Gothic Basin, 08/15/09-08/16/09

For various reasons, we hadn’t backpacked in—I just checked—two months!  A fine amount of dayhiking, sure, but what with our upcoming trip to the Canadian Rockies, I felt we needed a bit more conditioning.  And I thought maybe, just maybe, we’d get some clear skies.  After shortening our list earlier in the week to three possible destinations, we decided we’d spend Saturday night in Gothic Basin.

Gothic Basin worked its way onto my must-do list way back when.  As sometimes happens when time passes, details regarding degree of difficulty slipped away from me, replaced only by snapshot statistics: 2600′ elevation gain, ~10 miles round-trip.  No problem.

We were up early enough Saturday morning, and on the road at 05:05.  I felt an early start was important, since we needed to find a campsite.  At 06:55, we pulled onto the side of the road at Barlow Pass, and were walking down the gated road to Monte Cristo ten minutes later.  Low clouds and fog made visibility poor.

Holding...

Holding...

Fifteen minutes after squeezing through the posts on either side of the Monte Cristo gate the road is really closed, and a trail is routed above the washed out road along the South Fork Sauk River.  I’d read that it wasn’t necessary to take the re-route, so we continued along the remains of the road, which wasn’t difficult, but does require that you watch where you step.  We’d be watching each step closely later on, too.

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At 07:30, ~25 minutes after leaving the Forester—

[As an aside, while driving through Robe/Verlot/Silverton we drove by a sign that read: “Hey Libs, slow your Subaru down!  Speeding contributes to global warming!” I laughed, I cried, I got a little mad.  As a liberal Subaru driver myself, I was forced to confront the fact that I was going ~3 MPH over the speed limit.  I calmed myself by rationalizing that I was driving efficiently—oh, how I love watching my MPG rise with cruise control engaged somewhere between 45 and 50 MPH!  But what of the Conservatives?  Surely they speed as well, perhaps while driving something with worse gas mileage than my beloved Subaru?  Where is their sign?]

—Ahem, as I was saying, ~25 minutes after leaving the Forester, we reached what had been the road’s river crossing.  At this point there’s a trail that continues on toward the Monte Cristo townsite and the trailhead for the Gothic Basin Trail #724.  After signing in, and noting that (at least according to the register) there was perhaps one party camped overnight and a day hiker ahead of us, we were off.

For the first ~25 minutes the trail stays relatively close to the river, comfortably undulating amongst large old trees and over wooden walkways.  Through the fog we glimpsed a waterfall as we crossed a small stream along the way.

At 08:05 we stopped for a banana as the trail began to climb up, sometimes switchbacking but often simply climbing uphill to the southwest steadily, and steeply.  It had begun.  For the next ~hour we continued on, until we eventually had to stop so that I could adjust my boots and attach some moleskin to my burning heels.  I’m pretty sure the moleskin fell off immediately after we started climbing again.

King Kong's Foggy Showerbath

King Kong's Foggy Showerbath

Around 09:25, the trail emerges from the big trees and turns less steep, but more rocky.  Surely there’d be views across Weden Creek, but it was all clouds for us—at least on the way up.  This nearly-flat section of the trail is a welcome break, but short.  Here there are a few rocky gorges with rushing streams.  After crossing the first two, the trail bids adieu and introduces you to its replacement: a rocky, steep, slippery path that’ll really bring out the curses that’d only been at the tip of your tongue until now.  Especially if you’re carrying a ~35lb backpack.  Nicole, in particular, had some choice words to describe the experience.  In the midst of it all is another rushing stream, this time including the quite nice waterfall known as King Kong’s Showerbath, which we passed by at 10:00.

This?

This? Trail?

Still we climbed up, until leveling briefly near mining remnants and a small pond just off the trail, it was 10:20.  It seemed like we were getting somewhere.  In my mind, we were close.  How could we not be?  We’d been hiking for over three hours, and been going uphill for nearly the entire time.  What was left?

More.

Just past the small pond, the trail crosses through a mini-pass, where there’s a small campsite off the trail, and turns sharply right.  In the fog, it was difficult to orient myself, but I felt a strong change in direction that wasn’t really represented on my map.  The valley was fogged in to our left.  There were now less of the scrambly sections of trail, but still a steady climb on rocks and roots.

En route to Gothic Basin.

En route to Gothic Basin.

Some half-an-hour later, the trail reaches a small pass and lower Gothic Basin is before you.  Thank the appropriate gods, but if you’re headed for Foggy Lake, like we were, you’re not there yet.

The basin is full of large, smooth rock outcroppings.  As we approached, a small lakelet appeared, nestled in between the humps of stone.  We saw the dayhiker that had left Barlow Pass just before us.  He said he’d had his lunch and was headed down.  He saw that we were backpacking and said it was filling up.  Since we’d seen only three people the entire morning, we were a bit surprised.  I said, “The lake’s on the other side of that, right?” And he said yes, but it wasn’t much more than what we saw in front of us.  I wondered if he’d really been to Foggy Lake and took his warnings of campsite crowding with a grain of salt.

Lower Foggy Lake, with Foggy Lake proper over the rocks.

Lower Foggy Lake, with Foggy Lake proper over the rocks.

Through the rocks of Gothic Basin...

Through the rocks of Gothic Basin...

