Key: 2010-07-03:     2010-07-03:     2010-07-04:    

Marmot Pass & The Dungeness

A 3 night trip over Marmot Pass and out The Dungeness

Begin Date:

End Date:

2010-07-03: 3.95 mi
2010-07-03: 10.01 mi
2010-07-04: 5.7 mi
2010-07-05: 3.72 mi

Total: 23.37 mi

Maximum Elevation*:
6658.4ft (2030.219m)

Minimum Elevation*:
150.88ft (46.521m)

Gallery for this adventure:
Click here

* This is derived from GPS data and can have major discrepancies due to poor GPS reception.

Trip Report:

This trip was a 3 night/4 day loop up the Tubal Cain trail, over Buckhorn and Marmot passes, and returning down the Dungeness River. It was a great trip for many reasons, but mainly because we were able to complete it (Worries about snow getting in the way) and because we were allowed to take our Schnauzer Sasha as it wouldn't be entering Olympic National Park.

Day 1 (Upper Dungeness TH to Tubal Cain TH):

In order to complete our proposed loop we would inevitably have to walk on a FS road for about 4 miles. We decided it would be better to tackle this early, because the last thing we wanted was to have to go get our car after reaching the trailhead at the end of the hike. We did just that but took our time getting out to the TH due to first the long 4th of July ferry traffic and then stopping at a sit down restaurant for dinner (Not a lot of choices between Kingston and the turn off to the TH. We didn't actually arrive until about 8PM and didn't set out until clsoer to 8:30.

The hike up the road was exactly as one would expect, 4 miles of a gently sloped gravel road. I'll spare you the details, but we ended up arriving at the Tubal Cain TH around 10pm and quickly found the Silver Creek shelter although it was occupied with a larger group of hikers. After a short converstaion we found that they would be attempting the same loop as us only in the opposite direction, so we wished them luck and took a small campsite below the shelter right along the creek.

Day 2 (Tubal Cain TH to Marmot Pass):

We awoke to great weather and quickly broke camp trying to get a jump on the day. We were expecting a good amount of snow going over the passes so we didn't want to waste too much time at camp.

The trail took us through beautiful stands of Rhodedendron working its way up the Copper Creek drainage. Both of us were quite blown away by the sheer number of Rhodies. They were literally everywhere and neither of us had never seen them in such numbers.

Rhodies on the Trail:

Rhododendron's in the wild.

It didn't take long before we hit Tubal Cain. There were a good amount of campers there but we decided to press on, again fearing the amount of snow we would be encountering later in the day.

From there the trail immediately began climbing up a very large and very sloped meadow heading up towards Buckhorn Pass. The weather was still looking good although the taller peaks in the area still had clouds clinging to them and would only allow momentary views of their summits.

Looking up towards Buckhorn Pass:

Looking up at Buckhorn Mnt.

At about 11:30AM we came to the Buckhorn Lake turn off and figured it would be an ok place to break for lunch and potentially do a little fishing. In retrospec the side trip wasn't worth it as the trail to get down there was a giant pain in the ass due to lingering and posthole prone snow covering most of it. We did eventually reach the lake by noon and did do a bit of fishing (Tracy caught two small trout and taught them a valuable lesson about eating bugs with hooks), so it wasn't all bad. It just really was a lot of work to get there and the payoff in our opinions wasn't worth the effort.

Unfortunately during our lunch break at the lake, the skies began to cloud up, casting a gloomy feeling over the valley. We kept pushing on up the slope not letting it bring us down, but keeping our fingers crossed that it would blow through because we soon would be reaching Buckhorn Pass and were looking forward to the views more than anything.

To our surprise we reached the pass shortly later with only a small fraction of the snow we had expected. In fact most of the pass and ridge line up towards Buckhorn Mountain was completely snow free. The clouds however weren't being quite so friendly obscuring any views of the peaks accross the valley (Although we could see to about 6000 feet on them).

The ridgeline above Buckhorn Pass:

Clouds moved in and out all day on the Buckhorn ridge.

