Goat Rocks Traverse
August 22-25, 2008

Photos and story by Jason Hummel


I learned early that the richness in life is found in adventure. Adventure calls on the faculties of mind and spirit. It developes self-relience and independence. Life then teems with excitement. But man is not ready for adventure unless he is rid of fear. For fear confines him and limits his scope. He stays tethered by strings of doubt and indecision and only has a small and narrow world to explore.
~William O Douglas, Of Men and Mountains

1. Gilbert 8184'
2. Ives 7840'
3. Old Snowy 7930'


As much as the Goat Rocks fascinate me and as much as I think I've seen everything they can offer, there are still surprises. Isn't that something? No matter how much you worry you will run out of places to see, there is always more to set eyes on in the places that you've been - their wildly different expressions you could say? Those emotional interplays found in storm, time of day and season. Such was my hope when I set out on yet another Goat Rocks adventure.

What made this adventure different than most was my littlest brother. He's 10 years old and looks up to my twin brother Josh and I like one would mythical hero's. "They are mountain climbers," he would submit as evidence. I would be forced to apply the same to him. After these past three days he proved his mythical brother’s blood runs in his veins too. He's certainly a 'mountain climber'.

DAY ONE: Conrad Meadows to Mount Gilbert

The idea for this hike stems from an earlier ski traverse friends and I had done through the Goat Rocks many years ago. For those that know the area, they would be familiar with Conrad Meadows and the North Tieton Trail. What they may not be familiar with is the way between. There are no trails. In winter our 'trails' are where we make them, cut into the snow new and fresh, gone with the next storm, our passage like the wind. While not as pure, hiking can have the same thrill of discovery, invigorated by your forging a path rather than following another's.

We three left the Conrad trailhead mid-afternoon Friday. Our mom drove away after helping with the car shuttle. A feeling that I crave is commitment. The car was now 3 days away. The things that bind me began to slowly unwind and cease to slow me. Legs loosen, head clears, and the meadows full of grazing cattle are quickly left behind for the higher places.

Mixtures of flowers beg for me to stop and photo them. An occasional compliance puts me further behind the others. We'd gone several miles and stopped in a wonderful place. 'We MUST camp here,' was the consensus. So we did. The plan for the day was to climb Gilbert, but we could see no reason this couldn't wait a day. Once camp was set, it appeared like we were going to go climb anyhow, but instead we went adventuring. Its amazing what you can find when you put your nose to the grindstone. There are often special places hiding right in front of you.

Infatuated with a waterfall and disgusted my tripod was broken, rocks were stacked, trees leaned against to get the best shot. Meanwhile Josh and Jeremy were interrupting me. There was something 'cool'. As it turns out, above my photogenic waterfall is a narrow canyon and inside a sliver of snow. It appeared that a rock-filled gully would lead us directly down to it. After hearing about 2 teens getting buried in an ice cave just days before, I was antsy about walking on potentially unstable snow. With some inspection we considered the danger minimal enough to allow for further exploration. Now in a canyon 4-10 feet wide we continued working our way up. In a safe place we left Jeremy. My twin and I continued by stemming the canyon until we came to a giant waterfall. Whitewater kayaking often puts you in places like this, places usually only a kayak would venture. While this creek was too small and dangerous for kayaking, it was fascinating to appreciate the surreal splendor canyons posses in another way.

Soon tired and hungry, we arrived back at camp. Josh asked me to get the stove, to which I responded with a classic faux pa, "I thought you brought it?" To make matters worse, I was not going to sleep very well since I neglected to bring my sleeping pad. Seems like tired and hungry were par for the course.

DAY TWO: Summit of Mount Gilbert and traverse of Conrad Glacier to Old Snowy

Today we woke up ready to climb and move camp closer to Old Snowy. Peeling my face off the sand-encrusted tent floor was a much appreciated change! The morning was spectacular blues quickly warming to a dimmer variety with the brightening sun. I caught several quick photos of a nearby waterfall whose sheltered flowers were the best around. Any wet feet in the process of getting there were worth it. My inner voice directing me, "You can jump it!" Yeah, sure I can?

