Spider Meadows & Phelps Basin (Jul 20, 2018)

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phelps_basin_coverConditions: backpack
Gear: overnight gear
Map: USGS Holden, USGS Trinity
Area: Lake Wenatchee
Reference: Backpacking Washington Overnight and Multiay Routes
Stats: 13.44mi, 2156' gain (round trip)

Dani and I had been trying to get out for an overnight trip for a few weeks but things kept conspiring to get in our way. Finally things looked good for an overnight (Friday-Saturday). The only problem was the heat. Originally the plan was to do a trip out to Marmot Pass on the Olympic Peninsula but with the heat...we wanted something easier. Then the idea of Spider Meadows came out and a plan was hatched to hike into Phelps Basin. It had been a few years since Dani was in the area and for me...it was maybe something like 15 years since I'd been to the meadows. So for both of us, a return trip sounded like a lot of fun.

With the heat, we wanted an early start. The weather forecast for the area said a high of 72F, a 20% chance of thunderstorms after 11am with an accumulation of about 0.02" of rain. Not bad.

We left town early, about 6am, and headed over hwy 2 towards Lake Wenatchee. Then it was time to drive Chiwawa River Rd. The lower road itself is in decent shape except for a couple of eroded areas way in. One is eating away at the side of the road, the other is gradually causing a culvert failure. I doubt this second area will survive another wet winter without repairs. We reached the junction with the road up to the Phelps Creek TH (turnoff is near the Little Giant TH) and headed up. I was up this road late last fall for a larch trip and the road was in pretty bad shape. Some heavy rains carved out huge gullies in the road. For this recent trip the road was marginally better only because repeated traffic had knocked down the edges of these gullies. Some of the badly eroded areas felt like huge sand washes which I'm sure will turn into nasty mud wallows with enough rain. We saw two normal clearance cars at the trailhead but I'm puzzled how they actually got up there intact. IMO...one needs at least a Subie to get to the TH, better yet...high clearance. My 4Runner did just fine. The lot was full when we arrived so we turned around at the end of the road and parallel parked, we were about the 25 car at the TH (3549').

We started hiking by about 9:30am and it was already warm. I don't handle heat too well these days but this was an easy hike, we had all day to get to the basin. The trail follows an old road and at about .36mi reached the trail cutoff for Carne Mtn which goes right and steeply uphill. We stayed on the road. The elevation gain on this trip is pretty evenly spread along the entire route so no place felt especially steep. We were in tall trees which helped shade us on the hike in but it still felt muggy and I dropped my hat in most of the stream crossings trying to stay cool.

At about 5.3mi (4733'), about 11:45am, we finally reached the opening at the lower end of Spider Meadow and the views are jaw dropping gorgeous. There were already a couple of tents pitched in the sites in the meadow but we knew by the time we hiked out that the sites would likely be full (we were hiking in on a Friday).

The trail continued through the meadows which were chock full of flowers...bluebells, blooming hellebore, orange paintbrush...it was gorgeous. We hiked to the upper end of the meadow and crossed Phelps Creek (6.25mi, 5071') and the trail continued uphill. A bit further uphill was the trail junction, left going to Spider Gap, right heading to Phelps Basin...we went right. It was only a short bit more, about 1pm, before we reached Phelps Basin and I can see why it was recommended we spend the night higher up. We were surrounded on three sides by a steep walled cirque with Phelps Ridge looming to the west and Dumbell Mtn to the northeast. We scoped the basin out and decided to pitch our tents at what looks like the only really good spot in the basin (the one right at the entrance).

We wanted to check the basin out so we set out to roam around a bit. I had picked up a nasty headache (from the heat) so I want back to camp to lie down while Dani headed further up the basin. When she returned we ended up diving into the tents because that 20% chance of weather was turning into 100%. We were in the tents at least a full hour before the rain let up.

Later in the evening, around 6pm, we boiled up the water to make dinner and then ended up heading back into the tents because the rain had returned. So much for the sunset I was hoping to photograph.

It spit rain off and on all night but by 2:30am Saturday it resumed full on rain. It continued raining until at least 4am. Great...my chances for a nice sunrise were fading fast. About 6:30am I heard a pretty loud thunder boom and I yelled over to Dani to see if she was up. We both agreed it was best to quickly head back down to the safety of trees if it was going to continue to Thunder. We both quickly packed up our now wet gear and headed down.

The weather was really strange, it was very clear that Phelps Basin was cloudier and wetter than Spider Meadows. We both got soaked hiking through the meadows to the lower end. We got there, about 7:30am, and found a spot away from other campers and then dropped our packs so we could finally make some breakfast. By the time we finished and were getting ready to hike out the showers returned and pretty much stayed with us nearly all the way to the car. Both of us were sort of glad about the rain...it helped keep us from getting to warm.

We were back to the trailhead by about 10:30am and once again...the parking area was packed. I counted nearly 50 cars. We were out early enough that we decided to stop at Zeke's (off hwy 2) for lunch. It was a perfect way to wrap up a great trip.

I could really kick myself for taking so long to return to Spider Meadows. I hadn't gone back until last Fall because I didn't have a car that could get me to the trailhead. I don't have that excuse anymore with my 4Runner. I'm really glad we did this trip. It was perfect...good company, not so bad weather (even with the rain and thunder), stunning views, solitude up in Phelps Basin, and lots of flowers.
Spider Meadows & Phelps Basin Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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Copyright Janet M. Putz
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