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Little Giant Pass
From beginning to end, there's nothing easy about this trail. The first challenge is met immediately at the trailhead with a ford of the Chiwawa River. A bridge once spanned the river here, but it was swept away by a furious flood back in 1972. Respect the river. It can only be safely forded in late summer when water levels run low. Even then it's still cold and the current swift, so proceed with caution. If it looks scary, head instead to one of the many other excellent hikes nearby in the Chiwawa Valley.
Picking your way across the graveled river, scan the cold waters for chinook, steelhead, and trout: cutthroat, rainbow, perhaps even bull. A car campground once existed here on the west bank of the river, but very little evidence of it remains. You'll need to snoop around a little to locate the trail. Head north a short way to a grove of mature cottonwoods, and then turn left at a rocky outwash where good, discernable tread can eventually be found.
The trail, once an old sheep drive, parallels Maple Creek for a short distance before crossing its wide gravelly wash. Now paralleling the watercourse on its north bank, the trail gently climbs under a canopy of scraggly hemlocks occasionally interspersed with white pine. Easy wanderings, however, end soon and the way turns steep and rough. Receiving little maintenance, this trail is in danger of becoming yet another casualty of Forest Service neglect (thanks largely to congressional indifference). Expect brushy sections, a lot of windfall, and areas of slumping tread.
After 2 miles of steep climbing, the way rounds a ridge (elev. 4200 ft), leaving the Maple Creek valley for the Little Giant Creek valley. Now in a cool forested grove, drop steeply 200 feet to cross a branch of Little Giant Creek (which can be tricky). The trail, now downright nasty, ascends steep slopes of fire-charred forest. After crossing a minor tributary, fight through a curse-inducing patch of spirea and slide alder before emerging onto open ledges-and, thankfully, to good views out across the Chiwawa Valley to the Entiat Mountains.
Work your way up the sun-kissed ledges. Then unfortunately, it's back into the brush before reaching soothing heather and blueberry meadows blessed with a myriad of flowers and gently gurgling rivulets. Your toil now finally validated, the way continues up an open knoll (elev. 5700 ft) offering superb viewing north to the fortress of peaks at the head of the Chiwawa Valley.
After one last steep grunt, the trail makes a long switchback through sweeping alpine meadows to the 6409-foot pass on Chiwawa Ridge. While the views so far have been
excellent, they pale compared to what you are about to experience. Climb the small knoll just to the north of the pass and behold the unveiling of one of the most stunning views this side of the Continental Divide. Stare straight down to the snaking Napeequa (which means "white water"), the river slithering through fields of green beneath towering peaks topped in ice that glistens in the sun. Clark, Glacier, Buck, and scores of lesser-but just as beautiful and impres-sive-peaks will keep you mesmerized and captivated all afternoon long.
The trail continues into the magical valley, but the added distance, elevation change, and degree of difficulty of the path puts it squarely into the realm of the experienced backpacker.
From Everett head east on US 2 for 85 miles to Coles Corner. (From Leaven-worth travel west on US 2 for 15 miles.) Turn left onto State Route 207 (signed for Lake Wenatchee) and proceed 4.2 miles to a Y intersection after crossing the Wenatchee River. Bear right onto the Chiwawa Loop Road, and after 1.3 miles turn left onto the Chiwawa River Road (Forest Road 62). Proceed for 19 miles (the pavement ends at 10.8 miles) to the trailhead, located on your left (elev. 2600 ft).
Recent Trip Reports
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There are 34 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Little Giant Pass — Aug 26, 2012 — B_Ritchie
Features: Ripe berries
Issues: Blowdowns | Snow on trail | Bugs
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Hit the ford about 10:30 in the morning. The river was about knee-deep, and crossing wasn't much tr...
Hit the ford about 10:30 in the morning. The river was about knee-deep, and crossing wasn't much trouble (when we came back around 6:00, it was just a tiny bit deeper, but the current was noticeably stronger). Saw a few salmon swimming up to spawn.
