Goat Rocks Wilderness

We just returned from our longest backpacking trip to date, a three night, four day stay in the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington. What an amazing place. Located between Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier the Goat Rocks Wilderness sports spectacular views, vast meadows of wildflowers, and plenty of wildlife. A number of trails including the Pacific Crest Trail provide 120 miles of hiking opportunities to explore this special place. Our plan was to establish a base camp at Alpine and then explore in all directions from there.

We started our trip at the popular Snowgrass Trailhead and quickly entered the wilderness.

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A little over 1.5 miles we crossed Goat Creek on a footbridge.

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In another 2 miles we came to a trail junction where Bypass Trail 97 split off on its way up to the Pacific Crest Trail. Staying left on the Snowgrass Trail we climbed .7 miles to a trail junction.

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The Lily Basin Trail meets the Snowgrass Trail at this junction amid a wildflower meadow. Just a short distance away was Alpine where we began searching for a tent site. The views and wildflowers at Alpine were simply amazing. We ended up deciding on a small site with a view of Old Snowy Mountain.

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After setting up camp we loaded up our daypacks and headed back to the Snowgrass Trail and climbed to the Pacific Crest Trail. The scenery just kept getting better as we approached the PCT. Mt. Adams was standing tall to the SE, Mt. St. Helens sat in the distance to the SW and Old Snowy Mountain & Ives Peak lay dead ahead.

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We turned right (south) on the PCT and headed toward the Cispus Basin planning to go as far as Cispus Pass before turning around. After a mile the Bypass Trail 97 joined the PCT which we would take on the way back. After crossing a large rock slide we got our first view across the Cispus Basin to Mt. Adams peaking over the far ridge.

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The Cispus River begins at the top of the basin underneath more jagged peaks of the Goat Rocks.

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There had been wildflowers all along the trail but as we entered the basin they increased. Adding to the scenery was a waterfall that the PCT passed below.

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The trail continued around the basin crossing the Cispus River and then heading up the eastern side of the basin.

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At the top of the ridge was Cispus Pass and the border of the Yakima Indian Reservation. The Klickitat River flowed below and Mt. Adams was again visible to the SE.

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We returned to Alpine via the Bypass Trail 97 and took a short rest before heading back out to catch the sunset. We decided to try heading further out on the Lily Basin Trail since the Sun would be setting over the ridges in that direction. We passed a small pond with a big reflection before finding an unoccupied camp site where we settled in.

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Clouds started to move in and cover some of the higher points though so we headed back toward Alpine to check on Mt. Adams. The Moon had risen over the ridges to the North of Mt. Adams making for a perfect ending to our first day.

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I was up early on day 2 and was able to catch the sunrise which lit up the clouds over Ives Peak and Mt. Adams.

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Several elk were passing through the trees on the far side of Alpine but the low amount of light left me with a single picture worthy of a bigfoot sighting. 🙂

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We set off early on the Lily Basin Trail planning on passing Goat Lake then continuing on the trail to Heart Lake with a possible side trip up Hawkeye Point. As we headed in that direction the view of Hawkeye Point and Goat Creek falling from the rocky ledge below Goat Lake was another stunner.

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The trail passed through some large wildflower meadows where marmots could be seen scurrying about in the lupine.

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We also passed several waterfalls. The first just disappeared into a rock slide while the second slid down the rocks.

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Everything was so impressive but most of all were the wildflowers. The variety and amounts of them were unbelievable. Entire hillsides were covered in colors.

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And to top it off Mt. Adams loomed behind us.

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When we arrived at Goat Lake it was mostly frozen as we had expected. The lake rarely ever thaws out completely sitting in a bowl beneath Hawkeyepoint.

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From the lake the trail climbed to a ridge crest junction with the Goat Ridge Trail. Again the wildflowers were profuse.

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When we reached the junction Mt. St. Helens came into view beyond the Jordan Basin.

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We left the Lily Basin Trail to attempt to climb Hawkeye Point. As we climbed the tip of Mt. Hood could be seen over the shoulder of Mt. Adams.

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Then came Mt. Rainier beyond Johnson Peak.

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We followed a clear path to a rocky knob where we discovered a large snowfield lying between us and the visible trail up to the summit of Hawkeye Point.

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There was a steep drop part way out on the snowfield and no visible tracks so we decided to declare victory where we were and see if there was a different route to the trail we could see on the far side so we climbed back down to the Lily Basin Trail and started to head toward Heart Lake. We didn’t get far though before we were stymied by another snowfield.

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We decided to take a short break before heading back to search for a different route to Hawkeye Point. While we were resting Heather spotted the one thing I was really hoping to see on the trip – Mountain Goats! There was a pair of them near the top of the ridge across the basin.

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Mountain Goats were on top of my list of animals we hadn’t seen yet while hiking so even though they were a long way away it was exciting.

After they disappeared over the ridge we started our search for a path around the snowfield to Hawkeye Point. We managed to find what turned out to be a goat path that got us around the snowfield, but we were too far down a steep hill with no visible route up to reach the continuation of the real trail. Instead we followed the goat trail passing some beds complete with goat fur to a view of Goat Lake below.

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Satisfied with the view we began our return trip to camp. It was such a pretty trail that was just as spectacular the second time through.

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When we got back to camp we noticed that the family who had been camped further back in the same area as us had left. We took the opportunity to switch sites and moved to a spot with a view of Mt. Adams.

