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Gothic Basin
posted by John : August 22-23, 2015

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On the trail again

Between ballet, Girl Scout camp, and a trip back east there was little time for backpacking with the girls. In fact, there was only one weekend that was a possibility. We got lucky with the weather and raced up the Mountain Loop Highway to arrive at the trailhead well after dark on a Friday.

I'm getting to like sleeping in the car. It's easier than a tent and quicker to get going in the morning. Especially when one of your daughters is an early riser. (And yes, I realize this kind of talk is leading me toward a travel trailer. The HORROR!)

Our destination was Gothic Basin. We'd only have a single night, but if what I'd heard about the trip was true it'd be worth it. At only five miles and 2,800 feet it doesn't sound that hard. Of course, when things don't sound hard that should be a warning.

The first mile is easy. It's a road walk to the old trailhead. Like so many roads providing access to the wilderness it was damaged and there's no money to repair it. So we walked the mile to the beginning of the trail while I dreaded the road walk on the way out.

Once we were on the trail it was much better. An easy grade through the forest along the South Fork of the Sauk River. When the trail turned uphill our pace slowed.

Just like on Henry's trip to Tuck and Robin Lakes, the girls were carrying new packs. Lilly had a Deuter ACT Lite 45+10 SL pack and Clara had a slightly smaller Deuter ACT Lite 35+10 SL. ( affiliate links help support We are Deuter Ambassadors and were provided these packs for our use.) Both packs are "SL," meaning they are designed for women. As much as I deny my girls are becoming women, it's happening. They may not need or appreciate the woman-specific features in the SL packs, but they will. (But I still won't accept it.)

Both packs are made for adults, but have Deuter's Variquick Adjustable Shoulder Harness. Even though the girls are only 10 and 12 the packs fit them when adjusted to their shortest setting. Even though they expand up to 45 and 55 liters, the packs cinch down when carrying less.

The upper sections of the trail are steep. Almost like Mailbox. We got tons of encouragement from other climbers. Once again, their words had far more impact on the girls than anything I could say.

The most important words told us of a large log over the trail. It marked the entrance to Gothic Basin and was a very tangible landmark we could all look forward to. Around every corner we looked for the log and when we found it our steps came quickly.

In the basin we saw almost no trees, but lots and lots of rock. Not lousy rock that's no fun to walk on like talus or scree, but glorious slabby rocks. (Don't tell the girls, but it wasn't as good as Tuck and Robin Lakes or The Enchantments. What they don't know won't hurt them.) The biggest problem was finding a place to pitch our tent. Without trees and brush telling us where not to camp we followed the multitude of trails that crisscross the rocks.

The hidden gem was down a steep hill, tucked below a rock face. There was just space for a single tent and a private waterfall along a narrow ledge. But the coolest feature was a mine adit by the waterfall. I knew the area had a history of mining, especially down close to the river. It shouldn't be a surprise that miners had made it up into the basin as well.

However, this wasn't to be our spot. We wanted a site with a view. So we found a spot perched high on the rocks. Had the weather been poor we wouldn't have camped so exposed, but with perfect weather it was a spectacular location. To minimize our impact we pitched our tent on rock. If you haven't tried to pound tent stakes into rock, it's not easy.

We had made good enough time hiking and setting camp that we went for a walk. Foggy Lake is about half a mile from where we camped. All along the way we were on the glorious rock. (Unlike the Enchantements and Tuck and Robin, this rock was red.) The girls loved climbing and running and I loved seeing them enjoying themselves below the high ridges and peaks surrounding us.

The lake was lovely and a great place to relax. Lilly waded into the water because she's the adventurous one. Clara splashed a bit and I filtered water. (Have I raved about gravity filters? No? We have a Platypus 2L GravityWorks Filter. No more pumping to filter, we just fill the "dirty" bag and suspend it above the "clean" bag. Gravity does the rest. I think the kids might miss the manual work of filtering, but they'll come around.)

We made it back to camp as the sun disappeared over the ridge, lighting the wispy clouds for a spectacular show. After dinner I headed off to hang our food. Except someone had camped directly below my tree. There are few trees to be found so I was in a quandary.

The rocks are full of gaps perhaps 20 feet wide and 15 feet deep. I strung a line across and hung the food in the middle. It's unlikely it would stop a big bear that was determined, but it was high enough to stymie Lilly and the mice that would otherwise have eaten our breakfast.

Instead, we had a lovely, leisurely breakfast before packing up. I was looking forward to descent rather than ascent while the girls kept talking about getting together with some of their friends.

Helloooo. I'm right here. Aren't you glad to be spending time with me? Well, poop. I guess this is the future.

Down was easier and faster than going up, even with frequent pauses to allow climbers to pass. Except it was hotter than when we climbed. There aren't many streams on the trail, but when we came to the first I introduced the girls to hat dipping. Their longer hair required much more water than Henry or I needed, but when it finally made it through they loved it. Unfortunately, Clara had brought a knit hat so she commandeered mine.

It's been a slow year for pikas, but we scored with three different sightings before we entered the trees. All our sightings are submitted to the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Pika Project. We also log observations for a couple of other projects. All our observations are on iNaturalist.

As I feared, the final road walk to the car was really hard. There's a big difference between being engaged on a trail and just putting one foot in front of the other to make mileage. Even just the need to pay attention on a rooty trail versus walking a featureless road does so much. Without that we all started losing interest. Longest mile ever.

It was worth it, though. Even though we had only a single night in the backcountry, even though there were far more people in the basin than we expected, even though the climb up was hard, spending time together in the wilderness is one of the things I look forward to all year long. Each year I hope we'll get more than our one trip, maybe even a winter trip.

For sure, this will be the year. Or maybe next year. Or was it last year? Definitely this year.


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