Backpacking to Marmot Lake and Jade Lake, Alpine Lakes wilderness


Friday, 14-Oct-2022 through Sunday, 16-Oct-2022

Around the beginning of the year, I was chatting with a few coworkers about various hikes that we wanted to check out over the coming Summer. A few suggestions were thrown around, and I jotted down notes on most. Time went on, and conversations shifted… but the notes stayed on my phone.

September came around, and the year was coming to a close… but I still wanted to get a few good backpacking trips in. I cracked open that old list, and checked out what I hadn’t done so far. I’ve done quite a few good trips this year, was feeling strong, and Jade Lake out in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness stood out. Long, fairly significant elevation gain, gorgeous views, far away from home…

Yeah, Jade Lake was a perfect “big backpacking trip to end the season with”

I drove up on a Friday morning.

Realistically, I probably didn’t get on the road as early as I should have… all times considered, we were looking at nearly five and a half hours of driving to get to the trailhead. Then 8 miles or so in to my campsite… with the days getting shorter, and the evenings colder, an early start would have been well advised. That being said I do appreciate the quiet mornings, and I don’t appreciate rushing, so I still stand by my process of getting on the road right around 8:00am.

That timing found me starting into the trail by 2:30pm, and I made excellent time on the approach. I mentioned the full summer of backpacking and hiking; combined with the physical therapy for my knee and a renewed joy in both climbing and lifting, and I’m in quite good shape. I held a solid 2mph on the entire approach, even with the full three days worth of gear in the pack.

The miles vanished under my boots, and I gained elevation surprisingly quickly. I’d hoped to find camp somewhere between Marmot Lake and the PCT junction, but I was feeling strong when I passed the Pacific Crest Trail – There was some light left, it was early-ish in the evening, and I was strong. I didn’t want to stop, so I didn’t stop. I forged onward and upward toward Marmot Lake.

Night fell, and I hiked through the dark. With my headlamp illuminating a circle of visibility in an otherwise darkened world, I remembered just how long it’s been since I’ve hiked in the dark. I used to backpack past dark all the time, when I was younger, but now… I don’t think I’ve hiked purely by headlamp in years.

It’s a special kind of purgatory, backpacking in the dark. I truly believe that, if purgatory does exist, this is a close approximation to it. The world is constricted down to a single small pool of light in front of my eyes. It’s quiet, with sounds and shapes sometimes creeping in from my side vision… only to vanish when the spotlight is turned on them.

Everything looks the same – the trail goes onward and upward, switch backing into the dark, and my mile counter has long-since his the distance that I should have found Marmot Lake. I’ve learned not to trust pedometers though – official distances are always shorter than what my tracker finds, so best to put it out of mine. Onward and upward, one foot in front of the other.

When I finally made it to the shores of Marmot Lake… all I saw were sheer cliffs. My headlamp shone down from the trail into infinite darkness – the lake must have been at least 50ft below me, if not further. Disappointing, since I’d been hoping to camp on the shores of the lake… but we persevere, and I kept walking onward looking for a good campsite.

After a few hundred yards the trail had turned inland, and I came across a small trail heading back toward what must have been the cliff above the lake. I took it, hoping to find a nice cliffside camp site, but instead found the lake itself! It was close by and crystal clear – so perfectly clear that it completely absorbed every photon of light from my headlamp. I had been walking along the edge of the lake the whole time, but the perfectly still evening had kept the noise at bay, and the infinitely clear water had just eaten the light!

I made camp.

I relaxed, I ate dinner, I sipped cocoa with gin, and I enjoyed an intensely quiet and cold evening.

The next morning I woke up, and went to check the time… only to find that my phone hadn’t charged overnight. The tiny little portable charger that I’ve used over so many trips seemed to have finally died… or maybe hadn’t been as fully charged as I’d thought. Either way, the distance tracking from the day before had used up enough juice that we were living in bricksville, population “my phone”.

Cest la vie, though. I made breakfast, coffee, and enjoyed a calm and quiet morning. I kept reaching to take photos, only to remember that wasn’t quite going to happen.

Fear not, dear reader, for photos would still be taken this day!

I broke my fast, packed a light pack, and headed up to Jade Lake. I got moving in the late morning, so there were quite a few other teams around as I made my way up toward the main goal of the day. I mean… not “quite a few”, like three other teams total, I think. Two of them gave me weird looks when I asked for a spare battery box / charger, but… one college group grinned and handed me a simply massive battery box they were carrying! The day was saved, and photos could be taken!

As the phone charged up, I wandered the shores of Jade Lake.

Words can’t quite describe how beautiful it was – the photos below will have to suffice. I took the time to scout various photo viewpoints, enjoy the calm air, and just… just be. I’ve been trying to “just be” more often these days. It’s not always successful, and it’s not usually easy, but… I like to think that I’m getting a little bit better, day by day and week by week. Just appreciating and enjoying, slowly moving through the world and appreciating the little things like the sun, wind in the trees, and a gloriously deep turquoise lake in front of me.

*Note: Turquoise. Not jade. Not sure who named this lake, but… they clearly didn’t know the difference*

I explored, photographed, and snacked. I walked, I climbed, and I watched the sun start heading toward the horizon.

I headed back.

The sun dipped. Dinner heated up. More cocoa, some apple cider, and stargazing. So much stargazing… I watched the milky way come out, and then burn away like fog as the moon rose. I slept peacefully, fully cocooned in a small little island of warmth in the vast mountains surrounding me.

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful – not warm, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was still bright. The sun was intense enough to almost warm me up enough to take off my jacket… but not quite, at least not until I started on my way back to the trailhead.

I met a few of the teams that I’d seen the day before on the trail down, again, even leapfrogging one of them a few times as we descended. I gave away one of my backup pack-straps to someone who’s waist belt had broken, and felt good for repaying the karma I’d been given with the phone charge the day before.

The trail out went more quickly than the trail in, it seemed… though I expect a lot of that was from not hiking in the dark this time. And I’d been reading “Stardust” on the trip, since I’d felt a bit lonely and needed a good fantasy love story, so the whole idea of being deep in the woods just felt a little more… magical… than it had on the hike in.

I was reminded of when I’d hiked the Abel Tasman trail in New Zealand while reading The Hobbit: I love reading, and it always shapes my perceptions… reading The Hobbit while doing a 5-day hike in New Zealand just felt right. So too did hiking in the Washington wilderness while reading about a couple exploring a new and magical world together.

I got back to the car. I packed up, changed into clean clothes, and made my way to the small town of Roslyn.

I ate a gloriously good burger (though, frankly, not quite as good as the last time I was in town), and got on the road just before sundown.

I drove.

I gawked at Snoqualmie Pass in the sunset.

I enjoyed the cold air as the Mustang thundered its way down I5, with the top down, back toward Wilsonville.

I felt accomplished and free. I enjoyed a comfortable and warm bed.

It was a good trip.

Leave a Reply