Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Day 137: Cispus River to White Pass

Goat Rocks Wilderness is incredible! Our trail traversed steep, grassy hillsides blanketed with wildflowers: purple and white lupine, red paintbrush, red and yellow columbine, daisies, white cow parsnip, and fuzzy Who-like pasqueflower seed heads were a few of the many colorful flowers we saw. We crossed several small, icy snowmelt streams, and passed below a mossy, twenty foot waterfall.

Looking back we saw the glacier and snowfield covered Mount Adams towering over the other mountains and ridges to the south. Mount Saint Helens rose to the west, ashen and snow free. Ahead lay steep, grassy alpine slopes topped with jagged knife-edge ridges and peaks still adorned with white patches of snow. Climbing up to a saddle, a beautiful frozen alpine lake (Goat Lake) nestled in beneath the peaks, a waterfall tumbling from beneath the sheet of ice choking its outlet stream.

We continued climbing to the ridge (7,040 ft), then followed the knife edge of the ridge, which dropped off precipitously on both sides. Looking down, we saw a steep talus field to our right and the Packwood Glacier to our left. Surrounding us were the snowy Goat Rocks. Towering in the distance we saw the glacier and snow covered Mount Rainier.

After following the ridge for a few miles we descended into an alpine paradise of grassy meadows filled with wildflowers. Icy cold creeks meandered through the meadows, spilling out from under large snowfields.

Eventually the trail dipped back into the forest. Although we enjoyed the easier walking - the ridgetop and alpine meadows had slow, rocky trail - we missed the views, and would gladly have traded the soft forest trail for rockier alpine terrain.

We climbed briefly onto a volcanic ridge, passing red and black lava rock. Fields of fragrant lupine and wooly pasqueflowers grew on the rocky hillside. Some of the pasqueflower seed heads were tousled by the wind, and looked like Dr. Suess's Whos with bedhead.

We dropped back into the forest as the sun was setting, finishing the final descent to White Pass (4,405 ft) in the dark.

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