The original intent of my outing was to attempt Buck Mountain via Buck Creek Pass and High Pass but as the day unfolded and conditions changed, I made a decision when I got to High Pass to skip Buck Mountain and drop down into the Napeequa Valley, a very worthy option to attempting the summit.
Road into the trailhead was in pretty good shape. It gets a bit rougher about five miles from the trailhead and the potholes were filled with water from the recent precipitation. Once past the Little Giant Pass TH, it has some rocky sections but a passenger car will be fine if you take it slow.
More cars that I anticipated on a Thursday morning but I didn't realize at the time that it was High Buck season. I should have verified before heading out but fortunately was wearing red so would stand out to the hunters I might encounter.
Departed the TH at 7:30 AM under clear blue skies with the temp hovering around 37. This was perfect as I wanted to move quickly up to the pass to maximize what daylight I had on a longer trip like this. After the junction with the Chiwawa River trail, I began to run into brushy sections on the trail that were holding a lot of water and it wasn't long before I was pretty much soaked from the waist down. As soon as I would start to try off, I would hit another brushy section and would be soaked again.
But the views through the burned trees were marvelous and it was so good to be under sunny skies! I jogged and power hiked the ten miles up to the pass making it in just under three hours. Other than the brushy sections, the trail is in great shape for the most part and there are plenty of water sources along the way. Also, fall colors are coming along nicely!
At the pass, I took the left onto the Liberty Cap Trail and wound my way through fantastic sub-alpine meadows as I turned back south towards the mountain. Unfortunately at this time, clouds began to move in and I found the visibility decreasing rapidly. I began to think about changing plans here and perhaps turning around and doing the Buck Creek Pass/Spider Gap route but then I ran into a fellow trail runner under Rally Cap who had come up from the Napeequa. Based on the favorable intel he gave me, I continued on, knowing I would opt to travel down this magical valley if I decided to not attempt Buck.
After our meeting, the trail hits a bit of a talus field above Triad Lake but is marked well with cairns. It is also in this area I began to run into recent snowfall. Not a lot but the higher elevations definitely looked to have some significant new accumulation.
As I reached High Pass, I paused to consider what I would do. The weather continued to look iffy and I finally got a glimpse into the headwaters of the Napeequa. It was just too tantalizing to pass up and I began to drop down into the valley. There is a trail here but it is rough in spots and some places it just disappears. So I kept close to the creek, rock hopping across it a few times as I descended. As you near the steep drop into the Napeequa, the trail becomes obvious and is easy to follow. This section is steep but short lived.
I then found myself at the valley floor and yes, the Napeequa lives up to the hype. From here the trail was for the most part, in fairly good condition and easy to follow. There are brushy sections which fortunately had dried off by this time and there was one particularly nasty section which I refer to as the "Bog of Eternal Stench". It seemed bottomless and tried to take both my shoes, but I managed to negotiate it coming out very muddy and smelling pretty foul.
The views of Clark are amazing as you descend the valley. Eventually though, it is time to pay the fee for witnessing this natural wonder and the climb to Little Giant Pass began. Statistically speaking, it's not that monster of a climb but for some reason, it sure felt big. Here the trail tread is very rough in places, overgrown and in some sections a slip could have some very serious consequences. So I definitely slowed down to ensure good footing.
The good news is the views you get as you climb out of the basin and the long downill you can enjoy after reaching the top. I paused at the pass to enjoy the views, eat some of my burrito and empty my shoes out before trotting down towards the road.
The trail to Little Giant on the east side is steep on the top section but has some wonderful switchbacks down lower. Plenty of water sources to be found on this section of trail as well.
The ford was about knee deep and I didn't even take out my trekking poles to help with the crossing. From there I jogged back on the road to the Buck Creek TH. Total was 31 miles, 8k of gain in ten hours.
One of the more scenic loops I have done in the state. The fall colors are incredible and the Napeequa lives up to the hype. Looking forward to extending this one by taking the Napeequa to Buck Creek Pass, then Lyman Lakes and Spider Gap. Just need to bring my bike along to make quick work of the road.
Highly recommended for backpackers and trail runners who have experience with cross country travel and navigation.