Posts Tagged ‘hotsprings creek’

A trip to Melozi Hotsprings – like the Shining, only with hot water

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Last year Ed Plumb and crew did a pack rafting trip out to Melozi Hotsprings, about 30 miles away from Ruby. It looked like a very fantastic trip, so Ms Marsh, Tom, and I decided to do a version of it, though at a bit slower pace. Our plan was to fly to Ruby, take a boat ride up the Yukon to Horner hotsprings 30 miles or so upstream, take a dip in the waters, then hike 25 miles or so Melozi, chill for a day, then float out.
Here was our route.

Our trip started on a overcast and damp looking Sunday as we boarded a flight to Ruby – little did we know that “damp” was going to be the theme of the trip. In Ruby we meet up with Jim from the Yukon River Lodge just upstream of Ruby, who gave us a boat ride up the Yukon to the start of our hike.

We started the hike a mile or so from Horner Hotsprings. Horner was once the site of a busy lodge, but its now just a simple hotsprings in a dense thicket of brush. The brush on the hike in brought back memories of south east – hiking in the rain in dense green foliage. Fortunately there was no devils club!

The bugs were out in full force though – by the time we hiked the mile or so to the hotsprings we had collected quite a fan club of mosquitos. The hotsprings at Horner are a pretty simple affair – just a tarped rock pool, but the water was nice and refreshing.

We had the place to ourselves, excepting the bugs and some other small hot springs aficionados.

Alas, I was the only one who got in, as the bugs were pretty intense.

After a quick soak (having folks stare at you like you are insane tends to speed one up) we continued on our hike. The first day we planned to hike 6 to 8 miles and camp around an alpine lake. The hike out of the small valley the hotsprings resides was pretty interesting – we hiked though dense green brush..

Then into a Aspen forest..

And finally onto a alpine ridge above tree line.

The view from the ridge was not so hot – we had under 100m visibility with occasional brief batches of less then 10 meters visibility.. Not the best day to hike to a small lake on top a ride surrounded by steep drop offs… All went well though and we made it intact to the lake, though we arrived a bit wetter than we would have liked.
The view from the lake was a bit limited.

After a night of rain and wind, which my Tarptent survived intact, which was good news as this was by far the windiest I have every used that tent in. We spent the next day hiking on more ridges in near whiteout conditions. The hiking was a bit slower than we planned on due to rock fields and the poor weather, so we deviated from Ed’s route a bit. By the end of the day the weather was starting to clear up, but it was still raining intermittently with periodic low visibility sections as clouds blew though. The next morning arrived a lot dryier than the preceding two days – it was mostly cloudy without any rain – quite change. We also were treated to our first scenic vistas (beside fog that is) of the trip. After a couple of hours of hiking we soon were approaching the hotsprings, and got our first glimpse of the airstrip from a hill overlooking Hot springs Creek.

From the distance the airstrip looked pretty impressive – super long though a bit brushy.
As we dropped down off the hill, we followed the creek and soon were walking on the airstrip. The airstrip was fast walking, but didn’t look to be all that good of a landing place – the middle two thirds is washed out with moderately deep ruts in it.

The section near the lodge is in better shape, but is quite brushy with moderately tall alder. Its also a bit short.. I am not a pilot but it looked pretty tricky to me.

After we arrived we quickly dropped off our stuff at the main lodge after checking that no one was around and visited the hotsprings. I had checked with BLM’s online land status system before visiting to make sure the lodge is not currently leased and that it is public land, but I was still surprised that no one was there.

When we first arrived the main hot tube was a nice temperature and one could actually get in it.

By the end of the day it was pretty hot, and by the next day the tube was unbearably hot. It appears the main tub is not actually a hot tub per say, but more of a hot water holding tank for the lodges piped hot water during the lodges hay day. Perhaps all that rain cooled it down enough so it was bearable for the first day… The hot spring is situated on top of a little rock bluff, and the hot water flows over the bluff making a hot water fall that cascades down into Hotsprings Creek. After the first day we attempted to stand under the hot water falls, but that was a bit unpleasant – the falls are very hot, and the creek very cold, leaving your upper body scorched and your feet cold.

Never fear – we rearranged the rocks at the base of the falls and created a small pool with some random tarps laying around, making a little hot water pool right in the creek. This worked great, as regulating the temperature is pretty easy – all you have to do to cool things down is let in more cold water, to heat things up let in less cold water – very, very nice!

(Ms Marsh photo)
After a bit of soaking, we decided to so explore. The lodge complex is pretty extensive. We found a map in a filing cabinet with the general layout of the lodge.

A fair number of the buildings are in pretty good shape. The pool, alas, is has completely collapsed and is returning to the forest.

(Ms Marsh photo)
On the last day of the trip while waiting in Ruby for our flight out we talked to a local who remembered visiting the lodge in the late 70s and remembered the pool – apparently it had pretty hot water in it, and that it “had a deep end and a shallow end, just like the ones in Fairbanks”, as he put it. It must have been quite a novelty – a warm pool in such a remote setting.
The shop is in marginal shape – one side is open to the elements and the roof leaks. Amazingly the tools inside it seem to be in pretty good shape -there is a partially disabled three wheeler – a “Big Red” – the classic child crushing model that got three wheelers banned in the US..

A gas powered welder, several generations of chain saws, a weed wacker, and lots and lots of random hand tools and spare parts.

Outside the shop was a collection of very old snow machines, most missing engines, tracks, and other parts. The late sixties or early seventies vintage Johnson Skee-Horse was pretty entertaining (it was supposed to have a 14 horse engine – wow!), as was the ton of random old yellow Skidoo parts lying around.
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The shop had a pretty nice selection of hand tools which were in surprisingly good shape.

