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?
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.
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...
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:
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:
Briefly lose the trail. That is snow in the background and there will be more despite the August heat:
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:
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:
View from my camp at dinnertime:
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.
My perspective with my hat in the foreground as I hike along lakes:
Final shot as my batteries fade
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 ...