Gothic Basin #724
Del Campo Peak
23 August – 24 August 2008
Backstory: It had been 14 years since I last trudged up to Gothic Basin. I was a much younger, naïve high-school boy of 98 lbs then, with a sense of adventure that was usually the result of bad planning. With a pack that weighed nearly as much as me, I made the arduous journey up the old miner’s trail.
Entering the Basin, my impressionable mind was awestruck by how other worldly it was, and I reached for my camera to record its beauty for all eternity. I dropped my pack, the kitchen sink clanging on the loose rock. This upset a nearby mother mountain chicken who seemed to be teaching a class on squatting, looking around, and being camouflaged. She glared at me, clucked a few choice words, and hurried her younglings into the underbrush.
Digging through my old military pack, under my wool sleeping bag, around the canvas tent, behind the cast-iron skillet, through the pockets of my extra jeans, ski-jacket, polar-fleece, dress-shirt, tuxedo-coat, and trench, I sadly realized the awful truth. So concerned was I to pack everything I could conceivably need on the trail, I forgot to pack my camera.
Distraught and disappointed, I vowed then that I would one day return and document the glory of Gothic Basin.
2 weeks ago, I decided it was high time for me to revisit Gothic Basin and see how she’s been doing. I called my pal Onion and presented him with this proposition: let’s throw a bunch of gear on our backs, scramble up a rock and root strewn “trail” and clamber into one of the coolest places in Washington State. He of course said yes.
Which brings us to this past weekend.
Onion and I pulled into Barlow Pass at around 0845 Saturday morning. I was confused at first, thinking we had pulled into Costco and I was going to be shopping for industrial sized peanut butter, but, unable to locate the warehouse, resigned myself to the fact that this was indeed the trailhead parking lot.
I got out to ready my gear only to be immediately swarmed by the local trailhead marshal. She circled the vehicle with fervor looking for a sign that we belonged there.
“Tickets please, do you have a ticket, where’s your ticket?” I wheeled around with slight trepidation as I couldn’t remember what I did with our Golden Ticket. Thoughts of interrogation, arrest, torture, or at least a good spanking wheeled through my mind as I threw everything out of the back of the Jeep. As I began pulling up the carpet, Ms. Ranger called out, “Ah, here it is. Right where it’s supposed to be. Have a nice hike!” Apparently Onion had grabbed the pass from my jacket and hung it from the mirror with all the skill of David Copperfield. My hopes of a spanking vanished.
We hit the trail at 0900 and got in line, waiting for our turn to merge onto the Monte Cristo highway. Speed limit: 55.
The road seems blurrier than I remember.
We motored along, passing some minivans, old jalopies, and kept pace with a couple of newer SUVs.
The Monte Cristo road has had a rough time over the years. Old Man River has been relentless in his drive to remove man’s engineering attempts and Mother Nature has thrown in a helping hand.
Here, Mother Nature’s floor routine. Performing her “Avalanche Program” she secured an overall 9.4.
The Uneven Bars – 9.6.
The trail to Gothic Basin begins here, with Onion about to attempt an Alicia Sacramone vault onto Nature’s Balance Beam. It wasn’t pretty and my kilted comrade only gets a 7.4.
Old Man River and Mother Nature team up for their “Clay Slide Carnage” routine and summarily wow the judges with a perfect 10.0 performance.
Once past the clay slide, the trail meandered lazily through the forest, almost as if it were an apology for what lay ahead. A quick, though somewhat wobbly creek crossing and we began our ascent.
If Hell had a trail from the 7th circle to the top, this is what it would look like. I could imagine the surrounding forest to be flames and the roots afoot to be little imps snatching at my boots. The switchbacks were steep and pointless. The miners that cut this path would have expended less energy if they had just installed a ladder to reach their ore.
We climbed and climbed, stopping numerous times to “take in the scenery.” It’s amazing what you can see if you stop to look at tree bark. 42 times.
After gaining about 7000 feet in elevation, we finally emerged from the forest. The sun beat down upon our sweating heads and laughed at us like Nelson from the Simpsons. “Harh-ha!”
