This past Labor Day weekend, my husband and I decided to take our first trip into the southern part of the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness to gain access to one of Idaho’s more remote hot springs: Shower Bath Hot Springs. While others chose less strenuous options for their three-day weekend, we opted to backpack twelve miles in 24 hours – call us crazy but we were in dire need of some outdoor therapy. Now, twelve miles does not seem all that bad but when you factor in steep elevation gains and losses, switchbacks through creeks, climbing over burnt, fallen trees that obstruct the trail and fording up a creek for 300 yards, twelve miles in the Frank Church Wilderness has a different meaning.
Fall was definitely apparent, with hints of winter in the higher elevations. Snow covered the Twin Peaks that overshadowed the Mahoney Creek trail. If you looked closely, at the very top of the southern Twin Peaks summit, a still active lookout stands alone. Flecks of orange and vibrant red littered the local fauna as they were gearing up for the cooler temperatures. This section of the Frank Church Wilderness still bore remnants of a wildfire that raged through thousands of acres. Charcoaled lodgepole pines and aspens stood naked and teetered in the wind. The creaks and moans were a bit intimidating because they gave the impression they would come crashing down any minute. Wildlife was abundant and did not seem too worried about our presence.
Along the trail, old cabins from the days of fur trapping stood erect, with some being more dilapidated than others. After hiking in about 5.5 miles, we set up camp for the night next to the abandoned Warm Springs Creek ranger cabin. The cold was beginning to get bitter and the layers came on (it snowed on us earlier in our hike). Our small makeshift fire hardly offered warmth but it was enough and we were happy as we enjoyed our warm Mountain House meals.
The night was long and the ground was hard but the solace from the world around us was pleasant and comforting. Morning greeted us with a frost covered ground, so a warm cup of coffee was a must. After breakfast, we packed up only one backpack and geared up for the creek we knew we would have to hike through to get to our ultimate destination. The mountains fell to the background and soon canyon walls surrounded us, with a swift moving creek in between. From what we read from Margaret Fuller’s backpacking book about the Frank Church area, this creek can get waist deep in some areas but we were fortunate to have low water that never exceeded our knees. Before we knew it, the canyon opened wide and geothermal water sprayed from the rocks, creating dozens of hot spring pools. For this reason, Shower Bath Hot Springs got its name and reputation. The pools relaxed and soothed our aching muscles and restored us back to life. This place easily, and quickly, became my favorite hot springs that I have yet to experience in Idaho.
The hike out was truly something not too mess with, you gain about 2700 feet in elevation so before you venture through this way, make sure your hiking legs have been warmed up otherwise you’ll be paying for it later…as we did.
Tell us about your favorite backpacking trip in the comments below.