The ApproachI've had my eye on the Goat Rocks in southern Washington for some time now. My first idea was a solo trip to Cold Lake and a summit of Tieton Peak, but I had to cancel those plans due to bad weather. Two weeks later, a promising forecast, a three day weekend, and partner to share the trip with were enough to finally explore this wonderful area. My main scrambling partner of the last two years and I took a Friday off from work and drove the 3 hours from Portland to the Snowgrass Trailhead. Our plan was to hike trail 96 and cutoff trail 97 to the PCT and make our way to Cispus Basin. From here we would set up camp and scrabmle as many peaks as we could over the weekend. I ended up having my best experience in Washington's mountains so far, and learned some lessons about hydration, route finding, and staying with your partner.
Trevin and I left Portland at a leisurely 8:45 am on Friday morning and drove to the Snowgrass Trailhead. We arrived at about 11:30 and were promptly greeted by a gentle misting of mosquitoes. After a less than refreshing shower of DEET we threw our packs on and headed out on the trail. The first couple miles slowly descended to a bridged river crossing, and then began to gain elevation as we made our way to Snowgrass Flats. About a mile after we started to gain elevation, Trevin began to move a little more slowly. Shortly after that we had to stop to rest as he was feeling dizzy and lightheaded. "I've never felt like this before" he said as we waited for the dizzyness to subside. Without going into details for his sake, we peiced together that he was probably dehydrated from an illness the previous two days. Since we had more than enough time, we took it slow and made sure he drank plenty of water as we made our way towards our destination.
About a mile and a half from Snowgrass Flats, we ran into an older couple who were returning from a summit of Ives Peak. They gave us a brief synopsis of the Ives trail and a heads up that there were several "impassable" waterfalls ahead. Soon after we parted ways we discovered what they were talking about. After scampering over a couple easy creek crossings we came across a moderately difficult one. It took about 8 steps to cross and required some careful foot and trekking pole placements, but we made it across without wet feet. As we approached the PCT's crossing of the Cispus River we took note of a couple deer grazing in the meadow below and began to look for the established camp site located at this crossing. We didn't see it right away and began to hike up the western slopes of Cispus Basin looking for a place to set up camp.
Why They Call 'em the Goat Rocks
I was a couple hundred feet above Trevin when I spotted a mountain goat and his / her kid. I froze so I didn't startle them and pulled out my camera for a couple pictures. After a few seconds of staring at me, they began to scamper off. I wasn't satisfied with the pictures I had taken, so I threw off my pack and gave chase. I hadn't seen a moutain goat in over a year and the sight of the goat and it's kid gave me a burst of energy I didn't know was possible. As quickly and as quietly as possible I sprinted after them, snapping a few more decent pictures before they finally lost me. At this point I was at about 6800 feet and when I looked up the ridge and saw a dozen more goats making their way west across a flat spot around 7400 feet.
I snapped some photos, and then sprinted back to where I had dumped my pack to find Trevin. He had never seen mountain goats before so I was eager to show them to him. He was pretty exhaused when I found him, but he slowly made it up to the 6800 point where I had last seen them. They were gone. I suggested skirting around the ridge to see if we could spot them coming out on the other side, but he wasn't up for it. I went by myself and saw 6-7 more heading back east, one of which had a yellow tracker box around his neck. I came back around the ridge and Trevin and I made our way back to where we had left our packs. He was pretty tired and still dehydrated, so we just decided to set up camp there. He pulled out his air mattress and rested while went to get a bucket of water for us. As I was filling up I looked over at the slopes just to the west of "the" goat rocks and was completely shocked to see 40 more goats hanging out on the scree!!!
I had seen maybe 10 mountain goats in my entire life and had just quintupled that number in the matter of 20 to 30 minutes. I ran back up to camp and pointed out the goats to Trevin. We sat there and watched them scramble around for about half and hour until they eventually made their way over the pass to the north.
After another hour of rest and about 4 liters of water in Trevin's stomach (he was kinda thirsty...) we loaded up our day packs and make our way up to the pass we had seen the goats on. When we got to the pass there were no goats to be seen so we looked around for some peaks to summit. Trevin was curious if there was any class 3 or 4 routes on the NW end of "the" goat rocks, which was just east of the pass we were at. I offered to scramble up the scree to the base of the rocks to check it out while he rested. He took me up on the offer and I made my way up.
As I reached a high spot, I startled 6 or so goats resting there. Two took of to the north, and four went east toward the rock formations. I snapped a couple photos and quietly crept north following the two goats making sure to step on the large rocks instead of the scree as to not disturb or startle any other goats that might be in the area. As I reached a point where the valley to the north along with Tieton Peak came into view I discovered where the 40 goats we had seen earlier ran off to. They were all hanging out on a sandy flat spot about 30 feet in front of me. I was successful in not startling the goats, but my scent gave me away and they eventually took notice of my presence. Most of them occasionally glanced over at me as I took pictures, but a few of the parent goats decided to take their kids across a snow field to leave the area. Not wanting to break up the goat convention, I quietly retreated after I had a few good pics to remember the experience.
Day One's Scrambling
After seeing the goats and quickly and easily determining that there were no safe scrambling opportunities in the area, Trevin and I headed west and summited peak 7476. It was a short and easy class 2/3 hike up to the summit and had amazing views of Ives Peak, Old Snowy, McCall Glacier, and Rainier off in the distance.
