Sunday, September 7, 2014

White Pass to Goat Rocks

When through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail are asked about the most memorable portions of their trip, the Goat Rocks rank as number two, behind, of course, the Sierras.

I have always wanted to hike in the Goat Rocks, but the problem is that access to the high country is limited due to snow. And, it is a demanding hike.

Since it is the first week in September, I realized that this might be my one last chances this year to go there. So I did.

The start of my journey began at the Clear Creek parking lot at White Pass, which is at 4459 feet. The highest point in the Goat Rocks is at about 7600 feet. There is a lot of elevation gain. What is not immediately apparent is that there is also is a lot of elevation LOSS. And what goes DOWN on the trail usually goes back UP.

The following elevation profile was enhanced from"Guthook's PCT Guide" for the iPhone:
Elevation Profile - Start of hike is on the right (clear creek)
Note: Guthook has wonderful guides showing the entire trails for the PCT, CDT and the AT.
Get them for iPhone or Android. You'll be glad you did!

I left my vehicle and filled out a wilderness permit at the trail head.

Parked just beside me was a "trail angel". This is a name given to people who help PCT through hikers. He had his barbecue set up and there were about a dozen PCT hikers enjoying his food. There was even one guy dunking his therm-a-rest mattress in the creek trying to find an air leak, which he did find. This is a great spot for someone to do "trail magic". Perhaps Debbie and Patti would be waiting there to feed me next year!

As the map above shows, the trail rises up CONTINUOUSLY from the start. But that was OK, because I was pumped with adrenaline. And, I was on a mission.

My original plan was to perhaps camp at Ginnette Lake, which is just under two miles from the trail head. But, because I made it to the trail so early, I passed on by the lake and headed to the top of the mountain. My reasoning was that if I could reach the top, then it was DOWN HILL until I could find a place to camp. What I didn't know, however, was that the places to camp after I was heading down were few and far between. There is no camping at Shoe Lake, which would have been perfect.

It took a couple of hours to trudge my way to the top. On the way up I met two through hikers and told them about the "trail angel" at White Pass.

They said, "Really, do you think he's still there?" At that, they started RUNNING down the trail, and yelled back, "Oh, THANK YOU, thank you so much for telling us!"

I hope they made it in time.

I got to the top of the mountain at 7 PM and started down.

I met several through hikers. The first was a young man and woman who were excited to learn that I was planning to hike the trail next year. They gave me a tip about re-supply points. First, do not resupply at Mojave; instead resupply at Tehachapi. They said it was easy to hitch a ride to Tehachapi, whereas it was hard to find a ride to Mojave. They even heard a story about a hiker who hitched to Mojave and was murdered! Yikes!

They also told me to resupply at Government Camp and at Trout Lake. I'll have to keep that in mind.

The next through hiker I met had the trail name "45", which was likely his age. He was headed out to White Pass and then was headed for a zero day (a day off from hiking, zero miles on the trail).

When I mentioned wanting to find a camping spot, he said, "Oh, no! Do you realize that there are not many places to camp, and the trail just around the corner goes over some HUGE rocks?"

That made me feel pretty stupid about my planning!

The picture below was taken just after getting over the top.
It was in the area of the "huge rocks" that 45 told me about.
The sun is starting to set.
Evening on the PCT - the trail goes through a rock slide. In the distance are the Goat Rocks
With darkness rapidly approaching, I scurried on down the trail.
Sure enough, there were no likely camping spots to be found.
I pulled out my iPhone and checked Guthook's data file, which shows mileage points on the trail, sources of water, and most importantly, camping spots.

The nearest camping spot was Hidden Springs, which was also a reliable source of water.

Even though I was almost running down the trail, darkness descended.
It was time to get out my headlamp, which, of course, was at the bottom of my pack.
But, I found it, turned it on (yes, it had good batteries), and got it mounted above my hat,

I continued on in the dark, watching and searching for the trail to Hidden Springs.
Before long, I found the trail and the camp ground.

To my surprise, the camp was filled entirely with PCT through hikers!

Several had already set up camp. Another group had arrived just before me and claimed a nice spot. They too were wearing head lamps.

After several minutes of searching, I found a flat spot by a log and set up my tent in the dark. I ate a few bites of pizza that I brought with me, but I was too excited and exhausted to eat much.

I curled up in my sleeping bag and listened to the through hikers tell stories.

They were laughing and laughing about "mosquito-net guy". Apparently they met a guy who kept wearing a mosquito net, even though there were no bugs. He also acted funny, although I could not hear all of the details. Finally the conversation turned to food. Both of the guys said they could eat two dinners tonight, and still be hungry.

I fell asleep well after hiker midnight (9 PM). I was really excited about seeing the Goat Rocks!

The next morning, I woke at 6, had breakfast, and was on the trail by 7. I was hoping to talk to some of the through hikers, but they had talked and joked far into the night, and were still asleep.

Here is a picture of my tent site that I took the next morning:

My camping site at Hidden Springs
The trail provided easy walking since it was LOSING altitude. I must have walked for over an hour before heading up.

Along the way I passed several PCT hikers who were heading north. They were all friendly, but seemed in a hurry, so I didn't stop them to chat.

Once the trail started climbing it did so in earnest. I caught up with another gentleman who was headed the same way. We passed each other several times.

I tried to take a picture of me with a back drop of Mt. Rainier. I guess the camera really wanted to focus on the rock to the right. Oh, well...

