Glacier Basin

John and I planned a hike for the middle day of the Labor Day Weekend. Saturday had forest fire smoke over most of the state. Sunday it was mostly gone. We headed a little north and stayed on the west side of the mountains to help avoid any smoke. Mission accomplished. We had blue sky all day. Getting two parking spaces at Barlow Pass was not a sure thing. We expected dozens of overnight backpackers at Gothic Basin. We were counting on few folks going to Glacier Basin. During this year of the pandemic crowds have been much larger than normal at popular hiking destinations. There are so few things open in the cities. We counted on Glacier Basin not being a popular place. With that said, I was out the door at 5:52 am heading north. Five cars were right in front of me going through Verlot. Three turned onto the Mt. Pilchuck Road. The other two turned into the Lake 22 parking lot. I had an open road the rest of the way. Nearing Barlow Pass there were cars parked along the road some distance away. These were backpackers. Gaps were day hikers who had gone home on Saturday. At the pass I took the last head in parking spot. John parked in the lot above the pass. He said there were still several open spots. We got together and headed out at 7:26 am.

The old road to Monte Cristo stats out with a gentle descent the first mile to the river crossing. The short reroutes caused by the bad washouts that finally closed this road create some newer ups and downs. On last year's trip to Monte Cristo I noticed the new start to the Gothic Basin Trail much closer to the trailhead. We passed on hiker heading to Gothic Basin. The lot crossing over the Sauk River is still in place. Broken at one spot with several logs across it, it is still easy to cross. The water under the log was almost non existent. The river only flows under the bridged channel this time of year. John had been to Gothic Basin but not farther along the road to Monte Cristo. With the exception of a washed out rocky section near Weden House the road is in fine shape and hikes fast. The morning was cool which helped too. We saw tents in a couple places along the road. Folks were camping wherever they could find space. Two backpackers were heading out. That was it for seeing people on the four miles to Monte Cristo.

We arrived at MC at 8:46 pm. We took 1:20 to hike the four miles. Since this was John's first visit we took a little time to check out the railroad turntable and what old buildings still stand along Dumas Street. We reached the old trailhead for Glacier Basin at 9:10 am. Now things start to get more interesting. The old trail that was once out in the open is surrounded by brush. This morning it was wet brush. The brush is not bad as you can see your feet at all times. The wide road quickly becomes narrow trail. At a couple places we could see the waterfall above. The route goes right to the falls. We took a short break when we arrived there. There was a lot of water coming over the falls for early September. Two backpackers came down while we were at the falls. They had the basin to themselves except for one day hiker on Saturday. Just what I had hoped for. Nobody in the basin now that they left. They confirmed that there was still snow up there.

From the falls to the basin is the old miners route. Calling it a trail is a stretch. Straight up the fall line all the way. At the bottom there is a rope to help get up and down a steep rock slab that is the trail. The ascent is slow. We were completely in shade and that helped. We stowed hiking poles as using hands to pull yourself up in places is necessary. I was happy when the grade lessened to just very steep. We were surprised to find ripe huckleberries along the ascent. It seems folks are too busy concentrating on the route to notice the berries. They were a nice treat. The grade became much gentler as we rounded the end of Mystery Hill. The trail splits. Up is the old water pipe route across rocks. Down is to creek level. I usually visit earlier in the year when there is snow and the upper route is easier. We went down. It was fine until the trail comes up against the steep slope. No room to stay low. We scrambled up rocks to the upper route. This soon brought us into the basin.

We arrived at 10:29 am. We took 3:03 to hike in 6 1/2 miles. The last 2 1/2 took longer than the first 4 miles. It also had most of the elevation gain. Glacier Basin is spectacular. A horseshoe shape with the ridges towering above. 7136' Monte Cristo peak at the end of the basin is far above the 4400' bottom of the basin. Best of all there was still some snow up high to add contrast to the views. There was also some snow on the north side of the ridge near basin level. More than I expected for this lat in the year. We saw some harebells in bloom. Soon after were a few yellow and pink monkey flowers. We were soon to discover that was just the beginning. We headed over to my favorite lounging rock. Climbing up top provides a little better view of the basin. There are a number of small creeks leading into Glacier Creek. Small brushy bushes cover much of the ground. It is easier to go around then than through.