The flat stretch across the old campground to the ridge was easy, but the trail can be hard to see in a couple places (look for the cairns). After that came a steady climb through the forest. No real issues here apart from one blow-down and some annoying flies, the trail was much less overgrown than I feared. About 2 miles in the trail gets dramatically steeper in stretches; hot work even on a fairly cool day. Note there's no water to speak from the river until the major creek at about 2.5 miles in.
That stream comes after a descent of a couple hundred feet. Be VERY careful crossing, as both the rocks and the logs are quite slippery. I missed a step and put my foot right into the water; the other folks in my party slipped a bit too.
After leaving the creek the trail climbs steeply out of the living forest and through an old burned stretch. Some beautiful fireweed in bloom here, but also several blow-downs to deal with. Trail keeps steeply climbing through some smaller glens, as well as an open rocky stretch (look carefully for the cairns).
The last couple miles run through open heather meadows. Still a few snowfields here, but only one crossing and it wasn't difficult. A stream coming right of of one was the last significant water. Tons of delicious ripe blueberries in this stretch. Finally, after some very steep climbing last couple hundred feet, we hit the ridgeline and those amazing views of the Napeequa. A few mosquitos to watch out for at the top, though.
A great hike, long and tiring, but a little less fearsome than I expected. In surprisingly good condition given how short a season this trail has.
Little Giant Pass, Napeequa River, High Pass, Buck Creek Pass, Upper Lyman Lake, Spider Gap, Spider Meadow and Phelps Basin — Aug 18, 2012 — randybott
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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The trip started by crossing the Chiwawa River. I am 6 feet tall and water was about knee high. Easy...
The trip started by crossing the Chiwawa River. I am 6 feet tall and water was about knee high. Easy to cross but cold. The trail to Little Giant Pass starts off easy but eventually becomes an ass kicker. It is steep and long but worth the effort. It took about 3 hours to reach the pass. We ate lunch before heading into the valley. Leaving the pass, the trail is not maintained by any means and in bad shape in many areas. It is steep, rocky and overgrown so take your time getting down. Once in the valley, the trail is still quite overgrown and as we approached the river, we came across some nettles which are always good for a burning sensation. The campsites are few and far between but we found a nice spot on a sand bar near the High Pass creek outlet. The next day we got up and headed to High Pass, the first hour is rough with bushwhacking and slide alder. Once through the alder, then it is just steep but we always find straight up is the shortest route. Once in the valley to High Pass, the scenery is amazing and easy to find your way. The trail comes and goes due to the amount of snow but you really can't get lost. Once we reached High Pass, the small lake is still frozen but the water is clean and fresh so fill your bottles without a filter. We stopped at Triad Lake for lunch and looked down in to the valley. The views are worth the trip. After lunch, we had to cross a short but steep snow field without much of a runout if you fall. We took our time, shortened the uphill hiking pole, and made sure our steps were kicked well enough to stand. Doing this in the afternoon worked better because the snow was soft and kicking steps was quite easy in hiking boots. After that, we were on the trail heading to Liberty Cap and Buck Creek pass. The wildflowers are in full bloom near Liberty Cap. At Buck Creek Pass we came across a trail runner that started at Phelps Creek, was going to drop his pack and head to High Pass and back and then out to Trinity and back to his car. That is about 40 miles in one day running. I felt out of shape. We found a nice campsite down from Middle ridge right on the trail below Fortress Mountain. The third day we headed over Suiattle Pass, Cloudy Pass, and Spider Gap for about a 13 mile day. It was nice to stay on a trail all day after the first 2 days of unmaintained trails and bushwhacking. We made it to Spider Meadows about 4 pm and stopped for the last evening. The next morning we were hoping to get a ride from Phelps Creek TH to Little Giant TH but that did not happen so we had a 5 mile road hike back to the car. In all, about 45 miles, 3 nights 4 days. The only snow was in High Pass, the only animals were a couple of deer in Napeequa valley and lots of marmots.
Little Giant Pass — Sep 14, 2011 — Karen Daubert
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Wednesday: Beth and I had three days in which to do an adventure and given that Buck Mountain (8573)...
