North Star Mountain by Bonanza Peak + Spider Gap + Lyman Lakes / 北極星山

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North Star Mountain and Bonanza Peak took on each other’s names in the 1800s. But a clerical error had made the US Geological Survey (USGS) switch the two labels by mistake. Spider Gap via Phelps Creek and Lyman Lakes is the most scenic of the routes.

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 on North Star Mountain

I had initially included North Star Mountain the same weekend we climbed Napeequa Peak and Mount Berge. But I ended up curtailing 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 still enjoyed boarding now at age 9. But he was certainly ready to head out with me again this weekend.

Morning walk through Phelps Creek Trail
Morning walk through Phelps Creek Trail

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Phelps Creek Trail to Spider Meadow

A long line of cars was at the Phelps Creek trailhead when we started. It was my second trip walking beyond Leroy Trail. The first time was five years ago en route to climbing Dumbell Mountain and Greenwood Mountain.

It was a quiet hike to Spider Meadow, with many flowers and screaming marmots in the green field. We passed a few camping groups en route. Besides North Star Mountain, I couldn’t wait to see Lyman Lakes for the first time.

Spider Meadow to North Star Mountain
Spider Meadow to North Star Mountain

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Spider Glacier to Spider Gap

Soon, we reached the top of the basin and turned left at the fork. The decent trail then took us up through many switchbacks before leveling off. Then that put us below the Spider Glacier at 6200′.

We walked up in the snow for the next 800′ and met a few folks en route. But it felt like forever to reach the top at 7000′. As we later stood on the notch looking over, the hype around this area had suddenly made sense.

Hikers on Spider Glacier
Hikers on Spider Glacier

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Spider Gap to Lyman Lakes

Wow?! Hello?! Hi?! The first sighting down to the picturesque Lyman Lakes Basin blew me away. To top it off, heavy clouds hovering over the nearby peaks had dramatized the landscape significantly.

We dropped onto the other side via a rocky path adorned with cairns. Then we went back on the snow now with many boot tracks. We used them to go down the basin until the trail reappeared at 6400′.

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

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Crossing Railroad Creek Bridge Washout

The Forest Service had rerouted Trail 1258 on Upper Lyman Lake’s north end because of a bridge washout. So the path went down through the outlet instead. Then it joined Trail 1256B west of Lower Lyman Lake.

I remembered seeing a notice back at the trailhead, but it didn’t click. Then I had somehow missed the orange tape and continued down Trail 1258 over the east shore. Before long, Railroad Creek had stopped us in our tracks.

Cloudy Pass above Lower Lyman Lake
Cloudy Pass above Lower Lyman Lake

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Rerouting Through Lower Lyman Lake

The raging creek was impassable after a few attempts. So we backtracked and dropped onto the lakeshore as I waved at the three people on the other side. Then we went south on a faint trail by the water.

With raging water from the upper lake, crossing the inlet to the west took some time. We rerouted and soon had my first view of Bonanza Peak. Then we went on Cloudy Pass Trail (#1256) by the north shore.

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

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Lyman Lake to Cloudy Pass

We slowly made our way through the open forest and lush meadows. At one point, it looked like the partly sunny weather would soon improve. But the increasing clouds seemed quite fitting as we reached Cloudy Pass.

The three women we saw earlier on the other side of the washout also came up to the pass. All of them were volunteering in Holden Village. They had hiked 10 miles through Hart Lake to come up here for the day.

This way to Cloudy Pass
This way to Cloudy Pass

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Cloudy Pass Over Agnes Creek

It was late afternoon, and we didn’t have much else to do after relaxing. So I wanted to see about going up to North Star Mountain now in the more extended daylight. Then we could hike out first thing in the morning.

I had thought about climbing in Spider Meadow, so leaving first thing the next day would be perfect. Before walking back down the trail, I stowed everything under the rain cover. In case the rain came while we were away.

Spider Gap and Lyman Lakes from Cloudy Pass
Spider Gap and Lyman Lakes from Cloudy Pass

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North Star Mountain South Route

Later, we walked back to the meadow and left the trail by the switchback to Cloudy Peak’s south ridge. At 6400′, we rounded the buttress to the east side. Then we began the long traverse, aiming at North Star Mountain.

It was only later that I knew it would’ve been easier to stay low first to bypass the massive talus. One report noted avoiding the southwest ridge due to drop-offs. So we aimed at the summit, a tiny dot in the distance.

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 a permanent snowfield, which I didn’t prepare for in mid-August. So I jumped into the shallow moat before going up a broad ledge. Then I slowly worked my way into the main gully on the other side.

Meanwhile, Cody had a great time gliding across the snowfield a few times. So I waited for him to join me before moving again. Together, we went up toward the notch between the summits in the gully.

Permanent snow below North Star Mountain
Permanent snow below North Star Mountain

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Final Stretch on North Star Mountain

We later bypassed the snowy gully from the boulders. Then we weaved our way over the rocks and a snow patch up to the pass. Soon, the thick clouds moved into the area and weakened the view.

From the notch, we soon scrambled the southwest ridge to the top. Hooray! It was our first trip this season with no views on a summit. But glad that we had made it even as the weather was taking a turn.

North Star Mountain summit looming above
North Star Mountain summit looming above

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North Star Mountain Summit Rain

The rain came right as we reached the top, but we left after a few minutes. Then we stayed east below the summit to keep out of the terrible weather. Meanwhile, the mists around us felt incredibly eerie.

Back in the main gully, we dropped below the snowfield. As a result, we had bypassed the talus we spent much time going through earlier. Soon, we made a lowering descent through slabs and grass to the south ridge.

Summit dogs on North Star Mountain
Summit dogs on North Star Mountain

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Camping on Cloudy Pass

We returned to Cloudy Pass In the drizzles half an hour after sunset. The first time setting up the tent in the rain and wind gusts was time-consuming. Glad we went inside the tent before the downpour.

We slept in until 10 when the rain stopped. While drying gear, Twister hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was rerouting to Holden Village due to the wildfire. It was impressive to see him carry a DSLR camera from the Mexican border!

Back to Upper Lyman Lake
Back to Upper Lyman Lake

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Lyman Lakes to Spider Gap

We’ve used up much of the morning hours waiting out the rain. So we didn’t have time to climb anything in Spider Meadow. Then we took our sweet time and left Cloudy Pass at noon as the sky slowly cleared.

The forest service had issued a new Lost Fire closure. A ranger swept the trail by the upper lake for anyone around to leave the fire zone. So for the third time, a fire closure order had vacated an area after we entered.

Wildfire closure in order
Wildfire closure in order

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Exiting Spider Meadow via Phelps Creek Trail

The wildfire closure sign atop the pass showed the closure area. Later, we met two people below Spider Glacier. They and the other two we passed earlier were researchers studying snow microbiome. What a great job!

The rest of the hike was uneventful over more photo stops above Spider Meadow before leaving for good. Everyone seemed to have evacuated, as it was eerily still. Soon, we enjoyed a quiet walk back to the car.

Finding our way home
Finding our way home

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