This was the last day in our backpacking trip into the Goat Rocks Wilderness, so after coffee and breakfast we packed up our camp there in the Jordan Basin to begin our hike back to the trailhead.
The weather was spectacular and the views absolutely incredible. It was such a wonderful trail with views of not one, but three major mountains as we worked our way back down to the trailhead. First, Mount Saint Helens, then Mount Adams and finally, Mount Rainier! In reality, it was a long trail, our packs felt very heavy on our backs, we had been out on this backpacking trip for six days and there were many ups and downs in elevation along the way; but with views like that, I didn’t really mind. Later, back at home, back to reality, my calves were a bit tender for the next couple of days after that hike. Good toning I told myself!
It really was beautiful along the trail.
We reached the trailhead parking lot around noon and hungry after our hike out, headed to the nearby Chambers Lake for a picnic and coffee. We appeared to have the entire lake to ourselves, and what a treat it was to sit on the shore of such a peaceful lake to relax after a long hike before we had to make the six-hour drive back to our home.
Why go straight home we asked each other, so we decided to take the scenic route! We followed the highway right through Mount Rainier National Park and took in all those wonderful sights too. There were tunnels, mountain peaks and a beautiful National forest to enjoy.
Who heads back into the wilderness a day after being chased out by severe rain, hail and flooding (see Hike #58 – Rain, Hail, Floods – the Packwood Dryout)? We do! Here we are, at the trailhead for the Goat Ridge Trail, ready to hike back into the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
Having originally planned this backpacking trip along a series of trails that made up a loop through a portion of the Goat Rocks Wilderness, because we had lost a day as we attempted to wait out the storm, then evacuated to the town of Packwood to dry out, we began this hike where our loop hike would have ended – in the area known as Berry Patch. By hiking in from our original ending point in the oposite direction, we figured we would salvage as much hiking and exploration time in the Goat Rocks Wilderness area as possible without having to repeat the miles of hiking we had already completed those first couple of days in and out of Snowgrass Flats, Cispus Basin and Cispus Pass. Here, Kent Doughty, registers for our new backcountry camping permit.
Even though there were still a few remaining clouds from that storm front that just passed through the area, right from the start of our hike, the views from the trail were stunning.
Although only a difference of something like 1,400′ or so gain in elevation between the trailhead and where we were planning to camp, this trail, like so many we follow, consisted of what felt like just about as many up hill gains as down. Up and down, up and down is how the trail worked its way around the mountain. This particular spot felt plenty steep to me – especially when loaded down with a heavy backpack.
The next turn took us back down – then before we knew it, back up again. Yep, up and down, up and down, up and down, that’s how it was.
All the while, I couldn’t help but enjoy the view.
Finally, we reached the Jordan Creek Basin and found a lovely area off the main trail in which to set up camp.
Just look at the incredible view we had as we sat on a big rock overlooking the valley below and ate our dinner. The perfect way to relax after a long day of hiking!
Our backpacking dinners this year have gotten so much better – and healthier. With a severe allergy to capsicum, it is difficult (if not impossible!) for me to simply grab one of those pre-packaged, instant backpacking meals off the shelf at REI, or similar store, so we took a class this year at our local REI on backcountry cooking. While most of the foods and recipes they demonstrated weren’t quite for us, we walked out of that class with lots of inspiration to be more creative. Last year, I felt that our meals lacked enough vegetables, and I grew so tired of tuna in a foil pack. This year, we have pulled out our dehydrator and dry our own foods. I felt lucky when we found a vegetable soup stock in the bulk foods section of our local Winco that did not contain pepper, and by adding dried lentils, beans and lots of our own dehydrated vegetables, I’d say that this vegetable soup was the very best dinner ever on the trail. So good in fact, that I’m seriously considering making up a big pot of it for home!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
It seemed that we had been looking forward to our Goat Rocks Wilderness trip all summer long, and finally (finally!) our September vacation time was upon us. Limited only to what we could carry in our backpacks, packing for a week long trip deep into the wilderness takes a little more planning than for a one or two night trip. Weighing in at 70 and 35 pounds a piece, it’s pretty obvious here that the bigger one is Kent’s. He carries all the gear – the tent, tarps, ropes, stove, fuel, food (lots of food for a week long trip I might add!) cook pans and so much more. Me, well, there is just no way that I could carry a pack with all that in it, but I do manage to carry all my own personal gear – like two to three liters of water in my hydration unit and my clothes, sleeping bag, air mattress, camera gear and such.
The drive from home to the Snowgrass Flats trailhead in the Goat Rocks Wilderness took about 4-1/2 hours, and we ate lunch at the car before booting up. Having recently upgraded the old Volvo wagon for this higher clearance Subaru Forester, it did seem easier to make the drive up the gravel logging road in order to reach our trail.
