Monday, July 16, 2012

Goat Lake (MLH) 06-23-2012

Goat Lake is a beautiful lake located in a large glacial cirque in what was once a popular mining area.

Located along the Mountain Loop Highway, between Granite Falls and Darrington, the trail to Goat Lake is about a 10 mile round trip adventure with relatively mild elevation gain (1,700 feet of elevation gain and about 10 or 11 miles round trip).

Despite the fact that I've been actively hiking for about 10 years, Goat Lake never came onto my radar screen until just this last spring when discussions started popping up on Facebook and Then it was publicized as one of WTA's "Featured Hikes".

Generally speaking, my hiking preferences center around big views and elevation gain... leaving the "Lake Focused" hikes for days that are forecasted to be wet or less than ideal for big view destinations.

Such was the case for June 23, 2012. The weather was forecasted to include rain... possibly a lot of it. Conflicting with the rain, rain, rain promised on TV, my super secret precipitation forecaster was suggesting that it wouldn't really be that bad. Regardless, that's what Rain Gear is for.

It turns out that 1) it's a good idea to bring your rain gear when it might rain and 2) it's a good idea to keep your raingear properly maintained so it does what it is supposed to do.

Steve G. and I connected at the Red Apple Market in Granite Falls and carpooled to the trailhead without incident. Little did we know that the sights would be a bit different on the return trip.

We were a little concerned about the recent popularity of this hike... would there be enough parking? Would it be as popular as Mt. Si? Yes, and no. Yes we found a parkign spot and no, it wasn't as crowded as Mt. Si, but it certainly wasn't solitude either.

Shortly after embarking on the trail, hikers are faced with a choice: take the upper trail or the lower trail. Both join back together before switchbacking up a slope to the lake.

The upper trail follows an old logging or mining road. The tread is pretty solid and there are a couple of nice 'water features' along the way. The upper route is also a bit longer than the lower route.

The lower trail follows alongside Elliot Creek. Very nice creek views along the way, but the trail also has a number of short ups and downs, plus quite a few muddy sections and tree roots.

First time visitors should consider a counter-clockwise loop, taking the lower trail on the way to the lake and the upper trail on the way back. Doing so allows you an opportunity to view a wider variety of trail scenes.

In the event that rain is forecasted (or it has recently rained or is currently raining), it may be prudent to skip the lower trail route. Adding more water to the mud we encountered could quickly turn a muddy trail into a hiking disaster with boots full of water and possibly making the route difficult to follow.

We chose to do the counter clockwise loop and we are glad we did.

Upon our arrival at the lake we quickly found a nice log to relax on with a view of the entire lake.

At 12:30, with blue skies above, we began to pack up and prepare for our hike out. At that point in time, rain began to fall. It wasn't a downpour but it was more than a sprinkle. We searched for a rainbow without success. Made the raingear handy and followed the trail into the woods to descend the switchbacks. The rain subsided, blue sky became even more prevalent and we incorrectly concluded that we had lucked out and were in the clear for a dry hike to the car.

A few water crossings and waterfall photos later and suddenly, within a matter of two minutes or less, the wind was screaming through the trees at highway speeds.

We quickly bagged our electronics and put on rain coats. A minute later we dropped everything and put on every piece of raingear that we owned... and it wasn't a moment too soon.

What followed was the wildest weather I have ever seen. Wind, Rain, Lightning, Thunder, Hail... Mother Nature threw the book at us! Before we knew it the trail was virtually underwater. I prayed for anyone on the lower trail... heaven help them!

The wind, lighting, thunder and hail only lasted between 15 and 30 minutes (PTL!) but the rain continued its heavy pace throughout our final 3 miles to the car.

Gear Tip: In the unlikely case where you are wearing a raincoat with a hood but decide that you'll use a separate hat instead of the attached hood, beware that it is very likely your unused hood will be filling up with rain water and beware that it will just sit in there, waiting quietly, until you decide to bend forward to check your shoelaces or to inspect something on the ground. At that point in time your hood will release a gallon of water over your neck and immediatly soak you as if you didn't own a speck of rain gear. Consider yourself warned. Steve's suggestion is to wear the hood AND the desired hat. Thanks Steve.

While we survived this squall unharmed, it turned out that others weren't so lucky. We learned that trees were down all over the place. Hikers were trapped on the Big Four Ice Caves trail. Cars were trapped on numerous roads. Two cars had trees fall on them at the Heather Lake Trailhead. Trees were down all along the Mountain loop Highway. Power was out. Power lines were down... everywhere.

On our return to Granite Falls the damage was unbelievable. Many of the downed trees had already been cut and moved to the side of the road, but one tree required us to drive around it... and over a half dozen power lines.

Our safe passage was a miracle... and an event I won't soon forget.

All in all, this was a really nice hike... for rainy weather and also for sunny weather.

There are a number of camping spots up at the lake - and I suspect most of them were being used the weekend we visited... hopefully all of those campers survived the storm without a problem.

The road to the Goat Lake trail head is located north of Barlow Pass along the Mountain Loop Highway. Since the "Loop" has been more closed than open over the last few years (due to snow in the winter and a lack of funding for road repairs) it isn't always easy to reach the trailhead.

At this point in time, the MLH and the Goat Lake road are both in good condition.

I highly recommend this hike; that's saying a lot from someone who isn't generally fond of Lake based destinations.

***UPDATE: Just finished my first impromptu Trail Guide project based on Goat Lake. It's now available via, but you can also read about it and preview some of the pages right from the Big Rock Excursions blog. Click HERE to take a look...

Happy Hiking!

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