Segment total : 32.7 miles
Minimum elevation: 6,914′
Maximum elevation: 9,381′
Total elevation gained: 6,158’
Moving Time: 12:35
Total Time: 36:57
Minimum Temp: 38°F
Maximum Temp: 94.4°F
Echo Lakes to Lake Aloha
Starting this segment was another confusing one where I had to call on my resources from WannaRideTahoe to shuttle me from my end point at Barker Pass Road and Highway 89, to my starting point at Echo Lake Chalet. It was a long way to go for Kat and her shuttle to come halfway up the west side of the lake to pick me up. She had several parties down in Meyers to pick up and needed to be back by a certain time, so coupled with road construction we were really pushing the envelope on meeting her schedule. Finally arriving at Echo Lake Chalet off of Highway 50, Kat need to get back on the road quickly so no time for idle chitchat this time.
This time of the year there a lot of youth camps going on at the lake and the Chalet. Lots of young teenagers going to and from some activity or another. The Echo Chalet is a General Store, a deli, a Post Office and mail-drop for many PCT through hikers. The Chalet caters to long-range backpackers coming and going, plugging in their cell phones outside in one electrical outlet (everybody seems to take turns sharing) and accommodates various requests from all thru hikers. I went into the Chalet’s General Store to see if there was any last-minute things I couldn’t live without for the next 30+ miles. Came back outside and took off my backpack, and sat down on a large log surrounding what looked like a picnic area.
There were about five other backpackers there, mostly PCT’ers picking up their reprovisioning boxes they had sent themselves weeks ago. I noticed one man had a bear vault larger than mine and thought to myself I couldn’t imagine caring one any bigger or more uncomfortable than the one I had, weighing in at 2 1/2 pounds. As it turned out, that man and I would meet once again up the trail and become hiking buddies for the next 30 miles.
Well it was now or never. I needed to get this show on the road. So I headed out on the walkway going over the dam from lower Echo Lake to find the trailhead. After several miscues mixed with a few dumb questions, I finally found the correct direction and was off. The trail started out as a fairly wide road bed, well graded and even.
Beautiful views of lower Echo Lake and surrounding hills and large billowy clouds was a nice visual start to my next adventure. The next half mile to three quarters of a mile was quite a difficult walk. A path of large broken sharp rocks made it very difficult walking surface this section of today’s hike. The rocks were not well packed, but loose, making my ankles work a little harder than I had wanted and making me wary that I was going to turn an ankle any moment.
Soon I passed that difficult section of the trail and once again was on a well packed dirt surface. By this time I had passed upper Echo Lake and Lake of the Woods. I passed one young brother and sister couple from Louisiana that were hiking back out of Lake Aloha on a day hike. We chatted for a moment, they were very pleasant and we wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.
By the time I arrived at Lake Aloha, the clouds were continuing to gather in the afternoon and the wind was building. Several other campers had arrived before me and had already staked out their claims on some prime camp spots.
I found a good spot, nestled between a cluster of five trees that would block the wind for my little tent for the night. It was a good thing I hunkered down between the trees, as the wind and threatening thunderstorms were howling all night. I probably slept about an hour or two that night.
When morning came, I emerged from my little green and red tent to find a beautiful, cloudless dawn illuminating the eastern slopes of the Crystal Range that bordered Lake Aloha to the west.
What a sight to wake up to. It seemed as though I was the only creature stirring that early in the morning. I went back to my camp quickly made one of my gourmet Starbucks Via coffee and headed out to the lake to enjoy my view and my morning brew.
The geology of Lake Aloha area was quite fascinating, with polished granite seemingly stacked vertically if you look straight down on it from above. It was as though the glacier that formed it had scraped it with fingernails, forming many long thin lakes to make up the entire 2 miles long body of Lake Aloha.
