Backpacking Diaries: DESOLATION WILDERNESS Part I!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

Lake Aloha and the Crystal Range

Lake Aloha and the Crystal Range

DESOLATION WILDERNESS IS MY FAVORITE PLACE ON EARTH!

Desolation Valley

Desolation Valley

I came here on my first backpacking trip ever. As they say, you never forget your first love.

2012 was the year of a lot of firsts for me. I started organizing and leading my own backpacking trips (I never trusted myself to do that before) – did my first 5 night backpacking trip and organized 5 trips in one summer. Despite the headaches of organizing trip logistics, it was actually pretty damn fun. This trip that I led to Deso involved five friends with varying degrees of backpacking experience – including Rob, who did his first trip with us!

DAY 1: The Hike In

At 5 pm, Darrel and I met up at the Glen Alpine trailhead and went over our gear together. It was a bit much. He brought his scale and we weighed our packs. My pack: 32 lbs. His pack: 43 lbs. He’s not exactly a light backpacker.

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Pre-hike sparring

We started hiking in around 7 pm and made it to Susie Lake by a little after 9 pm – it’s about a 4 mile hike there. While it was pretty dark after 8:30, the wilderness and lake was gorgeous at night! We set up camp and I took a photo of Susie lake with the stars reflecting in the lake below…

1 stars sm

Stars in the sky – and reflected in Susie Lake

DAY 2: Susie and Heather Lakes

We decided to take it easy the next day since Darrel did the 4+ hour drive to Tahoe right after working a 10 hour day. So we blew up our floaties, filled up our dry-sacks with our leisure gear, and floated/hauled ass over to one of Susie Lake’s many islands, where we pretty much slept and ate and swam all day. He even had the solar panel charger for the ipod dock. There’s just nothing more refreshing than laying on a granite rock in the sun, listening to the wind, in one of the most beautiful places on earth! At least, in California 🙂

Susie Lake, glistening in the morning

Susie Lake, glistening in the morning

Heavely

Heavenly

Despite enjoying the serenity of the lake, I still like to be active each day and hella wanted to go hiking. So we make a VERY short trip (less than a mile one way) over to nearby Heather Lake. I got on my floatie and paddled over to a few of Heather Lake’s islands. One has a pretty tall, almost mini-mountain on it. I climbed up and started yelling to Darrel to get his attention.

Where's the pool

Where’s the pool

Then the most amazing thing happened to me..

As I looked up and to the left, I saw the tips of the Crystal Range mountains in the distance that border Lake Aloha. Aloha was out of view from where I was standing, but even from that distance I could see a man walking along the top of the mountain range. I got up the nerve and said “HIIIII!!” as loud as I could in his direction. Even as far away as he was (he was probably 3 or 4 miles away), my loud voice echoed and bounced around the mountains and made him stop right in his tracks. I made a gigantic waving motion with my arm towards him – and he waved back at me! 

The islands on Heather lake, with the Crystal Range in the background

The islands on Heather lake, with the Crystal Range in the background

I love Desolation Wilderness. It’s like a gigantic playground out here.

I forgot that there’s other people camping nearby. After saying hi to the mountain man, I looked down and saw two men standing on the edge of the lake by the brush/hidden Heather Lake camp area. For the next few minutes we had a bit of a long-distance conversation about how I got out on that mini island. I told them they need to bring floaties. There’s just no other way to enjoy the lake otherwise!

That night, Darrel and I waited for the second half of our party to meet up with us. But as it got darker, our doubts about whether or not we would see them come in that night grew greater. At around 11:30 pm, Darrel and I set up a little rock pile/arrow in the middle of our camp to signify where we were situated, and went to bed. Suddenly, about 10 minutes later, ALL four of them showed up, tired and bewildered. But hey, they made it! As I had feared, they got lost on a switchback around the 2 mile mark of the hike in (people tend to go straight and over the trail because it looks like the trail continues to the right, instead of doing the switchback and heading back on the trail towards the left).

Setting up camp at 11:30 pm

Setting up camp at 11:30 pm

Lesson to all hikers: if there’s stones or branches over the path, that means don’t cross it/it’s not the right trail. This lesson was reinforced quite well during a camping trip to Mono Lake (that story for another day!)

