Magnificent Marmots of the PCT

In Pacific Crest Trail Journal by SallyLeave a Comment

Wildlife watching is one of our favorite things to do, and its a big reason for going out west to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. One animal in particular, the marmot, captured a lot of attention and is a bit of a character on the trail that stretches through the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

No coverage of a Pacific Crest Trail hike would be complete without some marmot photos! So without further adieu…

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A Yellow-bellied marmot getting its morning sunbathing on. This was the first marmot we saw on the trail, but definitely not the last. They are extremely plentiful in the Sierra Nevada, and somewhat of a mischievous character among the wildlife there. Marmots have a reputation for enjoying human food and we’ve heard plenty of stories of them stealing hikers’ snacks or nibbling on sweaty clothes and equipment.

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Marmots are essentially large ground squirrels. This one looks to be of average size, but in the Sierras they can grow quite large.

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A Yellow-bellied Marmot chirps at us as we hike up to Pinchot Pass on a cold, foggy morning in the Sierras. These are the variety of marmot most common, and most notorious, in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Their characteristic sound is called a “chirp,” though I’d definitely say it’s more of a squeak. Marmots chirp to alert others to the presence of predators.

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A wet marmot just over of Kiersarge Pass in the Sierras.

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Walking south through the Mount Adams Wilderness, we stumbled upon a family of Hoary Marmots. We hadn’t seen marmots since a few of the Yellow-Bellied variety near Snoqualmie Pass, so we were initially delighted (marmots are awesome) and then stunned at their size. The four adults we saw sunbathing and hanging out around a rock formation all looked to be only slightly smaller than our 40 lb shepherd mix (the Yellow-bellied marmots common to the Sierras looked to be 10-15 lbs).

As soon as we walked away, after getting enough photos obviously, we heard high pitched whistling and squeaking as they warned the rest of the colony ahead about us. That explains the whistling noise I wasn’t able to identify for most of Northern Washington. Fun fact: Whistler, the ski resort, was renamed after the marmots to make it more “marketable.”

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Actually not a marmot! This little mountain hamster is called a pika, and is a member of the rabbit family. They live among the rocks and boulder fields in mountainous habitats. They’re small, adorable and pretty shy- sticking around just long enough for you see them but not to get a photo. Their coloration helps them blend in perfectly with their rocky habitat, but their multi-tonal chirp will clue you in that they’re there. I noticed two distinct calls, that of the pika in the Sierra Nevada of the pika in the Cascades.

Here’s a short video clip about Pikas, from my hero David Attenborough. I feel like if I just saw a pika carrying a stalk of mountain flowers my life would be complete.

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Two adult Yellow-bellied Marmots bathe in the sun atop their rocky home as hikers pass on the trail below.

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A marmot gives us the stare from the hollow bottom of a tree off the trail.

An obese marmot hunting for spoils inside loaded JMT hikers' packs.

And one of my all time favorite photos from the trail, an obese marmot hunting for spoils. John Muir Trail hikers, infamous for their oversized packs and supplies, drop their packs at the last two miles before Mount Whitney, leaving a well-habituated marmot to root around inside of them.

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