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!

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