Hiking Outdoor Life

Backpacking Marmot Pass – Upper Big Quilcene Trail

Marmot Pass – Upper Big Quilcene Trail is a challenging, beautiful, dog-friendly hike with countless rewarding views. One year ago to the day, Mom and I put on our big girl panties and conquered our first backpacking trip, and today we got to officially log our second overnighter.

Trail Name: Marmot Pass – Big Quilcene Trail No. 833

Location: Olympic National Forest

Date Hiked: July 11-12, 2021

Start Time: July 11, 9:00 AM

End Time: July 12, 10:30 AM

Total Hiking Time: 8 hours & 15 minutes

Total distance: 13.36 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,914 ft

Elevation: Min. 2,543 ft. – Max. 6,113 ft.

Weather: 70s – Low: 50s

After hiking Tubal Cain Trail three times, one of those times reaching Marmot Pass, I have had the itch to try out the Upper Big Quilcene side. There are a handful of trails in the area that intersect/connect that you can put in some serious mileage and I love this area. Bonus…it is dog-friendly!

During our first backpacking trip last summer, Mom and I talked about how fun it would be to have a dog with us. Especially at night time to keep our toes warm in our tent. This time around, Bindi, my almost one-year-old blue heeler/hiking buddy got to join the party!

Our trip started, as usual, a few days before. I spent hours researching the trail on Washington Trails Association and AllTrails, checking the weather daily as our trip got closer, and reading trip reports to know what to expect. I knew the trail would be decently challenging for us because of the elevation gain and mileage and because we would be wearing a 35+ pound backpack, but I knew we could do it.

We chatted on the phone while packing our gear and gathering our food, then met up at Mom’s house to divvy the weight up evenly. We each took pieces of the tent (she had the tent itself and rain fly, and I took the poles and stakes), so one person was not carrying more than the other. We also split up our snacks and other miscellaneous gear. We learned from last time to keep all of the heaviest items toward our spines, then pack the lighter gear around it.  For water, we each had one 3 liter bladder, one water filter), one 20 oz. water bottle, as well as my Sawyer Mini water filter so we could refill our bottles at the many water sources along the trail.

For Bindi, I packed her Outward Hound doggie pack with two portions of dog food, a few pieces of chicken jerky, two chicken breast wrapped rawhide chews, two Kirkland dog biscuits, a roll of doggie bags, and a clip-on collapsible bowl for eating and drinking.

I picked up Mom at 6:30 AM on Sunday, July 11 for our 2ish hour drive to the trailhead. The drive went by quickly with barely any traffic. The road was suitable for all vehicles, but once you hit the dirt road, drive SLOW because there were some serious potholes. Drive fast through the potholes and your car will be a bucking bronco. We arrived to a full parking lot at 8:45 AM. Cars lined the road on both sides of the lot where we found a spot among them. After latching on all three of our packs, we set off on the trail at 9:00 AM. 

Read to go!
Read to go!

The trail starts out gradually, meandering along the Big Quilcene River through the nicely shaded forest filled with old growths and lush greenery. This was a blessing giving our muscles a chance to warm up before the more intense incline that lay ahead.

After three relatively easy miles, we stopped at a large downed tree for a snack break. We enjoyed fresh Pink Lady apples, a couple of pieces of Jalapeño beef jerky, and Bindi ate a piece of her jerky and water. Once we had refueled we faced the harder part of the hike pretty quickly.

From our snack break on, the trail only went up with hardly any flat spots to rest. This is where our packs felt heavier and the trail got steeper, making our campsite seem forever away. At this point, we were also passing many hikers coming down from their Saturday overnight trip. This was a blessing in disguise allowing us to pull off to the side of the trail to let them pass, allowing us to catch our breath and give our burning legs a breather. The trail finally broke out of the forest giving us a view of the jagged mountains around us and colorful wildflowers.

While the view was incredible, at this point we were exhausted and fully focused on each step (the way back was much more enjoyable soaking in the view when we were not so doggone tired). According to my research, Camp Mystery (our campsite destination) was 4.5 miles into the trail, so when my GPS said we were 4.5 miles in with no camp area in sight, we were a little discouraged. We trudged on for another half a mile when we finally reached Camp Mystery around 12:30 PM, choosing the first camping spot we came across.

Relieved to have made it, we dropped our packs, peeled off our boots, slipped on flip flops, inflated our sleeping pads, and lay in the sun taking a breather. We also stripped off our sweaty socks and shirts so they could dry in the blazing sun so they would be ready for the next leg of our journey.  We slowly unpacked our backpacks, set up our tent, and pulled out our lunch.

