Marmot Pass

We went up to Marmot Pass for one night of backpacking this weekend. Neither I nor my husband had been there before, and it was great. This is one reason I love living in Washington: it is chock-full of amazing places to go hiking and backpacking. After five summers of exploring, I keep discovering mind-blowing new spots. Where else can you find that in the U.S., except Colorado, Alaska, or Montana? And we have fewer grizzly bears than Alaska or Montana (though apparently at least one), and more ocean than Colorado.

wildflowers on the trail

Marmot Pass was breathtakingly beautiful. It also possesses the advantages of being relatively close to Seattle, good for a day hike as well as an overnight, and sunnier and drier than surrounding areas. This weekend, it was almost snow-free, in contrast to many other parts of the state that are still covered in snow above 4,500 feet.

The hike to the pass is a mellow 5.3 miles and 3,500 feet elevation gain. For the first few miles the trail passes through forest. At about 4.5 miles, there is a collection of campsites known as Camp Mystery. The sites are close together and in the trees, and this weekend it was crowded. We filled up our water containers, having read that there was no water above Camp Mystery, and continued up the trail, hoping to find a nice campsite with a view up higher.

Marmot Pass from above

Just before the pass lies a wide meadow-y bowl. By the end of the evening, a few groups had set up camp in different spots throughout the bowl.

The views from the pass are great, but there is enticing ridge-walking to either side. We turned left at the pass and headed up a footpath on the ridge to the south. Two or three hundred feet up, the ridge flattened out and we found two established campsites, of which we chose the first and set up camp. We had 360 degree views and a nice flat area, dotted with wildflowers, to explore. A goat wandered through our campsite but we didn’t see any other wildlife. We enjoyed mostly sunny skies, though clouds had set in in the valley we had come from and gathered in the mountains (Deception, the Needles, Mystery) to the west and south.

campsite

In the morning, our campsite and Marmot Pass remained in a pocket of blue sky and sun. We packed up and headed down to the pass, where we ditched our packs for a walk up Buckhorn Mountain, about 1,000 feet above. The trail begins with a steep uphill climb but then levels out to an easy walk along a high ridge with great views all around. Reaching the summit requires a bit of easy scrambling. The same mountain goat that had walked through our camp the night before followed us nearly all the way to the summit before it finally found a shady place under some rocks to rest.

partial view from Buckhorn summit

We went back down to the pass, donning our packs and tackling the 5.3-mile walk to the car. As we descended, the sun became fog and mist, which then became heavy drizzle.

Here is the Washington Trail Association’s description of the hike, including directions. A tip on getting there: several miles in, Forest Road 27 takes a sharp left, while a dirt road continues straight uphill. That way lies only confusion and, on Saturday, unnerving swarms of bees. Turn left and stick to the paved road.

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