Hiking with Holly

Desolation Wilderness: Day 1

Lower Echo Lake Trailhead to Susie Lake

Miles: 10

Warning:  This entry will be longer than the others due to writing about the day before we start the hike.

This trip is a bit different from our last.  Most obvious, it’s in a new location!  We are headed up to North Shore Tahoe for our nephew’s wedding and decided to try and get a few days of backpacking in before the wedding.  The weather is supposed to be outstanding and there is no immediate threat of wildfires in the area.  We are excited for this new adventure!

September is not a good time of year for me to take time off work, but we are hooked on hiking and we will do anything to get a few days out there.  I stay up late after work prepping our food and trying to get our gear organized.  I work right up until Sunday night before we leave.

Monday morning comes too early and we spend the next 10 hours driving.  The highlight of the day was stopping in Mammoth at John’s Pizza for lunch.  Oh, how I love their pizza!  The crust has rosemary in it.

Because of the craziness before we left, my attitude was throw everything into the SUV and we will deal with it when we get there.  Big mistake!  If you read my foreword, you know what I am going to talk about.

What is normally an ideal evening at the cabin in Tahoe is now a bickering mess.  We spread out our gear, clothes, and food all over the living room.  The first part is easy…we each carry our own clothes and sleeping bags.  We decided ahead of time that Gannon will carry the bear canister.  The next part is where we got off track. We just could not agree on anything from this moment forward. I will spare you the details, but I ended up saying that if we are going to be like this before every hike, I don’t want to hike anymore.  We need to come up with a better way to deal with the “night before the hike”.

Bridge at the beginning of the trail. Bridge at the beginning of the trail.
IMG_1052 The start of the trailhead.
IMG_1055 One of the houses on the lake.

We are up early in the morning and determined to put last night behind us.  We have a bit of a drive to get to our starting location as it is closer to South Shore.  Lower Echo Lake is an amazing area where people live right on the lake.  They take boats to get to their houses.  It is a beautiful morning with blue skies and a calm lake.  People are zipping around in their little boats going here and there.  We can hear dogs excitedly barking from the boats as their owners are driving to their destinations.  The trail starts out very gradual with nice, flat tread.  It is fun to see the different homes and we talk about what it would be like to live here.  The further we go, the more people we cross coming back in from the long weekend.

IMG_1057 Boat on the lake with a barking dog on the bow.

After we leave the Lower and Upper Echo Lakes area, the trail is covered in skree/talus.  A dayhiker passes us and says it’s like hiking on Mother Nature’s broken teeth.  He is right on the money about that.  It is very mentally and physically draining to hike on this stuff all day.

Skree/talus covered trail. Skree/talus covered trail.
IMG_1058 Above Upper Echo Lake
Gannon doing what he does best....navigating! Gannon doing what he does best….navigating!

We gradually climb and finally reach Lake Aloha.  It is a huge lake with lots of islands.  There is not much vegetation, hence the name Desolation Wilderness.  We find a nice spot to come off trail, soak our feet and filter some water.  The water is freezing cold (as all high mountain lakes are), but our hot, tired feet welcome the numbness that overtakes them. We eat half our pb & j sandwich, feed a few scraps to a squirrel and get back on the trail.

Lake Aloha Lake Aloha
Soaking the feet and filtering water. Soaking the feet and filtering water.

We are now seeing other backpackers, as it is too far out at this point to be dayhiking.  There is a pair of 2 young guys and another group of 4 young guys.  In the pair of 2, one is wearing a straw cowboy hat.  Gannon thinks it’s pretty awesome and now wants one of his own to hike in.  He is no cowboy, but I wear a boonie hat, so I am not one to talk.

As we are hiking towards Heather Lake, we come across some birds that look like maybe grouse?  They are all over in this area.  What do you call a bunch of grouse?  A flock?  A gaggle?  Are they even grouse?  Wild turkey’s?  I need to Google it.

Possible grouse? Possible grouse?
IMG_1357 Hiking down to Heather Lake.  Our favorite kind of tread…skree.  Not!

We hike by Heather Lake and talk about the fact that some lakes are called by their name first, then “lake”.  While others are “lake”, then the name.  How weird.  Who determines that?  Example:  Lake Aloha, Lake of the Woods, Heather Lake, Susie Lake.  See what I mean?   This conversation gets us past Heather Lake with its sheer cliffs, ducks swimming, and an island in the middle.  This is Gannon’s favorite lake.

IMG_1362 Heather Lake with an island in the middle.
IMG_1094 Lovely trail around Heather Lake. Nice drop off into the lake!
The drop off into Heather Lake from the sketchy trail. The drop off into Heather Lake from the sketchy trail.

We approach Susie Lake and see a campsite that looks promising.  It is, however, very close to the trail.  We are not fond of that and decide to walk around to the other side to see what we can find there. There is an outlet (which we love, because it means we hear the sound of rushing water) and see a site that is not too bad.  Downside…this part of the lake is very windy.  We put our packs down and wander the area looking for a good location.  There is already 1 -2 other people in the area.  We are now in a dilemma.  Do we stay here in the wind, but the site has a great view, or go back to the other side and hope no one has taken that site?  We are tired and neither of us has the desire to walk all the way around to check out the other site again.  We pitch the tent in major wind.  This site is rocky, but again, the view is amazing.  It’s not perfect, but we don’t care anymore.  The tent is up and that’s all that matters.

IMG_1098 Our campsite with a great view!
IMG_1104 Sunset on our rocky campsite with a great view.

In the evening, the wind has completely died down and our neighbor pays us a visit.  His name is Steve and he has been hiking the PCT for the last 4 months or so.  He is from Long Island and loves to hike in the Sierras, especially in Kings Canyon.  He spent 2 months there this summer.  He is nice and we chat about hiking and life. After Steve leaves we make mac n cheese with bacon bits and green tea for dinner.

IMG_1105 Our dinner of mac n cheese with bacon bits. Green tea to wash it down.

At 9:30 pm we make one last bathroom break and take a look at the stars.  I wish it could have been as romantic as our time at Lake Virginia (not Victoria), but we were stumbling over rocks in the dark and thought we probably should not kill ourselves over a special moment.  We observe God’s greatness from our perspective sides of the tent and decide to call it a night.  Big climb tomorrow!

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