North Star Mountain by Bonanza Peak via Spider Gap / 北極星山

  • Reading time:8 mins read

North Star Mountain and Bonanza Peak used to take on each other’s names back in the 1800s. But because of a clerical error, the US Geological Survey (USGS) mistakenly switched the two labels.

North Star Mountain beyond the talus
North Star Mountain beyond the talus

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North Star Mountain at a Glance

Access: Phelps Creek Trailhead
Round Trip: 31.4 miles
Elevation Range: 3520 ′-8096′
Gear: helmet
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: on the trail

The Preface

I had initially included North Star Mountain in the itinerary the same weekend we climbed Napeequa Slam. But I ended up shortening that trip and went home on day two.

The yellow pup rested while I went into the Picket Range last week. Not sure how much he enjoyed boarding. But he was certainly ready to head out with me again.

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Phelps Creek Trail

It was my second trip going past Leroy Trail. The first time was five years ago on the way to climbing the Dumbell Slam. A long line of cars at the Phelps Creek trailhead when we started walking.

It was a quiet hike to Spider Meadow. The lush field was just how I remembered it–lots of flowers and screaming marmots! We passed a few groups of campers. Besides North Star Mountain, I couldn’t wait to see Lyman Lakes for the first time.

Through Spider Meadow
Through Spider Meadow

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Spider Glacier

Later we reached the top of the basin. Then we continued left at the fork on the nice trail up through many switchbacks. Then we came up to the bottom of Spider Glacier at 6200′.

We walked up to the gap for the next 800′. Though, reaching the top of the snow at 7000′ felt like forever. Later as we stood the notch, the hype around this area somehow all made sense.

Lyman Lakes Basin

Wow?! Hello?! Hi?! The first view into the picturesque Lyman Lakes Basin just blew me away. To top it off, the heavy clouds darkening nearby peaks further dramatized the landscape.

We went down the other side on a rocky trail with cairns. Then we went back onto the snow and saw lots of boot tracks. So we used them to go down into the basin. Later the trail reappeared below the snow at 6400′.

Upper Lyman Lake Basin from Spider Gap
Upper Lyman Lake Basin from Spider Gap

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Crossing Railroad Creek

At the north end of Upper Lyman Lake, the Forest Service rerouted Trail 1258 because of a bridge washout. So the path went down through the outlet instead. Then it connected with Trail 1256B on the west side of Lower Lyman Lake. I remembered seeing the notice at the trailhead. But we somehow missed the orange tape and continued on Trail 1258 above the eastern lakeshore. Eventually, Railroad Creek stopped us in our tracks.

The raging creek was impassable. So we dropped down to the shore. From there, we traveled clockwise through to the west side. But with constant raging water from the upper lake, it took a while to cross the inlet. Then we connected up with the rerouted trail. I also got my first look at Bonanza Peak here. Afterward, we got on Cloudy Pass Trail (#1256) at the north end of the lake.

Bonanza Peak from Lower Lyman Lake's west shore
Bonanza Peak from Lower Lyman Lake’s west shore

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Going up to Cloudy Pass

We slowly made our way up through the open forest and lush meadows. At one point, the partly sunny weather looked like it was turning better. Earlier down by the washed-out bridge, we saw three women on the other side of the creek. They ended up coming to the pass also. All of them volunteered at Holden Village. They had hiked 10 miles through Hart Lake to come up here for the day.

It was in the late afternoon. But I wanted to see about going up to North Star Mountain now. So we could hike out first thing in the morning. I thought about climbing something else back in Spider Meadow. Before leaving camp, I stowed everything under the rain cover. In case the rain came later in the evening.

This way to Cloudy Pass
This way to Cloudy Pass

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En Route to North Star Mountain

So from camp, we hiked back down to the meadows we went through earlier. Then at the first switchback, we left the trail and moved east toward the south ridge of Cloudy Peak. We maintained the same elevation throughout. Then at 6400′, we bypassed the buttress to the eastern slopes. Soon, we began the long and tedious traverse toward North Star Mountain.

Later I realized that it would have been much better to stay low on the way up. But for now, we focused on going through the massive talus and scree. Meanwhile, we aimed for the summit that looked like a tiny dot. One report mentioned not to traverse the southwest ridge to the top. The broken ridgeline had a steep drop-off before the notch.

Railroad Creek Valley below North Star Mountain
Railroad Creek Valley below North Star Mountain

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North Star Mountain Climb

At 7000′, we came up to what looked like a permanent snowfield. So being that it’s mid-August, I didn’t think to prepare for it. So I jumped into the shallow moat. Then I climbed onto a wide ledge above the snow. I slowly worked my way through to the other side. Eventually, I went into the main gully that led up the notch between the two summits. Meanwhile, the pup had a great time gliding across the snowfield.

Snow in the gully forced us onto boulders. So we weaved our way through the rocks and a big snow patch. Then we made our way up to the notch. Right then, the massive clouds had moved into the area. So the visibility was weak. Then from the gap, we scrambled on the southwest ridge up to the top. It was our first trip this season with no views on the summit. Hooray!

North Star Mountain summit block
North Star Mountain summit block

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North Star Mountain Summit Plus Rain

The rain came just as we got up to the top. So we barely spent any time on top. But we needed to go back down before we become any wetter. Then we managed to take our group photo below the east of the summit rocks. They kept us from the wind and most of the rain. But it felt incredibly eerie being in a fog.

Back down in the main gully, I opted not to go back the way we came. Instead, we continued to go down until we could bypass the snow. In turn, we were also able to avoid the talus we spent much time going through earlier. Afterward, we went back around the southeast rib. Then we made a gradual descent through slabs and heather to the south ridge.

After the rain
After the rain

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Camping on Cloudy Pass

We got back to Cloudy Pass half hour after sunset in darkness. First time setting up the tent in the rain and wind was rather time-consuming. Luckily we didn’t get too wet, and we were able to get inside the tent before the downpour came.

The rain continued well into the morning, a perfect excuse to sleep in late. We waited for the rain to stop around 10 AM finally. While drying off gear, I chatted with a PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) through hiker “Twister.”. Due to the wildfire, he was rerouting to Stehekin via Holden Village. It was impressive to see him carry his DSLR camera from the Mexican border.

Back to Upper Lyman Lake
Back to Upper Lyman Lake

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Going Back Through Lyman Lakes Basin

In waiting out the rain, we’ve consumed much of the morning hours. Besides North Star Mountain, we probably wouldn’t have time to climb anything else back in Spider Meadow. So we took our sweet time and left Cloudy Pass around noon just as the sky began to clear up.

We met a ranger by Upper Lyman Lake who had been sweeping the trail. He was getting hikers back to Phelps Creek Trailhead in preparation for the new Lost Fire closure. This trip marked the third time a fire closure order to evacuate the area the day after our journey began. Devore Slam from three years ago and Boundary Slam last Labor Day weekend.

This just in
This just in

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Back to Spider Meadow and Out

Below Lyman Glacier, we passed two hikers and then finished the final ascent up the snowfield toward Spider Gap. The wildfire closure sign was sitting above the gap indicating the closure area. Below the Spider Glacier, we met two more hikers. They and the two we saw earlier were all researchers studying snow microbiome. What an awesome profession!

The rest of the hike out was pretty uneventful. We made more photo stops above Spider Meadow before finally leaving for good. Everyone seemed to have left the area, as it was eerily quiet. We enjoyed a beautiful hike back out to the car.

Spider Meadow once more
Spider Meadow once more

See more trip photos here.

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