TR- Desolation Wilderness | High Sierra Topix  

TR- Desolation Wilderness

If you've been searching for the best source of information and stimulating discussion related to Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking, hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada...look no further!
User avatar

TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Jul 17, 2011 3:46 pm

Desolation Wilderness
July 23-16, 2011

After planning a 5-day trip from Kennedy Meadows into Emigrant Lake and driving three hours to the trailhead, as I took the Ursack out of the cooler and put in my pack, the unusual amount of room caught my attention. It then dawned on me that I had forgotten the tent! Camping on wet ground, predicted sprinkles, possibly camping on snow, nixing the idea of going back to Sonora to buy a tent (I already have too many tents!), I turned around and drove home. Well, at least it is a pretty drive but was basically lighting a match to $35 in gas money. I have a backpack budget, so I picked a closer destination. I seldom go to Desolation. The mountains are subtle. The small wilderness can be accessed on day hikes, thus the wilderness experience is diminished as you run into tennis shoe and short clad tourists smelling of perfume and scented laundry detergent. One advantage of the lingering snow this year however, was to weed out the casual day-hikers. Although I entered with a lack of enthusiasm, the trip was one of my best experiences in Desolation. Once a few miles into the snow, I only encountered hardy PCT through-hikers and a handful of fishermen (all of us having poor luck catching anything).

The last thing my budget could take was paying for the boat ride to the end of Echo Lakes, so I walked the 2.5 mile trail finding it rather pleasant and only adding an hour. There were no bugs and a nice cool breeze. Just before reaching Haypress Meadow (8,400) the snow began- no patches of snow- rather all of a sudden solid snow up to 8+ foot drifts! The snow was solid enough but drifts in the trees required lots of kicking steps on steep slopes. I followed the faint path of tracks then from the dry ridge above Lake Aloha (8,100) I followed the dry patches for a while before getting back on snow. I just headed down virgin snow towards Pyramid Peak and amazingly hit the trail junction at Aloha Lake right on and found a small dry patch on rocky ledges on one of the peninsulas. My plan was a loop day-hike past Desolation Lake and Lake of the Woods, but the idea of walking on more snow was not very appealing after my 6-mile day. Instead I just poked around the outlet area. The lake is artificial, being dammed by a small rock walls. Water up to the rim! These small rock dams provided easy crossing from one peninsula to another. Right next to my campsite, was a HUGE snowdrift that I climbed to the top of the adjacent peninsula. The lake was still mostly frozen, with the outlet area open. I tried fishing with no luck. Some photos taken at Lake Aloha are shown below.

Image

Image

Image

Second day I hiked 7.4 miles to Half Moon Lake. At the north end of Aloha Lake I hung my pack on a rock at the trial junction and headed up to Mosquito Pass over solid snow. At the pass I climbed the ridge and looked down at solidly frozen Clyde Lake – no fishing here! The northeast facing side of Rockbound Valley was a scene from winter. I arrived back at my stashed pack just in time before the marmots got my pack. The section of trail down to Susie Lake was also mostly snow with some very steep sections. Luckily by the time I got there the sun had softened the snow. I left the clean white granite of Aloha Lake and entered rust-colored rocky terrain. From Susie Lake to the trail junction to Half Moon Lake was snow-free and lushly green, surprisingly, still no bugs! I think I was the first person this year on the trail to Half Moon Lake and it was in horrible condition- swamps, steep drifts! Clouds were threatening as I reached Half Moon Lake. The entire northeast shore was a swamp so I hunted the rocky southeast side and found a tiny flat, dry and smooth site at the outlet, obviously some fisherman’s secret hideout right on the bluff to the outlet pond. Not a bug in the air and not a fish raising either, as I unsuccessfully tried to fly fish. Several aggressive marmots soon invaded. I hit one several times with a rock and he just looked at me. I hung everything up high out of their reach.

