Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dharma Bumming Double Desolation

Dharma Bumming the Double Desolation Route

photo by Kathy Vaughan/
Kathy Vaughan & Lisa Eversgerd
By Kathy Vaughan

     Once the restriction of running only during daylight hours is a concept of the past, an adventure can begin at any time of the day or night. My adventure partner Lisa and I discovered this when we completed the Methow Trails 200k Nordic Ski Challenge, the first people to take it on in one push. We set out on a cold, starlit night at 11:00 p.m. to begin the ski challenge. We skied day and night to complete 217k of trail, sleeping in Lisa’s pop-up camper at the trailheads as needed for breaks. We had run and hiked together before, overnight, napping trailside when we started falling asleep on our feet. Staggering around like drunks becomes dangerous on certain types of trail. We usually choose rugged, remote trails, sometimes with precipitous drops to one side. So we have learned to grab sleep as needed in order to complete long endurance efforts together, and to begin them when it best works out for our busy schedules.

     Lisa works as an organic farmer and soap maker at her home in the Okanogan Highlands community of Chesaw. Ras and I own a cabin with a creek and five acres in Chesaw as well. She and I met at an arts and craft bazaar in Molson, another tiny community. We hit it off when we were on a Rendezvous Huts ski trip on the Methow Trails five or so years ago. We wanted to ski longer and later into the night than the other ladies we were sharing the hut with, and so we did.We then began skiing and ultrarunning together as often as we could. Now that Ras and I have moved across the Cascade Mountains to Whidbey Island in-between long thru-hikes, it’s slightly more complicated for Lisa and I to hit the trails together. Our last run was on the Kettle Crest Trail, 20 miles including a climb up Colombia Mountain. We got into some freak June snow and colder temperatures on that run. We started at 3:30 in the morning in order to have time to complete the route during the short weekend trip. Ras and I had come over to Chesaw to finish up some unfinished moving business. We needed to be done by noon for our long drive home, so Lisa and I started before light, allowing us to be treated to both the moon still bright in the sky and the sunrise. These trips and other had enabled us to be prepared to begin an adventure at any time of the day or night.

     Now at 7:30 p.m., having driven to the East Bank Trailhead nearly three hours away, after having gotten off work from my regular job of weeding people’s yards, Lisa and I were meeting up once again. Ras stopped by on his way to attempt the Kettle Crest 15, a run along the crest trail summiting all the peaks along the way. Gavin Woody would be joining him there.He took our starting photo for us. He then surprised us by cheering us on from the parking lot overlooking the trail after he had already said goodbye. Then Ras took off, leaving Lisa and I alone with her dog Lucy, to begin our journey along Ross Lake.It was 8:30 p.m. as we descended towards the bridge that spanned the confluence of Ruby and Panther Creeks. The turquoise waters churned below and I calmed my own insides as the excitement of what lay before us was now becoming a reality.

photo by Ras Vaughan/

     Lisa, Lucy and I were attempting the Mind Body Challenge, an 88 mile route with 17,500 feet of elevation gain. Ras had conceptualized this route and offered it as part of our UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge series. The idea was to complete the route and then relate the journey to one of Jack Kerouac’s books that he wrote while working as a lookout on top of Desolation Peak, through a blog or other creative form of expression. Ras had dubbed this uniquely nerdy quest the UltraPedestrian Mind/Body Challenge, and this particular route the Double Desolation. Climbing 5,000 feet in five miles to reach the lookout, on the way out the East Bank Trail and on the way back, after tagging up at Hozomeen at the Canadian border, is an essential part of the route’s design. Ras and I climbed up to the lookout with our daughter Angela when she was about 12. Even at this time, he thought climbing it twice as you travel to the north end of the lake and back would be a unique and crazy challenge.

