Trip Report - Two Nights in the Central Cascades: Norse Peak Trail to Basin Lake

Caltopo Maps

Four friends and I planned three days and two nights just east of Mt. Rainer National Park, in Baker Snoqualmie from from June 29th through July 1. ~24 total miles, with ~8.5 to our campsite at Basin Lake, and a 8 mile loop on day 2, and 8 miles out on day 3. We wound up sticking pretty close to that plan, although it was slightly modified.

This is still pretty early in the season for backpacking in the area, and snow was a concern. We were evaluating alternative routes until about 10 days before the trip, at which point we had seen enough trail reports with good conditions to alleviate our fears.

Details

Day 1: Norse Peak Trail to Goat Lake trail to PCT to Basin Lake Trail to Basin Lake

AllTrails Map

We started at Norse Peak Trailhead, and the trail begins with a few miles of switchbacks. Norse Peak trail is pretty clear despite the damage from last year’s fire. The conditions were very foggy, but warm at this point. Goat Lake Trail had very low visibility, sometimes the fog was so thick we couldn’t see more than 50 feet.

Early on Goat Lake Trail, we came to the only significant wayfinding of the day. We lost the trail on a saddle in the ridge, marked with several hitchposts. If you take this route, you’ll know exactly the spot when you get there. We took a guess, but after 10 or 15 minutes, realized we were not on the trail at all, and retraced our steps. We found the trail hidden over a small ridge on the saddle.

It was on Goat Lake Trail, just after the trail down to Goat Lake itself, that we saw the first snow of the trip, a creek that filled with snow over the winter. It was easy to cross, and the only time we actually had to cross any snow.

I should note that until you’re on the PCT, there is virtually no water avaialable from the time you set out from the trailhead until a mile or so onto the PCT. Given the day’s relatively cool temp and the misty air, I was fine with 1.7 liters of water, but if it were a hot day, I’d plan to take more from the car.

The section along the PCT was great, with really nice views, and loads of side trails that would have been fun to explore. We didn’t go down to the old shelter, since we thought we’d pass it on the way out. We did see a few elk nearby, and paused to whistle at them.

After 2.5 miles on the PCT, we got to see Basin Lake for the first time. It was a welcome site, and the view from above was beautful. After another mile or so down to the lake, we picked our campsiteThere are several options for campsites around Basin Lake, but only two were an option for the number of hammocks we had, and one was occupied. We unpacked in mist and 5-10 mph winds, and hoped the wind wouldn’t pick up overnight.

Overnight temps were in the mid-30’s but dry, with winds staying around 5-10mph. We all slept pretty well, but all three hammocks made the perimeter of the campsite, and we all made mental notes to make adjustments to better secure our rainflys for the next night. This area will be gorgeous in warmer weather later in the summer.

Day 2: Basin Lake Trail to PCT to Crown Point to Basin Lake Trail

AllTrails Map

The next day, we woke around 6:30 to blue skies and wind. We took our time getting breakfast and getting out of camp. We hit the trail around 8:30, and immediately made the mistake of starting our route in reverse. Once we realized our goof, we decided it didn’t matter. We’re doing a loop, anyhow.

In the direction we ended up going, our loop took us from the lake, ~500 ft up to the PCT, then south along the PCT to Crown Point, where we took the off-trail scramble to the point and paused for lunch. From there, we met the Basin Lake Trail on the east side of Crown, and continued north and east back to Basin Lake. Total loop milage 7.8 miles.

The views were great for the first two thirds of the loop, all along the PCT to Crown Point, and then occasionally good from Crown back to Basin Lake. The section from Crown to Basin Lake passes through some areas with great, big views, as well as more subtle sections that were lush forest and were badly damaged in the fire. Either way, it’s interesting, and it’s nice to get both on the same loop.

We were back to camp in the early afternoon, and spent the rest of the day hanging out, building and tending to a fire that kept off the chill from the persisting cold winds. We saw a small herd of elk on the southwest side of the basin. Dinner was Beef, Mushrooms, and Soba Noodles, and a realtively early bedtime to wrap up in our blankets to fend off the chill.

Day 3: Basin Lake to Norse Peak to Norse Peak Trailhead

AllTrails Map

We got out of our shelters at a comfortable time, packed while oatmeal and coffee were cooking, and hit the trail a little before 8:00. As we were heading out of the basin, we saw a huge elk herd - at least 24 animals - on the west side of the basin, maybe 250 or 300 feet above us and a quarter-mile away. They were interested in us, but mostly intertested in playing with each other, bouncing and jostling one another and bugling.

