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Lookout Literature

Posted by Lace Thornberg at Sep 06, 2010 09:00 AM |

For today's hikers, there's no better place to take in a vast panorama of peaks and valleys than by hiking to a "Lookout," the fire-watching towers that WTA is currently featuring in our selection of ten lookout hikes.

Back in the early 50s, spending days in complete solitude and living in a small, simple structure perched on a summit proved to be an exceptional place to  write in one's journal and spend time crafting poetry.

Three lookouts in the North Cascades housed prominent Beat Generation writers. Gary Snyder manned the lookout on Crater Mountain in 1952 and then Sourdough Mountain in 1953. Philip Whalen also lived on Sourdough. Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 on Desolation Peak and recounted the experience in Lonesome Traveler, Desolation Angels and The Dharma Bums.

This past weekend, I had the chance to explore the connection between Beat poets and Cascade lookouts (and enjoy a fun boat ride up Ross Lake) during a program led by the North Cascades Institute, located at the based of Sourdough Mountain. During this four-day program, I learned a ton about the Beats and became more familiar with the natural history of North Cascades National Park, too.  

If you'd like to add a Beat poetry twist to your next lookout hike, here are a few ideas: Read Whalen's poem "Sourdough Mountain Lookout" while at a lookout. Bring your pen and a small journal and jot down your observations. Drink a cup of green tea (a Beat favorite) while you savor the views. For a truly in-depth experience, check in with the North Cascades Institute to see when they will be hosting their next program about the Beats, or do your own research while participating in one of their "Diablo Downtime" weekends.