At lower lake, the trail becomes hard to follow, and pretty much disappears after it hugs the water’s right edge.  There was a tent set up here, in a beautiful spot, but right on the trail.  We passed by quietly on our way to the base of the rocks that, we supposed, hid Foggy Lake from us.  Up the rock wall we climbed a fissure filled with ferns.  Follow the ferns, I thought.  Once atop that rock, more rock lies in front of you.  Foggy Lake still isn’t visible, but Gothic Peak and Del Campo Peak are—though weren’t to us at that point, due to the clouds.  We worked our way to the left, around more rock and just above Foggy Lake’s outlet stream.  Cairns are precious few.  Just keep going.

Foggy Lake.

Foggy Lake.

In just a few minutes more, at 11:45, we were there.  Foggy Lake lived up to its name.  Clouds seemed to pour in from every direction: between Gothic Peak’s spires, through Foggy Pass across the lake, over Del Campo Peak’s striated face.  For a few brief moments there was silence; our pulses slowed, Nicole decided not to kill me, I felt satisfaction at having reached our goal—a beautiful goal, at that.  Then the two dayhikers that had passed us began to call out to one another, repeatedly, from opposite ends of the lake.  Oh well.  We stumbled upon a small flat, dry space with just enough room for our tent; we set up, ate, watched a family of ptarmigans with stripes of white, and slept.

Our camp in Gothic Basin.

Our camp in Gothic Basin.

After napping for an hour or two (it was our first opportunity to use our Big Agnes Insulated Air Core pads, and I feel that my sleep in that small amount of time was more restful than countless nights on only my RidgeRest), I exited the tent and counted thirteen people spread around the rocks near the outlet stream.  I set off to explore the arm of Del Campo Peak, to the right of the lake, while Nicole stayed snug in her sleeping bag.  It was pretty cool, and we were more than happy to try out our new Montbell jackets.  I worked my way along the rocky shore of the lake, passing by one tent, then seeing another occupied camp on a small isthmus separating Foggy Lake from a satellite pond.  The trail up the arm of Del Campo is comparatively easier than what had come before, and as I gained elevation Foggy Lake shrunk below and vistas, though still partially obscured by clouds, like Silvertip Peak, were beautiful.  I made out another tent set up at the south end of the lake nearer Gothic Peak.  In all, it seemed that four parties were camped at the lake, though we couldn’t see any of them from our site.

Above Foggy Lake.

Above Foggy Lake.

Once back to camp, and as the dayhikers descended, and those with backpacks and tents and no place to put them turned back to the lower basin, it felt as if we were all alone.  It was a peaceful night, and our sleep was only interrupted for a moment as the wind played with the rainfly I’d been unable to stake out.

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We were up early the next morning, and found it foggier than it had been the day before.  As we ate our oatmeal and broke down camp, however, the sun began to shine through.

Nicole and an entirely visible Gothic Peak.

Nicole and an entirely visible Gothic Peak.

Clearing in the south.

Clearing in the south.

Behold, the power of sunshine.

Behold, the power of sunshine.

We left Foggy Lake at 07:45 into increasing sunshine.  At 08:05, we passed by the lower lake and a pile of someone’s unwanted spaghetti; at 08:45 we passed the small pond that had raised my hopes on the ascent; at 09:05 we walked by King Kong’s Showerbath; at 09:50 we were into the big trees again; at 11:10 we reached the trailhead; and at 11:35 I unlocked the doors to the Forester.

It took us just under four hours to make our way down.  The steep and rocky sections made us place each footstep carefully, but even so, Nicole fell three times—charmed!—on our way down.  By the time the path became a trail again, our pace was slowed not by precariousness but by our own beaten bodies.

Water droplets on blueberry leaves.

Water droplets on blueberry leaves.

Once back in the car, I consulted with 100 Hikes in Washington’s Glacier Peak Region: ~9 miles round-trip, 2600′ of elevation gain (Green Trails Maps #111/143 say ~10 miles, 2800′ gain).  Boy did it feel like more than that.  The book does estimate 9 hours of hiking time for those 9 miles, though.  Some pace!

What a hike!  I may not repeat it carrying a full ~35lb backpack, but I recommend it for both backpackers and dayhikers (who will probably have an easier time on such terrain).  Though we didn’t get the weather I’d hoped for (i.e., clear night skies to experiment with starlight), we camped at a great location and conquered everything those old prospectors laid before us.  We also got our share of exercise—a great training hike for our upcoming trips.

Day one stats: ~4.6 miles, 2800′ gain (plus several a bit more of each for Jeremy re: Del Campo), 4:40 from Forester to Foggy Lake.  Day two stats: ~4.6 miles, 2800′ loss, 3:50 from Foggy Lake to Forester.  Totals: ~9.2 miles, 2800′ gain/loss, 8:30 active hiking time.

As always, a few more photos at Flickr.

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4 Responses to Gothic Basin, 08/15/09-08/16/09

  1. Pingback: Cascade Pass, 08/23/09 « Don’t Look Down

  2. Pingback: The Year in Review, 2009 Edition « Don’t Look Down

  3. Brian says:

    Yeah you’re telling me. I somehow missed the gothic basin trailhead and went 4+ miles up to the old miners town, came back to the trailhead for gothic, missed it again somehow, went back and found it and went to the top. Then I came back down. 9.5 hours and 17+ miles later I am at my car with my mom about to call search and rescue and my legs prettttttyyy cramped. Brutal hike.

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