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Adventure Magazine

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North Cascades
The Plan: Climb Washington's Desolation Peak
The Payoff: A taste of enlightenment at 6,000 feet (1,828 meters)

Photo: a cabin atop Desolation Peak in Washington's North Cascades
On Kerouac's Beat: The young writer worked as a fire scout in this cabin atop Desolation Peak in Washington's North Cascades.

As a Park Service fire spotter in 1956, Jack Kerouac had to forgo many of his customary staples—sex, drugs, decent Chinese food. But he had ample freedom to free-associate. Stationed for 63 days in a cabin atop Desolation Peak, Kerouac scribbled furiously; the resulting works—The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels—contain some of the most evocative descriptions of the North Cascades ever written. "I went out in my alpine yard and there it was . . . hundreds of miles of pure snow-covered rocks and virgin lakes and high timber," he wrote in The Dharma Bums. "Below, instead of the world, I saw a sea of marshmallow clouds . . ."

Kerouac's dream of a "rucksack revolution" still seems possible in the remote wilderness surrounding Desolation Peak. To reach the trailhead, take a boat shuttle up fjordlike Ross Lake. The path gains 4,400 feet (1,341 meters) in only five miles (eight kilometers), climbing through dense fir to subalpine meadows brightened by alpine daisies and wild strawberries. Pitch your tent at mile four—you can't stay in the cabin, unfortunately—then continue a mile up to the 6,102-foot (1,860-meter) summit. Above the clouds, it was Kerouac's last time below the radar: On the Road was published shortly after the fire gig ended, and he was famous forever after.

Contacts: Free permits are required for overnight trips; call North Cascades National Park (360 856 5700; www.nps.gov/noca). Get your boat shuttle from Ross Lake Resort ($110 round-trip for up to six people; www.rosslakeresort.com).

For 12 legendary adventures you can do right now, pick up the April issue.

From the print edition, April 2004

The American Icons
- Hiking Jack Kerouac's North Cascades
The Indie Traveler's Handbook

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April 2004

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