Not tree bark.
We rounded a corner and came upon a snow field blocking our way.
There also seemed to be a giant camera strap laying on the trail.
There were fresh footprints crossing the expanse so we followed suit, one at a time.
Author’s Note: Let me take a turn for the serious here. This was a poor choice! Don’t cross snowfields you are unsure of just because there are fresh prints across. On our way down, we were warned by a fellow hiker that the snow was thin as he’d just been below. I heeded his warning and hiked down to the opening of the maw. This is what I saw:
The ice is thin and could collapse at any time resulting in a painful, if not deadly, 15 foot drop. We were lucky. Now back to our regular scheduled programming.
We continued on our way and stopped in the cool spray of a waterfall.
From here, the trail became a mess of boulders, rocks, and scrambles. I felt like Frodo ascending Mt. Doom, my pack weighing me down like the Precious. Samwise and I nevertheless continued our climb.
Nature provided what I call “traction rocks.”
These rocks had a nice aggregate built in for optimal boot to ground contact. Thanks Nature!
Finally we crested the ridge and were rewarded with our first look into Gothic Basin.
Nicely filled with PB&J and a couple of Powerbars, we located the climber’s path and switched into Goat-Mode. The path is great and easy to follow and we passed a few parties on their way down. There was a bachelor party, and the Republican party, and one pity-party.
We also ran into that mountain chicken who remembered me. She once again gave me a disdainful look and hurried her young into the underbrush.
Looking down from half-way up. I can see my tent from here!
We reached the boulder field and carefully picked our way up over loose rock until we reached the final climb. Making like a couple of Grade AAs, we scrambled our way to the top and stood triumphantly on the peak of McKinley.
Ah, without a cairn in the world.
The Kilted Climber happy to have summited. Thank God I climbed first so as to avoid the view up Onion’s skirt. Blech.
Onion and I with our traditional mountain top PBRs.
Here’s me wondering if Zooey Deschanel would accept a marriage proposal via her fansite from some dude she’s never met.
There seemed to be some ladybug convention atop the peak. Perhaps the reception from the Ladybug-Gentleman Bug wedding?
Looks like they had good tempura.
Boot shot and Froggy Lake
We stayed at the top for a while, marveling at the view, enjoying our brews, and watching the ice flow on Foggy Lake.
Onion decided the quickest way down was to jump, so we did, and luckily landed on some soft pointy rocks. A quick call to the medic later and we were on our way.
The sun was still pretty warm and the snow looked inviting, so we tried our feet at glissading. I, being a snowboarder, was a little rusty on the independent foot movement. Onion, being a filthy stinking two-planker, took to it like a filthy stinking two-planker.
I saw the sun, and it opened up my eyes…
Shadow puppets! The left is a monkey and the right is a jackass.
In this picture there be rocks and water.
In this picture there be rocks and water.
Gothic Peak reflecting in a tarn.
Sunset at camp.
Back at camp, we rehydrated our dehydrated meals. I had Styrofoam and mashed-something-or-other that, once water was added, turned into a meal Oliver Twist would have been proud of. We capped off the evening with a special treat:
Jack on the Rocks.
Evening in Rohan
After some stargazing and satellite searching it was off to bed. But not before we were visited by a strange alien being.
I’ve included Onion as a size reference.
Crappy student-film-type art noir shot.
Day 2 – 24 Aug 2008
We awoke to a cool breeze and some clouds peeking over the peaks.
Not a bad view from the tent.
Onion thought the tent was on fire so I believe he is peeing on it to put it out?
Plan for the day:
1. Eat breakfast
2. Filter water
3. Bag Gothic Peak
4. Don’t die
5. Break camp
6. Hike back out
7. Don’t die
8. Get to car
9. Make out with our après-hike brews.
10. Don’t die.
Steps 1 and 2 went without a hitch (although the rehydrated eggs were like munching on an old sponge and the ham, for some odd reason, squeaked every time you chewed).
