Tag Archives: mountain goat

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 3

As far as we know we didn’t have any mountain goat visitors during our night at Lower Twin Lake but I did wake up once and managed to see a streak across the sky which I assume was part of the Perseid meteor shower. Another goat did pass close by in the morning though as we were preparing to leave.
IMG_0502

IMG_0500

It wasn’t nearly as chilly as it had been the previous morning and the air had gotten quite a bit hazier overnight.
IMG_0497

The increased smoke made us thankful that we had made our climb up Rock Creek Butte the day before instead of waiting until this morning. We had a fairly straight forward day planned as we would simply be returning the way we’d come the day before minus the side trip up to Rock Creek Butte’s summit. We were still seriously considering not going all the way back to Summit Lake which would be approximately a 13 mile hike. We figured we could shorten that by nearly a mile if we set up camp near one of the streams along the Summit Lake Trail.

As we began the mile climb from Lower Twin Lake back to the Elkhorn Crest Trail we passed the mountain goat who had stop to graze.
IMG_0505

IMG_0508

A little further along we spotted three deer doing the same in a patch of yellow wildflowers.
IMG_0512

IMG_0517

IMG_0523

The hoofed animals weren’t the only ones out this morning.
IMG_0528

IMG_0530

As we climbed away from the Twin Lakes Rock Creek Butte came into view.
IMG_0524

IMG_0525

When we reached the Elkhorn Crest Trail we turned left and headed toward Rock Creek Butte where we spotted another mountain goat coming down the ridge where we had gone up the day before.
IMG_0534

IMG_0536

IMG_0537

It turned out to be a mountain goat filled morning. As we were passing around the western side of Rock Creek Butte a herd of goats came up from the valley below. Some of them crossed the trail in front of us while others stayed down in the trees until we passed.
IMG_0541

IMG_0548

IMG_0550

IMG_0552

We had another encounter a short while later as I passed around a rock outcropping and came face to face with a goat heading south on the trail. We were both equally startled and the goat quickly leapt downhill behind more rocks.
IMG_0554

The increased smoke limited the views on the way back so we focused more on the things along the trail.
IMG_0579Mt. Ruth to the north

IMG_0575Rock Creek Butte to the south

IMG_0560Looking east toward the Wallowas

IMG_0569

IMG_0573

IMG_0576

IMG_0563

Curiosity got the best of Heather as we came to a jeep track heading uphill to a ridge 9.3 miles from the Twin Lakes Trail junction and 1.2 miles before the Summit Lake junction.
IMG_0580

Wondering if there might be a view of Summit Lake from the ridge we followed it steeply uphill only to discover that the angle was wrong and we were looking north over Little Summit Lake which was hidden in the trees below.
IMG_0581

We were feeling relatively good all things considered so we had decided to go all the way to Summit Lake and stay there again only this time we would take the first available camp site we came too instead of going half way around the lake. We arrived at the lake to find it a little smokier than we had left it the morning before but it was still a great lake.
IMG_0584

IMG_0593

We were the only people there when we arrived and did indeed set up camp in the first available spot.
IMG_0591

We were later joined by a solo backpacker who we had passed along the Summit Lake Trail. We spent the afternoon lounging around camp and hanging out with the locals.
IMG_0603

IMG_0588

IMG_0611

The total distance for the day was just a bit over 13 miles but there had been a lot less elevation gain making it a fairly mild day. We were dealing with some blisters and Heather was having a little issue with an ankle that was being bruised by her shoe which told her it was time for a new pair. The good news was the next two days were only going to be around 10 miles each, but we were facing some more climbing on day four along the Lost Lake Trail which I had been told was steep and rocky. We turned in after memorizing the route for the following day. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 3

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 2

The second day of our Elkhorn Crest backpacking trip began with a welcome chill in the morning. It was actually cold enough to break out the beanie, Buff, and gloves.
IMG_0198

We ate breakfast as the Sun came up creating a nice reflection in Summit Lake.
IMG_0202

IMG_0203

After packing up we decided to continue around the lake counter-clockwise to complete a loop around the shore. We crossed a small inlet in a meadow at the southern end of the lake.
IMG_0209

Beyond the meadow the trail passed a couple of other campsites with views to the north across the water.
IMG_0211

Birds were busily flying from tree to tree but one sat still long enough for a photograph.
IMG_0214

After completing the loop we began the 1.5 mile climb back to the Elkhorn Crest Trail. The trail crossed over several small streams and meadows as it passed through a forested section. We spotted two does and a fawn in the area.
IMG_0220One of the does (the fawn dashed by moments later)

IMG_0218Close-up of the doe

As we continued along we were hailed by the group of hikers we had passed early on the first day who had said they were aiming for Summit Lake as well. They wound up running out of gas they said so they set up camp on a rocky overlook of the valley below. After talking with them briefly we continued on to the cairn marking the junction with the Elkhorn Crest Trail where we turned left.
IMG_0222

