After this quick overnight backpack, the Enchantments loop now has a strong contender in my mind for “most beautiful zone.” Glacier Peak Wilderness’ Spider Meadow is breathtaking. The group — all guys from work: Keith Terry, Shaun Kelly, Nate Dillon, and myself — started the 5.5 mile hike (stroll!) into Spider Meadow around 1545 hrs on Thursday. In under 2 hours, we were at the meadow, just as the dusk light was starting to fail. We set up camp and took in the meadow views as night fell.

The temps also fell, and we awoke to a slight freeze on everything. It was one of those chills that made us feel like we would never feel warm again. On the day planner for Friday was a hunting/hiking split. Keith brought his bow and was going to hunt deer in the meadow. Shaun was hunting deer with a rifle (Friday was the opening day for modern firearm season). Nate and I had our sights set on Spider Gap, which was at the far end of the meadow… and way UP, as it turns out.

Keith and Shaun were out of camp and glassing their way up the meadow early. Nate and I got our start just after 0700 (I’ll still call it an “alpine start”). Fully bundled up, we trudged along quietly along the trail in the center of the meadow. The moods increased with the temps and when the sun crested the high mountain border on our right, the day felt like it had finally begun. We ran across Keith about a mile from camp and we watched game on the hillside for a little while before we continued on our quest.

I’m somewhat glad I didn’t know exactly where we were headed, but soon figured it out as we started switch-backing up incredibly steep walls at the far (north) end of the meadow. The scale of Spider Meadow cannot be explained. Something that looks like, “oh that’s just a 15 minute scramble” is really more like a 3 hour hand-over-fist death march or just plain impossible. The trail to Spider Gap, though steep, was well maintained and easy to follow.

We arrived at a small notch, adjacent to a waterfall and took a quick breather before continuing up on Spider Glacier to the gap itself. We had noticed another trail that gained the ridge on our right but opted to climb up via the glacier and then catch the ridge trail out. It was the correct call. Roughly 100 ft elevation from the top, the atmosphere suddenly tore in half and a Navy F/A-18 fighter jet ripped over the ridge directly in front of and about 300 feet above Nate and I. It took about a second for my brain to decipher what my eyes were seeing, but I quickly realized that I was looking at the canopy of the jet, not the bottom. The pilot was cresting the ridge into Spider Meadow inverted. Just after he came into view, the pilot barrel-rolled until he was right-side up and dove down into the bowl to the right of the ridge and shot through the meadow well below the height of the mountain ridges surrounding it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime sight and both Nate and I were ecstatic.

Spider Gap, with its view down over Lyman Lakes, was awesome. It felt like a completely different world up there. A person could easily lose a couple days up there in that country. After a restful hour or so, just quietly taking in the views, and waiting for a possible return of the fighter jet, we began our descent via the ridge trail.

The views back into Spider Meadow and down into the bowl to our left as we descended made me feel quite small. Which is one of the reasons I love hiking into places like that. It’s nice to reset the perspective from time to time and Spider Meadow/Gap had that effect, in spades.

The ridge trail held elevation surprisingly well, but then would platform out and we’d quickly drop a couple hundred feet at a time. There were outrageously beautiful campsites all along the ridge. I absolutely will be back.

We returned to our campsite at the south end of the meadow with trembling quads, complaining knees and thoroughly worked, but very happy with our hiking choices. We ate dinner and prepared for our second night. Shaun had found a spot up on the right shoulder of the meadow that he wanted to hunt early in the morning, so he packed up to bivy up in the zone he wanted to hunt at first light. Keith, tired from his stalking and hiking during the day, looked at Nate and I and threw out the challenge: let’s pack up and hike out tonight.

Nate glanced at his watch. It was 1745 hrs. His response: “We’re packed and hiking by 1815 hrs.” At 12 minutes after 6, we were on the trail, cruising for the truck. Having achieved our objective, Nate and I felt great about this decision. Keith wasn’t going to hunt Saturday anyways and we had run out of alcohol. It was a no-brainer. We reached the truck by 1940 hrs, under an hour and a half total hike time and less than two hours since the decision was made.

It might have been the best backpacking trip I have ever been on.