We left Seattle at 5pm on Friday night, braving rush-hour and long ferry waiting lines. We couldn’t decide between the Olympics to the east or the North Cascades to the west, so we flipped a figurative coin and let the traffic decide where we’d get our adventure. East it was.
Matt, Matt and I crossed onto Whidbey Island via Deception Pass just before sunset. We scrambled down the steep slope to the beach to watch the dusk encapsulate the strong currents of brackish halocline.
We were late for the 9:15 Port Townsend Ferry but it was even later. We scored the last drive-on space at 9:48 and swept across the Puget Sound in perfect darkness. Down the Olympic Highway and into the National Park Matt hugged the tight curves in his new Audi. On the search for the last open campsite on the peninsula, we had a few vague directions from a friend on where to camp as well as many words of caution that everything would be full on this perfect summer weekend. Down the dirt roads, close to midnight we got lost at least once, but pushing on we found the tiny campground of the Dungeness Forks at midnight. With no room left we pitched our tents in the overflow parking next to the fork of the Dungeness and Grey Wolf rivers – and I couldn’t ask for a better campsite.
I awoke at dawn to the rushing of the water and smell of decomposing pine. The forest was grander than I could imagine. I crawled out of my tent to have my breath taken away. Next to our camp a huge trunk had fallen across the river so I sat down on it, looked downstream, and meditated for an hour as the rest of the campground slowly came alive. The sound of the rushing river is mesmerizing and transforms time.
We made Egg and Toast Tacos for breakfast and conferred with other campers about the best trails in the area. Deciding to explore the Upper Big Quilcene area of the Olympic National Forest was easy. We wanted a challenge with views and multiple ecosystems. We drove a few miles up a dirt road, through canyons and increasingly tall mountains, to the Marmot Pass Trailhead.
The wildflowers closest to my heart are Columbines, the Colorado state flower, and Indian Paintbrush, the fantastic fiery highland desert bloom. Groves upon groves of unusually colored Columbines mixed with daisies and strange new varieties of lupine and larkspur in what felt to me like a familiar Colorado meadow.
As we climbed higher we passed two trail-workers coming down with four horses, a ladder and a big dog. Those were the first people we saw until we reached the timber line near 5,000 feet. I crossed my first west-coast snowfield and made an offering of snow to the summer mountains. Giving thanks for this opportunity felt essential.
Up at the top of Marmot Pass I paused for a snack and some photos. Over seven miles up my borrowed boots had finally destroyed my feet so I switched back into my trail running shoes and admired the view. I was taken with the serenity and beauty of the snowy jagged peaks. They were so new but so familiar in their resemblance to the Rockies of my childhood. I realized in this moment that it doesn’t matter as much what range I am in, as long as I am up in the mountains among the trees, trails and tundra, I am happy here.
I admired the the Puget Sound, Seattle, Rainier and the elusive Cascades from my perch as Matt and Matt continued another mile up (!) to the summit of Buckhorn Mountain, elevation 6617 ft.
I hoofed it back down the trail, feeling an intense pain in my right knee. My suspicion was reaffirmed a mile from the summit of Marmot Pass that I have some mysterious injury in the IT Band area that won’t quit till I stop moving. It hurt. But one must continue down the trail, and that I did.
The boys caught up with me five miles from the trail head, exhausted, and we bounced down the trail together mostly in silence, taking in the after-glow of the huge trees as the sun went behind the high-again peaks. I finished 16 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation change in about six hours, my longest single-day hike to date. And man, it was so so beautiful. We parked our tents next to the car again that night and made the best camp dinner to date – spicy sausages with sauteed swiss chard and polenta, which I can’t wait to share. As the Washington Trails Association says,