Our goal for the day was Twin Lakes but we also planned to summit Rock Creek Butte, the highest peak in the Elkhorn Range. We were leaving our options open though. The route up was 9.5 miles away and we weren’t sure if it would be better to wait and attempt it the next day when it would be earlier in the day and likely cooler or if doing it today would be better since the sky was still relatively smoke free in the immediate area. Either way we had time to decide as we followed the trail along the western side of the crest.
IMG_0227

IMG_0229

IMG_0239

We were very interested in a peak on the horizon to the south. It was clearly separated from the Strawberry Mountains further west and we weren’t sure what it was. When we returned home it was one of the first things I looked up and it turned out to be Ironside Mountain.
IMG_0224

We spotted a number of animals along the crest in the morning including the biggest caterpillar either of us had ever seen digging in the dirt.
IMG_0243

IMG_0242

Approximately a mile and a half from the junction with the Summit Lake Trail we came across the only water we would encounter along the entire Elkhorn Crest Trail. A small flower lined stream heading down into Sardine Gulch to join Cracker Creek.
IMG_0250

IMG_0249

The trail had left the North Fork John Day Wilderness at Cracker Saddle and we began seeing the difference at a hairpin turn around a ridge.
IMG_0267

From above we couldn’t read the sign without the aid of the camera zoom.
IMG_0268

Someone clearly put some work into that. A little further along the trail we started noticing mining operations along the hillside. We could also see 9106′ Rock Creek Butte further along the ridge.
IMG_0274

IMG_0276

The trail spent a short while along a wide section of the ridge top before returning to the western side of the crest.
IMG_0280

IMG_0282

We would again gain the ridge top with a nice view down the Rock Creek Valley to the east.
IMG_0287

Nearly seven miles from the Summit Lake Trail junction we came to the Pole Creek Ridge Trail which headed faintly downhill along a ridge.
IMG_0291

IMG_0292

By the time we’d reached this junction we had decided to attempt Rock Creek Butte on the way by instead of waiting for the next day. It wasn’t too hot and more importantly it looked like smoke was creeping towards us from both sides so we thought we’d better get what views we could while the getting was good. It was still a little over two and a half miles to the SW ridge of Rock Creek Butte where we would turn up for the climb.
IMG_0295

We were having a hard time coming from the direction that we were determining which peak ahead was actually Rock Creek Butte. We were hoping that the closest rounded peak was our goal and not the larger one further away. From the angle we were at they appeared to be somewhat similar in height.
IMG_0296

When we gained the ridge top again though we could just make out Rock Creek Lake in the basin below the further peak which told us that was our next goal.
IMG_0298

As it turned out the peak we had hoped was Rock Creek Butte was 500′ shorter although it did seem to have a possible route up.
IMG_0309Looking up “not” Rock Creek Butte

IMG_0310Rock Creek Butte is still a little ways away.

It took another mile and a half to reach the saddle where we would turn up the SW ridge of Rock Creek Butte.
IMG_0327Looking ahead to the saddle.

IMG_0330Nearing the saddle.

At the saddle we left the trail and ditched are backpacks in a group of trees in favor of our day packs.
IMG_0331

Before starting the climb we noticed that we weren’t the only ones traveling south on the Elkhorn Crest Trail. A pair of mountain goats could be seen walking along the trail.
IMG_0335

IMG_0337

After watching the goats head over the ridge toward Twin Lakes we began our ascent.
Mountain goat sign was everywhere along the rocky ridge and there was no discernible path, although we did occasionally spot a human foot print in the dirt.
IMG_0340

IMG_0342

IMG_0346

The half mile route gains roughly 600′ with the final tenth of a mile being the steepest portion.
IMG_0349

A large cairn and register box sit atop the peak.
IMG_0353

From the summit Lower Twin Lake was visible to the south.
IMG_0376

IMG_0356

Mt. Ireland and Vinegar Hill lay to the west.
IMG_0360

To the NE should have been the Wallowas but smoke appeared to have overtaken them.
IMG_0358

The view to the north included many of the peaks of the Elkhorn Range but there was no view of Rock Creek Lake due to the broad summit.
IMG_0354

A 500′ stroll across the summit though revealed the gorgeous lake below.
IMG_0371

IMG_0370Notice the golden-mantled ground squirrel sitting atop the large rock overlooking the lake.

Mountain goats were grazing in some green grass by a smaller body of water near the lake.
IMG_0375 (Full disclosure neither of us noticed the goats until I was looking through the pictures at home.)

IMG_0373Looking back at the summit cairn from the Rock Creek Lake overlook.

