IntroductionIn recent weeks the weather in Washington has changed dramatically from 80 days of very dry weather to being very wet with temperatures ranging from warmer to cooler. Unfortunately for me and many others in Washington this has meant that a lot of time getting cabin fever. There have been a lot of trips cancelled, altered, and diverted due to the bad weather. The impacts of all these cancelled trips were really starting to have an impact on me. What made these feelings get strong was the fact that I knew there were still a number of places that were in their peak fall color and really wanted to get to those locations to see the trees. In Washington there is a lot of focus rightly on the alpine larches in the Enchantments and the northern Cascades. But the often overlooked western larches in central and southern Washington provide great color in late October which is a month after the alpine larches. It was really getting to me that I wasn’t able to capture as much of the western larches as I had wanted to.
Unfortunately on the only good day this week weather wise, I had to work in the evening. Well there is always the morning which brought me to Goat Peak about 30 miles east of Mount Rainier. For this trip I invited friends Matt and Gabe on the trip. I knew they are both fast with Matt climbing over 100 mountains this year with this summit probably being one of the easiest for him to do. Gabe though recovering from a number of health issues once ran a marathon only to do power lifting that night. I knew that if there were two people who could go fast these were the two to do it. The drive to the Goat Peak from the Seattle metro area was a little over two hours away so I knew that we could not take much time on this mountain on ascent or descent.
Heading UpWhen we pulled up to the trailhead located right at Route 410 we surveyed the landscape to see if there was any snow on the mountains. We concluded that there was not much snow so we decided to dump most of our gear and started up the mountain. That of course with exception for Gabe, who decided to carry his heavy lab-top due to the fact that he couldn’t trust anything in his own apartment or at the trailhead. Matt out of respect for us decided to go up at a leisurely quarter speed for him, which was quiet fast for us but we were able to keep up with him. The bottom of the trail was well paced and in good shape and with no snow on it we were able to make great timing on the trail. Though the bottom of the trail was mostly forest there were occasional peek-a-boo views of Fifes Peak just to the north of Goat Peak.
Once the trail reached the upper section the views really began to come out towards Fife Ridge to the north. The western larches which are now in peak were looking very pretty were coming out the higher we went on the trail. The morning light though was not good on the way up and looking toward the true summit the mountain was still quite foggy. The trail here stayed at a good pace and stayed in good condition though there was one section at the 5200 foot marker where the side traversing on the trail might have been a little interesting in icy conditions. The trail had a steep drop-off to the north that went a little ways and the footing was a little iffy. Nothing of concern when the trail is dry, but if it icy you might want to be a little cautious.
Within around an hour and forty minutes or less we were on the summit of Goat Peak. For once Gabe was not the first to make it to the summit of this peak. He was the last to summit the mountain largely because is backpack was located with 25-30 pounds of extra stuff and junk. Both Matt and I laugh after hearing all the odd stuff he brought onto this trip. None of it was a tent, crampons, ice axe or light sleeping bag so we had to laugh about this.
Just before the summit the fog partly cleared up and views toward Mount Rainier really began to open up. Soon after we reached the top other views opened up, such as the distant Mount Stuart, and the rest of the Stuart range dominating the northeastern skyline. The views though toward nearby Mount Aix remained blocked by the fog throughout our stay on the summit. All of us were impressed by the huge summit register that lies on this mountain. That summit register was huge but there were only a couple of signatures in it. We all took our time to sign the book. After 30 minutes on the summit the wind and comparably cooler air started to get the best of us and decided to head back.
Descending the Gabe WayAs soon as we headed down the mountain Gabe decided to make a run for it down the mountain. He did not have a camera and so he wanted to get down the mountain to keep his heart rate up as much as possible. Matt and I though took a little more time heading down. Now the lighting on the western larches was perfect and we really wanted to capture the pictures of these beautiful larches. We did jog down the trail from time but this was really the time for us to take in all that we were seeing.
From time to time we saw beautiful larch groves on our trip down and survey the possibly of doing Fifes Peak in the future. We ran into a couple of other hikers who told us that they saw our friend way down the mountain near the trailhead while we about 1600 feet from the trailhead. We then picked up the pace a little. In just over an hour from the summit which included all the stops for camera shot we were back at the trailhead where we were able to enjoy a nice burger on the way back to Seattle. Mostly importantly I was back in town 3 hours before I had to go work.