Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Goat Rocks Wilderness

I was hiking up to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier last summer when I first heard of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. My friend said, "I think we can see the Goat Rocks from here!" and I have wanted to go ever since. Fast forward to last month, when my friend Brook and I decided to plan a short backpacking trip together. "Let's both research where to go, and talk tomorrow," we agreed.

When I talked to her the next day, she suggested not only Goat Rocks, but the same loop I had in mind! It was meant to be. So we headed out of Seattle when I got off work, around 2pm. We drove through Mount Rainier National Park and toward the town of Randle, then to the Berry Patch trailhead. We got on the trail by 6pm. We crossed rivers and went up switchbacks in the golden evening light. It was beautiful except the crazy amount of mosquitoes.
We hiked in about 4 miles to Snowgrass Flats. We both scoped out campsites and Brook reported finding an amazing one... but still under a couple inches of standing water. Trail reports said Snowgrass was under 6-8 inches of snow just a week or two ago, so it had melted fast. It was dry most places, but would provide even more camping options in a week or two.
We found a great spot to call home, and this was our camp kitchen area. After sleeping in (neither of us wanted to set an alarm on our day off), sipping coffee, and filtering water, we set out down the trail. There are several different ways to go from Snowgrass Flats, and you could easily turn Goat Rocks into  a 4 or 5 day adventure. But our plan was to stick to a mellow 13.5 mile loop.
We eventually got above the tree line and started crossing a ton of little creeks. They were awesome. Rolling, tumbling, cascading, and sometimes with snow, there was an incredible amount of water coming off the mountains.
There were also a bunch of wildflowers blooming, from these avalanche lilies to mountain heather to Indian paintbrush.
Again though, in many places the melt was very recent, and it was clear that there would be a lot more flowers in a couple weeks.
As we got higher, we had a constant and clear view of Mount Adams. Our highest point was Goat Lake, which is at 6,600 feet and was still almost completely frozen. It was just barely starting to melt at bright pockets of pale blue. When the snowfields below the lake are gone, there are a good handful of campsites.
We stopped here for lunch on a sunny rock. Brook suggested we put our feet in the creek, to cool and relax them after our grueling 10:30 start and few miles of hiking. I also enjoyed some red wine with my meal, making it a bona fide backcountry spa lunch and adding to the feel that we were in the Alps.
We continued on down the trail, to more wildflowers, more tumbling creeks, more gorgeous rock formations. Seriously, this hike is stellar.
On descent on trail 95, there are a few great options for camping. We found our spot after passing just a couple other people, the benefit of a mid-week trip. We made dinner then took refuge in the tent from the mosquitoes.
In the morning while taking down the tent, we discovered this little visitor on the tent poles! I have no idea what it is, but it sure was a surprise when we took the rain fly off.
It was all downhill from here, and there is an alternate trail 95A which is definitely worth taking. It will bring you to an overlook where in the same sweeping vista you can see Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, AND finally Mount Rainier.
Again, we would have hung out longer but the bugs were crazy. We wanted to stop to pump water but literally couldn't stop long enough to deal with the swarm of mosquitoes, so we pushed on to the car where we had extra water. Besides the bugs, this was one of the most pleasant trips I've done in a long time. Big thanks to Brook for being such a great backpacking buddy!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bend and Climbing at Smith Rock

I have always wanted to try rock climbing. Even with climber friends and boyfriends, I simply never got around to it. Then in April of this year, my old friend Tegan suggested we go to Bend, Oregon together in June to visit mutual friends and climb at Smith Rock. "You'll have a few months to join a climbing gym and practice!" It was a great idea.

Then I blinked, and suddenly it was the end of June and I still had zero climbing experience. "I don't think it's really worth it for me to go," I lamented to Tegan. I told my roommate Sara of my disappointment and she said, "Smith is a great place to learn! You should just go. I'll give you a crash course tomorrow after work."

