After a great summer of adventures in the Cascades, our family decided to spend yesterday’s nice fall weather over in the Olympics. It had been more than a decade since I had been up to Marmot Pass and Buckhorn Mountain. We left Edmonds on the first Sunday ferry and hit the trailhead of the Upper Big Quilcene River at 9:00. The first couple of miles are an enchanting walk through wonderful forests rich with fungi and along cascading streams. The trail begins to climb steadily after the first campsite (about 2.5 miles from the trailhead). The views begin to open up as the trail traverses rockslides around 3-3.5 miles up and finally we came to Camp Mystery in the trees (first water since the last campsite) at just over 4.5 miles. The trail quickly climbs into parkland and comes to the great views of Marmot Pass at 5.3 miles from the car. It took us three hours from the car.
Open slopes about 3.5 miles from the trailhead
Above Camp Mystery with the west ridge of Buckhorn Mtn behind
Parkland just below Marmot Pass
Reaching Marmot Pass
I was looking forward to a well deserved rest but the youngsters of the group (who were obviously not carrying enough weight) vetoed that and charged off up the boot path toward Buckhorn Mountain. The boot path leaves the Tubal Cain Mine trail just 50 yards north of Marmot Pass (and at the junction it actually has become more distinct than the trail itself). The path wastes no time gaining elevation to the west ridge of Buckhorn Mountain.
Trail at Marmot Pass. Boot path ascends slopes in center to ridgeline.
Hiking above Marmot Pass
Climbing up above Marmot Pass
The ridge itself is some wonderful alpine tundra, complete with a rich array of surface lichens. This is fragile alpine plant vegetation but it appears that folks are doing a good job of staying on the boot path. About 15 years ago I studied the alpine vegetation here and it appears well treated - with little change evident. We arrived at the summit, climbing almost 1,000 breezy feet from the pass, in a little less than an hour.
West ridge of Buckhorn Mountain
Lichen heath tundra on Buckhorn Mountain
Summit of Buckhorn Mountain
The views were spectacular all around, from the Cascades floating above Puget Sound, the islands and strait, to the Olympics stretching all around us.
Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan
Though we knew the ferry wait would be long and it was a school day coming, we couldn’t resist hanging out for an hour before descending. The trip back to the car was about 3 hours from the summit and included a disagreement with some local, yellow and black stinging inhabitants about a mile from the trailhead. This is a wonderful trip from low to mid elevation forests up through subalpine parkland and into alpine tundra.
What an excellent choice for a family hike on what may be one of the last good-weather days before the snow sets in up on Buckhorn. Your little troopers made good time to Marmot and did right to encourage you on up to the summit. Enjoyed your photos of early season snow in the high country. Especially enjoyed your "Mt. Constance" photo, although the actual Mt. Constance is east and outside of the view framed in your photo. Inner Constance is in the right background, the twin peaks of Warrior are in the left middle-ground, and just in the foreground from Warrior is Alphabet Ridge, with Cloudy Peak on the west end of Alphabet Ridge, and a partially snowy shoulder going down from Cloudy toward Charlia Pass at the right edge of your photo. That's quite a hike up the Upper Big Quil to the top of Buckhorn, almost 4500 foot elevation gain, so you've got some very sturdy young hikers there. Not sure my kids would have done that at the same age.
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