Day: Friday, 16th September 2016
Miles: 2253.2 – 2282.2 (29)
Remote Camp 2253.2 – Remote Camp 2282.2
The Goat Rocks likely need no introduction for many of those familiar with the Pacific Crest Trail, but for those unfamiliar, it is one of the most sublime areas of wilderness anywhere in the United States in my humble opinion. The area is comprised of a series of valleys and high rocky outcrops in the shadow of the mighty Mt.Rainier, framed with Mt.St.Helens and Mt.Adams to the South and an abundance of alpine flowers, glacier clad peaks and fast flowing rivers. So named due to the population of hardy goats that call it home, I’m not sure if its the rocks themselves or the goats that perch precipitously on them that are the most impressive! Seeing the Goat Rocks in good weather was one of my deepest wishes for the entire Pacific Crest Trail, and now I was blessed with a small window that might just afford me the greatest of opportunities to experience them.
Myself and SecondBreakfast awoke early, although he departed camp at 6AM before I had eaten breakfast. We figured that we would meet up again later on and bade farewell (and goodluck in beating the weather!). Today was clear, but an impending line of cloud could be seen way off to the west. I certainly did not intend to waste this window, and was on trail soon after sunrise. The weather forecast was depressing, rain and winds from this evening, with potential for a miserable day of rain tomorrow. Now was the time to beat it, I was out and hiking at 7AM and it was chilly.
Almost immediately after leaving camp, and I entered the Goat Rocks Wilderness boundary. The trail at this point was largely inside the treeline and meandered with few views albeit making progress north at a good pace.
Unexpectedly at one point, an exposed patch of ridge-line game me a wonderful view up to Mt.Rainier. This is going to be awesome I thought, then realizing there was a huge line of cloud just to the left of it. I was getting that sinking feeling that this may be the last I’ll see of Mt.Rainier!
I passed a German hiker named Johnny Cold heading southbound, before meeting little Ryder the dog and his hiker-parent Fiasco. I had a long chat with Fiasco who seemed like a cool guy and who gave me his number in case I ever end up in Seattle looking for a hiking buddy.
Pushing further, the trail opened out into a series of meadows. A number of trails crossed over the PCT from east to west, linking up trail-heads and lake camps on the west.
Rising up the ridge, I was just in time to see an enormous line of cloud envelop Mt.Adams to the south. At this point the trail was rising quickly and the views back to the south were immense.
Finally reaching a mountain pass of sorts, and I reached what I thought was as close to the Goat Rocks as I would get, a view of an incredible ridge-line to the north, beautifully colored in light autumnal hues.
The trail then followed a line to Cispus Pass, with expansive views to the east down into the Yakima Reservation. Mt.Rainier was now obscured, but I had a feeling more was in store ahead.
Crossing over Cispus Pass, and the views only expanded, now giving a sweeping view across an enormous valley bowl, with alpine rivers tumbling off the sides.
The trail then rounded one of the ridges and began another ascent to an area of pretty alpine meadows. I was still unclear about what exactly was the Goat Rocks, but this entire area are absolutely incredible. The views ranging from Mt.Adams, Mt.St.Helens and Mt.Rainier, through to a small dot on the horizon that I think was Mt.Hood far to the south.
Nearing the high point of the ridge, and a magnificent turquoise colored alpine lake came into view on the other side to the valley. I could see some hikers way off on the distance over there, before rising further and realizing that Mt.Rainier was hiding just behind! By now the cloud was established overhead, but the patterns were arranging into a series of lenticular clouds around the summit, a phenomenon I had never seen, but apparently is very common to Mt.Rainier. It was around this point that a loud marmot started screeching at me from 50 feet away. So naturally a gave a screech back, only for 4 day hikers to immediate turn the corner right in front of me. “Oh don’t mind me, I’m just a crazy thru-hiker” I muttered to myself. Maybe I am going a little crazy!
Passing a small snowfield, I caught a surreal glimpse back to Mt.St.Helens, with its broken top oddly matching the lenticular cloud formations above. It was a beautiful sight!
Ascending the knifes edge, I was given a hugely expansive view to the south, west and north. Plotting my progress over days, it was immensely fulfilling to take it all in from my perch in the sky!
Looking ahead, I finally caught a glimpse of some goats down in the green valley below! I then realized that the trail followed the top of the exposed ridge just north of me. The peaks intersecting the trail as it meandered between the shards of rock. This place is incredible!
I finally caught up to SecondBreakfast just as the sun cut through the cloud. In minutes it dissipated and Mt.Rainier was once again bathed in blue skies, with just the flying saucer shaped lenticular clouds gracing its summit like floating marshmallows.
The views just got better and better as I finally reached the high point. At this stage I could see all the way to the Olympic Mountains far northwest, along with the peaks of the north Cascades that I would finally get to see in the coming week. As the sun began to set, a slight pink hue began to set on the entire landscape. Such an incredible experience and barely a soul to be seen anywhere.
Descending rapidly, I re-entered an area of forest once again. By now the clouds were setting in quickly. It had been an incredible days hiking, and the idea of getting caught in the rain had put a definite jump into my stride.