Spider Gap and Lyman Lakes are another two trips that were on my OG hikes list from 2014, composed through hours of clicking every hike listed on the old WTA hike finder map with endearing notes like “This might be a scramble, not sure what that means” and “people mention ice axes, maybe wait until you know more about mountaineering.” I quickly got so wrapped up in chasing summits and technical skills that I never made time for a backpacking trip and never got in good enough running shape to do the full Spider Gap/Buck Creek Pass running loop (someday!) but two weeks ago when Amber and Kacie had some shit come up I figured it was time for a casual overnight. Everyone needed a break away from cell service and a trip that wouldn’t destroy the human body or test resilience. I was already leaning towards Spider Gap, and when Ken and Surafel posted pictures of Lyman Lakes and Cloudy Pass I basically lost my mind. That was it, that’s where we’re going. Damn the 3.5hr drive and the trailheads rats and the bugs.
- Distance: ~22mi round trip (15 round trip to Spider Gap)
- Elevation: 3600ft (like all in the last 2mi to Spider Gap)
- Weather: 60’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 3:30 without traffic
- Did I Trip: No full on wipe outs, but some nice stubbed toes and shredded shoe soles
We didn’t leave until like 6:30 or 7am on Saturday, knowing we probably wouldn’t get a parking spot at the trailhead and would not have first dibs on campsites. We parked a half mile from the trailhead when a car pulled up next to us. “Hi, there’s actually a spot at the trailhead if you want it…” we leapt back in the car and took the trailhead spot. YES! We packed our gear (I even brought camp shoes! Flip flops for camp! Luxuries!) and started walking. On the most incredibly flat, well maintained trail I have ever been on. Double wide, as Amber called it. It was mostly forest, a few small streams, some mini meadows. Campsites every 1.5 miles, if not closer. I think I have selective blindness, because we passed a hunter and I legitimately did not see the enormous rifle he was holding until Kacie mentioned hunting and suddenly it materialized in front of me. Omg. But if the hunter can’t find any bears, then I probably also won’t find any bears, so… sleep tight!
You break out into the meadows suddenly, from dappled sunlight in the forest to open meadows with wildflowers as far as you can see. And massive peaks in the background! I stood there in disbelief. This might be one of the prettiest places I’ve been in Washington, technical peaks included. We scouted out a camp right next to the river and dropped out overnight gear so we could head up to Spider Gap.
The hike from the meadows is maybe another mile of flat travel, and then you gain something like 2,500ft in two miles. When you look up it looks like there’s no route through the cliff bands above you, but the trail keeps going and the views get better and better. The “glacier” is no longer really a glacier, it died sometime in years past and is now just a snowfield. No poles or spikes necessary, though they did help. I left Amber and Kacie here because I wanted to have time to run to Cloudy Gap and back, and I think they were getting fed up with my pushing. And I didn’t think I’d even make it past Upper Lyman Lake at this point, it was already almost 3pm. Kacie finally laughed and told me to shut up and go, and I did. I told them I’d meet them back at camp by 9pm.
Game on, baby. I was at the gap in about 20 minutes. I met the happiest dog in the world, a golden retriever or a yellow dog reminiscent of that dog who has to ignore all the toys and go straight to his owner in a dog show and instead picks up every single one. Cresting the gap was incredible, my favorite part of any trip is gaining a ridge above treeline and suddenly having views in every direction and that’s exactly what it was. Phelps Creek valley behind me, Lyman Lakes ahead of me, red rock everywhere. Oh my god. I was wrong earlier. This is the most beautiful place I have ever been.
I bootskiied (some real skiers passed me) down to the talus awkwardly staring at a group of three hikers thinking I saw my friend Ann. I finally shouted out to her, since they seemed to recognize me too. Nope, not Ann. Guess they were staring because I was staring. I cruised down red rocks to the shore of Upper Lyman Lake, which was every bit as turquoise as it looked. Uhh… okay, this part was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The contrast of the colors is just ridiculous. People always say photos don’t do justice. I think they do, actually, and sometimes it’s better than real life. This wasn’t that. Lyman Lakes wasn’t real life. A pika shouted at me. Sorry, I know you were here first but look where you live!! Ahhh!!
The trail wraps evenly around the shores before leaving red rocky barren wasteland and entering bright green meadows with peak wildflowers all around. Crap, is this the most beautiful place I’ve ever been? I kept running. It was maybe 3:30, I swear time dilated itself to give me a window to do this run. The trail is amazingly well maintained and easy to follow. I got totally spooked by a guy who was not happy to see me and made me very aware of being a late 20’s chick running solo miles from anyone. Luckily, shortly after him I ran into the most amazing older couple on a 5 day backpacking trip who were so stoked to talk with me and tell me about the area. They had been to Cloudy Pass 8 times and said today was the best day they had ever seen up there. Great. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
It was 1.5 miles from crossing the Lower Lyman Lake outlet to Cloudy Pass, and I ended up walking the uphill. At least, until I broke out above the trees again giggling like a kid because I was trotting through these absurd meadows with insane views and I’m sure endorphins were kicking in like crazy because I was talking to myself just thinking WOW I mean you see pictures but being here it’s in my BLOOD the SCENERY IS PUMPING THROUGH MY VEINS AHHH yeah, endorphins are great. I tagged the pass around 4:45 (my turnaround time was 5pm) and spent a while snapping pictures and staring back at Spider Gap from Cloudy Pass and the striking colors of rock on each side and those stupidly green lakes. And they won’t be green forever, the glacier will likely die and the lake will fade back to a more normal (still beautiful) blue. How the hell does this even exist? How did I get here, how am I so lucky? This topped Spider Meadows. We’re back to the theme. This was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I don’t think it was the endorphins. I think it was legit. Okay, it was also probably endorphins. The rest of the loop was crying at me, begging me to keep going, just peek at Glacier peak around the corner Eve there’s so much more out here and you can run all of it Eeeeeeve just keep coming! But I had to get back to camp, and good company, and the ~1,000ft of gain back to the pass weren’t going to be fun.
