Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gothic Basin and Foggy Lake 09-16-2012

Gothic Basin and Foggy Lake are often listed as a favorite hike for those who spend a lot of time exploring the Mountain Loop Highway.

The scenery must play a huge role in the decision to list this as a favorite hike because let me tell you... the trail is not kind.  Sure, it tricks you into thinking "Oh, I am so ready for this hike.  One mile in and I'm not even sweating... just a few more miles to go and I'm golden!".

A sweet stream crossing at an opening in the trees just adds to your ego.  Looking up toward the sky at the cliffs while crossing the stream gives you the feeling that "Yes, I am invincible and honestly, it that cliff is the top of this hike then maybe I'll head up Del Campo peak after a swim in the lake."

It's at that point when your nose bumps into the trail because that's how steep it gets after that  innocent creek crossing.

Maybe it isn't quite nose-bumping steep (but have you seen my nose?), but it will absolutely get your attention.  For a long time.

My advice:  do this trail when the weather is your definition of "Perfect" AND after you've done a lot of quality aerobic training on the stairmaster (or equivalent exercise regime).  If the views aren't available go do a training hike on Mailbox Peak (or Mt. Dickerman, much closer) and come back a different day.

I didn't do any hiking in any part of this picture.  The trail is right behind me and this is where I turned around.  Foggy Lake is almost entirely melted out and a summit of Del Campo Peak will have to wait for some other day (but actually it isn't even on my list of things to do, so no promises on that).

Now, let me share a little more about the trek from the parking lot to the above 'parting shot'.

Trail head parking for the Gothic Basin/Foggy Lake trail is available at Barlow Pass along the Mountain Loop Highway (MLH).  For those not familiar with the area, the MLH is east of I-5 and connects Granite Falls in Snohomish County and Darrington in Skagit County.  Barlow Pass is about halfway between Granite Falls and Darrington.

The basic trail route is about 9.75 miles (round trip) and 3,200 feet of elevation gain between the parking lot and Foggy Lake.

From the parking lot, cross the MLH and proceed down the gated road toward the old mining town of Monte Cristo.

While loading my backpack at the parking lot, I met a couple other hikers who were also about to make a first visit to Gothic Basin; Doug & Diane.  They were both from out of state, relocated here for work (separately, didn't know each other, one from Boeing/Air Force and one with Coordinated Healthcare) and were part of a '' outing.  Their Leader, Ruth, was doing warm up stretches.  Doug & I started chatting and began the hike together.

This road will take you down to the river after passing through a recent landslide.  Warning signs indicate the landslide continues to be 'active' so use caution.  There appears to be a detour set up to allow hikers the option to hike up the hillside to cross the slope above the landslide instead of just going straight across it.

Not sure if that is more or less dangerous if the slide is reportedly active.  Again, use caution and exercise good judgement and proceed at your own risk.

Shortly thereafter is an outhouse (your last one on this trail) and another trail junction.  Straight ahead will take you to a log crossing of the river and the route to Monte Cristo and is NOT the way to go.  Instead, follow the trail to the right.  This junction is probably signed as Weden Creek/Gothic Basin.  The Weden Creek Trail will naturally become the Gothic Basin Trail after you cross Weden Creek.

Enjoy this section of trail as it contains the last bit of 'flat' you'll see for quite a while.  Of course, this section doesn't really have too many flat sections, it's more of a rolling up and down, but they are just minor bumps, relatively speaking.

Shortly thereafter you'll cross Weden Creek.  This is a good chance to consume some calories, drink some water and possibly remove a layer or two of clothing now that you are warmed up and about to break a sweat.

The scenery will now focus primarily on the ascending trail.  Pray a few thank-you Amen's to God that the trail provides plenty of shade.

Keep your eyes peeled for remnants of mining operations from decades ago.  Here is a pipe that is sticking out of the trail.  A few feet further up the trail  more sections of the unburied pipe are exposed.
 While I can't tell you any other cool or interesting info about this particular pipe, I can tell you that just a short ways beyond it you'll break out of the trees to enjoy some views, sunshine (no sun?  why are you on this trail?) and possibly another calorie/carb/water break.

Don't stop at the first views, proceed another 30 yards around the next corner to this view and water crossing.  THIS is a nice break spot.
 I took a long (needed) break, taking lots of pictures to distract myself from the muscle spasms.

At this point I continued onward while Doug, Diane & Ruth extended their break for a while longer.  We would cross paths again later (twice).  Since I needed to be home by 5:00pm to let the dogs out it was going to be necessary to pick up the pace a bit.

The trail incline lets up somewhat as you contour around a ridge and valley or two before coming to this interesting waterfall.  I'm sure it could be a bit intimidating earlier in the season when it's being fueled by rapid snowmelt.  It makes a nice spot for lunch or a break too.  Take your time here (it's pretty); the trail will be steep once again as soon as you move along.  My three trail buddies arrived just as I was ready to move along.

 Here is an 'abstract' photo showing the reflection of the waterfall in a little sheltered pool of the creek:
 Here is where the creek continues its journey into another waterfall.  It's interesting that we have no idea how big or little this waterfall is.  It's also interesting that I didn't venture over there to see if I could safely peer over the edge and see.
 At this point the camera was put away so I could focus on the unpredictable trail obstacles:  roots, rocks, boulders, logs and 'vertical'.  There are indeed places along the trail where you need to use your hands to steady yourself or assist with a super-sized step up.  Right about now you are cursing that first easy flat mile because you know it's forced you to gain all this elevation in a shorter distance than any not-insane person would ever want to do.

Eventually there is a point where you cross over a little pass which opens up a whole brand new set of views.

This is the first little tarn.  Foggy Lake?  Not there yet... more elevation to come.
 From this little tarn (above), follow the trail to the right where it will ascend another slope or two (to the right, out of the picture).  The two photos below are looking back from where I came from (hiked in from the left of the water).

Other hikers climbed to a high point on the other side of the tarn (right side of the above picture).

At this point it was 1:30pm.  My turn around time.  Big dilemna.  I never miss a turn around time.  However, conditions were so perfect and it was such an effort to get here and Foggy Lake was virtually within reach... so I decided that I'd continue on to 1:45pm and then turn back, regardless of location.

The very last section to Foggy Lake had a very short snowy section which you can circumvent if you want to, and then a flat section through an interesting 8 foot deep 'trough' in a rock (no pictures, too dang exhausted and running out of time).

Luckily, I reached Foggy Lake at exactly 1:45pm.  Out came the camera, snapped about 10 pictures and then turned around to start the descent.  No time for a break or any of that nonsense.    It would have been nice to have extra time for exploring the area, but that will have to wait for a day when I have more time and apparently more pre-hike training.

Leg cramps started almost immediately upon reaching the first downhill section.  Off came the pack, out came the trail mix, dried bananas and the PB&J sandwich.  Drank some water, extended the hiking poles, put the pack back on and continued the descent.

At the little tarn I came across Diane having a snack.

At the pass I came across Doug.  I gave him some beta info on Diane's location and the route to Foggy Lake and wished him the best of success.  Also, congratulated him on his first Washington hike.  He sure picked a whopper!

Just pass the Pass I met Ruth who was going strong.  I gave her the same info and wished her well.

The hike down was uneventful but it always amazes me at how many people are still on their way in to such a destination so late in the day.

Home at 5:15pm.  Exactly 15 minutes late.  I swore the dogs to secrecy and gave them an extra cup of food.

Route Map and Elevation Profile:

Happy Hiking!


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