There were a lot of flying ants on the cairn as well as several lady bugs and some butterflies nearby.
IMG_0362

IMG_0363

After recovering from the climb up we started back down just as another hiker was closing in on the summit. It turned out that he had been the other person besides us camped at Summit Lake the night before. We left him to the summit and slowly picked our way back down to our backpacks. After retrieving them we returned to the Elkhorn Crest Trail following a section of trail that had been blasted out of the rocks.
IMG_0379

IMG_0378

IMG_0380

Soon Lower Twin Lake came into view followed by Upper Twin Lake.
IMG_0381

IMG_0385

The trail made a sweeping curve for the next three quarters of a mile above the lakes bringing around to the opposite end of them before arriving at a junction with the Twin Lakes Trail.
IMG_0387

IMG_0392

Although the lakes are only about 350′ below the junction the Twin Lakes Trail takes its own sweet time getting down to them via a series of long switchbacks.
IMG_0393

They made for a relatively easy climb out the next day but I was ready to be done for the day and became rather impatient with the slow decent. After a little over a mile we arrived at the lake and chose a camp stie.
IMG_0400

IMG_0492

Both our guidebook and signs at the trailheads had warned about the mountain goats in the area being habituated to humans. A good reminder of why people shouldn’t feed wildlife, without the fear of humans the goats have been known to nibble on tents, clothing and backpacks in search of salt. We made sure not to leave anything lying around outside the tent but it wasn’t long before the first goat passed nearby.
IMG_0407You can see Heather’s arm on the left side of the photo.

IMG_0408

IMG_0410

About a half hour later a second goat followed.
IMG_0422

IMG_0425

After dinner we watched a nanny and kid circle around the lake and graze nearby.
IMG_0434

IMG_0451

IMG_0459

We did leave our tent for about 45 minutes to visit Upper Twin Lake which was just .3 miles away.
IMG_0474

More mountain goats were grazing on the hillsides above this lake.
IMG_0479

The goats left our tent alone and we turned in for the night after what would be the longest day of our trip at 15.9 miles. Our original plan had been to return to Summit Lake the next day and stay there again but we were now considering camping along the Summit Lake Trail like the other group we had met had done. The nearby streams would allow us to get water and it would shave off a little distance both the next day and the day after when we were planning on heading from Summit Lake to Dutch Flat Lake. We decided to play it by ear the next day and turned in for the night halfway expecting to wake up to a mountain goat staring at us through the mesh on our tent. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 2

Eagle Cap Wilderness Day 2 – The Matterhorn and West Fork Wallowa Trail

When we had gone to sleep the night before we weren’t sure if we would be continuing our trip or hiking back to the car after only one night due to Heather having gotten sick during the night. She was feeling pretty good in the morning though and was fairly certain she had just overheated the day before, so we decided to move ahead with our plans and see how she held up.

We had breakfast and watched as the morning light slowly made it’s way into the Ice Lake basin.
IMG_3005

The Matterhorn catching the morning sunlight.
IMG_3009

Our plan for the day was to take our day packs and hike up to the 9826′ summit of the Matterhorn before packing up camp and heading further up the West Fork Wallowa River. To reach the Matterhorn we would need to follow a use trail on the west side of Ice Lake up almost 2000′. We had explored some of the south side of the lake the day before so we went around the north side of the lake to reach the use trail. This proved to be a good choice as there was no wind allowing for some beautiful reflections in the lake.
Ice Lake

IMG_3025

The lupine was just starting to bloom along the north shore as well.
IMG_3019

IMG_3022

The trail crossed an inlet creek at the west end of the lake and then grew fainter as it headed uphill.
IMG_3044

IMG_3058

The scenery grew more alpine like as we climbed. A few trees dotted the rocky landscape and wildflowers added color.
IMG_3061

Alpine shooting star
IMG_3069

Alpine springbeauty
IMG_3075

Lewis flax and wallflowers
IMG_3082

IMG_3088

Ice Lake was getting further away as we continued up.
IMG_3091

The path led to a marble outcrop that overlooked a basin where we spotted a pair of mountain goats.
IMG_3094

IMG_3100

IMG_3104

In addition to Ice Lake below there were a couple of snow melt tarns visible below the trail.
IMG_3129

IMG_3130

IMG_3144

The trail had been fairly easy to follow but it became more difficult after crossing a section of red rocks and starting up the marble of the Matterhorn.
IMG_3136

Despite the rocky terrain several different wildflowers had managed to find footholds.
IMG_3122

IMG_3124

IMG_3138

IMG_3093

IMG_3159

IMG_3160

IMG_3161

Once we were on the marble we worked our way up following cairns and whatever footprints we could find in the areas of dirt that were present. A couple of times we realized we had lost the shoe prints and were only following mountain goat hoof prints. We made our way up to a surprisingly wide ridge top and followed it south toward the summit of the Matterhorn.
IMG_3148

IMG_3154

The view of the Wallowas was amazing. Smokey skies surrounded us limiting the visible distance, but we couldn’t complain.

