Every January, I sit down with my journal and outline the hikes and backpacking trips I hope to accomplish that year. Glacier Peak Wilderness has been number one on that list for four years now, specifically, the 44-mile loop including Spider Gap. I told people it is my favorite wilderness area without ever setting foot in it. I just knew it was my place.
I would hold it as my pinnacle route, to be completed in entirety the third week of August. That blessed time when bugs drop off, summer weather prevails and the perfect backpacking window emerges. I dreamt of seeing the trail with fresh eyes, each spectacular sight unfolding for the first time on my longest backpacking route yet.
But a lot can happen in August. Forest fires made the route impossible for two years, I was terrified of the road, and shin splints kept me away from long, difficult routes. Mostly though it was my crippling perfectionism refusing to compromise that kept me off the trail.
But a few weeks ago, when we looked at this open weekend in July, desperate to get to the high alpine and see something new, this trail emerged as a possibility. I was tired of waiting until everything was perfect. My attempts to create the ideal trip were keeping me out of an area that I was so excited to explore. So, we prepared our maps and set out to the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
The trail epitomized everything I love about backpacking in Washington, as we moved from forests to meadows, rocky cirques to glaciers, and ultimately lingering above glacially-fed tarns. Forgive me for the wait, I have come home.
Day 1: Spider Meadows
Michael and I had not made it to the Washington mountains for a backpacking trip together since last August in the North Cascades. Heading to the Glacier Peak Wilderness for the first time had me so giddy I could hardly sleep. Epic views! Hot summer trails with backpacks! New sights! In a way, it was comfortably familiar in the sense that the backbone of our time together comes from getting out on a trail for a weekend and exploring new places. And I was excited to be in familiar territory.
We woke up early, trying to get on the road by 6 am. I knew the drive would be long and the spot we planned on camping was likely to be crowded. It is not a permit-restricted area so I wanted to get there early and make sure we had a spot. By 6:30, we were out the door and on the highway, breakfast sandwiches in hand and dirtbag diaries podcast playing on the speaker.
We made it over Stevens Pass, past Lake Wenatchee and onwards towards Trinity. The well-paved road turned to a poorly paved road, in the process of being reclaimed by wildflowers and multiple families of deer. Then that paved road turned to a dirt road, with the occasional pothole. Which turned into a rocky dirt road that rattled the car and the nerves. Then we turned off for the last two miles of the trail, which was a deeply-rutted miserable drive.
I had avoided this route too afraid for my life and my car to brave the road. Finally, ready to face my fears we turned onto the steep, rutted forest road. As I chanted “yes we can” under my breath, I imagined Barack Obama, sitting next to me and encouraging me up the route. I began to imitate his cadence, giving me encouragement, “stay the course, we got this”. It helped me slowly move my way up the road without giving into panic, and provided a nice bout of fear for my sanity by Michael.
I parked the car and let out a sigh of relief. Hard part over, now we just had to backpack.
The trail set off at a barely perceptible incline, slowly gaining elevation. Starting in the forest, with small creeks to cross, we made good time. After about two miles, halfway to the meadow, we came across our first larger creek crossing. We scouted a few different spots and found a log wide enough to make it across.
We continued hiking through the increasingly beautiful trail, as it opened up to meadows filled with wildflowers and an abundance of greenery. We could see we were getting close to leaving the forest behind, and around 12:30 we popped off the main trail and onto the edge of Spider Meadows.
The view took my breath away. Rocky cliffs held tumbling waterfalls, punctuated by evergreen trees. The valley floor was blanketed in a rich, verdant green sprinkled with wildflowers, a dusty trail cutting through it all.
We stopped for lunch, took a look around and realized the area was already pretty full. Pulling out our map, we saw we could push another two miles to Phelp’s basin and perhaps have a little more solitude. So we shouldered our packs and set off through the meadow.
Day 1: Spider Glacier
We crossed Phelp’s Creek, which had dropped just enough that we could rock-hop instead of ford our way across. The trail gained in elevation, and we climbed with it before reaching the junction with Phelp’s Basin and upwards towards Spider Gap. We looked left, looked right, looked left again, and decided to continue climbing to Spider Gap.
We turned off the the junction and began to climb the steep miner’s trail to Spider Glacier. Switchback followed switchback and we hiked to each sliver of shade. When we had about three switchbacks left, we found a cooler section of the trail and sat for 10 minutes, looking out over the valley. After having our heads down, pushing through, sitting felt amazing.
Then we were back at it, climbing higher and higher. Until we rounded the corner and saw spider glacier.
It was so much better than my imagination. We had been around so many very snowy glaciers that I had become accustomed to the ice being the main factor. But the rocky cirque was an incredible red color, waterfalls cutting through in every direction. The campsite we were hoping to snag was occupied so we stood about trying to see if there were any additional spots not covered in snow…
After winding around, following several dead ends, we found the greatest campsite of all time. With views into Phelp’s Basin, Spider Meadows and Spider Glacier, this easily falls into top five favorite places I have pitched my tent.
Even the pit toilet was spectacularly beautiful. This #blessedpooper will go down in history as the best pit toilet I have used. Even if I did forget toilet paper and had to utilize snow, which was refreshing in a non-positive way.
After finding our spot, setting up the tent and filtering water, we planned on hiking up to spider gap for sunset. But…my feet were exhausted, blisters a hot mess. So we opted to make it an early night, cook dinner and head to bed. We set an alarm for 1 am to look at stars and went to sleep by 8:00.
The 1 am wake-up call for stars came quickly, but as soon as the alarm went off my head shot out of the tent, faced towards the heavens. While not the brightest stars we have seen in the backcountry, the snow lit the surrounding peaks and the view from the ridge was phenomenal. I planned to attempt some astrophotography, but was enjoying the experience so much that I chose just lay and take it all in.
Day 2: Lazy Morning
I woke the next morning as the sun started peeking out over the Phelp’s basin. Watching the