Wednesday: Beth and I had three days in which to do an adventure and given that Buck Mountain (8573) is one of only four she had left of the top 100 – this was an excellent choice.
We left the cars at the Little Giant trailhead at 10 am. There were a lot of cars due to the fact (unknown by us beforehand) that the first day of deer hunting season was the next day. We forded the Chiwawa River immediately which presented no problems.
The trail to Little Giant Pass is in excellent – actually unbelievably superb shape. The weather was hot and we took our time, arriving at the pass around 2. We enjoyed nice which staring into the spectacular Napeequa Valley. It was the first time I had enjoyed a view of the entire valley and I could see why it is called Shangri La by some.
We then started down to the Napeequa and found immediately that the trail on that side needs a lot of work. We found ourselves going down a very steep and very muddy gully – following others’ footsteps – we had clearly missed a switchback. It was certainly a direct way to the valley floor – but a very wet and dirty way as well. We finally found the trail and in the valley and hiked to Louis Creek and its spectacular waterfall. We camped at an excellent large campsite just before the creek.
Thursday: We started at 6:45. We crossed Louis Creek on the trail and then headed up directly. In retrospect (which is what we did on the way back), we should have hiked on the trail another seven minutes and then headed up when the clearing is visible. At that point, you just head up green meadows.
We then followed a streambed arriving at the flat basin at 6400. Here is where the visibility took a turn for the worse. However, we used our maps and compass and Beth’s GPS and followed Buck’s gentle southwest slope. We ascended the loose pumice, talus, snow covered slopes (never did use crampons). Route descriptions talked about three separate high points and the middle summit being the highest. We could see nothing – not even each other at times. We were about to pass the middle summit when we spotted a cairn and found the summit register. That was a happy moment.
At point, the wind picked up, it started to rain and after signing the register, we headed back down. We took a break as soon as we had some wind protection but it took another hour to warm up.
We retraced our route and arrived back in camp at 3:30. We were relaxing in our separate tents when a father and son, John and Brian, arrived. They had gotten a buck near High Pass that morning and were packing it out. We started a fire and sat around talking until well past dark – sharing stories of trails, climbs, hunts and other outdoor adventures.
Friday: We got up early and were hiking by 6:30. Our challenge was to find that trail all the way up to Little Giant Pass. We found the first challenging turn, but dang it if we did not lose that trail again. We ended up scrambling up the steep slope for at least 800 feet until we finally found the trail again. Despite this setback, we arrived at Little Giant Pass at 10:30, took a very quick break and then arrived back at the car at 1.
Excellent adventure overall: around 11,000 feet and 30 miles in 3 days.
Little Giant Pass, Napeequa River, High Pass, Buck Creek, Miners Ridge (Suiattle), Suiattle Pass, Spider Gap - Buck Creek Pass Loop — Sep 02, 2011 — Cascade Liberation Organization
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Snow on trail | Bugs
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5 days’ freedom and perfect weather amid world-class scenery and peaking wildflowers. No need to ...
5 days’ freedom and perfect weather amid world-class scenery and peaking wildflowers. No need to carry water; abundant everywhere. High Pass is still all snow; ice ax required, crampons too if it freezes hard; Spider Gap likewise. Much more snow than usual, rendering the landscape more beautiful and varied, and the travel easier if you are skilled at alpine snow travel. Bugs more abundant than normal. I did not treat any water. I’ll post a followup if I get sick.
Future readers: 2011 is a record-snowpack year; water, snow, flower, and insect conditions described here are more like late July-early August, and bear no resemblance to ordinary Septembers (dry, no bugs, no flowers, carry water).
My guess: weekend of Sept 10, 2011 should still be amazing for flowers.
