Recent Trip Reports
trip reports for this hike.
Phelps Creek #1511,Spider Meadows #1511,Miners Ridge #785,Suiattle Pass #1279,Upper Suiattle River #798,Glacier Peak,Triad Creek #792,Buck Creek #1513,Railroad Creek #1256
— Sep 01, 2007
— Lucky Charlie
Blowdowns | Bridge out | Washouts | Overgrown
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The loop trip from Phelps Creek over Spider Gap, past Lyman Lakes, over Cloudy and Suiattle Passes, ...
The loop trip from Phelps Creek over Spider Gap, past Lyman Lakes, over Cloudy and Suiattle Passes, and then return via Buck Pass and the Buck Creek Trail is an outstanding, well-trodden Glacier Wilderness sampler. Our route began and ended with this itinerary, but departed for three days of spectacular old growth, river crossings, and mountain climbing, including a rarely used, elegant line on Glacier Peak, via the Chocolate and Cool glaciers. This obvious, direct approach to Glacier Peak was first climbed in 1906! Since we had tried for months to find information on this approach, to no avail, we weren't quite sure what we would find in 2007.
Leaving Seattle at 7 AM, we drove US2 20 miles beyond Stevens Pass; turned left on Hwy 207 and navigated (county road 22) to the Chiwawa River Road. Twenty-two miles up the Chiwawa River Road, we turned right on Road 6211, The Phelps Creek trailhead is two miles up the road. We spotted a car at the Buck Creek trailhead, just two miles further up Chiwawa River Road.) Total elapsed drive time with car spotting, about 4 hrs.
The Phelps Creek trail (trail 1511) meanders up to and then through Spider Meadow. At the head of the meadow, climb sharply 1,100 ft on well maintained trail. Find camps and good water with spectacular views of the valley just before reaching the remnants of the Spider Glacier, about 6 miles and 3,000 ft.
There are reputed to be views down valley of Mt. Maude and Seven Fingered Jack. Weather was moving in, so we missed the scenery. We spent the night snug in our tents, listening to the sleet pelt our rain flies.
Next morning, we bundled up against the cold and wet. Our destination was Image Lake, eleven miles, 3,500 ft, and three passes away. No break in the weather this day! We made Spider Gap in a short hour, spent the second hour negotiating around the Upper Lyman Lakes - the route is obvious, on the east side of the lakes. We joined the main trail at the downstream end of Lyman Lake (trail 1256). The trail was closed to the right (towards Holden Village) because of the Domke Lake fire. No matter, we made quick work on this showery day over Cloudy and Suiattle passes (Trail 1279), and then imagined the wonderful views of Glacier Peak as we sauntered along the side of Miner's Ridge (trail 785).
Image Lake used to be crowded, but with access from the west cut off because of the closure of the Suiattle River Road, and the Pacific Crest Trail being re-routed off of Miner's Ridge, Image Lake is once again an idyllic spot. The weather broke for us, and Glacier Peak revealed itself in all its majesty. The bears came out to devour overripe blueberries. It even warmed up enough for us to swim the next morning, though everything wet remained frozen stiff until the sun warmed up the world in mid-morning. Those who awoke before the temperature climbed above freezing could shake the ice off their rain flies, saving the one hour of drying time that was needed by those whose icy cover melted in the rising sun. We lingered long over breakfast and our swim, regrouping from the difficult conditions of the previous day.
Our destination on day 3 was the Upper Suiattle River. We planned to follow trail 785 down off of Miner's Ridge on the old PCT, cross the Upper Suiattle River, and then camp somewhere upriver, accomplishing about nine miles. The Miner's Ridge look-out is still manned, at least during July and August. The look-out warned us that we would encounter 63 downed trees between the look-out and the river. Little did the look-out know that we would look back fondly on those 63 trees as being the easiest part of the next couple of days! Torrential winter storms have deeply affected the Upper Suiattle drainage. Creeks have been blown out into sheer-walled canyons; trails have not been logged out in decades and are now buried beneath layer upon layer of old growth blowdown. You can still follow the trails, but the further you go, the more challenging become the route finding physical demands. Some might consider it a shame that former trails have deteriorated into mere routes. For others, the Upper Suiattle drainage presents exciting route finding and stamina challenges. While penetrating the Upper Suiattle requires major effort, the effort is rewarded with outstanding old growth timber, creeks and ridges at their wildest, and wonderful views and routes to and through the high country.
Descending Miner's ridge, we walked out into the washed-out river channel at the first point where there was easy access to the riverbed. After about ten minutes of walking upriver our scouting was rewarded in short order, when we found a fine, large old growth log providing an excellent footbridge across the river. This log looks sturdy enough that it might survive a flood or two. Look for it!
Now on the West bank of the Suiattle, we opted to climb to the top of the ridge rather than claw through the flood debris washed up on the outside bend of the old river channel. A steep 50 ft vertical gain led to fairly open but otherwise trackless woods. Paralleling the river we walked upstream about a mile until we found the footpath of the old trail. Once on the trail, we followed it through easy timber (and abundant yellow jackets) to Dusty Creek. We camped that night near the mouth of Dusty creek. Nine mile, seven hour day, with a loss of elevation of about 3200 feet.
