With high avalanche danger, Damien and I thought it would be a great weekend to do our annual xc ski around Goat Peak in Mazama. This 28ish mile loop has little to no avalanche danger and required a 5 hour drive. Thus, we were in the car at 2:30am Saturday morning. We saw before leaving that avalanche control was in progress at Stevens Pass. It started at 2am and was expected to take 30-120 minutes. Damien and I figured it would be wrapping up by the time we arrived. This was a very incorrect assumption. We waited for the road to re-open for 2.5 hours! In addition, once we continued on our merry way we could not travel more than 45 mph for the rest of the journey due to a snow-covered and very slick roadway! By the time we arrived at the Goat Creek Sno-park it was 11:30pm. We’d spent 9 hours driving! Needless to say we were behind schedule!

Damien and I still hoped to push through and make it to the high point of the loop, which is the Goat Peak TH, at 5600 feet (only accessible by snowmobile and foot in winter). It is roughly 12 miles into the loop with 3700 ft of total gain. We were certain making this camp would mean skiing well after dark.

As expected the trail was broken in by snowmoblies earlier that day. However, traffic was low and the heavy snow swiftly concealed the tracks. For the most part we found ourselves breaking through a fresh layer of snow. It didn’t cause much of a hindrance though. The only issue we contended with was when I discovered that the car keys were no longer in my pocket! The inside zipper of my jacket was open. The only time I had removed it was to take off some layers, which was naturally 2 hours prior. We descended back to the spot in 30 minutes and located the keys buried in the snow. But now we had to re-climb the trail setting us back an additional 2.5 hours.

We knew that we could make it to our alternate camp at the Overlook at around 4,400 feet if we pushed into the night. From there the loop was still possible in a long day. Damien and I pushed onward through the fatigue that plagued us as the sun set. Sleep deprived the miles dragged by in slow motion. Finally, at 7:30 under bright moonlight and a clearing sky we reached the “overlook” camp.

Gleefully, but groggily, Damien and I began the process of setting up our home for the night. Pleasantly, the heavy snowfall wavered making setting up the tent less tedious as stars twinkled above. We knew this was only a temporary lapse in the precipitation. More snow was expected. With barely enough energy to hold our spoons, we finished dinner and turned in for the night with the lights of Mazama homes far below us in the valley.

Only .4 inches of snow was expected to fall overnight. The next morning we found 3 inches and heavy flakes still pouring out of the sky. Following a discussion, Damien and I decided not to complete the loop. We did not know if the back side of Goat Peak was groomed by snowmobiles. Normally this would not be an issue if we were starting from the higher camp, but additional uphill mileage and the unknown conditions caused concern. Also, Damien expressed some hesitation with the high avalanche danger since even more snow than antispated.  Instead, we opted to ski to the high point at Goat Peak TH, and then descend the way we’d come.

From the overlook camp the trail continues upward for about 1.5 miles and then drops 300 or so feet. This is a nice break, but also a reminder or the extra elevation you have to regain. Two snowmobilers with AT skis passed us. We saw their skin track and parked snowmobiles a bit further down the trail. Damien and I were surprised folks were skiing in the high avalanche conditions.

The final switchbacks up to the high point are the steepest section of the trek and the snow covered road seemed rather endless. The snow was also deeper here both from being untouched and from the deep wind drifts. After a brief break at the trailhead Damien and I skied back down. Even with the uphill section it took only 2.75 hours to ski the 12 miles back to the Goat Creek Snopark. Such a difference from uphill!

 

 

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