Forum Index > Trip Reports > North Star Mtn via Buck Pass - Spider Gap Loop, Oct 31, 2020
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Eric Gilbertson
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostMon Nov 02, 2020 10:30 pm 
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North Star Mountain (8,096ft)

Oct 31 Ė 12am Ė 8pm

38 miles (37 hiking + 1 biking)

I headed out Friday night with the intent of hitting a few top 200 peaks in the Glacier Peak wilderness. My goal was to tag North Star and Genius, but to make it interesting by doing a big loop hike. Iíd recently seen this loop on a map going through Buck Pass, Suiattle Pass, and Spider Gap, and finally connected the dots that this is the loop everyone signs in as doing when Iíve looked at trailhead registers at the Trinity trailhead.

Based on the NOHRSC snow coverage forecasts it looked like the long dirt chiwawa river road up to the Trinity trailhead would likely be snow covered, but perhaps only by a few inches of snow. I decided to give it a try and bring my mountain bike in case I needed to park early and bike the rest of the way to the trailhead. The bike had the added advantage that if the road was indeed driveable I could plant the bike at the Phelps Creek trailhead, then bike back the remaining 3 miles to the Trinity trailhead at the end of my loop.

The view descending from North Star looking south to Dumbell and Greenwood
The view descending from North Star looking south to Dumbell and Greenwood
The route
The route
Plummer Mtn at sunrise
Plummer Mtn at sunrise

As I drove up the Chiwawa River road it actually was surprisingly snowy even at the paved section. I was glad to have enough clearance to not bottom out in my forester. I saw a few hardcore jeeps driving out and was nervous about making it to the trailhead. Luckily, though, it had been sunny enough that the wheel ruts in the snow had melted down to pavement so I had good traction.

I made it to the end of the pavement and the road got snowier but luckily not deep. I put the chains on my front wheels and continued slowly. I kept expecting the road to get worse, but it stayed consistently at perhaps 6 inches of snow. Once in a while I encountered long melted-out sections, and it just barely stayed within my risk tolerance of continuing further. Finally I made it to the Phelps Creek turnoff, but that road looked too steep and icy for me to chance it.

So I locked my bike up in the woods at the intersection, reasoning at least I would appreciate biking the last mile back to the car. I continued on to the Trinity trailhead by 7:30pm and was surprised to find zero other cars there. Any other time Iíve been there itís been overflowing, but I guess the snow deterred all the other hikers.

I soon went to sleep in the back, then was up and moving by midnight. My planned loop was around 40 miles, and I was hoping to finish it in 20 hours to be back to the car by 8pm and Seattle by midnight. Unlike the previous weekend where I just continued hiking through the night into the next morning of my second day, this time I did indeed need to be back in Seattle Saturday night.

sunrise over plummer and Chiwawa
sunrise over plummer and Chiwawa

For gear I brought snowshoes and my light weight Asolo hiking boots. I expected deep snow the whole time, but it wasnít going to be as cold as last weekend (about 30 degrees warmer on the summits, so a little above freezing). And the light boots were less likely to give me blisters.

The trail started with patchy snow that turned continuous after a few miles. The skies were clear and the moon bright enough that I almost didnít need the headlamp. After a few hours the snow got deep enough for me to put the snowshoes on, and they would stay on most of the trip. I reached Buck Pass around 5am and had a bit of trouble finding the trail through the open meadows in deep snow. I had excellent views of a moon-lit Glacier Peak in the distance, and can understand why this is a popular hiking loop.

By 7am the sun had finally risen as I was rounding the northwest ridge of Fortress Mountain. I then dropped way down to the PCT at 4200ft and the snow became patchy enough I could switch out of snowshoes back to micro spikes. My pace got faster on the dry trail, and I hiked up to Suiattle pass a few hours later. From there I had some tricky steep traversing, unclear where the trail was, until I eventually reached Cloudy Pass at 11am.

North face of Chiwawa from near Suiattle Pass
North face of Chiwawa from near Suiattle Pass
Looking down the Suiattle River valley
Looking down the Suiattle River valley
Kind of tricky finding the trail traversing to Cloud Pass
Kind of tricky finding the trail traversing to Cloud Pass

I had been averaging a bit under 2mph up to there, which was about the speed Iíd planned for, so it looked like I might in fact have time to finish my whole itinerary. From the pass I traversed across to the east on flat terrain, then ascended steeply up the west face of Cloudy Peak to a bench at 7,300ft. From the topo lines it looked like I could traverse around Cloudy across to North Star from there, but in reality the ridge dropped off steeply from corniced slopes. I had a whippet and was prepared to downclimb, but had unfortunately opted to go light and left my crampons at home. I hadnít expected anything steep enough to need them on this route.

