Trip Report: Desolation Peak

And suddenly I saw the Northwest was a great deal more than the little vision I had of it in my mind. It was miles and miles of unbelievable mountains grooking on all horizons in the wild broken clouds” – Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums

Tom and I have been married for 8 years as of this August, and to celebrate we decided to take a trip up Desolation Peak. Ever since my first trip to Ross Lake, I knew I had to take Tom there. He’s a hiker, but more importantly he loves boats and the water as much as I love mountains. I figured that Desolation Peak would be the perfect day for us as a couple: rent a skiff, take it up the lake to the Desolation trailhead, and then hike the peak from there.

Desolation Peak is home to an active fire lookout, and provides spectacular views of Ross Lake, the North Cascades and the Pasayten wilderness. Jack Kerouac served as a fire lookout on Desolation, and wrote the books “Desolation Angels” and “Dharma Bums” based on his experience there. In short, this is a can’t-miss peak.

Unfortunately/fortunately, getting to the trailhead isn’t straightforward, as it’s located approx 18 miles up Ross Lake. You either need to catch a water taxi, rent a skiff, or hike/run 18 miles up the East Bank Ross Lake trail to access the Desolation trailhead. Since Tom is “just regular outdoorsy, not ultra outdoorsy” (his own assessment), and since he loves the water so much, renting a skiff was the obvious option.


We left our house at 5 am and were on the Ross Dam trail by 8 am. We hiked one mile down to Ross Lake, where we took a very short water taxi ride over to Ross Lake Resort and picked up a 14 ft aluminum skiff. Within minutes we were zooming up the lake, me on the bow and Tom driving the boat, in his happy place. The boat ride alone would’ve made an amazing anniversary trip. The sun was shining, white puffy clouds were lingering on all the peaks, and neither of us could stop smiling. Except for the occasional pirate face by Tom.

Leaving Ross Lake Resort: pirate face.





We reached the Desolation dock in about an hour. We had packed a picnic lunch for after the hike, and hung it in a bear bag for safe-keeping while we we headed up the mountain. As Tom was hanging the bear bag, a family of deer came over to investigate. They had zero fear.

Bye for now, boat!
Hanging the food.
I resisted a very strong urge to pet their velvety ears.

The hike itself was pretty much an unrelenting climb from start to finish. Nothing super steep or technical, but definitely a solid push for 4.5 miles. The first few miles are mostly forested with occasional views of Ross Lake. The last 1.5 miles are through beautiful meadows with views all around. We really lucked out on the weather. The sky was cloudy enough to keep the sun from getting too hot, yet clear enough that we could see all the surrounding peaks and valleys.

Looking south down Ross Lake



At just past 4 miles we reached the false summit, which Tom nicknamed “F*** You Hill” because it is a very convincing false summit… You’re sure you’ve reached the top, and then just as you round the corner, you see the actual lookout on a ridge still a ways above. Tom was not a fan of that false summit. But eventually, we got there, and it was worth it!

Hooray, the real summit!
More views of Ross Lake. Hard to stop taking pictures.
Jack Mountain and the Nohokomeen Glacier.




Peeking in the lookout window, with summit reflections in the glass.
Looking north up Ross Lake from Desolation summit.
Mount Prophet as seen from the summit of Desolation.
Happy Anniversary to us!

The hike down was pretty uneventful, and soon enough we were back at the trailhead. We retrieved our food bag and hopped in the boat. We still had a few hours before we had to return the skiff, so we did some more exploring.

Goodbye Desolation dock!
Pretty little waterfall tumbling right into Ross Lake.
Tom could’ve easily spent the entire day on the water.
Approaching Devil’s Creek
Devil’s Creek
In the middle of this photo you can just barely make out a log jam across the creek – we turned around shortly before that, when our boat had a gentle run-in with a submerged tree. (Here’s to aluminum boats!)
Reflections in Devil’s Creek


Back out on Ross Lake, headed home. One final look at Desolation Peak, with the jagged summit of Hozomeen in the background.

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