It was a bit cooler than the previous day, so we donned our shells and began the climb to Gothic Peak.
Crossing our water source:
McKinley and Flogging Lake’s outlet
Sinister looking clouds
Were it not for the maroon, methinks the tent is made of magical elven fabric which allows it to blend with the surrounding rocks.
I pretended I was Spiderman and wall-crawled up the huge slabs of flatrock until my thighs screamed for mercy and I ran out of web.
Some of the local terrain.
Insert witty caption here
Our path took us between a rock and a cold place.
Hey, someone’s snow graffiti. What a coincidence Onion’s name is Joel.
From the final push to the peaktop:
Using a combination of vegetation belays and quick prayers to the Almighty, we scaled the short stint to the summit and sighed a sweet breath of relief that the wind over the ridge was not so strong up top.
My cairn is bigger than yours!
McKinley and Ayer’s Rock from Pike’s Peak
How about a boot shot?
What’s a peak without PBR?
Purple Mountain Majesties and Blue Ribbon Beer.
Gratuitous tent shot – Not work safe.
Pano du Gothic Peak
The way down took a slightly different route, near a larger wall of snow.
Once again, we did a bit of glissading, but I decided to go extreeeeeeme! Not satisfied with the speed of my feet, I figured the nylon seat of my pants would be a much better choice. I paid for my decision with each launch and subsequent landing off the suncups peppering the snow. Luckily, about ¾ of the way down, my posterior had become numb from lack of insulation and I could not longer feel the bumps.
Snow trails. Not seen – the long streak of swear marks and impact craters.
The Kilted Crusader
We made it back down to camp and packed up. While making a last check for any forgotten gear or garbage, I espied a shiny flash in the brush.
To the owner of a Toyota, I found your keys. You can pick them up near Foggy Lake on a rock.
I was here. The cairn proves it. I used mortar to secure it so it will last all winter.
Heading out of the Basin, it began to rain, making a terrible trail treacherous. We picked our way down pausing to put our parkas on once the sprinkles became a downpour.
Treachery I tell you! Treachery!
3 hours from Foggy Lake, we reached the parking lot and threw our gear in a big steaming pile behind the Jeep. The crisp crack of our beers echoed around us with supreme satisfaction and the brew went down like the nectar of the gods. We spent a bit just unwinding and relaxing before heading for home.
14 years later, Gothic Basin still inspires the same wonderment it did when I was a puny little teenager. I’ll be starting a pool to see if I can still make it in another 14 years. (20 bucks to buy in…)
Old Man River and If Hell had a trail from the 7th circle to the top, this is what it would look like. I could imagine the surrounding forest to be flames and the roots afoot to be little imps snatching at my boots. The switchbacks were steep and pointless. The miners that cut this path would have expended less energy it they had just installed a ladder to reach their ore.
Oh, yes. I know that trail well - and that's a perfect description!
Believe it or not, the miner's trail was much worse than the switchbacks currently there. The top 1/3 (roughly) of the trail - where you're scrambling up rocks - is original. It was all pretty much like that.
-------------- If life gives you melons - you might be dyslexic
Yea..the keys on a rock in the middle of no where. There's my hiking worst nightmare. It's not getting attacked by a wild animal. It's returning to the TH tired and hungry, just to discover that i dropped my keys somewhere on the trail. That is defiantly my worst nightmare!
Gothic Basin was my future wife's first backpacking expedition. There was a fatality fall on Del Campo, so helicopters were flying around until dark . That trail is brutal, and sure seems a lot longer than the guidebooks make it out to be. I thought either she was going to die or go to prison for a long time for my murder. We are both still alive, and now married, so I guess I was wrong, unless I am dead and this life I think I'm living is my own particular version of Hell, in which case it's not so bad, or Heaven, in which case I'm pretty disappointed.
On the plus side, most of the hikes I take her on now seem easier by comparison.
-------------- "If we didn't live venturously, plucking the wild goat by the beard, and trembling over precipices, we should never be depressed, I've no doubt; but already should be faded, fatalistic and aged." - Virginia Woolf
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