Pack rafting is a good workout with an incredible, peaceful payoff.
PACK RAFTING on an alpine lake is a commitment. You must carry rafts, paddles and life jackets; after hiking for miles, you must patiently inflate your raft; once you’re on the water, your core muscles must kick in to propel you forward. Did I mention you already hiked 5 miles?
But once you’ve paddled yourself to the middle of a clear alpine lake, drifting quietly while staring up at a crystal-blue sky, you won’t care. You’ll make plans to do it again. You’ll wonder how you lived your entire life without pack rafting.
I once watched two hikers paddle around on inner tubes on an alpine lake on a hot summer day. I wished I had been smart enough to bring one with me. When a friend suggested borrowing pack rafts for my next hike to an alpine lake, I was in.
But first, we had to get the rafts to the lake. My fiancé, Chris, and I chose Goat Lake, a new-to-us hike off the Mountain Loop Highway. Goat Lake’s trail was long, at 10 miles round-trip, but it had a moderate elevation of about 1,400 feet. I wanted to conserve our energy on the way up.
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We had to switch out a day pack for a backpacking pack to accommodate the light-but-still-bulky gear, and headed up.
Goat Lake has a wide, well-maintained trail with upper and lower options that meander through beautiful alder forests. We opted for the upper, and encountered enough elevation to get our heart rate up, with most of the push coming in the last mile. One passing hiker noted our paddles and commented, “You guys gonna cruise around up there?” We smiled and nodded, excited for our adventure.
Goat Lake is spectacular — a flinty blue dream surrounded by rugged peaks. We found an easy launching spot, where we had lunch, then pulled out the rafts.
We inflated the rafts by hand using an air system I can’t explain, but it totally works, and we put the paddles together. We pushed ourselves away from shore.
The individual rafts were not fast, but they felt stable. I could feel the frigid lake right through my seat. I also realized I would never be able to sit idly next to an alpine lake again.
Several hiking groups lined the shores; we were the only ones floating. Goat Lake is fairly long, so we headed toward the other end.
It’s rare to feel real solitude on busy trails near Seattle, but I felt a deep peace and quiet take over while floating. I loved the glassy quiet, splashing my hands in the frigid water, and letting the wind and current turn my raft in different directions. Our rafts drifted closer to a distant waterfall, and we admired craggy peaks. We discussed how we needed to get our own pack rafts, ASAP.
After some time, we realized the wind had pushed us toward the other end of the lake, and we turned around.
This was when we had to work. I had to use my core to sit up straight to paddle, and then my arms started to burn. The rafts also turned side to side with each stroke. About halfway back, I remembered I had to hike 5 miles to get back to the car. Oh boy.
I pushed on. I knew it would be a big workout, and I knew I would probably be sore.
Once on shore, we took our time deflating the rafts and packing up to go. We were sad to leave Goat Lake and our paddling adventure. Pack rafting required more effort, but it was well worth the time and added gear. Now, to make a list of new lakes to explore via raft.