The Laramee Filter: pseudorandom thoughts, subsequently put on the Internet.
 
Author:
Tom Laramee
Date Published:
August 28th, 2021
Word Count:
2,529 (17:30 read time)
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My Unorthodox Hike to the Summit of Del Campo

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:

We were hiking to to left of where this photo was taken. We ended up trying to summit via the upper-left section.
Pretty sure that the small ridge in the very center of this photo was the intended route. I stopped at the upper-most tree and waited.

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:

Perched Precariously Indeed, With Gothic Peak In the Background

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)

Two Ascents To the Summit: One Failed, One Successful

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:

Approaching the Summit, With a Backdrop All The Way To Foggy Lake

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:

  1. I think the trip reports that describe the boulder field as being hazardous are accurate. I stepped on what looked like a fairly massive boulder on the way down and it slipped out from under my foot so fast I had an uncontrollable fall.
  2. The other caveat is helmets. The problem with Del Campo is that (a) you can't hike it alone and (b) if you hike it with other people you'll inevitably loose rocks that may tumble down on them. Koal, Aven, and I had some fairly decent spacing to mitigate this, but it's a risk for sure.
Vital Stats:

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'

Del Campo and Gothic Basin Photo Gallery

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:

I was on the trail by 6:30am. I was ~2 miles in before the sun came over the mountains to the east.
The trail between Foggy Lake and the base of Del Campo. This is looking N/NE.
This is lower Del Campo. There's a sort of "lower rock field" that you can cut around if you stay left near the trees and grass.
Foggy Lake as seen from above. The striking views really start to come out as you gain some elevation on Del Campo.
The center/near peak is Gothic Peak. I'm looking S/SW.
That's Aven, who is a pro, hiking in sneakers and a baseball cap.
Foggy Lake as seen from right near the summit of Del Campo.
Summit, Looking NE. That's Morning Star (nearest), Vesper (left), and Sperry (right).
The flat rock face is absolutely massive (e.g.: the size of a football field).
Foggy Lake has a part I call "Upper Foggy Lake", on the left. My guess is most people ever see this, as it's not visible from the lake approach.
Another photo from the trail to Del Campo. This is also looking north. It was nice enough to have a picnic up there. Very inviting.
Here's lower Gothic Basin, taken on my initial approach. It was maybe 8:45am.
This is where we're headed. This photo is from below Foggy Lake.
I love the smooth rock faces that sort of define Gothic Basin. It's arguably the basin's single most defining feature.
Foggy Lake has some beautiful colors. A little hard to see here but I was a man on a mission and had no time to stop and smell the posies.
This is Aven. Her & Koal helped me summit (I would not have summit-ted without them). Our 1st attempt to summit was a failure and we had to try again, and that turned out to be really fun.
Del Campo is incredibly steep. This is from the 1st summit attempt. That was the "trail" we were trying to follow.
That section on the left was where we tried to summit (you can see it on GPS). The next photo may be from that section.
It's a little hard to tell but: that's a drop of approximately 100-150 feet, straight down. That rock face was incredibly flat.
Another great photo to help show what the 1st ascent attempt was like. Very steep, very rocky.
Summit looking South.
Summit looking SE.
Summit looking N/NE.
Summit looking SW.
Summit looking W.
Summit looking NW: Morning Star, Vesper, and Sperry.
Summit looking N.
Summit looking N/NE: Mount Pugh.
Here's a photo of an incredibly happy guy at 6,621' feet of elevation. It was like a dream come true.
My young hiking companions: Aven and Koal. Koal is a speed boulderer (and it showed).
Foggy Lake from the summit of Del Campo.
There's a glacier on the W/SW side of Del Campo and it just looks terrifying in it's steepness and un-navigability.
Looking NW, we see Copper Lake in the distance. Copper Lake is on the south side of Big Four Mountain (which I'm pretty sure is obscured in this photo).
Back in sane-land, I grabbed a photo above Gothic Lake. I'll always love that view.
Unobscured look at Gothic Lake. Apparently this area gets very crowded on weekends these days.
One last look at the lower basin before I begin my descent.
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