I woke up on the morning of August 26th with the intent of hiking to Gothic Basin as quickly as possible, proceeding up to Foggy Lake, and then exploring the Del Campo area to see what the chances are I could eventually summit.
I've always wanted to climb Del Campo, ever since I initially hiked Gothic Basin, but what I'd read about it recently suggested to me that I wouldn't be able to do so without help and/or training.
I was hiking by 6:30am and was at the basin by 8:40am.
I proceeded immediately to Foggy Lake and started to make my way around it, counter-clockwise, as per a fairly detailed description of a recent Del Campo summit that I had brought with me. I kept meaning to take a break (after all, it's ~4.5 miles to Foggy Lake and 2,840' of elevation gain to Gothic Basin, so I was a little tired), but I was excited about exploring Del Campo, so I kept telling myself "soon soon".
I hiked ~ 1/4 of a mile on a trail on lower Del Campo that was decently easy to follow. It was dirt, grass, and small trees, until I came to what I'm calling the "lower Del Campo boulder field". It was at this point I started to slow down and look for cairns to help guide me.
I soon heard the voices of other hikers in the distance, and thought they were in front of me, so I called out "Can I catch up to you? I'd like to hike with other people.".
There was no response.
So I kept hiking, making slow progress, and before I know it, two hikers came up behind me. They were young, with no gear at all, in sneakers and baseball caps. I asked them if I could join them, given how ill-advised it is to attempt Del Campo alone, and they were incredibly friendly and welcomed me to join their [small but mighty] expedition.
We cut to the left of where I had been walking to the far easier route and soon made it to the infamous Del Campo boulder field.
Now keep in mind that the descriptive text for Del Campo on wta.org makes it very clear that this is a non-trivial hike:
Scramble to Del Campo Peak from Gothic Basic. Class 3 or 4. Helmets, gear, and technical expertise required.
If you still have energy left after reaching Gothic Basin, search for a light boot trail up towards Del Campo Peak. The trail leads to the base of the talus. This is a great stopping point for those who prefer to hike rather than climb or scramble. The views here are great, one can see the whole basin, a birds eye of Foggy Lake and on a clear day like today all the way to Mt. Rainier.
Should you decide to tackle the summit, know that it is incredibly steep, and a fatal fall is never more than a misstep away. If you're experienced and well-equipped, your reward is breathtaking views of Seattle, Everett, Rainier, Baker, Glacier Peak and everything in between.
We had a brief discussion about the trail, specifically: where was it? None of us had been there before, and I'll admit that the description I was holding in my hand was impressively unhelpful.
So we set off, with some serious ambiguity about where to go.
We ended up cutting up the left-hand side of the face, to the left of the pass that heads E/NE. This route was incredibly steep. It was a scramble the entire time. Here are two photos that show the area and terrain for the initial summit attempt:
The trail looks worse than it was. The hand-holds were always good, and the scrambling wasn't too bad. The rock ledges we were on were plenty big for a boot/shoe, but admittedly there was maybe only one place to rest (that was safe), and that was when I removed my backpack to make things easier.
We soon got to a point where the scrambling was beyond my skill level and I told my companions (Koal and Aven) I would sit and wait. That was when I took this photo, balancing my camera precariously on a 2" ledge using a small rock and balancing myself on what was a bit of a tough area upon which to get comfortable:
Koal and Aven actually made it very close to the summit. They did have to turn back after about 5-10 minutes from where I stopped.
If you look at the GPS of my ascent, you'll see the failed approach on the west face of Del Campo. That's where we were trying to find a route to the summit:
(Note: I cleaned up some errant GPS positions from that before posting the photo. For some reason my Garmin bounces around a lot, particularly when I'm going slow, and a couple of the bounces made it seem like I made it higher than I actually did)
It was at that point that another hiker saw us, and he was on the proper trail (approximately 150-200 feet away). He called out, across the mountain face, and asked us if we were "trying to summit a more difficult way". I told him "I don't think so, no".
So he called out some instructions, based on where he was standing, and ended with "it's really easy, maybe a class-3 scramble at most".
Koal and Aven came back down to where I was and we made our way across the face of Del Campo (heading east). We didn't descent very much, though "down and around" would have been the safer route. When we'd get to a scramble that was dicey, I'd ask Koal "Okay, after this: does it look like it gets more difficult, or easier?", as I now knew that they were both much more experienced than I hiking under these conditions.
We made our way to the center of Del Campo, which looks like an ascent to a pass. The trail only goes 25% of the way up the pass before you have to cut left. That "left cut", which is marked by a cairn, is arguably the only important part of the ascent route, and it's absolutely critical.
This is what the summit approach looks like, from speedy-boulderer-turned-photographer Koal:
The summit has 360° views. It's actually a tiny area (the summit itself): just a few dozen boulders that are [mostly] stable. Bring your own pen if you'd like to sign the guest book that's in an old rusty mailbox at the summit.
There are two very accurate caveats from the hike description:
Here are the vital statistics on the hike (this includes round-trip data):
Distance: 12.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,784'
Duration: 6h 51m (3:41:43 up, 3:09:39 back)
Highest Point: 6,621'
I got so, so many great photos from this hike. Way too many to publish here. There are about 4 dozen of my favorites below: