By Kathy Vaughan
The Devil's Dome Loop in the Pasayten Wilderness is a rugged 45 mile loop with 12,000 feet of elevation gain. It travels through the high country along Jackita Ridge with views of Jack Mountain and its massive glaciers in sight the whole way. Then the trail drops down to Ross Lake on steep terrain, grown over with brush and with hidden rocks and holes underfoot. It is a beautiful route. My trekking partner on this adventure is a long time forest service trail crew supervisor, who claims it is probably the most scenic trail she has traveled in the Pasyten.
Lisa Eversgerd and I became fast friends last winter after we went on two different ladies ski trips together into the Rendezvous Huts outside of Mazama, Washington. We skied into a cabin with a group of other ladies, and Lisa and I hit it off immediately. To use her words "we are like two peas in a pod". Both vegan, outdoorsy adventurers, we are at ease with each other whether chatting away or moving for miles at a time in silence. We would ski with the other ladies in the morning and then continue on our own journey for hours and miles beyond what the others were interested in. We would get back to the cabin at dark, warm up, eat and pull out our crafting projects. Lisa makes amazing pine needle baskets that she creates with her strong, yet agile fingers stitching and forming the shape so effortlessly. I enjoy making little dolls out of recycled wool and other natural scrap fabrics. This is a perfect way to relax and recover after long endurance efforts.
I first backpacked around this loop with Ras about 15 years ago. It was our first trip of this sort together. We had rented everything we needed for this excursion, except for the hiking shoes Ras was wearing, which he referred to as his "trail posers." We were newbies in every sense of the word. We bathed with soap in the beautiful mountain stream, carried 1 gallon plastic water bottles strapped to the outside of our packs for our water supply, and naively pitched a tent on the side of a steep switchback trail, our first night out. We hadn't left the trail head until 6:00 that evening. Needless to say, I have learned a lot since those days.
Lisa drove her little truck with a canopy on the back into the North Cascades, a 4 hour drive from our nearby homes in the Okanogan Highlands. We made stops along the way so she could check on her pine needle baskets that she sells at the Main Street Market in Omak and the Mazama Store. She also makes wonderful herbal soaps and she needed to restock the supply at the Main Street Market. When we got to the Colonial Creek Campground in the early evening, it was pouring rain. We set up a little dry spot in the back of her truck, and made our final pack preparations for the next day's adventure. I had made a delicious tempeh scramble dish, which I reheated at the campground and we shared a nice meal together while keeping dry. After the rain let up, we found a dry spot under some huge cedar trees where we could pitch our tents. We crawled inside and slept well under rainfall until the early morning. The rain let up for us as we made coffee and got dressed. We had about a 15 minute drive to the trailhead at the East Bank of Ross Lake. Here we parked, let out excited cries of "Let's Do This" and were on our way.
We first took a few switchbacks down to the bridge that crossed the aqua marine colored confluence of Panther & Ruby Creeks. After making a few minor adjustments we began our rolling 3.3 mile hike of the Ruby Creek Trail. Our feet got immediately wet from the rains the night before soaking the brush that was growing over the trail. They would stay wet for the rest of this 45 miler. We had light packs with everything we would need loaded into them and we would do this hike in one push, thinking it might take us around 20 hours.
After this section of trail, the climb began for real. It would continue to climb for the next 20 miles. Rain came in little sprinkles here and there, so we kept our packs covered to keep our warm night layers dry. At the last minute, I had grabbed a little 99 cent yellow rain poncho to bring with me, because of rain in the forecast. I had a more substantial rain shell, but I thought this might come in handy as well. This is what I wrapped around my pack to keep it dry and it became one of my most useful pieces of gear. It just goes to show that the cost of an item does not indicate its true value on the trail. I didn't mind being wet from the rain as I was staying more than warm enough from the climbing.
The sun came out occasionally and blue sky would open up. We could still see the incredible views of the distant peaks, despite the rain clouds that came and went. When we finally got up into the high country after a few hours of climbing, we entered a wild blueberry patch that was filled with berries. I fell behind Lisa as I kept grabbing berries as fast as I could, popping the little delicious bites into my mouth, realizing that I could never buy something so special as this at our local markets. The berries were plump and juicy and had a slight apple flavor mixed in with the blueberry. Nature's candy!
