Backpacking in Washington - Adam McKibben

Backpacking in Washington

A few weekends ago some friends invited Chloe and I to join them on an overnight at the Gothic Basin of Washington’s North Cascades. Never wanting to shy away from an adventure, we packed the truck and drove the 6 and a half hours from Bend to spend some time in the mountains.

I had done my research on the trip before we left, and everything I had read alluded to this being a difficult hike. With that knowledge in mind and the heat wave that was currently resting itself atop the area, Chloe and I decided to get an early start on the hike. We slept the night before on the side of the road near the trailhead and woke up at 5am to get moving.

We were so thankful that we made the early jump on the day. This hike was steep and it was already becoming uncomfortably warm by 7:30am. If you plan to go when it’s warm, be sure to hydrate the night before as well as during the hike. There are 2-3 water sources on the way up that you can refill and filter from, so don’t be shy with the water on this one!

We reached the basin around 10am that morning and were aching to rest and eat some food. The hike, combined with the heat, had worn us both out thoroughly and shade was few and far between in the basin. After searching for a little while, we were able to find a shady spot next to a stream which had multiple waterfalls as it made it’s way down to a lake below. We sat here for awhile, escaping the oppressive heat, eating lunch and recharging our bodies. For the bold, there’s even what looked to be an old mining cave behind one of the falls.

After a bit of rest, it was time to find a place to set up camp. There are plenty of spots around the basin that are great for setting up. I had a few prerequisites in mind that I felt would make a really great spot, so the hunt for a spot encompassing all of those characteristics began. The only issue we ran into is that none of them were shaded, which led us back towards our creek oasis.

There was a large ledge area just across the creek that appeared to be exactly what we were looking for. It was close to a water source that had some shade, it had wide open views facing east, and the sun would set directly behind us to the west, making for some great photo opportunities. We found the most even spot we could on the rock and set up the tent. Soon after setting up, the sun began to move off of the rock, drastically helping in cooling things off.

The cloud variation and constant changes in lighting made for a really great time shooting pictures. There are so many great angles in this place and endless opportunity to capture beauty. Don’t let yourself get stuck in one place! Explore around and discover how the light interacts with your surroundings. More importantly, be sure to put the camera down for awhile and simply be present in this place. You earned it!

After you’ve explored the area a bit, be sure to get things set up for an amazing sunset. For me, this consisted of picking a spot in a place with great potential for a variety of pictures. When the lighting was where I wanted it to be, I had the option to swivel my tripod nearly 200 degrees to be able to choose my frame.

I also brought a Graduated ND filter up with me which I was using for the first time. I would highly recommend looking into one as the sky tended to be far more exposed than the mountains and the foreground.

After the sun set and the light faded, we spend the rest of the time enjoying conversation with friends and sharing stories about the hike up. Don’t let shooting pictures cause you to forget to have these moments! They are some of the most memorable and valuable parts of being in nature.

We were up by 4am for sunrise. It was a little early, as the sun didn’t poke over the ridge until around 5am, but it was nice to get everything set up and have a slow morning rather than feeling rushed. Things warmed up quickly once the sun was up, so we ate a quick breakfast and started our hike down by 7am.

I would be sure to have some high top boots for this hike based off of the descent. My boots saved my ankles countless times from being severely rolled on rocks and roots.

If you make it up to the Gothic Basin, enjoy the beauty the surrounds you and please be responsible!

This is a fragile alpine environment. Please respect the area by staying on trails, leaving no trace and observing fire restrictions.


+ Sleeping Pad and Sleeping Bag - a tent is optional. We brought one up but you can just as easily sleep on the ground with a pad

+ Layers (Weather can change drastically depending on what season you go. Be sure to do your research before heading into any alpine environment.)

+ Water and water filtration device - we brought a SteriPen

+ Food - backpacking food is great for this. It will save you weight and provide a high calorie meal.

+ Backpacking stove and small pot

+ Sunscreen Camera Gear + DSLR with a wide lens. I went up with a 28-70 and it did just fine.

+ Tripod - something incredibly light for the hike up. Carbon fiber tripod or a GorillaPod Graduated ND Filter and Polarizing Filter

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