The cold celler was a scary mess and I was afraid to look inside it.

The numbered guest cabins were in pretty good shape, though only one was suitable for staying in the winter.
Cabin number 5..

Cabin number 3..

The “Reindeer Cabin”, apparently named after the reindeer hearers who were the original residents and the first users of the hotsprings.

Apparently in the 1900-1910 time frame reindeer were raised up stream 15 miles or so of the hotsprings to feed miners in the greater Ruby area. The herders would come down occasionally and soak apparently, and eventually built a cabin to make things more comfortable. The Reindeer cabin is were the lodge complex really started feeling creepy – it looked like the last residents just up and disappeared. It contains chests of knitting, children’s toys, books, painting supplies, even the former residents prescription medicine – all left as if the former residents just decided to go away for a weekend, and ever came back. Its pretty creepy and a very depressing sight – it came across to me like the cabin of broken dreams..
Toys in the entryway..

A desk..

Drawings on the bedroom wall..

The main lodge building is in great shape and doesn’t really feel like it has been abandoned all that recently, until you start looking around..
Old caribou tags..

And the reading material all point to a mid 80s and early 90s abandonment.

The main lodge has radiators along the walls and under the floor and it appears that in its prime it was heated by the hotsprings. The building has a wood cook stove with a rusty stovepipe with holes, and a large rock fireplace, so it might be a bit hard to heat in the winter.

The lodge has a full size piano and an accordion. The piano still functions though a lot of the keys are sticky. Alas the accordion is pretty far gone and I didn’t have the heart to attempt to play it and break it.

Strangely the kitchen in the main lodge building had a mix of very old food stuff..

And some newer stuff labeled in what appeared to be German:

When we got back in town we were able to find these folks online – apparently they spent a week or so at the hotsprings in 2003. It was pretty fun to decipher one of the mysteries of the place.. Alas, lots of mysteries remain – its really hard to imagine why the place is abandoned. The hot springs are great, the surrounding country beautiful, and the fishing appears to be top notch, at least for grayling.. so why was it abandoned? It would seem to be quite a viable lodge.. perhaps not for hunting as we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, but as a hot springs or scenic destination its nice. Lots of other lodges seem to get by with quite a bit worse setups. According to BLM’s online land status website, the lease expired in 1996, though the reason it expired are pretty unclear – did they forget to pay it, did it get revoked, or did something else entirely occure.. there are so many mysteries about this place.

The main building is pretty bug proof, and was great to hang out in for the day and a half we spent at the hot springs. Soon after arriving we had the place festooned with our drying belongings.

Having a place to dry our stuff and to hang out in a dry place was very nice after 2 days of rain.

After a day and half of hanging out at the hotsprings, we had to get a move on and start moving again, and so we inflated our packrafts and started floating.

Hotsprings Creek had quite a bit of water in it and the floating was pretty fun – lots of small splashy class II rapids.
We put in next to the waterfall and it was really fun to float by a hot water waterfall in a packraft.

The float out to the Melozitna River was quite fun.

We camped shortly after the confluence with the Melozitna. The Melozitna is a wide, slow moving and surprisingly warm river.

The daytime air temperatures during our float were in the mid 50s and it appeared the water in the Melozitna was slightly warmer – its pretty strange to be able to stick your hands in the water to warm them up.
The next day the Melozitna became a bit more scenic as we approached the Melozi Canyon. We camped 10 miles or so above the first rapids in the Melozi Canyon. Late in the evening three jet boats zoomed by, which was a bit of a surprise, as it was rumored that the rapids blocked off jet boats.

In the evening I was joined by a large number of small guests, who alas had to stay outside.

Next next day we passed though the Melozi Canyon, which probably the most interesting section of river we passed though. The Melozitna River has two short class III rapid sections that we portaged – they didn’t look all that hard but it was not really the sort of weather that makes one interested in getting we – we portaged the rapids.

The first rapid

The second rapid, as seen from below

The canyon is pretty interesting, with wonderful smooth water sculpted rocks.

The first rapid has a wonderful little side channel that goes around on the side, skipping the hard section.

This section would have made fantastic camping, alas it was the middle of the day when we went though and we had a lot more distance to cover, so we pressed onwards. The area looked to have a fair bit of wildlife traffic and would be a interesting place to watch and see what walked by.

Bellow the second rapid there was a number of small boulder gardens, but nothing too exciting.

Once past the rock gardens then it was back to mellow flat water floating.

The rest of the canyon is pretty scenic.

After the canyon the river drops into a flat plane and becomes fairly wide before arriving at the Yukon.

We camped fairly near the Yukon so we could get to Ruby before any afternoon winds kicked up and so we could make our afternoon flight.
The Yukon was surprising mellow – large and flat with a fairly tame current.

(Ms Marsh photo)
Soon we arrived at Ruby, had our rafts packed up, and I was enjoying a trashy book while waiting for the plane. Ruby has a nice picnic area near the water that we spend a hour or so hanging out it. There was also a three person crew that staying in the picnic area that was working on a small hydroelectric test bed project that aims to eventually provide Ruby with hydroelectric power during the summer months. After a bit of waiting we were soon on a plane back to Fairbanks.

(Ms Marsh photo)
A hour a bit later we arrived in Fairbanks to nice clear skies and Nancy and the twins – it was very, very nice to be home!

This was a super fun trip and highly recommended. A word of warning – the lodge appears to be open for leasing from BLM pending some site appraisal, so it might fall back into private hands – if you plan to visit please double check with BLM first to make sure it is still off lease before setting off. The airstrip is pretty marginal – perhaps it goes without saying, but only land if you are sure you can do it safely as it is pretty remote and its a long, long walk out.

More Photos Here: Melozi Hotsprings Hike and Float