IMAGE LAKE & MINERS RIDGE VIA SPIDER GAP
August 19-25, 2012
It was long about June that my friend the Crazy Canadian sent me a note with his “dream trip” – 7 days in the Glacier Peak Wilderness traveling to Image Lake all for the purpose of walking the crest of Miner’s Ridge. The secondary agenda was to scramble Cloudy Peak, which had eluded him thus far (for various and sundry reasons). Would I like to go? Um… Does a bear poop in the woods?
Me? I haven’t taken a vacation in over 8 years. Oh, there have been various days here and there added to my weekends to make 4 or 5 day trips, but there has not been one single week during which I have not set foot in the restaurant for the purpose of working since late January/early February of 2004. I’ve been threatening to take a vacation every year; B’s offer gave me just the impetus I needed.
A side note… I’d never been out for 8 days. I’ve never been out for more than 4, and that was in, a couple of day hikes, and out, not moving most every day. I am told it is a fairly monumental thing to which I am about to subject myself. I blame my naivety for not feeling overwhelmed by the plan.
We agreed on the itinerary (though I talked him into 3 days out instead of 2 – I just didn’t think I could make it out from Cloudy Pass via Spider Gap in 1 day) and found a week between our two schedules that would work. To make things easier, he’d come down from Vancouver on Saturday afternoon and we’d head out to camp near the TH for an early morning start on Sunday. This was the final plan…
Day 1 – Phelps Creek TH to Larch Knob (7.4 miles, 2,700′)
Day 2 – Larch Knob to Cloudy Meadows using the ridge to ascend the Gap (5.8 miles, 1,625′)
Day 3 – Scramble Cloudy Peak
Day 4 – Cloudy Meadows to Image Lake (7.6 miles, 1,383′)
Day 5 – Scramble Miner’s Ridge
Day 6 – back to Cloudy Meadows (7.6, 1,683)
Day 7 – back to Larch Knob (coming down the snowfield this time) (5.8, 1,525′)
Day 8 – Out
I spent the next 2 months arranging menus and preparing food for the trip. None of the freeze-dried, sodium-laden, pre-packaged garb for me; I was going to eat well. And I did. I used Sarbar’s Trailcooking.com as inspiration, making gentle modifications to her recipes to suit my tastes and create a little variety. The menu included Raspberry/Strawberry Protein Smoothies and Oatmeal with Walnuts, Cherries, and Candied Ginger for breakfast and a no-repeat dinner selection – Fettuccine Carbonara, Lemon Tuna Spaghetti, Pesto Salmon Quinoa, Chicken Tortilla Noodle Soup, Chicken Phad Thai, Beef Stroganoff, Cherry Chicken Quinoa, and Smoked Salmon Pasta. I was stumped for lunches and decided about 2 days before the trip that it would be bars and pb&j on bagels. In the end, I had to leave the fruit crisps behind, not because of weight, but because of bulk. Left some of the bars behind as well.
I started packing Saturday morning and the first round yielded a 50# pack weight. Um… No. No, I’m not carrying a 50# pack. Time to revise and downsize. I trimmed here and there, take half the washing soap, leave the balm behind, half the bandages etc. in the first aid kit, opt for a protein smoothie on only 4 days, same for the dessert option (which was either Chai Ginger or Coconut Cardamom Pudding), etc. etc. I managed to get it down by 5#. So now I’m carrying a 45# pack with 15# of it being food (less than 2# per day) and it’s only gonna get lighter. I’m not thrilled with it, but it is what it is. It will only get lighter. (That’s my mantra and I’m sticking with it.)
DAY 1 – We spent the night at the Phelps Creek Campground in order to get an early start on the trail. Up at 6:00 and boots on the trail by 8:00. Traveled the 5.5 miles on good and wide tread (with a very gentle grade) to Spider Meadows quickly. The next 1.2 miles went a bit more slowly, but only because of the gawk factor. Made it to the junction in good time, stopped for lunch and a little creekside siesta, then headed up the headwall, climbing 900′ in 0.7 mile in the hot afternoon sun. It took me 1.5 hours (slowest 0.7 mile I’ve ever hiked) but I was praised for my effort, being told I’m “one tough lady.” I don’t know about the lady part, but I appreciated the sentiment nonetheless. Made it to Larch Knob between 3:00 and 4:00 and had our pick of campsites. Looked like there were some lovely sites above the knob, but I was DONE (stick a fork in me) with climbing for the day, so we opted for the grassy (and therefore less dusty) site right by the trail. A few camp chores, dinner on a fabulous lunch rock (yes, you can have dinner on a lunch rock), and I was ready for bed. B stayed up to watch the stars and play with night photography. A shot of Jack in my cocoa, a muscles relaxer, and a couple of Aleve and I slept fairly well on my new (this year) Exped mattress.
