6.1 miles, 2181ft gain/1711ft loss. Fitbit data: 22,315 steps, 114 floors.
Normally, we roll out of the tent at 6:30am or so, but this morning? Well, I did get up at 7, and ventured outside into solid grey. The wind was still gusting and I couldn’t see the lake through the low cloud deck, it didn’t take of that, getting damp from the walking clouds before I did what I’m pretty sure everyone else was doing. Staying in the shelter of the tent hoping for all of this to blow out. And, thankfully, that happened around 9, when I could see the sun doing its best to burn off the soupy weather; some feeble rays were knocking on the side of the tent, just ever so slightly starting to provide warmth. Pulling a flap back, I could actually see some blue sky to the east, so I rolled back out to obvious signs that the weather was turning. About then, I noticed the other tent denizens also wandering out into the heat of the sun, and it felt good after a night of blowing heavy mist. Packing up, we start heading south on the Lilly Basin trail and get no further than the outlet stream, and have to stop and take pictures…The flowers here against the barrenness of reddish brown rock is stunning, so many bright colors, predominantly yellow, that it’s hard to believe. Even Mt. Adams is once again making an appearance.
The first two miles are the kind of hiking you dream of. Great trails, relatively level, and wide open views of the terrain you’re going through. Both sides of the trail have meadows full of flowers, and where it’s flat the alpine firs dot the greenery, making it look like a manicured garden. And, it’s no surprise along this stretch, wherever there is a small stream running through, you can see a spur trail leading to a good campsite.
It continues like this all the way to Snowgrass flats. I note a couple of nice sites that have water close by, one at mile 1.17 really stuck out. At about 2.3 miles, you start hitting the first of good campsites located in the Snowgrass flats area. This section of the trail has lots of grassy meadows as well, with larger and more mature firs, so many of the sites will provide protection from the weather. And, we notice several of the sites are occupied, but there are still lots of places to make camp.
You will reach the junction with the Snowgrass trail at mile 2.6, and turn left here, and now, instead of going downhill, you will now start an upward trek through old growth fir for about .83 miles and 730ft of elevation gain, to reach your junction with the PCT. At this point, you’re once again out in the open meadows, looking east to the peaks between Old Snowy and Ives Peak. You’re a little over halfway there, for this is now 3.4 miles from Goat Lake.
“…people have been memorializing their passing by adding a small piece of slate, or bunch of wildflowers…”
Turning right on the PCT, you’re now headed south, and the meadows once again reluctantly give way to increasing tall timber., as you lose most of the elevation you just gained. At a large talus field in one of the last remaining meadows before disappearing into the trees, there are 2 large rock cairns along the trail, at mile 4. Here, people have been memorializing their passing by adding a small piece of slate, or bunch of wildflowers. Shortly after this, at mile 4.35, you will reach the bypass 97 trail. This will be the way out tomorrow to help us complete our loop, but for now, we continue on our journey to Cispus Basin along the PCT. Also, from this point the rest of the way, it’s a pretty steady up, as it will take us another 1.74 miles and 1038ft of elevation gain to reach our destination at the foot of the Goat Rocks.
For now, it’s all through trees with little to see, until we reach another nice site for camping, at mile 4.85, at a flat spot with a large rock outcropping. Once you stand on the rock, you get your first glimpse of the Goat Rocks, an impressive, multi-towered rock wall, guarding the northern border of Cispus Basin. And, you can also see Cispus Pass, the PCT leading up to it, before disappearing over the ridge. Just another 5 minutes up the trail is a good source of water, a small stream running across the trail. We can’t wait to get there, after the downs and ups of carrying a load on a warm day, so taking one last longing look, we continue our trek up. In about a half mile, you come out on the open ridge and can finally see wide open views up the basin to the headwalls of the Goat Rocks. It’s also here, at mile 5.38; you will pass a large grouping of tent sites under the trees that are now stationing the PCT trail crew, here to repair erosion damage to the trail.
From here to the site we will find in the middle of the basin, it’s all open along a steep ridge wall; the trail continues climbs steadily upward to reach the middle of this beautiful valley. Small rivulets running down across the trail, probably created by the spring run-off, now mostly dry, have caused the damage, and as we pass the crews, we’re sure to thank them for their hard work. Looks like they’re making coffers out of heavy duty galvanized screen, filling them with rocks, and then positioning them in the channels to help with the erosion.
