Rocks and Rain, but no Goats

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness
Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Second big hike in a row with no mountain goat sightings. Do you think it’s me?

I hiked into the Goat Rocks Wilderness for three days and two nights with my boyfriend. Our timing was uncanny, and we were up there during the only three rainy days in between sunny weeks either side. Though I went up into the mountains seeking profound vistas, thankfully I was able to see the beauty in front of me when the vistas were obscured by fog.

We began at the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and hiked to a bypass trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At the trailhead it was pleasantly warm (in the 60s) and there was a beam or two of sunshine. I photographed a lake and crammed my mouth full of ripe huckleberries that loaded the bushes on both sides of the trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.
I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.
Reflections in a tiny pond near the trailhead.
Reflections in a small pond near the trailhead.
Candy!
Candy!
Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.
Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.
We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.
We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

The trail climbed about 2000 feet to the place we chose for our campsite. The rain set in as soon as we unloaded our gear, and it gradually picked up as the night went on. Since everything was wet, we were comfortable starting a fire. We hovered over the warmth that night and during the next couple days. Temperatures cooled to near 32 at night (0 Celcius) and warmed to the middle 40s during the day.

As is my tradition, I brought the fixins for delicious meals and was so delighted to have a climbing partner to share the weight. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes! It was so light, my pack barely caught my attention. The first night we had Salmon Curry Couscous, a new meal I tried out that turned out great and was a snap to put together. We set down our dishes and within minutes a mouse arrived to investigate. The mouse left right away: not a fan of curry, I suppose.

For breakfast we had hard boiled eggs, bananas and homemade oatmeal cranberry cookies. Another meal was Bacon Carbonara (with angel hair so it cooks quickly), we had Margaret’s famous baked brie in brown sugar and red wine with dried apricots, and on the final day we had burritos that I had designed as a cold meal to eat on the way out, but since we were so cold I cooked the refried beans and D toasted the tortillas. Tortillas are packed flat against the back of the pack to keep them in one piece on the trail. We enjoyed fresh avocado of course! The trick to bringing produce is to bring it unripened. The firmness protects the fruit and after a couple days it’s ready to eat!

Preparing the pasta
Preparing the pasta
Mouse finds the entrance
Mouse finds the entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campsite the first night
Campsite the first night
Bear grass was everywhere!
Bear grass (Xerophylum tenax) was everywhere!
A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.
A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

The second day we climbed north on the PCT toward Old Snowy Mountain, which I climbed a few years ago. However, the rain and cold slowed us down and there were no views to be had. I couldn’t even tell which direction to look for Old Snowy; it was likely right above us. I was discouraged. The last time I was on this trail, the weather was much more cooperative, and no matter where I hiked or which direction I faced, the views of mountains blew me away. It was the most impressive thing about being here. So on my return trip, I sort of had it locked into my brain that unless I saw a view, I was not really at Goat Rocks. Often our visibility ranged from 20 to 100 feet, and I remained disappointed until the splendid and rare scenes in front of my face got through and slapped me around a little bit: LOOK! Look at this!

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.
Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

We wandered through meadows and found scene after scene of astonishingly beautiful wildflowers in full view despite the fog. We discovered a huge spring where water literally bubbled up like a fountain, and in other places poured out of cracks in the earth. At the trail there was no creek, but twenty feet down the hill was a creek bigger than the one on my property. That’s how much water burst from the lush green hillside.

It was fun to talk to the through hikers. Those are the ones who stay on the PCT for months, doing sections and sometimes the entire length of it. We met several of them, as August is a good time of year to travel through this section: recently cleared of snow. You could spot the through hikers because they were dirty and seemed weary. Or, maybe, not as thrilled with the wildflowers as I was, having probably seen them for a month already. They were consistently humble, the ones I met, downplaying their feat of endurance, insisting that they had “only” been on the trail six weeks, or that they were “only” hiking the Oregon and Washington sections.

Foggy blue and green meadow.
Foggy blue and green meadow.
Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.
Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.
The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.
The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.
In enjoyed this phenomena very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.
In enjoyed this phenomenon very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.
The fog lends an otherworldly quality to each scene.
Here, spring water simply gushes from the hill. Fog lends an otherworldly quality to the horizon scene.

We didn’t stay out long, and were tempted to go back to camp where we could have a fire and get warm again. Upon our return, we found that other campers had vacated a great spot on the edge of a cliff. If we were there, even if the clouds only lifted for 2 minutes, I would get a little bit of a view. Hee hee. We moved our camp and had a new fire roaring in no time. Typically I try to avoid fires in the mountains in August. As you all know, wildfires are nothing to mess around with and I never want to tempt fate. But on this occasion, everything was soaked and I was supremely confident that the forest would not burn due to a flying ember.

That evening a troop of Boy Scouts came in and were considering a camp site right next to ours. We promptly and “helpfully” directed them to the campsite we had vacated the night before, which is up the hill and completely out of sight from where we were. “And it has a stream!” added my boyfriend, trying to sell it while he had the chance. They took the bait and moved on. The Scouts brought a mule named Sadie, and we spent a lot of time talking with Sadie and her elderly master, Bob, who had been hiking this mountain for 30 or 40 years. It was interesting to hear him talk about changes that had occurred. He referred to the trails by their old names, and I had to mentally scramble to keep up with which trails he was talking about.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.
Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.
Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.
Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Bob took Sadie out to the meadow next to us to let her graze, and right then the sun came out. Such a lovely gift for the evening. (Isn’t it a sign, when I can clearly remember each time the sun came out?) We went out to pat the mule and let the old man talk. He was a heck of a talker. In among the words though, he mentioned a nearby waterfall that sounded impressive. We got directions (south on the PCT, instead of north, as we had traveled that day) and decided to hike there in the morning.