At this point the actual trail traverses a number of scree slopes below the ridge on its way to Marmot Pass. However, at the moment those scree slopes are completely still covered with hard packed snow and calling them treacherous is a huge unterstatement. They are downright dangerous with out crampons and an axe, which we didn't have. Instead we elected to stick to the almost completely dry and very easy to follow ridge heading up almost to the summit of Buckhorn. There is actually a decent way trail making the going that much easier, so for anyone planning on this trip in the next month or so, strongly consider this route.

At about 6600 feet and only a short way from the Buckhorn Summit, we dropped back down the ridge almost exactly on top of Marmot Pass following the same way trail down that side. Currently most of the campsites at Marmot Pass are snow covered, but we were able to score a small level area above the pass that was just big enough for our smaller tent and nothing more.

The clouds were still hanging around which continued to frustrate us, having a very good idea of what was just behind them as they would seem to open up momentarily giving us a small teases only to quickly fill themselves back again.
This continued on for a couple of hours until suddenly at around 8PM the clouds suddenly settled into the valley below leaving us with a breathtaking sunset that really made the entire trip worth it.

The view from our tent:

Mount Mystery from Marmot Pass.

We ended up sleeping with out the fly that night simply due to the fact that it was such an amazing view.

Day 3 (Marmot Pass to Camp Handy):

As expected from when we last heard the weather, the fourth would be a cloudy one and sure enough it was. We didn't want to stick around on the pass too long because it was rather exposed and the wind had picked up considerably.

We walked the short distance over to the actual pass and decided it would be best to limit the amount of snowy traverses we would have to do to as little as possible. We began climbing the opposite side of the ridge hoping to drop down towards the top and find the trail somewhere on the other side. About 100 yards from the top of the ridge we decided to take our chances on a very steep snow slope, plunge stepping down as we made our traverse. This turned out to be a very bad choice as the snow out towards the middle of the traverse was mostly ice and if we had slipped, it would have been doubtful if we could have stopped ourselves at all. It was way too precarious for all of us (The dog didn't like it one bit either and was already heading back up when decided to try our luck with the ridge). We climbed back up to the pass and this time went all the way to top of the ridge (This would be the southern ridge out of Marmot), hoping that it would be clear and there would be a way to drop down into Boulder Camp from there.

Ridge looking back to Marmot Pass and the ridge looking south towards Boulder Camp:

Standing at trail junction on Marmot Pass looking up toward Buckhorn Mnt.

The ridge line we followed cross country to stay out of the snow and  get to Boulder Shelter.

As it turns out that was exactly the case and by far the safest way to go. The ridge was dry and on the opposite side above Boulder Camp was about a 500 foot snowfree scree slope down to the top switchback on the actual trail. In all honesty, it was surprisingly easy going, making all three of us very happy.

We arrived at boulder camp and immediatly ran into the folks we had met earlier at the shelter on our first night. We gave them a quick report of what we had encountered up above, but they had already decided they would be going back down the Dungeness and staying at Camp Handy that night. We gave the other folks at the camp the same report, telling them to go all the way up the ridge and to not even fool around with the traverse and proper trail. Then after a bit of coffee, we were back on the trail for the final leg into Camp Handy.

The walk from Boulder Camp to Camp Handy was short and pretty straight forward heading mostly right down into the valley in north direction. We reached Camp Handy at around 1PM, made some lunch and got a our campsite along the river squared away. After that we simply relaxed and watched the world go by, enjoying the sun breaks as they would come and go.

As evening started to set in our friends from both Silver Creek and Boulder Camp invited us over to their fire to which we gladly accepted. We spent the next couple of hours, watching the fire and sharing stories of trips we had done and ones that we hope to do. It was a good break from our normal backcountry routine, so we certainly appreciated it. That would take us well into the night and eventually we decided to head back to the tent for some zzz.

Day 4 (Camp Handy to Upper Dungeness TH):

Typical for us on our last day camping, we were up at first light or shortly after and on the trail before most campers were even awake. We made quick time back to the trailhead stopping only once to snap a couple of pics at Royal Creek hoping to get back to the ferry and avoid any 4th of July traffic. We did just that saying goodbye to the Buckhorn Wilderness and promissing to be back as soon as we can. It was far more wonderful than either of us had expected and we truly enjoyed almost every moment of it.