The allure of finding the perfect wildflower display is born out of an addiction to bright colors. Blue skies, red paintbrush, purple lupine and lush green grasses combine to start a chemical reaction in my brain. My particular obsessive-compulsive “disorder” commands me to seek out early summer meadows, take scads of pictures and smile a lot.
This July I was entranced by the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Located in the southern Cascades of Washington State, between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks boasts post-card views of both peaks and yes, more than a few wildflowers!
Heading up into the high country in July is always somewhat dicey: finding trails that have melted out enough so that they can be easily hiked is not easy, getting accurate up to the day reports on current conditions not easy to do.
My Goat Rocks Trail Guide described a sort-of loop along the Lily Basin Trail, up over Goat Ridge and into the Snowgrass Flats area. We arrived and the first day hoofed it up along the ridge to a fantastic camp site with views of all three volcanoes, Mounts Rainier, Adams and St. Helens.
The sunset on the ridge is unforgettable.
The next day we navigate west, along the trail up Goat Ridge. But we find the way blocked: the snow fields are miles long, steep and treacherous. With no ice axes and 40 lb packs a slip would mean getting airlifted out with lacerations and fractures. We considered all options and agree to hike out the way we came, stay in a hotel that night, and then drive around to the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and so arrive in wildflower heaven from the other side.
The way back along the Lily Basin Trail is hot and tedious…until we enter the Cathedral of Avalanche Lilies. I feel like I’ve been teleported to Avatar, the flowers are ALIVE and they are talking directly to me.
The next day we arise at the crack of dawn and head up the valley. Our maneuver to out-flank the snow fields is a success and we soon find ourselves in the midst of famous Snowgrass Flats.
Our path soon meets up with the Pacific Crest Trail and we begin the long gradual ascent of the Goat Rocks. Remnants of a long-gone volcano, the ‘Rocks’ are a perfect setting for the myriad flower displays. We hike up and up, to the highest point on the PCT in Washington Sate, where the trail itself has been blasted in to the very summit of the peak…
The next two days are all about exploring, communing with flora and lots more smiling. One of the perks of arriving so soon after the snow melt is that the flowers are FRESH. The new blooms are rich, clean, fragrant and bursting with colors.
I discovered a wonderful camping spot, high on the ridge in the midst of the grandest spot I’ve seen in quite a while.
Yes, I will be coming back soon!
Andy Porter began his love of the outdoors when, at the age of 16, he completed a month-long Outward Program in the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho. Since then he has hitchhiked many miles, criss-crossing the US; trekked in the Andes; lived in the steppes of Siberia and now makes his home in the northwestern corner of Washington state, where he feels completely at home. As a photographer and writer Andy tries to capture some small part of the beauty and wonder he sees. You can see more of Andy’s images here, and on his blog page, which includes many of his stories of travel and adventure.
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