The theory was (well, at least this is the Pollyanna spin I was giving myself) that a waterfall is going to be entertaining in the fog. Sparkling, loud, exciting, wet, interesting…waterfalls are always a win. So in the light morning rain we packed our day hike gear again and traveled and chatted and made our way through the fog. My boyfriend is almost obsessed with Trump news, and we enjoy sharing our theories on what in the world is going on here in the states. How does Trump come up with the crazy stuff he says? How can so many Republicans say “Yes, his comments are often out of line and intolerable, but I’m going to vote for him anyway.” D can’t stand Hillary, like much of the country, and I harbor bitter thoughts that America is misogynistic as hell, and suspect that as racist as some of us can be, even a black man is a better choice than a woman. But I don’t say that out loud.

And before we know it, there’s the waterfall! And it was just what I had hoped for: large, loud, exiting, beautiful.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.
Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

We climbed around on the rocks and talked to through hikers for a half an hour or so, and suddenly the skies opened up. I gasped out loud “Oh!” And we spent another hour there, watching the clouds lift up and sink down, revealing a different piece of paradise each time. I found myself thinking of the story of Heidi, who goes to live with her grandpa in the mountains. This was a final and perfect gift from the Wilderness, before it was time to hike back down the hill.

The headwaters of the Cispis River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.
The headwaters of the Cispus River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.
You can spot D heading down the trail.
You can spot D heading down the trail.
Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.
Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

17 thoughts on “Rocks and Rain, but no Goats

    1. Thank you!! It is a famous place to hike for a reason: it’s gorgeous up there. It was great to discover that valley at the headwaters of the Cispus River, which I had never seen. One day I’ll spend more time on the PCT, but for now, I enjoy my brief glimpses.

      1. I’ve done much of the PCT in California, Crystal, but very little of it in Oregon, even though it comes close to running through my back yard (maybe 10 miles away). –Curt

      2. Wow, so close! Is there any access from your place, or would you have to go out of your way to get on the trail? It would be sort of fun, I think, to see what it looks like where it passes your place. I’m envious of your time on the PCT. I’ve stepped onto it in a dozen places in CA, OR, and WA. Hard not to when I’m always in the mountains. But I’ve never attempted a through hike. It’s one of my retirement fantasies, so in about 10 years…I’ll take it by storm!

  1. I was wondering what you had been up to and now I know. Enjoying the fresh, wet outdoors. Cool temps encourage cuddling and closeness. Those views are so breathtaking I wish I could hike. Well, maybe not. Glad you had a good time in spite of the wet.

    1. Yep, a hike is good for my soul. I tend to lose track of that a little. When I was in my thirties, I joked that the reason I had a job was only so that I could keep backpacking. But it’s not as much of a joke as it seems: it’s better than prescription drugs!

    1. Thanks Maureen! I think some of them turned out nicely too. And the fog lends such a nice atmosphere that doesn’t happen on the typical dry summer days. I’ve noticed that in your shots too. Here in the Pacific Northwest of the US, our weather is famously rainy. I can’t tell you how many people responded to my backpacking story with a laugh and a shrug, “Well, rain is no big deal. We ARE from Oregon.” 🙂

  2. A lovely record of a great trip. We once had a dog which licked the plates if we left the dishwasher door open. Like your mouse, she drew the line at curry. I certainly don’t envy you folk your election choices.

    1. Hm, that’s got to be a lesson we humans could use somehow: the typical animal does not want to eat curry. We could fill mole holes with curry powder and dust the ground around bird feeders to keep squirrels away. Personally, I cannot understand it, as curry is a meal that seems to suit me at any time.

      I heard a news story that election accessories were selling better this year than any other election. Turns out, T-shirts, ball caps, and buttons sell best when they have a negative message. This year, since both candidates are despised by so many people, there are more shoppers than ever who are happy to plunk down dollars to insult one or the other (or both!).

  3. Such a great post!!
    It tugs at my heart and reminds me that it has been too long since I’ve been out west. The shot of the Paintbrush, Lupine, and Beargrass in particular bring back memories of my firefighting days in Idaho.
    Your photos are excellent, the story of your trip entertaining, and I know it will not surprise you that I agree with your political assessment!
    So great to have you posting, Crystal.
    XO

    1. Thank you Laurie! It’s good to post again. I am hoping to get back into the groove, and join the community once more. I’ve got edited photos from a beach weekend in the Spring that I never posted. I’ve got unedited photos from my trip to Idaho to help my dad with the last few things, and say my goodbyes before he moved to Romania. So…a couple more posts need to be written even as we speak. 😉

      D had not been backpacking for a decade at least, he said. He thanked me for insisting on going (even when we realized the weather would be wet), and reminding him that it’s not that big of a deal to go backpacking. It *seems* like it could be all complicated and unfamiliar and certainly dirtier than your daily life. But once you get out there, it’s nice to find out that it’s easy to live in a tent. (well, I mean, aside from sleeping on an air mattress instead of a bed)

      Of course we feel similarly about the political climate. We are both strong, independent, intelligent women… and likely kindred spirits.

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