Lisa and I enjoyed taking breaks as we hiked, sitting and replenishing ourselves in scenic spots when we would find the perfect rock or log. I felt awesome, eating a lot as I went to keep my energy level up. I knew we had many miles to travel and the right nutrient and hydration balance would be the key to staying positive and strong. I am very happy with how this aspect of our trip went. I ate tempeh I had cooked ahead of time; nuts and nut butter pouches; Gu Chomps; figs that Lisa shared; dark chocolate with espresso (especially at night); pumpkin seeds with roasted garlic salt; soy jerkeys and Cliff Bars. I never got too hungry.
I had brought my Sawyer Squeeze water filter and it was easy to find sources all along the trail. I enjoy stopping alongside a creek to filter water, being grateful for the cold, natural source and being able to take care of other needs while stopped. Lisa is so used to being on the trail and working with a crew, that I always feel like we are a real team. She helped with the water filtering each time and insisted on carrying the filter after our first stop. She was always tuned into what I was doing or needing; she had my back and I had hers. There is no other way to be when you travel deep into the wilderness with someone. I felt comfortable with her, at ease, and like I could always just be myself. I get a little giddy on the trail after many hours. I could embarrass myself with this behavior, but with Lisa she just laughed.
After topping out at 7,000 feet on Jackita Ridge, the trail travels down a steep shale slope. I had done this trail twice before and both times this slope had lingering snow. Not this time. We cruised down the shale with no issues as we dropped deep into the valley of the North Fork of Devil's Creek. It felt good to be going down hill. I was holding up well with my consistent eating and drinking. The downhill trek was technical, steep and slippery. Soon we could see Devil's Dome ahead, our next climb to gain a 7,000 foot summit. This climb was relentless, but when we reached the top, 24 miles into our hike, it was time to have a rest and put on our warm night layers. I took off my wet short sleeve short and put on a cozy, dry Smartwool sweater. I also put on a warm wool blend hat with a Smartwool neck gaitor over the top for extra warmth in the night. Dusk would fall on us as we descended. Our 12.5 mile trek along Ross Lake would be in the dark. The tread would be more mellow at that point and headlamps would give us the light we needed to make our way back to Lisa's truck at the trailhead.
As we followed the trail downhill, we pushed our way through wet brush once again. It became increasingly hard to see the trail at our feet with the coming darkness and the brush obscuring obstacles, but before we knew it, we were down to the lakeshore. After 4 miles, we came to the Devil's Creek suspension bridge and took advantage of the flat surface to take another break. We had a magical stop here, with the creek far below us, emptying into Ross Lake. It was quiet and still and we were alone in the woods. The only critters we saw were huge toads and a backpacker, sound asleep, who had set up his sleeping bag in the middle of the trail.
It was perfect and I was overwhelmed by the understanding now of why ultrarunners run 100 milers again and again. After my first 100 miler, Pigtails Challenge in May, my first question to Van Phan, an ultramarathoner, local legend and the race director of Pigtails, "Why do you 100 milers go out and do this again?" Now I know. During Pigtails, my night miles were often under street lights, or other runners were coming towards me with their headlamps, or I could hear cars going by. I had special and wonderful moments on that journey as well, but traveling through the night on trail in the middle of nowhere is a different experience all together.
Because of this quietness, the sleepiness hit Lisa and I on this final stretch down Ross Lake. We first tried to play games like Ras and I would play with our daughter Angela when we took her backpacking as a little girl. I suggested we play the ABC game (I had also tried this during Pigtails, but my brain would not work efficiently enough). We went through the alphabet, taking turns saying boy's names. Then we came up with girl's names all the way through the alphabet. Then last names, until we got tired of this and were too tired to keep going.