     Lisa and I caught up with each other on our personal lives as we ran and hiked. We talked about our jobs, our families, our homes and all kinds of other topics. The miles went by quickly and I was surprised each time I saw one of the trail signs for the camps along the way. I had been on this first 17 mile stretch of trail so many times that I knew the mileages and the order in which these camps were situated along the lake. It had become dark. We were soon right above the lake on well-built trail. We could see the water shimmering if we shone our headlamps on it just right. We sat down for the first time ten miles in to have a quick snack. We made a plan to keep pushing through any rain and to be prepared to stop and put on our Gatewood Capes when the time came. We had already been rained on for a short spell. It felt good to have the cool drops fall on us after the build- up of humidity, causing us to sweat as we pushed the pace along the fairly cruisy trail. After the first 1,500 foot climb up to Hidden Hand Pass, the trail essentially rolls along nicely. We were to Lightning Creek and the intersection to the Desolation Peak climb before we knew it.

     The first two miles traverse the side of a steep, grassy hillside with large pine trees. The forests along the lake are mostly cedar, fir, and maple. But along this lone stretch, tall pines reside. And also a bear. Ras and I had seen it the previous weekend near dawn, descending from Desolation. It had been sleeping under a large fir tree leaning against the trunk and reclining comfortably when I first saw it. Ras and I accidentally shone our headlamps into its sleepy face as it awakened, startled and then ran off into the trees.

     When we got to the intersection where the spur trail descends to the lake for boaters to access the climb at Jack Point, we knew the ascent was about to begin for real. We would climb 1,000 feet every mile, mostly with switchbacks. Up and up we went, the rain beginning to come down heavier the higher in elevation we got. It began to get a little bit chilly. I had on compression capris with a skort over the top, ankle high Injinji toe socks with gaiters, my Altra Lone Peak 2.5s, a short sleeve Altra tech fiber shirt with Smartwool arm sleeves, a big warm ear flap hat I bought while thru-hiking the Arizona Trail, a Smartwool neck warmer and my cape over the top of all of this. My skort and capris got wet from the brush. The cape was soaked through, but I stayed mainly warm and dry up top while moving as fast as possible on this climb. I stayed focused on moving sustainably and quickly, visualizing how I would change into warm layers at the top. Lisa had seen a forecast which called for heavy rain to start at midnight and last until about 6:00 a.m. It had started at 1:30 in the morning and I focused on enduring the conditions for this window of time. The forecast called for cloudy skies with sun breaks throughout the rest of the weekend. I just had to get through this. I reminded myself of the phrase, “This too shall pass”. I set my ego aside and understood that Lucy and Lisa were also enduring these same conditions. Staying warm by moving was the only option. I knew to stay focused only on that one task at hand.

     I saw flashes of lightning over the distant mountains, lighting up the dark sky. Waiting for a few seconds, the loud claps of thunder sounded and I wondered how safe it was to keep climbing. I called out to Lisa, wondering if she had seen the lightning too. We decided to keep climbing towards the summit to stay warm, but only stop to take shelter if the thunder sounded closer.Luckily, the storm began to let up within about 15 minutes.

     The climb got increasingly steeper and the sky lightened. After hours of being soaked by a heavy rain, it let up gradually. Then, it was light out. I shook my cape out as I hiked so that it could dry while I was still wearing it. It was helping to keep me warm from the cold, post- dawn temperatures. Lisa and Lucy made some distance on me on the climb, but soon we were all at the top. We felt really good about this progress. We had climbed Desolation for our first time. It was hard, but we both knew we could do it again, even after running another 28 miles with 5,000 feet of elevation gain in the interim.

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     I set to work in the cold, quickly getting my dry Smartwool hooded sweater on and my soaking wet short sleeve Altra shirt off of me. I would not be working as hard on the descent and would need to be dressed a little bit warmer. I tucked my wet cape away into it’s own pocket, hoping to have a chance to dry it out later on a break. I pulled on my down puffy pants, knowing they would get a little damp, but also wanting to put something on quickly that would warm me up immediately. They would be easy to take off when I was warm enough and I could then strap them to the outside of my pack to dry during the day. I wanted to preserve my insulated tights for nighttime running and also have them dry to wear for a nap.

     We took a couple of pictures and then started moving at a pretty good pace down the steep mountain trail. The wildflowers were in bloom up above the tree line. The rich fragrance of the small alpine trees smelled so good. It evoked memories of hiking with Ras and Angela when she was young. I was loving being up high and taking in the incredible views all around me. We ran most of the five mile trail down from the top of Desolation. As we got to the two mile section of trail that stretches along high above the lake, we saw the black bear that Ras and I had seen the weekend before. I was in the lead and I saw the beautiful animal lumber across the trail and then start trotting uphill, well away from us. I thought the bear might be around again. I’d seen lots of scat and rotten logs that had been dug out in a search for grubs and insects.

