Photo Essay: Backpacking Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA

Film photography from a few days spent cowboy camping in the smokey remnants of a two million year old volcano

Photo Essay: Backpacking Goat Rocks Wilderness, WA

Author

Graham Hiemstra

Photographer

Graham Hiemstra

Camera

Contax T2

Film

Kodak Portra 400, Ektar 100

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Field Mag's benevolent overlord, formerly of the PNW and now residing in NYC. We apologize in advance for his many mispellings.

Each year during late summer my father, uncle, cousin, and I get together in the Pacific Northwest to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. We’re not there to set records—no one would be impressed with our mileage—but simply to see a small stretch of the region we all grew up in, yet intimately know so little of. In past years we’ve visited Oregon’s Jefferson Park Wilderness, and Indian Heaven Wilderness in southwestern Washington. For summer ’17 we returned to the high country between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams to spend a few nights under the stars in Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Though just 40 or so miles due north of Indian Heaven, Goat Rocks is significantly more rugged with impressive elevations in all directions. The 108,000+ acre area is the remnant of a large volcano, now extinct for over two million years. In the time since glaciation and erosion have carved steep valleys and towering rock walls, while an annual snowfall of over 25 feet ensures little grows, especially above the timberline. For a region defined by its well-defined peaks, Goat Rocks offers flowing, craggy terrain unlike any other in the PNW. And, if you’re lucky, plenty of huckleberries and wild blueberry variations too.

At the trailhead, before the trip even technically began, we had the pleasure of changing a flat tire, as the hour long drive in on gravel left our aging Subaru limping. From there we found smoke from countless local wildfires clogged all surrounding valleys, and our lungs. Elevation gain was plentiful, and miles ticked by slowly, but we made progress each day, and cowboy camped at night.

Though our time in the Goat Rocks was brief, and we didn’t quite reach the famed Knife’s Edge, we were treated to two absolutely stunning campsites (one of which surrounded by literally dozens of PCT thru-hikers), swam in glacial melt, and shared multiple meals with curious marmots and herds of wild mountain goats grazing nearby. All while being fortunate enough to fully disconnect from the outside world for 72 peaceful hours—a true measure of success in my book.

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Published 09-20-2017

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