mystifying.  mind blowing.  fomo inducing.  jaw dropping.  it’s easy to run out of superlatives to describe the endless beauty of the Gothic Basin after an unforgettable backpacking trip there. 

i had heard about the Basin over the years and the fact it’s one of the tougher places to hike to (let alone with a heavy backpack on your shoulders).  i had done some other wonderful hikes in the area (Lake 22 is quite worthy) but somehow this one seemed to elude me.  since Sheena and i had a campsite reservation in the area for a few nights (at the Verlot campground next to the South Fork Stillaguamish River) and the weather was looking decent, we decided to car camp one night and hit the trail for the next.      

the drive through Mountain Loop Highway wasn’t too inspiring at the start, but after a few miles there was a transformation in the forest as it became more dense and primitive with older growth.  The Stillaguamish River which paralleled the highway offered some nice scenery with its giant boulders and gentle curves.  we finally landed at the Verlot campground where we booked a prime spot next to the river.  this was also a good chance to me to try out a new sleeping quilt made by the Enlightened Equipment group (love it so far…so warm and cozy).

the next morning we got up with the sun, packed up camp and drove about 15 miles east to the trailhead.  there were a decent number of cars parked on the road and also in the parking lot given the number of hikes here (including the Dickerson and Monte Cristo trails).  after double checking our packs we hit the trail with cloudy skies above us.

the trail entrance through the Barlow Pass followed mostly on a flat service road leading into the forest along the Sauk river.  after that point we entered into the woods with a nicely maintained trail (and some wood bridges) that eventually started to climb.  and climb it did, with steep 30 tiptoe inclines and few switchbacks.  

the next section involved crossing a few couloirs along the mountain side which had created some waterfalls and scree (fields of small rocks).  the views then started opening to wide vista of the valley (and some snowy sections off in the distance), and the trail started to get more rocky with some scrambling sections (Sheena did incredibly well at this by the way…i think she’s part mountain goat).  the ascent did not let up though; just the last 3 miles or so for the hike held almost 3000 feet of elevation gain…steep!  thankfully the dry weather was in effect; it would not be fun scrambling over wet, slippery rocks.

the ascent finally started to taper off and the scenery suddenly started to change from the steep ridge into a talus field.  the mist hung low along the mountain peaks which created a mystical frame as we entered into the Basin.  as we descended into the area we were greeted by Gothic lake, surrounded by towering cliffs, rocky fields and bubbling brooks.  i was getting that ‘I’m on a different planet’ kind of feeling; this area felt so different than any other place i had been hiking to.   

while taking in the astonishing views we slowly made our way to the aptly named Foggy Lake where we set up camp for the night.  the air was getting cooler as the fog slowly undulated over the lake as evening crept in.  After a nice hot meal (fettuccine alfredo!) i listened to a few podcasts inside my tent, then snuck out at dusk for a few photos of the surrounding area.  as darkness crept in we crawled back into the tent and snuggled up for a chilly night.  poor Sheena was shivering the whole night – i felt bad for not bringing her some warmer gear (and a sleeping pad…definitely a must for the next trip).  i myself didn’t get much sleep but still woke with energy and the excitement of being in such a remote, beautiful spot. 

in the morning the skies were blue and clear, and thankfully the sun was warm and gave me a chance to dry out the condensation that had built up on the tent overnight.  we packed up all the gear, had a quick breakfast (freeze dried biscuits and gravy!) and made our way out of the Basin.  the scene was incredibly different with the sun out: the lakes were now clear, colors more saturated and the distant peaks were visible.  it was so fortunate having two different environments to photograph: the eery, foggy landscape coming in, and the bright, warm clear environment coming out.  as we descended down the mountain i felt incredibly blessed to have experienced such an incredible, sacred (yes i said that) area.  it will most definitely be on my list of places to revisit.