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     Our plan was to get water at the bottom of the descent and take a quick break while doing so. We would then get going further along Ross Lake, back into the Lightning Creek drainage. We would tag up after 14 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation gain in Hozomeen, where the Canadian border sits. We were mentally prepared to run all the flats and downhills, power hiking the uphills. We weren’t planning on taking a break until we reached the turn-around. Off we went, the journey now being broken up for ourselves into bite size pieces that we knew we could handle.

     This section starts with a good climb, high above Lightning Creek, which one hears far below. There is some exposure in this section, but the well-built trail is easy to follow and feel safe on while still moving efficiently. The two-ish mile climb is followed by downhill to the creek itself and a sturdy old cabin. Other runners have slept in this dry space on their Mind/Body Challenges; John T. Barrickman and Jeff Wright both. Lisa and I exchanged an agreement that it would work well as a shelter if we happened to be near it in another down pour such as we had already experienced.

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     The forest now becomes thick with both old growth and smaller trees, crowded almost. Soft, green moss carpets the forest. Huge old downed logs have a layer of moss on top of them that serves as a soil for young trees and the forest underbrush to grow. These are called nurse logs. They give such an enchanted feel to the forest, some of these logs looking so ancient. The wood is rotting and rich in scent. I can’t take it all in as I run and look around me, entranced and pulled forward further down the trail. It makes it easy, easier than it should be.
When we reach the turn around, we are 44 miles in. Lisa and I see the old cabin I have read about in trip reports and trail guides. We are now in Hozomeen. We had felt like we were off the main trail for a couple of miles, as this mystical forest seemed endless at a certain point. I had remembered Ras saying we didn’t need to take the Trail of the Obelisk, we just needed to cross the parking lot. He had read this in John Barrickman’s trip report, which I had not yet read. Lisa and I crossed the parking lot and did not see anything obvious. We were in a campground. We saw the park ranger and asked him where the obelisk was. We told him we needed to reach that point as our turn-around and that it should be at the exact border with Canada. He directed us a mile or so down a dirt road that led out of the campground in which the trail ends. We were both bummed to have further to go, as we were so happy to have reached this spot. Not only that, the dirt road sounded like it would be quite painful on the already tired feet, 44 miles deep now. We took off down the road looking for the obelisk.

     On and on we hiked, finally seeing the trail sign for the Trail of the Obelisk. I remembered again Ras saying we did not need to take this trail. We hiked past the ranger cabin and to the signs indicating we were at the border with Canada. We took photos for proof here and trusted that the obelisk itself was not the only requiredproof that we had completed the route. We were at the border with Canada, and we felt that was what mattered. I was unaware of any other ruling for proof. I only knew what Ras had said about John saying, “Just cross the parking lot.”

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     We got back to the trail head and started our return trip to the Lightning Creek/Desolation Peak trail junction. We stopped to take a quick break for refueling and discussed our strategy to get back as fast as possible to that junction. Lisa suggested we push our fastest for the first 3.2 miles back to the junction with the Hozomeen Lake spur trail. She would take the lead and I would follow her. We moved really well and got there in just over an hour, most of it climbing.

     I then took the lead and pushed as fast as I could for the next 3 miles to where the Lightning Creek trail begins. I forced myself to go fast. I visualized the nap we had decided to take. We were going to bundle up and sleep for 3 or 4 hours when we got back to the trail junction. We now only had about 10 miles until that nap. I could do that any day. I imagined putting on all the layers I had with me and spreading my cape out on the ground. We would try to find a spot under one of those big old pines, or on some soft moss. I snacked consistently and kept sipping my water. We were able to refill from faucets at the lakeside camp.
We ran past the lovely stream, not seeing it now that it was dark, but hearing it’s pleasant rushing noises. I had music going in one ear, just enough to distract me from any of my discomforts and to help me keep up a faster pace from the beat of the reggae dancehall music I enjoy listening to on the trail. We had each taken a caffeine pill and this was helping us to stay focused and increasing our ability to put forth a strong physical effort, now over 50 miles into this unsupported run. Our packs were heavy for running, but we both are used to this, doing unsupported treks more often than supported. We hiked hills and pushed the pace on flats and downhills.

