Trip Overview: The ~40 mile Spider Gap – Buck Creek Pass backpacking loop sits within a beautiful section of Glacier Peak Wilderness in the northern Cascade Mountains of Washington state. Over the course of the loop you hike from 2,750 feet of elevation up to 7,070 feet as you go over several ridges and visit multiple lakes. Highlights include glacial-fed alpine lakes, alpine meadows, spectacular views of Glacier Peak, and several small glaciers.
- Higher res version of the overall map for Spider Gap, Buck Creek Pass Loop (PDF)
- Topographic map of Glacier Peak Wilderness for purchase (amazon link)
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Permits: The only permit required to backpack here is related to day use parking fees for the Trinity Trailhead. This fee is $5 per vehicle per day or a valid Recreation Pass works as well. No advanced backcountry permits are required to enter the wilderness here. Backpackers are simply asked to sign in at the trailhead register.
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Logistics: Backpackers can start/end this loop from either the Trinity Trailhead or the Phelps Creek Trailhead. These trailheads are separated by ~2.5 miles and are connected by a dirt road. To complete the full loop you must walk these ~2.5 miles along the road either at the start or end of your trek (if you have two vehicles, you could also park one at each trailhead). I prefer the Trinity Trailhead because you can hike along the road towards the Phelps Creek Trailhead to start your trek and then do not need to worry about hiking the road at the end of your trip. The Trinity Trailhead also has restrooms and is near the Phelps Creek Campground if you want to camp near the trailhead before your trek. This campground has 7 tent sites and costs $16 per night.
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Trail Conditions and Difficulty: This itinerary in the Glacier Peak Wilderness is moderate to difficult when hiked in 4 or fewer days. There is a upwards of 10,000 feet of elevation gain over the entire loop, so be prepared for climbing. The peak elevation is just over 7,000 feet, so thin air may be an issue for some. The trails are generally well marked with the exception of Spider Gap. When approaching Spider Gap, you must hike along an unmaintained route and many hikers traverse across the Spider Glacier. In addition the trail can be snowy as you descend from Spider Gap down to the Lyman Lake Basin. Backpackers should be prepared to hike off trail and be prepared to traverse along the surface of the glacier in this section. Some backpackers find microspikes/crampons and an ice ax useful for this section, but others report traversing this section fine without these items.
Supplies: There is not much concern for bears in the Glacier Peak Wilderness so there is not a requirement for bear canisters. That said, rodents and small animals in the area are known to forage through hiker supplies. At the very least, you should hang your food in an ursack to prevent animal issues.
You likely will want bug spray because the mosquitoes can be out in force in certain areas where the snow has recently melted. I prefer a picaridin based spray because it does not damage plastics and synthetic fibers like high concentration DEET sprays do. I also like to pre-treat my clothes and tent with permethrin spray repellent. The permethrin treatment stays on your clothes for up to 7 washes, so it helps reduce the amount of spray you need to put on your skin. In addition, many hikers find trekking poles very helpful in the Cascades since they help your knees on the steep climbs and descents.
