Signposts to Infinity
Big Quilcene Trail 833.1 to Marmot Pass · Olympic National Forest · Jefferson · Washington · USA
The promises of jawdropping views on this one-you-can’t-miss hike (according to the guidebook) in the Olympic National Forest were dramatically attenuated by suboptimal weather conditions, with the upper elevations of this 10.6-mile, 3500-foot journey socked in by oppressive clouds and a bone-chilling wind. Still, the trail was wonderfully soft underfoot, and the verdant understory of vanilla leaf, salmonberry, queen’s cup, massive devil’s club, huckleberry (although a bit tart), and a variety of ferns thriving beneath a canopy of towering old-growth Douglas-fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock made the first couple of miles of this at-times grueling climb still rewarding (though my soon-to-be very sore hiking partner might have a quibble with that…and I probably wouldn’t do it again myself without promises of clearer conditions). The vista refused to open up despite our spirited curse-laden prayers, but the dense clouds hugging the mountains made for some wonderfully dramatic and contemplative atmosphere, punctuated here by subalpine firs marching off into what seemed like forever.
No namesake critters spied nor heard once we arrived at Marmot Pass (they were probably wiser than us and were huddled up in some local Holiday Inn with the thermostat cranked up…), but a father-son combo advised us not to wander up an adjacent ridge, where a king-of-the-mountain goat needed repeated gentle reminders in the form of tossed rocks to keep a safe distance. In fact, we’d had to cancel plans to climb Mount Ellinor a couple days earlier because the snow melt had somehow concentrated a group of mountain goats near the top, and a few years ago a hiker lost his life after being butted off a cliff-side trail. It’s a sobering reminder that Mother Nature always rules the day, and partaking in her beauty is a privilege that necessitates a level of respect that is only compromised at your peril.