Billy Goat Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness
August 2007, Perseid Meteor Shower
Wanting to get a good vantage point to enjoy the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, we knew we had to get away from the bright polluted skies of Western Washington. We overlaid the dark skies map onto wilderness trails in Eastern Washington and finally settled on the Billy Goat Mountain area. Unfortunately, it is quite a long drive from the Seattle area, and we didn't arrive at the trailhead until 6:30PM, leaving us 2 hours before sunset.
We headed out on the trail - a well-used and worn trail. Many pack animals use the trail, leaving it extremely dusty with many loose rocks, not too pleasant to hike on (especially on any grade). Fortunately, we were still able to enjoy the views as we ascended Billy Goat Pass - a 2 mile hike with a ~1800 foot gain. We climbed the switchbacks through alpine forest until the forest started to open up. We noticed a foul odor in the air, which was getting stronger. We quickly realized the odor could only be one thing - the smell of death. As we huff and puffed our way up the mountain, we climbed up an open meadow with a small trickling stream. The smell became overpowering until it was hanging in a putrid cloud in the air. It was painful to let it penatrate our nostrils, mouths, and lungs as we got closer to the source. With a few steps the air cleared and it was suddenly easier to breath - we definitely passed the source. Turning back half a step, we looked into the stream to see the body of a horse or mule clumpsily buried under some dead logs and sticks. The ground around the body was charred - evidence that someone tried to burn the horse. The nose and legs poked out from beneath the sticks. It was a disturbing sight and an assult on the olfactory senses. I don't know what the procedures are for what to do should your horse die on the trail, but this seemed wrong.
After gathering ourselves up, we continued up the pass - glad to be able to breath more clearily. We also decided we weren't coming back on this pass. At the pass, we watched pika call and run along the rock slide, gathering vegetation, perhaps to store for the coming winter. It was getting quite dark by the time we started decending the pass. We hiked through a couple of open meadows, but one that was flat was taken by another tent. We continued down the dusty trail through the alpine forest by the light of our head lamps. In the darkness, we settled upon a semi-clear opening among a carpet of grouseberries. After setting up our tent and settling down, we looked up to the clear night sky to enjoy the few falling stars that we could see though the trees.
The next morning we awoke to get a good view of our campsite. It turned out to be a very pleasant site, especially considering we found it in the dark. We enjoyed our breakfast while looking at the rocky Billy Goat Mountain and listening to the racious calls of the Clark's Nutcrackers overhead. A set of parent and fledgling Three-toed Woodpeckers flew in to enjoy their breakfast as well. After rounding off our breakfast with some delicate yet flavorful grouseberries, we headed down the trail and turned onto the Drake Creek trail, which would meet up with the Hidden Lakes Trail on the other side of Billy Goat Mountain. Since we weren't going back over the dead horse pass (Billy Goat Pass), we would have to return via Eightmile Pass. Essentially we were going to walk around Billy Goat Mountain. Drake Creek trail was an easy trail and less used by horses (therefore less dusty). It followed high above the creek though forest with a few views of the Three Pinnacles in the distance. At a few points the trail broke though the forest into an open meadow and rocky hillside. There we could see Nanny Goat Mountain to the north.
We hooked up to the Hidden Lakes trail and turned toward the Eightmile Pass. After crossing Drake Creek on a small footbridge, we started the gradual incline toward the pass. Near the pass, we set up camp in a opening with a fairly good view down towards the Three Pinnacles. Across the valley was the Eightmile Mountains and Billy Goat Mountain stood to our north. It was still fairly early in the afternoon, so after dropping off our packs, we continued further up the pass where I was overtaken by a flurry of bird activity. Among a stand of young alders, Townsend's, Wilson's, Yellow-rumped, Nashville, and one Orange-crowned Warbler flew from limb to limb. Higher in the pine canopy, Mountain and Chestnut-backed Chickadees called out as they gleened the needles. A few Cassin's Vireos flew in to check out the commotion and one Warbling Vireo made a brief appearance. I took a seat on a rock near the trail to take in the whirlwind of activity. I must have sat quite motionless for a while as a chipmunk, which was browsing nearby, started hopping across the rocks heading straight toward my lap. I was trying to decide what I should do if the chipmunk jumped on my lap - if I should scream and jump up or if I should just remain motionless and hope it just jumps on without noticing my lap isn't a rock. Two feet away, however, it finally realized I wasn't supposed to be there and in a split second did a 360 degree turn and bounded away only to turn briefly to get a better look at me (or perhaps give me a dirty look) before turning again and scurry up the hillside.
The rest of the evening we rested, the sky was very overcast and there was worry that we wouldn't get another showing of the meteor shower. As we read and relaxed at our campsite, we could hear pika calling from the nearby rockslides of Billy Goat Mountain. Two Barred Owls called from the valley below. And a pair of Olive-sided Flycatchers repeatedly "pip-pip-pip"ed loudly from the tree tops. The thick clouds slowly began to break up as the sun's rays filled the valley only to soon dip down below the mountains.
As darkness fell, a thin haze veiled the true brightness of the stars. It eventually yielded to reveal the stars above as tiny pin pricks. We watched for a few but bright and impressive meteors and turned in happy enough to enjoy the show from a beautiful location.
Early the next morning it started to rain. By the time we got up the rain had stopped, but the sky was still thick with gray clouds. We packed up our tent and continued the short hike over Eightmile Pass back to the trailhead. Eightmile Pass was considerably easier than Billy Goat Pass. The trail to/from Eightmile Pass gently followed the mountainside providing excellent views of the valley below and Eightmile Mountain. However, there was no shade and if the day were hot and clear it would have made the hike different. We completed the loop around Billy Goat Mountain, which was a short 12 mile hike. It was pleasant trip with a few good views into the Pasayten wilderness.
Cooper's Hawk - parent w/fledgling very vocal
Barred Owl - 2 calling during dusk and evening
Three-toed Woodpecker - parent w/fledgling
Cassin's Vireo - 3
Warbling Vireo - 1
Townsend's Warbler - many fledglings
Other Critter List
Located: northwest of Winthrop
Directions: Just west of Winthrop on Hwy-20, travel north on West Chewuck Road (Okanogan County Road 1213) for 7 miles. At the Eightmile Ranch, turn left onto Forest Service Road 5130 (Eightmile Creek Road). Follow the road for 17 miles to the trailhead located at end of road (1 mile beyond the horse trailhead).
Required permit: parking fee payable at the parking lot or Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass, free backpacking passes available at the trailhead
Information on Billy Goat Pass and surrounding trails