Hiking Gothic Basin + Life Lately {August 27}

Gothic Basin

Happy Thursday, everyone! How is your week going?

Today I have CPR/AED training in downtown Seattle. This means I’m one step closer to becoming a certified running coach! 

As I mentioned in my weekly workout recap on Monday, this past Saturday we completed the most challenging hike either Ryan and I have ever done. 

Gothic Basin

On the Washington Trails Associate website (our resource for all things hiking in this wonderful state), they said that day hikers will wish they had brought a tent to stay the night. We thought this was because Gothic Basin would be so beautiful and serene, which it was…but we’re certain the WTA said that because by the time you reach the summit at 5000 feet, the idea of hiking back down sounds unfeasible and mildly terrifying.

As we drove from Bothell into the Cascades, we were quickly enveloped by a thick haze of smoke, as you’ll see in some of the photos. The wildfires in Eastern Washington have been severe this month, and the Northern Cascades Park was closed this weekend. The entire city of Seattle was even in a haze of smoke until Monday. It was really sad to see all this smoke, since the fires are harshly impacting many people’s lives, both here and in California. The West Coast needs rain! 

The hike up to Gothic Basin is 5.5 miles with a 3000 foot elevation gain. At first, this doesn’t sound bad; we’ve done hikes that gain 2500 feet over 3.5 miles, so how bad could this be? The first mile is fairly flat as it guides you from the parking along Mountain Loop Highway in the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest (not far from where we hiked Lake Twenty Two) to the official trailhead for Weeden Creek Trail.

Gothic Basin

The trail quickly begins to sharply ascend on switchbacks through the forest. We checked our Garmin data later (I wear my Forerunner 10, Ryan wears the Fenix) and realized that many most of the hike averaged a 15% incline. Ryan and I consider ourselves to be in decent hiking shape; we’re by no means ready to scale Mt. Rainier, but a 10 mile hike in the Cascades normally does not push us to our limit. Gothic Basin rendered both of us feeling like completely out-of-shape newbies. 

At mile 3, poor Charlie got bitten by a horsefly. We stopped for a while to make sure he was ok, and after calming him down we decided to continue up. How much worse could the hike get?

Gothic Basin

The trail soon became rocky and technical, but nothing too incredibly steep, so even Charlie was able to handle it. 

At mile 4.5, we stopped at a waterfall basin for lunch. Charlie enjoyed the alpine water and some kibble while we nibbled on homemade whole wheat bread, canned tuna, and drank a lot of water. At this point, we overheard other hikers who were on the descent discuss how the past mile had 1000 foot elevation change and took them over an hour. We considered turning back, but we decided, how bad could a single mile really be?

Gothic Basin

In economics and business, there’s a fallacy known as sunk cost fallacy. It’s based around the aversion of losses; if you’ve already invested so much time or money into a goal, why stop even if failure seems clear? In our determination to reach the summit of Gothic Basin and hike back down in one day, we fell victim to sunk cost fallacy. In retrospect, it would have been prudent to turn around after lunch and come back to Gothic Basin with overnight camping gear (especially because we purchased a tent last week). 

Instead, we hiked onward. That final mile was absolutely brutal. It consisted primarily of rock scrambling, some of which was done climbs so steep that we had to climb on our hands and knees. Charlie was able to manage the climbs and received plenty of admiration from fellow hikers. We had to stop frequently during this last mile, and were not alone: we would frequently pass people who were stopped, taking a break as well. 

Gothic Basin

Finally, 4 hours into our hike, we reached Gothic Basin. It was very beautiful, although honestly I was enjoy the more expansive lakes such as Lake Serene or Goat Lake more. We could have kept hiking towards Foggy Lake, but we were already fatigued at that point and wanted to finish the hike before the sunset. We were also feeling the effects of elevation, which seem to set in at 5000 feet. Our fingers were swollen; usually, both of our wedding rings are fairly loose, but mine was firmly stuck on my finger for the time being.

