Getting to the Buck Creek Crossing
My buddy from Seattle and I planned a 6-night backpacking trip from Trinity up to Buck, down the Louis Creek Trail to the Napeequa River Valley and then out Boulder Pass to a pickup by his wife along the White River. We still had fun, but we didn't come close to realizing these grandiose plans. The brush seems to have done well in these times of global warming. We needed to fight for about every step once we left the Buck Creek Pass Trail. The first problem was finding the right place to ford Buck Creek. The black flies were terrible along the creek. We followed the old instructions but found no logs or log jams or paths. On the far bank as I was hoisting my backpack back on, I stepped on the hose for my camel back and neatly tugged it off the reservoir. So it is busy leaking onto my dry clothes while I struggle to overcome my fear and revulsion of the flies to remove the reservoir, reattach the hose, ...
Think Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen. (Minus the cigarettes, good looks and dame.)
Ascending the east shoulder of Cleator
We were promised a nice path along the crest of the ridge but found none. I think we started up from the creek around 4:30 but did not reach the camp at 5800 feet until about 8:30. It was only about one mile as the crow flies. We had 50 pound packs and are a bit old at 54 and 55 years, but we are not cream puffs. That brush has just filled in the old paths like crazy.
We were so happy to finally find the camp. We initially overshot it. Came to ridge edge at 5900 feet. Heavy brush and cliffs. No hope of camping or forward progress. Then we dropped a bit along the ridge line and magically found the camp site. Great, but not water. Wait! There was a depression in the middle of the site with about 5 gallons of ice and snow in it. You have seldom seen such two happy old codgers in the woods. Our suppers tasted so good that night.
When I returned to the site two days letter (story below), the ice and snow were gone. We hit it just right. If you descend the basin side for while, you may find a slow trickle of water, but the main waterfalls are at least half a mile a way.
Navigating the basin
"Easy ascending traverse. Some brush."
Maybe it was that way in the 1970s but no more. Not in 2010. Maybe if we had stayed high. We tried to stay on contour. It was awful. After we had given up and returned to the area of high pass, we could see that if only we had climbed toward high pass as we traversed the basin, there is a fairly clear traverse around the waterfalls and brush. We tried to stay at about 5700 feet. At that level, the brush is nasty
. If we had climbed to about 6300 feet, it would have been okay, but you have to give up most those 600 feet to get around the east buttress of Mt. Berge.
There are no clear human trails in the basin we could find. Only game trails. No cairns either.
We tried to pass under the infamous ramp, not having printed the prior reports from this site out to take with us. My companion powered his way up along a half-broken slide alder root, but I was wiped out by then, and there was tolerable camping nearby. We camped at about
Plenty of water and just enough horizontal space. We shed our packs and went back up to the ledge at the top of the ramp. I really wanted to get up on it, and explore, but it was raining, my buddy was cold, and there are about 16 sketchy exposed feet one has to cross to reach the ledge. I couldn't quite gather up the nerve under the conditions.
As we set up camp, I realized that I had left my ice ax (well, his ice ax, really) back at camp 1. He offered to go the rest of the way with just poles and loan me the second ice ax, but I didn't want the responsibility for the extra risk-taking on his part. So we decided to bail on Buck. Curse you (and my killer absent mindedness), Buck!
At least we saw this beautiful moth.
Back for the ice ax
Next morning, we revised our plans. We would climb High Pass and descend to Buck Creek Pass over the snow fields. We climbed high in the basin between Berge and Cleator in the direction of High Pass. We dropped packs around 6226 feet. I went back to camp 1 for the ice ax while he did some laundry and relaxed. I felt badly about wasting his time, but he swore that it was one of his best days in the mountains and that he would long remember it. It really was a gorgeous location. He found a great camp site for us just a little higher. Sweet little level area with soft sedge and water.
Over High Pass
The day dawned beautifully clear. We lingered just enough so that high clouds enveloped the pass by the time we reached it. It was our first time using crampons. They felt very reassuring on the climb up the snow field to the pass. We lunched at top and tried waiting for the clouds to clear. We dearly wanted a clear view of Glacier Peak. No luck though. It was cold, windy and damp. After a couple of hours, we thought it unwise to wait longer. Concerns of hypothermia and being lost in the fog seemed to grow. There was no trail to follow. We dropped a bit at first and then gradually worked our way southeast up the northwest shoulder of Cleator. It was all guesswork in the fog. We crossed several gullies of snow, strips of ash/mud, and talus slides. I think the snow was actually a little less scary than the ash/mud. At least we had the crampons in the snow. The talus slides were the easiest to climb of the three. As we climbed up and south, we got glimpses through the fog of impressive cliffs above us. i was really concerned, but my buddy was calm, and he turned out to be right about it. Just as we approached the base of the cliffs, we encountered this nice easy downsloping snow field that carried us southwest to the ridge-top trail that comes up past Liberty Cap from Buck Creek Pass.
Camping east of Liberty Cap
On the south side of the ridge between Cleator and Liberty Cap, we found a nice basin with a few camping possibilities with water if one is willing to drop 200 hundred feet. Good water. A little snow gully with mild glissading. It was a beautiful spot, but it was our third wet night and buddy was starting to have longings for his warm dry bed in Seattle. So we packed down to Buck Creek Pass. Good spring there and a very cute open-air pit toilet, but my buddy hates camping crowds, so he was strongly leaning to hiking the 8 miles back to the Buck Creek Trailhead in the dark. To our delight, the sun and blue skies finally broke through again, giving us gorgeous views of Glacier Peak. That night, we saw meteor showers. In the morning, there was a spectacular Nebelmeer
between us and Glacier Peak. It followed the Suiattle River Basin all the way out to the edge of the earth (or so it seemed).
Climbing Helmet Butte
We were going to pull out and go home that day, but I really wanted to get in one more hike, so I attempted Helmet Butte. Flower Dome would have been a better choice. Nice easy trail and beautiful views. Helmet Butte is very steep with random little cliffs sprinkled around the place. At around 6700 feet, I decided that I was not really a goat and retreated. It was very wet and the grass was just very slippery. I never saw so much open steep grass. It would make some great double diamond slopes in the winter if there was any way to get up it.
I finally made it back to our campsite. We packed up and hit the trail. Saw some very friendly marmots (I think some softies have been feeding them) and a not so friendly porcupine. A great trip all in all.