peas for breakfast | jade and marmot lakes, dip top gap
August 10, 2022
25 miles . 6000 ft gain . 6680 ft high
Alpine Lakes Wilderness
Jade and Marmot Lakes didn’t get on my radar until much more recently. As someone who chases alpine objectives more than pure backpacking destinations, there were many places I had unknowingly brushed aside. Backpacking has its charm once you get a little dialed down and get comfortable with the idea of sleeping outside and getting a little dirty along the way. So I set off to find some of Washington’s best backpacking destinations. Enchantments was one I had ticked off both as a day thru-hike and an multi-day adventure during Hannah’s first backpacking trip. And then what caught my eye were more Alpine Lakes Wilderness hikes.
Going down Salmon La Sac Road, you’ll find yourself at the trailhead of two amazing backpacking destinations both boasting at least 3 large alpine lakes each with views of Mt Daniel should you choose the full routes. I checked the first one off during Kelsey’s first backpacking trip to Tuck and Robin Lakes. This was two years ago. Both of them have come a long ways, having backpacked to many more places that I’ve yet to see for myself! I’m so amazed by how they’ve fully embraced living in the PNW and have had so much fun on these trips, exploring the beauty that this region has to offer. Literally the best feeling seeing your friends enjoy the same things as you and going from novice to doing it all on their own! Anyway, enough of an introduction. But Jade Lake has been one of the highest priorities of my backpacking list. Jade Lake is one of those alpine lakes with the more green tone to it. The kind that people will literally hike miles past other lakes just to see it in person. I wanted a bit more. I want to say I was allured by Sonja Saxe’s image of Daniel over Pea Soup Lake, but it could have been some other time, but I was set on seeing this lake, a bit past Jade Lake, requiring a bit more route finding and snow travel skills.
I was thrilled that our group this weekend would at least entertain the idea of sleeping up at Dip Top Gap, a saddle point between Pea Soup Lake and Jade Lake. I found on google maps, that there’s a pretty flat site 300 feet of scrambling above the gap that would offer enough space for several tents (2 at minimum it seemed). I could not find any other information otherwise. We weren’t too sure what the conditions were like because we have a thick snow pack this year and it’s been slow to melt. Hannah, my AllTrails guru, figured that in the last few weeks, the snow coverage on Jade Lake was decreasing by 10% every week and 70% as last reported. She was doubtful it would be worth the trip and considered pivoting. But I was so hopeful, despite reports that there was still snow on trail going to Jade Lake.
Fortunately, Sentinel Hub had a recent satellite imagery that loaded a few days before our planned trip. Between the two images, about 5 days apart, the snow had completely melted out. See above for the changes. The lake is upper right side that goes from full snow coverage to entirely clear. This is Jade Lake. The lower lake is Pea Soup Lake and the completely dark blue snow-free one is Marmot on top. This supported my prediction that the heat wave would impact a quicker thaw of the lake. Hurray! At least the aqua lake would be clear. This left us questioning Pea Soup Lake. At this rate, I’d imagine it to clear up decently as well, although possibly still have a few floating icebergs.
We set off on Friday, just as another trip report came in to confirm that Jade Lake would be snow free. We were ecstatic! Note: I think many people expected the lake to melt out so there were overall fewer people on trail than we expected. Which is great, considering this is one of the most popular backpacking destinations. We got to the large trailhead and there were already quite a few cars. We left after work in hopes of getting an early start on Saturday and camping an extra night a couple miles further in. We quickly were surrounded by wildflowers at the beginning of the hike and I gladly took caboose to give myself a little more time to snap a few extra photos before catching up with everyone.
It didn’t take long before we reach Hyas Lake and found many campsites, mostly filled by everyone. We eventually turned around a little to backtrack to the second to last campsite by the lake, not wanting to trek further to the Upper Hyas Lake. Although the upper lake had many more sites, we were happy with being close to the lake and it was getting dark after all. Thankfully we had all had our dinners at the trailhead so all we had to do was set up camp, chill and sleep! Annoyingly, summer alpine lake season is also peak mosquito season and they chased us the whole trip.
We hardly set alarms as the sun woke us up without our rainfly on our tent. With a leisurely start, we were off on our way within an hour. The bonus 2 miles we hiked in was very useful because it felt like hardly any time had passed before we found the turnoff to Tuck and Robin Lakes. I love having little checkpoints along a hike to make me more engaged and motivated. The next one we was the PCT. It was fun to think my friend had just hiked through there a few days ago. From this intersection, the trail remained mostly flat. It soon opened up to this basin that was so lovely and even had a grassy campsite for those who wish to camp with some solitude. It was just slightly off the main trail, easily accessible by smaller social trails.
The trail eventually descended a few hundred feet before a big climb to Marmot Lake. The sun was beating down on us and I think we all kind of had tunnel vision in terms of our focus to get going. It’s a long way up without so much a single switchback. But looking out, I could see the mountain range above Robin Lakes. It’s just always an amazing feeling knowing where you’ve hiked and camped before. A sort of nostalgia.
We were all a little gassed once at Marmot Lake. We took a nice long lunch break and I even took a full dip into the lake. It was surprisingly warm for an alpine lake. I’ve been trying to make it a goal to jump in more alpine lakes and figured why not both. Or at least this one because who knows how much colder Jade Lake would be. My feet especially felt refreshed and ready for the next climb. We were still on schedule – spending an hour or two at each lake with enough time to head up to Dip Top Gap for the evening and snag the spot. We passed many campsites all along Marmot Lake, many which are closer to the south end of the lake. I didn’t count how many but they were all very empty (I think only about 2 groups camped there this night).