Bob with a silly grin, not knowing that the camera really wanted to focus on the rock to the right.
The following picture shows the trail following the ridge-line up and up and up.
Old Snowy is the peak in the middle of the picture.

Trail heading up to the Goat Rocks. 
There were several through hikers heading down the trail, if you look closely.
They look like little ants!
Look closely, the hikers look like little ants on the trail!

The picture below shows what is called "the knife edge". The trail goes up (and down) following the very edge of the rocks. The wind was blowing really hard. At times it was hard to keep my balance. If I held up my trekking pole, it would blow out almost horizontally!

The Knife Edge in the Goat Rocks

The views were spectacular. The knife edge wasn't scary for me but others commented that it was the scariest thing they had ever done. The trail even crosses the top portion of the Packwood Glacier. There were a few other portions of the trail where rain had washed away the path, with only a sliver remaining to step on. A mis-step here would be disastrous!

I finally reached the top around 2 PM and headed down the other side. The fellow I had been walking with was headed to Snow Grass Flats, a popular camp ground about a mile off the PCT. I decided to head there.

I finally found a secluded camp spot not far from a rushing stream.
Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens dominated the skyline.

My legs were exhausted.
I had a good dinner, Mountain House Beef Stroganoff, to which I added slices of cheese. Yummy!

I curled up in my tent and listened to the hawks in the air as I fell into a peaceful sleep.

This was my camp site:
My secluded camp site at Snow Grass Flats.
The next morning, I was up by first light and on the trail by 6:45, heading back to White Pass.

This was my view of Mount Adams:
My view of Mt Adams from just above Snow Grass Flats
The hike back was strenuous on two accounts:

First, I had to hike back UP from Snow Grass Flats to the Goat Rocks, about 1500 feet.
Second, I had to hike back UP the mountain between Goat Rocks and White Pass, about 1500 feet.

But, I was determined.

What I discovered while hiking up those long stretches of trail was that much of the long-distance hiking is MENTAL. It was AWFUL when I looked up and saw the trail go on and on and on - up, up and up. It drained the energy from my legs.

I found that if I simply focused on the trail in front of me, and not on how much more there was to do, I was able to do it more easily. There were a few moments that I cursed at the PCT trail planners. They must have had an evil side to their planning with so may ups and downs!

As I passed above Shoe Lake, I met a forest ranger.
She asked me two questions:
1) Did you camp overnight? I said "yes" and told here where I had camped.
2) Do you have a wilderness permit? I said "yes", but she did not ask to see the copy.
She talked about seeing 5 groups of PCT through hikers and appeared to being headed towards Shoe Lake to ensure that no one was camping there.

I headed back down the trail, happy to have it mostly down-hill the rest of the way.

However, I did get careless. As the trail goes down and down, I found it easier to trot along; it was easier on my legs and feet. The problem came when I tripped on a root and did a face plant on the trail. It's one of those things I see in my mind in slow motion. I knew I was going down, and the pack seemed to ensure that I made a great "smack" when I hit.

Fortunately, I was not hurt, and missed a sharp rock by just inches.

I made it back to the trail head at 4 PM and was back home by 6. The shower never felt better!

Several things were first time events on this trip:
1) I left my Therm-a-rest sleeping pad at home and just used my sit pad. The sit pad worked great and I won't have to worry about getting an air leak anymore. The sit pad is also much quicker to set out and pack up.

2) I brought macadamia nuts for a lunch-time snack instead of candy. The nuts were salty and added a lot of protein and fat. The only problem is that their oil starts to go stale after a few days.

3) I walked the trail in the dark using my head lamp. I have used the head lamp on my walks before. It lighted up the trail really well, and the "red light" feature was nice to have while in my tent and sorting out my sleeping clothes.

4) I made camp among several groups of PCT through hikers. Oh, what fun. I chuckled at many of their stories. I can see where the people become a really important part of the hiking experience.

5) I did a "face plant" in the trail. I should have known better. I was lucky to have not gotten hurt or to have broken some of my equipment.

6) I saw the power of a "trail angel" to PCT through hikers. Wow, that guy was busy and having a blast. Perhaps that would be fun a few years down the line. I could give back to the hiking community.

7) I cursed the designers of the PCT in this section. I know there are reasons for putting the trail where it is. It's just that there are places there it seems pointless for the trail to go down when there are other obvious places where it could just follow the hillside instead.

8) I wore my new "Montrail Bajada" shoes for the first time. These shoes have a very large toe box and were great in climbing and going down the trail. They had good traction, good ventilation, and are very light. I did change my socks several times, which kept my feet drier.

9) I brought my down jacket liner that goes with by rain parka. It was so comfortable to wear it at night. And, it kept me warm during my bathroom breaks!

Below is a map of my first night, starting from White Pass and ending at Hidden Springs.

Map showing the PCT (green line) with the clear creek trail head and hidden springs.

Below is a map of my second day, starting from Hidden Springs and ending at Snow Grass Flats.
Second day - Hidden Springs to Goat Rocks (knife edge and below Old Snowy) to Snow Grass Flats
My final thoughts?
This was the most demanding hike I have ever taken.
I walk and hike a lot, but I really feel this one in my legs. There is a lot of elevation gain.
It is mentally and physically challenging. The mental part is the hardest.
This late in the season, water is a problem, especially on the first part of the trail.
Planning is critical.

This would be fun to do again just to meet the PCT through hikers.
They have SO MUCH insight by this time in their hike.
And their stories... Oh, do they have stories!

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