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. Little did I know that it would turn into one of my most memorable adventures! What should have been a simple evening visit became an unexpected 24 hour car camping adventure when I was stranded with two friends on the Middle Fork Road by historic flood waters.
Though much of the Middle Fork Road has been repaved since our visit, getting to Goldmyer still requires an oftentimes rough 5 mile drive on a forest service road. A high clearance vehicle and 4WD is highly recommended! From the Dingford trailhead, the hot springs is a 4-5 mile hike or bike. 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.
A friend had booked reservations for 3, including me, for a Sunday evening visit on January 4, 2015. As our date approached, the weather forecast became dismal with a 100% chance of rain. My friend decided to postpone and offered up her 2 reservations to me. Not to be deterred by winter PNW rain, I convinced my friend Brian and his friend Mac to join me last minute. We took my old Jeep Cherokee since the drive is rough and with the rainy forecast we expected mud and water in places. What we didn’t expect was the Middle Fork to reach it’s 8th highest flood stage in recorded history. I don’t think anyone, including the forecasters, did either.
We left Seattle around 1:30pm, headed to North Bend, then up the rough and bumpy Middle Fork Road for about 12 miles to the Dingford Creek Trailhead. We left the trailhead around 3:30pm and ran 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, about 1-2″ on the road, combined with some slush and deep water in places, making for a cold, wet run.
About an hour later, we reached the bridge crossing onto the Goldmyer property. We stopped to snap photos of the beautiful view before continuing to the caretaker’s cabin. The cabin is sort of like a little gatekeeper to Wonderland. You ring a bell to check in 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 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 4 hours laughing, chatting, relaxing, eating hot soup, and enjoying the mesmerizing ambiance of this really special place. Although the rain had been falling steadily since our arrival, it hadn’t been unusually or worryingly heavy. Around 9pm we packed up and reluctantly started our trek back to the car.
The hours of steady rain combined with rising temperatures had melted most of the snow and turned the road into quite a cold slushy mess. I was so happy I was 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 the Jeep, we heard the waterfall near the Dingford trailhead raging like a freight train! It was the first indication there was a lot of water coming down from the higher elevations. All this rain combined with melting snow was a perfect storm.
We drove out, growing concerned every mile by the conditions. Water was moving swiftly down the road and cutting channels everywhere. In only a few miles we were stopped by an overflowing creek cutting across the road.
After accessing the situation for a good 10-15 minutes, we made a group decision to go for it. My Jeep had little trouble crossing the creek and we all let out a collective sigh of relief. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it far before getting stopped again, this time by an overflowing creek that was running very deep and very swift.
The crossing was narrow and looked very manageable with the Jeep, but the water was flowing so strongly that it had cut a very deep channel into the road. I grew up off-roading and I know that water is very easy to underestimate. I was nervous and didn’t like this at all. We probed around with a stick. It was over a foot deep in spots will soft silt and rocks in the bottom.
We looked around and found a possible crossing up higher around the channel, but it would require driving through a lot of rock, dirt, and small debris, which was 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.
The problem with water is that you have no idea what’s underneath it. 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, especially with no cell service. We all agreed it wasn’t worth the risk and it was clear we were stuck for the night.
We weighed our options and decided to turn around, backtrack through the first creek, and head back to the Dingford Creek Trailhead. 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. We turned around and were dismayed to find the first crossing had already grown larger and was no longer safely passable by car or by foot.
We were trapped between two raging road washouts. Great.
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 I had brought plenty of extra food. 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, extra food, and all sorts of useful stuff. Brian’s friend Mac was the most in need of dry clothing. Lucky for him I had a size 0 pair of shorts and a t-shirt in the back of the Jeep. Ha!
Once settled we tried to get some sleep but being trapped between two raging creek crossings slowly erasing the road 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 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 and if we couldn’t safely drive over either creek, we’d head back to Goldmyer by 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, safely crossed over the washouts, 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 slow. We approached the Taylor River bridge and were both surprised and horrified by the volume of the Snoqualmie River. It was unbelievable! There was very little space between the bottom of the bridge and the top of the river and I’m pretty sure we all held our breath when we crossed. Now we were absolutely certain we’d be out of there shortly.
We were in the middle of planning the breakfast feast we’d eat once back in North Bend, then rounded a corner and couldn’t believe our eyes. There would be no breakfast for us. All we could see in the distance was a wall of water flowing over the road.
Newly installed box culverts on the Middle Fork Road were plugged with 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 miraculously had one 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 there.
Unsure who to contact and worried about my paltry cell reception, I called my friend Scott who lives in North Bend and is incredibly 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 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 mid day the road was still impassable so they told us we would likely have to stay put one more night. 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 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. When we returned, we almost couldn’t believe what we saw. The current and volume of water had increased dramatically and both culverts were now completely buried by raging water that was carrying logs, huge boulders, and all sorts of debris in its wake. It was absolutely unbelievable!
We spent a while watching the spectacle, fully awed by the force of mother nature, then at some point noticed it had finally stopped raining. 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 found the water rapidly receding, but a trail of disaster was left behind.
With so much debris, it became 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 didn’t have much margin for safety and were in no mood to exasperate our situation. 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, 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 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 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 and that planks of the culverts could have been popped off from the water flow, making a vehicle crossing 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 sure 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, collected decisions that turned a potentially dangerous situation into a memorable adventure. 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, 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 storm from Januar 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!