Desolation In One Day?I have to admit that Desolation Peak was not yet high on my mountaineering “to do” list. But when the opportunity arose and I had the chance to be a part of a great contingent of local peakbaggers for this mountain, I found myself unable to resist going. I’m so grateful and thankful, not only for deciding to go but also for being able to share an experience with other people that will be remembered for some time.
The main keys to the trip were to go on a great weather day, which Saturday was, and to determine some way to make it a viable one-day adventure. Desolation Peak is near the Canadian Border in the North Cascades, on the eastern side of Ross Lake. The East Bank Trail is approximately 18 miles one-way before evening reaching the Desolation Peak Trail (which would be another 4.5 miles one-way, so that option was out. The approach for the peak from the north also seemed unrealistic as a one-day excursion, so that option was out. The water taxi for Ross Lake ran at odd times for our intended hike, so that option was also out. That left us with one option: take boats up the lake to the Desolation Peak Trail, ourselves.
Space was limited for the boat portions of the trip. With no boats of our own to take on the trip, reservations for two 14’ aluminum boats were made with Ross Lake Resort. Seven people went on the trip, and with gear included that worked out well… possibly just barely so. We expected one more person to go, but that morning we determined it would just be the seven of us, after all. Splitting the cost of the boat rentals between us is what made this option viable (and affordable) for each of us. The people who went on this trip were (in no particular order) Bob Bolton, Duane Gilliland, Edward Earl, Ken Russell, Eric Noel, Adam Walker (a.k.a. “Gimpilator”), and me.
Boats and Trail TalesOn Saturday, June 12, we met at 7:00 AM at the Ross Dam Trailhead. We walked down to the shore across from Ross Lake Resort, phoned them to let them know we were ready to be picked up and taken across to channel to the resort, and were picked up at 8:00 AM. After some minor delays, we left the resort in our boats by 8:45 AM. The resort workers told us we would reach the Desolation Peak Trailhead within one hour, but that must be with only 1-2 people per boat. With three people (Edward, Adam, me) in one boat and four people (Ken, Eric, Bob, Duane) in the other boat, plus gear, it took us nearly 1h30m to reach the trailhead.
With the lake’s water level still low (due to a late snowmelt this year), we were not able to take our boats to the actual dock at the trailhead. After beaching our boats a short distance south of there and tying the boats up, we found a spot nearby to stash some gear (such as snowshoes and extra shoes). At about 10:30 AM, we began our hike… bushwhacking for a short distance (because we were not at the trailhead) until reaching the Desolation Peak Trail.
From there, it was an easy-to-follow trail hike to the summit ridge. There was no snow on the trail the entire route up until near the ridge. We all got along very well and had many interesting discussions. Bob was taking many photos throughout the ascent, and I am certain my photos do not even compare to the high quality his must be. Most of the hike to the summit ridge was in thick forest, although we were delighted to pass by some great views of the lake, as well as some peaks to the south and west, at various locations.
A Summit, An Injury, And A FawnOnce on the ridge, the ascent became a snow-walk to the summit. Edward, Adam, and I together reached the summit first, at approximately 2:15 PM, followed a few minutes later by Bob, Duane, Ken, and Eric. The summit fire lookout was closed, but it did not matter. The views from the summit were spectacular. Thus far, the summit of Desolation Peak has the most fantastic far-ranching views of the North Cascades I have ever seen from one location.
To the north was the two-towered massif of Hozomeen Mountain, as well Silver Tip Mountain and other peaks north of the nearby Canadian border. To the east we had views of peaks within the Pasayten Wilderness Area. To the south we had views of Jack, Ruby, Sourdough, Logan, Goode, Buckner, Eldorado, Colonial, Snowfield, among many others. To the west we had views of the Pickets, Prophet, Baker, Shuksan, Mox, Spickard, among many others.
After spending 45-50 minutes at the summit, mostly taking photos, resting, and peak-gazing, it was time to descend. We had told the resort that we would try to be back there by 7:00 PM, which meant we had to try getting back down to the boats by 5:30 PM. During the descent on the trail, Duane’s ankle buckled a little, sending him to the ground. He did not break anything and he was still able to walk, but he wanted to keep moving rather than resting so that swelling could potentially be kept to a minimum. There were supposed to be a couple of group rest breaks during the descent, but because Duane wanted to keep moving, I decided to continue with him rather than resting, myself. Although we were on a trail, so the chances of getting lost were slim-to-none, I was not about to allow a wounded team member descend solo. If something had happened to him, such as getting re-injured, I would have felt terrible about it.
Duane and I arrived back at the boats by 5:15 PM. When we walked over to our hidden stash of gear, Duane found a tiny fawn laying in front of that location. The fawn looked like it was only a few days old, and the doe (mother) deer was probably nearby watching from the adjoining forest. We suspected the doe had fled into the forest when she heard Duane and I approaching. A short time later, the rest of the team arrived. The fawn became spooked by Duane’s movement towards his gear, and hopped along the beach away from us. We each grabbed our gear, loaded the boats, and departed by 5:45 PM.
A Stranded Boat And Some Final ThoughtsThe return boat ride was interesting for us, as well. When we passed by Cougar Island, four people in a small aluminum boat (also retned from the resort) flagged us for help. They had run out of gas, concerned they might end up stranded on the lake after dark and for an unknown amount of time. They were happy to see us, and asked us to have the resort bring them fuel. We took our boat directly to the resort and immediately informed the owner, who then quickly took his boat to their location to assist them. We realized this would delay our own return boat trip to the Ross Dam Trail, but that was not important to us. Making certain the stranded boat received assistance was the most important thing. Even with delays, we still made it back to our cars shortly after 8:00 PM. Gimpilator and I had a long drive home ahead of us, so after saying our “good-byes” to everyone we soon departed.
Overall, the trip was a major success. We were able to summit Desolation Peak in a single day, take boat rides, take advatnage of the best warm Spring weather thus far this year, go to a fire lookout, see fantastic views of the North Cascades and surrounding areas, and thoroughly enjoy the company of our teammates. Everyone in the group got along very well, and that helped to really enhance the overall experience… one I (and probably many of the others in the group) will remember for a very long time.
I want to take a moment to thank the group for including me on this trip, and to say it was great meeting some of the people for the first time and reacquainting myself with some others. I also want to thank Ross Lake Resort for having top-notch staff and assistance.