Mount Gilbert is the tallest peak in the Goat Rocks. Its prominent summit pyramid is quite visible from an open valley. Think of a welcoming great hall. The climb up through this after packing camp was much enjoyed. Jeremy was doing very well and even managed to pass a few groups, the only ones on the mountain. This made me proud.

Snow was broken by plenty of rock. A path could be taken nearly all the way without ever touching snow. Not as direct as we wanted, we avoided that route. From the summit, views are infectious. We were alone with those spacious sights. Eyes are attracted most to Rainier, Saint Helens, and Adams. In the midst of all three you are spectator to all. Positioned as such, I can think of no better place to see them.


We ran down past several parties and slid down to a high bench where we re-shouldered our backpacks before setting out for another pass. On the other side sits a murky glacier lake. These are sad affairs. They are the blood of once prominent glaciers, now just remnants of their former glory. We crossed snowfields over to another pass where a large ridge snakes all the way over from Tieton Peak. The lowest point abuts Mount Gilbert and her massive cliffs.

What remains of a glacier drops off of Gilbert beyond this ridge. We managed to climb down the far right side of it and traverse copious amounts of snow and rock. Jeremy became familiarized with 'scree' and our distain of it. No matter how awful this was for him, he thought the adventure was worth it, not to mention the views. Besides which, the clouds of blue flowers shrouding Tieton and Gilbert, the dozens of creeks storming down the slopes and the multitude of 'cool' rocks couldn't be ignored for their splendor, even if what he was most interested in was finding the BIGGEST cool rock around. There certainly wasn't a lack of those.

That night the clouds were spectacular. I stood by far from camp in the wind and watched them. Our camp held aloft by a large bluff couldn't be ignored for its stunning purchase. It had first caught our attention years ago and hadn't been disturbed by anyone since.

DAY THREE: Summit of Ives and Old Snowy and out North Tieton

Morning was brilliant. Peeling my face off the tent floor (another reminder not to forget your sleeping pad), I looked out the tent which had remained open for the night. I could see dazzling colors dancing on the horizon. Chilled I crept out of the tent with my camera in search of a worthy photo. A sunset alone is not boring. It is a picture without a frame. With a mountain, animal, plant or person you can frame the picture and make it more by doing so.

With an early start we booted up snow to a col between Old Snowy and Ives. Once there we left overnight packs for a quick scramble over to Ives. It was not as fast as we expected. The summit gave new perspective to peaks we had yet to climb and those we had come from.

Back at our packs we continued upward to where an arch precariously rests. The crumbly rock appearing so fragile that a mere tap could threaten to send it tumbling over, but it survives the seasons. Maybe it will even survive me? Makes you wonder how precarious our footing is in this world?

On the summit of Old Snowy another group had arrived just as we had. Jeremy with his big grins and smiles stood on the summit for a moment before we continued our journey and dropped toward McCall Basin. The snow fingers were nicely linked together and made for easy cruising for a few thousand feet. Streams here manage to scour most of the valley bottom and several waterfalls line it. I stopped at a few to appreciate them and AGAIN got my feet wet. 'You can jump it!' Sure I can.

At the end of the basin before the stream drops into another waterfall, we finally picked up a trail, the first we'd had since Gilbert. From here it is 7-8 miles to the end of the trail. It begins with nice meandering meadows next to a gorgeous creek and continues from there in thick forest. A perfect incline is easy on the knees and makes for quick work. My thanks to whoever built this trail (thumbs up!).

Three summits and three very rewarding days, new sights seen in old familiar stomping grounds, plus brotherly bonding and teaching a kid the joys of mountain wanderings are special joys indeed. There are few that outweigh them. And to be sure, we've got a lot of lessons to teach him yet, but for now, this 'mountain climber' he's gonna go into 5th grade with a few stories to tell and come his next break we'll catch up on his secondary education. From personal experience, I know an 'A' is never easy. In this case, Jeremy earned an 'A' and a pat on the back, 'Nice work little bro. You rock!'


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