PACKWOOD — Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens stood staunchly against the sky, silent silhouettes so big you felt you could reach out and touch them.
I’ve never seen three mountains so prominently before while standing on top of a peak until we backpacked the Goat Rocks Wilderness. It was a three-day, two-night trip in which we went about 24 miles.
The original plan was for a fairly easy backpacking trip about six to eight miles a night with minimal elevation gain. But we would end up more than halfway up a mountain by the end of the trip, scrambling over snowfields and scree piles to get to the top.
The focus of our trip was around Goat Lake in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. A lake covered by snow most of the year is the capstone of a large basin that looks out at the soaring peak of Mt. Adams.
I’ve done this trip before and to say it's beautiful is an understatement. The whole basin is a picturesque scene of cascading waterfalls over green cliff sides marked by alpine meadows on both sides. It is one of the most stunning places in Washington state and a fairly easy hike for the level of reward.
The Goat Lake trail is actually a loop and you can start from the Berry Patch or the Snowgrass trailhead. We took the left, Berry Patch, trailhead along the Goat Ridge Trail.
It starts a little bit steeper than the Snowgrass Trail and then sneaks around the far side of a hill rather than residing in the main basin where Goat Lakes sits.
On the northern slope of Goat Ridge, people can see Mt. St. Helens, which looks just like a large hill on the horizon. It took me a while to realize I was looking at Helens now that the mountain doesn’t have its top.
We didn’t get as far as planned the first day, due to the late start, and camped below the ridge up to Goat Lake in a bushy meadow between snowfields with a large creek nearby. Marmots scampered around the area.
The sunset that night was beautiful with a little bit of wildfire smoke creating orange and red hues. One of my backpacking buddies stayed up, took pictures of the stars and said he could see the entire Milky Way.
The next day we woke up and made it up over the ridge and back into the Goat Lake Basin. The view that greeted us was stunning, a huge valley plummeted before us, touched by fields of snow with pockets of green that were brushed with wildflowers.
We made our way around the edge of the basin carefully navigating snowfields that were not exactly treacherous, but a little nerve-wracking. I slipped one time and fell about six or seven feet, before hitting some dirt and then climbing back up onto the trail.
Goat Lake was still snow-covered and all that could be seen of it was a thin ring of icy-blue water around the edge.
We started walking back around the other side and ran into two women who told us that they camped at Old Snowy and that the view was beautiful. Our original plan was to camp at Sheep Lake, which was at a lower elevation, but the mosquitos were terrible this trip and we had passed several people with bug nets over their heads warning us about Sheep Lake.
So, my partners and I decided to try and climb up to the spot the two women were talking about. I felt somewhat hesitant about this plan. I hadn’t been backpacking a lot this year and I knew I wasn’t in the best shape, but we headed uphill.
As soon as we did, we reached these alpine meadows with huge erratic boulders that looked like something out of a movie. We looked over to our right and there was Mt. Adams, sitting prominently. It immediately felt worth the climb, but we weren’t done.
We then reached some large snowfields and started to cross over this warm, mushy snow. The sun beat down on us and reflection cooked us more thoroughly than a rotisserie chicken.
I luckily had brought an ice ax and I used it, plus a hiking pole, to carefully walk along the edge of snow-filled basins. At this point, my legs started to shake and I was worried about losing my balance and rolling downhill.
We got off of the snow, though, and looked straight up at least 500 feet at a giant scree pile and boulder field. At this point, I told my hiking partners I didn’t think I could make it to the top, but they were determined and kept going. I reluctantly followed.
We made it to two, tiny camping spots big enough for a bivy near the top of a mountain, but the view was amazing. We had a 180-degree view of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier and betwixt these giants, dozens of ridgelines highlighted by green and white.
We realized that we couldn’t stay the night on top of the mountain, though, so we marched back down to the meadow we had found and slept beneath Mt. Adams. We all agreed that the meadow was a much better choice and had a wonderful night of sleep.
The next day, we marched out of the Goat Rocks Wilderness, which was about nine miles downhill. When we got back to the car, mosquito-bitten and sunburned, two of us were utterly exhausted and one of us could probably could have kept going. However, it took me more than two days to recover.
It was a great trip.