Forum Index > Trip Reports > Routes and Rocks GPW, Buck Creek to Little Giant Loop, 8/28 to 9/2 2022
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DWB27
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DWB27
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PostFri Sep 16, 2022 3:10 pm 
Another year, another report and again a Plan B trip as Plan A was thwarted by Hart’s Pass Road washout (and now the Pasayten Complex fire closing the far north part of the PCT). I completed the GPW loop minus side attractions in 1993 almost 30 years ago. Those highlights included the sheepherder’s trail from the Chiwawa River Road up Little Giant Pass, a much less trampled Napeequa River trail, High Pass High Route steep grind from the Napeequa River basin with a lot more slide Alder schwack and dark forest all the way from Buck Creek Pass to Trinity. We decided to go backwards on our trip and throw in some fun with the Louis Creek High Route in reverse and a side jaunt up to Butterfly Butte. We breakfasted at the Squirrel Tree on the way in. Delicious. We arrived at the Little Giant Trailhead about 10 AM Sunday. About 8 cars at the trailhead. 29 years ago, there was only the view of Little Giant Pass as the clue as to where to start. We locked an old bike to a tree in the woods and continued to Trinity about 4 miles up. The parking lot at Trinity was huge, some distance down from Trinity proper and the road used to end about 2 miles above it.
I was surprised to understand the Buck Creek Pass valley was heavily burned by the Buck Creek Fire of 2016. The trail was regraded to the USFS 8% standards creating many more switchbacks than I remembered in 1993. The bridge over Buck Creek was washed out so we waded across in our tennis shoes. The long sweep toward Pass No Pass was a highlight. I counted 32 weekend warriors coming down the trail on Sunday. Bugs were manageable to minimal which was a relief.
The pass was obtained by about 5 PM. We found water sources approaching the switchbacks toward the High Pass trail and a treed camp above the horse camps. There was no sign of smoke from the lightening caused fire just below us. Kind of nerve wracking to be camping next to it but figured it was a nonissue or the whole trail would be closed by the FS.
Dinner of Mountain House Spaghetti with meat. Delicious. We settled in with only the bug tent up and rain fly on the side. Slept well for a first night out. Up at 6 AM after tossing and turning at first light. We were excited to see the high country. A few voices were heard toward the pass as we continued west on the High Pass trail. The views along Liberty Cap did not disappoint. Buck showed its prominence. We pocked around a bit where Routes and Rocks describes an old collapsed cabin on the north side of the mountain. That being written 60 years ago, probably not much would show up. Nothing found.
Triad Lake, the pumice covered flats and exposed granite with glacial scratch marks were a site to see. Heather tried to grow here and there. It was apparent the snow had just melted out in places. We lunched at the bench above Triad Lake. The blue of the water mesmerizing. The route passed a small snow field southeast of the Lake like 29 years ago. Marmots announced our arrival at every turn lower down and small streams built into larger ones as we descended to a small tarn with one unoccupied tent just south of the trail. We knew to head for a saddle and “gradual” ascent of the ridge to start the Louis Creek High Route which is described as “easy” in the Routes and Rocks GPW book.
We found Altra shoe tracks in the dirt patches speckled in the steep heather slopes above the saddle but, they soon disappeared. We continued our side slope rising traverse. The slopes steepened. The bowls and undulations hid our progress and our views on the ridge as Clark Mountain came into full view across the Napeequa. By this time it was 3 PM with not a cloud in the sky. Our water bottles were near empty and no sign of a path or obvious pass to drop down into the Louis Creek basin. We crested a rock edge thinking we were atop the ridge only to find another large and cliffy step above us. As we headed west the rock became looser, and steeper making us wonder. By 5 PM we were fried by the sun against the granite cliffs and boulder fields. It was time to bail and find a place to camp. We crossed another bowl and saw a trophy muley buck hiding from bugs and perhaps hunters. He was at least a 14 point. Almost Elk like in size with a dark brown coat. No dummy!
