Standing in thigh-deep snow I toe with my right foot, pushing forward with my knee until I feel the scrape of metal on stone. I push off my poles slowly, adjust my center of gravity, and stand on my new foothold. Slowly I bring my left leg up, pendulum at the knee, and beat back the snow, but as I search for another hold my left pole gives way and plunges deeper into the snow, sending me sprawling backwards and sliding several feet until my crampon catches on the base of an evergreen. Lying there I can’t help but think that at least it smells nice.
And how stupid it was to sell my snowshoes.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that hiking in deep snow with crampons is ineffective, but it’s also fairly reckless –its only a matter of time before the spikes on one leg catch the tender flesh of the other. But when you make a last-minute decision to hike to a basin out of season and then oversleep, you work with what you’ve got, and what I’ve got is a set of crampons.
I’d made my decision late last night after feeling the restlessness of a wasted day in the city snarl up my spine. Declarations that “you need these days” or “you need to take time to relax” came from well-meaning family and friends, but they just made me that much more annoyed. Life isn’t for relaxing, I’d think as I responded agreeably, and days off aren’t for catching up on sleep and watching 30 Rock. I mean, Tina Fey is awesome, but not awesome enough when you live somewhere this beautiful.
So I’d leafed through my hiking books and settled on something in the North Cascades/Snoqualmie Baker region since I was on a budget, was flying solo, and was not in a position to shell out $35 in ferry fees (plus gas) to head out to my beloved peninsula. The color coded tabs in my Craig Romano tome led me to a few hikes that I hadn’t checked off this summer, and after checking WTA trail reports and seeing either snow-closed roads or roads on the losing end of a wash out, I opted for Gothic Basin, a popular hike with a lake and some alpine views that would likely be less crowded, being outside the suggested hiking season.
The ride to Gothic is surprisingly easy. The closest town, Granite Falls, is only about an hour from Seattle, and from there it’s a relatively easy 32 miles to the trailhead in the park. You’ll need a Interagency or a Northwest Forest Pass to park, the latter of which you can get from the Lochsloy Store on Granite Falls Highway (along with any other forgotten items *cough* gloves *cough*) for a reasonable price.
The trail starts at a gated former mining road just east of the snow gate for the rest of the park (I’m not sure how accessible this will be once the real snows start coming). Important note: the start is down the road from the parking lot, which marks the beginning of several other trails (including one across the road)–these are not the way to go; look for the threatening signs.
The road ambles for about a mile giving close views of the Sauk river and the surrounding mountains. A comprehensive trail description is available here, but I figured I’d point out a few fuzzy spots that tripped me up (a reminder to always bring a good map, not pictures you take of one with the iPhone they will pry from your smug, tech-savvy hand when you’re found in the spring):
Around the half mile point you’ll come to a bridge that cuts right and goes into some older growth, which is a change you’re looking for. But this isn’t it. Continue straight toward Weden Creek.
Eventually you’ll hit the river, bear right (at about a mile) and come to a kiosk for Gothic Basin. Now you can carry on a bit less perplexed. After another half mile or so you’ll reach a stream crossing, which as the book mentions, can be tricky at high water.