Friday, October 07, 2005

Sun, Rocks, Snow and Scree (walking in Kerouac's footsteps)

I just returned from my hike in the North Cascades. I hiked to Desolation Peak, where Jack Keroauc spent a summer as a lookout in 1956, his expereince detailed in "Desolation Angels". "Desolation Angels" is a hugely inspirational book for me and I always wanted to experience what Kerouac did; the beauty, tranqulity, and absolute truth of the mountain.

I started off by getting my backcountry permit at the ranger station. I was thrilled to discover that I would be the only camper in the entire north half of the park! After getting my permit, I stayed the night at the Skagit River Resort in a wonderful little cabin. I also got to visit with the large rabbit population they have living there; I saw over 50 rabbits!

Sunday morning dawned and I was ready for my hike. I drove up the North Cascades highway to a remote parking lot. From there, I hiked a mile to the edge of Ross Lake, where a boat picked me up and ferried me to my trailhead, ten miles north. At 9am, the boat guy said "good luck" and left. I wouldn't see another human for two days.

The hike from the trailhead to my camp took six hours. The trail was very steep and gained 4000 feet in 4 miles. I should have trained a lot harder for it, but I did make it to the top around 3pm. Once on top, I had a great view of the entire cascades range.

I also saw a storm system moving in from the west, so I quickly setup camp and got inside my tent. It started sleeting/snowing around 4pm and didn't let up until around 8pm. I cooked some quick dinner and then got back in the tent and the comfort of my sleeping bag. I wrote and read until about 9:30pm. By then I was really beat, so I went to sleep.

I woke the next morning at 7am, cooked breakfast, and started up the trail to the summit, another mile and 1000 feet up. It had snowed heavily overnight and the trail was very wet but still visible. At 5500 feet, I got my first and only view of Hozomeen mountain and the lookout shack on the peak. I stopped, removed my pack, and spent a quiet few minutes enjoying the same view Keroauc first saw in 1956.

Another monster storm was quickly moving in on the top of the mountain, so I enjoyed the view and then headed back down. The snow that fell would have covered the trail completely, making getting back down difficult.

Once back at camp, I packed up all of my gear, said a quick thank-you to the mountain for treating me well, and then started the long trek down the mountain. The trail was so steep that it quickly turned my knees and legs into burning jelly. The scree on the trail that made climbing up so easy made coming back down very slippery. I cursed the scree continually but settled into a steady pace, letting my feet fall where they chose and letting gravity do the work. I stopped for lunch in the beautiful but very steep alpine meadow.

It took 4.5 hours, but I finally made it to the bottom. Once I got to the trailhead, I removed my pack, found a nice big rock to lay on, and enjoyed the sun and view while drying off.

Abount an hour later, my boat taxi showed up. As I sat in the back of the boat and looked back at Desolation Peak, I still couldn't believe that I had actually climbed it! I was also delighted with the fact that the weather had really been quite bad, but it didn't dampen my enjoyment at all. In fact, being up there with all the elements made the trip much more rewarding.

The boat taxi dropped me off at the trail to the car. I still had to hike one more mile to the car, which was really tough. I finally made it up there around 5:30pm. I collapsed, let out a huge woop, and then took a photo before I got in the car, to remember the feeling.

This experience was a big one for me. I finally got to see the mountain that inspired Kerouac's writing, which inspired me as well. I also got to spend two days in absolute peace and tranquilty. It was a refreshing break from the busyness of the city. I plan to go back next year in early September; this time I will make it to the summit and see the entire Cascade range from that little lookout shack at 6000 feet. It truly was a trip I will remember forever.

Full Photo Gallery

"Desolation in October"

Desolation Peak
ice and snow on my tent-
so hard to come down


Post a Comment

<< Home