I would have been happy to nap away the day atop the rock. It was warm but not yet hot. The views in all directions were outstanding. On my first visits I had explored up Mystery Hill and up Ray's Knoll to the upper basin. On my more recent visits I had been content to just lounge around in the basin. Since this was John's first visit it seemed best to let him see some more. We decided to head up to the upper basin below Monte Cristo Peak. When I went up there several decades ago I did a clockwise circle around Ray's Knoll. This time we did it counterclockwise. We went up some hard snow then straight up loose rock to the upper basin. It goes back farther than it appears from below. There was a lot more snow up there too. The basin was loaded with wildflowers at peak bloom. The stars were pink and also yellow varieties. I see monkey flowers in patches along creeks. The whole floor of the basin seemed to be covered with them. Far more than I have seen at one time.

John spied the unexpected. Within a big patch of yellow and pink he saw one patch of bright white monkey flower. These are very rare. Flowers with no color. There are only a few examples we could fine on the Internet. Neither of us had hear of let along seen a white one. As said the basin is very large. Finding them was a needle in a haystack proposition. This made our day. Maybe the year. We looked all over the upper basin and did not see another. The creek was already pretty large right out of the snow. We had to do some fancy rock hopping to get across the creek to see Ray's Knoll. It was by far the hottest place of the day. We had a cool breeze in the basin but not on the knoll. I was glad to leave. Rather than descending the steep loose rocks we chose to go down along the creek on the opposite side of the knoll. Part way down we had to cross the creek to continue. It was roaring pretty loud at our crossing spot. We made it with dry feet. Continuing down the rocky slope to the lower basin we came upon some blooming harebells and some columbine. At the bottom we saw a log across the creek. It was held in place on both sides by big rocks lodged against it. An easy crossing.

We headed back to the other side of the basin near where we started up. The sun was low enough to provide a little shade. Very welcome after hours with no shade. The view were fantastic and we were not in a hurry to head back. It was 1:56 pm when we sat down. It was 2:49 pm when we finally started back. As we reached the entrance to the basin we saw the first people since reaching the waterfall in the morning. We had had the whole basin to ourselves on a holiday weekend. They were camped at Monte Cristo and were just coming up to the basin. The steep descent to the waterfall was slow. First was because of all the berries that needed to be eaten. Second was because it is just awfully steep. We finally reached the waterfall and another break at 3:49 pm.

The narrow trail was still steep but no longer a scramble. We were now out in the sunshine and it was very warm. When the trail became old road we were back in forest and much cooler. Getting into Monte Cristo we started seeing people. Several families, some solo hikers, and a group. Not crowded but more people in a few minutes than seen all day up until then. The hike back was pretty fast. Four miles in 1:20. We passed several groups still heading in. We passed one group in the last half mile. We reached the gate at Barlow Pass at 5:59 pm. W were out for just about 10.5 hours. For the day we hiked about 14 miles with 2600' of elevation gain. A lot of that gain came in a very short distance.

Last year Gary, John, and I backpacked up Huckleberry Mountain and had a great 3 day Labor Day Weekend trip in which we saw zero people. This Labor Day John and I had a one day trip where we saw 5 people going in and nobody all day in Glacier Basin. We saw some folks at Monte Cristo and on the walk out but not many. There were many dozens in not a hundred cars at the trailhead and we had a lot of solitude all day long. The hike was a lot of fun. Easy road walking in forest, a steep climb to the basin, and then fantastic views and wildflowers all afternoon long. The icing on the cake was the likely once in a lifetime sighting of white monkey flowers. We really had a terrific time.

Detour Around Mud
Log Crossing River
Weden House
Beaver Dam
Old Rails
Moon Over Del Campo
Entering Monte Cristo
Riddle House
Heading Out Of Town
Waterfall In Sight
A Little Brushy
View From Falls
Leaving Falls
Steep & Rocky
Climbing Slabs
Grade Eases
Narrow Waterfall
Nearing Basin
Rosy Spirea
Rock Hopping
Lewis Monkey Flower
View Up Glacier Basin
John Takes A Break
Heading On
Climbing Up
Back Of Upper Basin
Photo Time
Pink Monkey Flower
Yellow Monkey Flower
Field Of Flowers
Lit Up Waterfall
White Monkey Flower!
Multiple Colors
All Three Varieties
Late Season Snow
Pink Against Peaks
John In Upper Basin
Ice Cave
Flowers & Peaks
Upper Basin
White Flowers
On Ray's Knoll
White Water
Upper Basin Once More
Descent Route
Bright Columbine
Lit Up Leaf
Lower Basin View
Better Lighting
Wilmans Spires
Indian Paintbrush
Last Basin View
Traversing Talus
Steep Descent
Falls Viewpoint
Monte Cristo Site
Straight Road
Recrossing Creek
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2020