This trip is brought to you by cold wet socks.
This weekend I went with a group of unknown people out to the great Goat Rocks in Washington. The forecast called for beautiful sunny skies and relatively nice temperatures. But true to its nature, Washington disagreed and decided we didn’t need that.
As you can see it started out well. So well in fact that we needed to shed layers because it was pretty warm out. After we did that I realized I had left my GPS sitting on a rock to hang out with the trees. So I had a nice run back to our first break area to get it, and an even better run back to the group all with my pack on.
After hiking uphill for about an hour, we are greeted with (kind of) flat land. Some of the members in the group were tired, so we decided to find somewhere to camp. After some prodding around bushes and boggy terrain, we find an established campsite and decide to set up our tents and explore a bit more.
After some logistic magic, our seven tents packed into an area probably more suitable for three or four, and we press on.
This trip was kind of a mystery bag. While social, the group didn’t quite vocalize what they wanted out of the trip and just silently decided on things simultaneously. It worked out because we all generally wanted to head in the same direction. The plan was to go summit something or another, I came along because I still had crazy energy after the hike and – of course – wanted to see more.
As we walked, I noticed this weird indentation in the mountain. This place sits atop an extinct stratovolcano, so the scenery is really crazy. I had concluded that this was part of the volcano (I’m still not sure about that, but it makes it exciting), and started wanting to go for a scramble to check it out. The trail had disappeared into the trees so I wasn’t quite sure where we were headed.
After going downhill for a bit we are greeted with more flat land. And as I squint at the trail I’m starting to feel like it might just lead us to that weird indentation. Excited to find out, I pick up the pace.
The trail started angling up more and more, and my pace started reaching a rate I’ve never hit before. I didn’t know where we were going other than a lake and a summit, but beyond that I wasn’t sure what would be waiting for me towards the top. A fellow group member followed closely behind me for a good amount of time. Being more seasoned than myself, I was sure he could set a faster pace so I started to think about letting him pass. As I did so, I looked over my shoulder a bit to see how close he was, and then I caught a glimpse of this:
It almost felt like someone punched me in the face. I hadn’t been focusing too much on my surroundings once we left the treeline, so I had to stop in my tracks once I saw exactly where I was standing. I thought this was my favorite view, but Goat Rocks likes to throw curve-balls at you.
When I heard we were going to a lake, I was kind of like “Great… yeah.. lakes..”. Don’t get me wrong, I love lakes. But they have a tendency of being almost the same thing every time. So here I am walking over the last ridge into that weird indentation I noticed earlier, and there’s a giant body of water. A giant green body of water.
It’s not the kind of green that makes you want to put on a biohazard suit. The water is crystal clear, but due to some kind of mineral.. sediment… whatever, the water is just – well – green. I approached the shore and put my hand in the water to check out the temperature, then promptly took off my shoes to let my feet soak. The cold was practically biting my feet off like a pack of ravenous stratovolcano piranhas, but it felt amazing. I wished I could have gone in for a swim, but it wasn’t meant to be.
As we sat by the lake, someone kept blowing on a whistle. At first I assumed someone was calling their dogs back to them, or worst case scenario someone fell into a precipice and needed help. Either way it was starting to drive me crazy and I needed to know what the hell it was. After roughly ten minutes, I found the perpetrator.
A little dot on top of a rock, a Marmot taunted hikers encroaching on his turf. One of my hopes of this trip was to see a Marmot, and I wanted nothing more than to go up that hill and get a closer picture. But you know, keep the wild wild and all. If you haven’t heard a Marmot scream:
The annoying aspect of it all suddenly became adorable.
Goat Lake is an absolutely incredible destination, and I hope to go back and camp around it some time. It’s exposed, you can’t light a fire, and you’re going to see/hear everything your neighbors are doing, but the views more than make up for it.
We say our goodbyes to the lake and head for our next destination. We have it in our minds to do a summit, so dammit we’re going to summit something. We still had a bit of a hike left before we reached our next destination.
The group was constantly dividing and splitting up a bit depending on differing pace and interests, but there was a silent understanding that we could keep walking and catch up later, which was nice. We split in half to do the ridge-walk/summit.
The ridge itself was a little intense at points, mostly from a mental aspect. You know how the cliche line: “Don’t look down”? I work oppositely, looking down comforts me. I love knowing that the Earth is still there below me and that I’m not going to be sucked into some void. So ridges are an uncomfortable experience for me in the fact that it’s too easy to look up. I made that mistake a couple of times and had to sit down hug the ground a little, welcoming its existence.
So when we got to the top, clouds started rolling in and threatened our views. Before they could steal the reward, I was able to at least get a shot of the ground below us, and a nice video of the clouds.
It was one of those surreal moments in your life where you have to list the things out that surround you: “I’m sitting on a dead volcano. I can see everything I just hiked and more, and I’m literally touching the clouds”. We sat up there for a while to let all that sink in, despite the bad turn in weather. Sometimes bad weather can be nice, and this is one of those moments. Still, I’m sad my view of Mt. Adams was stolen.
Once we were filled with nutritious views, we turned back and decided to head back to camp. At this point we really split up quite a bit since we all knew our way back and decided to go in our own fashion. As I’m walking back, I see white blobs moving around on the hillside. Suddenly I realize it: Mountain Goats.
Marmots aside, I really wanted to see mountain goats. No one could blame me, it is called Goat Rocks after all. I sat around and watched them graze for a little bit, and left them alone as to avoid being the neighborhood creep who watches families eat.
When I got back to Goat Lake, the clouds really started rolling in. When I arrived, it looked like the world just ended right on the shoreline. The water was as smooth as glass, and just didn’t even seem to exist at all. I almost believed it for a brief moment.
After the exciting day, we headed back to camp. We ate, talked, etc. I barely slept and shivered all night, but damn would I do it again.
Go to Goat Rocks. Absolutely go to Goat Rocks. As uneventful as the initial hike is, everything else about this trail is a complete surprise. You can look at the same thing maybe three times and it will still take your breath away. This is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. It was like hiking around on a different planet (or on the set of Prometheus). Even if the weather goes bad on you and you’re wet and cold, you’re going to have an amazing time. If I had a time machine and a weather alteration machine to fix the stormy conditions we had during the trip, I wouldn’t do it. It made things interesting and gave the scenery an extra hit of “wow”.
There unfortunately are downsides to this place. It was pretty crowded when we went. Once you get out in the wilderness it’s not as apparent, but that’s assuming you get out there at all. The parking lot was practically full at 10:00 AM on Saturday morning. Even by Washington standards that’s kind of crazy. If you go, make sure you get there early. Not just for parking, but to lock down a camp site as well.
That’s the other thing, it’s always better to use established campsites rather than making your own. Or in other words, if it looks like people have used a certain area, use that before you go all crazy and start chopping things down to build your own area (ppease don’t do that). There were quite a few good camping spots by Goat Lake, but otherwise I didn’t see much opportunity other than a bit past Snowgrass Flats. So in addition to leaving early to secure parking and a campsite, it’s also good to make sure you have plenty of time to even find a campsite. The bonus is there’s a lot of side-trails leading to these campsites, so just follow them around a little bit until you see something suitable. Hell, even go here on a day-hike with your GPS and place waypoints on potential campsites. I sure as hell did as we hiked around.
He’s Done Talking
I have a lot of stories and other things I could share, but we’re almost 2,000 words here. We’ll save them for later when they become more relevant. But for now, I’m going to sign off and reiterate that Goat Rocks is by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and if you have the chance to go, you have to.
No trip song this time, the Marmots and wind work well enough.