So thanks to her encouragement, I decided not to be deterred. She loaned me a harness and shoes and taught me how to belay in our living room, and told me what safety things I needed to know. Then we went to Vertical World and I took the belay test and then climbed a few routes. I climbed a few routes! I had this perception that I needed super human strength and special techniques to climb anything, but I pleasantly surprised to find that in the beginning, you mostly just have to do it.

Then Tegan and I loaded up the car with snacks and drove first to Portland, where we picked up another friend of Tegan's. Lindsay is an awesome all-around outdoor lady, and would be our lead climber at Smith. When we got to Bend that evening, the air was still thick and warm. We were greeted graciously by our hosts before all walking down the block for a delicious dinner at Spork.

The next day we awoke earlyish, theoretically wanting to beat the heat but also wanting to be on vacation. We drove to Smith Rock, and here is the view as we started the hike in. Smith is made up of a handful of big tuff and basalt rock walls with the Crooked River winding through the valley.
The first day we went to the Dihedrals, where I had my second climbing experience ever, and first time outdoors. Both Lindsay and Tegan were super supportive, never in a hurry, and helpfully coaching me on technique. Oh, and it was really HOT. I don't think gym climbing can prepare you for being on the hot, sharp rocks.
See this boulder to the left? That honestly might have been the hardest part of the route! It took me a bit to get over it, but after that I had a lot of fun picking my way up the route.

This was our view across the river. We were on a south-facing wall baking in the sun, so we made a note that this rock was east and north facing and shaded, maybe a good climb for tomorrow.

We headed back to our friends' house in the afternoon, happy with our climbs of the day but worn out from the heat. What better cure for that than a river float?! We piled in our friend's circus van and did a car shuttle to a couple points on the Deschutes River. 
The green, cool water was such a nice foil to the dry, rocky climbing of the morning.

We went to bed early and got up a little earlier the next day. Our hosts came with us which was great, making us a party of 5. We loaded up a ton of water bottles and a cooler hiked in to climb a very classic and recognizable Smith route.
It's called 5 Gallon Buckets, and full of these big holes or huecos. When we first got there, a family was just finishing the route with their son who looked about 8 years old. Anytime I started to lament my short height, I just thought of that little boy, monkeying his way up the wall.
It worked out great that there was a harder route right next to it, so with an extra lead climber, we were able to constantly have 2 people climbing, 2 belaying, and one resting, which was perfect. We got to all hang out together and challenge different ability levels. At one point Tegan and Jessica ended up at the same hueco on the two different routes, and they did a little synchronized dance.
It was another super hot day, in the high 90's. Remember that view across the river from yesterday? We went there in the afternoon, and lo and behold were in the shade! After lunch we picked this shady spot with two routes next to each other again. Here's Lindsay and I with the Dihedrals in the background.
After we all felt like we had climbed enough or were too hot, we decided to head out. We got invited to our host's parents' house in Bend for dinner that night which was really sweet. We offered to bring beer to contribute, but in this town, don't bother picking up a 6-pack. No, in Bend they have growler fill stations! I've only ever seen growlers filled at the home brewery, where you are limited to that one brewer. But here, at a place like Growler Phil's, you have over 30 choices, almost all from craft Oregon breweries. Mark my words, we will start to see this in Seattle soon! We sampled a bunch of different beers and left very satisfied with our selections.
It was a quintessential summer dinner that night- BBQ'ed beef, salmon, and veggie burgers, potato salad, corn, fresh fruit. By the time the sky was turning purple, we were pretty tired from our day of climbing and decided to call it a night.
The plan was to leave in the morning. But first we made a big house breakfast, including coffee and fresh cream. Yes, they had just gotten milk from a farm down the road, from a cow named Josephine, and here's Lindsay scraping the cream off for our coffee. SO GOOD.
We got back on the road to Seattle, sore and tan with full bellies. A big thanks to our friends for hosting us, and to Tegan and Lindsay for being climbing mentors. I seriously couldn't ask for anything more.