Below is a list of the gear recommended for this backpacking trek:
- a lightweight hiking rain jacket (North Face Venture 2 Jacket)
- fast drying synthetic hiking pants (prAna Zion Pants)
- a quick drying long sleeve hiking shirt (Columbia Silver Ridge L/S Shirt)
- wool outer socks (People Socks Moreno 4-pack)
- thin blister preventing base socks (WrightSock double layer Coolmesh)
- quick drying synthetic boxer briefs (ExOfficio Give-N-Go)
- light bandana for sun protection (Levi’s printed bandana)
- mesh back trucker hat (Patagonia LoPro Trucker Hat)
- adjustable fabric belt (Bison designs belt)
- Gore-tex hiking shoes (adidas Outdoor Terrex Fast R Gore-Tex Shoe)
Clothes for camp
- wool leggings (Minus33 Merino Wool Kancamagus Midweight Bottom)
- wool base layer shirt (Minus33 Merino Wool Chocorua Midweight Crew)
- warm wool overshirt (Pendleton Long Sleeve Classic-Fit Board Shirt)
- lightweight down jacket (Patagonia 800-fill Down Jacket)
- lightweight camp shoes (Xero Z-Trail lightweight sandal)
- topographic map (Nat Geo topographic map)
- trekking poles (Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles)
- 3 liter hydration bladder (Camelbak Antidote Reservoir)
- 65 liter backpack (Osprey Atmos 65 Liter pack)
- water filtration system (Sawyer Squeeze water filtration system)
- strong tent with rain-fly (Alps Mountaineering Chaos 2 Tent)
- inflatable sleeping pad (REI Co-op AirRail 1.5 Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad)
- sleeping bag (The North Face Furnace 20 degree Sleeping Bag)
- lightweight backpacking chair (Therm-a-Rest trekker chair)
- lightweight lantern (MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0)
- headlamp (Black Diamond Storm Headlamp)
- multi-tool with knife (Gerber MP400 compact multi-plier)
- Ursack (Ursack Major bear bag) or bear canister (BearVault BV500)
- lightweight stove (MSR PocketRocket 2)
- lighter (BIC plastic lighters)
- 2 liter pot (GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler Pot)
- coffee cup (GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Cup)
- lightweight spork (Snow Peak Titanium Spork)
- small, quick drying towel (REI mutli towel lite)
- wet wipes (Stall Mates individually wrapped wipes)
- mole skin for blisters (Spenco 2nd Skin Adhesive)
- small amount of duct tape for gear repairs
- chapstick and sun screen
Food and drink
- a variety of my favorite dehydrated meals
- electrolyte replacement (NUUN Hydration Tablets)
- instant coffee (Starbucks VIA)
Day 1: 9.9 miles; +3,700 feet / -270 feet; Trinity Trailhead to Spider Glacier
The trek on the first day starts with a ~2.5 mile walk along a dirt road that leads between the Trinity Trailhead and the Phelps Creek Trailhead. This section of the trek is not exciting, so it’s good to get it out of the way at the start. After you reach the Phelps Creek Trailhead, you begin hiking along the Phelps Creek Trail towards Spider Meadow. The trail follows Phelps Creek for roughly 4-5 miles before you reach the meadow. There are several campsites in the Spider Meadow area. For the 4 day itinerary, it is best to continue hiking and camp closer to the Spider Glacier. There are several campsites scattered near the bottom of the glacier. These sites have great views and set you up nicely to climb up the glacier in the morning when the snow is solid. If you are taking your time and doing the loop in 5 or 6 days, you could camp at Spider Meadow and then camp at Lyman Lake the next day.
Day 2: 10.2 miles; +3,540 feet / -3,630 feet; Spider Glacier to Image Lake
Day two is probably the most scenic day along the Spider Meadow – Buck Creek Pass Loop. You go over three passes (Spider Gap, Cloudy Pass, Suiattle Pass) and see several beautiful lakes. At over 10 miles with 3,000+ feet of elevation gain, this day is tough. Take it slow and enjoy the scenery! You camp next to Image Lake, which has some fantastic views of Glacier Peak. The day starts with a traverse of the Spider Glacier. Microspikes and trekking poles can be helpful in this section. The trail is not defined here, but it is not very difficult to find your way up over Spider Gap and down to Lyman Lake. Hikers just need to be cautious on the snow and avoid sliding, which can be dangerous.
Day 3: 10.1 miles; +3,550 feet / -3,760 feet; Image Lake to Buck Creek Pass
The third day of this loop is another tough ~10 mile hike with a good amount of elevation gain. You hike from Image Lake over Middle Ridge and then up to Buck Creek Pass. Near Buck Creek Pass there are several campsites to stay at for your last night. There are also some worthwhile short side trips you can take. These include hikes to the Flower Dome and to Liberty Cap. Both areas have some very nice views and are not too far from Buck Creek Pass.
Day 4: 9.2 miles; +520 feet / -3,650 feet; Buck Creek Pass to Trinity Trailhead
The last day involves a mostly downhill hike from Buck Creek Pass back to the Trinity Trailhead. The almost the entirety of the hike, the trail follows Buck Creek through a forested valley. If you want, you can take the side trip to Liberty Cap or High Pass in the morning before leaving camp at Buck Creek Pass.
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