I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
DESOLATION WILDERNESS is my FAVORITE PLACE on earth.
I came here on my first backpacking trip ever. They say that 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 five-night backpacking trip, and organized five camping trips in one summer. Despite the occasional headaches from organizing trip logistics, it was pretty damn fun. This Deso trip included five friends that had 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 to review our gear and weigh our packs. My pack: 32 lbs. His pack: 43 lbs. He’s not exactly a light backpacker.
At 7 PM, we began hiking and made it to Susie Lake by a little after 9 PM (about 4 miles). While it was pretty dark after 8:30 PM, the wilderness and lake was absolutely gorgeous at night. We set up camp and I took a photo of Susie lake with the stars reflecting in the lake below:
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, loaded our dry-sacks with 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 🙂
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.
Then the most amazing thing happened…
As I looked up and to the left, I could see the tips of the Crystal Range mountains in the distance that border Lake Aloha. Lake 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 to yell “HIIIIIIII!!” 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 acorss the mountains and stopped right in his tracks. I made a gigantic waving motion with my arm towards him – and he waved back at me.
I love Desolation Wilderness. It’s like a gigantic playground.
Despite being the only people out on the lake that day, I had forgotten that there were other people camping nearby. After saying hi to the man on the mountain, I looked down and saw two men standing on the edge of the lake by the brush, next to the hidden Heather Lake camp area. For the next few minutes we had an across-the-lake 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 at Susie Lake. As it got darker however, our doubts about whether or not they would arrive 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).
Lesson to all hikers: if there are stones or branches deliberately spread over a path, that usually means do not cross it / it’s not the right trail. This lesson was quite evident during a camping trip near 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 such a beautiful hike.
Lake Aloha is my favorite lake. It’s about 3 miles long and is dotted with tons of granite islands all over. 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, like – ever.
We spent most of the day just relaxing since the 11 pm team was tired from the hectic night hike the day before. The floaties were put to great use by a few of our group members that couldn’t swim very well.
We also played a little bit of “squid disk” (see below).
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.
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 (yes, I have a lot favorites) 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).
Since I have a rule that I have to jump in every lake that I see, we did just that. 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.
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 REALLY wanted to hike the Crystal Range, but no one else was down to do it…
So we settled on making a short day trip to Desolation Valley. We first made a short hike to Lake of the Woods, where we jumped in the lake, swam, and talked about life for most of the morning. One could get used to this lifestyle.
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.
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.
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 at the lake below.
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 Highway 50 is about 2.5 miles and goes straight up the mountain.
Despite a decent amount of hesitancy from the group, I led us all to the edge of Desolation Wilderness to Horsetail falls. You can see it on the left when you drive up to Tahoe on Highway 50. In the springtime it looks like a wide highway of white water. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to visit it.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the summer.