After breakfast while doing my dishes, the man about my age that I had met at the Echo Chalet who’s bear vault was bigger than mine, was walking near the lake. He was gazing over the lake and the Crystal Range in the distance, admiring its beauty and taking some photos. I said hello and introduced myself as “Tahoe Marmot” and he introduced himself as “Dioko”. He had spent the night a mile or two back at Tamarack Lake, which we found out later from several Rangers that that was a no-no, they don’t like people camping at that lake. After brief greetings and salutations, we realized we were on the same route and thought it might be a good idea to have some company along the way. The wind was still brisk in the early morning hours about 0800, but it was so difficult leave Lake Aloha behind.
The water where the colors of emerald and turquoise, sapphire blue… something that resembled the water of the submarine ride at Disneyland. Turning back to the trail, and looking up to the northeast on our right, we come to Cracked Crag. A decomposing monolith, a heap of rubble of large jagged boulders making up the southwest face. Cracked Crag is home to many marmots (my relatives of course) that make their home there, avoiding predators by hiding in the rubble. We did see one sunning himself in the warm morning sunshine as we hiked to the next trail junction at the north end of Lake Aloha.
Lake Aloha to Gilmore Lake
From there the trail turned east, passing a small waterfall next to the trail, cascading into a small, unnamed lake. Within a half-mile we were upon Heather Lake, another beautiful mountain lake with several islands scattered within it. Probably would’ve been a nice place for a swim however the shoreline seem to be mostly broken talus making it difficult to walk on. We met several other hikers coming and going, all the while the conversation seemed to be about the wind last night, how beautiful the day was today, and our next water source. The trail continued to be the sharp broken talus for another half-mile or so over a ridge until we reached Suzie Lake where we stopped for lunch.
After lunch we began our 500 foot climb to our next destination for the night, Gilmore Lake. Before Gilmore, we arrived at a trail junction, to the northwest the TRT and PCT would continue on up to Dick’s Pass and to the right would take us to Gilmore Lake.
Arriving at Gilmore Lake we took our packs off to scout out our campsite for the night. While Dioko was out scouting, it gave me a chance to do some exploring myself.
At the southeastern section of the lake, was a small man-made stone dam, constructed in the 1950’s to control and maintain the water at Gilmore Lake for later use downstream. On the other side of the dam, was the trailhead connecting to Mount Tallac, at 9,735 feet, one of the most recognizable peaks in the Tahoe basin. (Mount Tallac rises above Gilmore Lake to the northeast) Dioko returned shortly, having found a prime campsite for us for the night. There was another family of six enjoying the area with the kids swimming in the lake, but it was a little too brisk for Dioko and I so we continued on to make camp.
This would be the first night at camp together, giving us an opportunity to tell each other about ourselves. Dioko was a very interesting man, tall with long grey beard, befitting of a long distance backpacker. A far more experienced backpacker than myself, having designed and made his own backpack and hammock in lieu of a tent to sleep in. He also fashioned his own extra battery packs for charging his cell phone and camera. Though it took him 15 years to complete, he finished the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, 2,160 miles. Quite an impressive accomplishment for a man approaching 69 years old. We greeted several other groups of backpackers arriving late for the night at Gilmore Lake before turning in early ourselves. We had a long day ahead of us, climbing to Dick’s Pass at 9,400 feet.
Gilmore Lake to Phipps Creek
We had a good night’s sleep after the wind died down. Our next day began at first light with 40° temps, and after a modest breakfast and coffee for myself and sharing one with Dioko, we were off about 0730 for Dick’s Pass and our next destination for the night, Phipps Creek. There were many minor trails sprouting off from Gilmore, so we didn’t need to backtrack all the way back to the main trail to intercept the PCT to Dicks Pass. The 1,000 foot climb to Dick’s Pass was a somewhat gentle grade to the pass, with unsurpassed views of our route through Desolation so far.