The Elkhorns
IMG_3151

The Lostine Valley
IMG_3146

Cairn marking the summit of the Matterhorn with a smoke plume from a wildfire in Idaho in the distance.
IMG_3155

Eagle Cap in the center of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
IMG_3162

In addition to the great views were some interesting rock features.
IMG_3157

IMG_3167

We headed back down from the summit stopping along the way to chat with another hiker on his way up. After packing up we took the Ice Lake Trail back down to the West Fork Wallowa Trail. We were surprised by the number of hikers we passed heading up to Ice Lake on a Monday.

When we arrived back at the junction with the West Fork Wallowa Trail Heather was doing well so we continued with our trip and took the trail south toward Sixmile Meadow. IMG_3201

This 3.3 mile section of the West Fork Wallowa Trail wasn’t the most exciting trail we’d been on, but to be fair it was following up Ice Lake and the Matterhorn. We also had remembered the distance incorrectly thinking it was only about 1.5 miles to the meadow causing it to seem like it was taking forever to get there.

We had originally considered setting up camp at Sixmile meadow but after passing the junction with the Lakes Basin Trail at the edge of the meadow we only saw one campsite which was closer to the trail and more exposed than we wanted to be.
IMG_3228

IMG_3230

We decided to continue further along the West Fork Wallowa Trail planning on stopping at the first good campsite we found. That proved to be more difficult than we had expected. The scenery along the trail improved beyond Sixmile Meadow as open wildflower meadows replaced the forest but there was a lack of noticeable campsites and the couple we saw were already occupied.
IMG_3232

IMG_3235

IMG_3236

IMG_3242

IMG_3246

IMG_3260

One of the more interesting flowers we had been seeing on the trip were yellow columbine which was becoming more profuse in these higher meadows.
IMG_3262

IMG_3263

After passing an unsigned junction with the trail up to Polaris Pass the West Fork Wallowa Trail passed through a narrow canyon before entering another meadow.
IMG_3266

IMG_3268

IMG_3270

It was getting close to 6pm and we were getting a little tired and anxious about finding a suitable campsite. Our worst case scenario was to push on to Frazier Lake but that would mean possibly fording the river, another climb and an additional mile plus of hiking. Luckily as we passed through this meadow we spotted a faint path to the left which led to a small campsite next to some trees. We quickly claimed the spot and set up the tent.
IMG_3273

We had gone quite a bit further than we’d originally planned that day ending up having covered 16.7 miles for the day, but this site turned out to be wonderful. The sounds of the nearby river was joined by the distant roar of several waterfalls cascading down the surrounding cliffs.
IMG_3277

IMG_3280

Heather was starting to feel a little under the weather again as we turned in for the night and we decided that we would try and take it a little easier the next day. We had already cut down the distance we needed to go to get to our next planned stop at Mirror Lake and we decided that instead of an afternoon side trip we would just hang out around the lake. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157671954055746

Mount Margaret Backcountry – Obscurity Lake to South Coldwater Trailhead

Waking up to a third tent at Obscurity Camp wasn’t our only surprise in the morning. I awoke at 4:30am to find nearly clear skies above the lake save for one small finger of cloud creeping over the ridge behind Obscurity Lake. We were getting an extra early start due to the forecast of possible  Thunderstorms after 11am.  The clear sky was encouraging, but it wasn’t long before clouds began creeping into the basin from all sides.
IMG_2083

By the time we were on our way we were hiking through fog.
IMG_2088

It was a fairly steep climb out of the Obscurity Lake Basin but as we neared the saddle between Obscurity and Panhandle Lakes beautiful blue skies appeared through the fog giving us some hope for views.
IMG_2094

IMG_2096

There were some views if we looked up but when we crested the saddle it was evident that the view of Panhandle Lake would not be clear.
IMG_2097

IMG_2101

Down we went back into even thicker fog. The trail crossed a couple of nice streams with marsh marigolds as it wound around the lake.
IMG_2109

IMG_2110

IMG_2112

IMG_2118

As we neared the lake we spotted a mountain goat lounging just above the trail.
IMG_2123

It sized us up and kept a close eye on us as we passed by.
IMG_2128

IMG_2137

We decided not to go down to the lake figuring the view couldn’t be much better than what we had along the trail.
IMG_2135

IMG_2140

We continued on toward Shovel Lake. Once again the trail climbed out of a basin but instead of dropping back down toward Shovel Lake the trail passed above it along a ridge. On the far side of the lake was Mt. Whittier making this one of the most dramatic lakes in the backcountry but we never saw it.
The thickest layer of clouds lay right over Shovel Lake, but as we climbed the ridge we eventually rose above the clouds.
IMG_2155

IMG_2163

IMG_2167

IMG_2183

We were pretty excited when we realized we could see the top of Mt. Rainier in the distance.
IMG_2178

The trail to Shovel Lake was near the top of the ridge which meant we would have had to descend a half mile back into the clouds to visit this lake. Once again we passed figuring it left us one more thing to come back for.
IMG_2185

From the Shovel Lake Trail junction though we had a great view of Mt. Adams, which appeared to be wrestling with the clouds.
IMG_2189