For lunch, we ate Trader Joe’s Spicy Miso soup (even in the hot weather it tasted divine), a Honey Stinger Waffle, a few more pieces of jerky, and more water. Bindi ate some of her kibble topped with a splash of my broth to get her eater going. She normally eats once a day at home, but I wanted to make sure she had enough calories in her after our big morning. Our lunch break was heavenly with the entire camp to ourselves.

Once we were refueled, we finally took a look around Camp Mystery where we discovered a more appealing campsite right next to the babbling river, which we promptly did the walk of shame in front of the passers-by carrying our entire tent to the new location. Worth it.

Our new campsite next to the river.

After our little move, we pulled out our small backpacks, packed them with some water, snacks, and a few small necessities, and set off again to keep exploring.  The trail continues along the river, crossing over a couple times, then breaks into a glorious valley bursting with wildflowers right below Marmot Pass. The pass above us looked far away, but surprisingly went by quickly and easily (maybe because we weren’t carrying 35+ pounds anymore). At the top of the trail we came across the sign that I have seen in so many pictures where multiple trails meet; Upper Big Quilcene, Tubal Cain Mine, Upper Dungeness, and Buckhorn Mountain.

We decided to hop on Tubal Cain Mine which connects to Buckhorn Mountain. Buckhorn Mountain Trail is only one mile, but gains 900 ft, so it is pretty dang steep. We made it just under half way when Bindi was giving us the ‘no-go’ sign. She was getting tired at this point (let’s be real, so were we) and the sun was in full force so we decided to call it quits on bagging the summit. A snack/water break was a must while we soaked in the views at over 6,100 ft up.

From there we went back down Buckhorn Mountain Trail and walked along the pass on a nearly flat trail for a while until we ran into a small snowfield which Bindi was a big fan of. At this point, we were all tired and ready to get cozy at camp.

The jaunt back to camp was nice and quick. In total, we hiked 8.51 miles gaining 3,862 ft. At camp, we changed into clean, dry clothes, then filtered the river water before boiling it in the Jet Boil for our ReadyWise Teriyaki Chicken & Rice dinner. While our meal rehydrated, we rehydrated with more water and some Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon, or as I like to call it, juice box wine (highly recommended even though it does add some weight to your pack). We have tried a handful of dehydrated meals and this one was not our favorite, but it was still nice to eat a hot, hardy meal. Bindi enjoyed a bite or two mixed into her kibble for dinner too. For dessert, we ate Orange Chocolate Milano cookies which hit the spot. The wine and cookies made for a satisfying ending to our already beautiful, challenging day.

Dinner: ReadyWise Teriyaki Chicken & Rice & Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon.

After dinner, we packed up all of our food in our bear bag before hanging it in a tree and crawled into our cozy tent at a whopping 7:00 PM. At this point, three other groups had set up camp in the surrounding campsites. Bindi sacked out right away cozying up at our feet while we played a few rounds of Uno (Katie 3, Mom 0…next time Mom ?). After listening to a few rounds of Win Brooke’s Bucks on Movin’ 92.5 (previously downloaded podcast segments), we both fell asleep just before 8:00 PM. 

Sleep came easy but did not last long. I woke up too many times to count, but I was warm and cozy, and having Bindi laying at our feet with the river running next to us was a nice comfort. We woke up just after sunrise around 6:30 AM where we made breakfast right outside our tent while sitting in our sleeping bags.  Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee hit the spot just like it always does on our hikes, and warm instant oatmeal filled up our tummies.

After breakfast, we packed up our campsite back into our backpacks and set off around 8:00 AM back to our car. The hike down felt like a completely different experience. Since we weren’t huffing and puffing, solely focused on our feet, we were able to look around and see everything we missed the day before. 

One more snack break was in order about halfway to our car, then we easily strolled down the mountain reaching the parking lot at 10:30 AM.

I gotta say, putting on a clean dry ‘car outfit’ is a must if you don’t do so already. I slipped on a dry t-shirt and my Birkenstocks for the two-hour ride home which felt incredible on my hot, sweaty core and blistered feet (this is me making a note to pack moleskin in my pack before our next hike).

Marmot Pass – Upper Big Quilcene Trail is a gorgeous hike that I definitely recommend.

I think it’s time to retire my favorite hiking socks.

Although we chose to do it as an overnight trip, it can be done as a day trip too (which we intend to do in the future so we can make it to the summit of Buckhorn Mountain). It is a challenge, but one worth doing!