Here we are at the Snowgrass Trailhead, well fed, booted up, packs on – and ready to head into the wilderness.
All along our hike from the trailhead to Snowgrass Flats, the trail was in very good repair. A close look at this photo shows how the trail over this stream has been previously washed out and built back up again. As it turned out, unfortunately, two days later, flash floods wiped out all that solid-looking construction and we found ourselves wading through a very fast flowing stream with water well over the tops of our boots in order to make the hike out. Stay tuned, you can read more about that in a future post!
Even with the clouds of a coming storm sometimes looming above us as we hiked, we had a wonderful view of Mount Adams from the trail.
Here’s Kent, making the final stream crossing into Snowgrass Flats. Since the logs of this make-shift bridge were wobbly, he first took his pack over, came back for mine, and then gave me a hand as I crossed. This bridge was wiped out too in the flash flood a couple of days after we made this crossing, but more about that later!
After a few hours on the trail with our heavy backpacks, it always feels good to be setting up camp.
The views were spectacular! Here’s the now flat topped Mount Saint Helens from our trail.
And the mighty Mount Adams. Beautiful!
It was hard to believe that we had been rained out just days before as it was such a beautiful day to be out on the trail. It felt like we were basking in sunshine!
Continuing to gain elevation as we worked our way up the rocky trail, we finally reached Goat Lake. Well above the tree line and surrounded with nothing but walls of rock, mounds of ice still floated in the lake
Hoping to see goats while hiking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, to my delight, high up on a grassy ledge above the lake, we observed this herd.
Putting that new backpack and the hiking accessories received for my birthday (see: Happy Birthday – Sweet Sixty) to use, our first backpacking trip of the summer found us following the scenic Mountain Loop Highway to the Goat Lake trailhead. We registered for two nights of camping at the lake.
A spectacular backcountry lake – one of the largest in the area – awaits those who walk this way. Once the site of a bustling mining operation, complete with company town and lakeside hotel, Goat Lake boasts plenty of history along with its fine views. Waterfalls too! So grand is Goat that the Washington Department of Transportation chose it to grace its official road maps in the early 1990s. But you can’t drive there, so millions of map admirers never got any closer than a dusty road. You, however, are on your way.
As we set off on the Elliot Creek Trail #647, we indeed were on our way.
Within a half mile, we had reached signs pointing to the Upper and Lower Elliot trails. We decided to brave the rockier, muddier, but more picturesque, Lower Elliot trail for our hike up to the lake. Thinking we might be a bit fatigued after a weekend of hiking and hiking, we thought we would save that easier-to-navigate upper trail for our hike back down.
The roar of Elliot Creek was almost constant as the trail led us through the beautiful Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. With temps in the lower 80s, it felt warm as the trail continued to gain in elevation and we carried our heavy packs on our backs. Kent dipped my rolled bandana in the glacier-fed water of Elliot Creek several times so I could tie it around my hair and be instantly cooled as we continued along in the afternoon sun.
With several streams to ford, a bullfrog or two hopping along in front of us, plenty of wild flowers in bloom, huge rock formations and plenty of waterfalls along the rapidly flowing Elliot Creek, the Lower Elliot really was a wild and scenic trail.
The lower trail along Elliot Creek had led us through a beautiful old-growth forest for its first two miles, then tansformed into second-grow timber about where it rejoined the Upper Elliot, and we had another 1.6 miles to go to reach Goat Lake.
Pretty as the summer sun shone through the alders, this trail started out smooth and level but became increasingly rocky as it gained in elevation.
As our trail led us into the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, the forest made another transition – this time, back to old-growth cedar and moss-covered fir.
The trail led deep into the wilderness and finally an old stream bed full of rocks and rubble, had completely obliterated all signs of the trail, so the map was pulled out.
Looking around, we saw a pink plastic tie on a branch along the edge of that old stream bed, so we walked up that and managed to find the trail again. Before we knew it, we were back on track, and once again in the bright sunshine.
With only a few more streams to ford and a few more hundred feet of elevation to gain, we finally reached the sign for Goat Lake.
With packs off (mine weighed in just under 30 pounds, and Kents, much closer to 40), we picked out our campsite.
Quickly running out of daylight, Kent worked fast to get that new backpacking tent set up.
Packing in ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, they were boiled up with sundried tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil and shredded cheese, so after our camp was set up, we enjoyed a wonderful, gourmet dinner. Because bears find human food so tasty (and convenient), after dinner Kent threw a rope over a branch high up in a tree, attached a pully and secured our food up and out of the reach of any bears.
Located in a cirque surrounded by Sloan, Foggy, and Cadet Peaks, the night sky was crystal clear over Goat Lake, so we walked down to the shore and picking out a few of our favorite constellations, star gazed.