Image
Clyde Lake in cold north facing cirque (8,050)

Image
Half Moon from north shore (8160)

Image
Half Moon lake camp

Image
Pretty little melt pond south of Half Moon Lake

Third day I decided to try to do the “triple peak bag” of Jacks, Dick’s Peaks and Mt Tallac. I cut directly up the steep slope to the PCT. You could not have put the PCT in a worse place- the hillside was totally dry except for a huge long snow drift exactly covering the trail! The morning snow was icy and the drift steep. At the saddle to Dick’s Lake I headed up the rocky trail to Dick’s Peak. Steep snow obliterated parts of the trail on the north sides, requiring a little bit of 3rd class scrambling exactly on the ridge. From the top, I looked to Jack’s Peak realizing that due to snow, the cliffy crux could not be detoured, so gave up this peak. I returned to Dick’s pass and ran the very interesting and mostly snow-free rocky ridge to Mt. Tallac, where I ran into several day-hikers who had come up from Fallen Leaf Lake. There was enough snow to make trying to find the trail an exercise in futility, so I headed straight down to the outlet of Gilmore Lake where there were really nice large dry campsites. I had a case of “campsite envy” knowing I had to return to my tiny rocky perch. I hated the thought of having to repeat the horrible trail to Half Moon Lake so instead stayed on the PCT until the snow drifts, and then dropped back to my camp. My feet were sore after the 8.3 mile hike. In the evening I tried to walk around the lake to the trail’s end, but the entire hillside was oozing water so I gave up. It was downright cold at night!

Image
Jack’s Peak from Dick’s Peak

Image
View north at partly frozen Dick’s Lake and Lake Tahoe on the horizon

Image
Wintery view south towards Lake Aloha from PCT

Image
Half Moon Lake from PCT

Fourth I started my return.. As I got out of the tent, I heard a slap, and discovered that a beaver was swimming in the pond below me offering my morning entertainment. I packed up and headed cross-country on the northeast side of the outlet drainage directly to Susie Lake. Films of ice covered shallow pools. It was a pleasant hike from ramp to ramp with nice views all the way, but I had to do a lot of ups and downs to avoid any snow that was hard as a rock and slippery. As I returned to Lake Aloha, not much had melted; ice still floated on Heather Lake and Aloha was still mostly frozen. A fellow I met on the top of Mt. Tallac, raved about Jabu Lake (off trail on the ridge above Lake Aloha) so I headed up there only to be quite disappointed. I guess everyone has their opinion of “fantastic” and mine certainly was different! I had originally planned on camping again at Lake Aloha but after dealing with the morning ice, I decided to drop below the snow so I could start hiking out early the next day. Instead I camped at Ralston Lake and found a wonderful campsite with nobody else there, in spite of the five groups camped at Tamarack Lake. Again, no luck with fishing and not a bug in the air! I sat on my rocky perch and watched big billowy clouds speed over Ralston Peak. The wind was icy cold. I walked to the southeast end to get a closer look at interesting ice in the lake. I had the lake all to myself except for a few minutes that a family walked along the other shore. I had plenty of time to read and relax after my 7 mile day.

Image
Susie Lake (7,800)

Image
Heather Lake (7,900)

Image
Icy north end of Aloha Lake

Fifth day I arose early and quickly walked out the last 4.2 miles. Being a Saturday, tons of tourists in shorts and tennis shoes were headed up the trail to Lake Aloha. Boy, were they in for a surprise when they hit the snow! I headed home to an afternoon packed with cooking chores for a pot-luck party that evening. I practically coasted down Hwy 50 on a nearly empty gas tank. At least my snafu for this trip only “cost” me one tank of gas and it was pleasantly cool in Sacramento. For once, the wind also cleared the air so there was no dropping into a brown smog and searing heat. All I can say is “WOW!”, it’s the middle of July and lots of snow lingering and becoming hard as ice- time to dig out the crampons. Amazingly NO mosquitoes—with all that standing water, DEET is sure to soon to be needed.

Image
Sunrise at Ralston Lake (7,800)



User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2606
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby rlown » Sun Jul 17, 2011 3:53 pm

Nice report, WD.. I hate it when I forget stuff, Like my stove head on my last trip :retard:

Strange weather year... Gives a great reference to what it's like out there.
User avatar
rlown
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 5328
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 5:00 pm
Location: Petaluma and Wilton, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby TahoeJeff » Sun Jul 17, 2011 5:51 pm

Thanks for the excellent report WD! That right there is some information I've been dying to get ahold of. The shot of Heather looks to be at the outlet, do you think that the Northerly part of the lake where the trail goes would be fishable soon? What condition was Gilmore in? I think Deso kind of gets a bad rap with some, but there are times and places where it is really is a wilderness!
User avatar
TahoeJeff
Topix Expert
 
Posts: 619
Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2007 11:03 am
Location: South Lake Tahoe
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sun Jul 17, 2011 7:01 pm

