Saturday, July 18, 2009

Goat Rocks Backpacking - Amazing!

I have been dying to visit Goat Rocks in Washington for quite some time now and this weekend finally got the chance. I wanted to time it so that we would miss the
deep snow at elevation but the wildflowers would be in full bloom, while also missing mosquito season hopefully. Our plan was to hike up the Goat Creek Valley, camp overnight at Goat Lake then return via Goat Ridge. In my guidebook the trails were rated a 9 and 10 respectively for views... out of 10. We left Corvallis early in the morning, got some breakfast in Bridgeport Village at the Paradise Bakery and Cafe and made it to our turn off of Route 12 by about
12:45. Just before turning off Emily spotted her first wild Bald Eagle, a big one that flew right over the highway above us. After about 15 miles of forest service road rallying in 4x4 we were able to pack up and start our overnight hike
by 1:30pm.

Immediately this hike became unique when we came across a random duck on the trail (with no visible pond nearby) who had abandoned her ducklings and was flying about the trees around us. We could hear the little ducklings on the side of the trail and at one point saw one spin down the trail ahead of us at a ridiculously fast pace for flippers and being a friggin’ duck! The mosquito’s weren’t that bad but the guidebook said once we dropped down to cross over Goat Creek they would be... thankfully that wasn’t the case. As we continued up the trail we began to see more and more wildflowers and even heard a falcon in the distance. The forest was beautiful with a lot of old growth.

After a while we came to the very beautiful Snowgrass Flats, an area of many wildflowers that have taken root in the 1980 ash that fell on the area when Mt. St. Helens erupted. We saw many Avalanche lillies but it didn’t really blow my mind like
the guidebook said it would.
From there we headed off on another trail towards the alpine wilderness of Goat Lake. From this point on the trip became absolutely amazing. Wildflowers of every variety were blooming around patches of snow still left from the winter. The green of the grass and leaves, purples, reds, and yellows of the flowers mixed with the pure white of the snow patches and bluebird skies was absolutely stunning. We traversed the East side of the valley towards the lake with waterfalls and alpine meadows all around us. This was when I started to decide that it could
possibly be the perfect backpacking trip. I don’t say this just because of the views, but because of the layout of the trail as well. It was well maintained but it had a good mix of traversing alpine meadows in the sun then ducking into brief patches of trees with small streams and waterfalls running through them. This would be perfect for hot days.
At one of the many stops we made for photos Emily spotted some dots on a two long swaths of snow on the other side of the valley. Upon taking out
my Sanyo to get a 10x zoom I confirmed that they were elk and we counted about 10-12 on the two snow patches. Not until we got home 2 days later did we notice when viewing the photos we took of them on our 52” tv that there was actually a whole herd of elk, and when I say there was about 60 I’m being conservative. We didn’t see the other elk because they were lying down in the grass and shrubs between the two snow fields with only a few actually on the snow for contrast. We watched as them as we traversed the valley and saw that they were headed up the valley towards our campsite which excited us. Before reaching our destination, goat lake Emily also spotted a marmot on some rocks below our trail.
When I say that it was the perfect camping spot, I’m not exaggerating in the least. We found a small square of dry land just behind a rock outcropping with an old dead tree still clinging to it. Beyond that was a cliff leading down to the valley. Below us to the west two women had set up another campsite (debatably better) next to a waterfall pouring over the cliff into
the valley from
Goat Lake just above us. From our campsite we had an amazing view of Mt. Adams which was perfectly framed by the valley we were in. The sunset was going to be amazing! I was starting to get worried that we wouldn’t see any goats in Goat Rocks when they started to come out just at dusk. Emily of course spotted the first one above the trail we had just come in on and then about two dozen appeared on the hillside all around us, jumping around and playing
like they were youngsters. Marmots also came out of their holes and chased each other all around whistling to each other as they went. When we whistled back they stopped and looked down upon us in confusion. Emily and I
popped open the bottle of Malbec red wine that I had carried in and we both took swigs from it as we watched the sunset turn everything orange and pink. The only thing that we messed up on was forgetting our
sporks for our Mountain House meals which we had to squeeze out of the bags once they were made. Watching Mt. Adams light up in orange and pink alpenglow was amazing and we will definitely bring wine with us on every backpacking trip from now on.
The temperature was perfect and there were no
mosquitos so we had a wonderful nights sleep. Our hike was only 15 miles roundtrip and the remainder was downhill back to the car so we slept in till about 9am and after a relaxing breakfast and packing
up we were hiking again by 11am. We first passed by Goat Lake which amazingly was still frozen from the winter. I checked out the other campsite and decided right then that this would have to be an annual trip and we’d convince friends with our photos to join us next year. Our descent down Goat Ridge via Jordan Basin was equally amazing and instead of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens was perfectly framed. We passed
through another alpine meadow filled with beautiful alpine wildflowers and descended back into the trees below where we heard an owl off in the woods.
Before heading out to the car we took a detour on a side trail to the remains of an old lookout tower where we finally got amazing views back towards Mt. Rainier to the North. We also got a new view of the valley we had come in on the previous day. We heard pikas in the rocks around us
as well. We were pretty tired on our hike out and were happy to reach the car by just after 3pm. It took us about 3.5 hours to get home and when we did we had a quick bbq with friends
where I put all of the goat rock photos up on the TV for everyone to check out. The Watershed softball team had just played so many of them stopped by for a little bit. I’ve climbed over 2,000 miles in the outdoors and have reached the summit of nearly 250 peaks so when I say that this was the most beautiful hike I’ve ever been it is saying a lot. Instead of trying to fit all of the 250 photos we took in this blog entry I’ve actually created a Goat Rocks Gallery for people to check out.

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