DAY 2 – Monday morning, so good to me… Or maybe it should be “Morning has broken and so will something else.” But that would be giving it away.
So it’s a bit nippy in the morning when you wake up before the sun rises above the peaks and you’re near a ginormous snowfield. What to do? Get some coffee going, of course! But B isn’t happy with the minute amount of water left in the pot; says it’s got floaties in it. So he grasps the pot of the MSR Reactor by the handle and, in an attempt to broadcast the water out of the pot, instead flings the entire pot (sans handle, because it broke off) into the melt stream from the Spider Glacier/snowfield (which is it, a snowfield or a glacier?). What ensues is (in retrospect) a rather comical moment. Everything becomes slo-mo. In my mind, B is uttering a long and drawn out “NOoooooooo…..” as he leaps and bounds down the hill after the pot. This is followed by his body being flung, face down, onto the ground in a fit of emotional turmoil the likes of which I’ve never seen. He lays there, prostrate, still as a stone. I dare not approach to ridicule nor console. Meanwhile, as I watch the scene unfold before my eyes, my own brain has it’s own soundtrack. “Phuk! … Crap. … Well, that sux. The stove doesn’t work without that pot. Shite. … Okay. But we have another pot (brought along for washing), and we have a backup stove (a pocket rocket, which uses the same fuel canisters, though not nearly as efficiently). Okay, well, I guess I’ll get busy with plan B.” And so I get out the other pot and the other stove and start to hook it all up because now I REALLY want my coffee. Meanwhile, 15 feet down the hill from me where B has remained prostrate, I see movement. He lifts his body from the ground and wanders over to the creek, looking. He goes to the edge, where the creek becomes a waterfall, and spies something caught in the rocks. Working his way to the other side, he comes up not empty-handed but firmly grasping a now-somewhat-beaten MSR Reactor pot. Yay! The trip is saved! He says, “I had to try. I couldn’t not try.” So we have a little talk about how the handle of the pot is not entirely secure by design (a bit of a flaw in the design, if you ask me) and agree that all is well and move on to begin out day. First order of business? COFFEE!!!
Now, where was I? Coffee, check. Breakfast, check. Packed, check. Campsite clean, check. Off we go.
Took the ridge route up to the gap, getting views you wouldn’t otherwise see. Awesome rock patterns and the oldest larch tree I’ve ever seen – hundreds upon hundreds (maybe thousands?) of years old. Too old to fully comprehend. The route is sometimes steep, sometimes not, but somehow I managed to hoist myself up it. Reached the gap in relative short order (or so it seemed – I wasn’t looking at my watch AT ALL). The view from Spider Gap down into the Lyman Lakes Basin? Wow. Wow! WOW! … wow. The fact that I was standing there? Yeah, that was a bit of a wow moment too.
Lots of gawking at the gap, then the quick descent down the snowfield (and an unplanned seated glissade followed by a planned seated glissade since my butt was already frozen), some difficulty find the route once off the snowfield, finally figured it out, had lunch, and continued on our way. Stopped at the campsite at Upper Lyman for a snack and to get water and, boy howdy, was it ever buggy! First time the little buggers had been anything more than an minor annoyance. B says “They’re biting!” and hauls out his rain gear as extra added protection. Me, I slather on the bug juice.
