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Trip Report    

Pacific Crest Trail: White Pass to Walupt Lake

Goat Rocks Wilderness

White Pass to Cispus Pass

August 5 to 10th 2014

Scenery and wildflowers abound on this out and back trip. Diana thinks the scenery is better than the Wonderland Trail and John Muir Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail here is carved along the backbone of one of Mt Rainier’s older relatives. The Goat Rocks are the remnants of an ancient, Rainier like, volcano. They are also home to lots of mountain goats, living up to their name. The PCT is normally a walk in the park, but not on this section. You will find yourself concentrating on your footing as you wander up and down the spine of the ridge portion of the trail. But the rewards are well worth the dizzying trail.

Drive to White Pass and find the PCT trailhead just a few hundred yards east of the summit. Park in the lot on the South side of the pass, fill out your free permit, and start up the gentle switchbacks, 4400 feet up to the top of the ridge at about 5300 feet. Just before reaching the ridge top (just below an old rockslide) reach for the mosquito repellant and brace yourself for a moderate onslaught. Pass Ginnette Lake on your right and continue hiking through pretty meadows towards Shoe Lake. You will gain altitude and pass into, out of, and back into, the Goat Rocks Wilderness on the way, passing a White Pass chair lift and a few trail intersections. The ridge above Shoe Lake basin is reached at 6.3 miles and 6600 feet. Good place to stop for a break and some food while admiring the views.

There is no camping allowed at Shoe Lake but there are nice camps at Hidden Spring about 2.3 miles further on (and down). To get there, at about 5800 feet, there is a trail cutting back to the left, signed “Hidden Spring”. Follow this trail about 1/3 mile to about 5500 feet and hopefully find open camp spots. The first camp site you see will be on the right. Across from this, is a trail leading down to the spring.

We spent the first night at Hidden Spring. The next day we wandered downhill on a gentle grade to 4800 foot Teiton pass. Teiton pass has a few camping spots and water 100 yards down the Tieton river trail (1118) to the east. From there we started back uphill, over several blow downs towards Lutz Lake with more camping spots. At about 5200 feet and 4.4 miles past Hidden Spring we reached the McCall Basin trail cutoff (another good camp destination) and continued up towards a ridge at around 6000 feet. From the ridge we decided to go off trail and follow a path south, heading into a valley just below Elk Pass. We found a beautiful campsite at about 6200 feet. We had the valley and small nearby lake, partially covered with ice, to ourselves. From our campsite, perched near the top of the ridge, we had views of Mount Rainier, Old Snowy Mountain, and Ives Peak. We were also able to look down at the PCT and I discovered what I thought was a short cut. The plan was to hike up a little higher, and then descend a steep scree slope, crossing about 20 feet of a steep snow field, then drop down to the trail.

The next day we broke camp and started on the short cut approach, descending steeply for about half an hour and crossing the snow field, and continuing our descent to the edge of a 100 foot cliff I hadn’t seen from above. Sigh... So we ascended back up the mountainside and exited as we had entered the valley, scrambling over a few steep cliffs back to the PCT. From the 6000 foot ridge top we descended to a basin floor with a nice stream and good camp spots to the north. We then made a steep ascent up to 6700 foot Elk Pass, passing through beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers and streams. Then we hiked up and down a sometimes knife edge ridge towards Old Snowy Mountain and the Goat Rocks. The PCT splits, one path going lower and the other path going higher near Old Snowy. The low route would have taken us across a treacherous steep snow/ice field with a bad run out. In our trail runners, we decided to take the high route. The high route tends to scare people who are afraid of heights, and knife edge ridges with several hundred foot drop offs on either side.

From the 7600 foot trail crest near Old Snowy (where you can get sketchy cell phone reception), the trail drops down into the Goat Lake Basin. From the crest, there are views of Mt Adams, Mt Rainier, Mt St Helens, Goat Lake, Goat Rocks, Goat Ridge, and down to the McCall Glacier, Packwood Glacier, and Snowgrass Flat. We camped high, at about 7000 feet, enjoying the sweeping views while the wind kept away the mosquitoes and rattled the tent all night.

The next morning we enjoyed sleeping in and not breaking camp and wandered down the PCT to Cispus pass. The trail took us down to around 5800 feet through the east side of Snowgrass Flat and through wide meadows full of wild flowers, springs, and creeks. We then slowly ascended up the PCT back up to Cispus pass (6473) via flower and waterfall fall filled Cispus Basin. Ives Peak and the Goat Rocks dominate the backdrop of Cispus Basin. At Cispus pass we entered the Yakima Indian Reservation and stopped to look around the basin that sources the Klickitat River. We then walked back down to a perch above Cispus Basin for lunch and sweeping views.

The next day, we broke camp about 9 am and headed back up the PCT. This time, we decided to try the lower trail with its shaded snow fields. The snow fields melt during the afternoon sun and then turn into thick glaze ice overnight. The first ice crossing didn’t look too bad because if you did slip you’d slide several hundred feet and then stop and there appeared to be good steps. We decided to give this lower trail a try so we very carefully, poles planted, crossed the ice slope. We both made it, and thought we were home free until we rounded a corner and saw the OTHER ice field. I had forgotten about this one. It had a very bad (certain death) run out if we slipped on the ice. So, we decided to turn around (groan…), re-cross the other ice slope, and take the high route. Diana was certain she would be terrified of making the steep descent from the 7600 foot crest down the knife edge ridge but she found that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she’d anticipated.

At Tieton pass we ran into a WTA crew who were hand sawing the trunk off of a fallen tree. We thanked them for their efforts and continued on down a trail that was free of blow downs from the pass on. We enjoyed a long peaceful night of sleep at Hidden Spring and hiked back to the car the next day, arriving around 1pm. We cleaned up in the stream at the trailhead and then stopped at the Naches Tavern (in Greenwater off of hwy 410) for some good draft beer and burgers.