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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.

Up close and personal with Mt. Adams. You can almost feel the frigid air coming off the glaciers, huh?

Up close and personal with Mt. Adams. You can almost feel the frigid air coming off the glaciers, huh? See the hikers? (just kidding)

{click here for Part I}

Morning was astonishingly beautiful, because we finally got to see Mt. Adams without the top obscured in clouds.  And got a nice view of Mount Saint Helens, because the sun was hitting it right.  Volcanoes: I love them! Fog had formed in the valley and seeped away from us into the Columbia River Valley as we watched. It was fun talking with Arno about fog formation and fog “movement,” as I pulled out my dusty NWS memories. Fog doesn’t actually flow through a drainage, as it appears, and it was kind of cool to be science-y smart with my geeky boyfriend for a change. His job is smack in the middle of science and technology (UAVs), while mine is medical disability benefits. I like showing off, and it’s hard to brag about hip replacements and accident verification.

Spectacular view of Mt. Adams from our tent, which you see on the left.

Mt. Adams, our tent, and receding fog

Mt. St. Helens in the distance

Mt. St. Helens in the distance

Arno is the mountaineer (but my high school mascot was The Mountaineers!), and I humored him by agreeing to climb Old Snowy Mountain, the nearest peak to us, for our Saturday excursion. We loaded very lightly in daypack gear, set out, and….gosh if we didn’t hit the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) immediately. Turns out, we were supposed to take a hard left at the Lily Flats Trail yesterday, which was the way to Goat Lake. Lily Flats Trail parallels the PCT, and we had taken one of the short connector trails. Now, our map made so much more sense.

Pacific Crest Trail!

Pacific Crest Trail!

It meant we were much closer to Old Snowy Mountain than we thought, but it also meant a 9-mile hike out on Sunday. But that’s tomorrow, and today we are mountain climbing. Did I mention I’m not big on mountain climbing?

Keywords: Scary? High? Amateur?

Well, on the way we realized we were in Argentina, when we spotted the llamas. Snow, exposed rocks, alpine air, high elevation+llamas=Argentina.

Here is a shot from our trip to the Andes, with llamas and their keeper.

Here is a shot from our trip to the Andes, with llamas and their keeper.

We climbed across large snow fields (the trail crosses the Packwood Glacier), over many gurgling creeks, across meadows and beneath rocky peaks. We soon spotted Goat Lake. It’s totally frozen over still. In August! I was glad we hadn’t made it all the way there to camp, as we had considered. Then I got my visual stimulation payoff before I even had to climb the dang mountain peak. Mount Rainier! Holy Mother that’s a beautiful volcano. Three volcanoes in one day! Look at the crazy steep valley.

Steep valley with Mt. Rainier rising in the background to 14,410 feet. Goat Lake is in the cirque to the left.

Steep valley with Mt. Rainier rising in the background to 14,410 feet. Goat Lake is to the left.

Just left of the view above, Goat Lake rests in a cirque and drains by a high waterfall.

Just left of the view above, Goat Lake rests in a cirque and drains by a high waterfall.

goat vs. lump of snow

goat vs. lump of snow

This place is named after goats, for the mountain goats said to frequent the area. We were hoping for goats the whole trip. Someone casually pointed down the hill: “There is a goat,” as though it were obvious. You be the judge.

It’s pretty exciting for me to hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, called the PCT by locals. This is our West Coast equivalent of the Appalachian Trail (2,180 miles and crossing 14 states). The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,665 miles long, begins at the Mexico border and ends at the Canada border, and crosses the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Just three states. We make ’em big out here. I’ve mentioned before that I want to hike the entire thing someday.

While at the ridgeline, Arno walked out onto the McCall glacier. The glaciers we were on today looked more like snowfields.

Hikers moving along the PCT as it crosses Packwood Glacier

Hikers and llamas moving along the PCT as it crosses Packwood Glacier

Arno trekking out onto the McCall Glacier

Arno trekking out onto the McCall Glacier

The highest Washington point along the PCT is 7650 feet, and a short distance from where we spotted the “goat.” We left the trail and headed sharply uphill to aim for the peak of Old Snowy Mountain, topping out at 7930 feet. We had climbed another 1500 feet from our tent.

I get so nervous climbing, but I also get irritated and impatient with myself for being scared. I want to scuttle up the side without pounding heart and sweaty hands. My technique is not to look anywhere but my next few steps, not to think about it, and to go as fast as I can so it will be over with quickly.

