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TR: Gothic Basin and Foggy Lake

Posted by gck Sunday, December 30, 2012

Distance: 10 miles
Elevation gain: 3500 feet
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

I did this hike back in late September while the fires were raging all over Eastern Washington. Bob wrote up a trip report, which gave me an excuse to be lazy and work on my Canada trip reports instead, but now, over a month later, I have to think back and remember this hike. I “hiked” the Big Four Ice Caves trail years ago, but this one was my first “real” hike on the Mountain Loop Highway. As I drove down the road, I saw a bunch of other hikes that I easily recognized by name… Lake Twentytwo, Mount Dickerman, Vesper Lake… I always thought of the Mountain Loop Highway being a longer drive than it actually is. Will definitely have to explore more of this region next season.

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Left: always reassuring to see an “EXTREME DANGER” sign at the beginning of a hike
Center: waterfalls and fog
Right: gentian on the trail

The directions say that parking is at Barlow Pass, but you can actually get closer to the trailhead by parking near Monte Cristo road. This closed road is the beginning of the trail and also the path to the Monte Cristo ghost town, an old mining town that’s a popular family destination. Both trails are quite popular, so it’s a busy parking area and lots of people at the beginning of the trail, which follows the closed Monte Cristo Road. There’s a sign that says “EXTREME DANGER AHEAD – DO NOT ENTER” and is meant for cars, but it’s still not exactly what you want to see when you start your hike!

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Left: Hazy mountains, including “Red Neck”
Right: Pacific giant salamander on the trail!

After the split from Monte Cristo Road (the sign might be for “Weden Creek Trail”), the trail starts going upwards with a vengeance. It’s shaded, at least, making this climb more bearable on a hot day. Once you start coming out of the trees, the views start. If you have any visibility. We didn’t, thanks to a combination of low fog and haze from the forest fires blazing all over the state. Fortunately, there are both near and far views here. The far views cleared up a little bit on the way down, enough for me to dub one peak “Red Neck” because it looked like a red version of Volcanic Neck. The near views included flowers – lots of gentian, which I don’t recall seeing on other hikes I’ve done – and small creek waterfalls that fell in pretty patterns.

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left: Foggy Lake and Del Campo Peak
right: Weden Lake and Sheep Gap Mountain

This rocky section of the trail is where things get nasty. There are some steepy, slippery, rocky uphill segments that are easy to fall on. There’s also a rock face with no good footholds that requires some arm strength to make it up, especially if you’re short like me. The campsites in the basin are lovely, and on other trails, I might think to myself, “It would be nice to backpack here to have more time to explore the area.” But definitely not on this trail. I had a hard enough time not falling down with my daypack, and I did not envy the backpackers at all. Some of them looked pretty miserable.

Once in the basin, there’s a good deal to see. You can walk a short distance and look down at Weden Lake. There are also tarns scattered around, including a sizeable one that has been nicknamed “Foggy Tarn” because some people assume it’s Foggy Lake and stop there. We bumped into one such couple, who fortunately overheard us talking and realized that they were just at a tarn. The tarns and basin are beautiful, but it would be a real pity to do all of that hard work and miss out on Foggy Lake, which is not much further but is far more striking, especially with Del Campo and Gothic Peaks in the background.

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left: “Foggy Tarn”
right: fish-shaped tarn

On a sunny day, the colors of Foggy Lake are dazzling. We probably hit the lake an hour too late to get the peak color for that day, but it was still really beautiful. There are many places around the lake to sit and enjoy your lunch, and people who are in much better shape than I am can continue to climb Del Campo or Gothic for even more stunning views. We followed a different trail through the basin on the way back, passing other tarns along the way. The landscape is very fragile, so it’s advisable to use existing trails instead of creating more.


The difficulty and trail condition make this hike not one of the more pleasant ones I’ve done, but it’s worth it to get to the rocky, stark landscape of Gothic Basin, the likes of which aren’t easily accessible by day hike in Washington.


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