Ascent of West Goat Peak on 2020-08-29
|Other People:||Solo Ascent|
Only Party on Mountain
|Date:||Saturday, August 29, 2020|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
|Peak:||West Goat Peak|
| Elevation:||10793 ft / 3289 m|
Ascent Trip ReportThis was part of a Montana trip involving county high points for Shoshone (ID); Mineral; Ravalli; Granite; Deer Lodge; Beaverhead; Fremont (ID); and Madison. (Initially I had wanted to go after the remaining county high points in the Beartooths (having summited Granite Peak in 2018), but my body was providing some signs that I not provided myself sufficient recovery time this summer, so I kept this trip to day hikes/scrambles.)
In every conversation with a Montanan on this trip, whenever my itinerary came up, two inevitabilities occurred. I mentioned Warren Peak and their eyes lit up as they taledk about their summit experience or their plans to summit. But whenever I mentioned West Goat Peak, I was met with a blank stare followed by, “Where is that?” I do not know why this is, but the taller of these two adjacent peaks — separated by the Continental Divide — is relatively obscure. It is not a bad thing: this scrap of wilderness appears to be rarely visited, and you are likely to have it to yourself as I did.
Roads coming from Highway 43 are fine for all vehicles. I rolled up to the trailhead after dark to two trucks awkwardly parked in the small area. Not wanting to disturb them, I backtracked a little over a mile to a trailhead with more space to park. I did not set an alarm this entire trip in order to give myself the rest I needed; apparently I required a lot on this trip, as I had another mid-morning start. (In general I cannot sleep much past sunrise when in a tent or a vehicle or under the stars, etc.; this trip reveals I am pushing my limits.)
The first 1.25 miles are flat. Just before the trail gains elevation, it traverses a wetland, which luckily for me, was free of bugs on my visit. Failing to see an apparent trail, I skirted the right-hand side of the wetland and, toward its end, I identified a trail shooting up into the woods. After a few hundred yards, however, it was clear this trail (unmarked on USGS maps) continues bearing east — not the direction I needed to go. I descended back to the wetland, crossed it, and bushwhacked up 50 vertical feet until I found the trail.
From here the trail is easy to follow — though this does not last. At 2.3 miles, it loses several hundred feet of elevation and levels off for a mile before lazily gaining elevation.
At just over 4 miles, the trail abruptly ends at a wetland — and no trampled grass indicates anyone has entered it. I backtracked slightly and found some indications of a trail, which quickly petered out. I then spent the next 1/2-mile bushwhacking and clambering over deadfall before abandoning any hope of finding a trail. At this point I just set a direct uphill bearing toward Lost Lakes Basin. On occasion I saw what could be a potential trail, but I was in no mood to chase after any maybes. At 8700’, and again at 8900’, I crossed footpaths but I continued directly uphill. However, I made a mental note of them as a potentially more expedient route on my descent. Also along this way I encountered obvious signs of grazing — it appeared to be sheep or goats as the hoof-prints and dung are too small for cattle. I am befuddled as to how livestock were brought up here, and from where. At 9000’ I crossed the narrow and shallow East Fork, which I then departed, opting for a less meandering path to Lost Lakes. At 9300’ I exited the trees and picked my way up boulders and loose talus to Lost Lakes.
Including two breaks, it took me 3.5 hours to reach Lost Lakes — over 30 minutes longer than I had anticipated — thanks in large part to time lost route-finding. The lakes are exquisite and I took a lengthy 30-minute break at the upper lake to filter water and savor the wonder. This is unquestionably a perfect campsite worthy of turning West Goat into a two-day effort.
It took more than a modicum of willpower to pry myself from the shores of Upper Lost Lake, but I still had a job to do. I made my way across the meadow and then picked my way up the talus, trending up toward the summit but staying below the ridge line. The other side of the ridge offers significant exposure, and I was well protected from the wind below it besides. I was able to find footing on the talus and the boulders with minimal shifting underfoot. Once I arrived at the false summit I found myself next to the ridge line with only a short walk to the summit. A large cairn and a well-constructed rectangular bivy mark the summit, though I found neither survey marker nor register. It took me an hour to ascend from Upper Lost Lake.
I lingered for only 15 minutes before descending, jettisoning my plan to head over to East Goat Peak, satisfied with the day and eager to get to Tweedy in preparation for the next day’s efforts. For what it is worth, the ascent to East Goat from the saddle looks like a mostly easy walk. Descending back to Lost Lakes is tedious but it only took 40 minutes.
From lower Lost Lake, I generally followed my same route down until I encountered the aforementioned footpaths — yet these faded away and I ended up having to regain my bearing. And yet, the third trail I encountered seems promising. Sure enough, shortly after I hopped onto it, I encountered a sign — the first I saw all day since the NF sign a couple miles up from the trailhead. The sign provides arrows to Middle Fork and East Fork, as well as stating fires are prohibited within 1/4-mile of the lakes. Also here is a fire pit and a large stack of downfall gathered for burning. I followed this trail all the way down to the wetland. According to my GPS, I was never more than 30-50 yards off this trail, and in fact I did cross it a couple times as I had earlier suspected.
Once I reached the wetland, I note that the “trail” — such as it is — DOES haul through the wetland. At least, this is the trail as users have rendered it. While the trail has seen some maintenance in the first couple miles, it has clearly been some time since it has been maintained in the vicinity of this wetland. Thus the trail is blanketed with deadfall and overgrowth. Additionally I had succumbed to my assumptions that this area sees almost no traffic; clearly I underestimated this. I do not feel great about the extra impact my off-trail ventures imposed, but I feel even less great about the continuous ongoing impact on the wetlands.
From Lost Lakes, it took me 3 hrs, 10 minutes to reach the trailhead — only 20 minutes faster than my ascent. Thus I cannot be certain that my off-trail ascent cost me time; in reality it likely SAVED me time, particularly when it came to not wasting time looking for the trail.
When I returned, the trucks that had been parked at the trailhead were gone, though I never encountered the occupants. They may not have been up the same trail at all, though it is also likely we may have passed one another without knowing it. I would not be surprised if they, too, blazed their own trail.
|Summary Total Data|
| Route Conditions:||Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Mud/Swamp, Scramble|
| Gear Used:||Ski Poles|
| Weather:||Pleasant, Windy, Partly Cloudy|
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