Spider Meadow and Spider Gap of Glacier Peak Wilderness

I took this picture of Spider Meadow (and where I came from) when I was still a thousand feet beneath the Spider Glacier. See the snow in the valley? It’s left over from a humongous avalanche that roared down the mountain walls and came to rest on the basin floor. Part of the trail is buried under it. I had to walk over the snow, which was 10-20 feet high in places. You could hear streams running beneath.

On Friday I visited a fabled area of the Cascade Mountains’ Glacier Peak Wilderness I’ve wanted to explore for a long time.  Spider Meadow is beloved by generations as a backpacking destination, but I decided I would enjoy myself more if I stretched the hike out as a day-trip.  My decision paid off because I made it to the Spider Glacier, where I ascended to Spider Gap for dramatic views of the upper Lyman Lakes basin! For the day, I hiked 15 miles and gained 3600 feet of elevation.  I paid a high price in the form of post-hike inner thigh chafing. It feels like I had an accident with a belt sander.  But I’ll be able to walk normally in a day or two. My memories of Spider Meadow will last forever.

Spider Meadow and the spectacular cul-de-sac; and straight ahead is the enormous pile of snow left-over from what must have been a doozy of an avalanche!

Spider Meadow is on the other side of the Cascades from us, northeast of Seattle. It’s warm and dry and dusty down the Chiwawa River. Did I mention dusty? The Chiwawa River road is one of the dustiest dirt roads I’ve ever driven. And I started to get a sinking feeling about the non-stop brigade of horseflies divebombing the windshield. I HATE horseflies! Luckily the road proved to be a weird aberration, the only bad bug time all day long was when I used the open-air pit toilet in the woods just before Spider Meadow and flies came pouring out with the stench when I lifted the lid off the seat and it was terrifying and frustrating pooping while being swarmed.

It’s a little over five miles through the woods to Spider Meadow, with lots of easy, fun creek crossings over water with names like Box, Chipmunk and Leroy.  Fragrant wildflowers scent the forest in broad clearings where winter-time avalanches have devastated slopes of the striking U-shaped valley.  When you take your final dusty steps out of the woods, there it is! The stunning two mile expanse of meadows perhaps named for the billions upon billions of spiders who live happy lives roaming the wildflowers come July and August.

purple lupine along the trail in Spider Meadow

Spider Meadow is very beautiful. On the other side of the enormous rolling plain of green is a majestic head-wall of mountains that looks like a dead-end if you ever saw one, vertical faces of cleft rock and ribbon waterfalls. But believe it or not, a rocky trail switchbacks its way steeply to a high pass called Spider Gap.  It was getting late in the day, but I was not going home until I reached Spider Gap, doggone it. My headlamp was in my backpack and I was willing to let a cougar attack me in the dark if that’s what it took for me to reach that inspiring vista. I was hot and sweaty, but buoyed by the scenery.  And I luxuriated in the smell of alder as I huffed and puffed up the switchbacks. I love the hoppy smell of alder, it has always reminded me of warm summer nights when I was a kid and I would go outside by my dad and lean against the Monte Carlo with him while he drank a beer and sometimes he’d give you a whiskery bed-time kiss. Other than having to cross the humongous pile of snow in Spider Meadow leftover from an avalanche this winter, the hike to the Spider Glacier was completely straightforward.

I took this picture shortly before I reached the Spider Glacier.

The Spider Glacier isn’t a real glacier, it’s more of a perennial snowfield tucked into a tight, shady draw.

the base of the Spider Glacier

The Spider Glacier may be tame as ice goes, but that didn’t make me feel any less skittish as I trudged upward in the evening shadows and realized the snow was getting firmer and firmer as the air cooled.  I decided it was low-angle enough and the run-out sufficiently rock-free and cliff-free for me to not be worried about an accidental fall, so I took a deep breath and continued on.

looking up the Spider Glacier to Spider Gap

Amazing Spider Gap lived up to it’s promise. I can’t wait to share a few more of my favorite pictures.  My visit may have been brief, but I enjoyed the hike immensely. I had Spider Glacier and Spider Gap all to myself (even the meadows were fairly quiet on this Friday afternoon, with the exception of the edge of the woods where so many tents cluster together). I wished I had more time to explore, but I reached the limit for any sane day-hiker. Upper Lyman Lakes below were in deepening shadows. The shadows reminded me to check the time, I knew it was late.  My stomach dropped a little when I saw it was 5:48 PM. Let’s see here: 7.5 miles to go before sunset at 8:30 PM? Yowsers! But I brought a headlamp for this very reason (not that I necessarily wanted to hike in the dark). I gave myself a half hour to snack and take a few pictures before shoving off.  Everything went fine on the way down, I ended up reaching the trailhead at dusk. Glissading down the snowfield didn’t work so well, it turns out I’m too fat for the Spider Glacier.  No worrying about an uncontrollable fall!  So I plunge-stepped worry free to the bottom.  Later down in the woods I got stopped a couple times by Friday night backpackers trying to score the best campsites for the weekend, and they inquired as to the shape of the Spider Glacier and were visibly relieved when I explained to them if I could make it to Spider Gap…….well, any half-brained ninny could! And that is the truth.

the view from Spider Gap

Spider Meadow was more crowded and smoky than I’m used to seeing in the backcountry, as campfires smoldered at the edge of the woods among the scattered tent-sites. But I was seduced by the meadow’s airy perfume heavy with dew, and the woodsmoke. I fantasized I was trudging back to camp where Diana and Adam were waiting.  The last five miles in the woods went slowly. It ended rather charmingly just beyond Chipmunk Creek, when I was approached by a buck walking the trail toward Spider Meadow.

2 thoughts on “Spider Meadow and Spider Gap of Glacier Peak Wilderness

  1. Holy @*&!, that’s beautiful. Jaw-dropping, stunningly beautiful. Did you eat chocolate bars at your turnaround point? 🙂 Between these photos and reading The Good Rain, I’m jonesing for a Seattle trip more than ever. Plan on it now – next summer, I’m there!

    Also, about the chafing — two words: Body Glide.

  2. I didn’t eat chocolate bars at my turnaround point, but I had a quart of cookies and cream ice cream and two slices of cinnamon bread for breakfast (i like going for broke right before a big hike). And by the way, I paid a visit to REI and bought some Body Glide. They’ve got to change the name, it sounds like something you can pick up at Babes in Toyland.

    Hopefully we’ll be seeing you before next summer, that seems so far away……

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