Eat. Hike. Beer.

Middle school nerds: reunite.

I recently reconnected with one of my old bad-hair-era friends from Marietta, an intelligent, east-coast transplant who is also happily making her home in the Pacific Northwest. Lisa and her husband Ian (a fiendish chef and food-y: check out his witty food critiques here) have quite the adorable brood: one chunk-o-munk baby, a vivacious, viciously bright four year old, a fluffy, spot-tongue chow mix, and a tail-less cat who likes to drink water out of the bathtub. In March, they migrated north to Seattle from the Bay Area. Lisa has been pursuing me for a hiking date, so I obliged her this Friday afternoon by throwing myself and my weekend gear in the car for an impromptu road trip up to Seattle.

It's intriguingly irritating how short-sighted I can be. I've lived in Portland for fourteen years, yet I have rarely taken the opportunity to visit our sister city three hours north.

And Seattle rocks.

It rocks even more with good company, great conversation, homemade food, microbrews (insert here Chuck's [killer] 85th Avenue Market, i.e. microbrew heaven, right down the street from their house) and hiking. I would never move.

cheerios are nummy

Kurt Cobain bench

I arrived Friday night to paella (seriously, Ian? Paella? nom, nom, nom) and, still feeling well-fed, set off for a low key hike and good catch-up conversation with Lisa on Saturday.

Wallace Falls State Park, Washington
5.5 miles, 1200 feet elevation gain

Welcome to the Puget Sound human superhighway.

I try to make a concerted effort to limit my contact with humanity while hiking. While the hike description for Wallace Falls does warn that you will not be lacking company, Washington Trails Association fails to convey exactly how much humanity.

It was like a giant game of hiking frogger. Rush hour traffic on a paved dirt interstate.

Still, the trail is a lovely, sunlit forest walk, meandering along the banks of Wallace River and visiting three waterfalls along the way. This is the type of hike I would schedule for a rainy and fog-laden Pacific Northwest day; the details of trails like Wallace Falls are somehow more intimate, the mossy forest more vulnerable and quiet when hiked in the rain.

At home, we set the table with a delicious spread of sliced baguette, cheese and Italian cold cut appetizers accompanied by a microbrew parade: Lazy Boy's Dumb Luck Pale Ale, DogFish Head's 90 Minute IPA and Pike Street's XXXXX Stout. Ian followed up with a Japanese-inspired bento meal of tofu/eggplant stir fry, rice, salad, miso soup and black cod.

training chopsticks

Seriously, Ian?

Yeah, I ate really well this weekend.

Cheers to friends.

A Very Different Goat Rocks

Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington
13 miles roundtrip, ~1770 feet elevation gain

The unbelievable has happened. We have Goat Lake to ourselves.

At 6400 feet, Goat Lake sits in a high alpine bowl in the Goat Rocks wilderness in Washington State. Sandwiched between the three Cascade giants of Rainier, Adams and Helens, the Goat Rocks are the blown-out, spiny remains of an extinct volcano and showcase some of the most spectacular scenery in the state. 

It is also usually mobbed. 

And this is the only reason why it is not currently bombarded by human and dog foot traffic.

Um? Hello? Summer? (photo by AJP)

The Goat Ridge-Snowgrass Flats loop provides one of the few, easily accessible loop options within this outstandingly lovely alpine wilderness. And Goat Lake, with its wide open views of Adams and its ridge hugging trails wandering through fields and fields of alpine wildflower heaven, sits at the epicenter of the loop.

Getting here has been a challenge this year. Mid-August, yet it looks more like late June or early July. 

As part of our annual Perseids trip, Andy and I chose to head up to Goat Rocks this year knowing that condition reports were sketchy, so we left for the weekend with no particular game plan. There was no mileage agenda, no destination-itis: we wanted to star-gaze, moon-gaze, practice some night photography and stalk some mountain goats from a distance. Just being out was enough. 

We found the moon. We saw goats, had an early morning camp marmot visitor and walked across lots of elk evidence. And the Perseids, though faint due to moonlight interference, were abundant, streaking their long way across the night sky.