Gothic Basin

With steep and technical hikes like this, it can take as long to descend as it does to climb, and Gothic Basin was no exception. The hike down proved mentally and physically onerous. Ryan carried Charlie down many of the rock scrambles and Charlie appreciated the relief for his tired little paws. 

I nearly broke down in tears at one point when, after one hour of descending, we reached the waterfall where we had lunch. I should mention at this point that I ran ten miles before we left for the hike—not a super long run, but enough to put some fatigue into my legs, especially because I had done ten the day before as well. The concept of hiking for another three hours when I was exhausted seemed impossible. We stopped for a snack (some delicious maple pecan oatmeal cookies I made the e-cookbook) and Charlie immediately fell asleep on top of a pile of rocks. We just wanted to be done, so we didn’t rest for long.

Thankfully, the cookies gave us a boost of energy, and we trekked at a steady pace down the mountain. We encountered several hikers climbing to camp for night who said they had heard of Charlie, the puggle who hiked Gothic Basin, and were impressed by how such a little dog could hike such a difficult trail.

Gothic Basin

Ryan, Charlie, and I were all so ready to be done that the sight of my Honda was one of the most welcome sights since we first saw the Cascades after our cross-country drive. Charlie actually mustered the energy to try to sprint towards the car. We reached our car right as the sun was setting—the hike took us 8 hours, including our breaks. 


Needless to say, by the time we arrived home, neither Ryan nor I possessed the energy to cook. We ordered pizza, which we rarely do; thankfully, Papa John’s of all places makes a light pizza with less cheese, which is good since I’ve been more sensitive to dairy and milkfat during the past few months. We chowed down a medium pizza and broke open a bottle of Hendrick’s gin (my absolute favorite drink), which was the perfect reward after that hike.

Gothic Basin

Let’s just say that kneeling at Mass the next day hurt as bad as the final miles of the hike. Ryan and I (and Charlie, we’re sure) were both incredibly sore and tired even after a good night’s sleep. I attempted to do some yoga and ended up just laying on the floor, deciding that savasana would suffice for some yoga. Monday I was still sore, so I moved my workouts and did a five mile recovery run instead. 

As strenuous as hiking Gothic Basin was, the sense of accomplishment at the end was rewarding and it certainly worked our mental strength as much as our physical. I’m pretty sure I can power through any wall at mile 22 of the Portland Marathon if I can get through that hike!

All photos are courtesy of Ryan.

Questions of the Day:
Has a race, hike, or any other physical activity truly tested your mental strength?
What’s your favorite treat after a hard physical exertion?

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16 Responses

  1. I feel like you live in a really ugly place.
    The biggest and most intense hike that I’ve done was the one that was all day in Kauai, but I was jazzed the whole time, while others were totally over it. Mentally exhausting and physically exhausting? Running a marathon for my PR. It was everything I had at the end. I think the reward was just allowing myself to realize what I accomplished.
    And then I completely overate. No willpower by that time!

  2. I can’t even believe how beautiful those photos are. UNREAL. Yes, my mental strength gets tested every single day, as soon as the kids wake up. LOL kidding. My favourite treat? Beer.

  3. Great job on your hike and way to pull through! Some people don’t realize how hard hiking can be. I haven’t hiked Gothic Basin but lots of others in the area. So funny because I used to live in Bothell. I miss the PNW and all the awesome hikes there. Take advantage of the area. There are lots of amazing hikes! You can check out some of the ones I’ve done in my TBT Hiking posts. Happy hiking! 🙂

    1. That is too funny that you used to live in Bothell! We are definitely taking advantage of the area – we hike almost every weekend. I will definitely check out your posts – the more hikes, the better! 🙂

  4. Woooow, good job you guys on making it to the top! Your story has scared me away from wanting to climb Gothic Basin 🙂 My favorite post-hike treat is typically something really cold, like a popsicle or smoothie.

    1. Thank you! Gothic Basin wasn’t that bad, I think it just requires lots of preparation – Ryan and I only have a few months of hiking experience in the Cascades.

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