DANGER, PLEASE NOTE: I brought crampons, not strictly necessary WHEN THE SNOW WAS SOFT, but taking them was a good call: if it freezes hard –- it soon will -- they will be necessary, and ice ax too of course. On the trail south of Buck Pass east of Pt. 7276, and on High Pass itself, I saw several people equipped with nothing more than poles and light hiking shoes crossing steep snow that I considered lethally dangerous. Yes, it was soft and easy; yes, there were steps; yes, many other people had crossed safely, but these people were oblivious to the fact that they were on deadly terrain. I watched a young couple with light shoes, single poles, and a dog, crossing several steep snow tongues on the east (Buck Creek) side of the High Pass trail that I wouldn't dream of crossing without an ice ax, alert. The runouts were 100+' onto steep scree and boulders. I broke my ankle in more forgiving ground. PLEASE! Whenever you venture out onto snow, LOOK DOWN. Where are you gonna land if you slip? How fast are you gonna be going? You think you're gonna arrest yourself with a hiking pole? Forget it! My ice ax and training didn't do me any good. I only went 20'. 20' more, and I'd be dead. It happens JUSTLIKETHAT. Whenever you venture onto snow, especially hard snow, think: Mouse. Cheese. Trap! Don't make us read about you in the paper.
The Chiwawa region is a favorite of hunters ancient and modern. Bear season starts Aug. 1 (remember the Sauk Mt. tragedy). High Buck Hunt in this area is Sept 15-25 this year, if I have it right. Be aware of this. Get yourself some safety-orange gear. Good time for a hike in a national park.
Little Giant Pass:
Ford is unusually deep for Sept: almost knee-deep. Bring old shoes to throw back across (weight with rocks). A wooden stick is nice. Between Chiwawa R and Little Giant Pass, a thorough trail crew has done everything but bridge the river. Nice job, thanks. Even in much drier conditions, there is water at the bottom of the high meadows.
Little Giant Pass to Napeequa:
brushy, steep, but serviceable, easy to follow; it's been the PCT detour.
Lovely, but I'd never want to camp here in bug season. I’ve always seen bears and/or bear hunters in this general area. Unmaintained, but not enough trees for blowdown problems.
The usual route to High Pass crosses N. Fork Napeequa and ascends to the lovely hanging valley in a steep but short, moderate bushwhack. Nice camp at the outfall.
Louis Creek High Route to High Pass:
We took the Louis Creek High Route to High Pass. The ascent to the hanging valley of upper Louis Creek is very steep meadow, ice ax all the way (yes, on steep dry meadow). Amazingly, the 25 lb. dog could do it (minor help). I would not ask a dog to go down this way; descending is much harder on their backs. Start a few hundred meters left of Louis Creek. It's almost all alder-free. Night 1 at the Berge-Buck col amid larches on a pumice dome. The whole unusual landscape is blanketed in Glacier Peak pumice.
Al claims first ascent of Buck Mt. by a tricolored Pembroke Welsh corgi on a September Saturday without supplemental oxygen. It's an easy scramble. Try to do it in conditions like this, with lots of snow – if you can still ford the Chiwawa. Or try it on 6" legs.
High route from Buck Mt. across Berge col to High Pass is fairly straightforward (in good viz; see photo) and the snow cover makes it easier (ice ax required, as always). From the col south of Berge (the summit SW of marked Pt. 7948), drop SW, then W to 6800’, then traverse N as high as possible just under the rock buttress guarding the High Pass outfall. This year only, there’s so much snow that with ice ax/crampons, it looked like one could climb this steep 6840’-to-7040’ section above the High Pass outfall on snow, a straight NW–SE line from Berge col to High Pass outfall. I did not do this.
Night 2, solo bivvy site on sand and rock right at the top, grand view in calm weather, Napeequa and Glacier Pk right in your lap. Also a very exposed windy tent site in the notch to the south, sand, fairly low-impact. Don’t mess this place up. No trace.
I weenied on Napeequa Peak – looked too much for the dog – that’s not all I blame on my scapedog.
High Pass is all snow this year. Triad Lake is not even fully melted out yet. I used crampons here, maybe not strictly necessary if you’re good on snow – it was getting soft – but had it been hard, crampons would have been necessary.
I saw people crossing with hiking poles, almost certainly unaware of the danger. There’s a steep spot there. I crossed it last year with mountaineering boots and a bamboo pole, and it was scary, steep runout onto rocks. Although it can sometimes be almost snow-free by September, this place is an accident waiting to happen.