We headed up the Snowgrass Flats trail on Thursday afternoon, opting to try the loop counterclockwise, since the Cowlitz Ranger District had updated a condition report (finally) that the trail was logged out and clear of snow to the junction with the Lily Basin trail. Personally, having walked this loop before, I find it to be more scenic clockwise; although the Goat Ridge trail is steeper, it is far more scenic, and I prefer views to a long forest slog. We chose Snowgrass though, since we weren't sure what we would find higher up. 

It was the right choice. 

We stayed below Snowgrass Flats on Thursday night, wandering wet meadows only just melted out, photographing green shoots and early flowers inching their way through the still muddy earth. Several groups were camping there on Thursday night but nothing, nothing compared to the starved backpacking hoards headed up when we would leave on Saturday.

recently thawed meadow & the Goat Rocks

We sat and star-gazed for hours, the moonlight bright enough that no headlamps were necessary.

Friday morning we lazed about before deciding to see how conditions were at Goat Lake. From our camp on Thursday night we could see the basin, still very, very snowy. We had been warned by one individual that getting there was "dicey".

where we are headed: Goat Lake basin

Just beyond the main creek in the camping area below Snowgrass, the trail began to rapidly disappear under snow. Huge bowls full of snow. The sound of water everywhere, running underneath your feet. Blinding sun. And little pieces of greenery here and there, beginning to raise their heads through the still lingering winter. As we began the final climb to Goat Lake, the sun had already worked its magic, the hillsides greener here, with phlox and avalanche lilies galore carpeting the slopes.

route finding
(photo by AJP)

And then the traverses. Two of them.

On its final, winding way to Goat Lake, the Lily Basin trail traverses steep slopes in a valley filled with tiny, seasonal cascades. By the time we arrived, the snow was softening in the midday sun. Even with my Kahtoolas, the first traverse, though not long, had my heartbeat drumming in my ears.

the first traverse

The second traverse was longer, and the exposure of consequence. Halfway across, fully committed, I was downright nauseated and cursing myself for my stubbornness. My downhill foot kept sliding in the sun-soft snow, causing my vertigo to rear its ugly head and my sense of balance to careen out of control. This type of challenge is not my forte, and it took every ounce of mental steel to keep myself putting one foot in front of the other. But there was no turning around on this narrow, foot-wide, beaten shelf of slick snow.

this was NOT intelligent (photo by AJP)

I was a shaking mess by the time I reached the other side.

the second traverse as seen from Goat Lake

Nature cannot be tricked or cheated.  She will give up to you the object of your struggles only after you have paid her price.  ~Napoleon Hill

post-traverse trauma: sunburned and mentally fried

So it was that we came to have the still-frozen Goat Lake to ourselves, not a soul in sight.

Locked in a seasonal time warp, Goat Lake remains buried under massive drifts, only the barest outline of its turquoise lined banks cracking through the mounded snow. Goat Creek can be heard under your feet and is raging at its outlet as it drops off the cliff face below the lake basin. We claimed the one and only melted out campsite for the evening, watching mountain goats graze on the cliffs above us. As evening progressed, Mount Adams became bathed in alpenglow while the moon rose, full and clear over Old Snowy and Ives Peak. Later, meteors and that rushing wind that always fills the Goat Lake basin in the evening hours would keep us company.


Mount Adams alpenglow

moonrise over Old Snowy and Ives Peak

starry starry night

We had decided that in the morning we would head back the way we came, banking on the snow refreezing overnight and thus providing us with better traction. It was a good gamble; actually, the only gamble available. Beyond Goat Lake, where the Lily Basin trail climbs to the junction of Hawkeye Point and the Goat Ridge trail (just above Jordan Basin), cornices were still visible, and I knew from previous trips that the exposure there is deadly. No mistakes were possible on that section of trail. So, no loop on this trip.

In the still early morning, the traverses passed relatively quickly, the now solid snow providing the sticky consistency our microspikes excel at gripping. The previous day’s nauseating scare behind me, it was smooth sailing back to the trailhead.

better, but I still do not like you

Andy has 40+ mosquito bites. He’s itchy and annoyed, but we both agree this was an unforgettable trip. A very different and unique face to the Goat Rocks, one of our favorite wilderness wonderlands.

