Thursday, July 25, 2013

Vintage Vagabonds: Denouement

As these backcountry excursions go, the trip up Phelps Creek to Spider Meadows and beyond ranks right up there with the best. For one thing, the weather was fabulous -- not too hot and not too cold. The bonus was that there were virtually no bugs.

Timing -- as they say -- is everything, and our trip in the Glacier Peak Wilderness coincided with the melting of key campsites at about 4,500 feet above sea level. Beyond, of course, it was mostly snow.

That made the bug situation tolerable, with only a few mosquitoes at dusk that were unceremoniously blown away by prevailing winds. Otherwise, it was way too early for the appearance of black flies, yellow jackets, deer flies and bald-faced hornets.

Because the meadow had recently thawed, the mountain flowers had yet to blossom, except for some cow parsnip and a couple of other early bloomers. Deer and marmot were out in force and were not bashful about making their presence known.

The first night, we ate well as usual. “Cowboy punch” (vodka and lemonade mix in ice cold water) provided libations for cocktail hour, followed by the piece de resistance -- macaroni and cheese with diced Spam and onions sautéed in olive oil.

Frank (above, left) and Steve enthusiastically give two thumbs up while enjoying this epicurean delight around the campfire. Of course, the next night we were back to Mountain House freeze-dried dinners.

Spider Glacier was the highlight of our sojourn. Lyall’s larch (above), also known as mountain tamarack in these parts, provided bright green contrast to the white and grey of the snow and rock.

Although a conifer, the larch is a deciduous tree; it turns bright yellow before losing its leaves in autumn, creating an otherworldly, Hobbit-like environment in the backcountry of the North Cascades.

Crossing streams this early in the season is always an adventure. Plan on getting wet. Spider Gap (below) -- at the apex of our climb -- was a great spot for a view of Lyman Lakes, and waterfalls surrounded the glacier. Guess that’s why they call them the “Cascades.”

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