Mt. Cleator 7625’:
A 10-15’ walkup from the south end of High Pass. Not to be missed.
Also a fine view. Take it easy with your feet, don’t trash it.
High Pass to Buck Pass:
Allow lots of time for this even when meadow flowers are not peaking; world-class views east and west slow you down more than blackberry thickets. This area was one of A.H. Sylvester’s favorite places, for a reason. If you go to Buck Pass, DO NOT SKIP THIS. Go south as far as you can, but don’t cross the steep snow E of Pt. 7276 unless you know you know what you’re doing.
Middle Ridge Sheep Camp:
This place gets dry in September, so I loaded 5 L of water at Small Creek, and humped it up past stream after stream after stream until I dumped it in disgust at the sheep meadow amid rushing brooks and waterfalls. There’s a 5-star campsite at the 6400’ saddle, but the higher you go, the better it gets. Follow the fence of trees to 6480’, 6700’, 6800’. The views get better, the campsites smaller.
From the sheep camp meadow, we went gingerly straight NE up lush steep meadows to the lip of the moraine at 7400’, 2-star campsite with 5-star view and nice rock furniture (just S of an obvious huge sloping flat rock). We spurned this for a 0-star climber’s bivvy on top of the 7530’ knob (oval contour on the 7.5’ topo) with a 6-star view (5-star scale) of Berge to Shuksan, Glacier Peak right in our face. No water; melted snow <kindly restrain your laughter>. Warm, dead calm, no tent, utterly clear, early moonset, dark enough to see Andromeda Galaxy with naked eye, one of the best nights ever, higher than Helmet Butte. Hunters at the 6350’ sheep meadow had a fire on a night when I scarcely zipped up the sleeping bag at 7500’. Go figure. They were shooting in the morning.
Check this out if you like high country. Just a steep walk. Lip of the moraine in a magnificent cirquelet between two nearly 8300’ towers. This is Pt. 8297, the unnamed(?) NW spur of Fortress – the stupendous thing you see from Miners’ Ridge Trail or the PCT. West of the divide, it would be a major peak. You’ll not forget this place. It faces SW, looking right up the upper Suiattle valley to Tenpeak and the Kololos. See photo.
I didn’t look closely, but there might be a way around the knife-edge cleaver to the SE at maybe 7200, possibly ascend NE to the 8200’ ridge from there. That’s for climbers.
"East of the Divide", Chester Marler; he talks about the sheep herding and lots of other neat stuff. "Tales of a Western Mountaineer", C.E. Rusk.
Miners’ Ridge Trail:
Just above the cabin ruin, find the miners’ trail that climbs rightward. This will take you to the main adit, still open, very dangerous loose mine-dump terrain. Bright blue-green-turqouise copper minerals lying about. There are also 3 filled shafts or adits due N of the cabin ruin. See the 7.5’ USGS Suiattle Pass topo. All portable artifacts already stolen, but please take no souvenirs.
Night 4 at the pass, 6440'. Bugs (!) at dusk, dawn, but vanished with cool breeze at night (I had no bug net; this was our lowest camp). There is water just below the pass on either side. No significant snow, trail well-maintained, some beautiful rock work. One year, I humped water up here from Lyman Lake, only to find water flowing in the dry-looking meadow SW of Cloudy Peak (campsite there).
A better choice: climb high on the SW shoulder of Cloudy Pk, as high as you can go. There is a small bivvy site up there with jawdropping views of Glacier Peak, Dome, North Cascades, Bonanza, Chiwawas. Cloudy Pk is a walkup scramble except for a Class 3-4 dog-unfriendly chimney at the top. Remember, dogs are stupid about rockfall.
I took a photo of the trail sign at the junction, didn’t read it, and took the wrong turn. Trail to upper Lyman looks like a social trail, compared to what you’re used to at this point.
Then I did it again.
