I have given up on having any chance of a descent ski season this winter. The snow cover is so ridiculously lacking that most of the ski resorts are barely open if at all. There is one positive to this low snow year: Roads and trails usually closed to blocked by deep snow can easily be accessed in February. Marybeth and I decided to take advantage of a sunny forecast this weekend and head into the normally winter inaccessible Buckhorn Wilderness in the Olympic National Forest.

The last time I visited the Peninsular was almost two years ago when Eric and I trekked the Marmot Pass Loop. On that backpack we had a side trip up Buckhorn Mountain planned, but the weather when we arrived at the base was rainy, misty and gloomy so we ended up skipping it and going to camp. Ironically, Marybeth and I made Buckhorn Mountain our objective for the weekend. We would approach it via a different trail than Eric and I had and hopefully have better conditions to climb it.

We started up the Big Quilcene Trail at about 11:00am. This in itself felt like an accomplishment because the road to the trail is normally not accessible in the winter. The trail travels alongside  Quilcene Creek in a mossy rainforest. The grade at first is mostly level. After about 1.5 miles the first switchbacks bring you away from the creek and passed a waterfall. The grade become more aggressive until bthe trail breaks out above the treeline. From this vantage point it was clear that we would not hit snow for quite some time. Only the very tops of the surrounding peaks were white!

We walked blow the towering summit blocks of Mount Worthington and Iron Mountain. We did not see much snow until just before Camp Mystery at 5,400 feet. The snow on the trail was icy as it switchbacks up the the basin and micro-spikes are advised. We were greeted with gorgeous  crystal clear views from the top of Marmot Pass (5.6 miles). And we were not alone. Many folks had taken the opportunity to enjoy a day in the mountains.

Marybeth and I dropped out packs at the pass and turned right. Several yards down the trail is a very clear, but unmarked path going up. This is the Route up Buckhorn. It climbed steeply or gravel and dirt from several hundred feet until the ridge is gained. It is not difficult and barely a class 2 climb to the Northeast summit of Buckhorn. From the Northeast Summit (which is not the true summit) we descended onto this saddle covered with a perfect blanket of slick ice. Microspikes might be helpful here, but we made it across my treaded very carefully. Straight ahead is what appears to we the true rocky summit. We climbed to the top of this rocky protrusion (now using hands every now and then) only to discover a higher summit behind it. I believe we hit at least 2 additional false summits before we finally stood a top the true summit block. We were granted with perfect views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier…. and i released some of Eric’s ashes into the wind.

Marybeth and I camped in the basin below Marmot Pass that evening. It was peaceful and still as the sunset and the snow of the distance mountain reflected hues of purple and pink as the light faded. I wish that my life could for once be like that. That there could be such calm and tranquility. But then again that is why i go into the wilderness… to escape the hectic nature that is real life and disappear to a place where I feel at peace.

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