With clear weather and field reports of wildflowers in bloom, a friend and I decided to backpack up to Marmot Pass in the Olympics and spend some time shooting photos.

marmot pass

The plan was to hike to Camp Mystery, setup camp and then hike a bit further up to Marmot Pass to catch the sunset over the Olympics. So, under bright skies and in very warm weather we started up the mountain. The first couple miles of the hike hug the Big Quilcene River as the trail winds through the deep green PNW forest.

wildflower meadow

As we left the forest it was clear the trail reports weren't wrong, the wildflowers were indeed out but not quite yet in prime season.


It was hot on Saturday and about a mile short of camp we decided to rest a bit, get some water and eat. The parking lot was packed when we started out and not knowing how much room there was at the campsite I was a little anxious about getting up the mountain. We passed by a lot of hikers descending, which gave me some confidence we'd have room, but we had a lot of company going up too. My buddy is in the blue shirt, the rest of the crew we met on the trail. They were going slower than us for a couple reasons, first, I'm a naturally fast walker and love to race up a hill and secondly, they were carrying a lot of beer.


We got to camp with plenty of light, setup the tent alongside a little creek, fired up the stove and enjoyed lentil soup, almonds and cookies. The sound of rushing water was fortuitous because both Dave and I snore loudly and we'd rather listen to the water than the other.


While we were technically in a "Wilderness" it didn't necessarily translate to isolated. All around were other campers and Lulu the Pug, who could not stop running around!

trail up to the Pass

After dinner we hiked up to Marmot Pass to check on the sunset. The trail winds through a big bowl and has great views almost all around.

long, thin cloud

There wasn't much in the way of a sunset but this really narrow cloud was moving quite fast over the mountains lit by the evening sun.

The plan for the next morning was to wake up early, 4 am, to hike back up to Marmot Pass for the sunrise. I set the alarm and we went to sleep.

When the alarm went off in the morning I was a little tired and for a moment thought about bagging it but when I poke my head out of the tent and saw the red sky I knew I wanted to go shoot. I departed from the tent as quietly as possible, grabbed my gear and headed off in the dark up the mountainside. Just outside of camp there's a little stream crossing and in the dark I almost started walking up the stream rather than crossing it but fortunately made the right decision.

The morning light did not disappoint.

morning clouds morning orange more orange sky

The clouds rolling in were really cool with the silhouetted trees. I shot for a while using my trusty Gorillapod about half-way to Marmot Pass and then decided to get to the top to see if I could capture the sun coming over Buckhorn Mountain — unfortunately I could not. Next time we go we'll try to camp a bit further up, probably on top of Buckhorn which we were told was a pretty cool place to spend the night.

alpen glow

I knew from some previous camping trips to the Olympics about the alpenglow of the morning sun.

noble fir flowers

I'm really getting into trees and I love the cones of the noble fir and I'm still in love with wildflowers in early morning light.

yellow tent

After a morning of shooting I hiked back to camp, crawled in the tent and took a short nap. Dave was kind enough to get some water going so after some oatmeal we hiked back up to Marmot Pass to take in the views. If you look closely in the middle of the photo on the ridge you can see a yellow tent — that's one of the places I'd like to camp next time.

clouds rolling in

On the last trip down from Marmot Pass the clouds starting rolling in. The day before we had hiked up sweating through everything, hiking down I wore a winter hat. I love being in the mountains.

I highly recommend the hike, it's not as steep as the Mt Ellinor or Mt Townsend trails and the trail is in really fantastic condition. I think in another couple of weeks the meadows should be in full bloom — it will be spectacular I'm sure!

On a technical note, I finally figured out how to get a panorama to look decent. I've been playing with DoubleTake for a while and I've tried my hand a couple of times but I've never been able to get it to work just as I wanted — I've gotten a lot closer. One of the biggest differences is shooting in manual mode to make sure all the exposures are the same and then to post-process in Lightroom. I took about a dozen photos to make the panorama at the top of the post but ended up using only about seven or so. It still needs a little work, there's one bit with ghosting, but I like it and scaled down you can't tell at all. I finally bought the license I threatened to over a year ago.

Categories: photography  travel 
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