My signature pose when I get to a high spot. I'm on top of Old Snowy, and that's the sharp ridgeline stretching to the south behind me.

My signature pose when I get to a high spot. I’m on top of Old Snowy, and the sharp ridgeline stretches to the south behind me.

(Arno made it to the top, too. He is more comfortable climbing mountains than I am.)

(Arno made it to the top, too. He is more comfortable climbing mountains than I am.)

Then we made the long trek back down. I had talked Arno into carrying lunch with us, because I was worried about how long it would take me to get up the mountain and down again. We stopped on a delicious high ledge around 7000 feet, and had some smoked salmon and pasta for lunch and were still sorta full when we made it all the way back to camp. For a light dinner, I baked brie in red wine and brown sugar with apricots, and we had that with the rest of the wine.

Only minor thunder rumbles in the night, and for our concerted efforts to stake down our tent against a possible storm, we suffered a few mere gusts and a sprinkling of rain. We slept much better and were able to get up early.

Wet Sunday morning

Wet Sunday morning

Our view of Old Snowy Mountain from the Lily Basin Trail. That round hump on top is the point we climbed to.

Our view of Old Snowy Mountain from the Lily Basin Trail. That round hump on top is the point we climbed to.

We packed up the whole camp, ate breakfast, drank our Peets coffee, and were hiking before 8 am. Not knowing the trail, I wanted a really early start to make sure we got home at a reasonable time. It stayed wet and mostly cloudy all day, but it remained an excellent day to be on the trail.

Goat Lake was not as lovely as it could have been, since it was frozen still, and the few spare campsites up there were not at all as inviting as ours had been. The trail remained partially obscured due to snow, and we scrambled around till we got out of the cirque. Our trail out was along Goat Ridge, and offered splendid views of the valley from the east side rather than the west side, where we had spent the previous two days.

This is Goat Lake. I love that fabulous blue of compressed ice!

This is Goat Lake. I love that fabulous blue of compressed ice!

Treacherously steep slopes were thrilling and beautiful as we lifted out of the valley and away from the lake.

Treacherously steep slopes were thrilling and beautiful as we lifted out of the valley and away from the lake. You can see in the top right, the solid cloud bank we entered when we followed the trail along the Jordan Creek valley.

We crossed over Goat Ridge into the Jordan Creek basin, and that was the end of our views. The entire valley was socked in for the entire day. We beat feet downhill and my bum knee did not fail me (whee!). We stopped for burritos for lunch: filled with reconstituted beans with fresh avocado, chilies, and cheese – yum!

Around 3pm we spotted reflections off the vehicles parked at the trailhead. We had arrived earlier than expected, and made it back to Portland by 6pm. Not too shabby. The biggest loss of the trip: Arno left his REI trekking poles leaned against the truck as he changed into fresh clothes in the parking lot. Then we drove off. D’oh!

Spectacular view of Mt. Adams from our tent, which you see on the left.

Spectacular view of Mt. Adams from our tent, which you see on the right.

Arno and I have been dating two years and never once had been backpacking together. Until last weekend.

Lupine and Bear Grass

Lupine and Bear Grass

He’s crazy about the outdoors. Hiking, cycling, rock climbing, cross country skiing– you get the picture. I am crazy about camping and backpacking. We’ve been saying to each other, “One of these days…” for too long. In May we planned our summer calendar (yes, we have to coordinate calendars! It was not superfluous because –>), only to find we had only two available weekends from May through September when we would both be uncommitted. As it was, I made the weekend available by canceling plans to go to Eugene for the Cherokee celebration of culture, highlighted by a visit from our Chief John Baker, out from the Nation. I swear, my life is just so dang full…

We pulled out maps, nearly salivating at all the possibilities. Arno and I have this tendency to look for places we’ve never visited before. We want to do things for the first time together. Is that sappy? Yes, I think it is. He suggested Mt. St. Helens, but I told him I feel a little disloyal going there because I’ve already promised a Seattle friend I’ll do St. Helens with him someday. East of Mt. St. Helens is the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The guidebooks say it’s really popular, which typically we try to avoid. We did some Internet searches and it seemed rather pretty. We found a perfect length loop (which is hard to find), that had a side trail connecting to the PCT and perhaps the opportunity to scale a peak. Done deal!

