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Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

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Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jun 10, 2015 8:09 pm

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The Route

Day 1: Bayview TH to Middle Velma Lake + day hike: 6.1 miles, 2135 feet gain, 5 hours.

Several trailheads can access the Velma-4Q-Leland-Schmidell-Clyde-Aloha-Dicks lakes loop in Desolation Wilderness. The weather forecast was bad. From the weather radar for the preceding days, it seemed like the Velma Lakes area was being missed by the storms, so I decided to go in from the Eagle Lake trailhead. Permit in hand we were unable to get a parking spot due to all the day hikers, instead finding one of the last parking spots at the Bayview trailhead. So we did not get on the trail until 11:30. Thankfully it was a short hike into Middle Velma Lake, which was rather crowded. We set up and as threatening clouds built, took rain jackets and hiked to Upper Velma (which would have been a better location to camp) and then climbed the granite slabs to Fontanillis Lake. Rain began to fall as we returned on the trail. Back at camp, the weather cleared and stormed again and we called it a day at the early hour of 7:30PM. It rained considerably at night.

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Bayview Trail

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Middle Velma Lake

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Upper Velma Lake

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Fontanillis Lake

Day 2: Middle Velma Lake to Leland Lake + day hike: 8.6 miles, 1840 feet gain, 8.5 hours.

We were off at 7:30 AM following a fair maintained trail down to the Rubicon River, wading across at Camper Flat. Heading north we passed the signed Schmidell Lake trail junction and soon the Rubicon Trail was lost in a swamp. We crossed a pond on a log and followed sparse cairns, often traveling with no markers, until we finally intersected the poorly maintained trail to 4Q Lakes. Here we followed the main trail as it ended at an arm of one of the lakes. We then backtracked and tried another trail. No luck. Backtrack again and we swung well north around all the complex lakes and up onto a rocky ridge. Here we found “the trail”. It was fine for a while then as we dropped into thick timber it disappeared! I had done this trail the opposite direction two years ago and it was pretty obvious. This time nothing seemed to work. We crossed the creek and headed in the direction we thought would intersect the trail to Horseshoe Lake. Well, after two hours of agony in horrible brush and small cliffs I finally figured out that I had cut over too soon and was following the wrong creek- we were in the McConnel l Creek drainage. Bashing our way to the top of the ridge we then dropped to Horseshoe Lake. It was after noon so a day-hike all the way to Highland Lake was out of the question. We settled for the short hike to Zitella Lake. That bushwhack had taken its toll on our energy.

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Rubicon River at Camper Flat

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4Q Lakes

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Crossing the creek from 4Q Lakes (crossed too soon)

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Horseshoe Lake from ridge above Zitella Lake

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Zitella Lake

The trail south to Leland Lake was obvious at first. We had to wade across the creek that tumbled down from cliffs into McConnell Lake. The wild flowers were thick! Then the trail disappeared into a swamp. We crossed a large creek, which I thought was the creek from Leland Lakes. Unfortunately it was just an over-swollen intermittent creek fed by snowmelt. I knew the “trail” followed the east bank of the creek from Leland Lake. Try as we may, we again bushwhacked upward finding no trail. Finally we ran into the “real” creek from Leland Lake, much smaller than the “fake” creek! By that time I was highly frustrated at messing up on a route that I had done easily just two years previously! Arriving absolutely beat, I found a nice campsite at the outlet of Lower Leland Lake. It was 4PM and I decided to fish as one of my major goals of the trip was to fish. Well, nowhere to be found were my flies. I had reel, rod but no files. Evidently they went missing somewhere along the route, probably falling out of the bag I failed to tie tight enough when we stopped at Horseshoe Lake. Lower Leland Lake was beautiful and I puttered around taking photos instead. After dinner I hiked up to Upper Leland lake to take photos, but really with my confidence bashed by the day, I needed to assure myself that there really was an Upper Leland Lake up there! The weather could not have been better- blue skies and a light breeze to keep the few mosquitoes down. In spite of my numerous goofs, it was a fine day. I even took a bath; it felt so good to be clean when I hopped into my sleeping bag.

