For years, all my favorite trails led to lakes. On day hikes in particular, I'd bring a lunch and a book, and once I reached the lake, I'd find a (hopefully!) quiet spot to sit and munch and read for at least an hour. I didn't understand the point of trails to ridges and basins. If there was no specific destination, how did you know when to stop hiking? When did you get to sit and read? Over the past year though, I've started to appreciate ridges and passes more. Sure, the stopping point is often less obvious, but that means there's room to wander and explore. And it's hard to beat the views you get from a pass or a summit. Until recently, I never would have considered hiking somewhere like Marmot Pass, but I'm so glad that's changed!
Somehow, even though I've lived in the Seattle area for most of my life, this was my first hiking experience in the Olympic Mountains. They always seems so far away and difficult to get to, which is crazy since on sunny days they tower over Seattle from my office on the other side of Lake Washington, seeiming almost close enough to touch. While the western side of the Olympic Peninsula is certainly a long way away (minimum 4 hour drive one way, plus a ferry, to get out to the coast!) there are plenty of trails leading into the depths of the Olympics from the Hood Canal. The trail we hiked follows the Upper Big Quilcene River, gently climbing through lush, mossy old growth forest for the first couple miles. The Shelter Rock camp, about 2.5 miles in makes for an excellent lunch spot. This would also make for an excellent camp in April or May, when snow still blankets the trail at higher elevations, and the wild rhododendrons surrounding the camp would be blooming.
Once it passes Shelter Rock camp, the trail breaks out of the forest and begins to climb steeply to Camp Mystery and the pass. I had planned that we would continue past Camp Mystery to find a private campsite somewhere in the meadows near the pass, but for some unknown reason, Andy's legs started to cramp badly as we climbed, so once we reached Camp Mystery at 3:00 and found it was already filling up, we decided to stop for the day. After setting up our camp, I headed for the pass, leaving Andy at camp to relax and give his legs a break. The clouds had been low and dense all day, so we hadn't had many views during the hike up, but I was holding out hope that at the pass I'd break through the clouds for some views of the nearby Olympics. Sadly I had no such luck. Once I reached the pass, the clouds were so thick I could hardly see the trees beyond the pass. Still, with the dense mist rolling through the sparse and scrawny trees, the upper meadows were truly magical.
The next morning I woke to sunshine and I couldn't resist another trek up to the pass for a glimpse of the mountains before we left. This time I was in luck. While the sky was far from clear, the Olympic Mountains were visible in all their glory! Since we wanted to make it back home in time for dinner, I didn't have much time to linger or explore. Even though I was looking forward to clean clothes and the lovely shower I'd take when I get home, it was almost impossible to tear myself away from such a beautiful spot. After this first venture into the Olympics, I will certainly be coming back for more in the future. Hopefully with more time for exploring to my heart's content!