Marmot Pass Backpacking
Guilt weighed just as heavily on me as my backpacking as we stomped back to the car. Alone, minutes ahead of my friends, I wanted to turn back the clock and rethink at least some of our choices. Not only were we exhausted, missing essential pieces of gear, and bug-bitten and dirty, but I felt like I'd done my friend wrong. Mixed with the exhilaration of seeing jagged mountain peaks capped with snow earlier that day these passing emotions made my thoughts feel like soup, heightened by the hot trail dust and sticky, dirty sweat pooling on my back.
Initially, my friend CN and I had planned on a 4-day trail work party as our first big trip of the season, but after my injury and a myriad of issues related to preparedness, we aimed for something more relaxing to ease our bodies back into backpacking shape. Our planned route went up to a gorgeous pass on the Olympic Peninsula on the first day, an attempt to summit a nearby mountain on the second day with downtime at camp, and heading back out on the third. We even convinced our friend Kat that this trail and itinerary were her speed and that she should come. There were daydreams about the sweeping mountain pass views, hanging in a hammock with a good book, and for sure not the haphazard trip that was to come.
The first sign of this adventure going awry? We discovered that CN’s boots were sitting back in her living room as we were waiting in line for a ferry. The second? The giant, wonderful bag of trail mix the three of us were stoked on having travel with us was sitting on a kitchen counter. And, to set the mood for the weekend: while we unpacked our tent at our car campground after arriving from a full work day I accumulated approximately 20 bug bites in 10 minutes.
We did not sleep great that first night, but once on the forest road to the trailhead were in much higher spirits. A quick trip to the luxurious pit toilet and a starting selfie later, we were on our way to our next camp! …Five minutes later we stopped to adjust backpack fit. We hiked for another hour and had to stop again to readjust pack loads. Kat’s backpack had no place to hold water, and so I took it upon myself to adjust the gear hanging off the back of it and shove some into the back of my own and Sara's. At the 2 hour mark, it was evident that war was waging between my friend and her gear. This horrible, terrible backpack seemed to be crushing her, and we took turns attempting to adjust it in such a way that it wouldn’t interfere with her ability to breathe correctly.
After scouting ahead on the trail, we decided to stop at the first large camp for the day. I set to work on the tent and to make myself a bowl of lunch. I promptly knocked the whole contents onto the forest floor within moments. Resigned, I put together another lunch, inhaled it and most of my water, and crawled into my sleeping bag in the middle of the day to read and hopefully nap.
Camp was tense, tired, and grumpy. Kat was clearly not in a good way after 3 and a half hours of upward hiking with the Backpack from Hell, CN forgot to grab a form of entertainment, and I was seriously bummed that the some of the gear I’d packed up with me would go unused (including a luxurious hammock!). Eventually, we decided to chill for the remainder of the day and reassess in the morning if we wanted to move camp up the mountain or try to day hike up and back. That evening we blearily ate CN’s fantastic chicken curry camp dinner, the fresh veggies breathing some life and warmth into my rumbling belly.
In the morning it was clear to CN and I that we’d pushed our friend too far. I sat with Kat, awkwardly trying to let her know that I wasn’t mad or disappointed that she was not able to come with us on a hike up to the pass. I won’t and can’t attempt to describe what she was feeling, as that’s her story, but the sinking feeling that I’d somehow let her down nagged at me while the climb up to the pass became increasingly exposed to the sun.
The bright snow glinting across the valley on the surrounding peaks struck at my center of gravity. I craned my neck to take in the wildflowers bursting up the hillside. The details were overwhelming enough that the small 3-foot wide trail felt like it shrank and my heart quickened with anticipation that’d I'd fall down the hillside. Every few yards had us exclaiming about some even more beautiful trail feature.
When we arrived at our original destination at Camp Mystery though, I could tell there was something very wrong with my leg. Another trail mistake? New minimalist shoes I was wearing for the first time. The tightness in my calves and IT band were just too much, and I decided on our snack stop to stay behind at this camp to wait for CM to climb up to the pass and back down. I knew this was a big deal because CM is not a person who hikes by herself and is probably the person most concerned about physical safety that I know.
Emphasizing that we’d respectively be fine, I waved as she hiked away and popped my headphones in to listen to a podcast while I found a nice spot to rest and watch a beautiful alpine stream tumble under out of the last remnants of snow. Huge bumblebees and softly waving grass were my companions, and my breathing slowed to a steady yoga breath. I felt more full of calm than I’d felt in weeks, despite all the things going wrong so far this weekend.
An hour or so later, the biggest smile crossed my face when I saw CN trekking back towards me, almost bouncing after seeing the gorgeous pass, a mountain goat, and reaching our actual destination. We gathered up our things and took pictures on our walk back down to Kat, eventually deciding that it might be best to take a break, pack up, and head out that afternoon.
I was first to arrive and spot Kat emerging from the tent from a nice long morning nap. After some obligatory Chumbawamba jokes, we were laughing and she graciously filtered gloriously stream-cold water while CN and I sprawled and readily drank. In my mind I always imagine the Olympics to be permanently 70 degrees with perfect conditions (until they aren’t ideal conditions, and in that case, it’s rain), but this was a wakeup call that these mountains can be just as arid as anywhere else in the summer. We decided to bail and shove as much of our gear into mine and Sara’s packs after I promised that icy bottled Cokes in town were on me.
There I was, with my motivation to sit down with some AC, get home, and shower. My feet guided me closer to the car, and after a water break, I saw Kat hiking alone right behind me, miraculously smiling. Awesome, I hadn’t broken my friend! Maybe she didn’t hate me! Somehow, after this complete mess of a backpacking trip, we finished feeling accomplished, and I was/am so proud of the three of us pushing our own set of limits. Once we were finally pulling away from the trailhead, we were already making plans for another trip, day hikes, and our focus was now on our woes of missing (apparently) the best burgers in the world in Port Angeles.