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Flowers near McConnell Lake

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Camp at Lower Leland Lake

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Lower Leland Lake

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Upper Leland Lake

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Lower Leland Lake



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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jun 10, 2015 8:15 pm

Day 3: Lower Leland Lake to Clyde Lake: 7.3 miles, 1775 feet gain, 6.5 hours.

With a short day ahead, and needing some early morning sun to soften the snow on the “pass” to Schmidell Lake, we slept in and left at 9PM. Early sun hit our camp and it was great to pack a dry tent. We threw a log across the creek shortly downstream of the outlet and balanced across to the real trail. It was a fine trail and we followed it until it was buried in snow. It was a steady climb kicking steps up the snow that was steadily getting steep upwards. Just as it was about as steep as I wanted to deal with, we were on top. We crossed numerous snowmelt streams, having to wade across one, as we dropped to Schmidell Lake where we took a long break near the outlet. The skies were blue and it was downright HOT! Later we learned that it was 106 in Sacramento! Then we hiked up the well maintained trail to Lois Lake, meeting a group of young folks who were headed to Schmidell Lake. Lois Lake is very pretty. Like many lakes in Desolation there is a crude rock “dam” at the outlet. Fortunately the water was only inches above the dam so we crossed only briefly getting shoes wet. The trail became a creek and many soggy meadows were crossed on the way to Rockbound Trail. We did not go up to actually see Doris Lake, but headed directly down to the Rubicon where the air was still and the grass full of tiny mosquitoes. Thankfully they were not biting and only bothersome at the three wading crossings where we had to remove shoes and roll up pants. It was muggy hot walk upward! The trail was often covered in water. We dropped to Clyde Lake a bit apprehensive worried about finding a dry spot to camp. No problem- there were several constructed dry sandy sites. We found one with adjacent scrub timber. A cold bath in Clyde Lake felt wonderful. Clyde Lake hosts two rock “dams”. The snowfield to the south was melting with a waterfall tumbling down to be absorbed by the talus before it reached the lake. There were a few mosquitoes; huge black ants were more of a problem. A fat marmot visited. Again it was a wonderful day, and although hot, the lakes, the river and abundant wildflowers made it a pleasant walk.

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Lower Leland Lake in the morning

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View of Lower and Upper Leland Lakes from the pass to Schmidell Lake

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Dam at outlet from Lois Lake

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Lois Lake

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Schmidell Lake

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Clyde Lake

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dam at Clyde Lake

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Camp at Clyde Lake
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jun 10, 2015 8:22 pm

Day 4: Clyde Lake to Bayview TH: 12 miles, 2575 feet gain, 10 hours.

The original plan was to end the day at Dicks Lake with enough time to fish. I decided we needed to get off early as the weather report when I left town, indicated that our window of good weather was ending. I did not want to get stuck on Dicks Pass in a storm. After a fabulous sunrise, we left at 7AM in time to get over Mosquito Pass early enough for early morning lighting at Aloha Lake. The trail was covered with snow in several places and had not softened much. A few steps were a bit sketchy. Once along the shore of Aloha Lake the mosquitoes became too pesky for much of a rest stop. Once on the well maintained and snow free PCT, we were able to travel quickly past Heather and Suzie Lake. I had previously found a good shorter cross country route between Suzie and Halfmoon Lake, but after my route finding fiasco on day 2, I decided to stick to the trails. As we arrived at Halfmoon Lake, clouds began to build. Unfortunately, by the time we reached Halfmoon Lake the lighting was poor for photos. We walked along the shore and spotted many fish rising.


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Clyde Lake in morning

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Aloha Lake from Mosquito Pass

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Aloha Lake

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Aloha Lake

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Heather Lake

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Suzie Lake

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Half Moon Lake

Rather than backtrack to the PCT junction, we headed straight uphill for 0.3 miles in half hour of miserable steep sticker brushy travel; it was a relief to intersect the PCT. Shortly we met two fellows and another pair on top. Skies were black and nasty clouds building. The descent was over snow. The main tracks headed down sooner than I thought ideal so we kept traversing to drop farther down the ridge. After about 300 feet of descent the snow became patchy and we found the trail. We reached Dicks Lake at 2PM. Given that I could not fish, and that it looked like the afternoon would be spent inside the tent due to rain, we decided to continue out in spite of sore feet. My regret was that I would not have an opportunity to photograph the lake in morning sun. The few photos I got in the gray afternoon were very unsatisfactory and gloomy.

