Desolation Wilderness, September 2003

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This was the Vacation Trip. To boost our confidence after the last two years' problems, we stayed on trails the entire trip and hiked only about six miles a day. We were also in the most popular wilderness in the country, so we saw plenty of friendly people. The result was a very enjoyable, relaxing trip.

The weirdest thing about the trip was that Desolation has so many entry points that even on day four of a seven-day trip we saw day-hikers.


Day 1: Echo Lake to Lake Lucille

We started out from the trailhead in cool, overcast weather. The hike along Echo Lake to Lake Lucille was pretty and uneventful. Once we arrived at Lake Lucille, we relaxed, read, and went swimming. The lake is very peaceful and wooded.

That night, a light rain fell.

Day 2: Day Hike through Desolation Valley

When we woke up, it was cold and wet. Rather than pack up a wet tent, we decided to do a day hike instead. We thought we'd climb Pyramid Peak, but ended up not doing so.

We set out down the trail to Lake Aloha and followed its shore around to the dam. From there, we continued West around the shore and then cut South over a low saddle to Waca Lake then Pyramid Lake. We stopped at Pyramid Lake to appraise the climb up to the peak. It didn't look good: it was still raining lightly off and on, and the wind was quite strong. We opted instead to continue South and make a loop of our hike.

We hiked further down the hill, past Gefo Lake and Toem Lake to Ropi Lake. From there, we followed Pyramid Creek up past some beautiful cascades. The weather had worsened, however, and we were definately being rained on. The clouds had descended as well, and we could no longer see the top half of Pyramid Peak. We were glad we weren't up there.

Our biggest obstacle on this hike was crossing Pyramid Creek -- it was flowing quite high from the draining Lake Aloha. We tried a number of different places, and finally stepped gingerly across some logs and pushed our way through some wet bushes onto a small island in the creek. From there, we could jump to the other side.

From our crossing point just below Desolation Lake we set out Northeast and eventually picked up the trail along the shore of Lake Aloha again. We went back to camp and huddled in our tent, wet and tired, waiting for a break in the rain so we could cook dinner.

The thought of another rainy day was very discouraging, especially with all-you-can-eat roast beef and a hot shower not half an hour away in South Lake Tahoe. We went to bed vowing that if the weather was the same the next day, we'd call it quits.

Day 3: Lake Lucille to Gilmore Lake

We woke up to beautifully clear skies, and immediately set all of our equipment out in the sun to dry.

Once dry, we continued north on the Pacific Crest Trail, along the shores of Lake Aloha, then turning East and down past Heather Lake (left) and Susie Lake (right). From there, it was a short, steep climb up the Gilmore Lake.

Gilmore Lake is perfectly round, set in a lovely metamorphic cirque with reddish rock and green trees on all sides. The shore is gravel and small rocks, making entry for swimming very easy.

Day 4: Gilmore Lake to Middle Velma Lake

The next morning we set out up the trail to Dick's Pass. The climb was surprisingly easy, perhaps because we'd already gone as high as Gilmore Lake. From the trail, there were excellent views of Dick's Peak, down to Half Moon Lake, and across to the Crystal Range.

From the pass, we took off to the East, cross-country up about another 200', to unofficially-named Jeannine's Peak. The view from here was an astounding 360, covering everything from Dick's Peak to Lake Aloha to Mount Tallac to Lake Tahoe, plus two little lakes at the bottom of the cliff in the foreground (Kalmia Lake and Azure Lake).

Also on top of Jeannine's Peak is an ammo box filled with knick-knacks, pictures, a journal, and the proclamation that this point is named "Jeannine's Peak". We had lunch, then added to the journal: "Veni, Vidi, Salami." Though it sure looked like a geocache, it's not a registered one as far as I could tell (N 38.906607 W 120.13083, in case you're interested).

From the pass, we headed down the other side, past glorious views of Dick's Lake. At the saddle halfway down, we diverged from the PCT and turned right, going past a small, unnamed lake before turning left again down towards the Velma Lakes.

Middle Velma Lake, where we spent the night, has to be the best swimming spot of the trip. The lake is not in a dramatic setting, but it is full of small, granite islands. We spent a few hours just swimming from island to island, exploring them and soaking up the sun.

There are many good campsites here, and we were not more than 200' from another group. One of that party was actually yelling into his cell phone for a while. Sigh.

Day 5: Middle Velma Lake to Lake Schmidell

This was the easiest day of our trip: a mere four miles with very little elevation gain. We began by heading West, down into Rockbound Valley. At the bottom of the valley, we crossed the Rubicon River to reach Camper Flat.

After eating lunch among the rocks of the lightly-flowing Rubicon, we set out up the other side of the valley to Lake Schmidell. Lake Schmidell is located in an East-facing cirque, half granite and half metamorphic. It has easily the best diving rock of the trip: a flat table with three layers surrounded by 20'-deep, crystal clear water (see picture at left). I also took this great shot of Alex and the lake through the trees of our campsite (right).

Day 6: Lake Schmidell to Clyde Lake

We left Lake Schmidell in the morning and hiked back down into Rockbound Valley. We then continued up the valley to its very head. This was easily the most pleasant hike of the trip. It was very easy, through lovely forests and meadows. The only problem was that the Rubicon was running underground at this point, so getting water was a little difficult.

Finally we arrived at Clyde Lake nestled in a gigantic granite cirque at the head of Rockbound Valley. Clyde Lake is extremely dramatic, with huge cliffs rising on three sides and a fantastic peninsula jutting into it. The water was incredibly clear and extremely cold -- there was still a patch of snow draining right into it. Nevertheless, we managed to swim in it briefly.

Despite what the guide book said, there were actually a few good campsites at the lake. We set up behind a wind shelter and spent a very pleasant last night gazing at the stars.

Day 7: Clyde Lake to Echo Lake

We rose early this morning to give us lots of time for the 9.5-mile hike out and four hour drive home. The climb up the remaining few hundred feet of Mosquito Pass was not hard, and soon we were gazing down at lovely Lake Aloha again. About halfway down from the pass, I took these two great shots of Alex taking in the view.

From there is was a long, easy hike around Lake Aloha, back down the PCT to the trailhead at Echo Lake. All in all, an incredibly enjoyable trip!

Last modified: Tue Sep 16 12:32:09 2003