     We passed the old cabin and I was grateful that we were not in a position that required us to step inside of it. We were feeling good: strong, focused and ready for our nap. The cozy nest we would make was calling our name. Lisa led a good pace on the relentless, exposed climb back up high, high above Lightning Creek. It was eerie to hear it far below and to know that one misstep could send any of us toppling down the steep hillside. I followed the trail and Lisa’s headlamp. She called out “How are you feeling?” I called back “Shitty! I had forgotten about this big climb and the drop-off is freaking me out since I’m stumbling around tired! How about you?” She called back “Yep, I know what you mean about the drop-off. If we find a good place to sleep, I’d be ready to take our stop.”

     We each found a place in our minds to go, to relax, to keep moving towards the desired trail junction where we really wanted to be. We made it and then went beyond. We found a perfect wide spot in the trail with moss and protective trees overhead. We each made our own spots. I put on all my layers and had a down puffy suit on over it all. I spread my cape out on the trail, carefully keeping the down gear off of the still wet edges. I then wrapped the cape over the top of me and fell fast asleep. It was 1:30 in the morning and we would sleep until 4:30.
I awoke with a stuffed up nose and finally, not wanting to wake up Lucy and Lisa, blew it hard so that I would stop sniffing and could breathe normally. Instead, I did wake Lucy and she jumped to her feet barking as if a monster had entered our camp in the night. She barked again and leapt behind Lisa for protection. I talked to her calmly so she would know it was me, Lisa doing the same. Finally, she came up to me and sniffed me out. She then realized who I was and curled up into a little ball next to me. I lay down again, snuggling up next to her for warmth, as the pre-dawn morning temperatures were quite cold. She was now being very sweet to me and the warmth she provided was amazing. This was a very pleasant few minutes.

     Now, it was time to be strict with our plan. Lisa and I both put on appropriate layers for getting going and started off down the trail. We were going to push this climb as best we could. It was really the crux of our challenge. We had to climb this steep mountain just one more time. And then a quick 5,000 foot descent. And then a 19 mile run out rolling trail, to the completion of the route. We had it now. We knew what was ahead of us. We just had to be careful to not get injured on the steep downhill.

     Not far down the trail, we saw the big black bear for the second time. This time it saw us too and Lucy let out a bark. Lisa had her on a leash. The bear took off up the steep hills, chuffing repeatedly. It stopped and turned back to look at us, chuffing once again. We kept moving down the trail, giving the bear it’s space.

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     We continued to the trail junction where the climb begins towards Desolation for real, and a steep descent leads to the lake shore for boaters, Lisa, Lucy and I settled into a good pace, Lisa taking the lead. I pushed to keep up with her the best I could, as she is a faster climber than me. Lucy stayed back with me for the most part, sometimes darting ahead to be with Lisa. She was enjoying being off leash, now that we were well past the bear, and seemed to like my slower pace. At one point, she stopped abruptly in the trail. I heard buzzing, getting louder, and realized that we were right near a bee nest. She did not want to pass by it, but did anyway and got stung a couple of times. It all happened so quickly that it was hard to react appropriately. I walked right through as well, and got stung twice. The stings hurt and I shouted profanities. I kept on going, trying to hike it off. Lucy cranked her head around a couple of times to chew at the spots where she’d been stung. Soon, I had forgotten about the stings. We did mark the area with branches so that on the descent we would be aware of the nest.

     We got higher and higher and were soon out of the trees. This felt like a huge accomplishment. We still had a lot of climbing ahead of us, but now the switchbacks were taking us directly, and even more steeply, up the mountain.The closer we got to summiting Desolation for our second time, the better I felt. I knew I was going to finish the Mind Body Challenge this time. This was my fourth attempt and Lisa’s second. We had tried it last year and gotten caught in a relentless rain storm, complete with thunder and lightning. We made it just past Nightmare Camp before turning around and heading back towards Lightning Creek, the East Bank Trail head and our cars.

