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Goat Lake Loop

by Amanda Phillips
Woman backpacking in the goat rocks wilderness

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.

Goat Lake Loop hiking information

Snowgrass Flats

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.

Waterfall in the goat rocks wilderness
Snowgrass Flats in the Goat Rocks Wilderness
Fall colors in the goat rocks wilderness.
fall colors in the goat rocks wilderness

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.

Fall colors at snowgrass flats in the goat rocks wilderness.

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.

View of Mt Adams from Snowgrass flats.
View of Mt Adams from Snowgrass flats.
Sunset at snowgrass flats in the goat rocks wilderness.

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.

Yellow tent and Mt Adams near snowgrass flats.

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.

View of Mt Adams from Snowgrass flats.

Snowgrass Flats to Goat Lake

Mount Adams from the Goat Rocks Wilderness

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.

Mount Adams from the Goat Rocks Wilderness

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.

Mount Adams  and fall colors in the Goat Rocks Wilderness
Woman backpacking in the goat rocks wilderness
Woman at goat lake in the goat rock wilderness

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.

Goat lake in the goat rocks wilderness
Woman backpacking in the goat rocks wilderness
Valley view on the goat lake loop
Woman backpacking in the goat rocks wilderness

I traversed across the open basin, enjoying the birds-eye view of the route I walked through that morning. Eventually, I reached the junction to Goat Ridge and with it, the end of Jordan Basin. I looked up to Hawkeye Point, the rocky outcrop above Goat Lake. Unwilling to say goodbye to the views of Jordan Basin and Goat Lake, I decided that a side-trip was in order. I dropped my pack and began the climb.

Hawkeye Point

Trail to Hawkeye Point

Stunningly beautiful, I reached the first saddle and saw what I had hoped for: Mt. Rainier. This trip now provided up-close views of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens with her unique profile in the distance and now a summer view of Mt. Rainier. While I initially planned to stop after the first saddle, each view seemed a little better than the last and I convinced myself to go to just the next viewpoint until I found myself at the top.

View of Mt Rainier from Hawkeye Point
Route to Hawkeye Point in the goat rocks wilderness
View of Mt Rainier from Hawkeye Point

The trail leading to Hawkeye was pretty wide and not very sketchy, I felt totally safe doing it alone. Arriving at the summit was a slightly different matter. The route narrowed and the view over the side which dropped into nothingness on the other three sides caused my legs to quiver. I dropped my poles and slowly inched myself higher until I found that balance of amazing views but still within my comfortable level of risk. And oh, the views were good. At some point, the area was used as a lookout, which is no great surprise given that it was higher than most of the surrounding peaks, excluding Old Snowy.

View of Mt Rainier from Hawkeye Point.
View of Goat Lake from Hawkeye Point
View of Mt Adams and Mt St Helens from the Goat Lake trail

After sitting on the top as long as I was able, I bound back down the trail to the junction and made the turn that would take me home.

Goat Ridge

Ridge walk in the Goat Rocks wilderness
Fall colors in the goat rocks wilderness
Fall colors in the goat rocks wilderness

The trail steeply descends into (another) beautiful meadow, then across an open basin, with even more views. New fall colors lined the trail as it slowly meandered. I had been assured by other hikers that it was all downhill from the pass, but I kept finding uphill sections that made me pretty cranky. I had hit about 8 miles for the day with a much heavier than usual pack and I was ready to be done.

Fall colors in the goat rocks wilderness
Wildflowers in the goat rocks wilderness.
Fall colors in the goat rocks wilderness

I turned on a podcast, put my head down and before I knew it, made it to the first trailhead. Unfortunately, it was not my trailhead, so after taking a quick break, I put on my heavy pack and went down the connector trail for a half mile until my car finally came into view. I set my heavy pack down and sighed. First solo backpacking trip: done. Can’t wait to do it again!

Traditional Land Usage

This route is included in the Klickitat Trail System, an important trail system developed and used by Native Americans. The Gifford Pinchot forest and Goat Rocks Wilderness were important hunting and foraging grounds, and continue to be used for foraging. This area was used by the greater Yakama tribe, particularly the Klickitat and Taitnapam tribes. Places in the Goat Rocks show up in the Ichishkíin Sínwit (Sahaptin) language, such as píixatu for the Goat Rocks area an  a mountain goat hunting site called “shúuksh-ash: place of the knower‘, which may indicate a site with spirit power associations”(Hunn, 2003). 

In 1855, as a result of the Walla Walla Council and Yakima War, the Yakama tribe was forced to cede more than 11 million acres and moved onto their present reservation. The treaty was violated within two weeks by the governor and tribes have fought for sovereignty and access to traditional grounds since the treaty signing. 

Goat Rocks was included as a wilderness system in 1964 with the passage of the Wilderness Act. When traveling through this area, reflect on the traditional paths you are walking and the misnomer of “wilderness”. This stolen land was, and continues to be, an important area to many people long  

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Enjoy one of the best loops in the state in the Goat Rocks Wilderness
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