Day 121: Goat Rocks Blow My Mind

Memories from August 19

I remember a shot from a documentary about the PCT in which a hiker, in motion through falling snow under a grey sky, looks at the camera and says, “Washington stole my heart”. Since crossing the border, I’ve been anticipating something that would justify such a comment. Today I had such an experience. It’s too insignificant to say that I saw something which justified that comment. Twice I almost peed myself with the magnificent of the landscape through which I traveled. I felt like an addict, sober since the Sierras, amid blissful relapse. Panoramic pictures might help capture the view. Hiking is more than that in that the exertion and travel create a sense of participation in the landscape which other modes of travel don’t. This was not a picturesque moment, made uncomfortably hot by the comparative cool of a car’s air conditioned interior on a family road trip. Today’s emotion came from the depth of over 2,200 miles of trail walked one step at a time. The quality of the day can partially conveyed in that there was no one defining moment of which I have a flashbulb memory. Until now, Forester and Muir passes stood out like giants in my visual memory of the trail. Each has a small set if single pictures which, for me, completely capture the experience. Something about today required motion. Having something like four different, multicolored valleys each with treasures which only appeared at certain angles. Grand geographic features would appear or disappear around a corner, above a pass, or behind you and could only be seen over your shoulder. There was foreshadowing and climax like any good novel but the the denouement did not go quietly towards resolution but thrashed and fought for its own place in the story. You had to be there.

Entering the Yakama Indian Reservation before Viscous Pass. After a uniformly green landscape with a smattering of brown, the variety of colors which appeared within a few steps made for a completely different experience. 

At Cispus Pass, I ran into Bert and Monique who I’ve been leapfrogging since South Lake Tahoe.

During the break, Pathfinder and Mountain Lion caught up. They’re two of the four Swiss retirees who make up the Grey Coyotes which are proving that you’re never to old to hike the PCT.

Looking back from Cispus Pass.

Monique looking back at Mt Adams.

Monique says that Bert usually passes the good view and sets down for lunch just below the treeline. Not today.

An interesting slab of rocks which look like they were water cut.

You can tell this area is really wet earlier in the year because of the third trail (the one which hikers make when the trail people make to avoid a flooded trail is also flooded).

Dark rocks rising dramatically above us.

Over time as the snow melts hikers take different routes over the snow as more of the trail is uncovered. It looks there have been as many as four routes over this snow patch this year.

Rainier ambushes you when you take a few steps off trail to get a picture of the waterfall coming out of the emerald lake.

The blue of pools of snowmelt has an intensity not frequent in much of what I see.

Skipping ahead a bunch of pictures, I took the Old Snowy alternate route which bypasses a couple of steep snowfields. It’s just a little longer but offers a view which includes aspects of most of the rest of the day. If I just showed you the pictures which I took before this, they might seem redundant with the ones I took at the top. Experientially, they weren’t. Each was like an act in a play and the Snowy Alternate (which had no snow and in fact is used to avoid snow on the PCT) like at the end when the entire cast comes out to take a bow.

Two lakes, both of usual blues, set in rugged but not sharp, rocky hills.

Pivoting a little to the right, Mt Rainier overlooks a valley. There’s a little red in some of the rock, the dirt on the ridge is orange-yellow, there’re a few shades of green between the trees and grass of the valley, the far hills and sky are an array of blues, and there are hints of purple in the mountain and some of the darker rock (these might have been one of those differences between eye ans camera). That’s most of the rainbow. The only more colorful scene I can remember off hand is Sonora Pass with all its lichen.

The knife edge on the right side of the previous valley. I’m not sure how this will turn out at full resolution but looks where the trail goes. When walking it, I was able to see deep into both valleys when looking at me toes. During lunch at my wilderness first aid training, a woman told me how the trail had slid out from under her and fallen away thousands of feet below. Having walked that line, I’m pretty sure her story was from somewhere along it.

And finally, coming all the way around and see in Mt Adams again. The nearby peak is composed of large pieces of slate like you might see in a stacked stone wall or slate walkway.

On the way out, there were even stream and flowers.

Looking back towards the peak by Old Snowy.

As you’ll probably realize from these pictures, this experience was contained within just a few miles. Yet the under foot trail conditions ranged from well packed dirt on shallow slopes to slippery, loose dirt on steep traverses, snow, large rock, and even a few rock hops over streams.

I’m sure everyone has a different place which was their favorite part of the trail. Other places were had more aggressive or peaceful terrain; sharper, more rugged mountain ridges; better lighting; more shade; more water; more grandiose rock formations; and a few even have wider views or more colors. For me all of the other contenders have first time experiences associated with them. Given that I’ve seen all of these individual pieces before, this is the first place to have so affected me. Maybe I’ve just been crowded in by the trees for too long and am hyperbolic in my reaction. Either way, it was a good day.

In the evening I camped near the Grey Coyotes at the campsites near Triton Pass. Pathfinder showed me where I could get water from and unmarked trickle of a stream which disappeared into the ground and then reappeared. I’d forgotten my water bottles when I’d gone for the water in my trail notes which was pretty far down a hill and apparently a popular destination with the local fly population. I didn’t wear my hat today and am sunburned enough that it’s made me tired. The silver lining is that it feels wonderful to be in my sleeping bag on my short air mattress with my backpack tucked under my feet, falling asleep while it’s still light.

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