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[TR] Buck Mt., Little Giant -- Spider Gap Loop

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Trip: Little Giant -- Spider Gap loop -- Buck Mt. tourist rte., Louis Creek High Route to High Pass.


Date: 9/2/2011


Trip Report:

Little Giant -- Spider Gap loop. 5 days' freedom in perfect weather. Parked at Little Giant TH, hiked the road back from Phelps Creek TH. One might stash a bike.

NOTE: 2011 was a record-snowpack year; snow, water, bug, flower conditions described herein are more like a normal July, not Sept.

Little Giant Pass:

An ace trail crew did everything between the trailhead and the pass except bridge the river. Lovely job. Expect bear hunters around here.


Napeequa Valley from Little Giant Pass:



Start the Louis Creek High Route a few hundred yards upstream of the Louis Creek waterfall, alder-free relentlessly steep ice-ax meadow. I would rather ascend than descend this, and I would not want to do it without an ax:



Camp 1 at headwaters of Louis Creek in Buck/Berge col on a pumice hillock. Look for a big larch girdled by a bear. Would be lovely when the larches are yellow. Entire curious landscape smothered by pumice from most recent Glacier Peak eruption; the pumice apparently filled-in a lake, now a sandy marsh. This pumice is found at least as far east as Phelps Creek, probably farther.


Buck Mt. Tourist Route:

NOTE: Plentiful snow made it much more enjoyable, much more scenic. Did not use crampons. I'd say, do this route as soon as you can ford the Chiwawa and the snow is consolidated. It was perfect snow travel, firm, no postholing, not too hard.

Al on the Tourist Route. Spire Mt. at left skyline. Dome Pk to its right. Fortress Mt. at right skyline (the tourist route goes through his ears). Plummer Mt. is just below Sinister(?) at skyline, center. Pass No Pass is just above the snowpatch, center-left. The pyramid at left is Helmet Butte, 7400.



Looking west to the Louis Creek High Route across Mt. Berge. High Pass is on the other side. Navigation might be tricky in poor viz.



Buck Mt. The true summit is marked by an obvious white calcite dike:



"Sit. Stay. Look Pretty." ... OK, I'll settle for "Stay" at 8500' with a 600' dead-vertical drop right behind you. Al wouldn't look at the camera, seemed oddly nervous. I wonder why?. Not his highest ascent; that thing above his back is. He slept on Maude with me in August.



The hideous 500' vertical drop off the north side of Buck's summit. Came here to climb it 30 years ago. Glad we never even found our way across the river.



Summit view looking south. Curious calcite(?) dike.


Summit view to south (Clark Mt. at skyline):


Summit view to west (Glacier Peak with Napeequa Pk in front of it, Berge at right):



Best of Show: Big Al at south Berge col, Buck Mt. in background. Note the white dike that splits the true summit:



From Berge col, I've twice gone SW to gentler ground, then traversed level to the High Pass Basin outfall, staying as high as possible below the rock buttress guarding the outfall. This year, with all the snow, with crampons one might make a direct NW descent from the col to the basin. That lower bit is steep, and would be unpleasant without snow cover. From High Pass basin, it looked like you could go steeply up the snow, directly SE to the col.


High Pass, solo bivvy right at the top. Solitude with company:


Napeequa Peak:



The view from the sleeping bag:



Yup, he's handsome. His daddy is Cary Grant. Really:



9/4/11, Triad Lake wasn't even melted-out:



Hikers crossing High Pass with light shoes and hiking poles. I used crampons there that morning. The snow was getting soft by now, but arguably lethally dangerous in several places along the High Pass trail. Several hikers seemed oblivious to the dangers of steep snow: trail shoes, single pole, long steep runout onto rocks. I never really needed the crampons on this trip, but it was a good call to bring them; had the snow been hard, I would have needed them. I fear many people misunderestimate this stuff. I did when I broke my ankle.



Chillybuddy dog cooling vest on Mt. Cleator, a 15' walkup from the pass. It does help keep the dog cool in hot sun with no shade; I recommend it for black dogs. Shields against extraterrestrial brainwave implants, too. You have to make your own tinfoil helmet. His auntie has done the tourist route on Fortress. Thank you for not laughing at my dog:



At play in the fields of the Lord. Hazy with wildfire smoke. This was one of A.H.Sylvester's favorite places:



Try to do this place when the flowers are blooming. Budget plenty of time for the stretch between Buck Pass and High Pass. Don't hurry. It is impossible to photograph, and will make a meadowsniffer out of the most hardcore climber. Vast steep meadows that color the hillsides blue, yellow, white. The air is heavy with valerian and lupine odors. It's like walking through a beehive. Glacier Peak and upper Suiattle valley, Tenpeak, Kololos. World-class, no exaggeration:



This shows the tourist route on Fortress from the saddle above Liberty Cap:



This is the NW buttress of Fortress, from Buck Pass trail. It's the unnamed(?) thing that dominates the view from Miners' Ridge. West of the Cascade crest, it would be a major peak. Middle Ridge at right. Top red dot is our 7500' bivvy (contour oval on 7.5' map). Dot at right in moraine lip, 7300', best camp. Fine bivvy sites up above the sheep camp.