I started descending the ridge to the south, looking for a better way, but the route kept being steep. At one point I considered bailing and just hiking out, but decided to continue trying a little longer. At last, back down at 6,600ft I found a safe and less-steep route to traverse around the ridge to gain easier terrain on the east side. I guess I should have done a bit more background research on this peak instead of relying on the topo lines. I had probably wasted an hour on my attempted route.

Once I rounded the corner the southeast face of North Star was very gentle and the route finding was easy. I made a gradual rising traverse above golden-brown larch trees. All the while I had excellent views of Bonanza looming to the northeast, and Dumbell and Greenwood to the south.

rounding the corner of the south ridge of cloud, looking at Bonanza
rounding the corner of the south ridge of cloud, looking at Bonanza
Looking back towards Glacier Peak
Looking back towards Glacier Peak
Nearing the summit
Nearing the summit

I soon reached the saddle between the east and west summits of North Star, then took off my snowshoes and scrambled up some boulders to the summit by 1:30pm. Amazingly there was almost no wind and it was quite warm, probably above freezing. I could see Holden village down to the east, well-below snowline. And Eldorado stood out prominently to the northwest.

After 10 minutes admiring the view I scrambled back down to my snowshoes and retraced my route back to near Cloudy Pass. I then regained the trail and hiked down to lower Lyman Lake, which was frozen over. From there the trail got narrower but was still followable up to 6,000ft, where it disappeared. I then went cross country, following a set of fresh wolverine tracks past Upper Lyman Lakes all the way to Spider Gap by 5pm. I never saw the wolverine, but I bet it saw me.

Summit panorama
Summit panorama

I hoped to be back to the car by 8pm, and it didnít look like Genius Mountain was in the cards for the day, since it would probably add a few hours. As it was I had 11 miles back so would have to hustle to make that in 3 hours. It was all down hill or flat, though.

I descended down the Spider snowfield, and remembered reading skiers come here in the summer to get some turns in. At the base I picked up the trail and saw some semi-recent ski tracks, perhaps from the previous weekend when there had been a major snow event. They certainly werenít from today, though. The trail narrowed and got exposed enough that I switched back to micro spikes. I soon descended to Phelps Creek and then down to Spider Meadows for excellent sunset views down the valley.

Wolverine tracks
Wolverine tracks
Lower Lyman Lake
Lower Lyman Lake
Approaching Spider Gap near upper Lyman Lakes
Approaching Spider Gap near upper Lyman Lakes

At the southern end of Spider Meadows I decided to pick up the pace to perhaps make it back by 8. Luckily the trail was sort of packed down enough that I could jog in my microspikes without sinking in too much. It was kind of awkward jogging with a big pack on in the snow in hiking boots/micro spikes at night, but I somehow had a lot of energy so made it work. I kept jogging until I reached the Phelps Creek trailhead at 7pm. I then continued jogging down the road, but had to stop soon because it got too icy. There were a few tire tracks from perhaps that day or a few days earlier, but I think Iíd made the right call not trying to drive up the steep icy/snowy road in the forester.

Looking down Phelps Creek
Looking down Phelps Creek
Back at the car
Back at the car
A snowy drive out
A snowy drive out

By 7:30pm I reached my bike, and soon unlocked it from a tree and started biking. It was fast but a bit tricky to balance staying in the icy wheel ruts. I made it back to the car by 7:45pm, though, and quickly loaded up. Given how icy the road was, and that it would only be getting colder, I put on the second set of chains on the rear wheels of the forester. There were still zero other vehicles in the lot, and I hadnít seen a single person all day, so I thought it was unlikely the road conditions would have been improved by any other vehicle traffic.

I drove out slowly and cautiously, and didnít have any issues. Back at the pavement I took the chains off, then continued back to Seattle a bit after midnight as hoped for.

Link to more pictures
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kitya
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Joined: 15 Mar 2010
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PostMon Nov 02, 2020 10:58 pm 
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as always crazy cool! looks like this area is more snowy than the west sides! lucky with wolverine tracks too, you should submit them to wolverine project! https://cascadeswolverineproject.org/wolverine-tracks/
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benneke
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PostTue Nov 03, 2020 9:32 am 
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Wow, doing this loop as a single push with all that snow, very impressive. Looks like an amazing day out
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Stefan
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PostTue Nov 03, 2020 3:40 pm 
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Do you have something called "pain receptors"?  Or are they absent in your body?

--------------
Art is an adventure.
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MangyMarmot
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PostWed Nov 04, 2020 4:02 pm 
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That's a seriously burly trip in one day. Nice work!
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > North Star Mtn via Buck Pass - Spider Gap Loop, Oct 31, 2020
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