We continued up to find an end moraine. The bottom end had a perfect 8’ wide flat round tent spot. A small snow field above it. 4’ tall Nobles and pines held on in the heather. A perfect kitchen rock at the end moraine provided space for our stove and storage of our food. A red dot camp for sure! Our dinner was decided to be Readywise freeze dried. It was meat free and basically craft dinner with flat noodles. Super Boo. I thought it was a deal at Costco. Not worth it compared to the Mountain House Bucket. Will have to supplement if used in the future or use it during a real emergency. No bear hang possible tonight but no berries at 7,500’ so hopefully no bears. The sun set right on the Glacier Peak summit from our campsite. Haze from the White River fire was apparent. Smoke was building around Mt. Baker and Shuksan on the north horizon. We did not know about the Brush Creek fire at the time. Winds were calm as the sun waved goodbye. The night was warm. Stars were bright. Cygnus and Deneb smiled at us directly above our tent.
Ten Peak in middle - where Top Gun Maverick was filmed!
Ten Peak in middle - where Top Gun Maverick was filmed!
Tent View - Value Priceless
Tent View - Value Priceless
We awoke at dawn enjoying a big helping of Breakfast Skillet, white trash mochas and hot tang. We headed up the southeast sloping lateral moraine, snow patch and pumice slope to a pass we thought was it. Peering through it you could see footprints well below and a ½ mile from this opening in the ridge but below it were cliffs 500’ down. That wasn’t going to work! We decided to call it a fail rather than a route and downclimbed to the High Pass High Route as it was a sure thing. As we reached 2/3’s down we picked up tracks and found the route straight up the 2nd and longer heather ramp from the saddle below the tarn south of High Pass. So the route is essentially straight up the ridge about 1/8 mile from the saddle just east of the tarn below High Pass. Doh! But the camp we stayed at was awesome and likely we were the only people to camp there? Who knows! Studying Google Earth, the top of the ridge was that last step and if we would have continued up could have hit a shallow slope to the southeast into the Louis Creek Basin. A French goodbye, I guess? As we approached the High Pass High Route creek and trail we looked up to see what might be a hole in the rock on the northwest ridge or a snow patch. What’s the truth?
Hole in the rock above and north of High Pass High Route or a Snowfield? You decide.
Hole in the rock above and north of High Pass High Route or a Snowfield? You decide.
Louis Creek High Route up this center most heather ramp to pass if in reverse to R&RGP
Louis Creek High Route up this center most heather ramp to pass if in reverse to R&RGP
Once we reached the base of the High Pass High Route the heat intensified. We continued down and ran into a couple and their dog heading up. We took a break in the shade before the steep down from the route to the Napeequa. A lone hiker passed us by and would not have seen us but we yelled at him to say hello. We made quick work of the last of the High Pass High Route in the dust, heat and minimal slide Alder and reached the Napeequa Valley floor marching south. Out of water, black flies constantly landing on us, I found my old camp area from 29 years ago in an overgrown meadow. We did not decide to explore. We continued. By that time we were in pissed off mode. I spotted another camping spot with logs and old fire pit on the Napeequa about ¼ mile from the trail (and marked as an open circle on Routes and Rocks) but my cousin was b lining it to Louis Creek Falls as he knew there was a site there. Once we got to the falls we drank quarts of water and let the flies have their way with us. Two older guys passed us. We theorized it might be Hit the Trail and Wildernessed but were too tired to converse. The one site off the trail was taken by a small tent. Bummer. We scoured the woods and found an old site covered in branches with an old fire pit. We cleared the branches and got the tent up and quickly dove in with water and food. It was August 30th but the bugs were TERRIBLE! Climate Change? Slow Spring melt? Probably both. We wished for a freezing night to knock them out. We did not cook that night. Pumpernickel PB and Nutella sandwiches. By 6 PM we tested the outside and miraculously the flies were gone. We found a bear hang and organized our food. There were giant piles of bear poop beside our tent spot. I theorized the bear crossed the Napeequa several times and feeling the cold water decided to let it rip at the same spot. It was definitely more than 1 bear poop! Luckily it was completely dry so at least a few days old or more.
Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies
Protein to add to dinner?
Protein to add to dinner?
We saw the man return to his camp about 100 yards away. He was the same guy we yelled at on the High Pass High Route. We walked back up to the Louis Creek Falls, filled up our water and contemplated our next steps. We decided to head for Butterfly Butte as we had seen the area from our Camp 2 and had heard it was a pretty spot with 2 tarns in the area. It wasn’t supposed to be that hard to reach with some light schwack in mature forest and about 1500’ of elevation gain. We awoke and decided on pop tarts to save time before the bugs devoured us. We crossed the Napeequa about 500 yards above Louis Creek Falls and veggie ascended the River’s edge into the dark wood. The way was open and easy. Boot path became apparent about 400’ above the River. At about 800’ up I found the perfect rest log so decided to take a break. After I got the pack off I noticed a sting in my shin. I looked down to see a long, skinny wasp dancing on the stinging spot. Then I felt a sting on my left rib and left arm. “WASPS!” I yelled as my cousin and nephew drew close. I grabbed my pack and we all ran up the trail about 200’. We had escaped. The log was vibrating as I rose to get my pack and yell the warning. The wasps’ main entrance on climbers’ right of the trail facing uphill. My nephew got one sting. Wasps 4, us 0. (On the way down we remembered the log and I put a “B” in sticks with 2 small logs blocking the trail below the nest to warn the next victims. Hopefully useful!)
We kept on the trail until it exited right at the Butte. Oddly a higher Butte was about 700’ above it. A huge basin dropped about 100’ to the southwest. This was where we wanted to camp. Snags appeared and the large basin smiled at us. Willow and damp lupine permeated the lower reaches of the basin. We crossed the main portion to find a plain of 5’ tall larches and a litter of their tops trimmed by an avalanche and found a nice camp spot in the late morning. We began to unpack, and the sun started to burn. Flies started to circle. Ugh! I searched to find a shade spot and found one about 200 feet south adjacent to the Richardson Glacier “S” curve and just above a tarn held up by a side moraine. Thank you, Noble Firs! What a spot! We were in the shade and inside our bug screen in minutes. Much more comfortable! We decided on a rest day here. Wander, check out the waterfalls. Swim in the tarn, walk the basin in search of animals and the ever-changing biology of Larch, Hemlock, Noble, Monkey Flower, Lupine, Paintbrush and the several creeks that meander within the basin. This was truly a magical spot. The swimming was grand. Days of dust and grime washed away in a few strokes and dunks in the tarn. Horseflies encouraged us to swim! The first afternoon I spooked a buck white tail. He ran 200 yards from me and grunted noisily as if to say, “catch me if you can.” A doe was spotted and once she spotted us came galloping over. Oh, no, not a deer accustomed to humans. Sure enough, she circled our camp and vigorously ate the bushes we had peed on. Salt! Gross! We decided to name her Barb.
We awoke to find a hiking pole missing. It was found about 100’ away with a few tiny nibble marks on the handle. Yum! Salt! She woke us up at night breaking twigs surrounding our camp. But it was kind of funny. We just knew it was her and not something more menacing.
GPW Infinity Pool
GPW Infinity Pool
Where's Andrew? Where's Barb?!
Where's Andrew? Where's Barb?!
The rest day was fun. The large waterfall to the northwest was inspected. The near vertically placed formerly horizontal rock beds were wavy and full of minerals. The iron red rock was hot and reflected the heat right at us. Good thing the waterfall was raging. I would guess the flow at 3 pm was 3x as much as at 6 am. The noise was impressive. We visited the tarn and Barb followed us to the side moraine.
