Posts Tagged 'Campsite'

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.


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.


From the prehistoric savanna to my parents’ living room.

Campsites on Mt. Adams

When I was a kid, my sisters and I built tiny dwellings out of any material available to us: leaves, snow, couch cushions, moving boxes.

Then I left my parents’ house and lived in a succession of dorms, houses, and apartments. I moved a couple of times on my own, from city to city and state to state. I lived in a tent.

When I was 23 I had my own apartment, all by myself, for the first time. I entered full of glee because it was all mine. For the six months I lived there, it contained only two pieces of furniture, a futon and a couch rescued from the trash and draped with a black sheet.  I spilled red wine liberally on the carpet, cooked black beans and rice,  and luxuriated in my autonomy.

At some point in my twenties, I decided that the kid’s instinct to build forts was about wanting to be an adult. Wanting that autonomy and control over your life and the space in which you lived it. I thought the fort I built in my parent’s living room from couch cushions and sheets was a mock-up of my first solo apartment in a charmless apartment complex in Austin, Texas.

Now I’m 33, and being an adult is old hat. But I still want to build forts. Not inside my apartment, anymore, but in other ways that feel the same.

I love backpacking, and I think the best part is choosing a place to camp for the night and settling in. The apex of this for me, so far, was on the windy and treeless side of Mt. Adams, in Washington, where people have built a collection of rock windbreaks and shelters resembling the ruins of an ancient city. On trips, I often prefer sleeping in the back of my car–I have a cozy setup involving an air mattress and a double sleeping bag–to staying in a hotel.

So now I wonder where this comes from. Is it from reading fantasy books, which almost as a rule include a quest on foot or horseback and at least three scenes of finding a good place to camp for the night?

Or does it go farther back? I’ve read about a study suggesting that all people, no matter where they are from, prefer depictions of landscapes similar to an African savanna over other landscapes. Maybe my love of building forts is a similar evolutionary artifact, a Pleistocene instinct finding expression in my modern world of gore-tex and high-rise apartments.

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