Golden light washed over my toes and with it came a peace. I had given a gift to myself by taking those first steps into the Goat Rocks Wilderness and now I could enjoy the moment, fully, without distraction. As I sat with the quiet joy, the realization that this was enough, I was enough, rooted deep within me and filled me with a confident strength. My first solo backpacking trip, completing the Goat Lake loop was perhaps the best choice I could have made.
I was confident in my backpacking skills. I had no doubt that pending any large disasters, I could successfully make my way through the wilderness and emerge on the other side with minimal physical harm. The part that scared me was the hour before darkness fell. The quiet moment when the chores were over and the time when, normally, I would sit next to my companions, remark how beautiful it was, how we were the lucky ones. It has strengthened my friendships, relationship with my partner and now I needed to discover if it could strengthen my relationship with myself.
What would it feel like to be truly alone with my thoughts? Would I be so filled with fear of wild animals, cracking trees, nefarious hikers with ill intentions that I wouldn’t sleep a wink? Could I consider myself a whole, strong woman if I was too scared to be alone with my thoughts for a night? A silent fear had always been running in the background, that I simply wasn’t capable of doing it alone.
It was no accident that I chose to backpack alone the day before a woman would stand before the country and bravely display her hurt to the world; I wanted to steel myself for the storm I knew was coming. Root down deep into the loamy earth, remember all that I am capable of before the world around me became the dark dumpster fire it has revealed itself to be. Now, as I continue to wake up in a world where my government dismisses survivors to protect a man’s reputation, I can look back to those two days. I can remember when I found a fear, addressed it and came out stronger for it. The golden light that touched my upturned cheeks soaked in, filling my spine until I stood taller and prouder than ever before. I had survived so much more than this and will continue to survive despite a world that refuses to recognize women’s stories.
By the time I reached the car, the internal voices that whispered that I simply wasn’t capable, that I did not belong alone in the woods had quieted. I quelled them with each footstep until it became laughable. I was capable, I did belong here and I can’t wait to do it again.
I arrived at the coffee shop in Packwood, grabbed a little caffeine and a cookie then began the long trip up the mountain road. An hour later, I reached the parking lot, put on my gear, took one last look at my car and headed out on the trail. I have taken the first tentative steps on a trail so many times before, but this time I was alone and I would stay alone until tomorrow. Inhale, exhale and step.
I walked about 800 feet, stopped, completely changed my layer system, ok, now I am ready! Miles seemed to crawl as I walked through the flat section that marks the trail to snowgrass flats. I passed the bridge, remembering the previous summer when we stopped to swim. We stood in the freezing pool on a hot summer day, today to swim would have required laying down in the rocky pool.
After crossing the bridge, the trail began to switchback, and my optimism began to wane. Carrying a solo pack and a bear can was heavy and though the incline felt mild compared to Sunday, I could feel each step in my hips as I propelled up the hill. Hearing a waterfall, I peeled off the trail for lunch. Sitting next to the rushing water, I gobbled down my shawarma and enjoyed the quiet moment of solitude.
Then it was back on the trail and I reached snowgrass flats shortly after. Trails crisscrossed in every direction and it was time to make a decision. The initial plan was to push to Goat Lake to spend the night. Snowgrass looked so beautiful, however, the thought of leaving seemed impossible. I decided to hike a bit on the PCT for a few extra views before heading over on the Lily Basin trail. The short detour turned into half a mile, as I wandered through the meadow unable to stop gazing at Mt. Adams. Velvet meadows of copper stretched below, punctuated by stunted evergreens.
I began to rethink Goat Lake and started to hunt for the perfect campsite, but alas, most of the water sources had dried out. Dejected and thirsty, I turned back, remembering a noisy stream near the junction below. New plan: return to the junction, filter water and head to Goat Lake.
After filling my belly with cold water, I set out towards Goat Lake. I passed perfect campsite after another. Views of meadows, Mt. Adams, seriously spectacular scenery with solitude abound. Now that I had a full pack of water and no real reason to go to Goat Lake tonight, my pace began to slow and I looked longingly at every tent spot I passed.
I rounded the corner and Jordan Basin along with Goat Lake came into view. It was fully covered in a dark shadow and the wind blew ferociously against my back. I looked at the cold, barren hills near Goat Lake, and the warm, inviting spots just off the trail, slowly turned around and decided to stay at Snowgrass for the night.
Directly to my left was a faint bootpath to a ridge. Over the summer I learned that small bootpaths often led to spectacular campsites, and this seemed to prove the rule. A sliver of the durable surface just large enough for a one-person tent stood above the meadow. Views of Mt. Adams to one side and into Jordan Basin on the other, I knew I had found my spot for the night.
I set up the tent, ate the second half of my schawarma and contemplated what to do with the rest of the evening. I had about two hours left of daylight and all of my chores were finished. I wandered around the little bluff and found a much larger, more protected campsite. After thoroughly inspecting my overnight habitat, I grabbed my book, read a little, lay in the sun and generally relaxed. Before too long, the sun began to set and I crawled into the little solo tent I borrowed from Meg. The sun began to sink lower in the sky, casting a golden radiance and lighting the mountain with an alpenglow. Decidedly cozy in my sleeping bag, the perfect view at my toes, I was quite content.
I continued watching until the sun dipped below the horizon and then lay down in the tent, ready to settle into bed. After about two minutes, I realized there would be little sleep that night if I didn’t find a new place to pitch the tent. While logically, I knew that I wouldn’t roll off the edge of this cliff, I realized I would spend the entire night worrying that I would and would thus have a horrible nights sleep. I then remembered the flat, welcoming tent pad about 50 feet away in the trees I had spotted earlier.
After being the dreaded “you did not sleep there” person, I moved the tent and had a very restful night of sleep. My fear of not seeing very many stars was rendered unnecessary as a bright moon shone shined like a streetlight into my little clearing. Looking out over Jordan Basin, I saw I could walk to Goat Lake that evening without a headlamp. Happy that I didn’t have to, I snuggled back down into my sleeping bag and didn’t wake until sunrise began to light up the hills.
Snowgrass Flats to Goat Lake
I woke up to a small pink cloud and rushed out of the tent. I grabbed my sleeping quilt and ran to the overlook where Mt. Adams was beginning to glow. I pulled out my stove, made some coffee and enjoyed the sunrise.
When the magnificent colors revealed a bright morning, I head back to the tent and packed up for the day. Hoisting my heavy pack on my back, I wandered down my little knoll and back onto the main trail.
Looking out towards Goat Lake, I could see that the area covered by shadows the previous night was retreating and I was walking into the sunshine.
This is one of my favorite parts of the trail. Nice and open, the trail wove through golden meadows then through small trees, over tinkling brooks and then to a magnificent traverse nearing Goat Lake. The last time I finished this route was mid-summer, where the green slopes paired with a bright blue sky. This time, green slopes turned to a golden brown, punctuated with reds, orange and yellow for a spectacular fall landscape.
After about two miles, I reached the outlet of Goat Lake. Utterly still and devoid of other people, I settled on a rock, took out my breakfast and sat for nearly an hour, enjoying the solitude. Two mountain goats climbed high above the lake, occasionally causing rocks to tumble down while a marmot galumphed up and down the talus field. The morning stillness was oh, so lovely.
As time slipped away, I realized it was time to pack up and continue on the journey. I wove up the hillside as the lake became smaller and bluer. Mt. Adams, however, seemed to grow.