The second night we heard rockfall in the evening and a loud sustained rumble in the middle of the night as the glacier settled in the heat. The stars were out, and we slept better for whatever reason. We decided to alarm awake at 5 am as day 6 was extraction day. Quick egg breakfast, hot tang, coffee and pack up. We skirted the higher south edge of the meadow to stay dry and lost our way toward the Butte with some steep ravines before descending and picking up the trail 200’ below where we exited it on the way up 2 days previous. We descended quickly eager to see where the route left the woods at the Napeequa. It came out just downstream where a braid made a nice camp spot on the west side of the River. We crossed at the same spot about 100’ above the boot path into the haze of smoke and sun beating down on this low elevation portion of our trip. We made sure to fully fill all containers at Louis Creek and quickly passed our old camp 3 spot and the Boulder Creek trail wye which was really a beat-up sign and not much of a trail at all.
We had hoped our early start had the west side of the Little Giant Trail in the shade and trees. Nope! Full sun. Muddy spots followed by slide Alder, slide Ash and then cliffy narrow schwacky garbage. The last “Space Needle” of elevation to the pass was in mid-day heat and full sun. Blueberries in this last stretch literally saved us. I had 100 warm mL’s of water at the pass.
We felt the strong wind at the pass and soaked in the views to the east. We were kind of surprised no early Labor Day weekend warriors weren’t passing the other way. But it was damn hot by then. Water was abundant out of seeps in the slopes near the upper most camp on the east side of the Pass about a space needle below. We filled and drank a quart as well.
As we passed below the rock cairn city we heard voices in the shade. A group of 5 passed the other way. Just below that a lot of avalanche blow down had us schwack off trail too much to the point that we turned around. There we ran into the first of 4 bow hunters. The open hunt was on. The deer knew this. The only ones we saw were 15 miles from the nearest trailhead. We would not want to carry a quarter or more that long with that much elevation gain and in that much heat! As we descended the heat ascended and we saw several crossings of the old sheepherders trail intersect the meandering looping switchbacks of the new trail. Alas, we cut into the gravelly washouts in the old car campground (did not see the old cabin with woodstove we inspected 29 years ago) and crossed the Chiwawa as bow hunters came the other way. The bike was unlocked and I rode up to Trinity to fetch the truck. All went to plan. We loaded up, sat in cushioned, back rested chairs on wheels to the Squirrel Tree Restaurant marveling about AC, pavement, cell service and finally a burger, fries and soda with ice!
What a great trip! Now time to contemplate the Louis Creek High Route, Ten Peak and Moth Lake for next time. Maybe via Boulder Pass or the Honeycomb High Route? Hmmm…

“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others." - H. Jackson Brown

zimmertr, geyer, pula58, RichP, reststep, Nancyann, jaysway, Lightning_bug, raising3hikers, hikerbiker, Bramble_Scramble, rubywrangler
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RichP
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RichP
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PostFri Sep 16, 2022 8:28 pm 
Routes and Rocks is the gift that keeps on giving. I've looked down on that area around Butterfly Butte but have never been there. Looks like a great spot and a really cool trip. cool.gif

pula58  Alden Ryno
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awilsondc
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PostFri Sep 16, 2022 8:32 pm 
DWB27 wrote:
Awesome trip! I love this shot.

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HitTheTrail
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PostSun Sep 18, 2022 1:36 pm 
DWB27 wrote:
We theorized it might be Hit the Trail and Wildernessed
Nope, it was not us. I have only ever looked down on the Napeequa and Wildernessed is still rehabing from a total hip replacement. I go out with him locally sometimes to help him get moving but we have not backpacked for over a year. Your trip looks like quite an effort. up.gif

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forest gnome
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Location: north cascades!!
forest gnome
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PostMon Sep 19, 2022 9:23 am 
Wow .I wish I knew some peeps like u when I was younger .. Luv to do parts of that trip!

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