Thursday, August 30, 2012

Desolation Peak

A few weeks ago I went on a camping trip with some friends from work, Ashley, Alicia, Pine, Tim and Adam to Ross Lake in the North Cascades National Park.  After the 2 1/2 hour drive we had to hike 1 1/2 miles down from the road with all our gear, get a boat taxi ride across the bay to the resort and rent a canoe to then paddle 12.5 miles to our campsite.  It was a beautiful day and the water was smooth for the first 8 miles or so.  Then the wind picked up and made the last few miles a struggle.  It took 6 hours to get to the dock of our campsite.  We made it, set up camp, had a delicious dehydrated REI  dinner and slept under a star filled sky.

The next morning I started out on the run up Desolation Peak at 8 am.  It was 6.8 miles and 4,400' of vertical to bring you to 6,102'.  I planned on doing it twice.  This trip was planned back in May so I regarded it as a focus training run, like you would your focus race. Because it was 5 weeks before my focus race this was a run I was looking forward to almost as much as I was to the race itself.

The first 2 miles were relatively flat with some gradual incline hugging a steep mountain side next to the lake.  Then the climbing started.  It was relentless over the next 4 miles.  Countless switchbacks with very few flat spots to do some actual running.  The first 2.5  miles or so are through the forest and then the sun starts to poke through.  Along the way I thought I kept hearing voices so I would stop to listen but could never make them out for sure.  Then at about mile 4 there is a meadow and you actually get a short downhill right before the last section of uphill for about a half mile to the summit.  That's where you  find the fire lookout that Jack Kerouac spent a summer at and wrote a few books about.  As I came around the hut there was somebody sitting there eating there lunch before heading down.  She asked if I heard her singing.  Funny.  That's what I heard, I wasn't going crazy.  She does that to let the bears know she's coming.  I like that, I just say "hey bear, hey bear."  We did not see any bears.  But,  I did talk to two different campers that said they saw a mountain lion right on the trail the night before.  So I ran with a big stick.

I took about ten minutes at the top to take some pictures and check out the cabin, it was locked, but you could see in as there were windows all the way around it.  A 360 degree view, not a bad sight first thing in the morning for those fortunate souls that get to spend the night up there.

Then back on the trail for the descent.  I've been working the downhills hard lately in preparing for this race and planned on running as hard as I could but keeping in mind that I had to come back up and down this mountain again.  So a fast paced descent was fun to maintain.  I ran into my friends about 2/3's of the way down as they didn't get started until about 10 a.m.  It was good to see them and let them know what they were in for.  I knew I would see them in a few hours and I looked forward to being on the mountain at the same time.

The downhill was great and the last flat 2 miles back to camp was fun and runnable.  When I was on the summit telling the singing hiker about the mountain lion that the other campers saw I remembered that I left all my food in my tent instead of putting it in the bear box.  Then I started thinking that if that cougar got into my tent while everyone was away from the camp that I would be out of food for the next lap up.  And no food for that night.  And probably a ripped up tent.  So I pushed the downhill faster than I wanted to.  The cougar did not find my food.

I filled my water, my pockets with gels and food, put my other food in the bear box and headed back up.  About 15 minutes out of camp I started to bonk.  I had been feeling really good the whole day so far and had not needed a lot of calories or water on the first lap.  Now I did.  I drank one of my 20oz water bottles in the first 2 miles of flat and proceeded to drink regularly on the way up.  Second lap was going to be much harder and I was going through water fast.  It was harder to run the spots that I did on the first lap so I just settled into a fast hike and tried to conserve water.  But it was going fast and I thought about turning around because I knew I would need some for the descent.  So I decided to go up to the 3.8 mile post where there is a fork to a small campsite up there and wait for my friends.  I got there, sat down and waited. I could hear voices so I thought they would be down soon.  The voices were not getting louder so I walked up the trail about 5 minutes and saw two people hanging out up on a flat rock.  It was Ashley and Pine!  "Hey! Do you have extra water?"   Pine did, and so she was my hero.  I was able to fill my two 20oz bottles but not my camelback  as I wanted to make sure they had enough to get down.  I figured 40oz should be enough  to get me back to camp.  The other 3, Tim, Alicia and Adam were at the summit and I didn't want to risk going up to meet them to find out they didn't have any water to spare.  So I headed down with Pine and Ashley and soon started running and told them I would see them back at camp.  The run down was fun and fast.  It was much warmer now and I needed to keep drinking.  I went through all but about 5oz by the time I got down to the flat section and knew the last 2 miles were going to be hard without any water. My legs were feeling the affects and did not appreciate the trail the same this time around as they did the last time.  My water was gone soon and you would think you don't need much for the last 1.5 miles of a run, but with the heat and fatigued legs I was thirsty as hell all the way to camp.

When I reached camp I grabbed the water purifier and sat right down in the lake so my legs were submerged.  I then proceeded to fill my water bottle and drink it repeatedly until I felt somewhat normal.  After I downed about 80-100oz and got some electrolytes in me I went for a swim.  Ahhhhhh!  What a trip.  I estimated it to be about 8,400' of climbing and descending in 25 miles in a little over 5 hours.  Slightly short of my goal, but a good lesson and a great adventure.  I highly recommend this trip but would advise you to rent a kayak instead of a canoe.  It would have been much faster to and from the campsite.

on top of Desolation Peak with Hozeman Peak behind
there's the cabin
Ruby Mountain, south of Ross Lake, taken from the summit of Desolation
there's Ross lake looking north into Canada
campsite at sundown


  1. You are an animal Drew. Great to have you on the adventure....just wait until next year's trip ;)

  2. Thanks Pine, I think that's you. Can't wait to see what next years adventure will be. I'm sure it will be awesome.
    Found out Adam did have water at the summit. I should've know, Adam, should've known. He was packed down like a mule.