Hike Date: May 29 through June 1, 2010
Distance: ~ 9 miles
Trail(s): Tahoe Rim Trail, Pacific Crest Trail
Where’s it at? Trailhead at Echo Lake, summit Hwy 50 to So. Lake Tahoe
I took the time off early in the year and eagerly awaited my post-Memorial-Day solo backpacking trip to Lake Aloha. Finally, it came. Now, I’m no Father Nature, but it is not normally as snowy this late in the year as it was in 2010 and now 2011. I remember watching the weather forecast as soon as it hit the charts with the extended 15-day forecast showing SNOW. (BTW, 15-day forecasts are worthless, I have enough experience to tell you that if they get it right, it was literally just luck!).
Yikes! Finally my trip got within the somewhat trustable 5-day forecast range and it was raining like crazy here in the bay area. Chains were required on Hwy 50 for Memorial Day weekend! I soon realized that there isn’t nearly enough data available online to tell what the snowpack is like in remote locations. Google Maps doesn’t update their photos frequently, yadda, yadda, yadda. Alas, Echo Lake Chalet is right by the trailhead, so I started checking out their website, and bless them, they posted pictures of 6 foot walls of snow, with detailed, practically up-to-the-minute reports on road conditions. It was appearing like I either had to cancel my trip, though I had the Wilderness permit already, or go snowshoeing for my first time. I’m not one to give up easily so I ran to the store and bought a pair of snowshoes. (it’s worth noting that these are very hard to find on the peninsula on Memorial Day – so plan ahead).
Once I got up into the mountains it was a little bit scary and disappointing, but at the same time I was thrilled deep down inside about getting to try snowshoeing and the stories I might have after a solo “backpacking” trip on snowshoes at the very summit of the Sierra Mountain range off 50.
I stopped at the Strawberry Lodge for breakfast, as I often do, and called in to confirm that I was going to have no choice but to overnight park at a Sno Park which was about 2 miles away (and I mean away) from my trailhead. What a surprise to find out that Strawberry Lodge actually sold Sno Park passes for overnight parking, for $5/night. I grabbed a few of those and went on my way, wide awake from the delicious coffee.
So I hiked along a road for 2 miles before reaching Echo Chalet, which surprisingly had an open shop where I grabbed a last minute beverage and relaxed, taking in the frozen lower Echo Lake for scenery. Then I departed. And man was my pack heavy. I left it open-ended in terms of how many days, having taken a week with surrounding weekends off. I’ve never been one to pack light and this time I had snowshoes and lots of waterproof covers and clothing.
My goal was Aloha Lake but I never made it that far. The terrain was grueling and I couldn’t see any trail, and nobody had apparently hiked through here at all since the last major snowfall a day earlier. I probably wouldn’t have gotten lost but it was just such grueling and slow hiking that I just decided to go to Triangle Lake, a much smaller, less scenic lake instead. The hike took me over the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, though I’m certain I wasn’t actually on the trail most of the time, just near it.
I was a little nervous about water. Everything, including the lakes, was frozen. I was lucky to find several small creeks which were barely visible through the snow, and still flowing a bit, to obtain water. I didn’t have to melt any snow to drink, which saved me a ton of time and kept me more hydrated I’m sure. I made one mistake cooking dinner on the first night however, I had the stove canister in the snow and it melted it’s way 6 inches down. That’s fine and dandy, I could still cook my meal, but I neglected to remove it when I turned off the gas, opting to eat first instead. Soon enough I realized that I needed an ice pick to get the darn thing out of the snow. Lesson learned.
This is the first time I’d actually set a tent up on snow itself, meaning feet and feet of snowpack. I actually found it to be nothing to dislike though. In fact I think I got a flatter sleeping surface than ever camping on dirt. And my 3-season tent with the rainfly on held in heat enough to keep me perfectly warm, granted I did buy a “sleeping bag liner” on this trip, which added 10 degrees to my 20 degree bag.
Photos from Backpacking Desolation Wilderness (click to enlarge)
Useful Links about Desolation Wilderness
- US Forest Service on Desolation Wilderness
- Wikipedia info on D.W.
- Wilderness Permit Details
- Images of Lake Aloha
Directions to Trailhead at Echo Lake
View Solo Backpacking in Desolation Wilderness in a larger map