Wild Heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness: Backpacking the Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop

In Backpacking, Family Adventures   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   11 Comments

By Michael Lanza

I step one foot from the dry rock onto the snow and find it frozen solid on this chilly early morning in late July. Ahead of me, a line of boot tracks, undoubtedly created yesterday afternoon, after sunshine and warm temperatures had softened the snow, leads up to Spider Gap. Below me, this broad, hooked finger of white ice undulates downhill like a frozen water slide—one that runs for hundreds of feet between high walls of stone and ends not in a big, deep pool, but on rocks.

This isn’t a water slide with any commercial potential.

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11 Responses to Wild Heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness: Backpacking the Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass Loop

  1. Derek   |  October 10, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your dedication and detail my friend. The Spider Gap to Buck Creek Pass hike is now the front-runner for our annual hiking trip in 2018. We owe you an additional thanks for that!

    Two quick questions:

    1. I’d like to ditch the tent for a hammock trip this year. I realize this is higher elevation and stays cold throughout the year, but could we pull off a hammock trip on this loop, say, in late August? Really love to try this! If not recommended, this is not a deal breaker.

    2. No permits? Just confirming this statement still holds true in 2017/18. Seems like the last half dozen trips we’ve been on have required hard to get (major understatement) permits, many months in advance. No permits would be a major bonus.

    Thanks again, Michael!
    Derek (and the #BOD crew)

    • MichaelALanza   |  October 10, 2017 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Derek, thanks for the comment and questions. This is a great hike (one of my top 10 favorites: https://thebigoutside.com/my-top-10-favorite-backpacking-trips/).

      I don’t think it’s ideal for a hammock, for a couple main reasons:

      1. You’ll probably need rain and bug protection (which you can set up with a hammock, but I believe those two conditions make hammock camping less pleasurable).

      2. There’s not an abundance of convenient trees for hanging a hammock. Some potential camping areas are alpine or sub-alpine, with few to no trees; and where trees do grow, they are often conifers growing densely, with dense boughs making it difficult to get at the trunk or find adequate, open space between trees for a hammock.

      If you think you have a strategy for overcoming both of those obstacles, maybe it’s worth trying a hammock there; or at least bringing one to experiment. I doubt cold temps would be an obstacle, especially in August; you can bring a bag warm enough for that.

      I don’t know of any change to the permit situation in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. However, you may want to contact the national forest (see info under Contact at bottom of story, above) about that as well as to check on the conditions of access roads and trails before heading in there. I’ve read there was fire damage on the Buck Creek Trail in 2016, and I’m curious about whether the trail has been cleared of fallen trees, and whether any camping areas have been affected.

      Good luck.

  2. Chris   |  July 12, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Looks like an amazing trip. Way to go getting the kids out!

    • Derek   |  October 10, 2017 at 1:31 pm

      You’re the man. Thanks!

  3. Brooke Thomas   |  July 3, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    We were planning on doing this trip in a couple weeks, but saw a notice on the NPS website that a road washout 12 miles out makes both trail-heads inaccessible by car. Hoping they can get it fixed in two weeks. If not, we will try to get the very limited day-of permit for Enchantments. Any other ideas for a 4-5 day trip in the area around Leavenworth? Thanks!

    • michaellanza   |  July 3, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      Hi Brooke,

      Bummer about the road washout. Try for that Enchantments walk-in permit midweek for a better chance of getting it. But there’s a wealth of great hiking in that area. I’ve been in the lakes basin below Mount Stuart, a gorgeous area with a variety of trails to get you there. I’ve heard good things about Chiwaukum Lake and Larch Lake (lovely in fall when the larches turn yellow), just east of Stevens Pass. I have on my to-do list backpacking the PCT from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass, and backpacking the 45-mile traverse of the Icicle Divide, which begins in the area of Stevens Pass and finishes on the outskirts of Leavenworth. You can’t really go wrong in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Have fun.

      • Brooke Thomas   |  July 12, 2016 at 12:32 pm

        Chiwawa Road is now open to Trinity. So, we can make the trip work after all. Yes!! We’ll do the ~3 mile road hike to Phelps TH on day one. Really looking forward to it!

        • michaellanza   |  July 17, 2016 at 4:48 pm

          Hey, that’s great news, Brooke. Have a terrific hike. I think you’ll be amazed.

  4. tbjohnston   |  August 22, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Thank you for this write-up and the pictures! This was the last backpack my nephew and I took where our pictures were on film, and I’ve yet to digitize them. We have so many great memories of this hike, and I’ve taken our oldest up to Spider Meadows. So much fun!!

  5. kdd   |  August 3, 2014 at 12:57 am

    I appreciate your write-up. Some friends and I are taking 5-6 days on this loop this week and you’ve got me even more excited than I already was, and I’ve had my eye on this hike for years. We’re looking for any advice you may have.

    Having read your entry, I’ll suggest head nets to everyone (would you recommend avoiding camps at Lyman Lake because of bugs? was Cloudy Pass better?). We’ll also look for the camp sites at Phelps Basin. We hope to hit both Image Lake and Liberty Cap-Triad Lake as day hikes, but if you had to do only one, am I right to assume you’d do Image Lake? Any other suggestions on campsites, conditions, etc.?

    And thanks for the photos.

    • michaellanza   |  August 4, 2014 at 4:43 am

      Thanks, glad you like this story. Head nets aren’t a bad idea. I think Lyman Lake would be even buggier than the Upper Lyman Lakes because Lyman campsites are in the woods. Cloudy Pass was very buggy when we stopped there for lunch, but there wasn’t any wind then, either. Basically, it was buggy just about everywhere.

      I would definitely not miss the hike to Image Lake. I hiked the user trail up Liberty Cap all the way to Triad Lake several years ago (on this more-recent trip, we only went up Liberty Cap), and it’s also really scenic, above the trees with long views all the way. It’s also not a maintained trail, and I had to scramble and find a route through rock ledges to get down to Triad Lake, although you’ll get a view of it from atop the ledges.

      If you hike counter-clockwise, as I’d suggest, definitely go to Image Lake if you have good weather for views. You’re not assured of clear weather for views when you get to Liberty Cap later in the trip, and you won’t be disappointed if you hike to Image Lake and then only have time for a short hike up Liberty Cap when you get there (which you can do in an hour in the evening, a nice time to go up there).

      Despite the bugs, you’re in for a fantastic trip, best of luck.

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