We stop for a moment at 5.5 miles, for there is a rather large waterfall cascading down off a rock shelf, and it’s also one of the few places to find shade, and enjoy the refreshing spray from the cool waters. Rounding the top of the basin, we see a small copse of cedars and alpine firs just above and to the right past the Cispus River crossing. I say river, but here, it’s more of a small stream, as this is the headwater of the river, so it’s just a beginning…
There are two good sites here, large enough for our 3 man tent, and one is already taken, a tent is pitched, but with no one around. So relieved to have a spot, for it seems on our way up, being able to see across the basin that all the viable locations were already taken. As were all the spots that I mentioned along the trail so far…It’s now 2:00pm, heat of the day, and after setting up camp, we’re thankful for not only having found a great spot, but also a place that has a few trees for shade, which we quickly utilize…Maria had bought two of the new Helinox lightweight packable chairs, and we’re glad to have them, as there are really only grassy hummocks among the dusty ground to sit on, no downed trees, or rocks.
“… A towering, insurmountable and foreboding fortress, separating the south from the north…”
But the view…Oh, boy!! Our site looks straight up the basin, uninterrupted, to the base of the Goat Rocks, such a massive and hulking presence, that you have to crane your neck upwards to get it all in. From one end of the basin to the other, is this massive, striated, and steepled wall. Where the talus fields end that have crumbled off the steep cliffs, grassy and flowered meadow grow right up to the edges. This section of the Goat Rocks reminds me of, (if you’re a GOT fan) the Wall. A towering, insurmountable and foreboding fortress, separating the south from the north, the north side ice and snow in permanence being kept at bay by this great divider. Okay, so it just sorta reminds me of it a little bit… Down the middle, you can see the beginnings of the Cispus River, not much more than a large spring to begin with as it emerges from the mountain, helping to water the meadows that it cascades down through. Small waterfalls everywhere, as it finds its way through the rock, jumping first one way, then another looking for the path of least resistance. Flowers border on both sides of the stream, the purple lupine and red paintbrush providing that pop of color amidst the reddish rock and green plants. It’s hard to describe just how majestic, grand, and beautiful this tableau is, one best experienced than read.
After a respite from the sun, it’s time to head down to the river (stream) and water up, but I also take the cameras, as it’s time to get some pics of this spectacular area. I walk a ways up stream to satisfy my digital addiction, knowing I’m going to have lots of snapshots to wade through. Just hoping to get at least a small handful of good shots that I can use.Back at camp, we look up at the rocks, and…Another herd of mountain goats, this one far larger than the group at the lake! They’re staying right up close to the base of the peaks, where the greenery ends at the talus fields, making it hard to get a good picture, but, we still enjoy watching them forage, I count about 30 in this group. By now, all of the obvious places to camp have been filled, and we all sit and watch them for a while…
“…Always trying to find different things to eat on the trail for my bored palette…”
Are we going to luck out? No strong breeze yet tonight, making it a very enjoyable eve. We try another different recipe for dinner tonight, called Chicken Marsala. A little heavy for backpack fare, but yummy all the same. Found it at Fred Meyer, it’s an 11oz packed of Marsala sauce that you add to a skillet of browned and diced chicken, which we just happened to have, very good, but light fare for two. Next time, we’ll serve it on a bed of noodles, and see how that goes. Always trying to find different things to eat on the trail for my bored palette…
Easy clean up, and we sit on the edge of our little hillock and watch the sun set in the west, behind Mt. St. Helens. It’s beautiful; the hilltops in the foreground are varying shades of darkness, with Mt. St. Helens the dominant mound in the middle of our V shaped viewpoint, like the sight on the end of a barrel. The sky is banded in different hues of orange, red and pink, and as the sun sets, I do my best ot fill up my memory card, taking shots every so often, hoping for that right one. It looks like a pastel oil painting filling the horizon…
A full day under our belts, so off to bed. And, around 11:30pm, our old friend (or pest) I should say, showed up…The wind started blowing, and blew all night, making for another fitful night of sleeping.