From camp by Snowgrass Meadow trail junction to Ginette Lake.
When my first alarm goes off at 6:15 I hop straight out of bed, pee, then… then I ruin a good thing and crawl straight back into my sleeping bag. An hour later I figureI really should get up. We’re now closer to the fall equinox than the summer solstice, and we’re losing daylight. Only a few minutes less a day – but it’s starting to cut into our hiking time. I should stop wasting it on the front end.
The two weekenders gift us the remnants of their instant espresso mix and powdered milk (caffeine! woohoo!) and we start off. The best part of Goat Rocks Wilderness is supposedly waiting for us this morning.
A few minutes of climbing and now we’re crossing a snowfield through jagged peaks! “Make sure you take lots of photos of our epic snow hiking!” jokes J. Pretty epic – ha – the snow is hard-packed with a nice crusty melt surface on top for good traction, and we scamper across this world of blue, black, white. At the junction we take the turnoff for the PCT alternate up Old Snowy Mountain. Snowfields step down to meadows, to forest, to lakes, to rows and rows of mountains, to Mt Rainier, huge in the background. The trail winds out on the spine of the mountain in front of us, galloping up and down with the ridge, and I laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Who came up with this? It’s like the trail planner had a fit of fancy, and decided to put the trail in the most improbably place. This path of stone is a bit of whimsy, hazardous and steep, built with hard labor. (And not a great place to be if you need to poop. Just sayin’.) The day circling around it is improbably blue, impossibly perfect.
Caution is the name of speed here, as we tiptoe down sheets of flagstone with dropoffs on either side. We stop for lunch on a wide spot on the ridge. Between incessant picture-taking and the tough terrain, it’s taken us four hours to go as many miles.
Things are a bit easier down below. We fill up our water bottles at a meltwater stream running down from a snowfield, and J finds two big mushrooms in a patch of trees. Showing them to me, he says, “I think these are porcinis, like last night.”
“Well, what was the checklist again?” I think aloud. “Bulbous stem, tan cap, has sponge on the underside of the cap and not gills, does not turn blue when bruised.”
Check, check, check, check. “Looks good to me,” I finish up.
“Me too,” answers J. “You want to risk it?”
“Alrighty then.” He tucks the mushrooms into his pack.
We finish the drop down into the trees, and that’s it for our views. Playtime is over. Time to get our miles in. We’re going to reach a tiny lake a couple miles before the highway and White Pass. We’ll go in and pick up our resupply packages tomorrow.
It’s always a drag to save the miles for the afternoon, but we have the pleasure of running into Tasty and Storybook, who are coming south on a flip. We last saw them at Evolution Creek! We pass two herds of mountain goats, a few of which are quite close to the trail. They turn and watch us walk by, and I keep thinking about some story I heard about mountain goat attacks in Montana. I wouldn’t mind if the goats were just a teeny bit farther away… They’re funny looking animals, these goats, sort of a cross between an antelope and a polar bear, with silly, narrow faces and huge, white, powerful bodies. Funny and scary. They’ve got muscles like mountain gorillas and razor sharp horns. We pass another herd, and then we pass the sign that tells us we’ve left Goat Rocks. “Hey, look what I found,” J says, and I look up to see him wearing an ancient pair of safety glasses that he found on the trail. I try them on – “You look like your dad,” J says.
The last three miles feel endless. A treadmill of trees. We make it to camp just before dark, cooking our mushrooms up with Top Ramen for the best backcountry meal I’ve ever had.
What an amazing day. I’m so glad I’m here. I know it could be otherwise.