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Jonny V
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PostThu Apr 30, 2020 7:53 pm 
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With the limited ability in our current situation to post new reports, here is a report on a trip from last fall.

I have long had the desire to visit the Goat Rocks Wilderness and it was one of those places I had just never gotten around to seeing. Fred Beckey, author of the definitive Cascade Alpine Guide, describes the Goat Rocks as follows:

The picturesque Goat Rocks are the eroded remains of a complex of as many as four overlapping volcanoes with a history of very explosive episodes. The Goat Rocks are a jumble of ragged spires resulting from violent volcanic action followed by periods of rapid cooling. The meadows of the area sparkle with streams and flowers. Elk herds and mountain goats are commonly seen.

How could I not want to go there?

At 4:30AM the day after Labor Day I drove from Lake Stevens down south past Mt. Rainier to just beyond the town of Packwood and then followed a dirt forest road about twenty miles to the Snowgrass trailhead. My itinerary called for three nights doing a counter-clockwise loop hike that would put me back at the car without having to retrace my steps.

Oh boy! A new wilderness area I had never been to!

I felt strong and motivated and the first four miles through timbered forest went by in no time at all. Soon I was entering the area known as Snowgrass Flats which is where you leave the trees and enter vast meadow systems. It was easy to see how incredible this place must be during the peak bloom. As I climbed out of the trees I could see the main ridge of the Goat Rocks ahead of me.

First view of the Goat Rocks

The Goat Rocks are strategically positioned between three of Washingtonís five volcanoes which include Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. Entering Snowgrass Flats Mt. Adams came into view to the south.

First view of Mt. Adams

Being so late in the season, my one concern was finding water sources in the area I wanted to camp. I had read that higher up the basin were some beautiful view camps and that was where I planned to pitch my first camp. To make sure I had enough water for two days, I stopped at a trail junction down low in Snowgrass Flat, found a running mountain stream and filtered about a gallon of water into a water bag. I then had to carry the water bag up another eight hundred feet of vertical gain before I found my perfect spot to camp. Iím glad I did too because I found no further water sources between where I filtered and my camp.

Working my way higher I came to the junction of where the Snowgrass Trail connects with the Pacific Crest Trail. Above the trail junction, and now hiking north on the PCT, I climbed through a series of rocky benches. I came upon a bench high up the meadow, overlooking the entire Snowgrass Flat area. It not only had a nice flat tent site tucked away in a clump of trees, but it also had a rocky shelf next to the tent site which provided me with a panoramic view from Mt. Adams all the way to Mt. St. Helens. It was there I set up shop.

Being still relatively early and still feeling energetic, once camp was established I prepared my day pack and continued north on the PCT. My goal was to climb a mountain above the Crest Trail called Old Snowy. The trail was just a blast to hike on and the higher I went the more came into view. Soon I could see across to the deep cirque that contained Goat Lake where I planned to make camp two days later. Beyond Goat Lake Mt. Rainier towered in the distance but the summit was encased in cloud cover much to my disappointment.

Goat Lake and Mt. Rainier

After winding my way up and crossing a snow slope I came to a high ridge.

Thru hikers at the ridge top

At the ridge I came to another trail junction. The PCT continues north along what is considered to be the scariest section of the whole trail as it traverses along a very steep rocky mountainside and then follows along the top of a knife edge before eventually coming to Elk Pass. Since my goal was to summit Old Snowy, I took a right and started up the route that leads to the top.

Old Snowy from the summit route

The climb reminded me a lot of some of the the big fourteeners in Colorado I climbed in my younger days. Lots of scree and rock with big rewards at the top. I was able to follow some semblance of a trail through the rock until maybe forty feet from the summit. There I ditched my poles and scrambled the final section.

Final section

The last little bit was a rock ramp that led around to the east side and then I was on top of 7,930í Old Snowy. Wow! My view stretched straight down the length of the entire Goat Rocks Crest. To the south was Mt. Adams, to the southwest Mt. St. Helens and to the west was Goat Lake cirque and Mt. Rainier. I was the only one on the summit which was a good thing as there wasnít room for much more than one person at a time.

The Goat Rocks Crest

Mt Gilbert, highest peak in the Goat Rocks

Pano of Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams

PCT crossing the knife edge from summit

I was elated at how my day was going so far and I took my time working my way back down to the ridge and down to my camp. Along the way I ran into quite a few PCT thru-hikers. Some wouldnít even look up, so intent they were on getting in their miles. It really confirmed my feelings that I have no desire to do a thru hike like that. I saw thru hikers working up past my camp until after dark and it just didnít look fun.

