Song of the Mountain Goat

24 08 2015

Ahhhhh, summer. After 12 intense, demanding, crazy weeks, my first two sessions of grad school are over. DONE. Check and check. Time for three blissful weeks off before the insanity of fall begins.

Oh what to do?!

Since school started back today, I can tell you exactly what I did: relaxed. (That’s a really nice way of saying nothing… I’ve done so much NOTHING and it has been glorious.) Back in Trout Lake, I spent my days catching up on Netflix, taking extra long walks with my furbaby, reading terrible fiction, and knitting. All the things I neglected while school was in. Simba, especially, felt entitled to lots and lots of make-up attention, and most of my leisurely activities were done on the floor with him either in my lap or snuggled as close as he could get.

What about my J, you ask? Well, the man does have to work. And in August, he works a lot. Also, in case you hadn’t heard, the state of Washington is currently up in flames, literally, and he’s been working the Cougar Creek fire complex burning on the slopes of Mt Adams. However, my amazing beau managed to sneak in three full days for me. Three amazing, fun-filled, spectacular days in the mountains. I even managed to survive!

The location: the Mount Margaret Backcountry, which is on the north side of Mt St Helens, in the blast zone from the 1980 eruption. The plan: backpack up to Panhandle Lake, under Mt Whittier, and spend two nights, then hike back out. The participants: myself, JBoo, J’s pal Andy, and Andy’s pal Sara. The trail description on Northwest Hikers is awesome and totally worth reading and tells just what’s like: http://nwhiker.com/GPNFHike84.html

map of mt margaret backcountry whittier trail

We started at the “TH” (trail head) then hiked the #1 to the #211 and camped at Panhandle Lake. (map belongs to nwhiker.com)

We met at the trail head on a Thursday afternoon, shouldered our packs, and set boots to trail. Quick side note: I am obsessed with volcanoes and have a total crush on St Helens. Her last eruption might have been 35 years ago, but that’s recent in geological terms and the evidence is still really obvious. The slopes are covered in trees all laying the same direction regardless of their orientation to the slopes – trees that were blasted over by the eruption. We hiked through soil that is an ashy mix that quickly coated everything and filled our eyes, noses, and lungs. Many of the lakes still hold trees blasted from their roots that fateful day. SO AWESOME!!!

Anyway, so a-hiking we went. The trail is intense, full of ups and downs and brush and cliffs and dust. Grad school has assisted in my out-of-shape-ness and my pack was a bit heavy. My boots are still pretty new and not super broke in. But around every corner, on top of every ridge, behind every patch of brush, the views were incredibly breath-taking and awesome. From some vantage points, we were rewarded with all the Big Boys: Mt Rainier to the north, Mt Adams to the east, Mt Hood to the south, and of course right there in our faces, the open throat of Mt St Helens. It was like a reunion with all my buddies. Wut up, yall!!

mt st helens and spirit lake from bear pass

Oh hey girl heeeeeyyy! (That’s Spirit Lake full of blasted logs and the crater of Helens)

I’m not going to lie, the hike was pretty brutal. I was huffing and puffing, as usual, and pouring sweat, trying to pretend like my pack wasn’t too heavy and my feet didn’t hurt and I wasn’t totally out of shape. I can write up three research papers in one day but the back country kicks my rear all OVER the place. Some places required us to traverse cliff sides that made my toes curl and my stomach knot. J offered to take my pack across the gnarliest of the gnarly, but I wanted to do it on my own. Thankfully, I didn’t die.

Mt Whittier trail Mt St Helens national monument

Hike with a view. So worth it.

 

hiking in Mt Margaret back country, Mt St Helens

Andy reporting on the conditions of the rock. I was not looking forward to my turn.

Every time we caught sight of a lake, I was sure my torture was coming to a close. (If you notice on the map, we actually saw 4 lakes before reaching ours…yep.) There was really only one thing that inspired me to keep going, fueled me to push on, comforted me and assured me it would all be ok….

wild huckleberries Mt St Helens national monument

HUCKLEBERRIES!!! nomnomnomnom

We actually came across lots of kinds of berries, but huckleberries are the best ever. And there were TONS of them!! J finally told me that I couldn’t have any more unless I could pick and eat without breaking stride. Our next breather he turned to me and just laughed. Mission accomplished – my lips, mouth, and hands were a lovely shade of blue. YUM.

Just when I thought I would collapse and never make it, we reached our designated lake. (You have to get a permit to camp out here and only one permit is issued per lake per night.) After some confusion and back tracking, we clambered down a goat trail and haphazardly made it to the lake shores. We dumped our stuff at our designation campsites and bee-lined to the shoreline. Andy and Sara were brave enough to disregard the cooling evening air and jumped in for a swim. J and I ditched our boots and tried to rinse off as much grime as we could. Time to set up camp and get dinner going. Within the first few minutes at the lake, I was head over heels for this beautiful little spot.

