes we talked about what to do. Calling 911 seemed silly. We were safe and still had enough food and supplies to get us through one more day if needed, but seeing how fast the water was flowing and how much debris was being left in its wake made us uncertain of our ability to get out. Would we need help even when the water eventually receded? How long would we be here? How would I get my Jeep out? We had absolutely no idea and decided someone needed to know we were up here.
Unsure who to contact and worried my cell reception could die anytime, I called my friend and hiking partner Scott, who lives in North Bend and is familiar with the area. I breathed a sigh of relief when the call connected. I told him our predicament, where we were stuck, and that we had supplies and were safe. He couldn’t believe we were up there!
He ended up making a 911 call, which was routed to King County Search & Rescue, and relayed our situation to them. Shortly after, the King County Sheriff’s department called me back to clarify details and check on our condition. They told me there were several major washouts on the road and that the Middle Fork had been closed way 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. Their plan was to assemble a swift water rescue team but by midday the road was still impassable and it wasn’t worth the risk. We had plenty of supplies and food, so they told us we would likely have to stay put one more night. At one point the Sheriff 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 and explore and we found an amazing bridge across the Snoqualmie River. Afterwards we got back to work organizing the car and drying out more clothes.
Funny enough, I still had some mini champagne bottles left in the back of the Jeep from my New Year’s Mount St. Helens climb. We fired up my Pocket Rocket stove, heated up some Lipton chicken soup, and shared a little champagne. We couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. Here we were, stranded on the Middle Fork, enjoying champagne and soup. We sure hoped Search and Rescue wouldn’t find us this way, haha!
Unfortunately we had no cell service here so we headed back to the washout at Bessequartz Creek to keep up with road conditions and stay in contact with rescue teams. Before we even reached the creek we could hear the roar of water. The current and volume of water had exploded dramatically and both culverts were now completely buried. Raging water was carrying logs, huge boulders, and all sorts of debris in its wake.
We watched boulders several feet in diameter being pushed like pebbles. It was around 10am on January 5th, which was about the time of the Snoqualmie River’s peak flow. Gauges reported 27,300 cfps before recording equipment malfunctioned. I will still never forget the sound and power of the water. It was absolutely surreal.
We spent a while watching the spectacle, fully awed by the force of mother nature, then at some point noticed the rain had finally stopped. We had been trying so hard to stay warm and dry that we had mostly stayed in the Jeep. It was refreshing to get out and stretch! We walked up and down the eerily deserted Middle Fork Road and took our time marveling at the beauty.
We checked the crossing again around 1:30pm and the water had receded nearly as fast as it had crested. A trail of disaster was left behind.
With so much debris, it was clear there was no way we were driving out of there, even with a Jeep. With lower water levels, Brian, Mac, and I discussed gathering our gear and running/hiking out by foot. The only problem was that it was already 2:30pm, we had 6-8 miles to cover, and we weren’t certain what sort of conditions we’d find further down the road.
With only two hours of daylight, we decided the safest plan was to stay put one more night and wait until morning, then make a break for it on foot. We communicated our plan to Scott, who relayed to Search and Rescue teams, and we 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 three 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 Bessequartz 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 historian and connoisseur who had hiked in 6 miles from Valley Camp to survey the damage. He manages a website called Mid Fork Rocks with Middle Fork Valley history, chronology, and all sorts of great information including a report of this storm. 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 remarkable, but when he awoke in the 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 on the other side of the washout so we quickly grabbed our gear, parked the Jeep in a safe place and forded the creek and debris to catch a ride back to Valley Camp. Even with lower water levels the current was frighteningly strong. The construction team told us we made the right call to not try to cross the culverts. They said they were most certainly undermined and the culvert planks had likely been popped off from the water flow. A vehicle crossing would have been incredibly dangerous.
As we drove out, the crew pointed out several 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 could 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. Once we were safely back, I realized that seeing this historical event firsthand was an incredibly lucky and memorable experience I won’t ever forget. Mother Nature is humbling and awesome.
I also couldn’t have picked better friends to be stuck with! We all worked together to think through our actions and make smart, collective decisions that kept our situation from becoming dangerous. I also can’t overstate how important it was that we had so much extra gear and supplies. Without the extra food, clothing, water, and safety gear in my Jeep, this trip would have been a completely different story. By being prepared, we were able to sit tight, take care of ourselves, and not force search and rescue into a dangerous scenario.
The January 2015 Snoqualmie Flooding Event.
The storm from January 4-5, 2015 was pretty epic even for Northwest standards. Rising temps, melting snow, and steady rain all contributed to this being the largest flood the Valley had seen since 2009. The Snoqualmie River had a peak flow of 27,300 cfps at 11:15am on Monday, January 5th, 2015 before recording equipment malfunctioned, making it the 8th highest flow in recorded history. In a 24-hour period, North Bend reported 4.5″ of rain and stream flow at Snoqualmie Falls was recorded at 50,000 cfps! Flooding and washouts were reported all over western Washington and the Middle Fork didn’t fully reopen until later in May.
We were very thankful 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. We also owe many thanks to Scott for coordinating and communicating with Search and Rescue and Annette and Jed for the ride home. I’m glad we didn’t end up needing SAR help to get out and I’m always thankful for the amazing service they provide. What a day we picked to visit Goldmyer and a fantastic memory we’ll always have!
Part 2: We returned a week later with caretakers from Goldmyer Hot Springs and spent several hours moving debris and boulders from the road to finally retrieve my Jeep and enjoy an exclusive Hot Springs soak!