IMG_2191

The trail continued up the ridge to a saddle where it was joined by the Whittier Ridge Trail.
IMG_2199

IMG_2200

From this saddle we then began our descent toward Coldwater Lake. First up was Snow Lake.
IMG_2204

We had finally found a lake without clouds and as an added bonus we had a great view beyond to Coldwater Peak.
IMG_2214

The trail swung out around the lake and as it did so we gained a little glimpse of Mt. St. Helens as well.
IMG_2224

IMG_2223

This time the trail went right by Snow Lake giving us an up close look.
IMG_2242

The other nice thing about Snow Lake was the climb out of the basin was short and not steep. We quickly crested the saddle above the lake and began to drop into another mass of clouds.
IMG_2243

From Snow Lake it was 3.4 miles to the Coldwater Trail and a footbridge over Coldwater Creek. We were passing through the cloud layer for the first part of this section so we couldn’t see much. The trail itself was brushy with thimbleberry bushes and vine maples.
IMG_2251

IMG_2252

IMG_2256

IMG_2262

The tread was also narrow and washed out in spots but passable.
IMG_2257

We eventually got under the clouds and could see Coldwater Creek below us.
IMG_2264

IMG_2275

We were also seeing more wildflowers again and finding ripe berries, including our first thimbleberries of the year.
IMG_2269

IMG_2273

Trailing blackberry
IMG_2279

Thimbleberry
IMG_2284

Red huckleberry
IMG_2288

We passed a couple of small waterfalls along side streams, one on either side of the valley.
IMG_2286

IMG_2292

The trail then passed above what appeared to be a nice fall along Coldwater Creek but didn’t provide much of a view.
IMG_2299

IMG_2297

IMG_2302

Just after passing the waterfall the trail entered a forested area.
IMG_2300

Hedgenettle
IMG_2307

From there to the Coldwater Trail junction the trial alternated between small meadows and woods with occasional views back to Coldwater Creek.
IMG_2311

IMG_2312

IMG_2316

Another trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was working on the Coldwater Trail on the far side of the footbridge when we arrived there. We stopped on some rocks above the bridge for a snack break and watched them as they worked.
IMG_2318

We were now on familiar trail, at least in theory. When we had hiked the loop around Coldwater Lake in May 2014 much of the vegetation was only beginning to produce leaves.
Coldwater Trail

This time the trail was crowded with plants.
IMG_2333

The wildflowers were out in force as we drew nearer to Tractor Junction.
IMG_2350

IMG_2374

IMG_2375

A male grouse flew out of one of the meadows and landed in a nearby tree. It was the first one we’d seen in full display and was quite colorful.
IMG_2365

IMG_2360 (2)

The views were much better than they had been the day before at Tractor Junction and along the 3.2 miles from there back to the trailhead. Coldwater Lake was clearly visible and Mt. St. Helens even made an appearance.
IMG_2393

IMG_2395

IMG_2404

IMG_2443

IMG_2446

For the second day in a row we’d escaped without dealing with any rain showers and the thunderstorms had not materialized before we’d made it back to the car. Despite the sometimes cloudy conditions it had turned out to be a really nice trip. The views we did miss out on can now be our excuse for return trip sometime in the future. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157670492933452

Mount Margaret Backcountry – South Coldwater Trailhead to Obscurity Lake

The only backpacking trip that we had planned for this year which required a permit was an overnight stay in the Mount Margaret Backcountry near Mt. St. Helens. The area is part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, displaying the effects of the 1980 eruption. The lateral blast from the eruption shattered trees toppling thousands of acres of forest.

Camping is limited to designated sites at eight backcountry camps where the maximum group size for camping is four. Pets and pack stock are prohibited in the Mount Margaret Backcountry and fires are not allowed. We made our reservation for Obscurity Camp on March 19th, the day the permits became available.

One drawback of a permit system is not having any idea what the weather is going to be like on the days you reserve. We were looking at the chance of showers and maybe even a thunderstorm as we were hiking out, but we liked our odds and we had spent a whole $6.00 on the permit so we decided to give it a go. It was a wet drive to the South Coldwater Trailhead which is located along the Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504).
IMG_1506

Starting at Norway Pass would have made it a shorter hike but where is the fun in that? It also would have been a longer drive. Our plan was a lollipop route using the South Coldwater Trail 230A, Coldwater Trail 230, Boundary Trail 1, and Lakes Trail 211. We had been on some of the trails in 2013 during a May hike around Coldwater Lake, but that hike had been early enough in the season that there had been very little vegetation and almost no flowers. It was evident from the flowers at the trailhead that we’d be seeing different sights this time around.
IMG_1507

We were under the clouds as we set off on the trail which passed through a short section of woods before emerging into wildflower filled meadows.
IMG_1530

IMG_1531

Although the clouds limited the view we were able to see back down to the South Coldwater Creek Valley where we spotted several elk.
IMG_1539

