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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.

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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