When I was scrambling around on the boulders at the top, my camera fell out of my pocket and off cliff on the east side of the summit so no pictures. :( Pictures would have been very helpful in this TR but I'll do my best to describe the confusing bits. I also apologize if I overdescribed some features in an attempt to make up for the lack of photos.
On the second weekend in July, I brought my mom up Buckhorn Mountain an easy scramble peak on the eastern edge of the Olympics. We had a great time and after a failed attempt on the traverse to Marmot Pass, we summited on a beautiful cloudy day.
When I was 10, my mom brought me backpacking in this area. One day when we were having lunch near marmot pass, and when she wasn't looking, I started scramblig up the mountainside behind us. I got up to a shoulder, but was surrounded by fog, so I turned around. Since then, I''ve done a fair number of off trail scrambles, but I've always wanted to return and complete my first attempted scramble. So finally, almost 7 years later, I decded it was time to come back. My mom was also interested, so I brought her along too.
Day 1 - Parking lot to Boulder Shelter
As I was with my mom, I planned a much less strenuous itinerary than I origionally planned, giving us 4 days isntead of 2 to climb buckhorn from the Upper Dungeness trailhead. Our destination for day one was camp Handy a beautiful camp in a meadow next to the Dungeness. However, when we reached camp Handy after 3 flat miles, she was doing okay so we continued up to Boulder Shelter.
She had to stop and rest a few times on the way up to Boulder Shelter but eventually we reached the Shelter. Boulder Shelter is located in a subalpine bowl beneath Mount Gardner (I think). Over the centuries, boulder have come down off the ridges and landed in the middle of this bowl, creating a somewhat chaotic jumble of smashed trees, bushes, and enormous boulders. When shrouded in fog as it was when we arrived, it creates an incredible setting that could be right out of a movie. However, it can make for some navigational troubles, especialy in snow. When you reach the first switchback on the main trail (camp Handy to Boulder Shelter is entirely a traverse with no switchbacks untill right at the turnoff for Boudler Camp), cross the creek on the right and continue directly across the bowl untill the Shelter comes into view.
After some discussion, we camped in the shelter, as nobody else was staying at Boulder Camp that night.
Day 2 - Boulder to Marmot Pass Attempt 1
I had planned this day as a rest day for my mom, and a chance for me to scramble another peak in the area, but when we woke up very late around 10, the weather was so perfect we decided to try buckhorn that day. The trail from Boulder Shelter to Marmot Pass switchbacks steadily up and over the ridge on the north side of the bowl. After traversing a short face, the trail surmounts goes around a corner and traverses two north facing slopes seperated by a ridge and then descends to Marmot Pass.
However, when we reached the corner, we encountered our first snow on the trip. The first north facing slope was covered with snow, which wouldn't have been an issue on its own (we brought ice axes). The problem was the corner had become a windloaded ridge with a few sizeable cracks in the snow leading up to it. As I tried to lead over this obstacle, I had increasing difficulty. After negotiating the cracks, I still couldn't see down onto the slope but I knew the ridge ended a few steps from where I was standing. I probed with my axe and didn't like it so I tried aother spot higher up the ridge, but still no dice. After a 3rd spot, I came up with a new plan.
I went back over the cracks and hiked up the scree slope on the near side of the corner. After 45 minutes of climbing, we topped out on a ridge with beautiful views of the surrounding peaks including deception, Warrior Peak, buckhorn, and more. By this point it was 2PM, however, and I realized we wouldn't be able to climb Buckhorn that day. Still, I wanted to get a better sense of this ridge and the route down to Marmot Pass.
We picked a boot trail that stayed on the ridge untill it was lost when we encountered snow after a quarter mile. Eventually, the ridge started descending towards Marmot Pass. Geneerally, stay on the right side of trees here. There is some nasty bushwhacking if you end up on the left of the trees. We stopped before getting all the way to the pass with plans of coming back the next day and climbing buckhorn.
Day 3 - Buckhorn
The next day we got up early, and were ready to descend to marmot Pass from the ridge at 10am. The descent was not as bad as I had anticipated, as the snow was stable and the ridge was not corniced. Under different conditions, this could be a major obstacle that could lead to an extra half hour hour of bushwhacking of the left side of the ridge. I did wish I had crampons at one point that was kind of slick and exposed, but we managed.
Once at Marmot Pass, we took a quick break and then started up Buckhorn using the climbers trail up the south ridge. (Note: Before the trip, I considered continueing on the trail towards buckhorn around and then scrambling up the less steep west face as I did when I was 10, but we elected for the trail. The scramble is a better way to go, as we found out though both are easy) From here on, there was no snow as it was a south facing aspect. As we climbed, clouds poured in obscuring views of puget sound. We did catch brief glipses of Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and Glacier Peak through small breaks in the clouds.
Wen we reached the ridge, we continued past 4 or 5 false summits untill finally reaching the final pile of Boulders. There are 4 possible highpoints here if you really want to touch the highest point. Each about 15 feet above the surrounding boulder pile, They all seemed like possibly the highest point so I climbed up each one while my mom tried not to watch. ;) Each was fairly easy, though the easternmost one had a section that was a bit puzzling and may have been class 3 or more. We had lunch and then descended back to Marmot Pass and retraced our steps to Boulder Shelter.
Day - 4 Wrapup
After a late start, we packed up our stuff and hiked back to the trailhead and headed home. Happy climbing!
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