We could see back to Aloha, Heather, Suzie Lakes, as well as Half Moon and Alta Morris Lakes lying below us at the base of Dick’s Peak. Pyramid Peak and the entire Crystal Range seemed close enough to touch, the day was so clear and the colors were so intense, we stopped for a bit to just take it all in. We passed several mountain springs, trickling down the hillside. Though we didn’t need any water, it was tempting to get a drink from a fresh cold mountain spring. Onward. We saw several marmots and birds along the trail to the pass. One male Western Tanager, a bright yellow bird that I have only seen a few times before. Once again we spoke with a young couple that we had previously met near Heather Lake. They had dropped their new camera their first day out, really bad news amidst all this beauty. Dioko and I exchanged our email addresses with them so we could share the photos that we were taking along the way.
At Dick’s Pass we could now see on both sides of the Desolation Wilderness. We had incredible views with visibility at least 50 miles in all directions. Our cell phones had a good signal so we took a moment to check in with friends and family, and for Dioko to update his trail journal for the last two days.
It was time to begin our descent down to Dick’s Lake, a 1,000 foot descent zigzagging along the mountain to the lake. We came upon another trail junction to Azure Lake and Maggie’s Peaks, and to the left to Dicks Lake. At that point we were greeted by three backcountry forest rangers, a man and two hearty young ladies with full packs complete with shovels, maintaining the trails in the DW. After a brief chat, checking our permits, and thanking them for their hard work we were off to Dick’s Lake for lunch and a needed break.
The lake was a beautiful sight, with unobstructed views of the pass that we just came over. Other than some campers at the southeastern end of the lake, we had the lake to ourselves. Time to move on, as we had many miles to go to Phipps Creek, our next campsite for the night.
Fontanillis Lake was another jewel in the wilderness. An elongated lake, we walked closely along the eastern shoreline at the water’s edge. At the northernmost tip of the lake was a natural dam with the water cascading over the rocks turning to a stream that continued down to Upper Velma Lake.
From atop some of the rocks we climbed on, we could see the other two Velma’s and Lake Tahoe through the pass between Maggie’s Peaks and Jake’s Peak. We had taken many breaks, and Dioko was eager to keep moving. The trail was not quite as obvious as one would hope, but Dioko’s good scouting skills found the trail on the other side of the creek, so we pressed on. We came upon four young women that seemed to be out on a day hike, a little unprepared to have hiked so far into the wilderness. They only had about 2 bottles of water between them, so we offered some of ours. They said they were drinking from the lakes and creeks and were ok, so we wished them luck and kept on our plan.
Originally we were to stay at Middle Velma, that had good water and campsites. It would have meant for a very long next day, so we pressed on to Phipps Creek for the night.
Arriving at Phipps, the creek was barely flowing. Several pools of water were accessible about 20 to 30 feet downstream. We decided to make camp for the night about 100 feet from the creek, at a nice clearing in the trees. Dioko quickly found several trees perfect for his hammock setup, and I went to work clearing a smooth open spot for my tent. He took pictures of me being so “anal” about smoothing out my tent bed with a large tree branch I found (Happy to have provided some amusement) The bugs, flies and mosquitoes lived up to their reputation of “mosquito death” of Phipps Creek.
I had just added a mosquito head net to my hiking repertoire, and put it to the test.
It worked great, and I was quite pleased with myself for actually buying something that made my day more enjoyable. The only thing with it, was my feeble brain not remembering that I was wearing it before I took a drink of soup or tea. After a couple of spills without Dioko looking I got the hang of it. One odd thing of note, is that we found an old steel skillet while returning from hiding our bear vaults. Looked as though someone had been living here years ago, living off of what we didn’t know. Several PCT thru hikers came through camp later that afternoon, but didn’t even notice us as they were zoned out from their iPods and moving at a pretty good clip. We each took turns going down to the creek to gather water to filter. Dioko used a Steri-Pen, which worked for him, but my opinion was that it was like some Ross Perot Voodoo wand that required more batteries and technology in the wilderness, and was not something that I could rely upon to be foolproof. I have an MSR Micro-filter, but traded it in on most of my long trips for a Sawyer Mini and collapsible liter bags. The Sawyer filter was an offshoot from the healthcare industry and renal dialysis, something that was very familiar to me. It only weighed 2 ounces plus the bags, and comes with a syringe to back flush the filter when it becomes clogged. After fighting swarms of mosquitos for 20 minutes I finally had all the water I needed and filtered for the next day’s trip.