From here, the journey to Cloudy Meadows was fairly non-eventful. Meant a nice guy at the outlet for Lower Lyman (into RR Creek) who was out fishing. The fishing at Lower Lyman was apparently not that good; it was better at Hart Lake, he said. But, fishing isn’t always about catching, so he was having a damn fine time. Climbed, slowly, up from Lower Lyman to Cloudy Meadows, thoroughly enjoying all the creekside gardens of lupine, aster, arnica, valerian, etc. etc. Then came the meadows. OMG! The smells were out of this world! Fragrant yet subtle, never over-powering, but please, can I just lay down here in this meadow and smell this for the rest of eternity? And I’ve never seen so much lupine in my life!
We picked the “upper” campsite at Cloudy Meadows (I think it once might have been a horse camp) because the view is most spectacular and there’s a small creeklet running by the “front door.” (The downside being that the potty is about 1/4 mile away so plan ahead). No much in the way for good trees for caching, so we buried it in snow for the second time. Set up camp, had dinner, enjoyed the sunset, and climbed into bed a happy camper. Sleep, once again, courtesy of Mr. Jack, Ms. Rx, and their cousin Aleve.
DAY 3 – Not having to pack it up and go, morning came a little bit later. The clouds, however, did not. In fact, we were pretty socked in in the a. of m. Over breakfast (did I ever mention that my homemade oatmeal packs had walnuts, dried cherries, and candied ginger in them?), the Crazy Canadian makes a confession; seems his knees are a bit too out of whack for a scrambling of Cloudy Peak et al. Well luckily, thanks to an unnamed source, I had a backup plan. I was told the ridge walk south of Cloudy Pass was well worth one’s time, so we decided that we would follow Plan B, after chores, of course, like a sponge bath, and laundry, and digging a deeper hole in the snow for the food cache, lest the current burial melt away. It was probably around 11:00 or so by the time we finally headed out, but it felt good to be clean and have stuff done.
The ridge walk was PHENOMENAL!!! Really, this is a MUST DO! Forget scrambling Cloudy and North Star; that’s the obvious thing to do. Man almighty, the views from the ridge are spectacular! We’re talking Fortress IN YOUR FACE!!! Okay, okay… You get the idea. We had a great, gentle afternoon and it felt really good to hike without an ungodly heavy pack on my back. Oh, yes, and the weather cleared quite a bit. It never did rain.
After dinner, the clouds started to roll about in earnest. We wondered what kind of a night we were in for, but it still didn’t rain. Really interesting to watch the clouds move about. Up here, in the middle of the cloud layer, you begin to understand the complexity of all the layers. Quite beautiful, really. If clouds could look like this through the winter in Seattle, maybe I wouldn’t be so unhappy about the gray.
DAY 4 – Another early morning to hit the trail at a decent hour. Seems to be taking us about 2 hours to break camp, have breakfast, and be on our way. This morning was no different. Despite the heavy clouds that rolled in over night, there had been no rain. In the morning, the clouds remained which wasn’t bad since it kept the bugs at bay and kept things cool for the hike over to Image Lake.
The trek to Image was pretty straight forward. Head over Cloudy Pass, down to the jct. with the high route to Suiattle Pass, pick up the PCT heading south for about 2.3 seconds then take a right onto the Miner’s Ridge trail. The boulder field on the high route was interesting, but other than that, not much for eye candy until…
Miner’s Ridge, what can I say. SPECTACULAR! And one of the most amazing flower shows I’ve ever seen (though rival by the flanks of Liberty Cap over by Buck Creek Pass). I’m actually quite sorry that we moved through this area as quickly as we did. I suppose that would be my only regret. But Image Lake was calling and I was keen to see what I’d come for, so we pushed on.
We headed down to the lake basin and dropped our packs at the jct. with the trail to the campsites then continued around the lake, soaking in the views. It was a bit breezy, so no glassy surface, but by now the sun was shining and most of the clouds had cleared, so I at least got an inkling of what that reflection must be like. Not getting the full meal deal only gives me reason to go back. (Yeah, like I need a reason!) A late lunch by the lakeside and we headed back to grab our packs and head down to camp.
One of the upper sites was taken and the other, though it had a fabulous view, was d-u-s-t-y, so after much investigation and discussion, we opted for the room without a view down by the group site. It put us in the trees but there was far less wind and virtually none of the dust we encountered above, plus there were good places to cache the food and the potty was a short walk away. (I love backcountry camping, but YAY! for backcountry potties. Just sayin’.)