Back in my camp I had time to get fully functional, eat dinner and sit back to watch the sun go down. It was cloudier than I had expected and I didnít quite get the orange glow on the peaks that I was hoping for. However, I did see some really nice light conditions that challenged my ability to capture them as images.

Big Horn. Part of the Goat Citadel

Ives Peak. You can see the route running from Old Snowy that leads to Ives Peak summit.

Cool rock formations along the PCT

Camp pano

I waited until dark for any cool evening light. Most of the big mountains had some cloud cover but just before dark I had some great light sneak its way underneath to bathe the valley in late evening sun before sinking for the night.

Soft evening light

My original plan was to stay in the same camp site for a second night and spend Day Two day hiking back down the PCT to Cispus Basin which is supposed to be the most beautiful basin in the Goat Rocks. However, before leaving on my trip I had been watching the forecast deteriorate and it called for the weather to get blustery by Thursday night with possible rain Thursday night and Friday. As a result, that first night I decided to scrap my three night plan and only spend one more night in the Goat Rocks before packing out and heading home.

Instead of day hiking to Cispus Basin, my new plan was to break camp and pack over to Goat Lake for my final night which is also on the way back to the car on my counter-clockwise loop. After a peaceful quiet night in my high perch view camp, I awoke on the second day to crystal clear skies. All the mountains were bathed in glorious morning sunshine with the valleys all filled with morning fog that burned off soon after the sun came up. Mt. Adams in particular looked really cool with the Lyman Glacier all lit up. Mt. St. Helens was also much clearer than the previous day.

Mt. Adams

Mt. St. Helens

Since it was only about four and a half miles to Goat Lake I was in no big hurry to get out of camp. I had a leisurely breakfast before slowly breaking camp. I dropped off of the high bench and headed back down the PCT. The meadows were just a joy to hike through.

Mt. Adams and PCT from first camp

Western Anemone and Goat Rocks Crest

I followed the PCT back to the junction with the Snowgrass Trail and took that back down to the junction with the Lily Basin Trail which in turn would take me to Goat Lake. The hike from here to Goat lake was incredibly scenic. It meandered up and down through huge meadows with little creeks flowing through them. All the while I could see the cirque of Goat Lake in the distance.

Meadows on the Lily Basin Trail to Goat Lake

After wandering through several beautiful meadows the trail began to climb in a gentle rising traverse towards Goat Lake.

Mt. Adams and Goat Creek valley

When I arrived at Goat Lake I saw a great camp spot right on the edge of a high cliff, with trees for shade and big rocks to sit on that looked down the valley towards Mt. Adams. The entire Goat Rocks Crest was just to my left and the lake and the cirque were right behind my camp. I was actually camped right where the outlet stream from the lake came through a rocky gorge and spilled over a huge cliff to the valley.

Similar to the previous day, after setting up my camp I still had tons of daylight left so I went for another hike with my day pack. This time my objective was the highest point above Goat Lake called Hawkeye Point.

Goat Lake. Hawkeye Point is on the left.

The way to Hawkeye Point started out by climbing high above the lake. Several amazing camps were on the edge of little knolls that looked out over Goat Creek valley. Along the way I ran into a woman and her dog who hiked along with me to the summit. Speaking of which, I think I may have seen more women than men on this trip and in general I have definitely seen a huge uptick in the number of women out on the trail over the past couple of years.

Looking across Goat Creek valley to Goat Rocks Crest

The trail traversed along the shoulder of Hawkeye Point to a pass and a junction to the Goat Ridge Trail which is what I planned to take for the hike back to the car the next day. Staying on the Lily Basin Trail, we seemed to lose any other people as it continued to climb fairly steeply toward a ridge top. We passed some really nice volcanic plugs and the views just kept getting better and better until we hit the ridge top.

Volcanic plugs and Mt. St. Helens

When we hit the ridge and looked over the other side, Mt. Rainier dominated our vision. Being the true monarch of the Cascades, Rainier is just so much bigger than all the other volcanoes and it never fails to take my breath away.

First view of Rainer from ridge below Hawkeye Point

From the ridge we followed a rough route around a minor summit and then traversed over to Hawkeye Point. Looking up at the summit, a lone mountain goat stood atop the point looking down at us. I figured since the woman had her dog with her that the goat would leave anyway and sure enough, before we reached the summit the goat was gone.

Final route to Hawkeye Point

The view from the top was incredible. We could see four volcanoes - Adams, St. Helens, Rainier and Hood. Directly below was Goat Lake and across the lake was the Goat Rocks Crest.

