2022 Sept: Backpack Robin, Marmot, & Jade Lakes, Dip Top Gap

A tough, beautiful, and thrilling adventure took us to two strikingly turquoise lakes, fed by two of Washington’s receding glaciers. From September 6-9, two of us backpacked to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes. The trek climaxed atop Dip Top Gap with a stunning view of Pea Soup Lake nestled below icy Mount Daniel, the highest point in King and Kittitas counties. This four-day trek through Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area covered 28 miles with 7925 feet of cumulative vertical gain and loss.

Sunrise on Mt. Daniel, Robin Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise spotlights Mt. Daniel, seen from Robin Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington. The Cle Elum River originates in this watershed.

With new backcountry gear lighter than ever, I couldn’t resist returning to Tuck and Robin Lakes, last visited 34 years ago. Decades later, rapid glacial melting has eased the route to scenic Dip Top Gap, I learned recently. Attaching micro spikes to our hiking shoes secured an exposed, scary ascent of the remnant glacier that feeds the intensely aqua-colored Jade Lake. Carrying a 3.5-ounce Garmin InReach Mini 2 [Amazon] reassuringly tracked my progress for Carol and allowed Text communication via satellite — a great innovation!

Joining me on this trek north of Interstate 90 was my sister-in-law Rebecca, who planned to add two more days northwards via Surprise Creek to finish on Highway 2. However, on our Day 4, thick smoke rolled in and sadly nixed her extension, so she joined me hoofing it back through the brown air to her car. Good decision, because a new fire closed U.S. Highway 2 on the day that she had planned to exit!

Photo highlights here are excerpted from my trip gallery “2022 Sept: Backpack Robin, Marmot…”

Directions

Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (Google Maps 47.5443, -121.0973) is about a 3-hour drive from Seattle. From I-90, take Exit 80. Drive north on SR-903 to Salmon La Sac. Fork right and continue up Cle Elum Valley Road (FR-4330) for 12 usually-rough miles. Any vehicle can carefully handle the road’s usual potholes, although a high clearance vehicle may be faster. This fall 2022, the gravel road was thankfully newly graded, a northwest rarity! Display your Northwest Forest Pass / Federal Lands Pass. Free self-issuing Wilderness Permits (USFS) are at the trailhead.

Backpacking details

We hefted backpacking gear for 22.1 miles, with 5600 feet of cumulative vertical gain and loss (to Robin Lake 1 night and Marmot Lake 2 nights). Day hiking to Dip Top Gap via Jade Lake added 5.9 miles, with 2325 feet ascent and descent, round trip from the Marmot Lake outlet campsite.

Day 1: Tucquala Meadows Trailhead > Robin Lake

(6.4 miles 3100 ft up, 470 down)

Mt. Daniel, Tuck Lake side trip from Deception Pass Trail. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: a vista of Mt. Daniel and Tuck Lake seen while clambering to Robin Lake.

From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead, we walked along Hyas Lake on a well-made trail. After climbing about 800 feet (before reaching Deception Pass), turn right (east) on the side trail to Tuck and Robin Lakes. The good trail becomes very steep and a little slippery to Tuck, but rarely requires using hands. Next, don’t underestimate the tortuous 900-foot ascent in 0.7 miles from Tuck to Robin Lake when carrying full packs — it was a 2-hour grunt! Thin air at 6,000 feet elevation exacerbates the difficulty of this vertical scramble up rocks and roots. Reaching Robin Lake was surprisingly hard, despite our previous conditioning from 5.5 weeks of intensive trekking in the Alps and follow-up hikes.

Our campsite at Robin Lake, a steep side trip from Deception Pass Trail. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: our campsite at Robin Lake.
My tent with a view of Mt. Daniel and Robin Lake, a steep side trip from Deception Pass Trail in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Two of us backpacked for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we began with the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mount Rainier seen at sunrise from Robin Lake in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake and turned east on a steep trail to Tuck & Robin Lakes. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Seen from our campsite at Robin Lake, sunrise spotlights the distant Mount Rainier. Eight minutes later, the rising sun floods Mt. Daniel with golden light (below):
Sunrise on Mt. Daniel, Robin Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Cascade Blueberries (Vaccinium deliciosum) harvested at Robin Lake, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Cascade Blueberries (Vaccinium deliciosum) harvested at Robin Lake, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.

Day 2: Robin Lake > Marmot Lake

(6.9 miles, 1700ft up, 2880ft down)

Mount Daniel seen from Tuck's Pot near Tuck Lake, a side trip from Deception Pass Trail, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Mount Daniel seen from Tuck’s Pot near Tuck Lake.

Descending from Robin Lake to Tuck Lake was much quicker than going up, since we now knew the vaguely cairned route, and gravity was in our favor. After descending from Tuck Lake, we turned right on Deception Pass Trail to ascend to Deception Pass (4500 ft elev). At this forested col, we turned right onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). After just 50 feet, we turned left on the comfortably-graded Marmot Lake Trail, which descends 700 feet into Hozbizz Basin, then gains 900 feet to Marmot Lake (4 miles from Deception Pass). (Along the way, Clarice Lake trail turns right, but we kept left.)

