Goat Rocks Reminiscence

Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington
~24-25 miles, at least 2500’ elevation gain

Goat Rocks. There is no doubt it is one of my favorite places.

Ever since their maiden foray into backpacking last year, Sam and Shel and I have been trying to coordinate another trip (adult schedules are difficult to line up, it seems). Both friends were also interested in experimenting with slightly longer mileage and a multi-day trip. The Goat Rocks Wilderness packs a lot of bang into the mileage buck, so it was a good fit for adventuring further afield with multi-nights. Around every corner lies more enticing scenery, panorama and drama. It just somehow keeps you going. 

One of the many views in Goat Rocks that keeps you going (Day 3, PCT)

Par for the course with our trio there is the new gear trial- Sam hoofing in a new pack and me with another new (potential) dog. With 100° temps predicted in the valley (90s in the mountains), I left Pepper at home for this one. While Chewy seems to be a remarkably heat tolerant pup, Pepper just can’t handle that much heat. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t sure I could handle that much heat. This was an experiment for me as well (I moved from Georgia to get away from the heat after all). 

he didn't much care for the backpack

An early start from Portland still translates into an 11am start by the time we finish shuttling cars around trailheads. In order to properly introduce Shel and Sam to the Goat Rocks, I had us starting at the Berry Patch trailhead, working our way up Goat Ridge to Goat Lake on day one, traversing thru the heart of Goat Rocks country and Snowgrass Flats into Cispus Basin on day two, and, on the last day, heading out via Sheep Lake and Nannie Ridge to Walupt Lake.

The three of us badly needed this trip, the time and ability simply to get away from work and empty emotions into the landscape. The unit has been exceptionally difficult lately, and we all shared a sense of necessity in getting away, of letting go. Catharsis, zen, whatever you want to term it. And nothing quite decompresses you like mileage, stiff hill climbs, and heat. Good ol’ fashioned slog/sweat therapy.

DAY ONE: Appetizer & an introduction to Goat Rocks (Berry Patch TH- Goat Ridge- Goat Lake, ~6mi)

Heading up Goat Ridge, I found myself reminiscing. Goat Rocks was Andy and I’s first *real* backpacking trip in 2004. 

bleary-eyed at Goat Lake, 2004

It was the site of my first solo overnight in 2007 (scared to death the entire night, convinced some big bad creature was lurking just outside my tent door). Still the best stars I’ve ever seen (Goat Lake, 2004) and the best sunset (Jordan Basin, 2007). 

still the best sunset I've ever seen: Jordan Basin, 2007

Failed attempts at cross-country, high alpine lake hunting (Warm Lake, 2006). Dust, so much dust. Terrifying traverses. Trail magic. Four strangers coming together at the trailhead to help another couple load an incalcitrant llama into a trailer. Stalking goats and backpacking thru cow herds. Being almost 200lbs and struggling my way over terrain that today felt challenging but still so do-able, a win on the fitness/health meter for me. 

I have so many memories here. 

Jordan Basin, 2004 (first *real* backpacking trip)

this was a very different summer in mid-August 2011

A nice breeze kept the heat on the ridge climb out of the trailhead bearable, and once out of the trees, the bugs disappeared. Water was nonexistent until Jordan Basin, but the views certainly weren’t, and Sam and Shel were oo’ing and ah’ing around most turns. After the long traverse into Jordan Basin, we take a breather, gathering our thoughts and cooling off our feet, and begin the debate whether to push on to Goat Lake or stay in the basin. The decision won for a night at Goat Lake- although more crowded, it is difficult to argue with that view. And if you’ve never been…well, you should probably stay there at least once. 

hot and dusty on the Goat Ridge trail

Goat Ridge trail heading into Jordan Basin

trail friends ascending the final traverse into Jordan Basin

As Sam and Shel prepare to crest the ridge (6600’) where the Goat Ridge and Lily Basin trails meet, I call out: “Just wait, friends! The junction ahead is kinda sorta of one of those ‘oh shit/speechless’ moments. Enjoy!”