While we were setting up camp, Fred the Ranger stopped by. We had a lovely chat and he gave us the weather forecast for the next day. While not expected to be completely crummy, it was supposed to be cloudy. The high route along Miner’s Ridge simply would not be favorable on a cloudy day, so we decided to take our tired bodies up the ridge for dinner and we were both so glad we did. Beautiful views from the ridge crest and I always enjoy our sunset cruises – a photographer’s delight! So, dinner on the ridge, back on true trail before dark, then down to Image Lake to try and catch the reflection of the moon. Then, it was past time for bed, and I mean p-a-s-t. Another stick-a-fork-in-me-I’m-done day. Trekked back to camp by headlight and crawled in for the night (and just a little, okay lot, bit more).
DAY 5 – The weather had finally headed a bit south. Nothing terrible, mind you, but we did indeed have the heavy cloud cover that Fred said the weather service had predicted. Not much in the way of stellar views. I couldn’t tell you what time B got up, but I SLEPT IN, ’til about 9 or so. When I got up, I wasn’t feeling terribly well so I was quite glad we were to have a low-key kinda day. No point in heading back up the ridge with the cloud cover, so we took the morning slow. I had breakfast then treated myself to a warm sponge bath. It always feels so good to get at least partially clean. After a leisurely morning, and still feeling pretty crappy, we decided to wander over to the lookout and see if Fred was about, but he wasn’t. We hung out for a little bit, wondering at what it must be like to live in a lookout (my friend Jenny did it one summer with her hubby, though they are both still young, not that that has anything to do with the price of tea in China), but it was breezy and the wind was quite chilly and I still wan’t feeling great, so we wandered back toward Image Lake. We were going to have lunch by the lake but there was no spot that was protected from the wind, so back to camp we went. After lunch, I crawled back in my tent to take a nap, waking only long enough to eat dinner and go back to bed. I think all the miles and the altitude had just finally caught up with me and it felt good to just sleep and sleep and sleep (as best I can, anyway, when sleeping in a tent).
DAY 6 – My wake-up call comes a few minutes early.
B: It’s 5 to 6 and it’s starting to rain.
Me: (groan, then silence)
B: What do you want to do?
Me: (internal) Why do I have to make these decisions?!
Me: (external) Pack up before everything gets wet!
And thus the day begins, feverishly shoving things in sacks all in an effort to get the tents packed up before they get wet. On the plus side, we were fully packed in about 45 minutes. On the other plus side, the rain never materialized. We had a quick breakfast and hit the trail, saying goodbye to Image Lake.
The cloud cover this morning was extremely heavy and lingered along the sides of the ridges, making for a cool and really quite beautiful exit from Miners Ridge. We lollygagged through the flower section and picked things up once we started to descend. A conversation the day before had B and I in agreement; we were having a good time, we were glad we came, but after 5 days out, we were kind of done. I kept tossing this around in my brain and made a deal with B; if we moved camp from Cloudy Meadows to at least Lower Lyman, I’d try my best to make it out from there in one day. He was game. So, I hiked my butt off coming off Miner’s Ridge, climbing up Suiattle Pass, crossing over the high route and pushing up Cloudy Pass, where we left the clouds behind. Made it to our old friend just about lunchtime, dropping down into the meadows for lunch then pressing on for Lyman Lakes. Next discussion was moving camp to Upper Lyman. Yes, yes, I know it had the potential to be buggy (sure was when we came in!), but I was willing to risk it. That way, we would be hitting the Gap first thing in the morning and everything after that would be downhill… all the way. B was game and so on we pushed.
Made it to camp @ Upper Lyman about 3:00 and got ourselves the prime spot. Best bonus of all? No bugs! Okay, maybe one or two pesky ones, but nothing even remotely intolerable. We quickly set up camp so that we could have time to wander about this most fabulous place. I’m guessing that we both took way more pictures here than anywhere else (and now I’m paying by having to sort through them all). We were visited in camp by a young doe and a yearling buck (handsome fella). Later at night, while B photographed the night shies and I lingered in my tent, a larger buck wandered by. All of the deer seemed not the least bit concerned with our presence and we felt it a real special treat (especially since we hadn’t seen much wildlife, except, of course, for the ginormous marmots at Image Lake).