DAY 3: Lake Aloha and Jabu

After breakfast, we all packed up and headed towards Lake Aloha, my favorite Deso playground. It’s a beautiful hike!

Passing a pond while hiking to Lake Aloha

Passing a pond while hiking to Lake Aloha

The view, looking back at Susie and Heather lakes

The view, looking back at Heather lakes

Lake Aloha is my favorite lake. It’s about 3 miles long and is dotted with tons of granite islands all over the place. Talk about a swimmer’s paradise! I also see people fishing here from time to time, although I’ve only seen ONE fish in that lake – ever.

We spent most of the day just relaxing, since the 11 pm team was tired from the hectic night hike in the day before. A few of our group members couldn’t swim very well, so the floaties were brought with us on the trip.

Rob and Joy, doggie paddling over to our granite island with the floaties

Rob and Joy, doggie paddling over to our granite island with the floaties

We also played a little bit of “squid disk” (see below).

Catchin a squid disk

Catchin a squid disk

While we were there, I went with Joy to find one of my favorite little lakes, Le Conte Lake, right below Cracked Crag on the edge of Lake Aloha. It’s pretty peaceful, surprisingly deep, and has a few spots where you can do some lake jumping. If you go to the far edge of the lake, you can see it trickling down the mountain and feeding into Heather lake, below.

I was a little excited to find Le Conte lake

I was a little excited to find Le Conte lake

Later, after defending our packs from sharp-toothed chipmunks and eating our lunch, we headed out to find a campsite by the edge of the lake. I wanted to find another favorite lake (yeah, I have a lot) and set out with Reem and J to find Jabu Lake, perched on-top of the mountains by Lake Aloha. It was a bit of a trek. Note to self: learn how to use a compass! I had to find it from memory (hint – it’s parallel to the end of Lake Aloha, on a low area of the mountain, up from where the PCT meets the trail to Lake of the woods).

Jabu Lake

Jabu Lake

I have to jump in every lake that I see. So we did. We also made sure to take photos by the edge of the mountain, where you can see Grass Lake and Fallen Leaf Lake in the far distance.

Reem and J, overlooking the valley by Jabu Lake

Reem and J, overlooking the valley by Jabu Lake

Down below the other campers were setting up for dinner. Afterwards, we laid down on a sloping granite hill and watched a meteor shower that so happened to be going down during our trip. Great timing. I think I saw one of the biggest, fattest shooting stars I’ve ever seen that night. It looked like a spaceship hitting the earth’s atmosphere!

DAY 4: Day Hike to Desolation Valley

I HELLA wanted to hike the Crystal Range, but no one else was down to do it 😦

No go on the Crystal Range...

No go on the Crystal Range…

So we settled on making a short day trip to Desolation Valley. We made the short hike to Lake of the Woods, where we jumped in the lake, swam, and talked life for most of the morning. One could get used to this lifestyle.

Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods

After a while, we decided to pack up and go to some of the other lakes that I’ve never visited before. I’ve always wanted to see Ralston lake! There’s supposedly a path down to it, but halfway down, we realized that the trail disappears and that there’s nothing left to guide you but rock cairns, your map, and your eyes. Always bring a map!

Our hiking party in the middle of Desolation Valley

Our hiking party in the middle of Desolation Valley

Despite us wandering around for a few minutes (it’s pretty fun, I highly recommend it), we finally saw a river in the distance and headed over towards it.

An oasis in

An oasis in Deso Valley

It felt like we had just found an oasis in the desert that point! Joy was so excited that she went and rolled around a bit in the water, which got her covered in little leeches. (Lesson Learned: Don’t roll around in the rivers!)

After purifying water and getting a little bit of food, we followed the river down to Pitt Lake (I thought it was Ralston Lake. My bad!). Despite the lack of trails and the fact that we were in the wilderness, that didn’t stop us from seeing groups of people all over this area, mostly by the lakes. Robert was in shock every time we went somewhere isolated and found groups of people chillin in the lake below.

Pitt Lake and it's many islands and waterways

Pitt Lake and it’s many islands and waterways

The group we met at Pitt lake had hiked up from Twin Bridges to their camp to watch the meteor shower. Talk about dedication! The hike from Hwy 50 is about 2.5 miles straight up.

