At Gossamer Gear, we have huge love for our brand ambassadors. They’re the best gear testers. They’re incredible people. And, golly, do they go on some awesome adventures! Two of our Brand Ambassadors, Ras “UltraPedestrian” Vaughan and Kathy “OBAL Unbranded” Vaughan (aka: Team UltraPedestrian), recently completed over 2,600 miles on the first ever Inland Northwest Loop, which they have dubbed the UP North Loop.
The UP North Loop links together parts of the Idaho Centennial Trail, Oregon Desert Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Pacific Northwest Trail. The epic journey took them across the breadth and width of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho—and even included briefly setting foot in Montana and Nevada. The adventurous duo began their journey on May 14, 2018 at 6:17pm by hiking south on the Idaho Centennial Trail from the small town of Hammett. They completed the UP North Loop on November 5, 2018. In total, the trek took them 174 days, 22 hours, and 25 minutes to complete.
“The whole route, every section, was so unique from all the others,” Kathy shared. “The terrain of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho offers so much untold beauty: deep canyons, sage steppes, the Cascade Crest, ancient cedar groves, rugged river valleys, and small towns rife with history. Ras and I feel like we barely touched this immense landscape. We came away from the UP North Loop with images of a magnificent land, and the desire to delve even further into the surrounding wilderness.”
How the UP North Loop Came to Be
But, how did Kathy and Ras even come up with the idea for the UP North Loop? Well, one evening, while studying a map of all the long trails in North America, Ras pointed out to Kathy how parts of the Oregon Desert Trail, Idaho Centennial Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail could be linked together to form a huge loop through the Inland Northwest.
This loop would be comparable in length to the Big Three long trails (Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail—completing all of which is known as the Triple Crown of long-distance hiking). The difference with this proposed long trail, however, is that it would end where it began, and would stick within the Northwest.
Ras also explained how the UP North Loop could be seen as a bit on an antidote to the “Wild Effect.” The “Wild Effect” is the name given to a recent influx of hikers seen on the PCT who were inspired by the book and film Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
“With thousands of new thru-hikers and section hikers pitting themselves against the Big Three each season, a subset of the hiking community has gravitated away from those now high-traffic trails,” Ras said. “The same quest for challenge, solitude, and immersion in the natural world that drew people to long-distance hiking in the first place is now guiding them onto the lesser-known and less populated routes, such as the PNT, ODT, and ICT. The UP North Loop may very well be a glimpse of what the future of thru-hiking looks like.”
Challenges Along the UP North Loop
The logistics of the UP North Loop differ substantially from those of the Big Three. On one of the north/south long trails, one can either begin early in the year at the south end and follow spring north, or begin later in the year at the north end and follow summer south. The UP North Loop, however, has a far more limited window of opportunity.
The blazing temperatures of the Oregon and Idaho deserts, along the southern edge of the route, make travel during the heat of summer life-threatening, so these sections must be completed in the spring or fall. Conversely, the northern section and the areas at higher elevation can only be done once the previous year’s snow has melted, and before the new snows of the coming winter begin to accumulate. These logistical demands up the ante for anyone attempting the new UP North Loop.
However, Kathy faced an additional challenge to these logistics along the way. The UP North Loop was her first long thru-hike since being diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic.
“I had 40% of my pancreas removed in 2007 because of a growth encapsulating it. Sometime during the spring of 2017, the remainder of my pancreas stopped producing insulin,” Kathy explained. “In July of that year, I was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic. I had just come off an attempted yo-yo of the Grand Enchantment Trail. I had been experiencing diabetes symptoms for a number of weeks while hiking, and had become quite thin. Once diagnosed, I began insulin therapy and never looked back. Forward, onward. It was time to try a thru-hike now while using insulin.
“Despite having some scary low blood sugar episodes, in the end, I was able to complete the longest of my thru-hikes yet, feeling strong and healthy. I paid a lot of attention each day to my blood sugars, how I felt, what I ate, and how much insulin I needed based on those assessments. Terrain, elevation, and weather impacted my physical output and effected my numbers, causing fine-tuning to my insulin injections daily. As a Type 1 Diabetic, I will always need to manage my blood sugars using insulin therapy. I now know I can do it while living on the trail.”
What You Need to Know about the UP North Loop
From the solitude of the Oregon Desert—where Ras and Kathy frequently went for a week or more without seeing other people—to the mining and trapping districts of the Cascades and the abandoned railroad lines of central Idaho, hikers will find human history everywhere they go on the UP North Loop. In southeast Oregon, Kathy and Ras observed Native American pictographs. Tumbledown homestead buildings and their surviving fruit trees dotted the route across northern Washington. Their epic journey ended in southern Idaho following the wagon wheel ruts of the historic Oregon Trail. And, they enjoyed many hot springs along the way, which people has enjoyed and used therapeutically since the dawn of time.
The “Purist Line,” which Ras and Kathy designed as their primary navigational goal, links together the official routes of all four trails using connections designed by Renee Patrick of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. At a number of points in their epic journey, Ras and Kathy were forced to detour from their planned route due to trail conditions, fire, weather, and time constraints. For Fastest Known Time players, the Purist Line will stand out as an obvious first objective. However, Ras and Kathy don’t want the UP North Loop to become too set in stone.
“Our hope is that the UP North Loop will never be codified into one official line. While the Purist Line is still very much up for grabs for a strict first send, our vision is for each hiker to design their own alternates and reroutes to truly make the UP North Loop their own,” Ras shared. “If someone wants to hike the exact footsteps of thousands of other people, they can download an app and follow the PCT from Mexico to Canada. But, taking on the UP North Loop requires an amount of research, route-finding, navigation, and creativity that harkens back to the early days of thru-hiking.”
To learn more about the UP North Loop, or to otherwise follow Ras and Kathy on their adventures, find them at the following: