It’s been smoking hot here the past few days. Just shy of 100 degrees even in the shade. In a lethargic stupor I lay on the kitchen floor for a while this afternoon soaking up the cool of the tile and petting the dogs with my feet. With a fan and a book to pass the time it’s not so bad I suppose.
A couple days ago to beat the heat with a little more vigor, I took the dogs hiking up in the still snowy mountains. I wanted a hike with views and no crowds and left home with a couple ideas in mind, but didn’t make the call to try the North Fork Tieton trail until I was approaching Rimrock Lake. For some reason the Goat Rocks Wilderness seems to go largely ignored around here. Maybe it’s the proximity to Rainier. Whatever the reason, I’m always awed by the scenery up high that I get to enjoy without another human being in sight.
Heading down Highway 12, we hung a left at Clear Lake, rumbled five miles down a gravel road, and at about 1:30 pm pulled up to a trailhead simmering with mosquitoes. After quickly filling out the backcountry permit form, we scampered down the trail, eager to leave the bugs behind. The dogs lunged against their leashes for about five minutes, but then settled into the usual single-file trot.
Plenty warm in the sunny clearings, but also plenty of water to be had, bubbling down the slopes at small stream crossings. I had never been in this stretch of the Goat Rocks before and was glad to see a few vistas emerging through the tree cover.
After about five miles of reasonably gradual climbing (1500 foot elevation gain), we came to the end of the trail and junctioned with the Pacific Crest Trail at Tieton Pass. I had been optimistically hoping for views of Mt Rainier from the pass, but was met with more evergreen. So we followed the Pacific Crest Trail southwest, occasionally catching glimpses of Rainier through the trees. Dogs don’t care about views though, and were more excited to bump into snow on the trail above Tieton Pass.
A mile down the PCT, the trail disappeared completely under several feet of snow and we started cross-country travel through the forest. Sticking to the ridge as much as possible and heading roughly in the direction that felt right. A GPS or map would’ve been mighty helpful at this point, but I carefully noted our path and knew I could backtrack if need be. Eventually we began to break through the tree cover and I took this as our cue to scramble to higher ground.
We scooted to the top of the ridge and were greeted by coyote calls in the distance and sparkling views in every direction.
We snacked and relaxed for a few minutes while I pondered the daylight and how much further we should hike. I didn’t want to backtrack blindly through the snowpack in the dark, but the allure of the snowfields up ahead was too enticing too stop yet.
So we stuck to the ridge and headed on. Here’s Taylor pointing the way up the ridge we followed. And a couple views once we were standing higher.
At this point the landscape dazzled and I began to wish I’d packed for an overnight. We ran around on the snow and explored pockets of green. In some places I could hear undersnow streams rushing beneath my feet. The dogs sniffed and snorted, following elk and sheep footprints. Mt Rainier loomed in the distance.
But the sun was definitely beginning to drop and we had at least seven miles to cover back to the car, about half of that across the snow. So we finally spun on our heels and reveresed course. Right off the bat, I ran into a couple of road blocks as some steep slopes that we had come up were a little too precarious going down for the dogs. So we dropped off the ridge and skittered our way back toward the landmarks I’d noted on the way in, briefly connecting with my tracks in the snow before quickly losing them again.
Eventually we reconnected with the Pacific Crest Trail and followed that back to Trail 1118 without any difficulty. Then from Tieton Pass we jogged much of the way back. The dogs seemed less than enthused about the running, but dutifully padded along behind me. With shadows looming in the woods I made myself jumpy with bear thoughts (not unfounded) and the dogs didn’t help matters as they occasionally growled at stumps or amorphous dark spots. We made the car before dark though and the dogs were asleep less than thirty seconds after we began rolling down the gravel road.