     This time we had it though. We could now see the lookout in the distance and it was pulling us towards it. We wound our way up the steep trail until, finally, we were at the lookout. I pulled out my phone so that I could take a couple of pictures. I put my puffy jacket over the top of what I was wearing so that it would be easy to pull off once I got warmed up again, had a caramel Honey Stinger waffle and loaded the front of my Nathan pack with snacks. Ready to go, we turned to descend 5,0000 feet back down to Ross Lake.

     With tired feet, we moved as efficiently as we could down the steep switchback trail. The wildflowers were vibrant all around us. Lucy showed off, romping off and perching herself on top of rocks. Really, she was looking for small critters to play with or chase, but it was fun to think of her acting so regally. She deserved the right to feel proud; she was just about to become the first canine to complete the Mind/Body Challenge.

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     We stopped at a flat outcropping of rocks to take off our warmer layers from the early morning hours. The day was quickly warming up. There were still some clouds overhead, but the sun was shining through and with minimal layers the temperature felt just right. Down the switchback we flew, making our way once again towards the intersection of trail where one heads off either into the Lightning Creek drainage where we had ventured the day before, or back down the East Bank Trail directly along Ross Lake.
     After the 28 mile stretch of the route down Lightning Creek, to Hozomeen and back, and the second climb of Desolation over with, nothing felt daunting to me anymore. All of the remaining mileage felt doable. I just had to get into the proper mindset and take care of myself physically. I decided to finally start listening to Jack Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums”. I had left it until now, as it can be such relaxing listening and I didn’t want to encourage myself to get drowsy. But now it was engaging and the perfect accompaniment to the less interesting stretch of trail that lay ahead.

photo by Kathy Vaughan /

     The 19 miles of trail along the lake that remained were rolling. I led the pace and I wanted to run everything flat and all of the downhill. I wanted to hike the uphills as fast as I could. Lisa had to work the next day and had a several drive to get home. At this point, every time I could push myself when I didn’t feel like it, it would make a difference. It was time to keep the pace strong and finish this challenge in good style. I felt very motivated.Everything felt right. I nibbled on my remaining Honey Stinger Waffles and slurped on my Expedition Espresso Trail Butter pouch. I had a Honey Stinger walnut cranberry bar that tasted delicious. It was from a sample pack they had sent me, as an ambassador, of several of their new products. The walnut cranberry bar hit the spot perfectly and reminded me of a Christmas shortbread. I also had a couple of Picky Bars left. These had been so easy to eat throughout the miles and always filled me with good energy and nutrition. I had brought just enough food with me. I’d eaten everything but a Lemon Honey Stinger Waffle.
We got to May Creek bridge and sat down for a break while we filtered water. We decided we would take one more break at Roland Creek after the log crossing. This would leave us with 6 remaining miles. We could pull that off any day of the week.

     I continued to lead the pace after our nice break alongside the creek. I had been enjoying “Dharma Bums”. It was definitely distracting me from any of the aches and pains I had after 82 miles. I related to the character Christine, who baked biscuits and made soups and found joy in sharing these with others, feeding others. I have lived like that and would love to spend more time cooking for others now. I travel the trails seeking spiritual fulfillment too and I said to myself, “I’m a Dharma Bum”. I cruised effortlessly along the trail, feeling lighter as I went.

     Crossing the confluence of Panther and Ruby creeks, the rushing waters below were soothing and harkened a sense of completion. Lisa, Lucy and I were coming to the end of our journey. We climbed the few switchbacks that led to the parking area and Highway 20. After 46 ½ hours, the three of us had completed the route. We returned to our cars to change into comfy clothes. Lisa made us coffee with her Jet Boil. We said goodbye and Lisa pulled away as Lucy slept soundly on the bench seat of her truck.I stayed behind to sleep in the back of my car overnight. I wanted to soak in all the goodness, all the joy, all the sense of accomplishment. I prepared some canned chili and a box of mushroom rice pilaf. I sat in my camp chair with a cozy fleece blanket and fell into the deepest relaxation I’d had for months.

photo by Lisa Eversgerd /

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