Goat Lake

A cold damp day and a hike was in order. Kim and I chose to visit Goat Lake on the Mountain Loop Highway just north of Barlow Pass. The floods of 2003 wiped out sections of road on either side of Elliot Creek and made it impossible to drive to the trailhead. Now that access has been restored we were interested in seeing what shape the trail is in. We headed out of Seattle at 7:15 and stopped at the Verlot Ranger Station. In the bathroom Kim runs into Janice Van Cleve. She posts lots of trip reports at WTA.org. It was fun to put a face to the name. On we went running into fresh snow on the road near the Mt. Dickerman trailhead. There were a few inches of wet snow on the road at Barlow Pass. As we descended the north side it quickly went away. We turned off on the Elliot Creek road and arrived at the trailhead to find exactly zero cars. As popular as this trail is I expected that not even wet weather would keep everyone away.

This trail has been an early spring destination for me. I have hiked it many times in April and May when most trails are still under snow. I had not ever been here so late in the year. When I started hiking it the main route was along Elliot Creek. The old road to the now closed trailhead was another option. Later the old creek trail fell into disrepair and was closed. I tried it once since and in the clear cut near where the creek and road routes meet I was cut to pieces by devils club an such blocking the trail. The creek route was rebuilt and I hiked it in 2003 just before the floods took out the road to the trailhead. Now Kim and I were here to check out the creek trail.

The rebuilt Elliot Creek trail started from the trailhead. The sign was gone and a note on the trailhead board stated both road and creek routes started up the road. At 9:45 we headed up the road. Part of the old route along a miners puncheon road washed away. The pre 2003 rebuild took the trail away from the creek and almost to the road. A short connector trail was used to get workers and tools to the trail. It was then closed off when the trail was done. It is now the route to the creek trail. In about 3/10th of a mile we reached that spot and left the road. Elliot Creek had as much water as I recall seeing in the spring and more than mid summer. It is a wild creek. There are not many creeks like it with trails along side.

The trail itself did not seem to have had much damage from the floods of 2003 and 2006. Many trees fell across the trail and all had been cut out. The long Elliot Creek Viaduct is still standing though the hillside did slide and some dirt come across the far end. We made slow progress as we enjoyed the rushing creek and took many photos. It was a dark gray day in a narrow forested gorge. Everything is green. Moss covers the trees and rocks. There are numerous cascades as the creek rushes by.

Higher up the gorge opens up and the creek slows down. We found patches of snow though the dense forest kept most of it from reaching the ground. The flocked trees did melt and dump rain and snow blobs down on us all day. It was rain gear from the beginning. In the clear cut area there are many deciduous trees and the ground was completely covered with brown leaves. Soon we reached the old road junction. A few minutes later we were at the old parking lot. So many skinny trees have grown up that it is hard to see that this was once a large parking lot. At the end of the lot we crossed a small creek and were back on the old puncheon road. This is where the old creek trail met the road route.

Now in old growth forest things changed radically. Smaller second growth trees were replaced with giants. Some of the old cedars must be more than 10 feet in diameter. The trees are reason enough to do this hike. At the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness boundary there are two huge trees on either side of the trail. Quite a doorway into the wilderness. Kim was not feeling real well and with that and all the things to see we were not making fast progress. I hoped to make it to the lake and she was determined to get there too.

I pointed out where the old puncheon road crossed the creek to reach the old Penn Mining headquarters. I still have not checked that out. After the gentle trail thus far we finally began to climb. Soon we again met up with the puncheon road and a few more switchbacks brought us to the lake. Just before the lake the creek first drops in a cascade then a larger waterfall. We took some time to admire the view. Finally at the lake we left forest and there was now 4 to 5 inches of snow on the ground. We crossed the first meadow and dropped to the shore. A recent report mentioned the water level was very low. Not any more. There was enough rocky beach to sit down but the level was higher than I usually find in the spring.

It was pretty cold at the lake. We bundled up. My cheap thermometer read about 35 degrees. It began to snow lightly then harder. Surprisingly we could see Foggy Peak in and out of the clouds. The view of the lake with all the freshly snow flocked trees is different than I have seen at the lake before. We managed to stay for 40 minutes and it was already 2:10 when we started down. It was looking like headlamps would be needed for at least a little of the hike down.

We puttered on down. At the old parking lot we chose to take the creek route down instead of making it a loop via the old road. The creek trail seems to go away all to often and we wanted to enjoy it while it's till hikeable. It was just about dark when we reached the connector up to the road. Curious as to why the trail does not start in the parking lot now we followed the creek trail downstream. There are a number of logs down across the trail but none that could not be removed. We met up with the old puncheon road though it was too dark to tell where. I was completely dry when we started on the closed off section. Within five minutes I was soaked with climbing over and under all the wet logs.

The old route comes right back along side the creek. The trail narrowed and at a vertical wall ahead I couldn't see it at all. Out came the headlamp and it looked like there was no trail. In fact, the whole thing fell into the creek. That's why the start of the trail is now unsigned. We must have been very close to the trailhead but there was no way to climb up the near vertical slope. We had to follow the trail back climbing over and under all those trees. Once back on the connector trail we were a minute from the road and less than ten minutes from the truck. It was pitch black at 5:17 when we made it out.

There were no other cars there and we saw no other boot prints in the snow coming back. It seems we were the only ones to brave the weather on this trail this day. It was still raining as we drove away and kept raining until over Barlow Pass though the weather was much better all the rest of the way home. We made the most of a cold and gray day on this trail. The forest is beautiful in the mist and rain and the creek is a show stopper. The big trees were every bit as enormous as I remembered them. The lake was much different than in spring. All in all it was a fun day on the trail.

Kim's report is here:  Nwhikers Report & Photos


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Trips - 2008