|Desolation Valley Loop
July 26, 2007
The boat-taxi fare at Echo Lakes has been increased to
$10 in each
direction; but it's worth it. Saving 5½ miles of round-trip
walking from the chalet enables hikers to concentrate on the good stuff
beyond. A nifty channel between the two lakes is big enough for only
one boat at a time, and it has a 5-mph speed limit.
The first two miles of walking embody a combination of the Pacific Crest
Trail and the
Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. This route is so popular
that the Forest Service has been compelled to fill the path with gruss to
reduce erosion and maintenance costs. That makes the trail very hard
on the feet.
My first-ever backpack was here in July, 1974. At that time water flowed pleasantly down the hillside across the trail in a number of places. Now this section is just a rough, dusty means to an end. Ralston Peak dominates the skyline.
Hidden channel between Upper and Lower Echo Lakes
Ralston Peak, 9209*
There are no flowers whatever for the first mile. Then a lot of cow parsnips begin to appear as I approach Haypress Meadows, together with some paintbrush and copious amounts of fireweed.
On the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail
It is hotter than expected today. My original destination was Ralston Peak; but at the critical junction the Meadows I incur a change of heart. There is cool running water to the west; but just the hot sun up on that treeless mountain! So I head down the hill toward beautiful Lake of the Woods, immediately encountering a few dozen alpine lilies and a few dozen mosquitoes.
Lake of the Woods and Pyramid Peak, 9983*
There is not a soul or a campsite to be found at this
lake. How odd. After looping around to the south, a short
cross-country jaunt around little Frata Lake and up a little hill
reveals my anticipated treat — the booming sound of a cascade
in the distance.
On the other side of this hill is Desolation Lake, a favorite place in the valley. At its northern end, Pyramid Creek cascades directly into the pool. A scramble over to the falls yields some fine views.
Pyramid Creek cascades into Desolation Lake
It is even better upstream
Continuing north on whatever path presents itself, I find a nifty notch between two cliffs where some nice flowers are hanging out, including those mysterious orange guys that I saw over by Round Top.
White Mountain Heather turns orange with age
After threading my way among several bodies of water, American Lake appears; it is adjacent to a number of ponds known collectively by local cabin owners as the Japanese Gardens.
In the Japanese Gardens
A few more steps northward accesses Lake Aloha, the biggest body of water in the wilderness. the lake level is quite low already, causing the water to appear nearly black; when full, it is a pretty blue. Someone has built a fancy stone chair for viewing the scenery; but there isn't much to see here today. Nevertheless, this is a good opportunity to soak some feet and dry some socks before starting the return loop.
A portion of Lake Aloha
A fancy bench
Back at Haypress Meadows, stands of fireweed provide the dominant color.
Just ahead is the crappy trail section, on which every step must be carefully
planned in order to avoid a fall. Eventually, the welcome sight of my
appears — Echo Lakes.
Approaching Echo Lakes
On the way down a mixed foursome of backpackers is resting. One of the men asks the others, "Did you did remember your sleeping bags?"
A dozen hikers are waiting at the boat dock. Since our ride doesn't arrive for half an hour, there is ample opportunity to visit with the local waterborne panhandlers.
A colorful beggar
§: Today the temperature was high, most of the creeks were dry, the
early-season flowers had withered away, and some of the
trail is horrid. On the other hand, Pyramid Creek and all the lakes
(except Aloha) were gorgeous, and the cross-country sections were
a lot of fun. This outing would have earned a higher rating a month