Deer River Hot Springs
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Bush whacking through head high ferns inter-laced with deliciously ripe raspberries I had to wonder what the local four-legged furry residents thought of my being here. I hadn’t yet come to terms with why I was there.
Why do I enjoy getting myself as far away from civilization as possible all in the pursuit of hot water?
Isn’t the hot water tap enough?
Deer River Hot Springs, in my mind, is the pinnacle of remote hot springs in British Columbia, probably even all of Canada. Large, hot and so remote that it’s almost impossible to hike to. Almost. This spring is so remote that Glenn Woodsworth, the guy who literally wrote the book on hot springs in Canada has not been to them.
A few tantalizing snippets from his book, Hot Springs of Western Canada follow:
…they are seldom visited despite being large and hot…
…follow an old trail for about 16km up the Liard River… follow the Deer River for 13km upstream…
…people have become lost…
…the springs may have the largest total volume of all the springs in Canada…
No co-ordinates are given, and no pictures shown. I’m not sure if it’s the extremely brief details, the lure of “large and hot” or the possibility of the largest total volume in all of Canada – something about this spring draws in hot spring enthusiasts better than any other.
My friend tried on four separate occasions, driving a total of more than 4000kms before actually reaching this spring. I could see the sense of achievement in his eyes and hear it in his voice – he spent a lot of time and effort on this one, and he got there. With his help I spent over a month planning, talking to locals, buying maps, doing google searches and planning some more before I made my attempt. For this reason I feel strongly about keeping my exact route to myself. If there is one hot spring out there that remains the ultimate challenge to find, I think it should be this one. I hope detailed directions are never published, every person should experience the adventure for themselves and they will come away felling on top of the world.
If you ever plan on visiting the springs yourself, I mean seriously plan on visiting them, I urge you to not read any further. I go into quite a lot of detail about the landscape and have tons of photos mostly for those people that will never get the chance to visit themselves. I think you will enjoy the springs a lot more if they are as much a mystery to you as they were to me.
Stop now if you don’t want to spoil the mystery.
Safe to say there was an ungodly amount of bush whacking involved, so much so that I slumped down on the ground on two separate occasions completely ready to give up and turn around. I couldn’t help thinking that every step I took was a step further from civilization as well as another step I would have to take on the return trip. Falling in the frigid Deer River and getting soaked from head to toe did nothing to help my spirits – it would have been game over for this attempt if my down sleeping bag had gotten wet, luckily my dry bag held and I was able to continue.
Arriving at the springs was quite surreal, all my estimates said I still had a few kilometers to go, so I was quite taken aback and elated the hunt was over. The main pool was exactly as it had been described to me. About 10 meters across, a few meters deep and the most amazing shade of turquoise-blue that seemed to change every time the sun hit it from a different angle.
The book elusively reported the temperate as 32 or 42 degrees, so I was unsure of which to expect.
My thermometer showed spot on 32 after being underwater for a good 10 minutes.
This large pool had water swelling and bubbling up from it’s centre, with a very high, deceiving rate of flow. In all of the following pictures, all of the water is coming from this one pool – which is a lot to put it mildly. The bottom of the pool was extremely fine sand or silt, and behaved quite like quicksand – a fine sand with water and gas moving up through it. After I stood in it for a few minutes my feet were completely gone and it was difficult to pull them out. The silt was so fine that walking on the bottom stirred up a huge mess that took a few minutes to settle.
The water flows from the main pool along a series of streams and cascades over 3 separate waterfalls into Deer River, which is really more like a creek at this point. The entire area is extremely beautiful, although I was surprised at the lack of rainforest-like greenery which was abundant on the sides of Deer River.
In an area like this there are many delicate organisms and plants so I had to be extremely careful where I was stepping. I also camped a few hundred meters away from the spring to give animals access to it during the night.
Happily, it was almost impossible to tell if humans had ever been there before, I didn’t see a single piece of trash. There was a very small fire site, logs had been moved to form a crude circle and some trees had been cut down using saws. All of this seemed very old and took me a while to notice.
All afternoon I soaked, worked on my tan and soaked some more, thoroughly enjoying having the springs all to myself. Another unique aspect of this spring is the ability to swim – not just lie around or splash to and fro, I mean serious swimming. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that at a natural spring before.
I couldn’t help but think about how these springs had been sitting here, bubbling away for hundreds or maybe thousands of years, and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
I didn’t see a single large critter the whole time I was out, a couple of times things crashed through the bushes ahead of me and in the middle of the night I heard a large hoofed animal walk right past my tent, probably a moose going to soak in the springs. Others I had spoken to descried the springs as ‘bear infested’, including some chopper pilots who said ‘Oh, that place. There are always too many bears around for us to land.’ I thought of these happy thoughts as I drifted off to sleep.
When it was time to leave I bush whacked a little further from the river looking for easier going and, lo and behold, about 500 meters south of the big pool I saw steam in the meadow, lots of steam. I had no idea there were more vents and was extremely excited at this development. Hot water literally flows out of the base of the hillside forming a river of it’s own. The major one I took a photo of had a flow rate greater than most hot springs I have been to.
This river was several hundred meters long and continued to pickup more water as it went, sometimes it was bubbling up from the bottom of pools, sometimes flowing out of muddy swamp-like areas. My thermometer at the ready I was eager to discover the 42 degree vent, but it was not to be. The vast majority of the vents were within a degree or maybe two of the big pool, the only outliers were significantly colder. This area of the meadow was still in shadow, accounting for all the ‘extra’ steam that I was so excited about.
The flow rate in the big pool was already the highest I’ve ever seen in a natural spring, when combined with these other vents, I think it must be one of the highest in Canada, if not the highest.
An amazing trip & I’m certain I’ll go back one day.
Not soon, but one day.