IMG_1541

The trail then crossed over the ridge we were climbing providing views of Coldwater Lake.
IMG_1545

IMG_1548

The wildflowers were thick along the trail, but we were starting to enter the cloud bank and quickly losing our visibility.
IMG_1546

IMG_1549

IMG_1555

The trail continued to climb along the ridge passing a couple of pieces of old machinery that is left over from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
IMG_1559

We were now in the midst (or mist) of the clouds. At least it wasn’t raining and despite the low visibility there were still plenty of flowers along the trail to see and there were a couple of snowshoe hares out having breakfast.
IMG_1586

IMG_1590

IMG_1571

IMG_1577

The hares weren’t the only ones enjoying some snacks. A variety of ripe berries offered us a nice selection of treats.
IMG_1543

IMG_1596

IMG_1598

After 3.2 miles we arrived at Tractor Junction. Named for another piece of nearby equipment, this junction marks the end of the South Coldwater Trail at it’s intersection with the Coldwater Trail.
IMG_1604

IMG_1610

We turned right at the junction and headed toward the Boundary Trail which was just over 2 miles away. After .2 miles we passed Ridge Camp, one of the designated camps in the area.
IMG_1626

The wildflowers were once again impressive along this trail, but the visibility was even worse. We focused on finding as many different flowers as we could.
Tiger lilies
IMG_1614

Lupine, paintbrush and yellow wildflowers
IMG_1616

Large patch of paintbrush
IMG_1642

Arnica
IMG_1649

Bugbane
IMG_1651

Corydalis
IMG_1657

Columbine
IMG_1670

Scouler’s bluebell
IMG_1673

An aster or fleabane
IMG_1676

Pussypaws
IMG_1679

Mock orange
IMG_1688

Bistort
IMG_1692

Another type of aster or fleabane
IMG_1695

Violets
IMG_1697

Orange agoseris
IMG_1701

Spirea
IMG_1666

Cat’s ear lily
IMG_1693

Avalanche lily
IMG_1699

We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the junction with the Boundary Trail overlooking St. Helens Lake. We had suddenly found a little blue sky and some better visibility.
IMG_1719

IMG_1711

IMG_1710

Coldwater Peak was to our left and seemed to be acting as a cloud break.
IMG_1714

While we were watching the clouds swirl around the back side of Coldwater Peak we noticed a mountain goat on the cliffs below the summit.
IMG_1716

We took a nice long break at the junction watching the mountain goat and the ever changing clouds. When we finally set off again we passed by Coldwater Peak in sunlight.
IMG_1724

We had some great views of St. Helens Lake below us as we passed the spur trail to Coldwater Peak after .4 miles.
IMG_1748

IMG_1751

The trail the continued around the lake with views opening up to Spirit Lake below St. Helens Lake.
IMG_1766

For the next 3 plus miles the clouds came and went as the drifted over the ridge down toward Spirit Lake.
IMG_1786

There was more snow along this section of trail and we started seeing more flowers that bloom soon after snow melt.
IMG_1780

Cinquefoil
IMG_1811

IMG_1815

Cusick’s speedwell
IMG_1805

White heather
IMG_1827

Avalanche lilies
IMG_1830

Cat’s ear lily
IMG_1836

We crossed our first snowfield near The Dome, which was mostly hidden by the clouds.
IMG_1844

IMG_1846

It was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t see more of the surrounding area because the peaks and cliffs we could see where really neat.
IMG_1850

IMG_1859

The view downhill was a little better and we got a decent look at the outlet of St. Helens Lake, a log jam on Spirit Lake, and some elk in the valley.
IMG_1866

IMG_1875

IMG_1880

IMG_1877

We had skipped the .6 mile trail up to the summit of Coldwater Peak not wanting to make that climb with our full packs on a day when the visibility wasn’t great, but when we reached the shorter spur trail to the summit of Mt. Margaret we decided to head up. Unlike Coldwater Peak we had not been up this trail before so even if we didn’t have a view we couldn’t pass it up. The view from Mt. Margaret turned out to not be too bad. We could see Spirit Lake fairly well and the Boundary Trail below the peak. Other nearby peaks occasionally emerged from the clouds.
IMG_1896

IMG_1911

IMG_1900

We could see some spots where mountain goats had been on a nearby ledge but no goats, just a swallowtail butterfly.
IMG_1902

IMG_1907

IMG_1908

We took a nice long break and had some lunch on Mt. Margaret. As we were preparing to start hiking again we could hear people coming up the Boundary Trail, lots of people. Heather counted nearly 30 folks emerging from the trees below. We made it back to the junction with the Boundary Trail just as the first of these other hikers were arriving. The majority of them turned out to be members of the Mazamas, a nonprofit Mountaineering Education Organization based in Portland, Oregon.

