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TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

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TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby Pietro257 » Fri Aug 12, 2011 12:06 pm

Dates: 8/3/2011 - 8/7/2011
Enter: Mt. Tallac Trail
Exit: Loon Lake
Camped: 1st night Gilmore Lake, 2nd Middle Velma Lake, 3rd Rubicon River north of AAA Camp; 4th Loon Lake

Due to the heavy winter snow, trail conditions were awful in places, we had to slog across many snow patches, and the mosquitoes were rife, but it was a wonderful adventure. I would like to thank Paul, Windknot, and others at this community for helping me plan it in February (viewtopic.php?f=1&t=5801).

We (seven of us, age 20 to 56) started on the Mt. Tallac trail, a steep climb that had me comparing stroke symptoms to those of altitude sickness. Turns out I had a mild case of first-day altitude sickness, as I made it to the top of Mt. Tallac. The climb out of Catherine Lake was difficult, with much of the trail eroded and hikers having to negotiate talus at the top of the ridge. The views from Mt. Tallac are outstanding. You can see almost all of Lake Tahoe.

Whoever laid out the trail from Mt. Tallac to Gilmore Lake wanted you to take your time getting down and enjoy the wildflowers. We were the only campers at Gilmore Lake. Our group's resident fisherman caught several but threw them back. Why does he always throw them back?

Next morning we hiked over Dick's Pass on the PCT. The north side of the pass was mostly covered in snow. Going down, we lost the trail, not for the first time, and wandered onto a ridge with great views of Lake Tahoe, a happy accident, not the first one or the last on our trip. We went to Middle Velma Lake by way of Fontanillis Lake. This lake is gorgeous, with deep water surrounded by granite. I didn't see a place to camp at Fontanillis Lake, however.

Middle Velma Lake was crowded, which probably explains the bear. He arrived at dinnertime, an opportunistic brown bear. He went from campsite to campsite and you could follow his progress around the lake by listening to people banging pots and pans.

The interesting part of our trip began when we left Middle Velma Lake and descended Rockbound Valley. Not many people hike through there. Except for some people leaving Camper Flat, we didn't see anybody until we reached the Rubicon Reservoir. The trail disappears in places. Camper Flat looked like a natural disaster with fallen trees, brown standing water everywhere, and hungry mosquitoes. The river crossing into Camper Flat was easy.

At the river crossing between Camper Flat and Phipps Creek, four members of our party mutinied (this river crossing, which was impassable in mid-July according to reports, looked scary but was actually easy). The mutineers decided to hike straight to Loon Lake, where my brother-in-law and his friends were holed up with cases of beer and food items we could only dream of. The remaining three of us camped in a beautiful spot on the Rubicon north of AAA Camp near where the trail crosses the river. I highly recommend this spot. You can see large pools and cascades all up and down the Rubicon.

Next day, the three of us who remained, afflicted with downhill-itis, a disease that causes you to skip merrily downhill without minding where the trail goes, lost the trail. We never found the river crossing south of the Rubicon Reservoir and hiked 1.5 miles cross-country along the east side of the Rubicon (the trail here is on the west side). It was rugged country. As despair started to set in, we spied the Rubicon Reservoir and its dam. Could we cross on the dam? A half hour later, we walked partway across the dam and then waded across the river and through some brambles to the trail.

A minor thing here, but important to anyone who wants to go to Pleasant Campground at Loon Lake: the Loon Lake Trail that branches off at Buck Lake is easy to miss. Fortunately for us, a fisherman told us where to find it. It is not marked by a sign and looks at first glance like a dry creek.

My brother-in-law's camp at Pleasant Campground at Loon Lake looked like a sporting goods store. I immediately took two beers from one of his many coolers and drank them down seated in a very comfortable folding camp chair. For dinner that night he served ceviche, filet mignon, mashed potatoes, and Caesar salad. He even made martinis. Not a bad way to end a trip! He promised me that if I planned a trip to end at Loon Lake, his favorite fishing hole, he would feed everybody, and he really came through. It was a memorable feast.

I'll post some pictures later.



