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Desolation Lookout

“In the swirled-across top-of-the-world fog I saw a funny little peaked almost Chinese cabin among the little pointy firs and boulders standing on a bald rock top surrounded by snowbanks and patches of wet grass with tiny flowers. I gulped. It was too dark and dismal to like it. 'This will be my home and resting place all summer?'” Jack Kerouac

In 1956, Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac approached the lookout at Desolation Point in what is now North Cascades National Park, Washington. He had applied to the US Forest Service for a fire lookout position and was hired for the summer.

He spent 70 days in this remote mountaintop lookout, and it was here that he came up with the title of his book Desolation Angels and was inspired to finish his famous work The Dharma Bums. The latter deals with a search for the simple life and concludes with the protagonist working alone as a fire lookout on Hozomeen Mountain's Desolation Peak (pictured above).

The cabin is still there and used as a lookout. As in Kerouac's day, it has no running water, electricity or inside toilet. Water is gathered by melting snow, and light comes from candles and a gas lantern. It is a frequent destination for hikers. At 6,000ft, it offers stunning views of the surrounding national park, including Ross Lake (pictured, top right).

Anyone interested in following in Kerouac's footsteps can contact the Forest Fire Lookout Association for jobs as lookouts or cabin rentals all over the United States.

Center image (cabin): Forest Fire Lookout Association: Tammy McLeod
Bottom image (Hozomeen): Kat @ Randall and Kat's Flying Photos

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  • Phil White

    July 22, 2008

    Many years ago, I am certain that there was a roadside plaque on Highway 20 just east of Ross Lake Dam regarding Jack Kerouac’s stay on Desolation Peak. It’s been years and years since I have seen it (now long-ago replaced w/ a glacier information placard), and no one believes me that it ever eixsted. Does anybody recall it? Photo? Thanks! Phil

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