Despite a decent amount of hesitancy from the group, I led us all to the edge of Desolation Wilderness where Horsetail falls lies . You can see it on the left when you drive up to Tahoe on Hwy 50. In the springtime, it looks like a highway of water! I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit it.

Reem and I, jumping for joy at Horsetail Falls

Reem and I, jumping for joy at Horsetail Falls

It was totally worth the mini trek. I was so juiced.

On the way back , we decided to try to go a different way back and wandered through the brush on our way back to Lake of the Woods. Every time we climbed or hiked over a crazy-looking area, J would yell out “TRAILBLAZING!” Hahahaha!

Follow the cairns in Desolation Valley!

Follow the cairns in Desolation Valley!

Lesson Learned: don’t hike to the east of Pitt Lake, it’s nothing but brush and climbing over rocks! The hike to the left (west) of Pitt lake is much easier.

Thanks to those that came before us, we went past Ralston Lake and followd the many rock cairns guided us back to the marked trail, where we ascended back to Lake of the Woods (for an evening dip) and went back to our Lake Aloha campsite, right as the sun set over Mosquito Pass.

Ralston Lke

Ralston Lke

Sunset over Lake Aloha and Mosquito Pass

Sunset over Lake Aloha and Mosquito Pass

DAY 5: Half Moon Lake & Gilmore Lake 

The next day, Darrel, Reem, and J had to go home, so Joy, Robert and I continued on down the PCT to Half Moon Lake. While the hike to Half Moon (and Alta Morris) Lake is pretty easy, the lakes aren’t much of a sight to see, IMHO. Compared to others in Deso, they have much more grass and mud. However, seeing the lake surrounded by Jack’s Peak and the mountains is a pretty nice.

Half Moon Lake, surrounded by Jack's Peak and Dick's Peak

Half Moon Lake, surrounded by Jack’s Peak and Dick’s Peak

We headed up the short but steep climb to Gilmore Lake, where we were greeted by one of the prettiest and roundest lakes in Deso. Exhausted, we set up camp, washed our clothes, took naps, and made dinner.

Nap time for Rob

Nap time for Rob

Evening clothes washing

Evening clothes washing

Sunset over Gilmore Lake

Sunset over Gilmore Lake

While it was pretty warm for most of our trip, that night at 1 am I was greeted with a few drops of rain on my forehead. I screamed “RAAAAAIIINNNN!!” and jumped out of my tent to put my rain fly on. Joy and Robert weren’t as ready, however. I think they thought it would be warm the whole time we were backpacking, so the brought neither jackets nor a rain fly for their tent.

Make-shift fly

Make-shift fly

Robert’s poncho and their quick-dry towels made for a make-shift rain fly that night. Robert said that Joy was shivering in her sleep. Poor thing!

DAY 6: Mt. Tallac! And the Somber Decent Back to the Car

The next day, we set out our gear to dry and made the hike up to Mt. Tallac. I’ve already told the story, which you can read HERE.

The view from Mt. Tallac

The view from Mt. Tallac

After packing up our stuff from our Gilmore Lake camp, we made the cool and rainy descent back towards the car. From Gilmore lake, it’s about a 4.5 or 5 mile hike back – but it’s mostly downhill from the start. We raced past other day hikers, and scrambled over mud trails and rocks on our way back. The rain makes the rocks amazingly beautiful though. You can see glimpses of red, green, blue and gold when the water hits the stones.

Rob, on the rainy descent back to the car

Rob, on the rainy descent back to the car

Back at the car, I threw out my trash, bathed myself  quickly at Lily Lake, and changed clothes. After 5 or 6 days of camping, we were a bit overwhelmed, dirty, and exhausted. Yet so satisfied.

All in all, the trip was the highlight of my summer 🙂

Group pic!

Group pic!

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2 thoughts on “Backpacking Diaries: DESOLATION WILDERNESS Part I!

  1. Janet says:

    Loved the photo of Jabu Lake, oh, but Susie Lake was good too, and Half Moon Lake, and the Crystal Range. I’ve never been in the Desolation Wilderness, must remember to visit this area someday.

  2. Ron says:

    Just awesome! Just awesome!

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