I climbed Goat within 3 months of beginning my quest to complete the Washington county highpoints. Cowlitz County is the neighboring county to the north, and I wanted to get the nearby ones done soon. On a brilliant Sunday during an extremely dry spell with very low humidity and a temperature inversion, it seemed like a good time to solo this one. If I got hurt, I could survive the night without too much discomfort while waiting for a rescue party. It's my ankles that I worry about.
When I parked at the saddle and started up the little trail on the ridge toward the peak, very soon there was a brand new horse/ATV trail to cross. At first I wondered if this trail might actually switchback up the peak, so I followed it north quite some distance before giving up on it. But I knew that trail was there, so I thought that if I did become disoriented in the trees, I could just continue down-slope in the forest until encountering the trail, then hike south until hitting the little ridge leading to the car.
I wound up going back to the SW ridge and working my way up in the brush, talus, and close-growing young second growth trees. My first mistake had been starting from home too late. During the ascent I kept looking back for clues on how to get back down without losing my way, since there wouldn't be much daylight to spare and I couldn't afford any time-consuming navigational challenges. I had set a turn-around time of 5PM, which should give me plenty of time to get down before dark. By the time I summitted, then went over to the north peak and back, it was 5PM, and the sun was getting lower than felt comfortable. I had taken note of the spot I hit the south ridge on the ascent, but when I got there I became confused on the exact descent route. I had lined up the descent angle with some features in the distance, but when I was looking for those features, the sun completely blinded me, and I couldn't be sure that I was selecting the correct ones. Then there was the second mistake, not getting out the map and compass to determine the proper heading. The GPS that I used then (the Garmin eTrex Venture model) is not good at picking up the signals in the trees, so I didn't have a breadcrumb trail. I started down what seemed to be the right direction, but not finding the beaten track I expected, I began to wonder if that was the way to go. My mind kept replaying the tape about the "SW ridge route", and I was going straight west. So before entering the trees, I decided to work my way south a bit and look for the use trail that brought me up. Presently I found a trail, and it seemed to be heading down the SW ridge, so I happily headed down. The trail was good, and seemed to be even better than the one I had ascended (should have been a red flag!!). After awhile, however, I began to get this feeling that something was wrong. The terrain seemed different, and the trail was too well beaten. I decided to go to the top of the ridge and take a look from there. Instead of more forest, there was a deep ravine with cliffs on both sides, plus cliffs not too far below me. It seemed like I might be able to see the rig from here, and sure enough I spotted it with little trouble. But there was no safe way to get there, and I knew that I couldn't get back up high enough to cross the ravine and still get down before dark. The sun was sitting on the horizon, and would plunge straight down, leaving much less twilight than we're accustomed to during the summer this far north.
I was able to climb back up to where the ravine was crossable, then out onto the next ridge. At first I wasn't even sure that THIS was the place to be, but soon I saw a spot that I remembered on the ascent, and I knew that at least I was on the correct ridge. However, it was now very dark, and the terrain was steep with loose talus under the brush. I kept running into barriers that seemed too risky and difficult, so finally decided to head over into the trees and try to descend using the headlamp. Even this was pretty scary because of the steepness of the terrain and the looseness of the footing. I feared an injury more than I feared a bivouac, so after a short time of trying to find a good way down, I finally gave up and started looking instead for a spot flat enough for comfortable sleep. Soon I found it, and started preparing for the long night. I ALWAYS carry warm clothes, extra water, extra food, a space blanket, an insulating "sit pad", and other survival stuff. The first thing to do was to put on warm dry clothes. Long johns, warm outer pants, fleece-lined wind pants, all my dry layers of shirts, fleece, rain gear, head cover, and gloves were donned. I sat down on the sit pad, layed back on my pack, wiggled into my space blanket, and tried to get comfortable.Sleep was non-existent. I was concerned about my family who would surely get very worried by probably 9PM. I kept thinking that I should go ahead and try the descent in the dark, and nearly did so on a couple of occasions. I knew that my wife would understand that I'm always well-prepared for just such a situation. I've been late coming out of the mountains on two extended trips in the past, due to bad weather that kept us pinned in our tents for days. But this was different, and I feared that she would understand less this time.
Intermittent sleep finally came, but the night seemed interminable. I must have turned several times in my sleep, and the space blanket started disintegrating down by my boots, letting cold air into my cocoon. Happily the night was not all that cold, considering it was October in the Pacific Northwest. The temperature inversion and being in the forest helped as well. Only a few times during the night did a breeze threaten my warmth, but otherwise it was totally calm and I stayed very comfortable.
In the morning I could see that there was an opening in the trees not too far away, but in a direction I really didn't want to go. However, I decided to go over there anyway and get a GPS reading. Sure enough, the car was only a quarter of a mile distant, and 600 feet below. I went back into the trees and started down in relatively open terrain with only a few patches of brush and few downed logs to deal with. The terrain soon improved with less steepness and surer footing. It wasn't long before I came across the aforementioned trail, and a short hike south took me to the rig.
I drove down to the Lewis River highway, and being ravenously hungry I drove toward Cougar looking for a café. Since the cell phone wasn't working in this rather remote area, I called home from a pay phone. My wife said that she had called the sheriff last evening, telling them all the possible options on where I might be parked, based on the trip reports for Cowlitz County on www.cohp.org. They promised to start the search at first light. Of course she was relieved to hear from me, and sent out an e-mail to all the folks she had asked to "Pray for Bob". Then I enjoyed one of the best breakfasts I can ever remember. Just as I drove out of the little village I saw a big sheriff pickup swing onto the highway up ahead, and come toward me. I figured they were looking for my burgundy 4Runner, so I flashed my lights and pulled off to the side of the road. They swung around and parked behind me. We chatted for quite awhile, and they told me that there had been I believe it was three other lost parties that weekend, with the perfect hunting season weather. They confirmed that a large percentage of these situations happened to folks who simply ran out of daylight, as I had. They had been to all the possible parking spots, and had seen where I had parked, and that I had driven away. I didn't know those guys were professional trackers.
When I got home I was amused to discover that quite a list of options had been discussed as to what had happened to me. Since I was near Cougar, my daughter's greatest fear was that I had been attacked by one. But nobody thought about getting temporarily lost and running out of daylight.They probably figured that since I had a headlamp, darkness wouldn't be an issue. Looking back on the experience, I wouldn't bivy again in those circumstances. I would have come down in the dark, knowing that the trail was below. Hindsight....
I have a saying that I use when returning to my vehicle at the end of a hike, especially when my feet are aching: "The best sight known to man is his vehicle". That was never more true than on the morning of October 14, 2002.