153 – Backpacking Goat Rocks Wilderness – Rain, Hail, Floods – The Packwood Dryout

Checking the weather forecast as we gathered our camping gear and filled our backpacks before leaving home, we knew rain was inevitable. We embraced the first snow of the season last year when we backpacked the Heather-Maple Pass Loop – Hike #76 – Heather Pass – Setting Up Camp. We did not let a day of steady rain dampen our spirits earlier this year as we backpacked along the Chelan Lakeshore Trail on our way to Stehekin – Hike #44 – Moore Point to Flick Creek. We’ve hiked and camped in adverse conditions before . . . many times – check it out!


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We have good rain gear. Kent’s a cyclist and bikes over twenty miles every morning to work – rain or shine. We live in the Pacific Northwest. We are accustomed to fast changing weather conditions. We are rarely scared off by bad weather. Of course we decided not to cancel this trip just because a storm was on its way. But then it started to rain. It rained hard. Followed by near constant thunder. Ricoching pellets of hail the size of moth balls pounded us from every direction. Not even under our rainfly were we safe from those stinging pellets of hail – they bounced everywhere.

Moth ball sized hail
Moth ball sized hail

Eventually the hail stopped, but the rain continued. The area where we had set up our tent soon became a river of rain. Kent picked up a log and dug trenches around our tent in hopes of keeping the water from flowing under the tent so the floor (and sleeping bags!) would stay dry.

As the evening progressed, our camp continued to flood. We debated about packing up the bare essentials (sleeping bags, food for breakfast & morning coffee, and our emergency medical kit), donning our headlamps and hiking down to the trailhead to sleep in the car. Discovering that what had been a trail was now a rapidly running stream and what had been a mere creek was now a raging flash flood, we scouted around Snowgrass Flats to survey the conditions. It became very apparent that it would not be safe to hike out that night. Our only option that night was to wait the storm out, and then see what conditions we would be faced with in the morning.

Flooding . . .
Flooding . . .

We had spotted one lone tent set up in the middle of a field on the other side of Snowgrass Flats when we had originally hiked in, and, hoping their camp was fairing better than ours, we sloshed over and introduced ourselves. Turned out, our neighboring camper was nature, wilderness, landscape photographer Dick Balnicky, and his loveable golden retriever. His tent sat in the middle of a meadow, and It seemed, he was not fairing any better than us. He had hiked out to resupply in the nearby town of Packwood just the day before, and told us that this storm was expected to dump at least four to six inches of precipitation. Since hiking out that evening was no longer an option, we discussed moving our tent to a more protected location. Dick made the slog with us through the storm to our camp, and helped Kent pick our tent up. Together they moved it from where it sat with a stream of water running under it to a nearby location on dryer ground between a couple of small trees.

Moved Tent Under Trees
Moved Tent Under Trees

Though relatively dry underneath, all night long, the tent rattled from the thunder and was pounded by heavy rains. Surprisingly though, it was only a little damp around the edges by morning, and as the day progressed to noon, we continued to wait out the storm.

(pic by Kenton Doughty) Wet at camp
(pic by Kenton Doughty) Wet at camp

After lunch, we decided to take another walk around the area to survey the damage from the storm, and everything was flooded, flooding, wet, soaked, soggy, saturated, very wet – and the rain continued.


Some of the logs in that makeshift bridge that we had used to cross the stream coming into Snowgrass Flats had washed away. The water level had risen so high in that creek and it was flowing so fast, we knew it would not be safe to wade across.

Log bridge washed out
Log bridge washed out

We recalled having spied a fallen tree further up stream when we hiked in. It looked to be a bigger log than those that made up the make-shift bridge that we had crossed coming in. Protected by larger brush, we hoped it was still in place as we worked our way in that direction to check it out. Although the water level had risen and was now much closer to that tree, it appeared stable. And just like that, we declared it to be our new bridge!

The new stream crosing
The new stream crosing

We decided to pack up our soggy camp, hike back down to the trailhead and head to Packwood to wait the storm out. As it turned out, our neighboring camper, the photographer, had made that same decision – as had a few others. These elk hunters caught up with us along the trail on their way out. They had been hunting on the other side of Cispus Pass when they came to a huge washout along the trail. Adding many miles to their route, their only option was to hike out in the same direction as us. Having hiked to Cispus Pass (see Hike #57 – Pacific Crest Trail – Cispus Basin to Cispus Pass) the day before the rain had started, I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for them to get their pack horses around the narrow trail through Cispus Basin – especially along the stretch where a waterfall flowed over the trail. They said the water was shooting over them so profusely that it was all they could do to lead each horse – one at a time – to the other side. It was a long, narrow stretch of trail, cut along a steep slope, one wrong step would have been all it would haven taken, and down they would have fallen – down, down, down. With many more miles to go, they’d had quite a day already by the time they reached us.

Elk Hunters with pack horses retreating
Elk Hunters with pack horses retreating

It was a wet few hours of hiking for us, no doubt about that.

Remember this bridge? It appeared such a gentle little stream when we hiked in two days before. In the storm, the water had risen to such a level that the vegetation along its shore was pounded and ragged. As we hiked out, we discovered many other areas where the trail had been in very good repair as we hiked in, but now were completely washed out. Often we found ourselves wading through water much deeper that our boots were high, and there was nothing we could do to keep our feet dry. That’s Balnicky’s dog in this photo by that fast flowing creek, wet as all get out. The dog didn’t mind the rain at all, and often ran ahead of its master to give us encouragement as we continued through the pouring rain.

The photographer's dog loves us
The photographer’s dog loves us

By the time we reached the trailhead, we had learned from other hikers along our soggy way that the gravel logging road we had driven in on had also been washed out by the storm. We ended up having to take a 35 (plus) mile detour in order to get to the town of Packwood. Through the constant drizzle, that extra hour or so of driving time seemed to last forever. We finally reached Packwood, changed into dry clothing and set up camp in a hotel. Dick invited us to join him for dinner at his favorite local restaurant later that evening. His photography is amazing – and inspiring to an amateur like myself (go here – Dick Balnicky, Photo.net Photos –  to see a sampling of his images). He is a nice man and I like that we made a new friend during the storm. He checked in with us as we were having breakfast the next morning. The rains had finally let up and our gear was about dry, and we told him that we would be hiking back into the Goat Rocks Wilderness later that morning. He was heading on to Yakima. I hope our paths cross again some day.

Drying out in Packwood
Drying out in Packwood

I found Packwood to be a charmingly vibrant little town. If you ever find yourself in the vacinity of Packwood, (even if you don’t need a place to dry out!), I highly recommend stopping in. For information on the town, go here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packwood,_Washington.


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