After passing through the Mazamas we crossed another nice snowfield and reached a junction with the Whittier Ridge Trail.
IMG_1927

IMG_1929

IMG_1930

The Whittier Ridge Trail was not on our to-do list on this hike. The trail is narrow and in places along exposed cliffs where the rocks had to be blasted to create a trail at all. Recent reports from members of the Oregon Hikers forum reported some snow still along the trail as well and with little visibility it wasn’t even tempting. We continued on the Boundary Trail getting our first view of some the lakes in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry.
Boot and Obscurity Lakes
IMG_1938

We had been gradually descending since Mt. Margaret and the visibility was getting better the lower we got.
IMG_1944

IMG_1948

IMG_1955

Along the way we spotted another mountain goat not far above the trail.
IMG_1970

IMG_1972

As we got closer it crossed the trail and disappeared over the hillside leaving us with just it’s smell. (And boy did it smell)

We had been working our way around Spirit Lake and were now just to the NE of it. Mt. St. Helens lay directly behind the lake but only the lowest portions were visible. What we could see was Windy Ridge on the Mountain’s flank.
IMG_1984

IMG_1987

Two miles from the Whittier Ridge Trail we arrived at the junction with the Lakes Trail at Bear Pass.
IMG_1990

IMG_1991

IMG_1992

The Lakes Trail descended from Bear Pass toward Grizzly Lake.
IMG_2001

A trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was busy brushing out the trail and restoring the tread along this section. They were doing some impressive work and we thanked them as we passed by.

Between Grizzly Lake and our final destination at Obscurity Lake were more wildflowers including a few we hadn’t seen yet that day.
Partridge foot and paintbrush
IMG_2008

Penstemon and candyflower
IMG_2016

Pink monkeyflower
IMG_2019

IMG_2039

Blue-bells of Scotland
IMG_2043

Fireweed
IMG_2044

Bleeding heart
IMG_2050

As we approached Obscurity Lake a waterfall was visible along the outlet creek of the lake.
IMG_2057

IMG_2060

We finally arrived at Obscurity Lake after almost 16 miles of hiking.
IMG_2063

IMG_2066

IMG_2069

IMG_2070

IMG_2079

We thought the hard part was over but then we went in search of the designated camp site. We found one tent pad already occupied and began looking for a second one. When I had made the reservation on the Recreation.gov website there had been 2 available permits for up to 4 people. There were several areas where tents had obviously been placed in the past but we couldn’t find any other tent pad or post marking another designated site. The hikers from the other tent said they had not been able to find a second one either so we picked what seemed like the most likely spot where there was no vegetation to trample and set up the tent.
IMG_2073

We hoped that we had picked the right spot and figured if we hadn’t and a ranger came along we’d just ask them where the other designated site was and move there if we had chosen poorly. Oddly enough a third tent had appeared when we awoke the next morning. I don’t know if they were possibly with the Forest Service, but if they weren’t someone was not where they should have been.

Regardless of the confusion over the camp sites the day had been pretty spectacular. The showers had never materialized and between the wildflowers, wildlife, and scattered views we did get we’d been totally entertained. The clouds just made us more eager to come back again someday in the future so we could see what we missed this time around. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668318616563

Mt. Rainier National Park – Norther Loop Trail Day 4

I had another night of poor sleep as my stomach decided to mutiny shortly after 11pm so I was happy to finally see the sky begin to lighten in the morning. After having breakfast and packing up we left Fire Creek Camp and climbed back up to the Northern Loop Trail.
IMG_8272

We had over 2000 feet of elevation gain ahead of us again today but we were feeling surprisingly good as we set off. We were tired but at the same time we both felt like we could do this for at least a few more days. It was encouraging since someday we’d like to do a long trip when we have the time.

We had just over a mile and a half climb to reach Grand Park. Along the way we a couple of viewpoints offered great views of Mt. Rainier.
IMG_8274

IMG_8285

IMG_8289

Grand Park lived up to its name. Despite the dry weather it was still an impressive sight and the views of Mt. Rainier were spectacular.
IMG_8316

IMG_8329

IMG_8340

As we were passing through one of the smaller meadows we noticed that there was frost on some of the plants. It was funny how excited we got seeing the frost. It has been such a hot and dry year that the sight of the frost was a welcome sight.
IMG_8305

After leaving Grand Park the trail headed down a ridge.
IMG_8371

We had been able to see the trail far up the valley climbing out of Berkeley Park and here we were heading downhill.
IMG_8298

IMG_8299

The trail eventually stopped dropping and began climbing again below Mt. Freemont. Lodi Creek was on the opposite side of the trail between Mt. Freemont and Skyscraper Mountain. We passed through several small meadows with views of Skyscraper Mountain where we spotted a mountain goat.
IMG_8401

IMG_8372

IMG_8388

We spotted a second mountain goat on the cliffs of the mountain a little further along the trail.
IMG_8407

IMG_8421

IMG_8424

As we passed Berkeley Park Camp we found more frost covered plants and even saw a small pool with a thin layer of ice.
IMG_8427

