Sunday, August 24, 2008

A "Perfect" Experience in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

It was just about a year ago when my boys and I stood on the divide between the Jordan Basin and Goat Creek in the Goat Rocks Wilderness and I showed them a fun 1 night 2 day loop from nearly the same place we started a shorter pack trip.

A waterfall drains Goat Lake with the high peaks watching from high above.

The opportunity came about to take my 10 year old on what amounted to a 3 day, 2 night backpacking trip from Snowgrass Flat to Goat Lake and down the Berry Patch route back to our vehicle. Dare I say the entire experience went perfectly? The days prior to the trip featured 1 to 2 inches of rain, but as we began our hike on Thursday afternoon, it drizzled on us for the first 20 minutes and then began the recovery process. No dust, no bugs! Rain does have its advantages!

A carpet of wildfires above Snowgrass Flat sit drenched under departing clouds after a couple days of rain.

Snowgrass Flat and the Lily Basin loop is probably one, if not the most popular trails in the Goat Rocks Wilderness and it doesn’t take much of a hiker to figure out why. There is nearly 10 miles of alpine scenery and views. In addition, it is easy enough that even hikers of a moderate fitness can enjoy its tremendous scenery with a one night stay. We even ran into one couple that began the loop at 8:00am and were on pace to finish it by about 2:00pm on Saturday afternoon. Not very enjoyable, but doable.

The headwaters of Jordan Creek flow west and then north into Johnson Creek and the Cowlitz River. Mt. St. Helens is in the distance.

To get to Snowgrass Flat, take USFS Road #21 off of Highway 12 just west of Packwood. Travel south on the decent forest road for 17 miles and then take a left on the USFS #2150 road. It is well marked by proper signage. There are two trailheads just ½ mile apart from each other and are even connected by a short access path for horses and those that do the complete loop.

Mt. Adams makes an appearance as the clouds begin to clear.

I recommend a counter clockwise loop (start at Snowgrass hikers) for those hiking the full loop for a more gentle introduction to the high country. If you want scenery as soon as possible, I would recommend going the Berry Patch route to at least the summit of the Jordan Basin.

Alpine flowers combine with a waterfall in another dramatic scene of the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Our first night found us hiking above the flower gardens of Snowgrass Flat where we found a campsite at about 6,400 feet. After setting up base, we got the opportunity to explore “light pack“; an added benefit of arriving early in the backcountry. We stumbled onto a scene of vivid dreams as we meandered onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) #2000 from the Snowgrass #96 trail and turned north (left) at the junction. On this evening, the flower display in the first mile rivaled anything I have observed in the northwest. In addition, the rusty hues of the volcanic peaks colored by thousands of years of hydro-thermal activity combined with a moody and variable cloud layer to present an ever changing production before our eyes.

Western Pasque Flowers accent the foreground under Old Snowy Mountain which sports fresh snow in the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Wildflowers carpet the alpine reaches of the Goat Rocks Wilderness while mists cover the upper Cispus River Valley in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

A chilly (frost on the ground and fresh snow above 7,000 feet) Friday morning found us hiking just a few miles to the north on the #86, Lily Basin Trail to Goat Lake. Over each new hillock, lay a new meadow of wildflowers and gurgling stream or streams under the watchful stare of the high peaks above. By noon, we had set up camp and proceeded on a short off-trail adventure to solve a curiosity. As suspected, we sat upon a ridge and overlooked a rugged scene of yet another glacially sculpted, alpine valley. While taking in that splendor, we watched as a family of mountain goats inched closer and closer to the lens of my camera.

Yet another glacial valley greeted us on top of a ridge during on off-trail scramble.

A family of mountain goats moved slowly along the side of a ridge as we watched.

After lunch, we hiked two more miles to the top of another ridge near Hawkeye Point and looked over another glacial basin to not so distant Mt. Rainier.

Wildflowers color the slopes above the Lily Basin Trail in Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Mt. Rainier dominates the landscape to the north of a ridge near Hawkeye Point.

For its part, Goat Lake, at around 6,000 feet in a south facing glacial cirque (or caldera?), was still frozen. In fact, upon waking up on Saturday morning and walking the 100 yards to the lake shore at sunrise, I found a new layer of thin ice covering what little open water existed the night before. I should have known when I felt the stunningly cold breeze blowing into my face from up slope.

A fresh cover of thin ice greeted us in the little open waters of Goat Lake on Saturday morning.

Goat Lake, at just over 6,000 feet in elevation is still mostly frozen in late August.

Mid-morning, we packed up camp and began our accent up and over to the Jordan Basin. A few more miles and we would be back at our car. In all, I gave my son credit for 24 miles over the three days; About 15 of those with a full pack of 20 plus pounds.

My son Jared follows the trail through a hillside of wildflowers on the Goat Ridge Trail.

One thing to consider if you plan on any type of overnight hike in the Snowgrass/Berry Patch areas is that it is very busy, especially on weekends. There is a reason we started on Thursday (6 cars in the parking lot) and finished on Saturday (over 50 cars in the lot). Traditional camping sites are many, but on most weekends, those that arrive early in the day are more likely to have level ground to sleep on. We were the only tent at Goat Lake on noon Friday, but when we returned at about 4:30pm, over a half dozen tents had appeared on the most gentle ground in several miles of trail in either direction.

Mt. Adams is part of the light and color show at sunset as pictured from Goat Lake.

A very respectful moment occurred when we came back from our afternoon hike. A family of 5 from Bellevue had literally been waiting for us. There was a large piece of flat ground just adjacent to our tent and they needed space for two tents. Instead of just setting up camp, they wanted to secure our permission. “It is public land” I said, “I would really be not living by my own words if I said no”. We had many conversations that night and the next morning, next to the broken ice of Goat Lake.

Yours truly taking a brief dip into Goat Lake.

Out there, no matter how close another chooses to camp, everyone should already have their own solace .

1 comment:

vegan addict said...

Beautiful photos! We started the trail Saturday morning and finished on Sunday afternoon. Perfect weather, but as you mentioned, it was crowded at times... Sometimes we all want the solitude at the same time!

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