Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Friends at Ross, Alone at Desolation

My friend Katie's family has taken their yearly family vacation at Ross Lake Resort for over 30 years. Ross Lake is a 20-mile long lake off Highway 20, with Diablo Dam at its south end and the North Cascades National Park surrounding it everywhere else. The resort is a row of floating cabins only accessible by boat or hiking over a mile from the parking lot. The family spends a week hanging out with friends, fishing, hiking, swimming, playing games, and cooking lottttssss of food. Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to join and definitely didn't want to miss it this year.

Last year was also when I learned that Ross Lake was where the trailhead was for Desolation Peak. Desolation has one of western Washington's many historic fire lookouts, but was made famous when Jack Kerouac stayed there as the lookout in the summer of 1956 and went on to write about it in his book Desolation Angels. As a Kerouac fan in high school, I had vowed to someday go there.

My "someday" finally came! I arrived at the lake resort in the early evening, with enough time to catch up with every one, eat a delicious dinner, and enjoy the fading light from in front of Katie and Alan's cabin. Here you can see the wooden skiff that the resort rents to guests, plus the dam and the beautiful peaks in the distance.
The next morning was warm and clear. We swam, drank rounds of coffee, ate berry pancakes, and indulged in the guilty of pleasure of celebrity gossip magazines. (Katie Holmes had just left Tom Cruise, it was big news!) My friends had already been to Desolation Peak, so it turned out that I was going to be going up alone. I didn't want to hike on an exposed trail in hottest part of the day, so we decided that I would hike up in the afternoon/evening, set up camp, and come back the next day. They were kind enough to take me up the lake to the trailhead, which is quite a ways (nearly an hour) from the resort. If you charter a boat I think they charge you $100, so I was incredibly grateful for the boat ride.
We took our time getting up the lake, taking side trips up a little river mouth with narrow canyon walls, and to a swim spot where we could watch fish and jump off small cliffs.
We pulled up to the trailhead a little after 4, which was nothing more than this small dock in the expanse of forest. I put on my heavy backpack and agreed on a time for them to pick me up the next day.
The hike up was beautiful. It was forested a lot of the way, but then I would come out of the trees to see Ross Lake getting smaller down below, and numerous peaks of the Cascades poking out all around in the muted evening light. It was also really hard. It's been a long time since I've backpacked alone, and I had forgotten just how much weight it adds to not have multiple people carrying group gear such as the tent, stove, cooking pots, and water filter. Also, I had a required bear canister which was incredibly heavy.
I don't really mind backpacking alone... in fact, I think it's really good for the soul once in a while. And it felt freeing to have so much wild space around me, and know that I was the only person on the mountain. I had to get a permit at the ranger station in Marblemount to camp at the campsite just below the peak, and there is only one site. The permit is first-come-first-serve and I was lucky enough to get it, so I knew for sure that there was no one else camping there that night.

There was only one moment when I felt a little scared. I was on the way up, and passed a tree that looked like a Ponderosa Pine. "Wow!" I thought, "Is it really a Ponderosa? That would be weird to see one on the west side of the Cascades." I walked up to inspect the bark more closely, looking so intently at the colors that it took me a second to notice the HUGE BEAR CLAW MARKS on the trunk. My heart started pounding but I reminded myself that I've never seen a bear in the wild and probably wouldn't today. I did start singing though since I had no one to talk to and making noise I'd be less likely to catch a bear unawares.
I made it to the campsite which was a gorgeous spot with a view, two tent pads, a pit toilet, and a separate cooking area. I made dinner in the little kitchen area and then called it a night.
The next morning I woke up to crazy fog. Like, only about 15 feet of visibility. I was so bummed at the thought of not having a view from the top. I did some reading in the tent and made breakfast, and by then the fog was burning off a bit. I left all my gear at camp except for a day pack, and headed off to hike the last mile or so up to the peak. The morning suddenly got really hot, and mostly cleared up except for some flat layers of clouds.
In Desolation Angels, Kerouac talks a lot about Hozomeen mountain...

"Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I've ever seen, like a tiger sometimes with stripes, sunwashed rills and shadow crags wriggling lines in the Bright Daylight, vertical furrows and bumps and Boo! crevasses, boom, sheer magnificent Prudential mountain, nobody's even heard of it, and it's only 8,000 feet high, but what a horror when I first saw that void the first night of my staying on Desolation Peak waking up from deep fogs of 20 hours to a starlit night suddenly loomed by Hozomeen with his two sharp points, right in my window black..."
It was epic, jutting out of the clouds like something out of Lord of the Rings, not resembling other peaks around Ross Lake. I'm so so happy I got a view of it. Here's the fire lookout, with Hozomeen in the background.

I hung out on the peak for awhile, enjoying the serenity and solitude. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I knew if I wasn't back to the dock on time, Katie and Alan would worry. I headed down the mountain and got back to the dock with minutes to spare. The timing worked out great and I'm really glad they didn't have to wait on me at all. They had brought snacks and cold beers and we chatted about the past day. Did I mention how awesome those two are?

Back at the resort we started an "experimental happy hour" in which we amassed all our various liquors and mixers, and the proceeded to try brand new cocktails. The only rule was you weren't allowed to mix a drink you had ever had before. Some terrible and brilliant concoctions were born, and either way it's a game that comes highly recommended.
Then there was dinner, a dance party, hula hooping, and a fairly early night to bed. I left the next day, very happy to have a vacation with both time alone and time with such wonderful people.

1 comment:

halfassnovelist said...

What a totally cool trip! Way to go! You're awesome and I'm impressed!