I think they concurred.

where the Lily Basin & Goat Ridge trail meet: hello, Goat Rocks

such a goof

The goat herd (with babies!) above our heads doesn’t hurt either. 

goat family on the Lily Basin trail

The traverse into Goat Lake’s barren, alpine cirque is mesmerizing as ever, the afternoon light harsh and brilliant, with ever-present and outstandingly open views of the Goat Rocks and Adams and the wide valleys below. The milk blue waters of Goat Lake 6400’ beckon and after setting up camp we simply spend much of the afternoon both in and around the lake before nestling in for the evening show. 

I love this trail

Goat Lake, 6400' and the Goat Rocks

picking their way thru the scree

All the day hikers disappeared. Only one other group shared the basin that night. The moon rose, the wind disappeared. Bliss.

a tired dog is a good dog


Sam chillaxing to nature's Prime Time

Adams from camp

DAY TWO: Main Course and a heat wave. (Goat Lake- Snowgrass Flats- PCT- Cispus Basin, ~9 mi)

At home, I’m kind of a *normal* morning person…7 to 8ish for waking up. In the backcountry, I’m usually awake (if not actually out of the sleeping bag) by 5-5:30. And I love dawn in the alpine. It’s very, very quiet and beautiful to watch the world wake up. 

good morning, lake

Later, after my trail companions wake, I find myself laughing because I swear the moment the sun touches its waters, Sam and Shel immediately take a very invigorating dip (complete with howling and a peeping tom marmot) in Goat Lake to freshen up, while I chase down the dog who’s discovered the joys of goat poop snickers. Ah, backpacking. Trio complete, we set out for the long walk through the heart of Goat Rocks country. It’s already warm, the sun and lack of a breeze heralding a much hotter day than yesterday. By the end of the day, at 6000’, it’s almost 90°. 

the view from the far shore of Goat Lake

The traverse through Lily Basin is familiar territory for me; still, it’s a homecoming that never grows dull. We were all in love with the valley and take our time in the heat heading up towards Snowgrass. We encounter more people than expected for a Thursday afternoon, but once we jump off on to the Snowgrass trail, climbing towards the PCT, the population rapidly dwindles. Climbing toward the PCT, I am in new territory and do my customary slide to a stop when the world opens up.

Lily Basin trail heading out of Goat Lake

reaching the PCT and Snowgrass Flats

This. This is my church. Nuff said. 

Snowgrass Flats & the heart of the Goat Rocks

At 6400’ in elevation, Snowgrass spreads before us, bleached by the harsh alpine sun. Even without the legendary fields of lupine (now all to seed), it is spectacular. I want to spend all day here. We encounter our first thru-hikers as we head south, Mount Adams’ hulking bulk our constant visual companion on the horizon. 

Sam & Shel contemplating Adams

PCT south thru Snowgrass

By the time we meet up with the PCT Bypass and continue our way towards Cispus Basin (6100’), it’s very warm, and the dog is starting to crap out with the heat and unrelenting alpine sun. All of us have been exposed to the sun above tree line most of the day, and we’re salty and sun-fried and sweaty-sunscreen-dust-slurry filthy. Although only around 3pm, it is time to find camp. The next reasonable camping is located at Sheep Lake, another roughly 3+ miles from the basin, and both the sun and heat continue to rise. The sweet little site I had in mind is free, an open space in the heart of the basin below Gilbert Peak’s massive 8124’ flank. The headwaters of the Cispus River rush by next to us, and Shel and Sam spend the remaining daylight hours sitting in the cool waters, like a pair of water nymphs greeting various thru hikers. 

entering Cispus Basin

Chuckling at my friends, I spend some time napping in the tent trying to get out of the high, harsh sunlight; there’s only so much sunscreen I can take. Later that evening, I simply bask in the emptiness of space. I love being out in the wide open country. It makes everything else in my life feel small and insignificant. 

camp below Gilbert Peak

Sunset, Day 2

In the middle of the night, I step out of the tent and the basin is gilded silver, awash in moonlight. The stars feel low, like the roof of the world is just above my head. Beyond the sounds of rushing water and wind, the world is silent, a private planetarium. Absolute awe. 