Phipps Creek to Bear Creek
We both had a good sleep, not much wind throughout the night. The only thing I recall in the darkness of the moonless night were airliners flying overhead with their strobes illuminating the dark forest night. It was about 40°F in the morning and the bugs were too cold to get out of bed yet. Had a quick breakfast, shared another cup of Starbucks with Dioko and were on the trail by 0745. Dioko did not bring a camp stove on this trip or any means of heating food. I don’t always have to have a hot meal each day, but I do enjoy my hot coffee in the morning and hot peppermint tea at night. After breaking camp in the morning, we happened upon another nice campsite about 1 mile past our campsite. Nice and level off to the right, enough room for maybe two small tents.
The day was pretty sedate, not as many “wow factor” views compared to the last few days. We had several 400 foot climbs that day, the remainder of it trending downhill until we exited from the Desolation Wilderness. After about 6 miles we made our way to Richardson Lake for lunch at about 1045. The lake is outside of the DW and is accessible by 4×4’s and ATV’s. There weren’t any there at the moment. Continuing on at about 1145, we came across many downed trees across the trail. I made note of their location to report it to the TRT folks so they could clear them when they had the time. The temps got up to about 75°F, but felt hotter without the aid of trees to shade our path.
The Garmin GPS and my trail map showed Miller Creek about 2 miles from Barker Pass. Dioko had Guthook’s Tahoe Rim Trail Hiker App on his Android which showed reliable water at Bear Creek, about 1.5 miles short of the pass. Mine did not indicate the Bear Creek water source. It turned out that both sources were there and were flowing well at that time of year. The TRT Hiker App indicated a good campsite about 50 meters beyond the creek, and indeed it was.
A nice clearing for both of us. After making camp, we both went down to the creek to top off with water and do a little emergency laundry, as we were both getting a little rank at this point in the trip. After chores were done it was time for a little relaxation time for both of us. I decorating my tent with a mantlepiece of a moss-covered branch above my doorway, to give it a more lived in look. One disconcerting sight at our campsite was that of a fire ring that someone had made. The remnants of the charcoal bits of wood in the ring gave no indication that someone had tried to douse the fire after using it. They just allowed it to burn itself out. I am continually astounded by the stupidity of people entering a fragile wilderness area that has been dry as a bone for months. Dioko and I dispersed the fire ring before we left the area the next day, and reported the ring to the USFS when we got back to civilization.
Bear Creek to Barker Pass
We began our day on the trail early, on the trail by about 0715. we were eager to get things moving, as this was my last day on the trail of this section. Dioko would continue on around to Kingsbury, where he started the TRT. This was his hump day, marking the halfway point around the lake.
At the pass, we took each other’s pictures and
congratulated each other on our combined achievement.
Dioko had been a great hiking partner for the trip, enjoying the same pace and similar temperament. We wished each other the best and vowed to keep in touch. A lady from the TRT Association was there interviewing hikers about their experiences on the trail. We were only too happy to chime in. Dioko needed to press on, as he had many miles to go before bedding down for the night in Ward Canyon… and I needed to find a ride back down the mountain to my car parked at Kaspian Campground and Highway 89. An older lady had just dropped off her husband and granddaughter for a day hike to Alpine Meadows where they lived. She was kind enough to take me back down the hill, thus concluding my 33 mile segment of the TRT through the Desolation Wilderness.
Dioko completed his TRT Challenge on August 2 and was soon back home in North Carolina to rejuvenate from his 172 mile accomplishment. We have remained in touch, and hope to hike together in the future.
I will return in two weeks to continue another segment of the TRT, Mount Rose to Brockway Summit.
I will report it here when complete.
Until then… see ya on my next adventure in the Tahoe wilderness
The Road Goes Ever On
Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are my feet,
Still round the corner I may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but I alone.
The Hobbit ~ J.R.R. Tolkien