Sep 28 – Oct 1, 2011
Buck Mountain (8550’)
——————– Summary ——————–
Golden Larch Hiking & Climbing Trip: Chiwawa Mountains
High Giant Traverse: High Pass to Little Giant Pass
Starting Point: Buck Creek & Buck Creek Pass & High Pass & Berge Ridge saddle & Louis Creek Basin & Louis Creek & Napeequa Valley & Little Giant Pass & Little Giant Creek & Chiwawa River (hike & climb)
Campsites: Buck Creek Pass & Louis Creek Basin & Napeequa Valley
Summit: Buck Mountain (climb via West Slope—West Face)
——————– Full Report ——————–
The “High Giant Traverse” is a splendid sub-alpine traverse from Buck Creek Pass to High Pass to Little Giant Pass, with some options for route variation through the middle portion. Kevin W, Kevin K, Doug, Steve, Deb, and Eileen joined me for a particularly scenic version that passes through the exquisite meadows of Louis Creek Basin. We experienced a wide range of weather and suffered a few injuries along the way but had a great time overall.
Day 1: After dropping a vehicle at the Little Giant Trailhead beside the Chiwawa River, we started hiking from the Buck Creek Trailhead at Trinity. The trail had been nicely maintained, and the day was sunny with a touch of autumn coolness in the air. What was lacking, however, was a touch of autumn color in the forest; all the leaves seem to be running several weeks behind their normal color-changing schedule this year. Nonetheless, the views of green slopes rising up to meet snow-dusted north-facing cliffs was quite striking. We rolled into camp at Buck Creek Pass in late afternoon (6.1 hours from car) and made camp in a group area near one other tent. A cold northeasterly wind whipped through our campsite all night long.
Day 2: The morning was clear, windy, and cold. After breaking camp, we backpacked southward up the old High Pass Trail, which winds high around the side of Liberty Cap and provides stellar views. Glacier Peak flaunted her fresh coat of white paint, while Tenpeak Mountain harbored dabs of white in its shadowed recesses. Clark Mountain and its retinue of lower DaKobed peaks dominated the southern view. The trail died out in the talus and rock-hard snowfields of High Pass (crampons were handy here). We contoured through the pass and under Mt. Berge before angling up to the ridge crest just south of Point 7839. A final bit of Class 3 scrambling led to a faint ridgeline saddle, from which there is an easy walk-off descent into Louis Creek Basin.
We all relaxed and hurried down to find a campsite in the basin.. Naturally, this seemingly harmless terrain is where somebody would get injured: Halfway down, Kevin W slipped on an unstable rock, put out an arm to stop his fall, and landed sharply on his left hand, which responded with a distinct “POP” emanating from his left wrist. Suspecting either a sprain or a break (it turned out to be the latter), we all gathered to administer first aid. Kevin gamely spent the rest of the trip wearing a toothbrush splint, bandage wrap, and arm sling. Being a competitive triathlete, he was able to power through without complaining or even missing a beat. Once down in the basin (8.0 hours from Buck Creek Pass), we all set up camp on an inviting pumice saddle with views to the north and south.
Day 3: Our plan this morning was to strike camp, stash backpacks, climb Buck Mountain, and return to our stash by lunchtime. We headed up the mountain’s broad western slope, gradually working left to the west ridge. Unfortunately, this easy ridge ended abruptly at a western horn feature that would involve some steep Class 3-4 scrambling. We did get a nice look at the very impressive north face and north ridge before detouring back down and over to the mid-west slope. Once in he distinctive upper cirque, which has the appearance of a “flying bridge” on a boat, it was a bit confusing as to where the actual summit is located. We opted to scramble up the middle of the long crest and were pleased to find a register at the highest point (3.1 hours from camp). Surprisingly, the register dated all the way back to 1980, so I was able to find my entry from a 1984 ascent. I would have thought a desirable mountain like this sees more climbs, but perhaps the somewhat complicated approach turns away many casual scramblers.
Spurred by some recent climber’s chatter regarding which of the three principal ridge points is highest, I had brought with me a professional-quality hand transit in order to settle the issue. Several of us took turns sighting through the transit, and we all agreed that our own position (the “middle summit”) was higher than the “north summit” (Point 8528) and “south summit” by a decisive margin of 20 feet or more. Therefore, if the north summit triangulation is correct, the middle summit probably has an elevation close to 8550 feet.
During our summit stay, the sky had gotten very dark, and a series of rain showers started shortly after we began descending. We retrieved backpacks at our campsite, then leisurely hiked southward. This gave us an opportunity to enjoy the wondrous expanse of Louis Creek Basin, with its manicured meadows, gently rolling pumice fields, meandering streams, and groves of larch trees. After previous separate trips, Steve and I had independently proclaimed this to be the finest meadow basin in the Cascades; now we are more convinced than before!
At the basin’s southernmost edge, where Louis Creek tumbles down a high cliff, we hiked up a grassy rise overlooking the legendary Napeequa Valley. The patchwork of trees, brushes, heather, grasses, and other vegetation presented innumerable shades of green, contrasted by bands of gray and white rock. We descended to the right (west) and picked up an old sheep path. This crude path led us down a steep slope, over a small shoulder, then down another steeper slope. When the path faded in a wide slope of monster ferns, we all slipped and stumbled downhill, with one-armed Kevin W in the lead. The well-defined Napeequa Valley Trail was a welcome sight after getting soaked in the ferns. We hiked down-valley 1.5 miles to the Boulder Pass Trail junction (3.8 hours from basin camp). A nearby gravel bar provided a welcome campsite for the night—much to the chagrin of two other campers who apparently thought they had reserved the entire valley for themselves.
Day 4: Following a night of intermittent rain, we all crowded into Doug’s large pyramid tent for breakfast. Then, in between showers, we hurriedly packed up and began our hike out. The valley trail was brushy and muddy, and sadly lacking in maintenance. The 2000-foot ascent up to Little Giant Pass followed an equally neglected and partially eroded trail, but we had no problems staying on track the entire way. After crossing over the pass, the trail widens and has been extensively re-built in many places. Our excellent sub-alpine trek ended with an easy ford of the Chiwawa River and a short stroll up to the Little Giant Trailhead (5.5 hours from valley camp).
Approx. Stats: 30 miles traveled, 11,300 feet gained, 11,500 feet lost.
————————- Route Map and Photo ————————
——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–