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Conrad
Meadow bagger



Joined: 25 Aug 2006
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Location: Moscow, ID
Conrad
Meadow bagger
PostThu Aug 20, 2009 9:33 pm 
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Lots of slippery steepness, cold soaking brushiness, and faint trails. And lots of great alpine country. This was my longest-duration solo backpack (4 days) and about my longest-distance trip (43 miles). And maybe my most challenging trip, due to the amount of slippery steepness, cold soaking brushiness, and faint trails.

Note: I see my boots' tread is pretty old and worn. Maybe with new boots the slipperiness would have bothered me less.

Day 1, 8/14 Fri: Little Giant, Napeequa Valley to Louis Creek
Day 2, 8/15 Sat: High Pass, Buck Creek Pass, Middle Ridge, Miners Creek
Day 3, 8/16 Sun: Cloudy Pass, Lyman Lake, Spider Gap, Spider Meadow
Day 4, 8/17 Mon: Phelps Creek, road walk back to car

There were 3000-4000' elevation gain each of the 1st 3 days, for a total gain of > 10,000'.

Crowds: I saw not a soul until near High Pass on Day 2. After that I never went more than an hour or two without meeting someone.

Bugs: Almost none! (except a swarm of flies near Lyman Lake). The damp coldness, and getting into late summer, were to thank I guess, because the flies in the Napeequa Valley are legendary.


Day 1: Little Giant Pass to Napeequa Valley

I got up in Moscow before 1 AM, so I got to the TH nice and early, 7 AM. The Little Giant trailhead on the Chiwawa road is clearly signed, which I didn't really expect. There are also notices, at the TH and here and there on the trail, marking this as the Pacific Crest Trail Detour. Also "no Forest Pass required" up.gif.

There's now a log across the Chiwawa, upstream from the TH and ford:
The log's OK (stepping onto it is the worst part) but the ford also looked easy (and actually safer) this time of year.

The first couple of miles of the Little Giant trail are clear and gentle switchbacks. There's a campsite on the S bank of the S fork of Little Giant Creek, but there's a better camp a furlong further up the trail by a little meadow.

Edit: Reports just a few days after my trip say there's a large log across the trail at ~1 mile. I don't remember it so I think it fell right after I was there.

From there up to Little Giant Pass the trail turns brushy and rougher, and a bit exposed (ascending a bare rock rib) in places. There had been rain before I started. I got rained on only the tiniest bit, but the soaking brush, cold, and gray skies kept me in soaked squishing boots and socks, and usually soaked pants, for the next 2 days.

I'd heard worrisome things about the trail from the pass down to the Napeequa. It turned out to be not what I'd call "safe", but doable for me. There are lots of spots where the trail is slid-out and slippery (especially when wet) and you could slide a good way down, and other spots where you step along the top of a 20-foot-ish cliff, but fortunately the slippery spots and the sheer-drop spots weren't in the same places. Still, I'm just as glad I didn't have my teenage son with me so I didn't have to decide whether he too, instead of just me, could handle the tricky spots. Trekking poles were a big help.

Edit: Just a few days after my trip, 2 horses died falling off the trail here. They reportedly tumbled many hundreds of feet before coming to rest. So don't doubt that it's steep.
From Napeequa back up to Little Giant Pass
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From Napeequa back up to Little Giant Pass

Then I headed up the Napeequa valley. The trail was often very brushy (soft annual brush, not woody stuff) but I never lost it. The worst spot was a boggy section where I buried my boot in muck almost above the collar; some branches have been laid down here but more are needed. I saw the signed start of the Boulder Pass trail but I didn't go look at the ford. I camped at a very nice little site just before Louis Creek, the only real campsite in the valley, although there are meadows here and there flat enough to camp in probably.
This is the trail! (typical brushy section)
This is the trail! (typical brushy section)

Day 2: Napeequa Valley, High Pass, Buck Creek Pass, to Miners Creek

First I continued upvalley to N. Fk. Napeequa, the creek which descends S from High Pass to enter the Napeequa 1+ miles NW of Louis Creek. I would ascend NFN (N Fk Napeequa) to High Pass. But I had a hell of a time finding the trail heading up NFN, even after reading previous reports. So here is:

FINDING THE TRAIL FROM NAPEEQUA TO HIGH PASS

When you first reach NFN, the Napeequa trail is cut off abruptly by the creek's eroded bank. Do not immediately cross the creek here and waste half an hour trying each little indentation in the alder thicket on the other side.

