Goat Rocks Again: Tres Basins Loop

So Baja Fresh used to have this super baller burrito called The Burrito Dos Manos. The idea, I guess, was that the thing was so big it took two hands to hold. I loved it as much as I’ve ever loved anything. The first time I told Krista I loved her, I was crazy nervous, and I’m sure it was crazy obvious, but Krista just smiled at me, unsurprised, and asked, “Dos Manos?” I told her Tres.

So we’re calling this hike the Tres Basins Loop. From the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead, we took the Snowgrass and Bypass Trails northeast to the PCT, then cut east on the PCT to a beautiful plateau above Cispus Basin, where we set up camp. After a night spent rambling up near Ives Peak and staring at the stars, the next day we cut back west on the PCT to the Lily Basin Trail, bumbled up to Hawkeye Point, and sauntered back to the car on Goat Ridge through turning leaves, pointed toward fall.

September 24, 2016


This, or some version of this, was the first backpacking trip we ever took. We’d been married a little more than a month, and hiking together for barely half a year. Neither of us were even vaguely prepared. Half a mile in, Krista stopped, and looked up exasperated. “I’m not complaining, but this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

It’s foggy this morning, with just the barest hint of rain—not so much rain as the idea of rain, hanging above the autumn leaves. We walk through that first half mile, then a bunch more half miles besides, before stopping for a second to stare at an at first unseen lake, near the headwaters of one of many Goat Creeks.



From the lake, the trail sidehills and steepens, switchbackping up minor gullies and wooded ridges on the way to Snowgrass Flat. The pines are pondering fall, bits of gold hiding high in the canopy. There are larches here!


Soon we’re up, and traversing east to the PCT, through crowded creekside camps, still still in the early morning light.


I come to the junction a few minutes before Krista, and think immediately of this spot a few months ago, at the very beginning of my walk through Washington. I stare at the PCT sign, run my fingers along the letters, and notice all at once that I’m crying, crying for I don’t know why. Big crocodile tears. It’s weird. I feel sort of ambushed by the whole thing. I feel sort of nuts, crying and smiling, staring at the sign through bleary, wet eyes.

I guess there’s just a lot  of my life piled up here: days and years on top of each other, all at the same time.


Krista comes, and we saunter together, through trees and talus, across a small ridge, and finally into the Cispus River’s colossal valley, now snow-free, but still split by streams from every direction.



There’s a grand plateau above the trail, a thousand feet wide, where tiny, trickling creeks from the close ridge above come together into slow deep streams.





We set up camp in the vanishing shadow of a ten foot boulder, and take a late morning nap to the sound of rushing pikas and rustling wind and whistling marmots, just out of frame.




We wake to the smell of huckleberries, overripe in the early afternoon sun, and decide to ramble up the ridge, up toward Ives Peak.




We traverse through berry fields across a minor ridge, then cut further up, through scree and late summer flowers.





The wind picks up as we approach the top, then nearly knocks me over as we crest a small saddle to overlook a far finger of the McCall Glacier. It’s so strong and cold that the only thing we can do is laugh. Laugh and hold on to our hats.




The wind’s too strong to stay for long, so we say our goodbyes to the distant hills and scamper down to the calm hillside.


It’s still only early afternoon, so we stop again, now in the vast berry fields beneath our saddle to eat all we can. Every berry tastes different: like apple, then pear, then ripe strawberries at the outset of summer. Like every good thing in the world. The wind’s still shrieking overhead, but it’s calm here, and we stretch out between brambles and branches, breathing the dear air of summer fruit on the cusp of winter’s first snow.

Then I look back and Krista’s double fisting.




The sun starts to fade and we amble back to camp, change into our warm clothes, and eat on the banks of our slow stream, which has shrunk with the autumn evening cold. The dark comes slowly, close and comforting, then dissolves into a stately blanket of stars and satellites. We lie on a rock on the far side of the plateau, looking up and talking about nothing. Krista sees a comet, then I do too.


September 25


The sun rises but we ignore it, then ignore the scurrying animals and chirping birds. This’ll probably be out last trip of the year, and I guess neither of us are in a hurry for it to end. We bumble around making breakfast, fiddling with the stove and our food bag, filtering water at the edge of our steam. Then it’s time to go and we doddle back to the PCT.

Three young women pass—thru hikers headed for Canada. They’re nervous about the weather. In a week the first fall snows will come. “Maybe we’ll make it?”


The meadows under Old Snowy are all gold and red with huckleberries and bloomed-out beargrass. And the smell! Like warm fruit and fallen leaves on the first day of fall. I stop and sit, stick my nose into the bushes and breathe in deeply.





We turn off the trail for Snow Grass Flat, and immediately pass a jumble of tents. Then to familiar trails, the first place we ever camped, on the way west to Goat Lake.





The mile or two of trail between Snowgrass and the Lake is one of my favorite walks in the world. It sidehills high along the headwaters of Goat Creek, through small stands of trees and talus and half a dozen creeks, tumbling over rocks and roots.









The first time I saw Goat Lake—the first time we saw Goat Lake—there was really no lake. Just snow. Just snow with a small pool of blue, not ten feet across, glimmering slightly on its way to summer. The lake’s bare now, and more green than blue, but just as beautiful, on its way to winter.



We only stay for a second, long enough to soak our feet and eat a quick lunch, then on, up to Goat Ridge.




We reach the ridge almost as soon as we leave the lake, and I decide to take a quick run up Hawkeye Point. I’ve never been there before, and I don’t know: this is probably our last backpacking trip this year, and it feels like a nice way to end.

I cross over another minor ridge, and the view is suddenly overwhelming: down to Johnson Creek, over Angry Mountain to Lily Basin, way down to the Cowlitz River, and finally up to Rainier. And even beyond that: over Snoqualmie to the Alpine Lakes, an entire summer, before and behind.






The way back is easy: down the point to Krista, then down the ridge back home, together.




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