Spiders and Solutions
by Andy Dappen
Her friends and her husband have told her she needs to do the hike to Spider Meadows and Spider Gap. “It’s a regional classic,” they tell her.
There was a time when she could have completed the 16-mile round trip to Spider Gap as a day trip. That was before a few kids and a few decades flowed under the bridge. Now that’s a distance too far for day tripping.
She’s been advised to tackle it as an overnight trip but her shoulders have gone quirky and heavily loaded straps across her supraspinatus muscles give her tension headaches. Her left knee is equally mischievous – it stabs her with pain on long downhill marches. “My body may not be fit for backpacking anymore,” she frets.
These are common problems among many 40- to 70-year-olds and the solution is often simple: shed weight. Mercilessly streamline an overnight pack so it’s little more than a pudgy daypack and miracles happen. Pinched shoulders, cramped necks, and tension headaches can evaporate. Knees can be relieved of some of the heavier hammering.
I help lighten her load. She leaves many pounds of convenient but unnecessary niceties behind. Proper equipment sheds many more pounds – a lightweight pack weighs two pounds rather than four, a quality down sleeping bag weighing two pounds delivers the warmth of a mediocre four-pounder, a Jetboil cooking kit and fuel weighs under a pound rather than two plus. A silnylon two-person tent weighs three pounds, not the more normal five.
Good food planning saves a few more pounds. And burdening her hiking partner, who has fewer physical woes, with a higher percentage of the group gear alleviates a few more pounds.
They head off for two days with her pack coming in at 19 pounds. A fanatical ultralight backpacker who scrupulously pared ounces could be out on a five-day carrying the same weight, but this is respectable effort for someone who doesn’t want to sacrifice too much money, time, or comfort to the goddess of an anorectic backpack.
When she reaches the upper meadows of Phelps Creek, 6.5 miles from the trailhead, she stares straight up at the muscular hulk of Dumbell Mountain. She enjoys the rustle of a stream flowing over boulders. Marmots whistle nearby. Penstemons, Western anemones, and heather bloom around the tent spot.
Photo: Make the overnight pack a pudgy daypack and backpacking is twice as fun and twice as feasible.
She’s tired and a little humbled that she’s not in better shape, and yet she’s proud that she powered herself to a place of such beauty. Equally importantly she’s triumphant that the journey ended with her enjoying this beauty rather than incapacitated by headaches.
The next morning she day hikes to Spider Gap with an even lighter load. The snow slope to the gap is long but the views over it far side into aqua blue waters of Upper Lyman Lake and at the distant glaciers of Dome Peak are a scene fit for poster. The wind is fresh and invigorating at the gap – it cools the sweat earned while climbing. She marinates in it all until her partner suggests that they begin the long downhill trudge.
On the long walk back to the car, she allows herself to dream. “Maybe we should hike the Enchantments this fall,” she thinks aloud.
Age is age, however, and physical problems are helped but not always cured by light travel. By the time they complete the 3500-vertical-foot drop from the gap to the trailhead, her old friend, the knife in the knee, is stabbing her. After eight miles, she’s glad she needn’t take one more downward step.
A day later she’s recounted her adventure to her grown children – they’re proud their mother is dragging heels against the gradient of age. The weekend has left her hopeful yet worried. A little more fitness on top of the light pack may have her lungs and thighs outpacing what knee cartilage can handle.
“Do you think I could do the Enchantments?” she asks. “It’s a long downhill out of there.”
I suggest she take more time and limit the length of her downhill days. “Maybe for you a light pack and a book is the solution,” I tell her. “Reading for a half day on the granite slabs of the Enchantments and farther down on the shores of Nada Lake – that wouldn’t be half bad would it?”
She smiles – she likes hiking but she loves reading. “If I had to read in such places…. I suppose I could live with that.”
Cut the backpacking load in half and many people who didn’t think they could take multi-day backpacking trips can. Even those who are physically capable will find that traveling with half the load makes backpacking twice the fun. Here’s are pieces of equipment and tips to achieve the goal.
- Tent: Warmlite 2R tent (2.75 lbs). A bombproof (and large) 2-person tent.
- Pack: GoLite Gust Pack (1.25 lbs). A 4500-cubic-inch pack that handles 20- to 30-pound loads most excellently…once you learn how to pack it.
- Sleeping Bag: Feathered Friends Swallow (2.1 lbs). If you’re willing to sleep in your clothes, this 20-degree bag is warm enough around here for 3.5-season use. Only in mid-winter will you need something warmer.
- Headlamp: Petzl Zipka Plus 2 (2.5 ounces with batteries). An LED lamp with a 80-lumen output that’s everything you need for camp use and following a trail.