We determined that we had about 3-4 hours of daylight left and after some discussion, I was able to convince Trevin to scramble over and summit Ives via the east ridge. "Ok..." he said, "but don't be surprised if I tell you I hate you in an hour and a half." I smiled and we made our way down to the saddle between 7476 and Ives, then over to Ives' east ridge. Apparently there is some sort of trail up to the summit, but from where we were at we decided to just stick to the rocks and boulders. This was a pretty fun scramble. Most of it was class 3 on solid predictable boulders, but I was able to find a couple sections of class 4 rock to scramble up for some extra challenge and enjoyment. The view from the summit was truly amazing! Of all the peaks I summited over this weekend, this view had to be the best. Trevin also agreed with me. He said "Do you remember when I said I was going to hate you in an hour and a half? Well, I was wrong... this is awesome!" We soaked in the views for a few minutes and then headed back to camp. We cooked some food while I played guitar, enjoyed a wonderful sunset, and stared at the stars until we went to bed at 11:00.
Day Two: a Tale of Seperation
We slept in super late in the morning and got up at 9:00. We ate some breakfast, packed up our daypacks, and headed out to climb some more peaks. The primary goal for the day was to climb Gilbert Peak, the tallest in the Goat Rocks. I also had my eye on peak 6735 to the south of Cispus Pass ever since we got there, so we decided to start with that one.
We made our way around Cispus Basin and hiked up a snow crease eventually topping out on peak 6872. It was at this point I wish we would have done things a little differently. Looking south along the ridgeline towards peak 6735, Trevin decided it wasn't worth it to him to go down, up, down, and up again just to climb peak 6735. I, on the other hand, was all about it and didn't want to leave the area without climbing it. After thinking about the situation we came up with a few ideas: He could wait on 6872 for me to summit and return, or we could both go to Gilbert now and I could run over and tag 6735 on the way back. He didn't like either of these as they both involved him waiting for me at some point. We finally decided that he would start heading toward Gilbert and I would head over to 6735, summit it, and catch up to him when I could. I usually hike a good deal faster than him so it sounded like a good idea. This turned out to be not such a good idea as the route over to Gilbert was a class 3 traverse where good route finding was needed to avoid class 4 and 5 terrain. More on that in a second.
I wanted to bag peak 6735 as quickly as possible so I literally ran along the ridge over to the base of the peak. As I approached the north ridge of 6735 it looked a little steeper than I had imagined, but looked well within my ablities. I began to scramble up the class 3/4 ridge which was pretty fun until about 70 feet below the summit. Here it got a little steeper and I decided I had better try and find an easier route up. I traversed to the left across some dirty ledges and eventually found a comfortalbe scramble to summit. It was a pretty fun climb all in all, but could easily get ugly if your route finding and decision making are poor. I didn't want to down climb the north ridge so I went south, wrapped around the west face, and traversed the snow and scree below the cliffs. It sucked. I slipped once on the snow and scraped my knee a little and the footing on the scree was terrible. Eventually I just glissaded down a snow patch and over to a grassy area where I re-gained the ridge and made my way back up to peak 6872 where I had left Trevin. We had discussed the route to take over to Gilbert... stick to the band of white aggragate, follow the goat path, etc. so I had a pretty good idea where he would be. I made my way down to the base of the rocks and started to make my way up.
As I started to climb, the terrain around me looked a little intimidating. Solid footing and hand holds are plentiful, but are difficult to pick out through all the loose rock and dirt with out a good eye for route finding. About 20 minutes into the climb I hear Trevin's voice calling my name from just up ahead. "Sweet!" I thought, "I'm catching up to him quicker that I thought!" I responded with a "Yeah!?" and continued on looking for him. Five minutes later I hear him again, but this time behind me. I turned around and saw him on a ledge below and behind me. I yelled out "What are you doing?" and he replied "I got stuck man, this sucks! I kept running into class 5 sh**... I almost died twice! I'm heading back." We both just stood there for about 10 minutes. I wasn't having any trouble finding my way across the rock, but Trevin obviously was and didn't want to continue. He was almost to the base of the rocks so I asked him if he could find a safe route down. He said he would be ok, so he continued down and I continued up. This is a really confusing traverse with all the spires, gullies, and undulating terrain. I knew the route was to traverse across the white aggragate and avoid going up too much, but as I continued there was no obvious path to follow so I went up anyway as it was more comfortable. It turned out ok as I just had to descend some snow and scree for a couple hundred feet to reach the final saddle below Gilbert Peak. The rest of the way was just a class 2 dirt and rock march up to the final class 3 summit block. I hit the summit, took a self photo from the west summit, ate an energy bar and headed back the way I came.
I actually had more fun on the downclimb than on the way up. I took basically the same route back, but dropped down one of the earlier gullies and traversed my way back to the pass. I had a blast route finding on the way down, stoping every 50 steps or so to look for the path with the most solid footing... down climbing is fun! Once I gained the pass I made my way back through the snow and found Trevin safely at camp. Although I had a really fun time the second day, Trevin felt it was the "scarriest and stupidest thing I (he) had ever done". We both learned some valuable lessons that day.
I was disappointed to hear my climbing partner of the last two years say that a climb I enjoyed so much was hell for him. When we were on top of peak 6872 and decided to go seperate ways, I figured he would be able to navigate through the class 3 terrain with out any problems. We had been on a dozen or so scrambles together including the Big Gully route of Castle Peak, ID and other challenging scrambles and hadn't had any problems like this before. After the trip when I got to thinking about the situation I realized that it was route finding ability that made this climb so difficult for him. Usually when we hike together I'm a little faster so I end up going first with him following. That leaves most of the route finding on the trips we do up to me which I am pretty comfortalbe with, but has robbed him of the valuable experience of finding the safest route up a given peak. Had we simply stuck together I know for a fact that he would have been able to complete the traverse as he is a very good climber. Fortunately his decision making is top notch and he was able to turn back without getting himself hurt or worse. Next time we scramble together, we're sticking together... and I think I'll let him lead.