Lisa did it first. We had stopped and sat on the trail to snack and make some adjustments. We both changed into nice dry socks. She laid down and turned off her headlamp. She was still and quiet. I was still rummaging through my pack with my headlamp on. When I finished, I decided she looked very comfortable and I would lay down too. Soon, we were asleep. This began our power nap pattern. We would walk for as long as we could, and then simply lay down on the trail and sleep for 10 minutes or so. We would be hiking along and suddenly my breathing would become shallow, like I was laying in bed and falling asleep. And then I would begin to have little dreams and stumble around on the trail. I had heard of this. I had heard of ultrarunners sleeping on the trail, especially Ras. Now I got it. I not only got it, I enjoyed it and looked forward to each nap I would get to take as we traveled along.
We were making progress though and we had passed the last major camp along Ross Lake, Roland Creek Camp. I knew this camp and its creek crossing well. I had camped here a couple of times in the past and I was very familiar with this section of trail. The final 7 miles. Woo Hoo!! We got some water from the creek, napped and then crossed. We were on the final stretch. We had one little climb left and then a 2 mile section along Hidden Hand Pass. We meandered along this pass, until struck with the drowsies once again. We laid down for what we thought might be our final power nap.
When we awoke and began moving again, I began to feel disoriented. Dawn was approaching now. Instinctually, I felt like we were somehow moving in the wrong direction. We should have been done with the pass and now moving down hill again to the final stretch along the lake; a 3 mile long old road bed where we would make excellent time. It would be light out. We were almost done. We would nestle in the back of Lisa's truck. We would have a cup of coffee and some hot soup. All at the same time, a loud relentless downpour started, pounding against the salal and Oregon Grape; a wide creek that needed fording came into view; and ahead was a wooden sign post. I knew what I was looking for but what I saw were the words "Roland Creek Camp". Lisa recognized the creek too. It was now light out and very wet. We were 7 miles back up the trail. What wrong turn did we take? What loop is this that brought us back here? What the heck did we do? Oh no, where is my toilet paper-right now, really?
"Patience is a virtue, a wait won't hurt you and in the long run, it will serve you." At this point, that's all we could do; be patient, with ourselves, with each other, with the trail and our journey. We just started moving to keep warm in the cold morning rain storm. We were quiet for about 15 minutes as we started back along that stretch of trail for the 3rd time, now much more awake. Soon we started laughing and joking about it and before we knew it, we were back at the bridge, and up the few switchbacks to the truck. Now the rain stopped and we could make that coffee we so wanted. I spread my cheezy yellow rain pouch on the ground.
I stripped off my sopping wet layers and wrapped them up in the "Yellow Wonder" as it had been named. There is nothing so heavenly as putting on fresh, dry clothing after a long day on the trail. I looked down at my watch. We had just completed the Devil's Dome Loop in a straight through hike in 26:24, including all of our breaks, power naps and water filtering time. Lisa had never hiked over 22 miles in one shot. She doubled her distance PR (personal record) and had her first experience of going all night. She kept her spirits up the whole time and took great care of herself. With our additional mileage, we figure we hiked about 50 miles. I can't wait to see what is in store for us in our next adventure together.
Peter Bakwin Ultimate Directions Vest
Zensah Calf Sleeves (Bright Pink and fresh out of the package)--These kept my lower legs warm through all of the wet brush and also helped keep my calves from tightening up with all of the climbing.
Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z Poles--I love these poles and highly recommend them for use on steep terrain.
Altra Lone Peaks 1.5 Running Shoes--My feet held up well and they provided good traction on the technical terrain.
Salomon Running Skort--The lightweight fabric was perfect in the rain and wet brush. It did not become heavy and dried quickly as soon as the sun hit it or the run stopped.
Black Diamond Headlamp
GoMotion Sternum Light--I have mixed feelings about this light. I like the extra light it provides, but the light itself will not stay fixed in one place. I had to fiddle with it a lot.
Injinji Toe Socks--Merino Wool are my favorite
Western Mountaineering Down Puffy Suit--Very warm and great for power napping before the rain started in the early morning, as its not waterproof.
North Face Rainshell--warm and waterproof
NEXT UP: A review of my favorite piece of gear on this trip, my new Peter Bakwin Ultimate Directions ultrarunning vest.