It was roughly the last weekend of September 2015 when me and Venky attempted Gothic Basin hike for the first time. Heavy rains and presence of just one car at the trailhead parking lot were discouraging enough for us to abandon our plans. I was longing to go to this place for more than a year now and it was time. I wanted to take it a step further and make this an overnight camping trip. The weather tried to play spoilsport again this time but the forecast for next new days seemed promising. So on an overcast, drizzly Saturday, we again took off for one of the toughest hikes in the region. Three hours drive from Seattle, we reached the Barlow Pass Trailead and parked there. We later figured out that this one spot is a gateway to multiple trails and camping regions in this area.
After about a mile and half walk from the parking spot, we reached the Weeden Creek trailhead.
Few minutes from this, there was a register kept by the rangers where anyone going on this trail needed to write their names and details. This was the first time I ever saw this. I have to admit it made me a bit anxious. Adding on top of the anxiety was the fact that only one person on that list of about twenty people did an overnight stay at the top the day before. I know from experience that trails in this region are usually crowded, the good ones, even more so. The weather wasn’t helping as it started drizzling with no signs that it’ll stop anytime soon. Unperturbed, we decided to move on. It started off with a winding turns through a dense forest, crossing a narrow stream and going through woods. The elevation gain during initial fifteen minutes or so was negligible. In fact we seemed to be descending more than the other way around. Once we were well into the woods, the switchbacks begin. I’d read about these and these were as steep as they were stated to be. This wasn’t too bad actually. Mostly because the trail was mostly gravel and mud at this stage. Another factor that made it slightly difficult was our camping gear. Anyway, we trudged along for about an hour and half into thick woods. The rain became slightly heavy and there was fog all around. In every hike, I have this moment where I ask myself the point of doing it in the first place. This was that point. We took a few water breaks. Again, by this time absolutely no one had passed us on their way down and only two groups crossed us on their way up. Anxiety increased a bit. Then we cleared the woods. It was a relief to see something other than silent, dense forest.
Few minutes later, we crossed the first waterfall. There were about 5 of them them and this one was the biggest one. It was an amazing sight and we stopped here for a few minutes to take a short food break, and a few pictures.
The vegetation beyond this point grew thinner and thinner. The terrain also changed every half an hour from tall bushes, to swampy, to almost-vertical climbs, to rocky and sometimes flat. This went on for another two hours. We had crossed the tree line and hit the snow line after the first waterfall. This meant crossing a few frozen stream and a lot of slipping over. The ground near the snow patches was sloshy and my shoes were mostly wet by now, a bit from crossing the waterfalls and another from sinking in mud. The entry to the basin is pretty dramatic. One moment you’re climbing up a mountain and suddenly, after crossing a ridge, the entire view changes to a barren, snow clad landscape. It reminded me of a few scenes from The Lord of The Rings movies.
We had our victory sandwich once we settled in. But victory was far off because there was absolutely no place to pitch a tent in this rugged terrain. Not a single flat surface. What seemed like a flat surface was either covered in snow or water. So I went off, climbed the valley up and down to find anything that resembles a flat surface. About an hour later, I ended up finding a spot off the face of one of the valley walls. This did not overlook the lake but was good enough. We had less hopes of getting any sort of a view next morning. The weather, still, wasn’t looking like anywhere close to the forecast.
Now that all the hard work was done, we could finally relax and indulge. In a place like this, the first thing that comes to mind is steaming hot coffee. Thanks to this amazing contraption, a coffee was five minutes away.
I admit we did go crazy on cooking after coffee was done. There was instant noodles, green tea and even popcorn before we finally realized it was enough. I roamed around in the valley and near the lake for a couple of hours. Spot the tent in this picture to get an idea of the height. Hint: its near the lake.
I also tried to get a fire going. It wasn’t easy considering everything was damp around us but persistence paid off and we enjoyed sitting by the fire before the lights finally went out at around 10 PM. Venky climbed the top of one of peaks in the basin and got an amazing view of the valley.
I tried to do some ‘night-photography’ with my phone and was only able to get this. Doesn’t look much like what the actual view was but is enough to give an idea. Thoughts of learning photography crossed my mind. Those were short lived.
I dozed off instantly after getting into my sleeping bag. In my rush to pack, I’d forgotten one important component. My sleeping pants. That hit me a few hour later when I woke up to freezing legs. The temperature had dropped below zero and I realized I wasn’t going to get much sleep. Thoughts of bear climbing down the mountain and mauling us didnt’t help either. I tried to force myself to sleep. Since it was raining, slightest of noises woke me up and by 6 in the morning, I’d checked my watch every hour. The bright side was we were alive. We could’nt believe that the weather forecast will go wrong this horribly. Instead of a sunny morning, we woke up to something like this.
We had plans to visit a few more lakes, about an hour from where we were. Needless to say, those plans were washed away. We decided to eat and then just head back. Had a cup of coffee and noodles in our tent.
Then waited for the rain to slow down to pack our tent and wrap everything else up. After half an hour, it did slow down and fifteen minutes later, we were on our way back. The mountains that were visible the day before were completely shrouded in thick cloud cover. The only bright side was that raining stopped after a while. So the walk back was pleasant enough. Took three hours to get back to our car and finally change into something dry and warm. It was frustrating beyond words to see a bright, clear weather just an hour from the trail. In any case, this is by far the best hike I’ve done in PNW region. The reason why few people venture out on this one is probably the rawness of the trail. Its not as ‘polished’ as most of the other popular trails. There are significant hazards on the way and the climb at the later stages is extremely strenuous. It definitely is worth it no matter what. I’d choose a warmer time I go there next and probably spend a couple of days on top. The plan is to do more hikes like this before the summer is over.
Happy hiking !!!