DAY ONE: Last year, a new adventure buddy introduced me to Silver Star Mountain. I haven't had the opportunity to hike with Allison since, so when she impromptu invited me on a Mount Adams overnighter last week, I jumped on the chance to head into the backcountry after a long, forced celibacy from hiking. School projects caused me to bail on Adams (apparently, a good thing), so when Allison decided to give the first backpacking trip of the season a second try, I was all in, school projects be damned.
I will make an effort to get out for self-care this quarter.
With the high country still very snowy, Allison proposed hitting up the northern section of the Mount Saint Helens National Monument, an area she explored for the first time last year around Goat Mountain. For this trip, we settled on a different approach to Deadman's Lake, entering via the Goat Creek Trail, and climbing some 2400 feet in the almost nine miles to the lake (most of this elevation gain was in a four mile stretch as the trail approached Vanson Lake).
The trailhead was literally in a cloud when we arrived around 1PM; however, these were perfect conditions for the trail ahead. Simply put, the Goat Creek trail is spectacularly beautiful, classic Cascadian old growth, wealthy in fern, trillium, oxalis, thimbleberry, salmonberry, devils club, slide alder and moss. We crossed a multitude of creeks and lovely 150 foot Leona Falls. Just beyond the junction with the Tumwater Ridge trail (our return path), the trees grew bigger while the trail became significantly brushier and laden with moisture. Within two miles, we were both soaked from our trail runners to our shoulders. It was a theme that would continue for the three days we were out.
|In Georgia, this would be chigger territory (photo by A. Wildman)|
This section of our loop was generally in good shape, and I found myself completely enamored by the beauty of this dense, deep forest. Although cool, the humidity was nevertheless incredible- I was sweating buckets and slowing down to tortoise speed on the uphill climbs. The temperature dropped as we gained elevation and near Vanson Lake, we passed through some lovely alpine meadows still melting out from winter snowdrifts. From a high point of 4700 feet on the ridge, we would drop 400 feet down to the shore of Deadman's Lake for the night.
|beautiful Goat Creek trail|
On our way in, Allison and I chatted about why we like backpacking. For both of us, it's a combination of solitude and challenge, a hitting of the reset button. Allison framed it really nicely that it's about making yourself a little uncomfortable for a few days; when you get home, life gets put back into perspective, and you appreciate comforts that much more. For me, backpacking shuts off the brain chatter- by physically exhausting myself, the world narrows down to greenery and the focus on simple things: walking, food, shelter, water.
|back in the clouds, nearing Vanson Lake|
Since Allison is a much stronger hiker than I am, we separated on much of the trek to the lake. She is all thoroughbred-long legs, ground-eating stride and grace- while I am more like a stubby pony- short and slow but stubborn to get where ever I am going. I was pleased to see that she didn't seem to feel the need to wait for me, and equally pleased to discover that I am no longer frightened to be alone in the woods, which is something most of my friends don't understand and which I've given up trying to explain.
|I had MAJOR pack envy on this trip- I'm on the left, Allison is on the right|
Deadman's Lake was quiet when we arrived, with only two other small groups camping there. Characteristic of the day, it was foggy and cool. That night, we would be serenaded by owl call, no elk, and (unfortunately) my opera-loud snoring, which I had failed to warn Allison about ahead of time. Yup. I have pipes.
|I kept Oscar up with my snoring, too|
DAY TWO: The loose plan for the day was to jaunt up to the Goat Ridge Mountain trail and take in (hopefully) views of the mountains and the Mount Margaret backcountry. Allison and I had done our best to dry out our clothing, shoes and socks from the day before to no avail- everything was damp and smelling of hiker-funk which made it really, really fun to put back on. That said, drying everything out was futile anyway....on the climb out from Deadman's we were greeted by heavy, dew-laden brush, soaking us all over again, leaving us with squishy trail runners in no time. By this time, I was really sensing a theme to the weekend.
|dewy false hellebore|
Busting out around a corner to the views from the Goat Ridge trail made all the jungle rot worthwhile, even when the mosquitoes suddenly converged on us (neither Allison nor I could figure out why they were obnoxious higher up, but completely tolerable in the lake basin). The Goat Ridge trail is on the edge of the 1980 blast zone, and the ridge walk is a dramatic juxtaposition between the recovering green of the forest and silvered snags left over from the blast.
It is also wildflower heaven.
[On a side note, one truth about me: I am definitely a lover of the high alpine. As such, this loop trip was not the type of trail I would normally choose, especially for an overnighter. However, as the trip wore on, I discovered an appreciation for a different kind of beauty, that of deep old forest with limited views, where the beauty is in the tiny intimacies of the greenery all around you. By the end of the trip, I was really in love with this loop.]
We sunned for a while, futilely trying to dry out shoes and socks, before giving up and exploring beargrass meadows and playing games of hide-and-seek with a very damp Oscar. The clouds rolled in and out of the valley, playing peek-a-boo with the Mount Margaret backcountry.
|Allison watching Mount Margaret|
|Oscar watching Mount Margaret|
|Mount Margaret peek-a-boo|
By the time we returned to camp and packed up for Tumwater, the sun had finally broken through. I'll be honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy the five plus miles to a little unnamed tarn below Tumwater Peak. Unlike the Goat Creek trail, this was dry forest walking, where, in some places, the trail was being reclaimed by lots of blow down, the tread melding into the duff. There is one good vantage point of Rainier, Goat Rocks, Adams and the Mt. Margaret backcountry (all still very snowy), but overall the lack of views and flowers was disappointing for me.
After cresting the ridge, we dropped down the trail to the unnamed tarn we would call home for the night. With no established camps, Allison and I were able to just barely eke out a somewhat acceptable site that was less than ideal, but that would do for the night.
It was an entertaining evening. I managed to get my trail runners dried out by the smoky fire Allison browbeat to life, but nearly melted the soles off in my determination to not have wet feet. Oscar was sacked out in the tent being antisocial, and Allison had a major ramen dinner fail that she managed to salvage without adding too much pine needle flavoring to her meal.
|ramen FAIL: adds piney flavor|
Earlier in the day, while hunting for a site, Allison and I noticed a healthy population of frogs in the area. At 9:30PM, the chorus went off.
"CUE THE FROGS!" Allison hollered from her tent.
I fell asleep to a symphony of frog song that night.
DAY THREE: The next morning we putzed about, hoping for the sun to hit the basin for long enough to dry out our, once again, soaked gear for the hike out. Overnight condensation had left everything sopping. In the end, I gave up and shoved my now-pound-heavier tent into its stuff sack for the trip out. On the plus side- my shoes were still dry. As we began the plunge down to the trailhead, I noted how this side of the Tumwater Trail was simply beautiful, reminiscent of the Goat Creek trail on our first day in. That said, it is steep, and if I am to ever do this loop again, I will continue to approach it in the counterclockwise direction. Overall, we made decent time back to the trailhead for the drive back to Portland. And, irony of ironies, two stream fords less than three miles from the trailhead left us, once again, with sopping wet shoes.
|Allison & Oscar descending the Tumwater Ridge trail|
|lovely Leona again|
Several days later, while dry, they still reek of hiker funk and have been banished to the outside.
GOAT CREEK-DEADMAN'S LAKE-TUMWATER RIDGE LOOP
Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington
~24 miles, ~3900 feet elevation gain