This weekend Emily and I returned to what has become our annual favorite hike in the Pacific Northwest, Goat Rocks. But, this year we brought along our housemates Kevin and Alexa for their first alpine camping trip, and first real excursion into a remote wilderness in the Northwest. They were pretty amped to go for a long time and even made a trip to REI to make sure they had sleeping pads and stuff sacs. This was to be our wedding present to the newly married couple so Emily and I had gone shopping on Friday for spaghetti and a Jimmy Dean skillet breakfasts complete with 12 eggs for the four of us. That.. and a Bota Box of red wine equivalent to 4 full bottles :)
Last year the area was pretty quiet so we got a leisurely start on the road Saturday morning around 8am after stopping at the New Morning Bakery for some breakfast. We made a quick stop at the REI in Portland so I could buy some gas for the stove and some camp dishes and cups and also to check out the scratch and dent sale. Unfortunately the line for the sale was nearly 2 blocks long and we only allotted ourselves about 20 minutes for the stop. We reached the turnoff for the dirt road at about 12:15 and although the road was fairly smooth it still made a dust pile out of Emily’s new Prius and the washboard surface in a few places was a bit much.
We were all pretty quick once we parked and were able to the trail just after 1pm for the 7 or so mile hike in past Snowgrass Flats to our campsite at Goat Lake (see map above left). Alexa had hurt her ankle about a month and a half ago playing soccer and I was a little worried about it because there was about 2,000 feet of ascent to our camp but my fears were quickly alleviated when she began to lead the way and literally take off down the trail. Occasionally we would stop to take pictures of the doug-fir forest or wildflowers along the trail but we made really good time right from the start. We stopped at the river crossing at the bottom of the valley for some photos on the wooden bridge and I could tell that both of them were lovin’ it even though we weren’t even out of tree line yet or up to the alpine flowers... When the trail began to get a little steep we stopped for some snacks on a breezy corner which kept most of the mosquitos (not many of them anyway thankfully) at bay. We made it up to Snowgrass Flats very quickly but we had passed a bunch of people which got me worried that we might not get a good camping spot this year with our two tents. Avalanche lillies began to spring up everywhere and we made a few snow crossings I hadn’t remembered from last year. This got me a little worried as well because I know from my research that it had been the snowiest spring in the past 30 years and I had hoped that waiting two weeks past when we went last year may allow for some of the excess snow to melt...
Just past the campgrounds and beautiful wildflowers of Snowgrass Flats we stopped for a rest by a stream so Alexa could soak her now sore ankle and put on some moleskin for blisters. We were making great time and still had plenty of sunlight for the day... but I knew we would be going slower just around the bend because it would open into the spectacular alpine meadows that prompt Emily and I to return every year. Alexa and Kevin still had big smiles on their faces but I could tell they were getting anxious to get out of the trees and into some views.
Once we left Snowgrass Flats the views opened up and both our housemates were visibly blown away by both the views, the expansiveness of the terrain and how far we had already travelled up the valley. We only had about 500 vertical feet to get to camp but that was still over 3 or so miles so it would be flat and enjoyable. As we walked we stopped many times to take tons of photos and I was able to experiment with a new pseudo-HDR app on my new iphone to take some spectacular high-dynamic-range photos of us and our surroundings. Alexa loved the waterfalls that were pouring down the walls of the valley on our right and Kevin had a fun time looking for pikas in the rocks (Alexa does a great pika call btw). Towards camp a couple of the stream crossings were covered with snowpack still and were on the verge of caving in under our weight so I scouted out safer ways around them and helped everyone cross safely. As we got closer to Goat Lake it became painfully obvious that there was A LOT more snow than last year and our campsite looked buried under at least 5 feet of it! There was also a lot of snow to traverse across to get to the base of Goat Lake near the waterfall and I could tell Alexa was in pain, although still wearing a smile. I saw tents everywhere I looked (way more than last year) and a group of 4 hooligans told me that a group of 10+ had already passed them looking for sights as well. I did a quick jog around to see if I could locate anything but then turned around and told the very sad group I was with that we would be camping on the snow for the night... but, thanks to some skillful scouting by Emily around our old campsite we were able to find just enough flat ground at the edge of a snow berm to set up our tents next to each other.
At this point it was around 7pm and it was staring to get a little windier and colder so I quickly told us to get our tents up and the girls to get into warmer clothes. Once everything was set up I used the remaining water in my camelbak to cook a great dinner of spaghetti with a jar of fresh sauce I had packed in, complete with parmesan cheese. I of course also broke out the Bota Box (which Kevin actually seemed surprised I had actually packed in... yes my pack was VERY HEAVY - but well worth it). We all had glass after glass of wine while chilling out at the same place Emily and I had last year. Mt. Adams was beautiful in the distance with puffy clouds draped around it glowing in the setting sun. Kevin and I ventured up the hill to fill up nalgenes of water for us all for the night and, like last year, goats began descending the ridge toward our campsite romping and playing around. On the way up we had seen a couple marmots but this year at our campsite there was still too much snow for their homes to be opened up in the rocks I think and we didn’t see any elk like last year, although we saw plenty of elk paths in the valley below. Kevin put on some light tunes from his phone and we chilled out watching the stars come out. It was a perfect night (although the hooligans said it would storm... silly hillbillies). By the time we all hit the sack we were all buzzin’ from the wine and very happy about where we were. Kevin definitely liked it and I could tell would want to go again on a similar trip.
In the morning I woke up and cooked up a huge pot of Jimmy Dean skillet packages I had burried in the snow the night before. I combined them with two cartons of eggs that I had dumped into a nalgene to fill us up for the hike out. I could tell Alexa’s ankle was sore but thankfully between Kevin and I we had plenty of Aleve to keep her juiced up for the hike out. We ventured down to the waterfall to check it out and I figured out a shortcut across the base of the lake to save Alexa from crossing too much snow. I also took her pack and strapped it to mine for the ascent up to the col of Goat Ridge where we would start our true descent. It wasn’t so much heavy as it was lopsided and pulling me backwards the whole way but I could tell it helped her to have my poles and no weight for the climb on a rough ankle.
The views were very hazy (probably from forest fires) so we weren’t able to see Mt. St. Helens on the way out but we did see a bunch more marmots and various wildflower species which Kevin did a great job identifying with his iphone app. We stopped at a big campsite just as we exited the alpine area and unbeknownst to me Kevin got eaten up by mosquitos there! I took a seat on a windy ledge with views back to where we had come from so I was left alone. From there it was just the usual trudge out of a hike in the woods although we skipped the fire tower we had climbed to last year up on the ridge as it was pretty boring. Instead we followed the ridge down on the opposite side of the valley we had climbed in on and were afforded amazing views of the peaks of Goat Rocks.
Nearing the car I took off ahead of the group and dropped my pack at the westerly parking lot to run the 3/4 mile trail back to the car and drive it to meet the group, to save Alexa walking the extra distance. I timed it perfectly and pulled up just a minute or two after they had reached the parking lot. Everyone was glad to be back at the car and thankfully the mosquitos were not that bad. I’m positive that despite Alexa’s painful ankle, both of them had a wonderful time! On the way home they treated Emily and I to dinner at a Mexican restaurant near I-5 where Alexa had done some field work for Watershed last year. After that all 3 of them passed out for almost two hours on the drive back to Corvallis. We got back to town just at sunset with plenty of time for Alexa to pick up Dromi at Fausti’s and for Emily and I to relax at home. What a great weekend!