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Re: TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby windknot » Fri Aug 12, 2011 1:46 pm

Sounds like it was a great trip, thanks for the report! Do you know what kind of trout your friend (the resident fisherman) caught at Gilmore?
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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Re: TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby TahoeJeff » Sat Aug 13, 2011 1:41 pm

Great report on some of my favorite areas of Desolation. That post hike feast is right up my alley!
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Re: TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby Vaca Russ » Sun Aug 14, 2011 11:27 am

Pietro257 wrote:A minor thing here, but important to anyone who wants to go to Pleasant Campground at Loon Lake: the Loon Lake Trail that branches off at Buck Lake is easy to miss. Fortunately for us, a fisherman told us where to find it. It is not marked by a sign and looks at first glance like a dry creek.


Pietro, I agree. Yesterday two UC Davis students found me 1/2 mile northeast off of this spot on the trail. They sure looked happy when I told them I knew exactly where we were and gave them precise instructions on how to get back to the trail.

Important safety tip. If you think you lost the trail, stop and go back until you find the trail. These two guys had to really bushwack to get back to where I was fishing.

-Russ
” Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports … all others are games.”- Ernest Hemingway
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Re: TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby lazy max » Mon Aug 15, 2011 10:02 am

windknot wrote:Sounds like it was a great trip, thanks for the report! Do you know what kind of trout your friend (the resident fisherman) caught at Gilmore?


The fish I caught at Gilmore were about 10" planter rainbows. After a long day of hiking I lost interset quickly.
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Re: TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby FeetFirst » Mon Aug 15, 2011 1:05 pm

Vaca Russ wrote:
Pietro257 wrote:A minor thing here, but important to anyone who wants to go to Pleasant Campground at Loon Lake: the Loon Lake Trail that branches off at Buck Lake is easy to miss. Fortunately for us, a fisherman told us where to find it. It is not marked by a sign and looks at first glance like a dry creek.


Pietro, I agree. Yesterday two UC Davis students found me 1/2 mile northeast off of this spot on the trail. They sure looked happy when I told them I knew exactly where we were and gave them precise instructions on how to get back to the trail.

Important safety tip. If you think you lost the trail, stop and go back until you find the trail. These two guys had to really bushwack to get back to where I was fishing.

-Russ


I'm actually a bit surprised at this myself because the trail in and around that area is pretty well defined (old jeep trails). I have seen the trail at the southern tip of Buck Island Lake under a couple of feet of water but even then it's pretty obvious how to "trace" the edge of the lake till you re-join the trail.

Map of area:
Image

Photo of trail above Buck Island:
Image

Buck Island Lake (facing northwest):
Image
I'm still rather convinced that you can achieve more than you've ever dreamed of if you just lower your standards.
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Re: TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby Vaca Russ » Mon Aug 15, 2011 4:27 pm

FeetFirst,

The guys I helped out actually got lost at the southern tip of the lake. They were heading SE on the Rubicon trail. There is a dry creek that has washed out a portion of the trail. There is a use trail heading NE along this dry creek. This use trail is easy to mistake for the actual trail.

After a short distance this use trail disappears. The fact that the trail is gone and that you are heading NNE instead of SE should be your first clue something is wrong.

BIL is very full right now. I saw evidence that is was even much higher earlier in the season.

Hope this helps. :)

-Russ
” Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports … all others are games.”- Ernest Hemingway
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Re: TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby FeetFirst » Mon Aug 15, 2011 4:54 pm

Russ,

Thank you for elaborating. That makes sense and I'm sure they won't be the last to make that mistake.

Like most backcountry lakes that are relatively close to a TH, there are many use trails that can become a bit confusing in that area, but as you've said, when things are just not matching up, it's a good clue that you're no longer on your intended route.
I'm still rather convinced that you can achieve more than you've ever dreamed of if you just lower your standards.
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Re: TR: Desolation Wilderness 8/3-7 2011; Mt. Tallac to Loon Lak

Postby joe98 » Mon Aug 15, 2011 9:29 pm

You forgot about the Jeep trail. If you miss the turnoff at Buck Lake, like the four of us did, you end up on the jeep trail. Yes, after a couple of days out in the wild all of a sudden in the distance we see JEEP's. Friday afternoon at 6 PM they come in. We saw about 30 jeeps. Complete with noise, dust and oil stained dirt. After hiking most of the day the last thing you want is the dust of this trail. One lady did stop and gave us each a water. After hiking on this trail for over a hour we finally went off trail. Part of the area is private land, so we had to hike around. We finally went off trail and after about one hour ended up at Loon Lake. This is what I get for following the three youngster all under 24 of age and me age 57. Luckily the pork chops and beers helped wash the day away.
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