Lily Basin trail just before the second traverse
Goat Lake basin & Mount Adams (photo by AJP)

best window in the world (photo by AJP)

My Mountain

Mount Hood Wilderness, Oregon
~8 miles, ~2800 feet elevation gain

Eliot Glacier icefall

Perched high on Mount Hood's northeastern flank is Cooper Spur, a beautiful but barren landscape swept clean by wind, scoured by the harsh realities of nature at this altitude on the mountain. 

For me, it is spiritual place, the narrowing down of the self, the confrontation with the realization of your insignificance in the world and the humility which comes with that reality.

It is nothing but footsteps on ravaged soil, and the burning of lungs with each step higher. It is harsh sun, your eyes forced downward in the glare. It is tenacious, scrubby flowers scrambling for purchase on pumice-ridden slopes. Ancient ice fall. Long views across the horizon. The only constant is the ever-changing face of the mountain (with the seasons, with the light, with the altitude gained with each fighting footstep and breath) looming before you.

This is one of my favorite places. 

Mount Jefferson & the Three Sisters are visible today

Tie-in-Rock lies beyond the last bit of trail

Deciding to do a 'standing glissade' down the trail

all-wheel drive helps

where I came from

Cooper Spur shelter & Mount Adams

The Hills Are Alive

Silver Star Scenic Area, Washington
~5.5 miles, 1440 elevation gain 

Mount Saint Helens from the Chinook trail

Meadows as far as the eye can see and flowers galore, running rampant along the slopes. Sound of Music stuff. Butterflies. Indian paintbrush, lupine, beargrass, tiger lily, wild iris, spirea, wallflowers and countless others I cannot name. Sprawling views. A return to Silver Star.

Saturday morning. The last minute cancellation of previously scheduled family activities leaves the day wide open. Rather than un-cancel the previously cancelled plans with the other individuals I had already cancelled on, Andy and I decided to tackle the day together in exploration (my favorite hiking partner to enjoy the remains of summer with).

A few weeks ago, a new adventure buddy introduced me to the Silver Star scenic area in Washington. From atop Little Baldy’s crumbling summit and across a small valley, she pointed out the ridge top Ed’s trail, traversing its narrow, winding way towards Silver Star’s 4390 foot summit, amid lush green meadows and unique rock formations. 

We went there.

Road 4190 presented one interesting berm/wash to cross, and even my Subaru had mild issues with it. I am now well-acquainted with the smell of toasted rubber. Thank goodness the trail that is Ed's is in better shape than the road leading up to it. 

Ed's trail

Like the Bluff Mountain trail, Ed’s trail stays high among the countless flowers and tree-less ridge walks so characteristic of the Yacolt Burn area. About a half mile from the trailhead, the trail begins to traverse a steep hillside as it overlooks an open valley, and the expected eye-candy views abound. One portion of trail, just beyond the rock arch, requires the use of hands to scramble up the slope, including the use of a stout and well-positioned tree root, also known as "vegetable belay". 

rock arch on Ed's trail

trail? trail.

I do not particularly care for this kind of stuff. Sections of trail like this cause my vertigo to kick in with a vengeance, like a team of draft horses stomping on a whining puppy. Still, it's good to challenge oneself, and I’d rather climb up than down, so up it was. Prior to the rock arch, if one watches carefully, a side path jumps off from Ed's trail to join the Chinook Trail; an old jeep trail, the Chinook trail is much less narrow, and it parallels Ed’s trail on the opposite side of the ridge, eventually hooking up with the beginning of the hike. If conditions were wet or if one has small children, a better option might be to take the Chinook trail to Silver Star’s summit.

Silver Star from Ed's trail

Once atop our actual goal, we lingered, watching the clouds dance around in unseen wind patterns while Mount Hood played peek-a-boo with our cameras. Taking a relaxed pace out, we followed the Chinook trail through yet more meadows, Helens and Rainier as our constant companions. 

watching the clouds play

These are the reasons I live here.