The trip up to Norse Peak was fun, the trip down to connect with the Norse Peak Trail was a little less so. The talus section is short but sketch, and the talus is very loose. That said, I never felt unsure of my footing, and if I were this close and chose not to do Norse Peak, I would have been very dissapointed in myself.

The trip down to the trailhead was uneventful, and a bit of a grind. On the way in, the fog provided a distracting mystique that didn’t exist in the bright sun of our last day. Instead it was replaced with rather mundane and repetitve switchbacks in the woods

###Summary

Day Trails and Landmarks Elevation Gain Milage
1 Norse Peak Trail, Goat Lake trail, PCT, Basin Lake Trail to Basin Lake 3051 ft 9.5 mi
2 Basin Lake Trail, PCT, Crown Point to Basin Lake Trail 1732 ft 7.8 mi
3 Basin Lake, Norse Peak to Norse Peak Trailhead 1132 ft 7.3 mi
Totals 5915 ft 24.6 mi

##Gear Highlights I had a few new peieces of gear on this trip, I’ll write up some initial notes here:

Katabatic Onni Liteskin 50L

A lot of people have been really happy with Katabatic packs, and I’m now added to the list. I realized my old pack was really well built, but pretty heavy (5.5 lbs). I ordered the Onni 50L, 65L and an Atompacks Prospector 50L, with the intetion of returning or reselling the packs that weren’t quite right for me. All of these packs are right around 2 lbs, and it was pretty clear early on that the 65L Onni was more than I’d need. The Atompacks bag didn’t make it from England quite in time, arriving just after we left on Friday, so I took the Onni 50L out on this trip. It excelled. I packed it up with my underquilt and topquilt at the bottom, then my cookset, mug, meals, jacket on top. My hammock, straps, rainfly, trowel, and extra rope were in the mesh back pocket, and my water, filter, bourbon, and snacks were in the mesh side pockets. I had a little room to spare, which will be nice on slightly longer trips for carrying more meals or clothing options.

The pack felt great both fully loaded at just over 21lbs, and when I was using it as a daypack, at probably 6 lbs. The frame is sturdy but lightweight. We had mist and light rain both nights, and the inside of the pack never got wet, even though I neglected to bring my pack cover.

If you’re looking for a really nice, very lightweight pack, this is a great option.

Massdrop Pine Down Quilt

I bought two of these quilts, expecting to at least use one as a topquilt, and the other might only get use when car camping so my wife and I could share a blanket. When I saw it, I knew it’d be a great underquilt quilt, though. A friend of mine was coming on the trip with a hammock but no underquilt, planning to put a sleeping pad in the hammock for a little extra insulation. When he saw the quilt, he immediately decided to leave the sleeping pad in the garage. He was very happy he did. He reported it was warm, and it did a great job breaking the wind.

I felt the same way with it as a topquilt. The nights both had temps in the low or mid 30’s, and a frigid wind between 5 and 15 mph. My rainfly became a sail and did a poor job keeping the wind out, but the quilt did a great job protecting me from it, and keeping me very warm.

I learned to make use of the footbox, and at 6’1” I could still pull the top comfortably over my face. I used a down jacket as a pillow in the hammock, and I was very comfortable on some uncomfortable nights.

I’m consdering modifying the blankets and my hammock to add snaps that will make affixing the underquilt to the hammock very easy. The difficulty of getting an underquilt on my asymmetric hammock is the one drawback to that style hammock.

Dutchware Spider Straps and Beetle Buckles

In general, I like the idea of Dutchware’s Spider Straps and Beetle Buckles, but they aren’t as simple to use as the Dutchware video implies. It’s very convenient to use them to get positioning right without having to tie and untie a bunch of intermediate knots.

The downside was that securing the beetle buckles was more tricky than I thought. Anyone who uses a hammock knows that a key step to getting the right hang is adding your weight to the hang to see how it’s positioned once weighted. Doing this with the Beetle buckles can be a chore. I’m going to keep using them, and see if I can learn technique to minimize my frustration.

Long Term: La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Runners

This was my last trip with these shoes. I got them last summer, and I've taken them on three trips plus a Spartan Race. While they're very grippy and drain well, they're heavy and the huge amount of structure gave me blisters every time I wore them, no matter how I taped and bandaged. After 75+ miles, there's little chance the shoes will break in any more, and I'm left with several days of recovery after a trip. Not worth it when I know there are shoe options that won't wreck my feet.

I took advantage of REI's great return policy, and swapped over to a pair of Brooks Cascadia 13s. My road running shoes are Brooks Ghosts, and I love them. We'll see how the Cascadia 13s do over the next couple months.

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