Monday, July 23, 2012

Desolation Wilderness

 I needed a Sierra fix, so I drove out to Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe over the weekend. Friday was a long day. After driving out to the coast for work, I didn't get home until 5:00. I didn't leave for Tahoe until 6:30. I arrived at Echo Lakes around 11:00. I felt pretty exhausted by the time I arrived. The drive was still nice. I did feel a sense of awe as I drove through the central valley along interstate 5 towards Sacramento.
Full parking lot at Echo Lakes (above)
It was amazing looking at the land, observing mankind's footprint upon it. We have transformed the surface of earth for our needs and wants. It is remarkable. The marshes were transformed, the land has been transformed with acre upon acre of food producing plants and trees. The grain distilleries, the trucks transporting goods, the airplanes flying overhead to the airport, boats floating down the rivers. Amazing. It's as if we are harnessing the power of the earth, the earth is our hive, everything else must adapt or perish. I felt like anything is possible if we can just get past our differences. What is humanity's ultimate goal? Space is the next logical step.
 Speaking of space, there is nothing like the stars in the Sierra. When I arrived in Echo Lakes, instead of sleeping in my car, I threw my sleeping bag down behind some trees. I think it was some one's front yard actually, but I did not see the cabin until morning. After lying down for the night, it only took a couple minutes before I saw my first shooting star. They appeared regularly every few minutes. That's always how it's been when I've camped out here. The Milky Way looks like clouds stretched in a band across the sky. No moon was present, in fact the new moon was on Thursday. I seem to be on a "new moon" camping cycle.
 Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well. I was restless from the day's rush, and the excitement of the next day's hike. Also, cars continued to arrive throughout the night. The place was packed. It was far more crowded than the last couple of times I've been here. I woke up around 5:30am, the sun was just beginning to arise. I was greeted by a few mosquitoes. It took a couple minutes to pack up. I was hiking by 6:00am. I could tell I was already feeling tired.
 Trees were my focus on this particular trip. I was seeing the areas trees for the first time. Fantastic shapes and growths are the norm out here. The trees are able to grow and reach their full potential and expression. There is nothing like a tree that is able to fully express itself. They have so much more character.
 Mosquitoes were bad in spots, but overall, not too bad. My roommate had just returned from a trip from Yosemite and said he barely noticed the mosquitoes. Foolishly taking his report at face value, I didn't bring bug spray or deet. It seems every hike I go on, I am amazed and then angered by my callousness. Why would I not bring any bug repellent into the Sierra in the summer? Foolishness! I had no self defense for the little critters. Thankfully, they weren't too bad. Just enough to be a nuisance. Thankfully, this was the first hike in a couple years that I actually brought a tent instead of a tarp.
By lunch, I was keenly aware of my tiredness from lack of sleep. I also find it amazing how our emotions seem to be the filters of how we perceive the world around us. Out of my tiredness and low energy, I felt like I was going through the motions just to get to camp.
 There was still a tree I wanted to visit however. I wanted to get a picture of this wonderful juniper growing along the PCT. I detoured about a mile total to get a picture of this fantastic specimen. I like how the living tree has wrapped itself around the section that has died. Who knows how old this thing is.
 After visiting the old juniper, I saw a hiker taking a break near a spring. He had that PCT look to him.
"Where you headed?" I asked.
"Where am I headed? Canada!" was his response.
His trail name is "House," and he's a part of the 2012 migration. He told me that the Sierra was snow free this year.
"Not even an inch of snow along Forester Pass," House said.
After wishing him a happy journey, I continued on my way. My destination was Clyde Lake.
"House" a PCT thru hiker
One hiker I passed said he could not believe how many hikers he saw on the trail. Personally, I had to agree with him. I knew Desolation Wilderness was popular, but there were a lot of folks on the trail. There were enough to make me weary to take a piss, knowing that someone was bound to come around the corner any second.
Lake Aloha (above)
Aloha Lake was beautiful as usual. The sun was really intense as the day wore on, and I was quickly getting dehydrated. Seems its almost impossible to stay hydrated on the first day. Clyde Lake is about a mile or so past Lake Aloha. First I had to climb up and over Mosquito Pass. I was really looking forward to setting up camp and taking a nap.
Mosquito Pass (above)
Eventually, Clyde Lake was in view. Last time I visited this place, there was no one around. Of course this was October, not July. Clyde Lake is small, so it has a more intimate feel to it. Selfishly, I was still hoping to have it to myself. When I arrived at the lake, I thought my wish was granted. I didn't hear or see anybody. As I was making my way around the lake to find a spot to camp all of a sudden I saw a man lying bare assed on a slab of granite.
 The moment I saw him, his dog saw me and aggressively ran through the underbrush barking and snarling at my feet. The naked man stood up and started screaming at his dog. The dog, of course, wouldn't listen and the  nude man grew increasingly irate. I knew he was probably more angry with the fact that my presence was ruining his wilderness experience, just I was getting angry his presence and his aggressive dog were ruining mine. "Fuck it," I said, and left Clyde Lake. I decided to head back over Mosquito Pass and camp along Aloha instead.
 I found a great spot to camp, with a natural wind break, and a front row view of the lake. There was also a mother marmot and her two young babies living nearby. They made sure to check on me from time to time. I just love marmots. They are like mountain sages. By late afternoon, I felt downright feverish. Exhaustion and dehydration had set in. I think I am starting to finally feel the effects of "age." I set up my tent and grabbed a seat behind the wind break, a shaded spot thank God. While lying there, someone across the lake started shooting a gun. It was a little unsettling knowing that there was nothing to block a bullet from one side of the lake to the other. Gunshots went off periodically for the next couple of hours. I fell in and out of sleep.
Lake Aloha dusk (above)
I woke up just in time to see the final hues of color before the lake went dark for the night. Actually the mosquitoes woke me up just in time. I crawled into my tent just before the stars came out, popped a couple Ibuprofen, and called it a day.


  1. Glad you were able to make it into Wilderness last weekend, even if the hike seemed less than peaceful.

    I spent a few hours on Saturday night in Joshua Tree, with a thin crescent moon and my big telescope. I think the sky has gotten brighter around Joshua Tree in just the past two years. Still, it's a nice summer Milky Way there, too.

  2. Hey Skyhiker, other than a few annoyances, it's always good to get out there. Where do you think the light is coming from? LA or are the towns growing around the park?

  3. Well, that's the weird part. It was due south. Los Angeles Metro would be due west.

    Turns out the Hidden Valley section of Joshua Tree is not as far east as I thought it was. Palm Springs, Coachella, Indio and all of that is due south. I guess that's why the more serious astronomers go to Cottonwood Campground, on the south end of the park, but well east of Hidden Valley. From Cottonewood, there's nothing south but the Salton Sea and a whole lot of desert and farmland.