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Goat Rocks weekend
Trip Report

Goat Rocks weekend

 

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Washington, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 46.49000°N / 121.4074°W

Object Title: Goat Rocks weekend

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 9, 2003

 

Page By: jtschanz

Created/Edited: Sep 29, 2003 /

Object ID: 169103

Hits: 2843 

Page Score: 71.06%  - 1 Votes 

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Goat Rocks, Aug 2003

Goat Rocks, Washington
Mt. Curtis-Gilbert & Old Snowy
August 9-10, 2003


Day 1: Mt. Curtis-Gilbert

We had been meaning to explore the Goat Rocks area for some time now. I had seen inspiring pictures of the ski mountaineering which is possible in this region in the winter, and heard about the wildflower meadows of August. So finally we searched the web, bought a map, and decided to climb Mt. Curtis-Gilbert, the highest point in the Goat Rocks wilderness. The forecast for the weekend, as given by the radio weather guy, was "I have no idea". (Actually, he said "mixture of clouds and sun, possible scattered showers", but we knew what he meant.)

Driving north on I-5 on Saturday morning, the trip looked like a bad idea. The "scattered showers" had somehow turned into a downpour and the sky only looked darker the further we drove. This isn’t supposed to happen in August! Somehow, though, luck was on our side: the small patch of blue we saw in the distance grew larger and larger, and by the time we made it to the trailhead the sun was shining. We had decided to approach the peak from the west, giving us a chance to explore the Snowgrass Meadow and other areas along the PCT. We left our crampons and ice axes in the car, shouldered our packs, and started up the Snowgrass Trail.

The image I had of the Goat Rocks as a secluded, somewhat secret wilderness area was dispelled immediately. The Snowgrass Trail is like a highway on-ramp to the PCT! We passed lots of backpackers heading the same direction as us, and we hoped that we weren’t going to have to fight for a place to camp. As it turned out, we left them all behind, and once we were on the PCT heading south, we hardly saw another person.

The PCT is beautiful in this part of the Cascades. We walked through wildflower meadows with wide-open views of the Goat Rocks as well as Mt. Adams to the south. Perhaps the most inspiring of all was the section through the Cispus Basin - a wide, U-shaped valley with numerous streams, waterfalls, and flowers. Every half-mile or so, we would stop, take out the folded copy I had made of the aerial photo in Beckey’s book, and try to identify the various peaks and spires towering over the basin. We didn’t see Curtis-Gilbert, nor did we know exactly how we were supposed to get there.

Goat Rocks as seen from the PCT in Cispus Basin

As it turns out, the most direct route from this side involves leaving the PCT at the bottom of the basin and hiking up to a broad saddle near the base of "Black Thumb". However we didn’t know this at the time, nor did we see any climbers trail, so we continued along the PCT on the other side of the basin. The trail climbs the ridge and arrives at Cispus Pass (6400 feet). We had been thinking of trying the "West Side Variation" which involves following a faint trail from Cispus Pass underneath the rocky cliffs, then doubling back onto the ridge and approaching the summit from the south. From Cispus Pass, however, the route seemed too long, and we decided to go the standard west way. Not wanting to descend back to the basin, we took off along the ridge, traversing the scree slopes en route to the saddle. Dismayed at the loose rock, I was looking forward to reaching the base of the climb so that we would be on solid ground again. Little did I know ... !

Panoramic View of the Goat Rocks from Cispus Pass.

Finally we made it to the saddle above Cispus Basin, and I was ready to start the actual climb. We hadn’t yet found a place to camp, though, so I wanted to find a place to dump some of our camping gear. I suggested to Haydar several times that we leave some of our camping supplies behind, but I was met only with confused stares. Finally, he asked me, "WHY do you want to leave our tent behind?". I told him that I didn’t want to carry it all the way to the summit, and we can make camp after we climb. He looked a little confused, then said, "We’re climbing the mountain today?". Hmmm ... need to work on my communication skills.

