For Dave and I, summer 2021 is all about training.
We were lucky enough to land a permit for the highly sought-after Copper Ridge Loop + Tapto Lakes at the end of August, and have spent just about every minute dreaming about the 5-day, 4-night trip. After losing a backpacking weekend to the statistically impossible heatwave in the PNW, we were more than ready to hit the trail! Marmot Pass in the Buckhorn Wilderness had the perfect mix of mileage, elevation gain, and views and it’s been on the top of my list after finding Sonja Saxe’s blog on the same trail.
The road to the Upper Big Quilcdene trailhead was incredibly well-maintained until we transitioned from pavement to gravel. There were a number of potholes to navigate, but nothing our Impreza hasn’t seen before. We managed to make it to the parking lot with no issue, but unsurprisingly, we weren’t alone for the 4th of July. Despite a later start than usual, we still snagged a spot in the lot. The trailhead bathroom wasn’t great, but also not the worst I’ve seen 😉 Thanks to the rangers and volunteers who keep them clean!
Day 1: Upper Big Quilcene TH > Marmot Pass + Ridgeline
7.5 miles, 3900 gain
After lacing up our boots and slathering on the sunscreen, we were off! The first few miles of manicured trail slowly climb through the forest, in parallel with the Big Quilcene river. Eventually, we left the river’s side and began to climb in earnest with more peaks coming into view. At this point, the trail became slightly more exposed and dusty. We scanned left and right as we passed through the meadows, after reading a couple trail reports where hikers spotted black bears at this point. No wildlife encounters for us that day!
At a few points along the way, the trail was more or less overtaken by a stream, so we did our best to keep our boots dry without crushing vegetation (although a fair bit of damage was already done). After climbing for 5 miles, we finally reached Camp Mystery. Nearly all the spots were taken, but we filled up our water bladders and the spare water bag before climbing the final ~1 mile to our site. There’s no water on the pass, so we opted to carry ours up on the first trip rather than returning later in the day.
After Camp Mystery, we climbed another 0.2 miles to the pass only to find that all the spots on the ridge were taken, too. It was a holiday weekend after all, and we made the noob move to leave our house after sunrise. Thankfully, someone left a trail report on WTA that mentioned there were great views to the left of the pass, so Dave climbed up on a solo mission in search of a site. After 15-20 minutes, he returned, trying his best to hide a huge smile. He told me to keep climbing and assured me he found the best campsite we’d ever had in Washington!
At that point, I sprinted to the top of the ridge and my jaw hit the dirt.
Dave wasn’t kidding – this spot was nothing short of magical. We were surrounded by 360 views of the Olympics, plus a peakaboo view of the Sound.
That night, we set up camp, chatted with the couple camping nearby, and set off to explore further down the ridge. After the sunset cast its golden glow on dozens of happy campers, we watched miles of fireworks dance like lightning bugs in the distance. We set our alarms for 4am to watch the sunrise, and despite the clouds, we were treated to cotton candy pink and an inversion over the Sound.
I decided I was too exhausted to stay up for more than an hour, so I crashed deeply until 7. We took our time striking camp, but eventually took one final look back at the view and began our descent.
Prime backpacking season in the PNW is only a few months long at most, so we try to explore new places each year. But Marmot Pass will absolutely be top of our list for early season 2022!