Summit pano

Old Snowy

Mt. Rainier

Yours truly on Hawkeye Point

After soaking up the awesome views from Hawkeye Point it was time to head back down. As I approached Goat Lake, a herd of maybe twenty-five mountain goats were grazing on the hillside right above my camp next to the lake. They ended up staying there until around 8:30 PM when they finally slowly headed up and through a high notch. The whole time they were grazing, the big alpha male would stay apart from the rest of the herd and and stand guard.

I guess that's why they call it Goat Lake

Alpha male

Camp at Goat Lake

After getting back to my camp it was still pretty warm so I went up to the lake and took a refreshing swim. The water was not on the wallowable scale but was certainly swimable.

Goat Lake

My marmot buddy by my camp

After a great dinner of spicy chicken gumbo wrapped up in tortillas, hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies I settled down in my camp chair and watched the goats as the sun slowly sank behind Hawkeye Point. The minerals in the Goat Rocks have a lot of reds  and the setting sun just lit up the peaks in a blaze of orange. Absolutely beautiful!

Setting sunlight

Blazing evening light on Old Snowy

Last rays on Mt. Adams

That last night was surprisingly warm so I slept with both vestibules rolled up so I could see out both sides of the tent. Out one side I could see Mt. Adams and Old Snowy and the other side I could observe the first rays of the day when they kissed the cirque surrounding Goat Lake. I was pretty wide awake in the morning before the sun even rose so as the dawn broke on the cliffs surrounding the lake I was up and out of the tent in no time. There was a thin film of clouds that gave Mt. Adams a look almost like a painting. It was just an incredible light I very rarely experience. I took many photos as the sun rose followed by breakfast and packing up camp.

Leaving Goat Lake, I followed the same trail up above the lake to the junction with the Goat Ridge Trail, only this time I descended into Jordan Basin and then followed Goat Ridge. Six and a half miles later I was back at the car, having only passed two pairs of people the entire way down to the trailhead. It had been a great experience. As Iíve stated before, I prefer hiking with other people to be able to share the experience as it happens, but being completely on my own out there gives me a sense of satisfaction that I canít easily explain. All I know is that it was a great trip and I can hardly wait to go back and see more of the Goat Rocks.

First rays

Pastel early light on Mt. Adams

More incredible light on Mt. Adams

Last look at Goat Creek Valley

Looking back after dropping into Jordan Basin
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olderthanIusedtobe
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PostThu Apr 30, 2020 10:15 pm 
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up.gif  nice
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Pyrites
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PostThu Apr 30, 2020 10:53 pm 
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Great trip.
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awilsondc
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PostFri May 01, 2020 6:33 am 
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Thanks for the write up!  I love that area.  I did the same loop as you, but the other direction, about two weeks after you were there.  It was COLD!!!  I've never been up there in wildflower season.  I might have to think about doing that one of these days.
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RichP
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PostFri May 01, 2020 6:35 am 
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Definitely the highlights of that area.  up.gif
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MidLifeHiker
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PostFri May 01, 2020 2:05 pm 
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Thanks for the nice pics.  It has been almost 5 years since I was in the Goat Rocks area.  Your pictures have convinced me, it's time to go back!

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Jonny V
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PostFri May 01, 2020 2:09 pm 
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Thanks for the kind response. Yes, I canít wait to get back there myself!
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jhiker001
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PostFri May 01, 2020 4:38 pm 
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Nice pics! I was just there this past summer and did a 3 nighter. Loved it. Living in PA, it's gorgeous places like this that make me try to convince my wife to move out to the PNW. I'll keep trying...
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Sculpin
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PostSat May 02, 2020 8:16 am 
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Jonny V wrote:
I saw thru hikers working up past my camp until after dark and it just didnít look fun.

The junction of the Snowgrass Trail with the PCT gets really crazy in peak season.  We were joking that it must have been the third-largest city in the county the nights we were there.  I suspect that the northbound hikers want to stop before descending below the best scenery.  Ironically they would be better off just pushing through the steep snow that lingers so late north of there, since the snow will be a lot harder in the morning.

Jonny V wrote:
I may have seen more women than men on this trip

biggrin.gif

I have noticed that in areas with good, maintained trails and good wildflowers, the prevalence of women and women-only groups goes way up.  The Teanaway is another example!

--------------
Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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Navy salad
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PostTue May 12, 2020 12:57 pm 
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Thanks for posting this! I've only been through the Goat Rocks once, back in the 70's, and can hardly wait to see it again. Spectacular scenery!

But also, for the home-bound among us, it's a nice way to enjoy the scenery without leaving home!
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