It has been a busy week with grad school and life so the reflective portion of this trip report is going to be super short. Weather was great so I shifted my weekend plans and managed to squeeze in a solo backpacking trip last weekend. Gothic Basin was on my to-do list for the summer and I had already given up on making it. When this opportunity popped up, I couldn’t say no to finally seeing this spot in person.
It was worth the hype. Even if it meant playing catch-up with homework all week, and carrying a 30lb pack up the steep route because I haven’t committed to a solo tent yet. Sleeping under the best stars I have seen this summer, going for my first swim in an alpine lake in 2018, and fully remembering what relaxing means: so totally worth it.
Another solo route completed! When the amazing weather continued to hold, I decided it was impossible to sleep at home on this glorious weekend. So I brainstormed for routes that wouldn’t be too long, but still feel worth the effort. Gothic Basin joined my list of to-do trips in the first year that I started hiking in earnest but it always felt too crowded or too short to do in heat of summer. A solo, low-key, surprisingly warm fall weekend was perfect. Not to say it wasn’t hard-it was-but oh so worth the effort.
I woke at a reasonable hour and packed my gear that morning. I looked out the window to a dense fog and wondered why I felt it was necessary to clear my schedule and take advantage of this weather window? It looked like a standard, miserable Seattle fall day out the window. I put my faith in the forecast and headed out. First, I stopped to add a little air in my tires but apparently, the machine was broken and it removed quite a bit of air instead of adding it. Then I went to PCC so I could grab provisions and a latte only to find the latte stand was closed. Things were not going well and I started to wonder if it was a sign. Finally, I managed to get everything ready and hit the road.
I drove through fog and mist, my car reading a balmy 41 degrees. As I entered Mt. Loop Highway, the fog began to dissipate and I was treated to a bright warm sun and not a cloud in the sky.
I parked, watched my breath emerge from my lips and hoped the immersion layer held, and it would be warmer at the top than the trailhead. I saddled on my pack and began the roadwalk to the turn-off. There is a new Gothic Basin trailhead, so the roadwalk was a little shorter than expected (about .75 miles). I enjoyed the flat, meandering path once I left the road, knowing it would not last long. There were fun fungi and lovely, sunlit trees, with the peaks of Monte Cristo in the distance.
I crossed Weeden creek and the climb began. First a few switchbacks to warm up the legs then the route became a steep upward climb. It was slow-going, especially with a 30-lb pack. Eventually, the trees began to thin and the trail opened up to views into Monte Cristo and the surrounding peaks.
After leaving the forest, the trail crossed three creeks. The first involved a little wet-rock scrambling, but without too much exposure. And the little waterfall was gorgeous. The trail continued to traverse, crossing two more scenic creeks before reaching a waterfall.
Then the trail continued up, over rocky terrain requiring the use of hands a few times but mostly a lot of quads. Lastly, there was a slope with rocky stairs, I dipped under a felled tree and entered the basin.
The moment I rounded the corner and entered the basin, the scenery completely changed. White rocks, stunning lakes, and tarns, a rocky cirque and views of layered peaks. It was as if moving 10 feet changed the environment completely from your average Pacific Northwest forest to an alpine delight.
It was about 3:00 and I wanted to reach Foggy Lake for the evening with enough time to pitch a tent, so I rushed through the lower basin looking for the route to Foggy Lake. WTA claimed there was a route noted by cairns if you stick to the right, but I couldn’t find any and instead just followed the outfall stream to the basin. It was not the most expedient route but it was pretty.
After arriving at the lake, I wandered around until I found a nice little campsite and took off my pack. Despite my fear of the route being overly crowded, there were only 4 other groups spread out near the lake. From my spot, I couldn’t see any other tents but had a view of Foggy Lake and into the lower basin.
The sun dipped behind Gothic Peak and the lower basin filled with light. I finished my dinner and snuggled into my sleeping bag, asleep by 8:00. I woke a few hours later to a sky filled with stars, and one very bright moon. A few hours later the moon was set and the stars glowed brightly. I lay awake for an hour, warm in my tent, stargazing; I was amazed at the ability to sleep outside in October with clear skies and warm nights.
The next time I opened my eyes the colors of sunrise had taken over the basin. I left my tent in the shade and slowly rambled to a rock already warm with the morning sun for a little coffee. I wandered back to Foggy Lake to see how the morning light changed the lake. The sun beat down and it was already too warm for a jacket by 9:00.
Swimming began to seem like a real possibility but when I put my hand in the water to gauge the temperature, the immediate answer was no. It was so cold on my hand I couldn’t imagine submersing myself. As I continued to sit and warm up, however, I thought perhaps just wading would be enough. Then by the time I had waded into my thighs, it seemed worth it to fully slip into the cold water.
It was such an inviting blue and I had not managed to swim in an alpine lake all summer. This felt like truly the last opportunity to do so and I had to take advantage. It cooled me to the bone and my skin turned bright red, but after a few minutes resting on a warm rock, I warmed up.
I finally admitted that I needed to leave Foggy Lake and go home, so I shouldered my heavy pack and headed down to Gothic Basin. Of course, once I was in the basin, I didn’t want to leave there either! I wandered around the different tarns, taking the social paths I ignored on the way up. I could tell from my map Weeden Lake was below and hoped to find a viewpoint. After a disappointing 15 minutes reaching dead-ends where the lake was mostly blocked by trees, I decided to follow the output of the tarn.
It led to an excellent view of the lake and a drop-off of about 700’. I kept my distance from the edge and enjoyed the delightful sensation in my stomach from the exposure. Watching the water disappear over the height was slightly intoxicating and I stayed for a bit before carefully schooching backward and heading back to the tarn.
I wandered past a few ambling waterfalls that seemed straight out of a fairytale and back to the main path. I ducked under the fallen tree that marked the entrance to the basin. I slowly made my way down the rocky path, then quickly hurried down the steep dirt path. Out the rambling woods, to the road and back to the car. A perfect surprise October backpack.
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