I wanted to get to Keyhole hot springs to make up for our unsuccessful trip last November, and perhaps hang some trail markers. It was on my “Summer Plans with VOC” list.
Timing Weekends can be a bit of a zoo; there's way more tenting sites than hot spring pools. We checked that the road was open, and went up Sunday and came back Monday, to avoid the crowds. When we got there, maybe 3pm, there were several groups of day trippers, but by Sunday night we had the whole place to ourselves.
Run of river hydro project: There is a huge project being built near the spring. They expect to generate 81.4 plus 25.3 megawatts when the project is completed. The pipe (penstock) is about 3m in diameter, which is huge, and will briefly contain most of the Lillooet River. For info (road conditions), see http://www.upperlillooethydro.com/construction/
Geology in the area is fascinating, and clearly shows recent (500 BCE) violent volcanic activity. I am not a geologist by any means, but if you have one, bring him/her along. Apparently the plateau is the top surface of a huge lava flow, and the Lillooet River cut through the lava flow, which is why the river has steep cliffs beside it in places and why the trail doesn't simply go along the river bank. The “Keyhole” is a narrow waterfall on the river. We didn't actually see the keyhole.
The trail is about 2 km long. We were able to follow the trail just fine, and did not have to walk on any snow. It starts out almost beside the river, but about half way it suddenly goes up the hill to the right, on a convenient flight of stairs. You do not want to miss these stairs. The trail is marked with some rather flimsy one-inch plastic squares which are well placed, then there are some two-inch, more robust markers that are sometimes glued on, but often seem to be merely sitting on rocks, logs, etc. We hung about six of the excellent VOC trail markers, and re-attached some of the ones that were sitting around, as we brought lots of nails. I still wouldn't want to try to follow the trail mid-winter without a GPS.
The hot spring consists of about five small (2-3 person) pools, mostly cemented onto the cliff above the Lillooet River. We found the middle pool, #3, to be only slightly too hot; #1 and #2 were way too hot unless you added water from the river using the 20 litre pail provided. The water actually comes into the pools at the bottom of the pools, and is uncomfortably hot where it comes in.
Frogs: Where we camped, we called “frog camp”, as there were more tadpoles in some of the lukewarm pools, than I had ever seen anywhere. We were able to follow the entire “frog-making” procedure, ranging from a couple of large frogs laying a very long stream of eggs, little teeny tadpoles, bigger tadpoles, tadpoles with hind legs, and finally, little frogs about the size of flies. Frogs don't have a lot of defense against predators, so it was interesting to see what the frogs thought of us. The adults stayed very still, hoping we hadn't noticed them. The baby frogs took off jumping or swimming as fast as they could. The tadpoles mostly ignored us.
Abandoned stuff: Many wet, muddy towels; I think you could find ten if you wanted to. And many socks, but not usually in useful pairs. I found some lovely Adidas shorts that fit me. Price was right.
How does Keyhole rate? We found it to be cheap (free), fairly accessible (2 km trail), good camping with a campfire, fascinating geology, and exclusive. OTOH, it's a long drive from Vancouver, the pools are small and mostly too hot and rather inconvenient compared with either Meager or Skookumchuk. You don't want to be there on a weekend, competing with all the other tourists. Carla thought the place was dirty, sandy, smelled (like sulfur), and was in a dingy canyon with not much light or interesting vegetation, and a noisy river running past the campsite, and dirty abandoned clothes. She won't be back. I might be back, though Meager is my #1 hot spring, and Skookumchuk is #2. Shuyu found it to be ok, but she's not bringing her parents; the trail is too rough.