Running back down to the lake was a blast. I sidetracked to every single alpine toilet I could find (“If I was a toilet I’d be…. here!”), but most were nestled in private tree groves, not perched atop cliffs with views like the ones I like. More giggling through meadows. Wrapping around the lakes was a more mellow incline than I thought, so that was knocked out pretty quickly too, saying hi to larches and telling them to let me know when they turn yellow and maybe I’ll visit again.
The gain back to Spider Gap was… as expected. The last 100ft I cursed at the guy on top watching me suffer. Yeah you enjoy sitting there. With your warm puffy. Admiring the views eating your snack. Don’t give me that look, I know I’m taking a break. Just turn around, for like ten minutes. The boot ski down the other side was also unpleasant because slippery snow with jelly legs sucks and it was shaded and there was one big ass melt hole that had me mildly concerned (I knew I couldn’t see it from above) but I skipped over it and let’s just say I was very happy to hit the trail at the bottom, where I knew I was like 2 miles of runnable trail back home. Home being camp.
Knocked out the switchbacks pretty quickly, finally realizing how steep they were. Got yelled at by some marmots. At the bottom as it flattened out I was back to giggling through meadows, and I popped back into camp two hours earlier than expected. I chugged electrolytes and put my feet in the river and brushed dried salt off my face, while Amber and Kacie did the camp work. I swear I’m useful sometimes. Just not this time. And having camp moms is amazing. And camp shoes are amazing. Did I mention I brought camp shoes? Never done that before and it was amazing.
We had nothing to really start a fire with, but we were determined. We wanted a fire. We had a lighter (except Kacie kept trying to light everything with her Chapstick instead of the lighter) and collected some small branches, but had no kindling. Except… wait. Kacie shredded a tampon, smeared the pieces with chapstick, and looked up at us grinning. This will totally work. And I’ve never started a fire in such a hilarious way.
And it totally worked. Soon enough we had a cute little fire going, some licorice basil mint tea Kacie made, it was absolutely perfect. We got to watch Kacie drop her ramen everywhere trying to eat out of a ziplock bag with a fancy ramen spoon. We sat by the river swapping afternoon stories. A deer came to check out our campsite, some hummingbirds and maybe bats?? flew around, and I remember going to sleep wrapped in my favorite quilt hearing Kacie crack herself up after AGAIN trying to light a cigarette by flicking her chapstick instead of a lighter.
We had a lazy morning with more tea, I think Kacie hopped in the river, I tried to study for my Python final (brought the whole textbook with me). We saw the world’s happiest dog again, just his tail wagging hilariously over the meadows until he started bounding to greet someone. We eventually got moving around 10:30am and after losing Kacie to the flowers and butterflies in every single meadow crossing we got back to a pleasant surprise at the trailhead. Mice, or rats, or some local riff raff had gotten into the car and eaten all of our snacks. Including my old earl grey teabag from my Saturday morning tea. Turns out we weren’t the only ones. Those bastards have car raids down to a science.
We hit the inevitable highway 2 traffic almost immediately after Stevens Pass. I almost had them drop me at a SAR mission launching nearby, but decided against it given the distance from home and my weird selection of non climbing gear (the mission was soon postponed anyway). After maybe an hour of traffic, Kacie jumped out of the car. “What’s she doing?” “I dunno, smoke break maybe?” Kacie lit up a cigarette and went off to the side of the road. Maybe she’s just going for a walk? She has to pee? Wait. She started picking blackberries. Handfuls that she’d bring back to the car while we sat there waiting for the gridlock to move. The car behind us was cracking up. We started filling a nalgene with the most delicious blackberries ever. Several rounds of this before traffic finally sped up a bit and we made it to Sultan Bakery for dinner.
I got home in time to take my final early, which meant I didn’t have to do it Monday morning at work! And it went well, obviously because I learned via osmosis while carrying the textbook. Seriously though, I could not have asked for a better weekend. I got to have my cake and eat it too, camping with awesome people and knocking out a long trail run I’ve wanted to do for years in comfortable fashion. The entirety of the trip had that feeling where you just know you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be and there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing. The world might have a lot of sharp, harsh coldness to it, but there’s a hell of a lot of warmth and beauty out there too.