Panhandle Lake, Mt Margaret back country, Mt St Helens

Panhandle Lake, our home sweet home for the next couple days. We could do worse.

I set up our tent and Chef JBoo fixed our dinner. We had packed in some ultra-classy boxes of wine and sat with our little crew well into the darkness. A few shooting stars shot over our heads and added to the ambiance. Spectacular.

boxed wine camping Mt Margaret

Undeniably classy. Lovely merlot.

After an amazing night of sleep, I woke up early and explored the area around the lake while the others slumbered. I saw a herd of elk in the brush near the trail we hiked in on, then looked up and spotted two goats nimbly making their way across the sheer cliff. Birds fluttered around in the bushes and a hawk soared above; fish splashed at the surface of the lake having breakfast. Yep, I could live here. I finally gave in to the roar in my belly and got J up. We retrieved our bags from the bear hang and ate breakfast. Near the bear hang, we noticed more huckleberry bushes, and I found my first activity of the day.

Lake Panhandle, Mt St Helens WA

Morning reflection on the still water. Lovely.

huckleberry picking Mt St Helens WA

Fruits of my morning labor. Well, the few I managed not to eat…

This in-between day was the best day ever. As the morning warmed up, we donned our swim wear and lounged like beach bums on the pumice shores of our little lake. J and I played gin rummy while laying in the sand; the boys worked on their fly casting; I poked around the tadpole convention we found; and we basically just relaxed, breathed deep, and enjoyed ourselves. J and I even gathered enough courage for a quick dip. The lake isn’t glacier fed, so it’s not that frigid, but I still barely managed 3 full strokes. I know for next time I just need to stay in long enough to numb my nerves and stay for a real swim.

fly fishing Lake Panhandle WA

The boys “fishing”.

Swimming Lake Panhandle WA

My JBoo, warming me up after our chilly dip in the lake

After lunch, we finally decided to get ambitious and hike the ridge above us. We climbed up and around and over and across and finally, after gawking at all the 360 views and the gazillion goats on the cliffs, made it to a trail sign. It looked to me like a sign you see on ski trails. It had the black diamond with a zigzag line and said “most difficult”.  Whatev, yo, I do what I want.

climbing to Mt Whittier WA

Pffffffth difficult schmifficult

Turns out they weren’t kidding. I never actually saw the top, but J tells me it was lovely. I made it almost to the top of the ridgeline, and was proud of myself for not dying. So I clung to a squat little pine tree and let the mountain goats boys go on ahead. J came back for me and we started down, while Andy pushed on to the peak of Mt Whittier. He later said it was terrifying. #noregrets

trail to Mt Whittier WA

I conquered enough to still feel like a bad ass. Like a little. And no I didn’t kick the sign down, it was already like that!

Back at camp, sweaty and hot with ash highlighting every little sweat trail down my face, I knew what had to be done. The lake was the only answer. Before I could change my mind or remember how cold the water was, I stepped off into the lake and furiously scrubbed the filth from my skin. I have never felt so refreshed in my LIFE!

Another mellow, relaxing evening with our pals and we turned in. Tucked into my sleeping bag, snuggled up against the warm lump of J in his sleeping bag, I passed out pretty fast. I dreamed that night of the goats, the white specks that you don’t even notice until one knocks loose a rock or calls to a baby. How amazing it would be to have that agility and freedom. I think I would be perfectly content as a mountain goat….

mountain goat on the cliffs Mt Whittier WA

Magnificent creatures

We took our time the next morning and finally left our awesome little camp sometime mid-morning. We saw the first people in two days and marveled at our good fortune in finding such solitude. I was sad to leave and hope to make it back someday.

Despite feeling like the entire hike to the lake was uphill, most of the hike out also seemed to be uphill. Funny how the strenuous uphill is all you remember, so hiking in the mountains seems to be all uphill, both ways. (…in the snow, barefoot, … wait, that’s how my dad got to school….) I love how the views change when you’re coming from the other direction, and I somehow managed to eat still more berries found along the trail.

Mt Margaret backcountry WA

Views for days

Bear Pass, Mt Whittier WA

My favorite view of them all ❤

And now I have to settle back into my school routine, tackling my new classes and getting to know new professors. This semester includes the observation portion of my student teaching, and I could not be more excited to jump right in with my mentor teacher and her 5th grade class.

But, more on that later…..

Happy trails!!

😀

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2 responses

16 10 2015
Miss Snarky Pants

What an awesome vacation! You must have been close to where my aunt and cousins used to live. I remember St. Helens; my aunt’s car and house were covered in ash. We still have a round, glass Christmas ornament made with the ash. It’s gorgeous. So glad you enjoyed yourself this summer, out in nature. 🙂

17 10 2015
ksnapped

It was awesome, thank you! I love visiting the observatory at St Helen’s, soooooo cool!

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