Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend, 2007 -- Goat Rocks ROCKS!

It started out innocently enough...

While hanging out with the tele gods in the White Pass bar a while back, the dad said, "yeah, we're going out to the Goat Rocks for Memorial Day, you should come along." It was merely a polite gesture, and he offered some details like, "just follow our trail" to describe how to get there. I was not put off. Ever since the Super Bowl Sunday tour to Hogback, I've been fantasizing about the Goat Rocks. And the opportunity to go with the tele gods was too good to pass up. They know stuff, and by hanging with them, I'm gonna learn stuff. That's the goal. Plus, I was going to learn stuff in the world's most beautiful classroom. After some hemming and hawing (and recent personal events) I finally decided that I was definitely going.

I started buying maps, and checking out resources -- asking friends who were familiar with the area what they knew. Tried to rope in some participants, but received not so much as a nibble... until Tuesday or so when Emily dropped me a line and said, "it's ON!"

You probably won't even find them all weekend
I asked a buddy of mine who'd been out there not too long ago how to get to Warm Lake. He offered some advice like, "if you don't know where they'll be, you probably won't even find them all weekend", and "take hiking shoes", and "there's a lot of windfall", and "take an avy beacon", and etc. He wasn't discouraging in the least, but none of his warnings were comprehended. I've only hiked once before and that was in the Wallowas. I thought "a trail's a trail". Ok, so we needed to do some route-finding; ok, we needed hiking shoes; ok, some windfall; ok, we'll borrow avy beacons. Nothing sounded like a deal-breaker to me.
I do believe i forgot to pass on some of the beta to Emily, i blame that on my tunnel-vision. We WERE going to the Goat Rocks, we WERE hiking out to Warm Lake, and by god we WERE skiing.
She arrived at my house at 3:30, we loaded the dogs and her stuff and headed for the Trailhead. It's TACO TIME!
There were, no shit, a LOT of rednecks out. I use the term losely to describe people who have big-ass trailers pulled by big-ass diesel trucks carrying big-ass people who ride big-ass ATVs. And they were thicker than the mosquitos. We stopped in at a campground on the South Fork of the Tieton river to empty our garbage (veggie wrap bag, green tea bottle, gum wrappers). We also stopped to use the toilet and this is where we remembered that we forgot to pack toilet paper. Fortunately, my glove box contained some three hundred Taco Time napkins from previous road trips. From that point on, any bathroom action became known by the code word, "Taco Time!" We stuffed the napkins into a pack and ticked "toilet paper" off our packing list.

Do you think this is stable?
Emily and I figured we'd start hiking that night, go as far as we wanted, and then camp. We were equipped. We had everything we needed. We could do it.
We loaded our packs, parked the car, and began marching from the trailhead by around 7:00 pm. We pretty much hit windfall within the first 1/4 mile of the trailhead. This involved doing one of the following things: finding a route around the massive obstacle, doing our best to shimmy over the obstacle, or crawling under the obstacle. Note: the packs with skis and boots on them were, basically, friggin' huge. No option appealed to us as "easy". Even so, we forged ahead.

We lost the trail several times, instead bushwacking in the general direction of our destination. Of course, it was dark, so that added to the difficulty of finding the trail. Finally, at a river crossing, we lost the trail. I mean, we really lost it. No clue where it went, it had all been flooded out. We poked around the piles of debris left by flooding, looking for a clue where the trail might be. I turned and saw some logs that looked suspiciously parallel...

"Hey, Em, I think I found a bridge!" The "bridge" had recently been buried under several logs, many of them as much as 18" in diameter. During flooding the logs had washed onto the bridge and got trapped there, looking like a drunken beaver had tried to build a dam. It was not clear whether the bridge even spanned the entire river, or if it was resting in it's original location or had been washed down. I climbed up onto it, as it was a good 4' above the ground.

"Do you think it looks stable?" asked Em. I was thinking exactly the same thing, waiting for it all to collapse around me. I poked around with my ski poles and stomped on a few boards and logs... nothing moved.

"Yeah, actually, it looks good." and so we crossed the bridge, crawling over logs, easing back down onto the bridge, trying not to roll our ankles or fall into the river. The bridge stopped a good couple of feet from the shore, but it did appear to be a trail on the other side. So, we hopped onto shore and plodded onward.

What the hell is this, the Elk I-5?

