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May 2006

Adventure Guide: Glacier Peak Wilderness

Like crowded campsites and easy trails? Then by all means avoid this deafeningly quiet expanse of rugged, wildlife-rich mountains and forest in Washington's North Cascades.

Buck Creek Pass

Explore pristine alpine terrain on dayhikes from a high, scenic basecamp.

Backpackers looking for phenomenal views without the challenge of cross-country navigation should choose this hike. It’s the easiest multiday route described here. The 14-mile out-and-back leads to a remote camp with side-hike options of varying difficulty. To reach Buck Creek Pass, you’ll follow Buck Creek Trail #1513, ascending 3,100 feet over nearly 10 miles through forest with steadily improving views of the cliffs of Buck Mountain and other peaks across the lush valley. Watch your step at the 5,932-foot pass: You’ll round a bend in the trail to a view of Glacier Peak so stunning you may trip over your own feet.

Pitch your tent in one of the several wooded campsites at the pass, then choose the next day’s adventure. Flower Dome is an easy 2 miles round-trip north; its summit meadows offer a great perch for gawking at Glacier Peak across the deep, broad slash of the Suiattle River valley. Taller Helmet Butte is a steep, strenuous off-trail scramble, but its crown presents a 360-degree sweep that includes Fortress and Clark Mountains, a sea of peaks to the north, and, of course, the volcano.

The sweetest side hike off Buck Pass follows an unmarked but excellent trail 4 miles south to High Pass. Pick up the trail at the south end of Buck Pass’s designated campsites. It switchbacks up and around Liberty Cap, then follows an open ridge, with Buck Creek below to the east and Glacier Peak to the west. Just before High Pass, you can descend a broad, gentle ridge, with some scrambling down granite ledges, to Triad Lake (not named on some maps), a blue beauty tucked into an alpine basin below a small glacier.

The Way: From US 2 at Coles Corner (between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass), turn north onto Lake Wenatchee Rd. (WA 207). Cross the Wenatchee River Bridge and continue straight onto Chiwawa River Loop Rd. In 1.4 miles, turn left onto Chiwawa Loop Rd. and follow it about 23 miles to its end at the Buck Creek trailhead.

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