The Rambling Writer Returns to Goat Mountain

Join Thor, Bear dog, and me as we return for one of our favorite early-summer hikes to the Goat Mountain overlook and a celebration of wildflowers.

Tiger lilies seem especially abundant this year:

I’ve yet to identify these lush alpine-meadow plants, but always enjoy seeing them on the way to the overlook. Can anyone name them?

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But first things first: Here in the far corner of the Pacific Northwest, our Cascade mountains remain mostly snow-covered well into summer, so we check trail conditions before setting out for the high country Mount Baker Wilderness about an hour and a half drive from our home in Bellingham, WA. This week Thor, Bear dog, and I chose Goat Mountain for our midweek outing, as the ranger station reported the route was snow-free to the viewpoint 2900 feet and a lot of switchbacks above the trailhead on Hannegan Creek Road off the Mt. Baker Highway.

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The trail doesn’t usually beckon a lot of hikers, maybe because the lower switchbacks climb through a somewhat gloomy forest that Thor dubbed “tree hell” because of still-evident devastation from a 50-year-old fire. There’s a quiet, watchful air that makes you feel like tiptoeing and apologizing for your intrusion as you climb over some downed trees and make your way past blackened survivors. However, I always enjoy checking on this charred husk to see if it’s still standing after all these years.

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The trail is cut by a lot of cascades and runoff streams from the mountain above, so Bear dog enjoys fresh drinks and cooling dips on the way up.

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And paying attention to the trail edges brings the reward of spotting shy blooms like pipsisssewa with its jewel blooms like carved pink coral petals around a peridot center…

…and these twinflowers among the mossy or twiggy undergrowth.

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As we climb higher, the trail livens up with the lovely songs of winter wrens, singing their tiny hearts out from their shy hiding places, the rat-tat-tat of pileated woodpeckers working the dead trees for insects or hopefully signalling paramours, and the chittering scolding of native chicory squirrels telling Bear they want nothing to do with him. For about a half-mile stretch of higher switchbacks, the path is now lined on both sides with these bunchberry (or miniature Canadian dogwood) blooms.

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Mixed with the bunchberry are Queen’s cup lilies. When I was younger, we called these “bead lilies” for the large and shiny dark-purple berry each would produce. Passing between these blooms, I feel I’m in a royal procession, honored by these forest denizens offering their beauty to be admired.

The middle section of the switchbacks allows more sunlight and dense bushes and ferns, with yet more blooms…

…like these columbine…

…and monkey flowers:

The gorgeous blooms and butterflies help distract us from the persistent biting flies. Note: Remember bug juice!

Emerging at about the 2.5-mile point into the alpine meadow, we can start enjoying the views of surrounding ridges and still-snowy peaks.

Here, the recently-receding snow has allowed glacier lilies to bloom and quickly start fading.

In a soggy patch, I spot some bog lilies.

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Reaching the rocky outcrops near Goat Mountain peak, we stop for lunch and views. This is Mount Shuksan, with the lower ski-area lodge and slopes toward the right just below the snowy ridge.

A bit farther to the west is Mount Baker, whose volcanic cone is still completely snow-covered.

Bear reveals his partial chow-chow genes by standing watch over the vistas. He loves to be up high, looking out and noticing any activity in the air or on the slopes below.

Heather blooms decorate our picnic spot…

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…along with penstemon:

Geologist Thor points toward the treeline, which marks the top of the glacier that filled this area around 15,000 years ago. Above that, the peaks are rough and craggy, and below the grinding action of the glaciers as they moved and receded, the terrain is more smoothed and rounded.

It’s always a wonderful reset to just “be” in the high country, and put often-destructive human activity in context of the long history of the earth. We also love uplugging from media and phones, as there is nothing “virtual” about reality up here. It grounds my writing when I return to my computer the next day, working on my near-future novel with its Disconnect Movement of people rebelling against corporate/dictatorship media manipulation. (Hmm, maybe not so future…)

But back to “being” in the mountains! The shifting clouds this day are particularly striking above the peaks toward the north and the Canadian border:

As we head down, bidding us farewell are more lovely bunchberry blooms. We’ll see all our favorites again next year!

And, of course, after a hot and sweaty hike, we head down the pot-holed gravel road toward Hannegan Creek and a Brisk, refreshing snowmelt dip.

Tingling with the contrast of chilled skin and hot sunlight, we know we are alive!

*****

You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com 

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The Rambling Writer Returns to Goat Mountain — 9 Comments

  1. That’s a nifty shot of Thor in almost silhouette at the bottom.

    I love all the flowers (few of which I recognize, and none of which I know names of), and especially appreciate the evidence that somewhere along the parched west coast, healing rain has fallen.

    • Thanks, Sherwood. Yes, I feel for all creatures in the devastating drought and fires along the coast south of here. We’re having higher temps and less rain than usual here in the PNW, too, but up in the mountains the snowmelt nurtures that flush of green and blooms.

  2. It always makes me smile to see the variety in columbine across the continent. On my Michigan property, columbine is pink with yellow spurs–even longer than this photo, but it must be a regional variant, as easy photos don’t turn up. If they are still blooming when I get there, perhaps I can get a photo.

    https://wp.stolaf.edu/naturallands/woodlands/ephemerals/wildcolumbine/

    Here in Texas they are large and yellow in some locations. It’s a versatile plant. (This reminds me of the “bluebonnet.” Our state legislature made it the protected state flower, but did not specify the Latin name. Turns out each ecological niche–plains, bogs, limestone hills, coast, etc.–has a variant, so multiple plants are our wildflower, and all look enough like a bluebonnet to bear the name.)

    I’m constantly peering at the green plants on this limestone hill behind me. Many ground covers clinging to rock currently are producing tiny white flowers of various shapes. If you didn’t look hard, you would see only the lush orange trumpet vines and yellow lantana, or the red crepe myrtle and pomegranate trees. The lavender bell flowers in one low plant are so ephemeral that by the time I get outside to photograph one, it’s withered! I call them spirit flowers.

  3. Oh, Sara–people may not take that trail because of mold allergies. The fungi are busy devouring the fire damage. You couldn’t afford to pay me to walk that trail, if the section to pass through is large.

  4. Thanks, Kat! Yes, it’s so rewarding to look closely at the ground covers and flowers, as well as the expansive views. So sorry to hear about your continuing mold allergy problems, and hope you find answers. Yes, the trail has a long passage through the “ghost forest” old fire zone, so you’ll just have to virtual hike with me.