Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Tahoe-Desolation Wilderness Aug 2012
Display Avatars Sort By:
Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Tahoe-Desolation Wilderness Aug 2012 on 08/24/2012 23:00:03 MDT Print View

This was one of my first backpacks back in 1999 but the film was long lost, so I've always wanted to return for pictures. This trip had to be done regardless of rain, heat, or bugs, thus the need for an enclosed Tarptent Moment, bear canister, etc .. in my ULA Catalyst. Plus I'm thinking the may be my first thru via the TRT if I have time next summer; reading into the trip reports I've seen here.

General: The Desolation Wilderness is mostly rocky, reassuring since there were forest fires starting on the northern part of Tahoe. Permits are needed so my hike would start at Eagle Lake going the Fontenelli Lakes region first, then Aloha lake next. Lake Tahoe itself wasn't as blue as I last experienced it, the gray reflecting the threatening storm clouds above perhaps?

Eagle Bay

The bad part is the trailheads get packed in the morning with mostly day hikers. I left Sacramento before the crack of dawn about 2 hours away and still encountered a full parking lot. Frustrated I drove up to North Beach instead, buying some shorts, and lunch, playing tourist before returning south.

North Beach Tahoe

Coming back to Eagle Lake, a group of younger backpackers told me the ranger advised just waiting on the road until a parking space opened. So off to a late start .. again. Like most National Forests, there's a quad busting climb out of the TH with Eagle Lake being off-limits to camping but popular with the day crowd. There is a huge crowd but thins out quickly.

Halfway point, just going up...
Halfway up

There are a few false summits as legs tire. Thunderstorms unleash volleys of thunder and lightning on the top as backpackers go up into the storm. Dayhikers going the opposite way keep telling me that it's much worse on top but I press on, passing the same college hikers about half my age with similar sized packs. It may not be such a bad day after all...

Almost at the top:Looking down

At the top, the storm calms and after a snack/orientation break, I hike into a marshy little valley with snow facing the north. Snow in August!!! When most of the US is broiling at 105 degrees F. The trail gets faint ..

Magical Mystery Marsh: Magical mystery marsh

Briefly lose the trail. That is snow in the background and there will be more despite the August heat:Trail lost

The hike to the intersection of Dick's Lake gets a bit rockier so I stop taking pictures for awhile as I reach the ridge and major trail junction. So many tents pretty well-hidden but don't want to take pictures of someones camp. Wind blown trees -- hint: wind can come out of the west:Trail junction

Brief drop to Dick's Lake, picturesque but every flat area has a tent. This is another problem. The place is packed, though backpackers do their best to be inconspicuous, there will always be about 11 parties surrounding most lakes. The amount of flat areas is relatively small.

Lake as sun starts to set:Lake at sunset

View from my camp at dinnertime:View from camp

Waking up and after breakfast, I decide to scramble around in my new trail runners. The soles really grip the granite and soon I'm going up and down the granite formations.

Interesting split rock

My perspective with my hat in the foreground as I hike along lakes: My view

Final shot as my batteries fade Final shot

WIth a light or ultralight pack, the Desolations really are not that big I found out. Pretty crowded but there's a reason for this. Still I plan to be back with an even lighter pack. Returning to the TH, and completing a loop via the Velma lakes, it gets hot. Sweating, I stop at Eagle Falls. Some young women are swimming about a quarter mile from the parking lot at the "falls", so I undo my pack, take off my trailrunners, and plunge in with my clothes. After cooling off, my clothes almost dry in the short distance it takes to reach my rental.

Good: Picturesque combination of mountains and lakes

Problems: Too crowded, too short. If I were to return for a dedicated UL hike here, I'd start way earlier (carcamp near South Lake Tahoe) and plan a dawn start from Eagle Lk TH or Bayview TH to Aloha Lake and still have time to explore after setting up camp. Backpackers are good about hiding most of their tents but there's alternating "-tent - bear can - tent - bear can- " at some lakes.

That's it. I go back to the Bay Area and start scouting for a Marin county hike this winter ...Golden gate

Edited by hknewman on 08/25/2012 13:28:06 MDT.

chris Nelson

Locale: San Francisco
Re: Tahoe-Desolation Wilderness Aug 2012 on 08/27/2012 22:18:25 MDT Print View

Great Report!

I'm planning a trip in mid September and was thinking Desolation. What do you think the crowds will be like then? Did you get a permit in advance or did you just show up? I have always wanted to backpack there but was always thrown off by the crowds.

I went to Emigrant twice this year and really enjoyed only seeing a few people if any on the trail.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Re: Tahoe-Desolation Wilderness Aug 2012 on 08/28/2012 06:50:56 MDT Print View

You had all the crowds because you didn't go any further than dayhikers venture. There is more to Desolation than the first 4 mile perimeter.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Re: Tahoe-Desolation Wilderness Aug 2012 on 08/28/2012 08:31:59 MDT Print View

@ Chris: I got a permit that day with no problem en route from Sacramento and you need to camp in the zone you and the ranger decide on the first night. If I had to do it over again, I'd get it beforehand if parking around the lake to avoid a full parking lot (you get a parking permit for that TH). On the crowds, you may want to check if the vacation crowd dies down in September from someone more local.

@ Duane: I've basecamped from Velma Lakes before and found going west wasn't really that scenic. This was a basecamp trip for a 24 (extendable to 48) where I wanted to set up basecamp to wade in the lakes and scramble along the rocks surrounding the lakes, try some new gear/shoes, take pics. Wasn't set up as a high mileage event, thankfully, because ....

My new, lighter weight trailrunners started to roll my ankle repeatedly while backpacking the Desolations - felt like the sole was slipping inwards forcing my ankle outwards in the classic sprain roll, ... repeatedly as I got to the top. No sprains but close, so I had to get to my zone and get that pack off -- or retreat back to the TH (no backup Chaco's since joining the site). The shoes were great for scrambling the granite but not as supportive as light hikers. Didn't want to add that drama to my TR. Never had that issue after 13 years of backpacking with trail-runners and light hikers, so took what I could out of the trip as per my goals - retaking those pictures. The shoes are now on mountain bike duty. (ed/br).

Edited by hknewman on 08/28/2012 08:45:48 MDT.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Re: Tahoe-Desolation Wilderness Aug 2012 on 08/28/2012 11:20:54 MDT Print View

There are bits of "fly over" country here and there. Upper Velma, Dicks Lake, Aloha, and at the right time of year, the area above Schmidell are some of the nicest in Desolation. The Rockbound Valley is pretty nice before too late in the season, I love the green. I've noticed the dayhikers clear out around 4 in the afternoon from the Velmas. Scattered camping around Upper Velma, so depending on where you camp, you have the potential to not see anyone. There are parts of Desolation where I have not seen anyone for days. Like Yosemite, people visit the most scenic places, thus they are so popular. Glad you got to go back.