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Dicks Lake

Our pace slowed to a crawl on the four miles out. Amazingly, several trail runners, with nothing but skimpy shorts, were headed into the black skies to run the loop from Bayview to Eagle Lake trailheads! Some tough folks over there at Tahoe! We reached the car at 5PM. Again, my new backpack partner was a great sport, never complaining no matter what obstacles we had to overcome; and she even drove us home. I was mighty glad to get off my shoes and sit down! We even got to Sacramento at a reasonable 7PM. Must say a cold beer tasted great. Having headed out expecting rain and cold, it ended up to be blue skies, a few showers and downright hot! I hate to list all the foul-weather gear I took and did not use. My next chore is to buy a florescent orange case for my flies and make a stuff sack with a zipper for all my fishing stuff! I was hoping I had just left them at home, but no dice. I suspect that the black film can with my flies is sitting on the ground at Horseshoe Lake.
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby Rockyroad » Wed Jun 10, 2015 9:45 pm

Nice report and photos. Brings back memories of my very first backpacking trip which was at Desolation 24 years ago. We had to chase our unstaked empty tent down a hill near one of the Velma Lakes.
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby Tom_H » Thu Jun 11, 2015 9:06 am

Beautiful pictures. More flowers, snow, and flowing water than I expected. I'm glad our mutual friend was able to get some more orienteering experience. She is great to hike with, isn't she? Thanks for the TR.
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby balzaccom » Thu Jun 11, 2015 9:35 am

Great report. And thank you for sharing the things that went wrong. We often find ourselves looking for a trail, or for a piece of equipment we KNOW we packed (once M left the matches behind....luckily I had a small BIC in my fishing gear.) One of the basic elements of early season trips is that the trails aren't nearly so clear...and it's easier to take a wrong turn,
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby ExploreABitMore » Thu Jun 11, 2015 1:07 pm

Sure looks like a beautiful loop, great photos
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby maverick » Thu Jun 11, 2015 1:21 pm

Thank you for this great TR, the McConnell wildflower garden is beautiful. Leland and Clyde are some of my favorites in that area. :)
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby paula53 » Mon Jun 15, 2015 7:53 pm

Thank you for posting your trip to Desolation Wilderness. I have not visited Rockbound Valley, after reading your trip report it is on my list. You had quite an adventure, and still with a positive outlook. I want to visit in early July the TYT trail to Stoney Ridge and down to the Velma Lakes area. Eventually going to Echo Lake. I have always enjoyed reading your TRs, and I have been inspired to go out and try a few of the trails that
you wrote about..
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby kpeter » Mon Jun 15, 2015 9:19 pm

A charmingly written and beautifully illustrated TR from one of the masters. I recognized many spots. Wasn't there a long sheeting waterfall between Upper Velma and Fontanilis? I thought Fontanillis was particularly lovely at the time I was there. That was one trip twenty+ years ago.

My daughter and I hated the low elevation hike along the Rubicon a few years back for some of the same conditions you indicated only worse--hot, muggy, and buggy. Nasty biting horse flies and mosquitoes at the same time. We practically sprinted out of that hole back up to our base at Doris Lake--which is a pretty little thing and seemed to be just out of the bug zone at that time.

And yes, we bumped into trail runners in places I would never expect. They cover a lot of ground and Tahoe seems to attract a lot of them.
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby rrivera » Mon Jun 15, 2015 10:21 pm

I've always wanted to do this loop and have hiked from twin lakes to Leland lakes...so I'm newly inspired to do this trip! Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Desolation: 6/6- 6/9

Postby Tom_H » Tue Jun 16, 2015 1:46 pm

kpeter wrote:Wasn't there a long sheeting waterfall between Upper Velma and Fontanilis?


It begins at the outlet of Fontanillis and flows down a large granite pluton. At the base of the pluton the stream flows a short distance through forest and then into Upper Velma. It is a very easy and enjoyable short section of XC. And it is very pretty!

Here's a little loop that will take you there on day hike.

http://caltopo.com/m/2U2M
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