Thursday, September 5, 2013

Five Days Rocking With The Goats (Part 1)

Sans goats, but with a few rocks.

Start here.

So, Backpacker Magazine got me. One of the latest issues mentioned Washington State's Goat Rocks Wilderness. I've been there, but a long time ago. Time to go back and hit the trail for a rematch.

The trail I hit.

"Berry Patch" – that's where they said to start. So I started there. After driving in from Packwood, WA on a long gravel road. By the time I parked my car it had around 800 pounds (363 kg) of dust on it. But it was for a cause.

The lower trail passes through quiet and civilized woods.

The cause was revisiting the place where I started doing the "ultralight" thing in year 2000. Labor Day weekend of 2000 was the first time I used a GVPGear G4 pack and the last time I wore boots while backpacking.

The high poky bits showing their volcanic origins.

One of my companions for that three-day weekend was carrying a 75-liter pack and was proud of the amount of weight he could carry. Our guide told us to bring day packs for the middle day, so we could go exploring. Everybody did, but me. Even then, I wasn't that dumb.

The trail begins to climb.

Take a four-foot-ten-inch (147 cm) woman of 60-odd years, add an external frame pack which includes a two-person tent, a two-pound (1 kg) water filter, a canister stove and full cookset, all the other stuff, and a three-pound (1.4 kg) day pack, plus miscellaneous siege-weight odds and ends, bolt it on to the aforementioned person, and prepare to walk uphill at half a mile (0.81 km) an hour, max, between air-gasping breaks. Smile or grimace as seems appropriate.

Darkness sneaking up the valley. [click/embiggen]

But that was then. Now I bees smart, to some extent. Not smart enough to get to the trailhead before early evening, but I made it, and without bringing dead weight to drag along on a sledge.

At least the flowers were happy.

So by the time I started hiking it was roughly 5:15 p.m. Hate that, but along the way I stopped at the new REI store in Olympia to buy a map (always nice to have), and had lunch at Main Chinese Buffet in Lacey, WA – "over Eighty freshly prepared entrees" etc. – where I got pleasantly stuffed, by my own hands. When I was working in the area, we used to hit the place once a month or so and gorge ourselves silly. Still good.


So 5:15 p.m. Late. Surprisingly, there were lots of skeeters out, and they flew off with major parts of my hide, but only the exposed parts, which were minor since I kept my pants on. But things did begin to get dark early.

More trees. There were lots of trees out that day.

Eventually the climb took me above most the the little biting things, but evening walked faster than I did, and eventually began tugging at my shoelaces.

High trail. [click/embiggen]

Under a mountainside of scree I found a small, cold stream where I could wash up after the long drive, and grab drinking water, not sure if I'd make it to my Goat Lake destination.

Even higher trail. You can see where this is going.

I didn't (make it to Goat Lake), and it was good that I didn't. I had an exciting-enough night as it was, but at least had a place to hang my hammock, which I wouldn't have had at Goat Lake.

I think this is Angry Mountain. It swore at me.

I did make it to Jordan Basin, which is one stop short of Goat Lake. At first blush it seemed pleasantly abandoned. A grove of trees on a small flat just down-valley from the basin's westward lip looked promising, especially since things were getting dim by then, around 7 p.m. A flicker of motion caught my eye and then another. Birds? No. Campers. One place already taken, with the sky already looking dark, not only from evening but from approaching weather. Maybe the basin above was empty?

West into Jordan Valley. [click/embiggen]

Nope. More campers. At least two sets of them – no, three sets. Not many trees there either, though there was water. I headed upslope toward the ridge, thinking I was leaving Goat Lake behind. This map-misreading (and heavy fog) caused a lot of confusion the next day, but there was little time that evening to think things through.

Columnar basalt.

You do what you have to when things get desperate. Like being glad you ate enough for three people at lunch. Sometimes that works. So I was able to skip supper without a second thought and focus on searching for a campsite. After admiring the basalt.

Getting seriously dark. Can you spot the three camps? [click/embiggen]

The ridge between Jordan Basin and Lily Basin looked promising. Since it was my only option, it had to. There were small stands of trees two-thirds of the way to the top, and maybe, just maybe, I thought, I'd be able to find a hammock-friendly pair of trees.

One camper caught in near-darkness by my magic camera.

Once at the ridge-top I walked along it, rejecting two potential sites due to piles of used toilet paper and what goes with it, left in the open, and eventually found a pair of willing trees slightly downslope to the west. Standing on a 45-degree slope is hard enough, but putting up a hammock in a gap just barely large enough in near-darkness is special fun. I flopped into bed shortly before total darkness came to smother the last of the daylight.

Day's last goodbye over Angry Mountain. [click/embiggen]

And then the fun began. Ripping wind gusts. Rain showers. Wildly flapping tarp. A mild front moving in from the coast brought a small change in the weather, but perched just a hair below a knife-like ridge as I was, I caught all the updraft as the frantic atmosphere, pushed and prodded from behind, screamed upward to escape the pressure, shedding tears of rain on me.

But it turned out fine, after a couple of late-night readjustments. The problem was what happened the next day.


Goat Ridge Loop at Backpacker Magazine

Main Chinese Buffet

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