My Mother: The Goat Whisperer

For labor day we decided to go real classic – we found a fun big group of people and we went backpacking in a very popular spot. It was great.

We had promised to take my mom backpacking and we had put Goat Rocks on our calendar early in the summer. We couldn’t wait to get back, it had been one of our favorite spots on the PCT. There were so many things to do – check out Goat Lake, summit Old Snowy, and enjoy the views of Mount Adams. That’s how we came to be at the Top Foods parking lot at 4AM on the Saturday of Labor Day. We were heading down south with my mom, Nelson and Michelle and our family friends, Arlene and Joe. After we had tetris-ed all of our backs into the back of Joe and Arelen’s suburban we all piled in and pulled onto the freeway in the dark.

A couple of hours later we pulled into a very crowded parking lot and I could feel Kyle staring out the window nervously. This was technically his Christmas present to my mom and I knew he was really stressed we wouldn’t be able to find a campsite. I was nervous too – Goat Rocks is a busy spot every day of the summer, and we had picked it as our destination for Labor Day Weekend… were we crazy?

The hike to Snowgrass Flats was fast and easy. I rushed ahead to see if I could find a place for four tents. Not only did I find a spot but we hit the jackpot. In the highest stand of trees before it was nothing but open alpine meadows was plenty of flat space for all of us. We nestled into the trees and set up a comfy kitchen around a giant fire ring that we would NOT be using. It was a beautiful camp to call home for the weekend.

Old Snowy – That first day after we got to camp we decided to hike up the PCT to the spot below Old Snowy. The trail winds its way up through short stunted pine trees and and heather fields. There was still snow right at the top before we crested the final ridge and Mount Rainier stood huge and white against the sky to the north. A huge fire was raging to its east – we knew that this was forcing thruhikers off the trail at Chinook Pass. Looking at the plume of smoke that was spreading to the east I was thankful for how lucky we had been our year. When we turned around to the south we could see a new looking plume of smoke south of Mount Adams. Our air was clear but all around us smoke was rising.


Everyone else opted to stay below but Kyle and I wanted to climb Old Snowy. It was only a little bit further up the trail and when we were hiking the PCT we hadn’t done but because of very full packs and trail conditions. Without out a pack on it was a very easy trip to the top. A couple of harder moves made it a true scramble but with almost zero scary exposure it was a lot of fun. The summit was gorgeous with a huge flat slab right on top and a couple of tempting bivvy spots. A perfect warm breeze was blowing and neither of us ever wanted to leave. But we could see our hiking family making their way back to camp so we followed.

On the way back we passed out the last of the trail magic Snickers we had hiked in. We regretted not having brought five times as many as we had packed in. But at least a couple of thru hikers got a snack they didn’t have to carry – their smiles were worth it.

We cooked our freeze dried dinners in camp and then took dessert up the trail a little ways to where Kyle and I had camped on the PCT. An incredible view of Mount Adams always makes your chocolate taste better.


Goat Lake – The next day we woke up with the sun and moseyed around camp eating breakfast and slowly getting ready to go to Goat Lake. It was only a couple of miles away so we weren’t in any rush. By the time we got moving the sun was shining through a hazy sky and we could feel that it was going to be hot. My mom and Arlene were already planning a trip back with their wonder women so the hike to Goat Lake was a real-estate adventure for them, noting every amazing campground that we passed and logging them away for future hikes. The walk to the lake took us around the edge of a deep valley, the parking lot was located somewhere down at the mouth and at the start was Goat Lake – hanging suspended above the valley in a dirt and stone urn.


Walking up over the edge of the lake we were greeted by stunning blue waters, steep rocky cliffs and hordes of people. However, they seemed to be congregating mostly around the outlet so we picked our way around the edge until we were almost on the other side of the lake and we set up on a sandy patch of beach. We then proceeded to jump in and out of the icy cold water for the next couple of hours. The water was so chilly you could only stay in for a couple of seconds before retreating to the blazing sun beams. But soon the sun would have dried you and rewarmed your skin – requiring you to leap back into the deep blue. It was cold. However, it wasn’t nearly as cold as the spring near camp where we had been getting water, which was basically liquid ice flowing straight out of the ground.


After we had all dunked a couple of times and were lounging on the beach my mom started to see the goats. When my mom spots a goat she doesn’t just say, “Oh look, up there, at goat.” No, instead she shouts suddenly, without any warning or lead in, “A GOAT!!!!!!” It is startling to say the least. This time she was right and it wasn’t just one goat. High above us on the impossibly steep slopes of the lake basin were nineteen or twenty goats. They meandered across the vertical slopes, snacking on who-knows-what and following little paths that were indistinguishable to the naked eye. We watched one little group traverse along the overhanging crumbling cliffs, leaping to outcroppings and encouraging each other to take risks. Eventually they laid down in a “great” spot for a nap – on a cliff. We all marveled at their lives and before you know it we had been watching them with a running commentary from my mother for at least an hour.


That whole time I had been doing a glacially slow wade into the lake and had made it up to my belly button. My feet were so cold I wasn’t sure they would hold my weight once I got back onto solid ground. Finally it was determined that we should start our hike back and so I submerged one more time and crawled back up onto land, my whole body tingling. I had managed to chill my lower half so completely it took a mile or two to warm up, which is a truly magical feeling.

Dinner that night was enjoyed in a field of Mouse on a Stick, lit up golden bright by the setting sun.


Sometimes Kyle and I do adventures to learn new things about ourselves and to push outside our comfort zone. Sometimes we do them just to spend time with friends and family and in a beautiful place. Weekends like Goat Rocks fill me with energy and light, making everything seem more beautiful.


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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

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