No, instead: When you first reach NFN, look right, up the creek, toward the valley wall. Follow the trail upstream (NE, along NFN's SW bank) through the nice little meadow almost to where the falls start, and then cross the creek:

Then walk NW away from the creek, through a rocky patch, for a few steps. Then turn left, downstream, and walk SW down the nice grassy meadow, back toward the Napeequa, for a few seconds.

Now turn right, toward the wooded slope. Hopefully you see this:
Walk toward the woods, passing to the R of the rock and the big root snag. If someone would hang a sign on this root snag, that would be so awesome. Or maybe build a big cairn next to it using rocks from the creek.

Continue past the root snag toward the woods, cross a little grassy depression in a few steps, and now look for the trail where the far bank of the depression climbs into the woods. There are even a couple of saw-cut little stumps/logs near the start to affirm that you've found something real.

Hope that helps. Now, if you're coming the other way:

FINDING THE TRAIL COMING DOWN FROM HIGH PASS

So say you're coming S down NFN from High Pass. You reach 5500', where a long flattish section of the creek ends, just before it plunges steeply down to the Napeequa. You should be on the W side of the creek at this point.

Look away from the creek, westish, across a little flattish meadow toward the woods:
Look for the trail entering the woods near the R side of this meadow, and then heading down.

That concludes today's lesson. So, continuing my trip:

Once above the steep woods, at 5500', I continued N upstream:
Scraps of trail kept disappearing so I just switched sides of the creek back and forth looking for easy terrain.

At 6500' the creek turns from N to E and climbs up through this notch:
I couldn't see which side of the creek would be easier, so I stayed on the S side. This side kept getting steeper and steeper until I gave up and slithered less-than-safely down to the creek and crossed over to the N side. It appears that the usual ascent E to the notch is along the N side of the creek (there's a trail there which I couldn't see from below).

Looking back downstream there are magnificient views of the glacier on Clark Mtn:

When I reached the source of N Fk Napeequa (just a puddle in a flat boulders-and-sand bowl), I met my first people of the trip. Which was fortunate. We were in a cloud now, and they were returning home over High Pass, so I followed them. On my own, in the cloud, routefinding -- selecting a detour when the trail crossed a steep snowfield, choosing to go above or below a cliff band in the steep rocks and mud N of the pass -- would have been I-don't-know-how difficult.

After High Pass I was on well-used clear trail for a long time. I passed Buck Creek Pass and Middle Ridge and camped late at Miners Creek. Low clouds meant I got no views of Glacier Peak as I went by it. There are two campsites at Miners Creek but the nice one was taken so I got the ugly one. But it didn't matter much; I got in late, laid down my bag without setting up my tent, and left early next morning, so I hardly even saw the campsite.


Day 3: Cloudy Pass, Spider Gap

Just before Suiattle Pass I took the signed 0.7-mile "Hiker Trail" shortcut toward Cloudy Pass. It turned out to be another adventurous steep scrambly trail, with a chance to take a wrong turn into steep boulders. Cleverly built though, with a rock staircase that climbs straight up the slope.

The hiker-friendliest meadow of the trip was just below (SE) of Cloudy Pass:
Cloudy Pass from SE
Cloudy Pass from SE

I've been from (and reported on) Lyman Lake to Spider Gap before, so I'll skip that part.

To continue S at Spider Gap, I had the choice of taking the Spider Glacier (snowfield) down, or the "trail" (no snow) down the ridge E of the glacier. The glacier was in a slot which it looked like I'd be trapped in once I started down, and I couldn't tell how steep the snow would get as I went down, so I took the ridge. The ridge trail starts off level, so as the glacier fell away on my right, I wondered how the ridge route would lose elevation without jumping off a cliff. And the ridge route does seem about to head off cliffs a lot, but then cleverly finds a route down less dangerously than expected (if you don't lose the trail). Still, there were spots where I had to downclimb with just fingerholds in the rock and a good slide/fall if I slipped.

Start of Spider ridge trail
Start of Spider ridge trail
Looks like it goes off a cliff
Looks like it goes off a cliff
How does the trail get down to there?
How does the trail get down to there?

Finally, down in Spider Meadow, after passing a number of occupied campsites, I found a nice private little site right on Phelps Creek. Slept under the stars, watching the Milky Way crawl across the sky for hours.