To get to Goat Lake Trail #647 from the Darrington Ranger Station, drive south along the Mountain Loop Highway (FS Road #20) for 22 miles to Elliot Creek Road #4080, turn left and continue to drive 0.8 miles to the trailhead parking lot. A U.S. Forest Service pass is required.
I feel a sense of admiration for thru hikers each time we intersect with and/or follow a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) when we are out hiking. They travel the entire length of the PCT, all the way from the California-Mexico border, head north through the states of California and Oregon, and on through Washington until they reach the Canadian border. The PCT is well over 2,600 miles in length and takes about five months for the hikers to complete. Plus, I am sure, months of planning before they even get started. It must feel like such a huge accomplishment when they finish. At times I find myself even dreaming of a day when we might make that same journey. While thru hiking the PCT has not yet become a real goal, I do thoroughly enjoy each and every time our hikes take us along any intersecting snippets of the PCT.
Our backpacking trip into the Goat Rocks Wilderness in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (go here – https://60before60.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/56-backpacking-goat-rocks-wilderness-snowgrass-flats/ – to read more about that backpacking trip) turned out to be one of those wonderful opportunities for us to follow a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Having set up camp at Snowgrass Flats the day before, we followed a short trail that connected us with the PCT, and we had a beautiful hike around the Cispus Basin and on up to Cispus Pass.
Here I am, along the PCT trail as it enters the Cispus Basin.
And here I am taking a break on a boulder at the headwaters of the Cispus River.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in a meadow filled with wildflowers at the headwaters of the Cispus River, then continued our trek around the Cispus Basin and on up to Cispus Pass.
At 6,473′ elevation, we had to climb a fair number of switchbacks in order to reach the pass. But once there, oh what a view! You can see the PCT from the pass as it continues on to Nanni Ridge.
Once we reached the pass, we turned around and followed the trail back around the Cispus Basin, a lovely display of clouds were rolling throughout the valley below. Was this the beginning of the predicted storm? Yes! With nearly twenty-four hours of heavy precipitation, including hours of moth-ball sized hail and flash flooding, stay tuned – expect to read more about that later!
We saw mountain goats on the other side of the Cispus basin as we worked our way back to camp.
This was truly a bonus hike! We wanted to hike to Ptarmigan Ridge last year, but snows came early, then melted away, and our schedules allowed us but one more day of high country hiking. We chose to hike to Lake Ann that day (go here – Hike #83 – Lake Ann – to read about that hike). That was a lovely hike, and I certainly have no regrets about having spent the day along the trail to Lake Ann. But, as we were getting back into our car at the trailhead at the very end of our hike that day, one of Kent’s old friends drove by and stopped to chat once he recognized us. He shared that he had just finished the Ptarmigan Ridge hike and how beautiful that hike had been. Snow returned the following week and continued on for the season, making the Ptarmigan Ridge hike impossible – until late this season. Our day started off with gorgeous weather, and even though we were in the middle of prepping for a six-day, five-night backpacking trip deep into the Goat Rocks Wilderness and would be leaving in two days, we decided at almost the last minute that this would be the day we hiked to Ptarmigan Ridge. Laughing, we called this our “warm up hike”. Ten and a half miles later, we were still laughing!
This must be one of the most scenic hikes up in the Mount Baker area. Starting at the Artist Point parking lot, the trail is shared with two other very popular hikes – the hike to Table Mountain and the Chain Lakes loop hike. We enjoyed a beautiful hike along the Chain Lakes Loop Trail last year. Go here – Hike #74 – Chain lakes Loop – to check that out. Because the hike to Ptarmigan Ridge is more difficult than the other hikes due to its being longer, having more elevation gain and sometimes lingering snow causes white-out conditions on the ridge, by the time we had passed where those trails turn off, most of the other hikers were gone. The views were incredible. That’s Mount Shuksan as the backdrop in this photo that Kent snapped of me along the trail.
Millions of years of volcanic action and receeding glaciers have made the geology of this area quite interesting. It’s easy to understand how this pile of rock ended up here.
We love snow fields along our trails as this near heart-shaped snow field confirms.
Cairns piled high along the trail bring the attention of passers by to special areas offering stunning views.
Often along the trail, the wildflowers were at their beautiful prime.
From this point along the trail, there were only a few more snow fields to pass, a little more elevation to gain, and a mile or so more before we reached Ptarmigan Ridge. I put on my ice trekkers and pulled out my trekking pole to make my going easier.
We brought along ice axes hoping for a chance to practice using them and had a great time playing in the snow.
Here’s a shot of Mount Baker as viewed from Ptarmigan Ridge!
Carefully placed among the rocks on Ptarmigan Ridge now sits this tribute memorial. Dear Nina, though your days here were short, your memory lives on – and your view from this vantage point goes on for almost ever.
We took a break once we reached Ptarmigan Ridge and enjoyed the picnic we had packed in – and the beautiful views before turning around to make the hike back to Artist Point.