- Raincoat: GoLite Newt Jacket (10 oz). Though fragile for everyday use, if saved for foul weather this waterproof/breathable jacket does the job.
- Rainpants: GoLite Reed or facsimile (5 oz). If saved for foul weather, these waterproof/breathable pants will keep you dry.
- Sleeping Pad: Cascade Design NeoAir Xlite air mattress is light (12 ounces), warm enough to use on snow (R-Value of 3.2), way more comfortable than the old Therm-a-Rest pads. The NeoAir Xtherm is super warm (R-value of 5.7) for cold-weather use although a tad heavier and spendier.
- Food: If planned carefully, 1.5 lbs of dry food per day provides all the calories you need. Shed all excess packaging — there’s lots of dead weight there.
- Leave it behind. Camp shoes, spare change of clothing, camp chair, insulated mug, coffee maker, towel, most toiletries (except toothbrush and toothpaste).
- Double up: Not everyone needs to bring sunscreen, bug dope, a knife, repair items,a compass, extra cord… coordinate with others and eliminate duplication.
- Double Duty. Some items can be used in multiple ways to eliminate other items. Extra socks can also serve as emergency mittens; bring a lighter sleeping bag and sleep in your clothes; don’t bring an overly warm coat, drape your sleeping bag around you if need be; duct tape can be used for repairs, first aid, and firestarter.
Details Details: Hiking to Spider Meadows and Spider Gap
Topo Maps: See maps below for more information.
Length: Roughly 8 miles (one way) to Spider Gap. Another popular option is to go over Spider Gap, descend to Lyman Lake, descend Railroad Creek to Holden Village and, finally, take the ferry down Lake Chelan to Chelan (21 miles of hiking). A third popular hike is to do the Buck Creek Pass Loop (44 miles) by crossing Spider Gap, descending to Lyman Lake, climbing to Cloudy and Suiattle passes,following the Pacific Crest Trail to Trail 789 leading to Buck Creek Pass, descending from the pass to the Phelps Creek Campground, and finally walking 3 miles of road back to the car at the Phelps Creek Trailhead.
Elevation Gain: 3,500 vertical feet for the out-and-back to Spider Gap and for the traverse to Holden Village. The Buck Creek Pass Loop gains 7,200 vertical feet.
Skill: Advanced intermediate. The walk up to Spider Gap is exposed in places and the final mile of walking is up a snowfield that is slippery compared to normal walking. There is a little off-trail navigating up the snow leading to Spider Gap, but with a map the navigation is quite obvious.
Fitness. 2+ to 3 (advanced intermediate to advanced) as a day hike. 2 (intermediate) as an overnight backpacking trip.
Trip Instructions. From the trailhead follow the Phelps Creek Trail, which is an old mining road. In 0.25 miles pass the Carne Mountain Trail, branching off to the right. Enter the Glacier Peak Wilderness at 2.5 miles. At 3.4 miles, cross Leroy Creek, which is likely to get your feet wet if you’re hiking in early season. A climber’s trail heads up the north side of Leroy Creek and leads to a high camp for ascending Seven Finger Jack, but you’ll keep walking up the gentler Phelps Creek drainage. A mile beyond Leroy, the pitch of the trail steepens. After 5 miles, emerge from the trees and enter Spider Meadows (elev. 4750 ft). The trail heads up the middle of the meadows, crosses a side stream at 5.5 miles, climbs through a cluster of fir trees, and enters the upper meadow. Here you’ll boulder hop across Phelps Creek, and climb more steeply as the trail re-enters the forest. At about the 6.5-mile mark, the trail reaches a signed junction. The right fork goes about 0.3 miles farther up Phelps Creek to very nice camping spots with views of Dumbell Mountain. Take the left fork if you’re climbing to Spider Gap. This trail climbs and switchbacks steeply for about three-quarters of a mile to the bottom of the snowfield leading to Spider Gap (there are good places to camp with water at the end of the trail and the bottom of the snow). The last 0.8 miles heads directly up the snow in a northerly direction to Spider Gap.
Equipment Needs: Normal backpacking kit. In late summer, Vibram soles and ski poles are usually adequate for contending with the snow. MicroSpikes allow for more safety and more flexibility – they let you climb the snow in all conditions and in all temperatures.
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass required at the trailhead.
Not allowed: Motorized vehicles and mountain bikes are verboten.
Allowed. Dogs and horses are OK for the walk into Spider Meadows. Horses are not allowed on the last two miles of the hike leading to Spider Gap. The ability for dogs to climb the last mile of snow to Spider Gap depends largely on how frozen the snow is (the harder the snow, the harder the route is for dogs).
Updated Trip Reports: Recent condition updates about this trail (from WTA.org)
Leave It Better Than You Found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are still completely responsible for your decisions, your actions, and your safety. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.