One of the forgotten or dismissed areas in the Oregon Cascades, especially in the aftermath of the B&B Complex Fire of 2003 is the Eight Lakes Basin region which lies south of Mt. Jefferson, west of Three Fingered Jack and east of a ridge of 6000 foot peaks. The name of the area may be “Eight” Lakes Basin but it is dotted with dozens of lakes, ponds and streams. Prior to the fire (hey, that rhymes), this was a popular hiking, camping and vacation area. Post-apocalypse, it is characterized by big grey and black snags that have now rotted to the point winds continuously knock them over any given day but where there is water and carbon, there will be plants and the area is regenerating.
There are pockets of firs and hemlocks that survived but now flowers, grasses and blueberry bushes are spreading and dominating the area. In ten years, this area might be mostly green again as the seedling firs are popping up as well. What the fire did in taking away the prior greenery, it gave back in allowing views from the forest floor (at least for the time being). Jefferson dominates the northern sky while Three Fingered Jack (and from higher vantage points, the Three Sisters and Mount Washington) takes up the southwestern view. And to the west are three smaller (but closer so they dominate like the others) peaks on a ridge. The northernmost of these is Marion Peak.
Marion Peak is characterized by a vertical eastern cliff-face, forested (but steep) northern and western slopes and a more rocky and red lava southern side heading down to the saddle between it and Saddle Mountain. The rock is loose crap so don’t go thinking there may be rock climbing potential on the east side. There may be, but, don’t count on it. The rock is fin-like and loose and I wouldn’t trust any of it. To the north, along the long descending ridge is the Marion Mountain Lookout site, a former lookout which is the terminus of a nice trail coming from the Marion Lake area. There are no trails to the summit of Marion Peak; the easiest and normal route (Class 1-2) would be to take one of a couple trails to Marion Mountain Lookout and head up the ridge through the burned snags and brush. One could also scramble over Green Peak and Saddle Mountain from the south to the summit of Marion Peak. Because the summit did escape the blaze and remained forested though, this area holds snow longer than most in the area. In fact, there were still many feet of snow into August, 2011 the top one or two hundred feet or so when we climbed it.
Views are exceptional with a big in-your-face Jefferson to the north (with Hood off its left side) down the line of Cascade big boys to Diamond Peak in the south. The Western Cascades dominate the views to the west from Tidbits Mountain north through the Iron/Cone/Echo ridge to the Three Pyramids into the Bull of the Woods Wilderness with Battle Ax to Schreiner. Turpentine Peak, pretty much totally scorched by the B&B Complex blaze is directly west of Marion with Green Peak Lake between. The contrast of the grey/black burned areas with beautiful turquoise lakes throughout is interesting.
A climb of Marion Peak is going to end up being about 13 miles round trip with a large part bushwhacking up the ridge off trail. But the views on a clear day would really make it worthwhile. Most people don’t see Three Fingered Jack from this perspective and it is really neat to see how the forest is slowly coming back in the wake of the fire.
How did Marion Peak get its name? Like most of you, I assumed it was named after Richie Cunningham’s mother in Happy Days. I mean, who wouldn’t assume that? I knew it was not named after my high school physiology teacher or the heroine from the Robin Hood legend. Upon researching this though, I discovered that it, and about a hundred other things in the area, is named after an American Revolutionary War general who never set foot near our state. In Oregon, we have Marion County, Marion Lake, a town named Marion Forks, marionberries (surprisingly NOT named for the drug addict mayor of Washington DC), a Marion Creek and another town just named plain Marion. If you read up on the guy, you’ll see that he had more places named after him than any other Revolutionary War soldier except for George Washington. And if you read closer, you’ll see that he wasn’t such a great guy. But don’t let that dissuade you from wanting to hike up this peak. What he lacked as a human being, we make up for in hiking beauty.
In addition, there is a side hike you can do on this peak to a spectacular double waterfall, Marion Falls. The path to it is short but really worth the backtracking and extra hundred or so feet of elevation you’ll need to make to get back to the trail. It’s loud, high and beautiful and I’m not sure why it is not more known. It should be pretty amazing year-round as it is where all the water in the Eight Lakes Basin drain. I would estimate it is less than a mile extra round trip to view the falls and really is worth it. See the Route Page for details.
Northwest Forest Pass required to park at the trailhead. You also must complete a Wilderness Permit at the box near the trailhead and carry your copy with you. Note that the rangers that frequent the lake for cleanup do check your permits if they run in to you.
You can camp at natural sites around Marion Lake, no reservations required. This is a popular spot in the summer so be aware if you plan to camp here, you may end up looking around a bit.
There were also spots to camp along the ridge to the summit but there is no water available after the small lily padded pond between the lake and the Marion Mountain lookout site (end of the established trail) until you come to a small pond just before and west of the summit may be snow or iced over into August though).
There is also a campground in Marion Forks.
For the best camping though (except after the annual bug hatch until they die off), I would suggest one of the dozens of lakes that are in the basin between Marion Lake and Red Butte. You have your choice of spots and perhaps you could scout it out from the summit while you look east. You’ll be able to scramble or bushwhack down from the saddle between Marion Peak and Saddle Mountain to its north or from other points on up the ridge. It’s mostly open country right now while the plants start to grow back and visibility is pretty decent in most all directions.