Monday dawned beautiful and I decided to take off for adventure. The first year I was here (four years ago next week) I went out exploring often. It doesn’t happen much now, as my responsibilities have increased, and I’ve been a lot of the places close by. But this was the day. Where to go?
I browsed through “My Backpack,” my bucket list of hikes I’ve read about and stored on the Washington Trails Association website. Goat Creek at the end of Riffe Lake looked good, right here in the amazing (political climate notwithstanding) county I live in.
I got dressed, made lunch and filled two water bottles, grabbed my ready-to-go knapsack and went upstairs to say goodbye to my mother. I found her lying down having a rare breakdown over a bit of information I had given her a few minutes earlier that I had no idea would upset her. I thought I wouldn’t be going, but I patiently sat with her and got her through it.
I was about an hour behind the time I thought I would be leaving, but really I had no agenda. I was discombobulated by the unexpected event, though, and drove right past the coffee kiosk where I had planned to pick up my trip latte. I’d already had coffee, since I didn’t know I was taking this trek, so I didn’t seek out another venue.
The most difficult part of the trip is the 4.5 miles of single lane, pot-holed, rutted road that takes 30 minutes to drive. In many places, the speedometer didn’t register movement. Good old CuRVy is a champ. The photo below is the good part of the road. In a couple of spots, a quarter of the side of the road has disappeared down the mountain.
The Goat Creek trail area is on the back side of Mt. St. Helens, untouched by the eruption. That in itself is amazing. There are no views of the mountain, but there is a glimpse of Rainier on the road up.
It’s a little-known trail, and signage to get there is well, non-existent, including the Forest Service road numbers in the WTA directions . A sign at the beginning of the one-lane road (thank god I met no cars) is hidden behind a bush. I am surprised to find five cars in the parking area that holds about seven. No facilities, nothing telling you where you are—or where the trail is—no fee station.
The trail itself through old growth forest is not strenuous. There are lots of waterfalls and rushing water and streams to cross. As I get into the woods I hear a jet in the distance, the roar growing louder and louder. The fighter jet buzzes overhead so low I swear I can see the pilot. I have to plug my ears, it is deafening. Some time ago I wrote a letter in protest of JBLM (Joint Base Lewis McChord) using the Gifford Pinchot area as training grounds. Apparently the protest was ignored.Surely it terrifies the animals, and it does me too. It’s jarringly out of place in this serene wilderness. (I see no animals the entire day, except for a plethora of tiny frogs.)
And then come the falls. I hadn’t read much about the trail, I was in a hurry. I knew there were waterfalls, plural. But I hadn’t anticipated Cathedral Falls. It is absolutely breathtaking as it plummets over the precipice in dancing free fall. The photos do not do it justice, but I tried.
I am quite proud of myself for denying my aeroacrophobia and going behind the falls on the wet, narrow trail where a misstep would be a very long fall. I stand there and feel the mist from the undulating falling stream and listen to it splash and crash onto the rocks as it hits and bounces on to continue its quick descent. I eat my lunch on the other side and watch and listen and breathe. And say “thank you.”
After the falls, the trail is anti-climatic, but beautiful. And no more fighter jets. I come to a fork with a sign that has seen better days. Like I said, this area is not well-maintained since there are no hoards of people coming here. (I did see nine people and three dogs, however. Two of the cars in the parking area must have been backpackers.)
I want to see the left fork of the rushing water I can hear and glimpse through the trees. I navigate a mud hole on a makeshift series of branches (thank you poles), and get halfway across the river crossing then decide that is it for me. I think I can get to the other side, if the logs don’t roll, but I’m not sure I can get back with dry feet.
On up the trail, needing to turn back but wanting to see what is just beyond—like the proverbial bear on the mountain—I finally come to non-navigable blowdown and turn back. I think I was near the top of the mountain. I do wonder what was next. (As I write this I read a WTA trip report of the entire loop, looking for answers, which are unclear, but there are many more miles, more waterfalls, lakes, and multi-mountain vista views. I learn my round trip hike was about six miles.)
The road home, past Riffe Lake and through the marsh lands, the white cloud fluff against blue sky is beautiful. I want to see other places in the West and across the ocean, but I can’t imagine finding any place more spectacular than where I live.