Getting Up to Goat Peak Lookout

Getting Up to Goat Peak Lookout
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Words & Photography by Ben Popper

My goal was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Pulling back the curtains from the bedroom window there it was, a shuttered Goat Peak Lookout, five thousand snowy feet above the Methow Valley floor. The snow has been gone from the valley (2,000’ elev.) for weeks. They stopped grooming the community cross country ski trails April first, but Snowtel sites are reporting upwards of one hundred inches of snow at 6,800 feet. So somewhere between my warm bedroom and the wind swept summit of Goat Peak I was going to ride into snow, and a lot of it.

Getting skis onto my Rock Lobster gravel bike was a bit of a challenge. It wasn’t built to be used with racks and thus is lacking in attachment points. Luckily I had been given an early production sample of Portland Design Work’s new rear rack, the Bindle. With that attached to my seat, I was able to put the extra cloths for skiing in a dry bag and strap the skis to the rack and frame. It was a little awkward, but made for an excellent wheelie bar on the steep pitches of road.

Bike loaded, I hit the road at a leisurely pace. Being on the East side of the Cascade Mountains the road broke from dense forest to expansive views early making for frequent stops to rest the legs and soak in some much needed sun after a long Pacific Northwest winter. With a keen eye out for bears, I rode into the cold foreboding wind, past wildflowers and rushing creeks from melt off. There seemed to be water everywhere. If the brisk breeze was my first missed clue, the rushing water on the side of the road should have been a tell all.

Ten miles in, right at about 4,700 feet, I was stopped by snow. Literally. I rode into it and came to an abrupt stem to soft spot crumple. I stashed my bike behind some bushes and found a dry rock to change costumes. The first mile on skis was a downhill warm up. Soft snow doesn’t make for easy gliding, so I was already kicking my wide back country cross country skis to keep momentum. Downhill. Climbing (and descending) fire roads on skis is exactly the same as on a bike, just at one third the speed. It hurts going up and is kind of sketchy coming down. With great views in every direction, two hours, four miles and another 2,000 feet higher, I came to the trailhead for the Goat Peak Lookout. In the summer, you can just drive here.

The terrain gets steep and the route finding difficult. Without a marked trail, I find my way to the final, heavily corniced ridgeline with a topo map. It seems though, that with each push higher, the view gets exponentially bigger and better. So, pushing my boundaries, I make my way around the ridge to where I think the trail would be on the other side. From here the course of my day will diverge. My first option, with some careful planning from my West facing outcropping, I can see a route down, across, around and back up to the lookout. A careful time consuming traverse.  Or, I can take off my boots, sit down and enjoy a beer, some salami, hard cheese and the amazing view. I know that it would be better on the summit, but my quotient of fun to risk has been maxed out, this is a perfect end to my climb.

The fire road decent back to the car/home/camp is always unremarkable compared to the climb. The same amazing views, the bone rattling washboard turns, the nagging want for an ice cold beer and some candy. This one, although much the same on the skis once on the road, started with some exhilarating, steep and sloppy turns on skis. How I yearned for an alpine boot and binding at that moment.

When I first hit the snow I was discouraged. I had been hoping to make it a couple miles further on the bike. I didn’t think I had it in me to make it the four miles to the trailhead on skis. Still unsure of my ability to tackle the final ski to the summit. Then I reminded myself, the entire point of this trip was a multimodal overland journey. I wasn’t trying to beat any records or discover unknown territory. All I wanted was to get out and see the mountains, and I got that in spades. All told, I traveled 30 miles (10 up by bike, 10 out and back on the skis and then 10 back down to home) and climbed 5,300’ from the valley floor. Regardless of reaching the summit, it was a success for my soul.