A Route for the Ages: UP North Loop

Learn about the creation of the UP North Loop, a trail that connects pieces of the Idaho Centennial Trail, Oregon Desert Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Pacific Northwest Trail for a 2,600 mile traverse showcasing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Ras Vaughan Ras Vaughan
The UltraPedestrian
January 10, 2019

On the evening of May 14, 2018, my wife Kathy “OBAL Unbranded” Vaughan and myself, aka Team UltraPedestrian, set out hiking south along the Idaho Centennial Trail from the small town of Hammett, Idaho. On November 5, after covering more than 2,600 miles on foot over the course of 174 days, 22 hours, and 25 minutes, we returned to our starting point, completing the first ever Inland Northwest Loop.

We dubbed this trail the UP North Loop, linking together parts of the Idaho Centennial Trail, Oregon Desert Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Pacific Northwest Trail. This epic journey took us across the breadth and width of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, even briefly setting foot in Montana and Nevada. However, we feel that we have barely scratched the surface of what the Northwest has to offer.

“The whole route, every section, was so unique from all the others,” Kathy said. “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 [filled] 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.”

Inspiration & The Future Of Long-Distance Hiking

One evening, while studying a map of all the long trails in North America, I 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 – the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail, completing all of which is known as the Triple Crown of long-distance hiking. However, this trail differed in that it would end where it began and would never leave the Northwest. Rather than running north and south between Mexico and Canada, the line we envisioned would connect some of the most challenging sections of the PCT with the three other lesser-known, less-traveled, and less-established routes.

"Ras and Kathy's Up North Loop was inspiring on many levels,” says Renee ‘She-ra’ Patrick, Triple Crowner and Oregon Desert Trail Coordinator for the Oregon Natural Desert Association. “Their accomplishments go far beyond hiking 2,634 miles in the Pacific Northwest: the Vaughans pioneered a challenging cross-country desert route I had only identified on maps to connect the Idaho Centennial Trail to the Oregon Desert Trail, then they went on to complete the extremely challenging Oregon Desert Trail in a cold and wet Oregon spring, hike the ‘easier’ trail miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and Pacific Northwest Trail, then found themselves along the backbone of Idaho in fall amid early snowfall with what must have been exhausted legs! …I can't wait to see what Ras and Kathy get up to next."

PHOTO BY KATHY AND RAS VAUGHAN.

Only Known Times

Despite being, in our own opinion, nothing more than ordinary athletic specimens, Kathy and I have made a name for ourselves in the adventure scene dreaming up and attempting one-of-a-kind pursuits just such as this. In an era where elite level runners, climbers, and thru-hikers compete to shave days, hours, or even minutes off the ‘Fastest Known Times’ for established routes, we have created a unique niche for ourselves. We attempt ‘Only Known Times’: new routes or new iterations of classic routes that have never before been completed.

Some of my signature adventures include the Double Wonderland in 2012, a sextuple crossing of the Grand Canyon in 2013, an un-resupplied traverse of Washington state in 2014, a yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail (with Kathy) in 2015, the Mount Rainier Infinity Loop and Mount Adams Infinity Loop both in 2016, and an un-resupplied Rainier-Adams-St. Helens Traverse in 2017.

Kathy’s world record-setting projects include establishing the Women’s Inaugural Fastest Known Time for the Arizona National Scenic Trail in 2013, completing the first-ever Methow Trails 200k Nordic Ski Challenge in a single push in 2015, and the first ever yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail (with me) also in 2015.

Managing Type 1 Diabetes on The Trail

The UP North Loop was Kathy’s biggest challenge ever in another way as well; it was her first Only Known Time project 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 explains. “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 affected 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.”

PHOTO BY KATHY AND RAS VAUGHAN.

Uniquely Challenging Logistics

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 south edge of the route make travel during the peak of summer life-threatening. 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 this new Inland Northwest Loop.

We see this as the next great North American thru-hiking challenge. It’s a route as long as any of the Big Three, but instead of running point-to-point north and south, it describes an immense loop through the incredibly diverse and relatively untraveled terrain of the Inland Northwest. After covering upwards of 2,600 miles on foot, you end up back at the very point at which you began. But we envision it more as a spiral than a circle. Hopefully, when you return to your starting point you arrive there on a whole other level.

"Just as a bunch of us hiker trash were wondering if it could be done, these two just up and did it,” says Scot 'So Far' Forbes, Triple Crowner and former board member of the American Long Distance Hiking Association – West. “Kathy and Ras are pioneers among pioneers. Weaving between going with and against the grain of the mountains of the Northwest, they've given us a route for the ages."

Photo by Kathy and Ras Vaughan.


Want more from the UltraPedestrian? Check out our blog on his completion of the Rainier Infinity Loop with Gavin Woody in 2016.