IMG_8428

IMG_8430

The trail continued to climb up the valley along the increasingly scenic Lodi Creek. We popped out of the shadow of Mt. Freemont into sunlight filled meadows and quickly warmed up.
IMG_8435

IMG_8438

IMG_8446

IMG_8454

As we neared the top of the valley we spotted a pair of marmots on the hillside. They were hilarious to watch especially when one of them plopped itself down on a rock and spread out its legs.
IMG_8469

IMG_8476

IMG_8478

IMG_8482

IMG_8483

When we arrived at the Wonderland Trail I realized that I had forgotten that there would still be more climbing to do. I had been thinking we would be heading downhill from that point on and was disappointed when I realized my mistake. The .7 mile climb to Frozen Lake was probably the hardest for me because I had planned on coasting downhill at that point, but once we had reached the lake I was over my mistake and back to enjoying the scenery.
IMG_8498

IMG_8504

IMG_8506

Near the lake I happened to say the word “goat” and two girls nearby freaked out. They thought I had spotted one and they really wanted to see one. They were disappointed to learn that I hadn’t really seen one and even more disappointed to learn that we had seen two on Skyscraper Mountain from Berkeley Park because that was where they had come from. We left them by the lake and turned up the Sourdough Ridge Trial. Shortly after doing so we did spot another goat. Three to be exact, a nannie and two kids.
IMG_8511

We looked back to see if they were following but they hadn’t come around the bend yet. Heather considered running back to tell them about the goats but there was no guarantee that she could reach them before the goats disappeared.

We stopped a couple of times along the trail to take in the view to the north. This was the furthest north we’d been while hiking and were seeing Cascade peaks that we had never seen before including the snowy Glacier Peak.
IMG_8529

IMG_8534

IMG_8526

After getting some pictures of the new mountains we began our final descent. The trail was full of hikers huffing uphill from Sunrise. We couldn’t believe how many people there were and we were becoming anxious to reach the car, get cleaned up, and escape the crowds. It was such a stark contrast to the peacefulness of the Northern Loop Trail.
IMG_8531

IMG_8532

We dropped our packs off at the car and then stepped into the snack bar to get a cold drink and a souvenir. We had discussed chocolate milk on the trail after some muddy water had reminded us of the drink and it had sounded really good. We wound up leaving the snack bar with the most expensive chocolate milk we’ve ever had. Mine was gone before we even got back to the car.

I don’t know when we’ll get back up to Mt. Rainier but I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of that National Park. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157655104282083

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.

DSC02449

DSC02450

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

DSC02466

DSC02469

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.

DSC02534

DSC02535

DSC02550

DSC02557

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.

DSC02582

DSC02575

DSC02578

DSC02928

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.

DSC02641

DSC02664

DSC02642

DSC02647

DSC02668

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.

DSC02722

DSC02729

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

DSC02728

DSC02750

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.

DSC02740

DSC02757

DSC02786

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

DSC02789

DSC02804

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.

DSC02825

DSC02828

DSC02835

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.

DSC02935

DSC02968

DSC02964

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.

DSC03004

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.

DSC03037

DSC03029

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. 🙂

DSC03068

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.

DSC03075

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

DSC03080

DSC03085

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

DSC03090

DSC03514

DSC03490

DSC03493

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.

DSC03124

DSC03152

DSC03144

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

DSC03130

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.

DSC03168

DSC03191

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

DSC03232

DSC03227

DSC03230

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

DSC03244

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.

DSC03266

Then came Mt. Rainier beyond Johnson Peak.

DSC03268

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.

DSC03282

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.

DSC03301

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.

DSC03318

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.

DSC03335

DSC03336

DSC03342

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.

DSC03383

DSC03407

DSC03411

DSC03488

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.

DSC03525

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.

DSC03539

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

DSC03545

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.

DSC03556

DSC03555

DSC03553

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.

DSC03568

DSC03579

Goat Rocks - Mt. Adams sunset

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

DSC03593

The animals were up early too.

DSC03595

DSC03601

DSC03606

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.

DSC03632

DSC03636

DSC03637

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.

DSC03639

DSC03642

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

DSC03655

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

DSC03659

DSC03669

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.

DSC03683

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.

DSC03691

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.

DSC03692

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.

DSC03698

DSC03705

DSC03725

DSC03709

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

DSC03758

Also in that valley was another herd of goats.

DSC03769

DSC03772

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

DSC03830

PCT up to the crest

DSC03906

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.

DSC03887

DSC03895

DSC03900

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.

DSC04013

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.

DSC04018

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

DSC04026

DSC04030

The marmots were also out to send us off.

DSC04036

DSC04037

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

DSC04057

DSC04053

Goat Lake had refrozen a little overnight.

DSC04058

DSC04059

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.

DSC04075

Of course there were wildflowers.

DSC04081

And a lot of crickets or grasshoppers.

DSC04082

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

DSC04105

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.

DSC04158

DSC04172

DSC04170

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.

DSC04199

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/