At Marmot Lake we camped 2 nights at the outlet stream. Alternative: If you have energy to backpack 2 more hours on a rougher trail (which is more difficult than its 900-foot cumulative gain would suggest), proceed upwards to camp in greater beauty at Jade Lake. If Jade’s few sites are full, neighboring No Name Lake is a good option (which doesn’t require carrying packs another 150 feet vertically down then up round trip). Returning from Jade to Marmot Lake takes about 1.5 hours with a full backpack or 1 hour with day pack.

Logs pile at Marmot Lake outlet, in Washington, USA. We backpacked for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Logs accumulate at Marmot Lake’s outlet, seen at sunrise, below our campsite.

Day 3: Jade Lake and Dip Top Gap

(5.9 miles, 2325 ft up and down)
We day hiked from Marmot Lake outlet camp to Jade Lake and Dip Top Gap (6700 ft elevation) round trip. Follow the cairns and established boot paths, and avoid paths marked closed with a sign for foliage regeneration. Attaching micro spikes to our hiking shoes let us safely ascend the remnant glacier in the jumbled rocky gulch below Dip Top Gap. Hiking poles were also very helpful.

Glacier Peak seen from between Marmot & Jade Lakes, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Along the steep chute between Marmot and Jade Lake, we noticed that Glacier Peak in the distance was gradually being covered from the bottom up by westward-drifting smoke.

Jade Lake and Dip Top Gap in Washington, USA. We backpacked for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: turquoise Jade Lake. In the center of the image is Dip Top Gap and its remnant glacier, which we climbed using micro spikes on our hiking shoes as shown:

Using micro spikes on our hiking shoes, we climbed a remnant glacier above Jade Lake on the way to Dip Top Gap, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Using micro spikes on our hiking shoes, we climbed a remnant glacier above Jade Lake on the way to Dip Top Gap, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: On the precipitous glacier crusted with rocks, seen here melting fast into rivulets above the more uniform snow slope, I felt more secure walking on the left where rocks frozen onto the glacier’s surface acted as foot backstops. The separate sections of white snow became safer after softening in the afternoon sun, as seen here during our descent. But all day, the steeper clear ice remained a threat to hikers who failed to bring micro spikes. Beware of loose and falling rocks. Wearing a helmet and using an ice axe in case of self arrest would be safer on the exposed ice sheet.

Below: In a steep section just below Dip Top Gap, walking on the hard, steep snow felt secure using micro spikes. I found that circumventing the snow and ice required scrambling through boulders and unsettling scree. Notice Glacier Peak rising above a line of smoke on the distant horizon.
Using micro spikes on our hiking shoes, we climbed a remnant glacier above Jade Lake on the way to Dip Top Gap, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mt. Daniel and Pea Soup Lake seen from Dip Top Gap, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we started on the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The payoff for achieving Dip Top Gap is an impressive vista of Mt. Daniel, Lynch Glacier, and Pea Soup Lake, in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington.

Marmot Lake. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: We return to camp at Marmot Lake to sleep for a second night.
Below: Forest fire smoke rolling in overnight caused an amber-colored sunrise at Marmot Lake:

Forest fire smoke invades Marmot Lake. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Day 4: Marmot Lake > Tucquala Meadows

(8.8 miles, 800ft up 2250 down)
The route out is relatively easy, with packs lighter at the end due to food already eaten.

If time allows, consider returning (or starting) via a high circuit, the Deception Pass Loop via Cathedral Pass, adding 9+ miles. Beware of stream-crossing challenges during meltwater season or after heavy rains (a problem that’s avoided by hiking in late summer). Great side trips include Peggy’s Pond (2 mi RT/300 ft), Circle Lake Trail (unmaintained), and the spectacular ridge following Mount Daniel Climbers Trail.

Forest fire smoke invades Marmot Lake Trail in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: smoke thickened to unhealthy levels as we descended to lower elevations. The sun was nearly obscured by yellow-orange haze over Deception Pass.
Forest fire smoke invades Deception Pass and Marmot Lake Trail in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Orange mushroom. Marmot Lake Trail. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: An orange fungi clings to a tree trunk.

Below: Forest fire smoke from distant blazes obscured Hyas Lake, as we exited along Deception Pass Trail towards Tucquala Meadows Trailhead.
Forest fire smoke invades Hyas Lake on Deception Pass Trail in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. Backpack for 4 days to Tuck, Robin, Marmot, and Jade Lakes and Dip Top Gap in Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, USA. From Tucquala Meadows Trailhead (north of Salmon La Sac), we took the Deception Pass Trail northwards past Hyas Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

After the car started (yay) for the drive back to Seattle, we breathed easier inside, thanks to air conditioning filtration.

Before reaching I-90, we stopped in Roslyn for a delicious burger at the legendary Brick Saloon (“The Brick”), Washington’s oldest continuously operating bar (since 1889). I fondly remember the television series “Northern Exposure” (1990–1995) which was set in fictional Cicely, Alaska and filmed in Roslyn.

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