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After getting our new site set up we decided to go up to the PCT junction to catch the sunset. When we reached the junction with the Snowgrass Trail in Snowgrass Flat Heather noticed a large animal emerging from the trees on our right. We could see dark brown and my first thought was Elk but then it stepped out into the sunlight on the trial.

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It was a llama and it looked mighty proud of itself.

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We didn’t see anyone around but someone must have been using it as a pack animal. It rolled in the dirt for a moment then got up and then disappeared into another camp site. It was so unexpected all we could do was laugh all the way up to the PCT.

Meanwhile the setting Sun was bringing out the best in the wildflowers on the PCT.

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We found an open site and watched the Sun disappear behind a bank of clouds that was hanging over Goat Ridge before returning to our tent and putting day 2 to bed.

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Goat Rocks - Mt. Adams sunset

The third day started much like the previous day with a pretty Mt. Adams sunrise.

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The animals were up early too.

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After a yummy breakfast of Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy we headed up to the PCT once again but this time headed left (North) toward Old Snowy Mountain. As we approached the mountain we left the meadows behind for more rocky terrain dotted with lingering snowfields. The flowers were not completely left behind though.

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We spotted a ground squirrel that appeared to be sitting on a ledge enjoying the view along with its breakfast. The ledge it was on looked out over Goat Lake to Hawkeye Point with Mt. Rainier towering behind.

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The trail crossed several snowfields but unlike those we encountered the day before the trail was easy to follow and none were too steep.

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The views were great in every direction and we were able to spot a new mountain to the North – Mt. Stuart.

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The PCT eventually splits with a hiker bypass climbing up higher on the side of Old Snowy to avoid lingering snowfields on a steep, exposed hillside. We took the bypass having seen the snow fields from our exploration of Hawkeye Point the day before, plus we had considered climbing Old Snowy Mountain and the bypass would lead past that trail. When we reached the junction for the summit of Old Snowy we could only make out the lower portion of trail. After the previous days exploits we decided against trying to climb it then and figured we could always try it on the way back past.

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We found out later that the crest of the bypass trail is the highest point of the Pacific Crest Trail in the state of Washington at 7230′.

From the crest the PCT descends to “The Knife” before reaching Elk Pass where we had planned to turn around. As we began to descend though we got a good look at the trail ahead.

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It was the freakiest looking trail we had encountered and for the first time I wasn’t sure I could do it, but after having a couple of thru-hikers pass by and survive we decided to go for it.

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It was nerve racking at first but the trail was good and the views better. We spotted flowers and wildlife all around including a large group of mountain goats in the valley to our right.

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Soon we could see Packwood Lake in the valley to our left.

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Also in that valley was another herd of goats.

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We decided to turn around prior to reaching Elk Pass when we reached a crest and realized that we’d have to climb back up several hundred feet if we continued on and we already had a good climb ahead of us to get back up to the PCT high point.

PCT down to Elk Pass

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PCT up to the crest

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As we were returning the first group of goats we had seen suddenly started to dash across the snow. A second group came racing down from a higher meadow joining the first group.

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We don’t know what spooked them but it was fun to watch them run.

When we finally got back up to the crest the trail up Old Snowy was easy to see. There was a line of people hiking up and down. Between the crowds and our tired legs we decided we’d done enough climbing for the day and headed back to Alpine. Things had gotten crowded in the wilderness as it was the weekend and a lot of people had shown up. Most of the camp sites were now taken so we stuck close to ours until we turned in for the night after the Moon had risen.

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We set our phones to wake us at 5am on our last day so we could get a nice early start. Another amazing sunrise greeted us as we packed up our gear.

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We took the Lily Basin Trail toward Goat Lake and were greeted by a friendly little Pika near Slide Falls.

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The marmots were also out to send us off.

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We stopped at the lake to get some water out of Goat Creek and were paid a visit by a pair of Ouzels.

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Goat Lake had refrozen a little overnight.

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At the junction with the Goat Ridge Trail we took it and dropped down into the Jordan Basin. The best views we’d had of Mt. St. Helens were had as we descended into the basin.

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Of course there were wildflowers.

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And a lot of crickets or grasshoppers.

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There were flowers in this basin that we hadn’t seen at all in the other parts of Goat Rocks.

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Soon we were far enough down to no longer be able to see the mountains. It was a bittersweet hike as we hated to leave this beautiful place but after four days a shower was sounding real nice. We got one last glimpse of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Goat Rocks before entering the trees for good.

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The Goat Ridge Trail would take us to the Berrypatch Trailhead and from there a .6 mile connector trail would bring us back to the Snowgrass Trail just .1 miles from our car. We were moving quickly along the connector trail when the wilderness gave us one last surprise. A small tree frog sitting on a huckleberry bush next to the trail.

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Our time was up but we were already thinking of our next visit. We can’t wait to go back and explore more of the wilderness. The only negative to the entire trip was witnessing the disregard for the area that some of the people showed. There were people traipsing through the meadows and setting up tents on the vegetation. Such a beautiful place to visit will only stay that way if people take care of it so please go and visit but stay on the trails and camp on the brown ground not the green. Happy Trails.

UPDATE on the llama.  The llama had indeed either been left or escaped and was seen multiple times throughout the summer.  She was finally rescued this fall and is safe and doing well according to this report: http://www.rattlesnakeridgeranch.com/documents/Rescue_in_the_Goat_Rocks_Wilderness.pdf

 

Flickr albums: Day 1-https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157646295294436/

Day 2-https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157646295758026/

Day 3-https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157645936565989/

Day 4-https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157645937647578/

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