NW side, snow from about 6500’ to top. Soft snow, might be difficult if hard, but runout seemed OK and not too steep. I used crampons for traction on the ascent, not really necessary. S side, all snow to the knob camp at the Spider Glacier terminus. NOTE: the place to hang out is not Spider Gap, but the level 6960’ ridge SE of it, less than 200’ lower than the gap, like a North Cascades version of Canyonlands overlooking the huge Phelps Ck cirque.
Somebody took a sh!t on the rocks right at the best viewpoint at Spider Gap, so I got to clean it up. C'mon, you're not gonna start a forest fire if you burn your buttwipe at 7200'. If you can't burn it (SAFELY) or pack it out, stay home, I'm tired of you. At that barren elevation, it can be best to do a "desert smear" on a south-facing rock and let the sun bake it -- but don't do this at one of the most popular spots in the sate, OK?
At the first stream below Leroy Ck, note the concrete mining ruin, maybe the foundation for a Pelton wheel powerplant? I believe there are two adits on the other side of the river. I think the Glacier Peak Mines (on Plummer Mt) and the Red Mt Mine (Trinity) are discussed in "Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines", Oso Publishing, vol. 2 – the one I don’t have yet. Recommended.
Phelps Creek TH back to Little Giant:
A 4-6 mi. road walk, stretch those tired legs, kinda nice with a moon and a dog. One might stash a bike at Phelps Creek TH.
Beats a leash walk around the neighborhood.
Phelps Creek, Leroy Creek High Route, Mount Maude, Little Giant Pass — Jul 30, 2011 — Cascade Liberation Organization
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Snow on trail | Bugs
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I did not hike Little Giant Pass, but checked the ford. At least one person had apparently forded. ...
I did not hike Little Giant Pass, but checked the ford. At least one person had apparently forded. The water looks high, but smooth and doable, knee-deep at least I think, you'd want a good stick, and belay the dog. This was in the morning. The current spreads out here. Bring a pair of tennis shoes; keep your boots dry. I wouldn't want to do it barefoot.
Wildflowers peaking along lower Phelps Creek Trail. Bugs are there but not awful. Stream crossings no big deal. A deer on the trail, and a porcupine. Leave it! Good dog!
At the little stream just before Leroy Creek, note a notched concrete block (4'Wx10'Lx3'H?) with a log ruin behind it and a pipe. I'm wondering if this was the foundation for a Pelton wheel power unit?
When you cross Leroy Creek, ascend the trail a few hundred yards -- worth it for the waterfall.
I think Leroy Creek Trail is an old sheep trail -- very steep, not engineered, gullied in places, unmaintained, but in surprisingly good shape.
Snow starts in upper Leroy Creek Basin at about 6000'. Several campsites; one is, I think, an old sheep camp in the basin beneath Seven-Fingered-Jack and Maude. The upper basin is still all under snow, a lovely place.
Go up to about 6100' to find the Leroy Creek High Route, it's an obvious trail, but I eventually lost it in the snow. There are cairns. Go high; if you lose the trail, use the snow. This is a very good time to do this route; the snow will be gone in a few weeks and it'll be all rock -- but then, if you can keep to the trail, you can avoid the chossy icky stuff.
Snow travel conditions were ideal -- a few inches of mush-on-crust -- lightweight crampons maybe saved energy on the ascent, but not strictly necessary. Traversing upwards east of the col, crampons will be necessary if it freezes hard. I used them on the ascent (not strictly necessary), but not on the descent. It's a bit steep here but the runout OK except in a few places, with rocks underneath. A cornice that's maybe not as bad as it looks; you don't have to walk underneath it.
Bivvied on the summit. Weak-looking lenticular wave clouds to the west warned of the marine push that would rob us of our summit sunrise. Dark starry night with distant lightning on the eastern horizon ruining my sleep (people who sleep on lightning rods don't sleep well). Clear until we awoke in a whiteout. The clouds were less than 2000' thick, perfectly situated to ruin our sunrise; the ceiling was about 8500'. It cleared by noon, but by then we were back in Upper Leroy Basin, looking at Maude and 7FJ silhouetted against a dark blue sky.
Still a lot of snow at Spider Gap.