When we got to the campground, it was pretty clear that snowshoes would probably not be necessary. Dave and Wayne had intended to go snowshoeing, but decided to leave the snowshoes at the vehicle when we could see very little snow anywhere close. The trail goes up a series of switchbacks north of Boulder Creek and then proceeds along the slope roughly parallel with the creek below. Since the slope faces south, it gets a fair amount of sun and though we could see snow across the valley, there was very little snow along the trail for the first couple of miles. Glacier lilies were very plentiful and there were quite a few trillium and other wildflowers as well.
As we got further along, reminders of winter became more common until the last mile or so where we were walking on packed snow at least a couple feet deep. Less then a mile from the springs, it becomes necessary to cross Boulder Creek. At one time there was a bridge which made it easy, however at some point in the last couple of years the bridge was washed out and would be soakers are forced to make a more traditional crossing. Fortunately, the water was still relatively low and we did not even have to get our feet wet. I'm sure that in the next month or two, as the snow melts, the crossing will be far more difficult.
When we got to the springs, there was no one else there. It did not take long to get in and start soaking after the five and a half mile hike. The trail was not bad at all, but the distance combined with the unaccustomed weight of my pack left me glad to shed some clothes and soak in nice warm water. We had not been there too long when the first of what turned out to be quite a few other campers arrived with his two dogs. By the end of the evening there was a group of young college students from Walla Walla, and two different couples (with dogs) who had also shown up. There are a number of pools there and a couple of them have room for a fair number of people, but for the most part, people kept to themselves. I did end up talking some with Pete, the first guy with the two dogs (he was quite friendly), and a woman and her 8 year old daughter (quite a hike for an 8 year old, I thought) who were with the Walla Walla group.
After soaking pretty much continuously (I just got out to change pools and to lay in the snow once) for about 4 hours and having my feet quite wrinkled on both the top and the bottom, I got out to eat some dinner. It did not take too long before I started to get cold, so after about 20 minutes and some good macaroni and cheese I went back to the pools. Having learned my lesson before, I made sure to keep my hands and feet out of the water for a good portion of the time so they would not get quite so wrinkled. This approach was succesful and I did not have any trouble with cold hands or feet since the water kept the rest of me so warm that my body was sending lots of blood to the extermities to cool off.
I had decided that I would sleep very near the pools where someone previously had made a little bed out of pine boughs. After it got dark and everyone else went off to bed (they were camping a bit further away where there was some flat land for tents), I was left alone in the pools. I had to get up to filter some water (you might be surprised at how easy it is to get dehydrated when you are not doing anything except lying in warm water) before too long and after that I stayed in an upper pool where the water was quite a bit warmer (too warm to stay submerged in for a long period of time, actually). This was pretty close to where I had thought I would sleep. I made it so far as to uncompress my sleeping bag, but the thought of unstuffing it and having to stuff it back up in the morning made me head back to the pool. I ended up spending the entire night in the pools. Rocks do not make the most comfortable pillow and mattress but I was able to get enough sleep so that I did not feel utterly exhausted by the next morning. (My brain was pretty fuzzy though, but that could have been the warm water as much as it was the lack of quality sleep.) I ended up staying in the pools until it was time to get my stuff together to go around 10am. It was the day of the time change so it was actually an hour later than it otherwise would have been. But even still, I was in the pools for about 18 hours almost continously. That's a lot of soaking.
On the hike back the other people I was with wanted to hike up on a separate side trail for a ways. I had hauled my clarinet all the way up to the springs and thought that while they were off on the side trip would be a good time to get a little practicing done. Practicing was not all that succesfull due to the chill in the air (though it was not exactly cold) so I only played for a few minutes before laying down and dozing off. I woke up a while later and discovered a tick on the towel I was laying on. That disturbed me a little bit and after a quick search I found another on the towel. At that point I decided that I was no longer interested in sleeping there so I wandered up the hill a ways and looked around while I waited for the others to return.
Along the hike back, I managed to catch a small blue moth or butterfly. I had seen them flitting about and one of them happened to fly right into my hand and I closed my fingers loosely around it. When it figured out that it could not easily fly out of my hand, it just sat there with its wings held together above it. Even after I opened my hand again it continued to stay on my hand. I hiked along for a while cupping my hand over it only enough to protect it from the breeze created by my motion. At one point I even got it to crawl over to my other hand. Finally after what seemed to me like an unexpectedly long time, it flitted off on its way again. I do not remember seeing a moth like this one with its blue-gray colored wings before.
By the time we made it back to the vehicle, the bottoms of my feet were pretty sore, but other than that I was none the worse for wear. Along the drive back we saw many boaters on the Middle Fork of the Clearwater. We even stopped to see a couple of rafts negotiate a small rapid. We also saw a decent sized herd of elk across the river from the highway as well as numerous wild turkeys and canadian geese. By the time we got back to Pullman it was 9 or 10pm and I was definitely ready for some sleep.