We finally lost the trail. It was probably 10 at night, very dark, and we couldn't continue due to massive windfall, and couldn't work out where the trail picked up again. We had enough, and decided to set up camp and continue in the morning.
Murphy and Cricket decided that, in fact, their fun was not over yet, and took off into the night. Great. I hate when they do that. I was relieved when Murphy came back fairly soon... but not impressed with the 23 porcupine quills poking out of his muzzle. As his punishment, I sat and drank a beer while he pondered the meaning of life and porcupines. Em had a pocket knife. After downing the beer, I pinned murphy down and began pulling the quills out. ugh. poor guy. He had them in his lips. All I could keep telling him was, "dude, i've had a bikini wax before, i know how you feel." He took it reasonably well, he only really fought when I had to yank the deep ones. Sheesh.

We all went to bed.

And then woke up to the sound of clattering hooves, breaking branches and the thunder of elk running through our camp. No kidding, i thought they were jumping our damn tent. I was scared to death. Em pretty much slept through the whole thing. I seriously reconsidered the merit of our plan. Should we really be out there? i mean, we were essentially clueless as to where we were, we had no idea where we were going, and there were friggin' mutant human-eating elk stampeding our camp! I lay in bed and said a prayer that went something like, "Jesus Christ what the Hell are we thinking???"
When the sun came up, i got some sleep. Somehow wild animals are smaller, cuter, fuzzier, and tamer in the light of day. We decided to continue.

The Goat Rocks Plan is IN PLAY

Steve and Jesse arrived at our camp just as we were about to throw our packs on. By "throw" our packs on, I mean, one of us helps the other heft it up as high as we can, the other wriggles under the pack, and then there is the "stabilization" dance of standing with your legs increasingly further apart whilst wobbling back and forth and trying to cinch the waist-band of your pack. Not wanting to allow virtual strangers to witness this less-than-graceful procedure, we stood coolly by our packs and made small talk. Steve offered some helpful advice, "go right at Surprise Lake". Cool, ok. They went on ahead. We made sure they were out of viewing range, and then began to "throw our packs on".

The trail was easy to pick up again in broad daylight, as one would expect. Steve and Jesse waited for us at the fork, and pointed the way (right), then blasted on ahead of us. Apparently the rest of the group was behind us.

The Arrival of Robert

The windfall became thicker and heavier, until we found ourselves on game trails more often than regular trails. We crawled up steep banks, trudged through mud, squirmed under fallen trees, and finally stopped for lunch. It was 10:30 am.

The best lunch in the whole wide world is a peanut butter and goo and gummi bear wrap. mmmmmmmm!!! I had two, and they were decadent. We hydrated, snacked, and rested before putting our packs back on to continue the slog. As we began to move out, someone approached along the trail. We didn't recognize him, but after some introductions (and the observation that no one else in the state would be out there with skis on their back unless they were with our group) we proceeded together in search of steve and jesse's tracks.

We did not find them, but at least had another person in our party.

Then we hooked up with the rest of the group

And that took all the guesswork out, but left us with some interesting hiking to still do. We gained elevation quickly and were hiking through mixed snow and mud. The trail was still intermittent and choked with windfall. Em and I changed in to our tele boots. My Chacos had had enough and I seriously doubted their ability to make the trip back. Besides, my toes were cold from the snow.

While we changed, the group got a little ahead of us, no worries.

"I said, come UP the waterfall!"

As we trudged along, looking for our group's tracks, we heard a voice from on high. It was not god, but Johnny. We couldn't see him, but could only hear him say, "Come up the waterfall!" Emily turned to me, "What did he just say?" I said, "I think he said to come up the waterfall." To our right was about a 20' waterfall of snowmelt on rock. We were in stiff telemark boots. With large packs on. With cumbersome skis tied to them.

"What?" Emily yelled back to him.

"I said, COME UP THE WATERFALL." Johnny yelled back down to us. Let it be known, Johnny's voice carries well, and we really did hear him the first time. However, before ascending a waterfall wearing tele boots and giant packs with skis tied to them, a person typically wants to verify that, yes, "come up the waterfall" is what they were directed to do. It was, and we did. The holds were all good, so it wasn't quite as bad as you might expect. However, I didn't expect, ever, to be hiking up a waterfall with a pack on. EVER. This hiking thing is bullshit, let me just say...

At the top we found our group, sitting down, resting.