So he agreed, and we left our camping gear behind a large rock. As we did this, we watched a herd of goats, at least 30 of them, climb around the rocks above us. Even the goats were dislodging rocks, which in retrospect should have worried us a bit. But still confident, we headed up a gully on our way towards the Goat Citadel. Here, Beckey is unclear about the correct way up to the top. There are several possible gullies, each filled with layers of loose rock with an occasional snowpatch or stream thrown in for variety. Evidently we took the wrong gully as we ended up too high on the rock and had to descend down the other side. We knew we were supposed to eventually pass underneath the Goat Citadel; however, every rock above us was starting to look like Goat Citadel from where we were standing! The loose-rock climbing was quickly frustrating us, and we didn’t know how close we were to the top. We kept heading up and to the south, hoping to at least catch a glimpse of the mountain we were trying to climb before being forced back down to make our camp.

Finally, we were up at the sheer rock face of Goat Citadel, and after a short descent we turned the corner and caught our first view of Curtis-Gilbert. From Goat Citadel there is a short, steep descent onto a wide, sandy ridge. From here the west ridge of Curtis-Gilbert leads up to the blocky summit. For us, it was both gratifying to finally see our goal, but frustrating because it looked too far away. It was already 5PM, and we didn’t want to do any of the descent, or find a place to camp, in the dark. However, we knew that if we didn’t climb the mountain today, we wouldn’t be coming back tomorrow. We had both had enough of the loose rock on the way up.

Finally, a view of Curtis Gilbert from the base of Goat Citadel.

So we decided to drop our packs and go for the summit as quickly as possible. We had a quick snack, grabbed our jackets, and started up the ridge. Surprisingly, we were finally on solid ground! In fact, this was the best rock on the mountain. We climbed directly over some of the blocky features on the ridge and reached the summit in only 20 minutes - much faster than we had expected. The summit view is dramatic - there is a steep rock face to the north, towering over the Curtis glacier. The Klickitat River drainage is to the South, and behind that rises Mount Adams. While we would have loved to spend more time on the summit, we knew we had a hellish descent ahead of us, and I was already dreaming of my dehydrated beef stew I had brought for dinner. And, unfortunately, we had left our cameras with our packs back under Goat Citadel - so no summit pictures!

Another view of Curtis-Gilbert (on the left), this time from the summit of Old Snowy.

The downclimb was an ordeal best to be forgotten. Every rock we stepped on began to slide, causing us to jump off before the rock accelerated down the slope, careening and bouncing out of sight. Luckily, there was no one around to get hit by our rockfall or to overhear the degradation of our language.

A view of Mt. Adams on the descent from Curtis Gilbert.

Finally we made it back to our stashed camping supplies, which were not, as I was beginning to fear, eaten by goats in our absence. Feeling good about making down the mountain safely and on a mission to make our camp, we set off towards the basin. Just below the saddle we found a nice flat spot for a tent, near a group of small trees and a tiny creek for our water. With the Goat Rocks towering overhead and a commanding view of the entire Cispus River Valley, it turned out to be the perfect camping spot.

Views of the Goat Rocks from our campsite above Cispus Basin.




Day 2: Old Snowy

The next morning we enjoyed a quiet breakfast, then climbed the rest of the way down back to the PCT. While there was no one on this section of the trail, we caught up with the throngs when we made it back to Snowgrass Flats. As it was still early in the morning, we continued on the PCT through the meadows up to the north side of Old Snowy. After the scree skiing of the previous day, the trail up the northern side of Old Snowy was a luxury. We quickly arrived at the summit and enjoyed the views of Curtis-Gilbert, the Goat Rocks, Mt. Adams, Mt. Ranier, and Goat Lake.

Old Snowy from the Snowgrass Flats trail.


That’s me on the summit of Old Snowy, with Goat Lake visible in the background.


Haydar on the summit of Old Snowy, with Curtis-Gilbert summit in the background.


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