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Friday, August 13, 2010

Olympic Penninsula: Marmot Pass and Buckhorn

Our most recent climb was near the Quilcene Ranger Station in the northeast part of the Olympic Penninsula. A friend recommended Buckhorn Mountain near the Marmot Pass as a good peak to scramble up to enjoy the views of Mt Constance, Deception, and Mystery and some potential wildlife. To the left is a picture of the Marmot Pass, a 6000 foot trail intersection.

When we arrived at the Big Quilcene trailhead (#833), there were quite a few day hikers that I would characterize as a good representation of the Medicare Advantage demographic that I have blogged about. When they talked about their day hike to the Marmot Pass, I started to wonder about my selection of an overnight backpacking trip or fear that these seniors were getting steroid prescriptions instead of Viagra.

The Big Quilcene trail is well-marked and follows the Quilcene River. After 4 miles and 5500 feet of elevation, I reached Camp Mystery which was my intended campsite. Camp Mystery is not marked but there are several obvious campsites with flattened areas, sitting logs and nearby water sources. According to the climbing guides, I could either scramble up the scree slope pictured below and to the left or hike towards Marmot Pass for a southwest ascent. Summit Post recommended the scree scramble so I followed that web site's advice.

The scree slopes were steep. I looked for an opening among the trees at around 5300 feet of elevation. I followed what I thought were other climbers' tracks through the scree but was probably goats. It was steep, like quick sand, and pretty painful. I moved towards the southwest corner since the slope looked more forgiving and I was hoping to find that trail to Buckhorn Mountain (pictured below to the right).

I happily took the trail the rest of the way up and was glad that I did not have to go down the scree slopes on a return trip. I told myself that the scree slopes were a good way to avoid the fierce marmots who surely must inhabit Marmot Pass. Luckily, there were no wildlife sightings in camp as I had heard that bears visit Camp Mystery. Only wildlife incident somehow involved the nuts that I left in the car being eaten and the bag being torn up. Next time, I'll take the path most traveled and leave the scree slopes to the goats.

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