A lovely little gem at the base of Vesper Peak

Location: Mountain Loop Highway
Length: ~7 miles, roundtrip
Elevation: ~2600 feet
Getting there: Drive the Mountain Loop Highway and turn south on FS 4065. Drive to the end of the road and park at the Headlee Pass / Sunrise Mine trailhead (elevation 2400 feet).

NW Forest Pass required

We arrived at the trailhead around 11 am with the plans to bag Vesper Peak. The weather was cool and had a mix of sprinkles with sunbreaks – not bad for a steady climb. It had been years since I had been up the trail to Headlee Pass and Vesper and a lot has changed.

Let's do this!
Let’s do this!

The trail starts off heading through a dense, dark forest, and the sound of water cascading down the mountain filled the air as we meandered along. The recent rain made sure everything was a bit damp and dreary.

After crossing a few streams, we began to climb through the forest. The trail is a mix of roots and rocks and mud, typical northwest fare. Soon we came to the crossing of the upper part of the Stillaguamish River. I’ve been here in the past and the crossing can be quite nefarious depending on conditions and waterflow. The bridge I used when hiking up here in high school has long since been destroyed and all traces have been washed downstream. Lucky for us, today the water flow was manageable and we picked our way across with minimal effort.

After the Stilly crossing the trail begins to switchback up the ridge. The slide alder and brush is pretty rampant and, on a hot sunny day this would be torturous.

Once we gained the ridge, we entered the basin below Headlee Pass. Everything looked much, much different than the last time I had visited. I’m sure years of avalanches and storms contributed to the reshaped landscape. There were also newer slides that made the trail difficult to follow and we lost it for a while. Someone had placed neon duct-tape to mark the path. [That someone was an idiot and was way off trail. We ran into a few people on the way back down who ended up on a two-hour detour and rock-scramble due to that mis-marked tape. I took it all down on our way out!] 

Tiff letting me know just how much she loves this trail!
Tiff letting me know just how much she loves this trail!

We picked our way up the basin, over a very rocky and bouldery trail until we got to the base of Headlee Pass. This too looked unrecognizable. Nature tends to have trees and bushes grow where trees and bushes once were not! Nevertheless, we started up the narrow switchbacks through the slot up toward the pass.

Once we reached the top of Headlee Pass, I checked the time and realized we probably didn’t have enough daylight left to make the top of Vesper. So we decided to just head into Hidden Basin and have a lunch break there. We skirted across the talus field under Sperry Peak and entered the basin.

Reflections
Reflections

As we made our way up to the lake, Tiff shouted out that she saw a huge animal up the hill. My eyesight not being as keen as it used to be and being without my glasses, I struggled to see what she was looking at. Finally, she pointed my blind eyes to the correct boulder and I saw what she saw – a giant Hoary marmot doin’ his marmotty things.

Silverback marmot - this guy was pretty huge
Silverback marmot – this guy was pretty huge

Vesper Peak was obscured in clouds so, even if we had chosen to summit, we wouldn’t have had much of a view. Content with reaching the lake, we took a (chilly) break to have lunch and some declicious beers.

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After lunch, we headed back out, snapping pics along the way.

Overall it was a great day. The trail is in rough shape in many places and can be a bit slow-going for some, both heading up and coming back down. If you choose to hike up, we built some nice big cairns to mark the trail through the rocks – follow those!

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