Tuesday, August 4, 2015

2004 Backpacking Washington's Goat Rocks Wilderness

The Pinchot National Forest is one of the oldest National Forests in the United States. Originally part of the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve in 1897, it was set aside as the Columbia National Forest in 1908 and renamed the Gordon Pinchot in 1949 in honor of the first Chief of the Forest Service, an active conservationist who played a key role in developing early principles of environmental awareness.

Over 1200 miles of trails are in the national forest, 300 miles of which are in wilderness areas. 150 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail traverse the forest, passing through the high country of three designated wilderness areas -- Indian Heaven, Mt. Adams, and Goat Rocks.

The are over 100 lakes and 1360 miles of streams containing over 20 species of fish. The White Salmon River has been designated Wild and Scenic, four other rivers have been recommended, and 13 are under consideration for the designation. The Pinchot NF contains 1,312,000 acres and includes the 110,000 acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

I backpacked here in 2004 and the photo below shows my first night's camp spot, an extremely scenic spot replete with the gentle murmur of water through a cascade just below my tent.  This spot is in the wilderness area and approaching the Pacific Crest Trail which I reached the second day. I was in this area because I was about to join a volunteer trail crew working on trails in the Goat Rock Wilderness.

This is the intersection of one of the 14 trails within the Goat Rocks Wilderness which lead up to the Pacific Crest Trail. Most of the wilderness' 105,600 acres are alpine terrain above timberline as shown in these photos. The PCT traverses 31 miles through the center of the wilderness. Majestic Mt. Rainier dominates the horizon.

I am on the Pacific Crest Trail here, and the next three photos show the dramatic terrain.  Elevations range from 3000 feet to 8201 feet within the wilderness. From this trail, I had views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams to the south and Mt. Rainer to the north, and I was so enthralled by the majesty that I had to share my joy with someone. So I pulled out my old cellular flip phone not expecting to get a signal, but I actually did, so I called Mom and told her what I was looking at because she had just toured the Washington area the year before.

It is mid-July but dozens of snow fields had to be carefully crossed. In the photo below, in the right side foreground you can see my bootprints in the snow. These snow field crossings were not deep nor were they slippery or dangerous, unlike when I backpacked through snow fields up high in Grand Teton National Park, so I didn't need crampons or a snow axe.  But care was still needed to prevent a tumble or twisted ankle. It's a long way to get to medical care! The trail was generally still discernible and posts were occasionally erected to help you stay on the right heading.

Here I am looking north at the majestic Mount Rainier which stands 14,410 feet tall. As I was crossing one of the snow fields, I spotted and watched two marmots in a nearby rock field standing on their back legs and wrestling with one another. I'd seen marmots many times before while in high country, but this was the first time I ever saw two of them intracting and putting on quite a show for 10 minutes. I also saw mountain goats and heard pika as I hiked.

As I savored the views, I wished I could spend more time in this wilderness, but I had committed to the trail project, and following its conclusion I was getting on the Alaska Ferry for 8 weeks in Alaska. So I had to end my trip after just three nights and head back down to join the trail crew.

Pinchot NF Headquarters
10600 NE 51st Circle
Vancouver, WA 98682
(360) 891-5000
Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument
42218 NE Yale Bridge Road
Amboy, WA 98601
(360) 449-7800

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