Backpacking: Desolation Wilderness

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Monday night Brian Korver and I got back from a backpacking trip to the Desolation Wilderness, mostly on the PCT:

Trip Summary: (map, pics) Echo Lake to Lake Aloha on the PCT. Over Mosquito pass to Clyde Lake. North to Velma Lakes Trail. Over to the PCT at Middle Velma Lake. South back to Echo Lake trailhead. Two days of hiking (Spread over 3 days), 30 miles, 5+ kft. [Note: statistics from TopoUSA. The Tom Harrison Maps think this was a few more miles.]

This trip has been delayed twice now (since May!). The first time I was sick, the second time Brian was sick. But we finally managed to get out the door last Saturday.

On the first day (about 3 PM) we started at Echo Lake and went north on the PCT. This part of the PCT is really busy this time of year (other people are just as capable of doing the math about how it's close as we are) and we spent the first stretch up to about Lake Aloha dodging people on the trail. We actually saw a ranger who wanted to see our trail permit—first time that's ever happened to me—though he thanked us profusely for getting one (even though it's required). One wonders how many people don't. Much of this section was over scree and talus and the footing was tricky and very tiring. By the time we reached the top of Mosquito Pass our feet (and my right knee) were quite sore and we were glad to see the turnoff to Clyde Lake. Unfortunately, Clyde is actually pretty far down the hill from the turn and we had trouble finding a good site near the rocky lake, especially as it was getting dark. We ended up camping at a small flat spot right off the trail which turned out to be super-comfortable and pleasant ((pic)), except for the long walk to the water. I tend to get up early but there was a great rock where I could turn my thermarest into chair and get some reading done (pic).

The second day was our long day (~14 miles) and we knew we really had to make Gilmore Lake or it was going to be a long Monday. The trail was a mix of wooded dirt and wide open, unshaded talus and by the time we reached Fontinillis Lake and the climb up to Dick's Pass it was threatening to rain, so we had to push hard to make Gilmore Lake before it got dark or we got rained on. Early on in the day we thought we'd seen signs of bear (if you know how to identify bear scat check it out here and let me know) but we never actually saw anything bigger than a woodchuck. We got to Gilmore Lake, which is a small, flat, round lake nestled in some cliffs (pic) around 6, and saw the first people we'd run into all day who had already camped. We camped a bit away from the lake nestled in some trees.

The next day we headed back to Lake Aloha and to the trailhead. This was mostly downhill but over a lot of talus. The rain that had been threatening the day before finally showed up a bit and it intermittently drizzled on us all the way down. Really, we were incredibly lucky because it never actually rained seriously and we never got really wet, but the rocks got pretty slippery towards the end. Finish time ~3:10 PM.

Overall, I'd recommend Desolation for a weekend trip. While the terrain is as empty as the name suggests, due to proximity with the Bay Area (about 3 hrs away), the hiker population is pretty high. Weather was generally good and there weren't any bugs. If I had time, though, I'd probably rather go somewhere a bit further away and less popular.

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