Aaaaand a pretty cool view of the blown top of Mt. St. Helens above our tent, too.

Aaaaand a pretty cool view of the blown top of Mt. St. Helens above our tent, too.

North on I-5 and east on Hwy 12 takes you out to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Take a right turn onto a Forest Service road, drive a very long time to a very -very- large parking area for a trailhead. The largest parking site at a trailhead I can remember is the Canyon Creek Lakes Trailhead in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Snowgrass Flats Trailhead may have it beat. I estimated around 50 vehicles parked when we eeked out a spot on the side of the road. At least this one doesn’t have the same bear problem. And if that’s not enough parking, Berry Patch Trailhead is right next to it, best suited for stock animal parking. Well, not the animals; their trailers.

We got a very late start. It was a compromise due to aforementioned busy schedule: I did nothing Thursday night except wind down and try to disconnect from the work week. Friday morning we slept in and then had a home cooked breakfast. Ahhhh…. THEN we got ready to go backpacking. So, we arrived at the trailhead around 3:30pm. Yikes! We were worried there would be no campsites available.

The pack was heavy. I am not conditioned. But the mountains!  This was the opposite of my High Lake hike in June, which had no views. This was amazing!! Pack weight sitting awkwardly?  Shoulders pulled back, feet hurt, damned biting flies eating you alive? – whatever. Just LOOK at that! And that!

The Money Shot. This is TOO DIE FOR. Taken a few steps away from our tent. I can't even say enough about this wilderness area, because no words can even, possibly... Just... LOOK at this.

The Money Shot. This is TO DIE FOR. Taken a few steps away from our tent. I can’t even say enough about this wilderness area, because no words can even, possibly… Just… LOOK at this.

Me in a field of lupine. Tired and delighted.

Me in a field of lupine. Tired and delighted.

Bird in a stunted tree near our camp

Bird in a stunted tree near our camp

The views opened up almost as soon as we began. We started the hike at 4650′ so perhaps that helped us get us up to treeline sooner. It’s so alpine here that treeline is where 35-year-old pine trees are 10 feet high, because their roots can only go as far as the ground thaws, or as far as the topsoil goes down until it’s only rock.

There were fields of wildflowers in every direction. The colours were stunning. The perfume of all those lupine in bloom was purely intoxicating. I can hardly do it justice, the sweetest honeyed blue smells wafting every time the wind picked up.

Five miles in, we came to what we guessed (correctly, it turned out) was the actual Snowgrass Flats area. We passed the Lily Flats Trail, because we didn’t recognize the name and wanted to go to Goat Lake. We continued directly ahead, as we had been heading. Another mile in, and I was close to wiped out. It was evening, and there were campsites.

Surprisingly, with the jam-packed trailhead, and people everywhere on the trail, there were many many campsites to be had. Lots of nice fire pits and cleared and level spots with views. The one we selected ended up at 6400 feet. We had traveled about six miles and climbed 1700 feet. (Compare that to High Lake, when I climbed 2000 feet in 3.75 miles.)

Sunset on the mountains. Old Snowy is on the left.

Sunset on the mountains. Old Snowy is on the left.

Arno and I split camp tasks really well. We’re both used to doing everything ourselves (single parent mode), so it’s a joy to launch into any task, knowing your work is half done already – by the other person! He began sauteing onion and garlic for his bacon carbonara, and I began putting up the fabulous new tent he just purchased. The zipper failed on my old tent, so he loaned me one of his for my last hike. I subsequently griped about how heavy it was. So he purchased a tent for backpacking, and this one is spacious and weighs hardly anything! (Big Agnes Copper Spur, for those of you who want to know.)

Arno and me in the mountains

Arno and me in the mountains

Overnight we were BLASTED with thunderstorms. From the photos you see the weather was lovely during the day. In the evening, clouds gathered, but it was still warm, and relatively calm, dry, and nice. I had become familiar with the NOAA site forecast for the weekend (I was a forecaster for the National Weather Service for 11 years, and just can’t use any other weather website.). We both knew that thunderstorms were forecast and we had the rain flap up. But nothing prepared us for KA-BLAM! Just like in Batman comics. POW! The lightning glare burnt through our closed eyelids, the thunder cracked, wind gusts yanked at the guy lines, and rain simply gushed from the heavens. For. Hours. And. Hours. And…. we stayed dry. And when everything settled the heck down, we slept in late.

{click here for Part II}

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