Sheep Lake to Packwood Creek – 12.3 miles
I definitely saved the best for last. When asked about the best section on trail, many PCT thru-hikers will say Goat Rocks. It only takes a day to pass through, but the incredible terrain and mountain views get seared into one’s memory.
My day started out with clear blue skies after a frigid night. It was a clear reminder that autumn was just around the corner. Thankfully the sun felt nice and warm as I packed up my gear and hit the trail. From Sheep Lake I hiked a mile and a half to reach Yakama Pass. On the way up I had epic views of Mount Adams sporting a short stack of cap clouds.
When I reached Yakama Pass I was treated to a close-up view of the Goat Rocks peaks and the deep Klickitat river valley. The trail continued to ascend through the bowl to reach another pass before dropping into a large cirque below the towering peaks.
After a couple miles traversing the side of the mountains the trail started to climb steeply through subalpine forest and into beautiful open meadows. I stopped for lunch beside a lovely spring where I had views south of both Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.
After my lunch break I faced a steady climb. The light was perfect and the sky was incredible. I almost wished I had a professional camera with me (and knew how to use it!) The trees grew shorter and more boulders dotted the landscape, including a large cleft boulder that may have been launched from one of the four volcanoes in the area.
The trail continued ascending above tree line. I was in awe of the hardy wildflowers growing amongst the rocks. I also found another interesting boulder – perfectly clean-cut slate layers. Geology rocks!
As I curved over a ridge I got a view of Mount Rainier. Unfortunately I could only see the lower half of the mountain as the upper half was shrouded in clouds. I still had mostly clear skies but clouds were definitely approaching.
I reached a rocky and exposed camping area by about 2 pm and took a break. From the campsites I had incredible sweeping views. I could see both Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens, as well as all the bumps and ridges in between. I could also see across to Goat Lake and the beautiful looking Lily Basin. I added it to my mental “to-hike-to” list.
I didn’t rest for too long though. I had a mountain to climb! I had decided to take a short alternate trail that climbs very near to the peak of Old Snowy Mountain. I clambered up the steep rocky trail to reach the saddle just before the summit. It was incredibly windy so I decided to forgo the very exposed 0.2 miles to the peak. Even still, I was standing proud at 7,650 feet, with amazing 360-degree views.
The thrills continued as I slowly descended the narrow northern ridge of Mount Frosty. I rejoined the main trail and faced my last thrill for the day – the Goat Rocks Knife’s Edge. This 2.4 mile stretch of trail traverses an exposed ridge line below barren peaks and above steep rocky slopes. It was absolutely exhilarating and made me realise that maybe I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie after all.
I reached Elk Pass at the north end of the spine by mid-afternoon. It had been an exhilarating day. I still had a few more miles to go before setting up camp but that was all secondary to what I’d seen and done that day.
I’m so glad to have finally made it through Goat Rocks. I can’t wait to come back and explore the area more next summer.