My climbing friend Daria wanted to get out and bag some peaks. Eldorado has been in the conversation. After a few days of assessing options and other climbing partners, we settled on Del Campo Peak just off Barlow Pass on the Mountain Loop Highway near the now ghost town, and former gold mining town of Monte Cristo.
Fresh off a week in Hawaii of pure relaxation and a couple of weeks of entertaining guests, I was not in peak mountain fitness. But was excited to get back in the mountains and scramble one or more of the better scrambling peaks in Washington, set in Gothic Basin – an amazingly beautiful stone basin
We set out of Seattle at 4 am, with the intention of an early start given the forecasted high temps, and planned to climb both Del Campo and Gothic Peaks.
We hit the trailhead at 6 am which follows the now abandoned road to the Monte Cristo Ghost town. You can read more about Monte Cristo and the history at the Ghost Towns of Washington’s website:
The trail follows the abandoned 4 mile road for about the first mile, then cuts into the forest and follows the South Fork of the Sauk River along a well-maintained trail with boardwalks covering swampy areas and patches of Skunk Weed and Devil’s Glove.
The trail begins to steepen quickly, ascending the hillside, and gaining altitude up steep forested switchbacks, until about 3500 feet where it begins to carve its way into the rocky hillside, crossing numerous streams and waterfalls from the upper slopes of Del Campo and Gothic Basin.
As we ascended the trail towards Gothic Basin, the smoke become thick, casting a haze on everything in the distance. Peaks in the Monte Cristo were peering out however they seemed so distant with the haze, almost like old film photos from the 1970s. The trail became more alpine-like about 4000, and more fun to climb up rocks and roots although slightly more challenging.
Upon entering Gothic Basin the terrain drastically changes – there was little vegetation – most of the basin area is rock, the super-sticky kind of granite that is really fun to scramble on. There is a small lake once you enter the basin and we encountered several tents and campsites dotting the rocks. Small streams and rivulets from the series of lakes above carved many paths amongst the rock supporting patches of heather and lots of verdant mosses. We encountered many frogs in the area – something I see very little while climbing.
The basin is a magical fairyland-like place – the terrain reminds me of the Core Zone in the Enchantments, and I think that this place would serve as a decent option for those wanting to experience a high alpine lake zone with an amazing basin to explore. One could spend days exploring the rock formations, lakes, and surrounding peaks.
We made our way from the lower basin up to Foggy Lake, for a much-needed rest, refuel, and plan for the summit.
Upon leaving Foggy Lake, we made our way up the ridge to the climbing route. We ascended a steep talus field, cross a short section of snow, and make our way to the steep staircase-like section of scrambling along a gully and steep dropoff to the right.
Daria and I made the summit and enjoyed the views. Although it was hazy and smoky, it was still amazingly beautiful and I always love a summit view! We reached the summit around noon and assessed our plan to traverse to Gothic Peak. I was knackered from the hike in the heat and humidity and was happy to hear that Daria may prefer a swim in Foggy Lake. As you can see from the photo above, the area is completely exposed to the sun and the temperature was hot – above 90! As tempting as it would have been to bag Gothic Peak in the same go, I was all too happy to declare victory, take a swim, have a proper dinner in Seattle with my mom who was puppy sitting my dog Topo, and save Gothic Peak for another day when the visibility is better and the temperature more agreeable. Plus this area is so beautiful, I don’t mind a repeat visit to explore it in more depth – Fall seeming to be a proper season to revisit the area.
Now as I said I was tired, and my climbing skills were a bit rusty. The climb down would prove to be interesting.
It was time to make our way down the mountain, out of the basin, and back to civilization. It’s amazing to think that one can be so remote and in such a beautiful wilderness just two short hours from Seattle. The hike down was picturesque. Although we had a swim fully clothed, our gear dried quickly. I stopped at nearly every running stream to dunk my head and splash water on my face to help with the sultry, stifling heat.
The hike out of the basin was beautiful. The five miles down the hill were painful and long as usual – when descending any peak, I am always amazed at how far I had ascended, as the path down always seems so long and I quickly forget much of the way up – Parting is such sweet sorrow – I look forward to a return visit in the Fall.