Backpack Spider Gap to Buck Creek Pass
Washington › Phelps Creek Trailhead
Added by Nick Lake
Duration: 4-5 DaysNear constant, astounding views of several mountain ranges, countless glaciers and Glacier PeakAlpine camping with tons of wildlifeLots of solitude
Backpacking the Spider Gap to Buck Creek Pass Loop in the Glacier Peak Wilderness is no easy task, but yields some of the most spectacular views found in Washington. Plan for at least four days in order to stay fresh and to allow for extra time to soak in the Cascadian beauty that assaults your senses every step of the way.
Day 1 (11.2 miles): Beginning at the trailhead at the end of Phelps Creek Trailhead Road, the trail follows its namesake creek, winding through a forested valley nestled between the Entiat Range and Phelps Ridge for about 4 miles before bursting into the broad and verdant Spider Meadow. Speckled with backcountry sites, Spider Meadow is a very popular place to camp—feel free to add a night and camp here beneath Red and Dumbbell Mountains to break up the long first day.
Past the meadow, the trail’s gentle incline quickly gets steeper, culminating in a set of switchbacks leading up the sheer granite wall at the north end of the valley, climbing some 1,700 feet in about ½ mile. Pause at the top at a lookout over the valley and Entiat Range before slogging a mile up Spider Glacier and over Spider Gap at 7,000 feet. The snowfield on the north side of the pass drops down to the Lyman Lakes, fed by Lyman Glacier, which clings to Chiwawa Mountain to the west. 3 more miles leads you to Lower Lyman Lake and your campground for the first night.
Day 2 (6.3 miles): Heading out of Lyman Lake, the trail heads moderately up across a broad meadow to 6,438-foot Cloudy Pass. Be sure to turn around for jaw-dropping views of the Entiat Range, including Seven Fingered Jack. Drop over the saddle and skirt around a sketchy section of trail on the hiker’s route before clearing 5,983-foot Suiattle Pass.
Join the Pacific Crest Trail for a short section before branching off on Miner’s Ridge Trail. Keep an eye out for old, abandoned mines, including Glacier Peak Mine. A short climb later, the trail levels out and breaks free of forests and avalanche chutes into huge subalpine meadows stretching endlessly above and below the trail, backed by jagged, glacial peaks. Black Bears dot the landscape, foraging for ubiquitous blueberries and marmots squeak from rocky perches in every direction. Camp at Image Lake, making sure to soak in views of Glacier Peak, reflected in the lake’s placid surface.
Day 3 (10.8 miles): Backtrack to the PCT junction and descend about 1,000 feet through subalpine and montane forest to Miner’s Creek, stopping to enjoy unobstructed views of Chiwawa and Fortress Mountains and their accompanying glaciers. Across the creek, Buck Creek Pass Trail splits left and begins a steady ascent back up to elevation. Eat up miles across a long, relatively flat section before a brutal set of switchbacks brings you back up near 6,000 feet into Buck Creek Pass. Take a .6-mile roundtrip detour to the summit of Flower Dome for unparalleled views of Glacier Peak, now just a valley away to the west, or finish the day’s last stretch across a huge meadow to camp at the south end of the pass. (Tip: the first campground on the right has the best views of Glacier Peak. While more sheltered, the lower campsites are blocked in by trees.)
Day 4 (9.8 or 13 miles): Your final day is a long descent out of Buck Creek Pass, so prepare your feet and knees for a beating. The trail hugs the eastern side of a huge valley, dropping nearly 2,800 feet over 8 miles. Much of the trail is exposed with steep drop-offs to the right, allowing for near-constant views of Liberty Cap, Buck Mountain and numerous other jagged peaks and glaciers, some of them unnamed. The last few miles follow the creek, fed by waterfalls cascading down from alpine lakes and glaciers above, along relatively flat ground to the endpoint at Trinity.
If you’ve left a relay car here, your hike is over! If not, follow Chiwawa River Road south past Phelps Creek Campground, take the sharp left onto Phelps Creek Trailhead Road and hike back to your car at the starting point, about 3.2 miles up the dirt road.
On your way out, leave time for a stop in Leavenworth at South for fantastic Mexican food and local beer—you earned it!
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
- The start and end points of this backpack are about 3 miles apart along Chiwawa River and Phelps Creek Trailhead Roads. Either park one car at the endpoint at Trinity and the other at the trailhead, or be prepared to add 3.2 miles to the end of your hike.
- Bears are a common sight along all sections of this backpack. Be sure to bring a bear canister or rope to tie up food each night. Suitable trees for hanging food are hard to come by at Image Lake.
- Marmots are everywhere around Image Lake and the Upper Lyman Lakes. They love salt and will chew anything with sweat on it. Don’t leave your pack or clothing unattended as Marmots will easily chew through your pack straps, hydration hoses, shirts, pants and boots.
- Most campsites are at higher elevations and stay cold at night through most of the year.
- Running water is plentiful at each of these campsites, but be sure to bring a filter to take out glacial sediment and to ensure no pathogens infect your drinking water.
- Composting toilets can be found at each of the listed campsites; the one at Image Lake has an amazing view of Glacier Peak!
- Northwest Forest Pass
- Topo Map (Green Trail Maps No. 113)
- Rain Gear and Layers
- Sleeping bag and Sleeping Pad
- Bear Canister or Rope
- Camera and Tripod (plus extra batteries and memory cards)
- Walter Filter
- Sturdy Hiking Boots
- Ice Axe or Hiking Poles
- Yak Tracks (optional)
- Campstove (fires may be prohibited later in the summer season as wildfire danger increases—check the USFS Alerts and Notices site for the latest information)
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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography
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One of Washington's finest backpacking loops
The loop over Spider gap and Buckhorn pass in Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness is one of the state's finest backpacking trips. The camping in Spider meadows and along Lyman Lakes is supreme, and the crossing over Spider gap is awe-inspiring. High in the alpine, the views of hanging glaciers, sparkling Lyman Lakes, and high peaks all around is breathtaking. The detour to Flower Dome is worth the extra mileage, and the view of Glacier Peak from Buckhorn pass is unparalleled. Lesser known than its Cascadian counterparts to the north and south, Glacier Peak certainly lives up to its name. The time spent among the high peaks of the central Cascades is worth the effort required on this loop trip.
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