We had an early-ish dinner so we could get set to photograph sunset through the area. Everything was so peaceful and still. But when the sun goes down, it gets c-o-l-d, so off to bed I went.
I woke around 4-ish ion the morning… Gotta-go-pee! Pulled my head out of my sleeping bag and quickly retreated. It was C-O-L-D out there. This pee break would have required more than tossing on a fleece, so the hell with it, I’m staying warm, and back to sleep I went (sort of).
DAY 7 – Morning dawned c-c-cold. I suppose that’s to be expected when you are camped near a glacier. But… I could put off the pee no more! (Yes, yes. I know. TMI.)
B and I spent quite a bit of time photographing in the early morning light, putting off breakfast until the job was done, then the rest of the morning was as all the others had been – eat, pack, go. Just as we were loading our packs onto our backs, a solo traveler headed down the path to our camp. Rick Fordyce was his name, he’d been out for several days but only now had he found what he’d been looking for. We told him we were leaving and he was welcome to the site. A chit here and a chat there tells his story of being from the Pacific Northwest but now living on the East coast, Cape Cod, perhaps (can’t quite remember). Seems he’s written a book and it’s being carried by Elliott Bay Book Co. and Third Place Books. Goes by the title of “I Climbed Mount Rainier with Jimi Hendrix’s High School Counselor.” (Sorry Rick, but that is the most cumbersome title I have ever had to wrap my tongue around.) Says I should buy the book. I says I’ll buy the book if he’ll contribute to my Hike-a-Thon campaign and I hand him my card. Thanks yous and more pleasantries were exchanged and we were on our way.
Followed the trail past the Upper Lymans, then the cairns as we started heading up, up, up to the gap. Hit the snow and kept climbing. Then climbed some more. About 2/3 of the way up, there’s the rumble of a rock slide. B is well ahead of me but I can see that he has stopped as well to pinpoint the fall. We’re all safe and sound, but I gotta say, it wasn’t too far from my location, maybe 100′ or so, and from B’s perspective above me, he thought it might hit me. I think, perhaps, next time I’ll bring the climbing helmet to be on the safe side. It was awesome to see, but a bit too close for comfort. Distraction abated and climbing resumed. At some point, I switched from the snow to the rock, growing exceeding weary of snow travel, especially as the pitch steepened. Gotta say though, the rocks weren’t exactly easy going. Not sure I’d make the same decision next time.
Eventually, the gap was attained and a seated glissade was enjoyed heading down the other side. (I gotta work on my steering technique.) We stopped for lunch at our rock on Larch Knob, chatted with new sets of hikers and backpackers coming in, and had a great chat with a pair of fellow Hike-a-Thoners. I contributed to the delinquency of a ground squirrel by turning my back on my pack for two seconds. That’s all it took for the cretinous creature to nibble his way in to the cream cheese in my side pocket. He was scolded and shooed away and I brought my pack closer to keep a better eye on it. Opportunist, for sure!
After lunch, it was time for the grueling march down, down, down Larch Knob (while others huffed and puffed their way up). It was a busy Saturday on the trail. Not much of major event took place after the down climb – just the lonnnnggggg steady 6.5 miles out. Reached my standard “I’m done” feeling right on track, about 1.5 – 2.0 miles out and was a bit amazed at how far down the road we had parked when I finally reached the TH (another 5 friggin’ minutes of walking!). Stopped near Lake Wenatchee to get quarters for showers at Lake Wenatchee State Park, drove to the park where I was reminded that, for day use, we would need a Discover Pass, bailed on that idea, stopped again at Coles Corner for a milkshake, then headed west, opting for showers at my house then a real meal at Italianissimo in Woodinville. Goodness gracious, a Rusty Nail never tasted so good!
An amazing trip, all in all, but boy was I happy to be home to kitteh love and my own bed.
POSTSCRIPT… On Monday, I dutifully wandered over to Third Place Books and bought a copy of “I Climbed Mount Rainier with Jimi Hendrix’s High School Counselor and Other Stories” by Rick Fordyce for $12.00. Two days later, a $12.00 contribution was made to my Hike-a-Thon campaign by one Rick Fordyce. There are still people of honor in this world.