Day 4 would demand much of us, as we made our way up to timberline in Rusk Basin, between the Chocolate and Cool Glaciers. This would be an eight mile, eleven hour day, with 3,000 ft of elevation gain and a wild creek crossing. The Dusty Creek crossing was trivial, on a couple of small logs just upstream from the confluence of Dusty Creek with the Suiattle. On the far side of the creek, the location of the old Upper Suiattle Trail is obvious, on the top of an esker, or ridge formed between two glaciers. There is a lot of blowdown here, but the trail is straight and relatively level so the blowdowns were easy to negotiate. After four miles, we came to the old trail junction. There is still a sign. Left takes you down 400 feet to the Upper Suiattle River, and a wild crossing to the old Triad Creek Trail; right takes you another mile through increasingly wild country to the trail end at Chocolate Creek.
Chocolate Creek lies at the base of a blown-out glacial canyon, a zone of utter devastation a tenth of a mile wide with 200' walls of loose glacial till. From the point where the old trail disappears at the canyon wall, we made our way upstream about five minutes, looking for a defile or way down to the canyon bottom. We found a steep, vegetated slope, matched by a similar steep, vegetated slope directly across the creek on the far side. Down we went. No log at the bottom, but Chocolate Creek in August is tame enough (barely) to wade across. We passed a couple of cairns marking the bottom of the trail that lead up the other side of the canyon.
We clambered up the steep slope on the far side and found ourselves in a forest of game trails. Beckey says, ""Ascend easy timbered slopes S of Chocolate Creek. The broad lower spur narrows at about 4400 ft. It is best to hike along the ridge nose, but keep S of it at about 5650 ft to regain a saddle est. 6150 ft. Camp S of the saddle at 6150 ft in Rusk Basin."" We found this to be a difficult, steep ridge ascent at the end of a long day. Due to the profusion of yellow jackets, we referred to this prominent ridge as ""Hornet Ridge."" We kept close to south edge of the Chocolate Creek Canyon so that we wouldn't lose our bearing. We found good water but rather cramped camp sites at 6,150 feet, below a permanent snowfield, and where the streamline ridge route on Glacier Peak becomes obvious.
We summited Glacier Peak on day 5. Nine hours up and back with day packs via the Streamline Ridge and the Chocolate and Cool Glaciers, about 11 miles, 4600 ft. From Rusk Basin campsite, we ascended the obvious line to the apex of two ridges (7135 ft), and followed Streamline Ridge's crest W. Donning crampons, we stepped out onto the Chocolate Glacier, then easily picked our way around several crevasses. We crossed the Upper Cool, staying just below Guardian Rock, and joined the main route from Disappointment Cleaver on the south ridge. This is a very straightforward, elegant, easy way to summit Glacier Peak. Only 6 hours from high camp to the summit versus the 8 hour estimate in Beckey - we felt pretty good after what turned out to be the easiest day of the trip.
Day 6, descending from Rusk Basin, crossing the Upper Suiattle, then ascending to Buck Pass, is a long, difficult day. It took eleven hours with full packs, estimated distances: 10 miles, -3200ft, +2000 ft. We retraced our steps back down the ridge, across Chocolate Creek to the trail junction, and then descended to the Suiattle River. We spent two hours looking for a safe crossing. The river is too deep and wild for simple wading. We found a log, not as good as the previous log, but good enough, about 200 yards upriver from where the trail debouched onto the river. We strung a fixed line above the log for safety.
We were uncertain where we would find the old Triad Creek trail, but as soon as we crossed the river, we began to see signs. We headed down river only a few hundred feet before we began to find old tread and old cuts a little above the river - enough to give us some confidence. Just beyond the first vague log cuts the way was rough with a gigantic heavy blow down of several trees. Just past that jumble we picked up the trail tread again, only to lose it after another 100 feet or so. The lower part of this trail is more blowdown than clear trail, and we had a time of it finding our way through the mess.
We paid close attention to altitude and the probable location of the trail crossing of Triad Creek, and by that time had confidence that the day would reach a successful conclusion. The higher we climbed, the smaller the trees got and the easier it became to navigate through the blowdown. The next route finding challenge came much later in the day. Near Buck Pass, the trail tread disintegrates in a series of grassy, cluttered meadows full of marmot trails. Just keep on where you think the trail goes, continuing to climb up and out of the headwaters of Triad Creek, and you will be alright! We made Buck Pass just before sundown.
When we woke on the last day, we backtracked a few minutes to the pass itself for that glorious view across the Upper Suiattle to Glacier Peak. We picked out every nuance of our route and shot panoramic pictures to etch the view in our collective memories. Leaving the blowdown behind, we walked the nine miles out to the Chiwawa River Road in four hours (trail 1513).
A highlight of the walk out was encountering a WTA work party. We had seen their signs at the trailhead when we spotted the car. What a difference a bit of trail maintenance makes! The walk out was like walking on a sidewalk compared to what we had become used to in the last three days. We urged the trail maintenance crew to go over the pass to Triad Creek where there is a lot for them to do, but they demurred. They said we could sign on and do it ourselves next year. Now, there's a thought!
- Triad Creek (#792)
- North Cascades