Land in the Sky: Desolation

In the summer of 1992, I was 34 years old. So I loaded up my old Corolla wagon with mountaineering gear and spent a couple of months just driving around and climbing peaks along the Pacific Slope.

I climbed all the snowy volcanoes from Mount Lassen to Mount Baker. Well, except for Baker—which, in that drought year, was a formidable blue pockmarked demon—and Rainier, because the Park Service wouldn’t let me climb it by myself. (In later years I went back and climbed both these peaks with friends.) By the middle of September I was working my way around the North Cascades. I decided to climb the mountain where Jack Kerouac worked as a lookout in the summer of 1956—Desolation Peak. At the time he was 34 years old.

I rented a little motorboat at Ross Dam and navigated my way several miles up the impounded waters of the Skagit River to an overgrown landing that was the trailhead. The same route Kerouac used to get there. Nothing much had changed. It was a five or six mile hike to the summit. Along the trail I surprised a small grizzly snacking in patch of huckleberries. We were both frightened. He ran away first. I made it to the summit. Nobody was there.

The other day I found this snapshot—an old school selfie taken on the summit of Desolation. It made me happy to look at. And a bit sad. So I just said “Blah,” with a little grin, figuring those two 34-year-old guys would understand what that meant. Then I wrote these words.