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The wrong way

If you reach this fence line in your search for Potosi Hot Springs, you are going the wrong way. Keep trekking far enough and you'd end up on that distant mountain, Mine Peak, at 9,700 feet.

How hard could it be to find a hot springs in the winter? After all, on a blue-sky day with the temperatures in the high teens it should be emitting a cloud of steam visible from a couple of hundred yards away, if not farther.

That’s what I foolishly thought while adventuring along South Willow Creek Road at the base of the Tobacco Root Mountains last week.

My main problem was pre-planning the route, or the lack thereof. My forefinger scurrying around on the cellphone screen in search of directions proved frustrating and futile. The best information said that Potosi Hot Springs was a short hike from the Potosi Campground. If I could find the campground, locating the hot springs would be a cinch, right?

Lost in space

Ask my wife how many times I’ve uttered the phrase “How hard could it be?” and she should be able to recite many unfortunate tales about me leading her down a road, river or trail with little clue to where we were actually going, but full of bravado that my destination had to be just over the next hill, or around this bend. You know the type.

Learning from past mistakes is apparently not my strong suit, or I would be better prepared. But I’m a busy guy. I’ve got a lot on my plate, usually something buttery and with too much salt, pepper and cheese. Dang, I love cheese.

But, hey, life is an adventure! Life would be boring and dull if you always knew where you were going, how long it would take to get there and how strenuous the route was. It’s much better to slog through knee-deep snow, wind blasting your face like airborne sand trying to scour it featureless, all while the sun reflects off the white fields so brightly that it feels like it is burning red holes into your unprotected retinas. That definitely beats some kind of planned, perfect, cushy outing. I’m secure in the knowledge that other guys will back me up on this. Guys? Guys?

Turnaround spot

After driving down a narrow snow-covered route to the Potosi Campground at the base of the Tobacco Root Mountains, turning around became a bit of a problem in the deep snow.

Bad karma

Potosi, I have now learned, is the Spanish word for fortune — a nod to the area’s mining past. That seems appropriate considering my fortune had suddenly turned bad. Driving up the two snowy ruts that covered the dirt road seemed like a good idea in a Subaru Outback until the snow got deeper and turnaround spots became nonexistent. Backing up the eight miles to the plowed county road would take a while, I joked to my wife. Ha. Ha. Little did she know I was contemplating the neck strain of just such a feat. Nonetheless, we continued farther down the road into the heart of brightness, a brilliant contrast to the jungle-like heart of darkness.

It wasn’t until the car got stuck trying to turn around at the Potosi Campground that that I remembered removing the small shovel that’s normally in the vehicle for just such a snow-moving occasion. I could clearly visualize where it was leaning up against the accumulated junk piled ceiling-high in the garage.

So that was a perfect time to go for a little hike. Explore the area. Get some fresh air. See if any living humans might be nearby to rescue us so we didn’t have to spend the night huddled under the one sleeping bag as the wind buried our car under an 8-foot pile of drifted snow.

Yep. A great time to go for a little walk. Clear the mind. Think of ways to get unstuck. Contemplate how much jerky and chocolate is hidden in the cracks of the car’s upholstery and how long that may sustain us until the road reopens to regular travel in spring.

Wrong route

Luckily, there were hiking tracks to follow. The thought was that anyone out walking in the snow had to be traveling to the hot springs. But enough snow had blown into the steps that it was hard to say if the tracks were human, or maybe a large moose, or which direction they were heading.

No matter what made the tracks, they went on much farther and in the wrong direction than where we should have been trekking. The turnaround point came when my foot punched through the snow and I sank up to my waist.

Finding Potosi Hot Springs would have to wait until — after wading through computer data and satellite images back home — I finally located it downstream of where we had been looking. I could tell you how to get there, but I wouldn't want to ruin your adventure.

One last embarrassing point of fact. My wife, all 5-foot-2-inches of her, pushed our nearly 2 ton stuck car out of the deep snow. I’m never going to live that down.