Little Giant High Pass Backpacking

Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands

Three years ago, I made a last minute decision to head out one fall day to the Napeequa and “run” the Little Giant High Pass Loop. I remember sleepily ascending Little Giant, awakening in the reds beneath the pass, and absolutely stunned by the view into the Napeequa. Walking through the yellow valley, next to the silty river, gazing up at glaciers and larches, felt like a fairytale. Ever since then, it has become my favorite place to visit in the fall, nearly an annual “pilgrimage”. Last year, I strung together that loop and the Spider Gap loop for an absolutely unbeatable day of trail running on the Little Giant Spider Loop. This year, Kelly wanted to experience the mythical Napeequa that she had heard me talk about so much, so we decided to take a day off work and do the classic Little Giant High Pass Loop over two days.

We got a leisurely start and forded the river. The climb uphill was harder than I remembered, but we had overnight packs instead of running vests this time.

I remember turning this exact corner for the very first time…
Roll out the red carpet…

We sauntered and lingered in the meadows below Little Giant Pass. In the bright midday sunlight, the reds were absolutely on fire. Kelly had never seen anything like it. Before I first came here, I also did not know such fall colors were possible in Washington.

Wilted pasque flowers and the classic shot.

We met a few other hikers at Little Giant Pass and admired the quintessential view of the Napeequa, taking a lunch break.

Kelly chilling at the pass.
Cool striations in the rock on Brahma Peak.
Favorite place, favorite time of year, favorite person. Does it get any better than this?

Eventually, we said goodbye to others and got going down into the Napeequa. Kelly was unimpressed by the supposedly sketchy trail, remarking “this trail isn’t even sketchy!”

Our little Alaska.

Down at the valley bottom, we walked through the yellow foliage open valley views. We both crossed the Bog of Eternal Stench without fully mucking our shoes. During both successive trips, the valley bottom has not been quite as yellow as the first time, but I guess the timing of the colors change year to year.

Louie Creek Falls tumbling downwards.

At this time of year, the sun struggles to reach the valley floor, even during the middle of the day. It was only mid afternoon, but shadows crept across the valley as we neared the climb up. It was an unseasonably hot day for late September, but in the shade it was dramatically cooler.

Hoof Peak in front.

It was a hot and steep climb out of the main valley into the hanging valley. But we were rewarded with an entrance into the vibrant, magical hanging valley of the Napeequa. I briefly left Kelly and raced up the valley, following the trickle of a clear blue stream, granite boulders, pumice hillsides and fiery reds, chasing the fading light. Each time I come here, I ponder yet again if this spot truly is my favorite place in the entire world. Usually, my favorite place is just wherever I am in the moment or have just visited. But this spot is on a different level than most others.

Straight out of a painting.
The classic shot of Clark Mountain and the Richardson Glacier.

Then I said goodbye to the sun and returned down into the shade to find a camp with Kelly. I’ve never found any developed campsites in this valley, but we found some flat ground and a beautiful view of Clark, although views are not hard to come by in this part of the world.

Tantalizing cirrus clouds above Clark.

The complex geology of the Napeequa creates a truly magical setting. Water seeps from pumice streaked hillsides, eroding down to granite boulders beneath. Glaciers tumble across the valley and larches thrive on their flanks in the pumice hillsides. It is so unique, so striking. To me, it is pure heaven. Even Kelly said it somehow exceeded the hype.

Kelly does the “camel pose” next to the river.

We had a nice dinner and then watched an encore as the clouds were underlit in shades of pink and purple. We had nearly every color of the rainbow, all in one spot.

Cotton candy.
Magic.

Kelly slept in the next morning as I wandered around the perfect pools and little waterfalls, trying some long exposure photography before it got too bright.

Alpenglow on the impressive Richardson Glacier.
Lacking a tripod but doing my best…
Larches dot Butterfly Butte, glowing in the morning light.

The moon was setting over the hills as we departed camp and worked our way up towards High Pass.

Moonset.
Interesting rocks revealed as the pumice erodes away.
Getting high above the hanging valley.
So much going on in one photo…

We passed three parties in quick succession at High Pass, the first people we had seen since Little Giant Pass. We took a nap here, lounging in the warm autumnal sun next to our friend, Dakobuddy.

The classic view of Triad Lake from High Pass.

While being in the Napeequa feels like being enclosed in a tight little world of splendor, the trail down from High Pass is like walking on the rooftop of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, with views out to Dome Peak, Fortress, Bonanza, Fernow, 7FJ, Maude, Dakobed, and others, while soaring over the massive Buck Creek valley.

Maude, the first 9k peak I ever climbed.
Fernow and 7FJ.
Chiwawa, like a Cascade painting.
Fortress, aptly named, and the beautiful High Pass trail.
Glacier looking rather barren.
Meadows fading into fall.

At Buck Creek Pass, we said goodbye to my favorite mountain and began the long, but pleasant hike out the Buck Creek Valley.

Until next year, Dakobuddy.

We got a quick ride in the back of a pickup from a nice couple to cut off the road section and were soon on our way back to Thai food in Monroe. It was a true pleasure to share such a special place with Kelly on a perfect fall weekend, as our first backpacking trip together! There are certain places, like this, that I can keep coming back to year after year and they still take my breath away. I am looking forward to ski season, like everyone else, but I am not quite ready to let go of the fiery hills, meadow lounging, and simple days in the mountains that have been so abundant this summer.

2 thoughts on “Little Giant High Pass Backpacking”

  1. Thanks for the trip report and the many pictures! I have been eyeing the Napeequa for years. I just have to lose my COVID weight!

    Thanks again.

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