DAY THREE: Dessert & a case of backcountry malaise. (Cispus Basin-Sheep Lake-Nannie Ridge-Walupt Lake, ~9.5 mi)

The next dawn I wake early and briefly putter about camp with the dog before retiring back to the tent. I feel ill, listless and nauseated, and I’m holding down dry heaves. Stating the obvious to me is a talent of mine as I think in my head, “Well, this isn’t good.”

I’m supposed to work the next day, along with Sam. Neither Shel nor Sam knows the territory, but it wouldn’t be hard to get them back on the right track and trail back out to the car. I have enough food for another day (especially if I don’t end up eating today) and enough gear to keep me safe, if not entirely comfortable, while combating a case of backcountry malaise.

Apparently I’m not thinking rationally because, when they wake up, Sam and Shel instantly kabosh the idea of leaving me behind as completely ridiculous.

Once home, Andy agrees with them.

Clearly I’m outnumbered here.

Fortunately, it appears short-lived. After drinking more water and one cup of coffee to rally my senses, the ill ache in my body disappears. Dehydration? Unlikely given the nearly seven liters of water I drank the day prior. Altitude? Possibly, especially combined with the heat wave. Regardless, I am fortunate. And the situation ultimately provides three geeky medical professionals an interesting conversation and case study scenario to work through regarding the use (and/or misuse) of search and rescue and notifying loved ones when you are almost ten miles from the nearest trailhead.

Beginning the climb out of the basin towards the pass, we are initially still sheltered in shadow but soon break out into the unrelenting sunlight, where we will remain the rest of the day until the final drop into Walupt Lake. The climb is breathtakingly beautiful, and we stop numerous times to turn and contemplate the Goat Rocks: Snowy, Ives and Gilbert, behind us. The colors are still those of summer but transitioning to fall early with the drought; the crumbling rock especially brilliant in the early morning light.

morning from camp

Sam ascending the PCT towards Cispus Pass

Shel, contemplating Cispus Basin and the Goat Rocks, all the territory we've covered over two days

Beyond Cispus Pass 6475’, we continue climbing to a knoll at 6735’ where Sam breaks out into a victory stance. Just because: celebration and all. 

it's just luv

And the trail just keeps on giving. It’s a panorama of color and light and vistas and mountains, the eye beholden to nothing and everything. The smell of the dry heat and rock and pine forest. Passing Sheep Lake, the ladies are enamored. I rest on the trail, finding a bit of shade as they briefly explore the shoreline, remembering Andy and I’s Perseid trip there exactly one year ago.  

gorgeous PCT after Cispus Pass heading towards Sheep Lake
I appear to have forgotten the rolling up and down trail that is the Nannie Ridge trail though. I keep anticipating the down portion of the trail, the breakneck switchbacks to the lake where we can all cool our feet. I’m hoping for the downward angle around every bend, and it takes forever to appear. The temperature continues to climb and the ridge is absolutely baking; at this point we all pass into silence, packs on, legs churning, heads down against the mileage grind. Finally, we reach the true downhill portion of our hike and the tempo picks up as we make our way towards to the sparkling waters below.

It’s 100° in Portland. A beautiful trip. Trail friends. A reminder of how the simple things in life are what make it good and worthwhile. 

dirty paws


Suni Dei said...

Amazing trip! I'm ready for more!

Jan W said...

Beautiful hike, would love to take the time to go explore that area sometime. Love your pictures.

Manda said...

Suni Dei- always. :)

And Jan- thank you! Goat Rocks truly is magnificent. I've really been wanting to get to your area of Washington, looks spectacular. How did you fare with all the wildfires this year?