Those were the words I heard as I looked up the avy chute to see a large, about 20 lb boulder trundling toward my head. We'd just post-holed some 100 yards up a steep, steep chute, literally kicking our boots into the snow and crawling on our hands, just so we could get to a rock-scramble up about a 20' cliff. I decided to wait at the bottom of the cliff with the dogs so they wouldn't knock loose rock onto people, or knock people over. My legs shook in anticipation of the crawl up that cliff with no protection. I didn't dare look down at what my landing might be if I lost my balance. I already knew. It'd be a long, tumbling, icy, fast fall down an avy chute, bouncing off the rock walls on each side, then sliding down a snow-field and into the trees far below. And, if I survived that, my only choice would be to probably try it again. So, imagine as I began my ascent, perched with barely the toe of my boot on a questionable lip of rock and one hand clutching another boulder, when above me I heard the unflappable Kurt sounding very flapped, yelling, "Rock! OH FUCK, ROCK!!!" The boulder bounded toward me, pinballing from left to right, gaining more and more air with every bounce. Shit. If it hit any part of me, even my skis, I was going down. I braced and tried to time my duck if it came at me. It bounced about 8 feet above me and then flew past my head, probably 3 feet away, but it felt like it barely missed me. I felt nauseous. But, then it was time to start the climb.
Turns out, wearing a pack with skis on it, and telemark boots to climb an avy chute is basically a bitch. No two ways about it. It was a total gut-wrenching, terrifying struggle. I hated every second of it. The only thing that kept me from having a total breakdown was the fact that I was with people I barely knew. Em and I still can't believe we did it.

Not too far after the chute, we switched to skis with skins and skinned up to the knoll which was camp.

The Rocky Knoll

We camped on a wind-scoured knoll at the base of Gilbert. It was a lovely location, a pinnacle from which you could look up the valley at Gilbert, or turn and look down the valley at Surprise Lake, and more mountains. Just wonderful.
We pitched our tent in the snow, next to a snag... it was awesome.

Did I mention that we skied?
Yes, really! We slept in Sunday morning, had a lazy breakfast, and headed up the glacier. By then the rest of the crew was returning from Gilbert Peak. Em and I were positive that the Peak was not where we belonged, so we were happy to cruise along at our leisurely pace. The dogs had a total blast, the sun was shining and the trek to the saddle (in the pictures, the saddle is to the viewer's right of Gilbert Peak) was very enjoyable. We got to the saddle after several kick turns and traverses, and rewarded ourselves with a peanut butter and gummi bear wrap. MMMM!!! The north side of the saddle had total boilerplate, and the south side (our side) was beautiful mush. Just lovely. a bit heavy, but SO fun!
We skied back down to camp, enjoying the wind in our faces, the sun, the sweet snow, and the satisfaction of being there.
Em, the dogs, and I all decided to take a nap. Why not? We were on vacation! :)
We awoke at around 6 pm to gale-force winds and snow. And cold, ohmygod, so cold! At night murphy would shiver, so I'd drape my down vest over the poor little dude. Cricket did fine but murphy got cold. So, the wind and snow did not appeal to him in the least.
After dinner, afraid our tent would blow away, I returned to our tent and hung out with the dogs -- listening to my iPod and writing in my journal. it was peaceful and cathartic. very nice.
em came to bed and we nodded off, completely satisfied with our day.
Sleeping in the tent was like being trapped in an accordian. the sides of the tent continually collapsed in on us, then heaved back up against the wind. It didn't stop until about 6 in the morning. My god it was unreal. Everything held up fine though.
Monday, time to head down
Em needed to be home by 7:00. Given the trek to get into the place, we thought it prudent to leave first thing in the morning. Fortunately, Jason and Jesse led us out. We totally ditched any possiblity of trying to follow the trail and just made a beeline for the parking lot. The trip down was a breeze. We skied a fair amount of it, then hiked the rest of the way out. We had virtually no windfall to deal with. We just cruised. It was great!

In Sum
Well, holy shit. I can't believe we got in there. it was a chore. We were so stoked though, and had such a great time, i think I'd do it again! :)


cascadepoet said...

Awesome. That was a classic story. You have a great way of just saying what you are thinking and you have a funny way of thinking. I enjoyed it :) and I'm glad that you both had a great time! You picked a great place to go ski mountaineering, and I'll tell you, there is much, much more to see. Wait until you ski baker. Or shuksan. Or go to cascade pass or washington pass. Ah, if I could just have my memories scraped clean so I could begin again?

mzchristy said...

Awesome story! I can't wait to read more! You're fricken hilarious