2018/8/11-12 – North Star Mountain / 北極星山

Talus and Polaris
Talus and Polaris

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Pup and I were supposed to climb the mountain same weekend we climbed the Napeequa peaks, but I cut the trip short and we went home on day two. My second time hiking past the Leroy Trail junction, first time was five years ago en route to climbing the Dumbell peaks. A long line of cars at the Phelps Creek trailhead when we left.

Quiet hike on the nice Phelps Creek Trail in gorgeous morning weather. The meadow was just how I remembered it, lots of green with lots of screaming marmots! Only a handful of campers were spotted in the meadow, the rest presumably went up to Leroy and Ice Lakes Basins. Apart from our climbing objective, I was excited about seeing Lyman Lakes raved about in many reports.

Through Spider Meadow
Through Spider Meadow

Photos from this trip can be found here.

At the head of the basin, we followed the nice trail through many switchbacks and finally reached bottom of the benign Spider Glacier at 6,200′. For the next 800′, we spent what seemed like an eternity walking up on the glacier toward the gap. Snow ended just below the gap at 7,000′. When we finally reached the gap, the hype surrounding this area suddenly all made sense.

Wow, hello, hi? View into the picturesque Lyman Lakes Basin was made even more dramatic with thick clouds obscuring the nearby peaks. We hiked down the other side on a rocky trail guided by cairns before once again getting onto snow. Lots of foot traffic had been through the area, so we followed boot tracks and quickly made our way into the basin. Trail resurfaced just above Lyman Glacier at 6,400′ below the snow line.

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

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Due to a bridge washout, at the north end of Upper Lyman Lake, Trail 1258 had been rerouted and descended through the outlet to connect up with Trail 1256B on the west shore of Lower Lyman Lake. I knew the bridge was out from the notice posted at the trailhead, but for some reason we missed the orange tape and continued on Trail 1258 above the east shore and eventually got stuck at the bridge crossing.

We couldn’t do anything but to turn back, so we dropped down to the shore and traversed clockwise through the inset to the west shore and got on the reroute trail. The inlet took a while to cross with constant raging water pouring in from the upper lake. We proceeded to hike to the north end of the lake and got on Cloudy Pass Trail (#1256).

Lower Lyman Lake west shore
Lower Lyman Lake west shore

Photos from this trip can be found here.

We slowly made our way to the pass through forest and open meadows. At one point the partly sunny weather had me believe that it was going to turn for the better. We saw the same three ladies whom I briefly met on the other side of the washed out bridge while trying to cross Railroad Creek. The women worked in Holden Village and they hiked 10 miles through Hart Lake to come up here for the day.

It was already late in the afternoon, but I wanted to climb North Star Mountain today so we could hike out first thing in the morning and find something else to climb back in Spider Meadow. Before leaving camp I stashed everything under the rain cover in case the rain decided to come in the evening.

This way to Cloudy Pass
This way to Cloudy Pass

Photos from this trip can be found here.

From the pass, we hiked back down to the meadows we came up from earlier. At the first switchback we left the trail and headed east toward Cloudy Peak south ridge. We were able to maintain about the same elevation and negotiated the ridge at 6,400′ to the east slopes. From there we began the long and tedious traverse north toward North Star Mountain.

Later I discovered while descending, that it would have been much better to stay low for the ascent. For now we were more focused on getting through the expansive talus and scree fields, aiming for the summit that still looked like a tiny dot from below. One report noted not to be tempted to traverse the southwest ridge due to the broken ridge and the unforeseeable cliffs north side of the false summit.

Railroad Creek Valley
Railroad Creek Valley

Photos from this trip can be found here.

At 7,000′ we countered what looked to be a permanent snow field, and of course since it’s mid-August I didn’t think to prepare for this. So I climbed up into the moat and worked my way through top of the snow on rocks, eventually came out and into the main gully leading up to the notch between the two summits.

Snow in the gully forced us onto the big rocks on the north side. We weaved our way around the rocks and a big snow patch to finally get up onto the notch. Massive clouds had moved in with low visibility, so from the notch we took our time scrambling up the southwest ridge to the top. Our first trip this season with absolutely no views on the summit, hooray!

Summit block
Summit block

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Rain finally came the moment we summitted, so we barely spent any time on top before having to get back down again. We managed to get our group photo taken below the summit rocks on the east that shielded us from the wind and most of the rain. I forgot how eerie it felt to be in a whiteout.

Back in the main gully we continued to drop down to 7,000′ to bypass the snow higher up, which in turn bypassed the scree and talus which we spent lots of time traversing on the way up. We negotiated the southeast rib and then made a gradual descent through nice slabs and heather back to Cloudy Peak south ridge at 6,400′.

After the rain
After the rain

Photos from this trip can be found here.

We got back to Cloudy Pass half hour after sunset in darkness. First time setting up tent in rain and wind gusts had also proven to be time-consuming. We weren’t terribly wet, but we managed to get inside the tent before it began to pour.

Rain continued well into the morning, a great excuse to sleep in. We waited for the rain to cease and it finally did around 10 AM. While drying off gear I chatted with PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) through hiker “Twister” being rerouted to Stehekin via Holden Village. I was impressed by the heavy DSLR camera he had carried all this way from the Mexican border.

Back to Upper Lyman Lake
Back to Upper Lyman Lake

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Much of the morning hours had been consumed in waiting out the rain, so probably wouldn’t have time to climb anything else by the time we got back to Spider Meadow. We took our time getting ready and finally left the pass around noon just as the sky began to clear up.

A ranger we met by Upper Lyman Lake outlet had been sweeping the trail to get hikers from Phelps Creek Trailhead back out in preparation for the new Lost Fire closure. This was the third time where a fire closure order had been placed day after our trip began–Devore trip from three years ago and the Boundary trip last Labor Day weekend.

Back to Upper Lyman Lake
Back to Upper Lyman Lake

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Below Lyman Glacier we passed two hikers and then finished the final ascent up the snow field toward Spider Gap. A wildfire closure sign had since been erected above the gap indicating Lost Fire closure area. Below Spider Glacier we met two more hikers, together with the two hikers we passed earlier, were all researchers studying snow microbiome. What a cool profession!

Rest of the trek out was pretty uneventful, we made more photo stops above Spider Meadow before finally getting back down. Everyone seemed to have left the area or have been cleared out, as it was eerily quiet. We enjoyed a nice hike back out to the car.

Spider Meadow once more
Spider Meadow once more

Photos from this trip can be found here.

Access: Phelps Creek Trailhead
Gear: helmet


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