I misread the map wrong, thinking it would be another 1000 foot climb, but it was more like 800 feet up with a 200 foot descent. So I was pleasantly surprised by how short the “scramble” section would be. It’s always hard to judge what people mean by difficult or easy. The route from Marmot to Jade takes a little bit of route finding skill. To me, it is fairly easy to follow the cairns (rock stacks), but it might not be the most intuitive for all hikers. The trail also becomes a bit more narrow and primitive, climbing over trees and some amount of loose rock and boulders. But fear not because it is only a short section before you find the trail again on the left side of the boulder field. I personally enjoy boulder hopping, but following a trail is always simplest.
At the top of the climb in No Name Lake. I noticed that at its higher elevation, No Name can flow into both Jade and Marmot, but Jade cannot flow into Marmot. And actually, Jade Lake has a different outlet. No Name Lake is actually pretty nice and I’m sure it also has space for camping, but there is also a lot of vegetation and bog, which may make that harder.
Soon we got glimpses of Jade Lake. And more and more revealed itself to us. We heard a comment that the lake is more beautiful than described and it was so true. It does not disappoint and even though I’ve seen many photos of this lake, seeing it in person is a different and special experience. We “snagged” a spot to place our packs in case we needed to camp there and quickly went down to the lake to lounge. Jade isn’t as friendly for leisurely hangouts because rocks are pointy and the shore is steep, compared to Marmot. But there are a few good access points and other people were able to launch their floats, I mean sleeping pads, on the water. Looked fun but the lake was so chilly and I wasn’t about to sacrifice my sleeping pad because I was set on getting to the gap.
With enough time spent at the lake and I was starting to twiddle my thumbs, we repacked and started going towards the gap. I was a little worried ahead of time, not knowing how to navigate the cliff I saw on the map. The end of the trail places you directly on the cliff and I knew you could somehow make it to the gap. Plenty of people have, so it must not be so difficult. I kept giving wrong directions and having to recorrect due to all the side trails along the lake. We found so many more campsites that I didn’t understand why people always say that Jade has few camps. It has a lot! I’m guessing at minimum we saw 8 different parties there plus more open campground. So there you go.
When the trail starts climbing up significantly, you’ve probably taken the wrong fork. There’s a path that leads straight down to the base of the snow or the rocks where water might be running into the lake. That’s what you need to take. I did appreciate our detour because it gave us a great vantage point of the route and the lake. If you were confident, you could traverse across from the top of the cliff to the main path. I think it would be easier with more snow coverage and I didn’t want to subject everyone to slippery ground, so we took the thigh burner and went down just to go back up again. Once on snow, it was super straight forward and we were all happy to have on micro spikes. The sun was just setting behind the mountain and the shade was quickly cooling the snow. It seemed like during later season, there’s an actual trail to the right of the approach. We found that the snow worked fine as long as we stayed away from the edges. Who knows the stability of the snow bridges above the flowing water!
Sophia was on a roll and left us all in the dust (or snow). Once I reached her, I saw a little bivy site, that I didn’t realize was there. I was planning on scrambling an extra 300 feet to the larger area! I was convinced that one bivouac site would fit two tents and seeing how tired everyone was already, I didn’t want to subject them to scrambling with a backpack or head down. So we made it work. Please note that it is bad practice to camp on trail as we did. But there was space and no one was coming up or down.
Even after dinner and setting up the tent, we had some time to kill before the light show. And it was quite the light show, but not what I envisioned. Mt Daniel was pretty but I think the northerly mountains took the spotlight. With the layers of mountains and the vivid colors in the distance, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the same thing. Looking back, I wish I’d scramble one of the peaks, but I’m still very content with the views we got at camp. It was just exactly what I needed to fill my cup of alpine sunsets.
Thankful for friends who agree to my wild ideas, I fell asleep under the stars. This night was a bit more windy than the previous night in the forest, but I’ll take a sleepless night for gorgeous views. I woke up again to see the milky way through my tent mesh ceiling and quickly did a little astrophotography session. I’m still new to it, and always figuring out the settings on the spot, but next time, perhaps I’ll have it more dialed in. Sonja’s husband Alex Spaeth does a really great job with astrophotography – I should take some notes from him!
After a short amount of sleep, I woke up to my alarm letting me know that I needed to get up soon for the morning light show. Slowly, everyone else started to get out of the tents and we quietly watched the sunlight hit Mt Daniel. I think the morning alpenglow was prettier but the sunset fire-like glows were better than the morning version. We had a long day ahead of us so we didn’t take a nap before heading back down. Surprisingly, the snow was the perfect amount of firm but soft enough to prevent a slippery mess. We snuck past a few camps that had just begun rustle. With one stop to filter water, we were all go, no stop back to the trailhead, save a few snack breaks here and there. It was long, but yet again, the longest section was the last mile out. That seemed to linger forever and the previous 10+ miles just flew by.
You can read Sonja Saxe’s trip report here. I only now realize that she has a picture of the bivy site we found…if only I had had checked before heading up haha!
Hyas Lake: there’s probably at least 5 along the lake and another 3+ further up the smaller lake.
Deception Pass: after crossing PCT, there’s about 3 existing camp sites but before the final climb to Marmot Lake
Marmot Lake: I stopped counting, but there’s some hidden ones a bit uphill from the lake, must have been at least 8 obvious ones
Jade Lake: these are more open and I think I saw at least 8 different groups. There couple be almost 10 campsites
Dip Top Gap: There is a single bivy site at the gap enough for one tent. There is further flat space if you scramble about 300 feet up towards Dip Top Peak
Toilets: there’s designated toilets at both Marmot and Jade Lakes
Permits: self issued at the trailhead
Water: this time of year, water was plentiful and flowing over the trails
Buts: this time of year, was probably the worst I’ve seen
Leave No Trace: please use established campsites (share with another group if you have to) rather than creating your own. Don’t camp on vegetation and stay on trails