Ski Mountaineering

Desolation Wilderness

Aug 14-18, 2018

Reiner Stenzel

Summer time is too precious to sit at home. At least once a month I get an urge to visit the mountains. Then one can experience the subtle changes of weather, vegetation, water, even the size of ptarmigan chicks. Early summer has lots of snow, violent thunderstorms, early wildflowers, mid summer has long hot days great for enjoying the lakes, late summer shows the beginning fall colors in the high country. This trip in mid August was perhaps the best season to go hiking. I like to revisit beautiful areas I had seen before such as a section of the PCT and TRT from a few years ago. It is the Desolation Wilderness with lots of lakes, great sceneries, nice hikers to meet, no mosquitoes to meet in late summer.

On Mon, 8/13, I finished packing and drove from the Bay Area to Echo Lake with a side trip to South Lake Tahoe. I car camped to start on Tue, 8/14, splurged the ferry ride across Echo Lake (3mi/15min) and headed up on the PCT toward Lake Aloha. This lake is long and unusual, consisting in some areas of more rocks than water, and has no climate like Hawaii. In summer it is great to stop for a swim and sunbathe on the rocks where some enjoyed the "freedom of the hills".

At the northern end of Lake Aloha I left the PCT and followed north on the Rockbound trail. Away from the PCT highway one meets fewer people, especially fewer day hikers. In the afternoon dark clouds were growing with an occasional grumbling in the sky. Beyond China Flat I climbed out of Rockbound Valley past Doris Lake, Lake Lois to beautiful Lake Schmidell. After 14 mi and 3 passes it was enough for the first day. It was starting to rain, but by the time my tent was set up it stopped again. Nice of the clouds, which broke up at sunset and made a photogenic evening sky.

Originally I planned to visit Rockbound Lake and Rubicon Reservoir, but this would require a 20 mi roundtrip in a hot valley which was not too appealing. So I decided to do a loop hike east to the Velma Lakes with return via Dicks Pass. I had lunch and a dip into big Middle Velma, and continued in the afternoon to Lake Fontanillis. There was a nice campsite well above the lake with great views where I spent the night of Wed, 8/15. From my "pent house" one could see Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately the air was a bit hazy from the wildfires but it produced amazingly colorful skies at sunset and sunrise.

On Thur, 8/16, I climbed over Dicks Pass (9,400') where I met some PCT thru hikers coming from the Mexican border. You can easily recognize them for their beards and light packs. We chatted for a while and then they hurried on which brought memories back up from a few years ago. The views from Dicks Pass were wonderful, ranging from Rubicon Reservoir in the north to Lake Aloha to the south. After taking many pictures it was a long descent downhill to Gilmore Lake, another fine place for a lunch break. In the afternoon I followed the PCT past Susie and Heather Lakes to Lake Aloha. There were many good campsites among the rocks. The sky was clear and unobstructed by mountains, thus ideal to watch the night sky. Although I had only my light pocket camera it was possible to get nice pictures of the waxing moon, reddish Mars and some well known constellations.

On Fri, 8/17, I continued south along Lake Aloha with a side tour to the famous "Lake of the Woods". It is a beautiful place surrounded by forest but with occasional fine views of Pyramid Peak. It is a bit overused by day hikers but well managed to avoid wild camping. At a certain place and time the lake sparkles in sunlight which produces interesting pictures. A former friend sent me once such pics and asked me where it was taken, and now I know. On the way out I met a ptarmigan near the trail. It was so camouflaged that I could only discover it from her sounds to warn her half dozen of chicks.

In contrast to the PCT-style hiking I had now time to take many pictures of wildlife, wildflowers and sceneries. Eating mushrooms and berries were a delight. No mosquitoes spoiled the dipping into lakes. It was a great trip, although next time I hope to do it with my hiking friends from the last trip.

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