Ice should be off of Heather in a day or so. Most of it has been pushed towards the south end. The outlet is free of ice. Gilmore Lake is totally ice free and there are really nice dry campsites on the east shore (north of the outlet). There is a huge amount of snow south of the lake. The snow is really drifts, with soggy wet spots between 4-foot high drifts. I just had fly gear, and since there are basically no bugs out, and the fact that I am a terrible fisherman, I did not even get a bite. I think spin fishing would work better. The streams are just flowing so fast that fly fishing is not that great right now. I think it is only a matter of days before the bugs hatch.
User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2606
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby TahoeJeff » Sun Jul 17, 2011 9:18 pm

Thanks so much WD for the scoop! This is like a huge carrot on a stick in front of me.....
Another prolific member of this board should have some good intel from that area soon I think.
User avatar
TahoeJeff
Topix Expert
 
Posts: 619
Joined: Thu Mar 08, 2007 11:03 am
Location: South Lake Tahoe
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Jul 18, 2011 8:40 am

a shot of Lake Heather from trail, taken last Wed
Image
Heather Lake from Trail- taken Saturday
Image
Lake Schmidell (I think) from the top of Dicks Peak- looks like lake is partially ice free- hard to tell - sorry about the poor photo
Image

The lake that is not melting is Aloha Lake. It did not look like it had melted at all in the 5 days I was out. I think it is so shallow that the "ice" is just snow sitting on ground, not floating in water, therefore it melts slower.
User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2606
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby ManOfTooManySports » Mon Jul 18, 2011 9:45 am

Nice photos!
User avatar
ManOfTooManySports
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 142
Joined: Thu Jul 14, 2011 3:58 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby windknot » Mon Jul 18, 2011 7:14 pm

Thanks for the report and photos, WD! I headed in on the day you came out, and I definitely agree that the snow helped give Desolation more of that "wilderness" feel. I usually only venture out after September, when the number of day hikers and backpackers goes drastically down. Boy, was I surprised to see the entire Glen Alpine parking lot full, and tons of hikers on the lower reaches of the trail.

We helped restore some of that wilderness feel by going off-trail for the first half of the hike to Gilmore Lake, camping on a ridge away from any lakes, and heading cross-country down from Heather to Grass. There's some nice, isolated country out there even if one just ventures a bit off the beaten path.

By the way, the melt is going quickly. By Sunday mid-afternoon, Heather was ice-free except for a bit of ice that had drifted over to the outlet area.
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
User avatar
windknot
Topix Fanatic
 
Posts: 1348
Joined: Wed Aug 16, 2006 10:07 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby madeintahoe » Mon Jul 18, 2011 8:36 pm

WD...Thank you for your TR and beautiful pictures...looks like a really nice trip. I can't get over the pics of Aloha still not completly un-thawed in the middle of July! I love to see Desolation with still snow patches around. The picture of Clyde is beautiful still frozen!
User avatar
madeintahoe
Topix Expert
 
Posts: 467
Joined: Fri Nov 04, 2005 9:58 am
Location: South Lake Tahoe, Meyers, CA.
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR- Desolation Wilderness

Postby JimJ » Sun Jul 24, 2011 2:06 pm

Wonderful TR & pics, Wandering D. Really enjoyed. Thanks much. Though I live less than an hour from most Desolation & Mokelumne trailheads, I simply haven't ventured in yet due to the snow. Spring snow makes me nervous: "Ouch! Didn't know that was a snow-bridge over a drop!" "Woohoo, snowmelt moving faster than I'd judged and here I go-o-o-o-o...." & etc.

Also, I think it was you who mentioned not doing well on logs recently. Hey Wandering D, a log can't span moving water that I can't fall off of. Mostly, it's embarrassing (even while solo 'cause, I swear, marmots can laugh), but I've found myself making for a shore while scared as heck a few times.

So I've stuck to lower hikes, like circumnavigating Jenkinson (where Iron Mt Rd intersects Sly Park) via the higher, more challenging, and less traveled "horse" trail.

But it's time that, like you, I go for the high country. A week has passed since you posted. Time for a dayhike to check things out up there.

Thanks again, Wandering D. Great write-up/pics.

Jim :)
User avatar
JimJ
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 8
Joined: Thu Feb 14, 2008 1:21 pm
Location: Camino, CA - Apple Hill - western slope Sierra
Experience: N/A


Return to Backpacking / Hiking / Camping



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot], Google [Bot], Google Adsense [Bot], Yahoo [Bot] and 10 guests