I humped water up to the sheep camp from Small Creek, past stream after stream after stream, til I dumped it in disgust at the meadow amid rushing waterfalls (a sheep camp would have water, right?). But it might get dry up there in a normal September. I ended up melting snow.



Olympics wildfire smoke wrecked the blue skies for photography, but gave us a great 7500' sunset:



Dawn at 7500':



Morning, camp 3, 7500' on the Middle Ridge buttress of Fortress. Clark Mt. at center skyline; Helmet Butte below it. We are slightly higher than Helmet Butte. Berge is at my left shoulder. Napeequa Pk is just right of Clark:



The following 3 pics show Al on a conspicuous cubical rock at the lip of the moraine, 7300', best camp, 2nd-best view:



Upper Suiattle valley, Tenpeak (left) and Kololos:





This is the camp at the Middle Ridge Saddle. Plummer Mt. and Miners' Ridge. This is the low-rent camp, still 5-star:



Continued to Miners' Ridge to look at the mines, this time with a 7.5' map to locate the shafts/prospects and adit.

From the Glacier Peak Mine cabin ruin, find the miners' trail up and right to the main adit. Very dangerous mine-dump terrain, with lovely turquoise blue-green minerals lying about. Discovering Washington's Historic Mines, Oso Publishing, vol 2, (great books):



Starting the ascent to Spider Gap from Upper Lyman Lake. Cloudy Pass at extreme left skyline. Don't camp there, follow the ridge as high as you can up Cloudy Peak (Class 3 summit). North Star at right. No need to hump water up from Lyman Lake; I found water flowing in the dry-looking meadow below Cloudy in a dry September. I camped at Cloudy Pass this time, 6400' U think, and there were some bugs even that high, this late, because of unseasonable moisture.



Near Spider Gap, the place to camp or hang out is not at the Gap, but along the level spur S of it which separates Spider Glacier from Phelps Creek cirque. It's less than 200' lover than the gap itself, pleasant place, superb views, can probably scramble directly up there from the snout of Spider Glacier.


A passerby carried the Foster's lager for a photo prop. I offered him my pack, tent, carmpons, and extra dog food for the beer. No deal.



If you didn't stash a bike at Phelps Ck TH, a moon and a dog make the 5-6 mi road hike more pleasant. Stretch your legs on an even grade after a long hike.



Chester Marler, "East of the Divide".

C.E. Rusk, "Tales of a Western Mountaineer".


Gear Notes:

I flag the dogs with day-glo magenta safety ribbon (survey tape) -- I only trust 99% of the hunters. My dogs look like foxes or skunks; does yours look like a coyote?


"Chillybuddy" dog cooling vest. High-tech, well-designed, effective above timberline with no shade. You must keep the inner cotton liner wet for evaporative cooling. The only times I've had to wait for these dogs is above treeline in hot sun. Recommended for black dogs especially. Keep it in a good plastic bag; handy for wetting it.


"Vital Essentials" 100% raw meat freeze-dried nibblets. Pricey, lightweight, low-odor, keep well, my favorite backcountry dog food, great for longer trips. Mixed it 2:1 with Wellness kibble (smellier, bear bait). Add some vegetable oil at feeding time. "Nature's Variety" also makes a good freeze-dried raw-meat dog food.


Outward Hound collapsible dog bowl.

Small bottle for leftover dog water when it's scarce.

Dog chest harness with quick-draw belay leash for river crossings and steep terrain. Small biners double for the bear hang.


Good forceps -- porcupines. Al has low prey drive, fortunately.


"Pawz" dog booties for emergency pad injuries, medium size (blue) for corgis. They're big, tough balloons that roll over the paw like condoms. They can last several miles. Light, fairly cheap, haven't used them much but seem to test out OK.

"Doggles" sunglasses and "Mesheye" sunglasses. I try to make the dogs wear them when on snow for long periods. They refuse. Great photo props though.

"Advantix" for ticks.




Approach Notes:

Chiwawa River ford at Little Giant trailhead was unusually high 9/11: almost knee-deep. Usually ankle-deep this time of year. People were crossing in early August when it was almost thigh-deep. Walking stick helpful.

Edited by wolffie

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what was the average mileage and vertical per day? JUst curious what your short dog is capable of doing. I doubt my small dog could handle that but she is a boston terrier with a squash nose.


Maybe that cooling vest people could make a day glow hunting version?


nice tr. thanks


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Dunno about mileage/gain this trip. Al's smaller auntie, Gwynnie, at 2-3 years' age went 23 mi. in 14 hrs. with 9000' total gain, some of it off-trail. She wasn't happy with me by the end of the day, but I never had to wait for her.

Corgis are bred for cattle herding in Wales, so, outdoor dogs. I cannot outwalk them. Never have to wait for them except in hot sun.

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so you are the corgie dude saw your writeup in Otter Point this year....


good to see pictures of the corgie!

Edited by Stefan

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A passerby carried the Foster's lager for a photo prop. I offered him my pack, tent, carmpons, and extra dog food for the beer. No deal.


Too funny.


Great report. Sound of music for dogs--especially the shot of Big Al running toward the camera on the trail surrounded by wildflowers--could hear the music...

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