Day 4: Phelps Creek and out

Finally, a half-day of easy hiking! Nothing but gentle downhill, first on wide smooth trail and then a couple of hours road walk back to my car.
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Magellan
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PostThu Aug 20, 2009 10:19 pm 
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Great stuff Conrad!  up.gif
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RichP
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PostFri Aug 21, 2009 8:05 am 
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That's a great trip. You saw some spectacular country. I was at High Pass this week and the walk down to Buck Ck Pass must be one of the most scenic trails in the state.
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harrymalamute
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PostFri Aug 21, 2009 8:44 am 
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great solo trip and route finding conrad  up.gif

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hikes and climbs with malamute
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Spotly
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PostFri Aug 21, 2009 12:17 pm 
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How was the short section of road to the TH at Phelps Creek? It was doable in a low clearance car last year - same this year?
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Conrad
Meadow bagger



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Conrad
Meadow bagger
PostFri Aug 21, 2009 12:41 pm 
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There were a ton (OK, many tons) of cars of all types at the Phelps Creek TH. I don't think clearance is an issue. But, there was a section with a hard sharp-edged "wavy" surface, sort of like a frozen choppy lake. Someone else here said they were doing construction there, like the surface is unfinished. Might be hard on tires.
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Pepper
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PostFri Aug 21, 2009 1:55 pm 
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Thanks for all the info, I will be doing this loop with some side trips over five days starting tomorrow. What was the milage to your first camp site?
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Conrad
Meadow bagger



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Conrad
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PostFri Aug 21, 2009 2:07 pm 
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Little Giant TH to Louis Creek camp: 10 miles, 4000' gain.
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Sore Feet
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Sore Feet
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PostFri Aug 21, 2009 5:23 pm 
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Conrad wrote:
Little Giant TH to Louis Creek camp: 10 miles, 4000' gain.

Worth noting that not only is it a 4500 foot gain, but then its a 2400 foot loss - that's what makes it suck so much.

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Bryan Swan
Pictures - http://www.flickr.com/photos/bryanswan
Waterfalls - www.waterfallsnorthwest.com
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Radnord
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PostSun Mar 15, 2015 1:51 pm 
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Conrad; does the 43 miles you reported include the six miles on the road back to the little giant th?  also, I've heard different estimates of mileage, can I respectfully ask how confident you are in these numbers?  Thanks and thanks for the detailed TR.

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To you, is it movement or is it action, is it contact or just reaction, and you, revolution or just resistance, is this living or just existance? Yeah you, it takes a little more persistence to get up and go the distance.
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Conrad
Meadow bagger



Joined: 25 Aug 2006
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Location: Moscow, ID
Conrad
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PostSun Mar 15, 2015 2:27 pm 
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@Radnord: Can't say I remember for sure anymore, but since I walked the road miles, I'm sure I included them in my 43-mile total. The total probably comes from tallying up Green Trails map mileages, possibly in my head with some rounding, with any sections not measured by Green Trails (e.g. the High Pass section and the road section) just estimated by eyeing the map.

I would note that there is no such thing as exact trail mileage, since every time you wander from one side of the trail to the other, it makes your distance different than someone else's on the same trail. And there is no single established "trail" up the N Fk Napeequa to High Pass.
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Radnord
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PostSun Mar 15, 2015 2:52 pm 
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Thanks Conrad! I will be doing this loop this summer and always like to have all the info I can. I especially appreciate the route-finding info for NFN. Can't say I'm looking forward to the six mile road slog, but at least it's downhill.   biggrin.gif

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To you, is it movement or is it action, is it contact or just reaction, and you, revolution or just resistance, is this living or just existance? Yeah you, it takes a little more persistence to get up and go the distance.
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Distel32
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PostSun Mar 15, 2015 3:04 pm 
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@Radnord:

GPS-recorded mileage from this past fall: ~2.4m from Phelps TH down to Chiwawa R Rd; ~2.8m from that junction down to Little Giant TH.

Also, these are roads, so you can always google map it.
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MLHSN
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MLHSN
What goes here?????
PostSun Mar 15, 2015 3:19 pm 
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Radnord, when I did this route, we drove near the end trailhead and stashed a bike in the bushes locked to a tree. Then we drove to the starting TH.  When we finished the hike, we flipped a coin to see who had to ride back to the car.  A lot easier then walking.
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FredV
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PostSun Mar 15, 2015 3:23 pm 
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We basically did this loop last August.   We stashed a bike at Phelps Creek trailhead before starting our trip at Little Giant Pass.  Then it is just a bike ride back to the car by one of the group to get the car.    Also, we added a extra side trip up to Leroy Basin and Mount Maude.
Some of our mileage (via GPS): 
Little Giant Trailhead to Little Giant Pass to Napeequa Valley to Louis Creek camp:   8.7 miles.
Louis Creek to High Pass to Buck Pass to Miners Ridge camp: 14.6 miles
Miners Ridge to Spider Gap to  Leroy Basin camp:   12.4 miles
Leroy Basin to Mount Maude to Phelps Creek trailhead 11.4 miles
Bike ride from  Phelps Creek trailhead to Little Giant Trailhead 5.25 miles
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