Now that summer has officially arrived in the Northwest, it’s finally time to start backpacking in the mountains! Unlike the rest of the US, where it seems summer has been in full swing for many months, the unofficial but first recognized real day of summer up here is the day after the 4th of July. This year summer came one day early.

Aubrey and I decided to kick off the summer season with a trip to the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The Goat Rocks are a chain of 7-8,000 foot peaks that lie nearly equidistant from Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens. On a clear day the views are nothing short of spectacular with snow capped volcanoes looming in every direction you look! After the first few miles of easy hiking we hit the snow line, and from here route finding became somewhat more challenging until we made it out above treeline. Soon after that we realized our biggest mistake: we forgot the skis. No, we hadn’t planned on bringing them, but after seeing the only other group out there carving turns in the sweet summer snow it was clear that we really ought to have hauled them in. Next time! We picked out a nice spot with a good view of Mount Adams and set up camp for the night.

Goat Rocks Tent Camping, Washington, Pacific Northwest

Goat Rocks Camp : Prints Available
Our tent camp in the Goat Rocks with a view of Mt Adams.

Exposure: iso 400, f/16, 1/125th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, handheld

Aubrey working on dinner, with a view of Mount Adams and our tent.

The following day we made our way to Old Snowy Mountain, where we briefly met up with the Pacific Crest Trail before heading off for the summit. This is the highest point of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington State, at about 7,400 feet or so (yes, pathetic compared to the Sierra where it barely goes below 7,400 feet). The weather was so spectacular and the views so divine that there really was no need to leave the summit once we got there, so we set up a bivy camp and relaxed for the rest of the day… and the day after that. Well, except for a brief walk along the snowy ridgeline to stretch our legs and look for Mountain Goats. These were the Goat Rocks, after all, but we only saw a few goats in the distance. I suppose the views didn’t quite make up for the lack of food for them.

Click image for larger view!

Mount Adams from the Goat Rocks, Ives Peak and Gilbert Peak, Washington

Summer Snow : Prints Available
Mount Adams from the ridge of the Goat Rocks, featuring Ives Peak and Gilbert Peak.

Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 1/30th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod
Notes: 4 image panoramic stitch, stretched vertically slightly to better match my perspective.

Click image for larger view!

Mount Adams from the Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington, Ives Peak and Old Snowy Mountain

The Goat Rocks : Prints Available
Ives Peak, with Mount Adams in the distance.

Exposure: iso 100, f/11, 1/10th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-105mm, tripod
Notes: 4 exposures taken at different focus settings blended with Helicon Focus.

What do you do when you’re sitting on top of mountain, like a bird in a nest or king in on a throne? Well, you read books, drink iced tea (there was plenty of snow!), and produce Vitamin D. I also had plenty of time to explore the ridge for exciting views, of which there were many. The rugged ridge-line includes three major peaks: Old Snowy, Ives, and Gilbert Peak, which were all once part of a larger 12,000 foot volcano that has eroded away over the past two million years.

A two-volcano view: Mount Adams in the background, and Mount Rainier reflected in Aubrey's sunglasses.

Our Old Snowy summit bivy site with a view of Ives and Gilbert Peak.

Goat Rocks Wilderness, Ives Peak and Gilbert Peak, Washington

Goats Den : Prints Available
A unique view of Ives and Gilbert through a basalt window.

Exposure: iso 100, f/18, 1/40th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod

We were planning on spending our last night up on the summit too, until a massive summer thunder storm started brewing in the south. We watched the clouds build and the moisture extend Northward like a quickly moving warm front. It was a race between the sun and clouds – who would win? It was tense. At least, for me. In the end the clouds won, and the sun only barely was able to put on a beautiful show over the distant Mount Rainier.

Click image for larger view!

Mount Rainier from Old Snowy, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington

Fire in the Sky : Prints Available
A fiery sunset over Mt Rainier, seen from the summit of Old Snowy Mt.

Exposure: iso 100, f/18, 1/6th
The Tech: Canon 5D2, Nikon 14-24mm, tripod
Notes: 4 exposures each 1 stop apart blended manually in photoshop to even out the dynamic range.

Meanwhile the storm was strengthening, and we started to see the first flashes of lighting way in the distance. The summit of a barren 7,900 foot peak in the middle of a lightning storm is not the best place to be, so we quickly packed up and headed down. You could smell the electricity in the air as it crackled and fizzled all around us. The whole area around the Goat Rocks is rather barren, so we had to go down quite a ways to find a safe place. After a 600 foot glissade* by the light of lightning we found a nice spot to pitch our tent, safe from any strikes. Just moments before the first sprinkles of rain fell we were safely tucked away, watching and listening to the flashes and bangs that echoed through the subalpine forest.

*glissading: sliding down a steep snowy slope on your butt using your ice axe and boots to control your speed. In other words, the most efficient way to get down a mountain if you forgot your skis.

Our glissade tracks from the evening before. What a ride!

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9 Comments to “In Search of Goats – The Goat Rocks Wilderness”

  1. Navin Sarma says:

    A sweet set of shots, Goat’s Den taking the cake!

  2. MikeP says:

    Thanks Floris… really cool write up. I now have a new word ‘glissade’. Again thanks for broadening my world with your blog.

  3. Jim Ruff says:

    Floris – Breath-taking! What a wonderful experience that you and Aubrey must have had. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks Navin, Mike, and Jim, glad you enjoyed this series!

  5. Kent Mearig says:

    All but the last (obviously) of these photos are phenomenal! The sunglasses to add a second mountain, brilliant! I don’t know if the “mountain lifestyle” images feel like branching out to you, but they are excellently done and inspiring.

  6. Jack Brauer says:

    Woah, the “Fire in the Sky” photo is EPIC!!!! Looks like a fun trip.

  7. Beau says:

    Incredible photos! What a journey.

  8. […] week I was finally able to get out and enjoy the mountains for the first time since my trip to the Goat Rocks in July. For this trip Aubrey and I decided to do part of the Alpine Lakes Traverse, which took us […]

  9. Matt Anderson says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey! Thanks for sharing Floris.

    P.S. put off the long regimented job hours and kids for as long as possible…