Day 118 – July 30, 2022
Mile 2254.7 to 2280.5
25.8 trail miles | 25.4 tracked miles | 5,316 ft elevation gain | 82.4 F / 28 °C
To say that I was anticipating today’s stretch would be an understatement. I had a foretaste of the outstanding beauty of the Goat Rocks Wilderness area last summer on a three-day backpacking trip from White Pass to Walupt Lake (going south.) Despite the smoke that obscured the views at the time, I loved every minute of it. Returning was a true blessing.
I woke up to a cloudless sky and began hiking with a sense of anticipation and elation. Mt. Rainier, on the horizon, guided me through the early hours of the day.
The trail climbed gently through serene scenery dressed in a coat of green.
Soon, the trail veered east, and the landscape shifted dramatically. The smooth valley and grass gave way to rugged terrain and a jagged peak line.
The next few miles were both magical and grueling. It was hot, and the mosquitoes were so obnoxious that I couldn’t stop and take a real break until shortly before lunch.
I was surprised to encounter several rather steep climbs. In hindsight, I realized that I had avoided most challenging climbs last year by hiking southbound, so I didn’t anticipate so much elevation gain today.
But how would I describe such overwhelming beauty? Goat Rocks Wilderness is the Pacific Northwest at its finest. Anyone who is tired of living should hike Goat Rocks. It is the kind of magical place that makes you fall in love with life all over again.
Mount Rainier and Mount Adams loomed large against a backdrop of hills, waterfalls, alpine scenery, and dramatic avalanche chutes. As the trail twisted and turned, new vistas kept unfolding ahead of me. Sometimes, it was hard to keep moving. The beauty was overwhelming. I could have gazed in awe at the pure magic of these pristine landscapes.
I encountered sizable snow fields near the Packwood Glacier. None presented a major challenge, but a few traverses demanded focus and attention. Once again, I’m extremely lucky with my timing: the snow added to the scenery but was easily passable. A couple of weeks ago, I think spikes would have been necessary.
Near mile 2277, the Pacific Crest Trail forks. The hiker route climbs up Old Snowy Mountain to the so-called Knife’s Edge, while the stock route stays safely at a lower elevation. Incidentally, as long as snow lingers, the lower stock route is best avoided as it traverses avalanche fields. In any case, I naturally chose to climb up to the apex.
The short climb was a good workout, and the views of Mt. Rainier at the top were glorious.
Explore the view from the top of Old Snowy in 3D! Click VR to display the panorama in full screen mode, then pinch and pan or drag your mouse.
Up ahead lay Knife’s Edge, an iconic stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail that follows, quite literally, the mountain crest, with steep drop-offs on either side. The narrow and rocky ridge offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The loose scree was incredibly treacherous—much more than I remembered—but the rolling vistas were out of this world. I felt a profound sense of gratitude for the blessings in my life: the opportunity to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail and revisit this captivating area, the privilege of calling the magnificent Pacific Northwest home, and simply the gift of life, health, and the ability to embark on challenging hikes and explore our world. Today might have been my best day on the trail.
I made camp a couple of miles beyond the northern end of Knife’s Edge. I have a private campsite overlooking Mt. Rainier, with my very own glacial mountain stream. The water is so cold that I questioned whether bathing was safe, but I still freshened up and survived to tell the tale!
The sun is setting, offering a symphony of colors and layers. I am just 15 miles from White Pass, and will probably make it in time for a late lunch tomorrow. Life is good.