Our original adventure was to be the epic Tahoe-to-Yosemite hike, one attempted by less than 10 people per year. The Donnell Lake fire which started August 1, and continues to burn 36,350 acres, destroyed over 21 miles of our 180-mile hike. For plan B we reverted to a modified series of loops through the Desolation and Mokelumne Wildernesses.
Uwe, Klaus, and Jack met Quinn (Jack’s daughter) and her friend Robin in South Lake Tahoe for a nice dinner the evening of the 25th and they joined us on the first day’s leg of the adventure.
The morning step-off was a 1,600-steep climb, then to a small unnamed lake for lunch and a turn-around spot for the two ladies. We intercepted the PCT and continued on over Dick’s Pass, another 1,200 feet, camping at Gilmore Lake.
The next morning, we summited Mount Tallac (9,739 ft) showing a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe. Little chipmunks were friendly little beggars on the summit. After summiting, we returned to camp and continued on to Tamarack Lake to camp. Along the way we passed several lakes, the most interesting of which was Aloha Lake. It was at about 8,200 ft embedded in a granite shoreline and studded with granite islands.
This day started as a rocky trek along the shoreline of Echo Lake. This is a resort lake with very nice, expensive cabins, some were “trip over a rock and stumble pretty” as Jack can attest to. Echo lake had a little boat dock with a water taxi to ferry hikers the length of the lake to avoid the 3-mile rocky trail along the lake. (More on that later). We pushed on to Echo Summit where there were high altitude training facilities for the US Olympians in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. We also hiked along a segment of the original Pony Express Trail. Then we had to climb Hawley Grade, a 2,297 ft climb. We usually like to avoid places named grades, but we had no choice. We did get to filter water from the South Truckee River. We camped at Round Lake. The site was surrounded by strange rock formations called concretions. Klaus thought some of them resembled pre-historic script. Round Lake served as our week’s bath and laundry. No bathing pictures are available.
From Round Lake, we went on to Round Top Lake, named we guessed for the nearby Round Top Mountain. The lake was at 9,200 ft and it was very windy. The wind never died down during the night, gusting to 40-50 mph. All of us worried about our little tents, but we all survived.
The wind was still fierce as we made our attempt to summit Round Top (10,381). Our turn-around rule was that if one of us was blown off the mountain, the other 2 would turn back. We got to within 200 feet from the top, but it became too technical for us and we were rejected by the mountain. It was time to make it to our resupply that afternoon and we headed to Carson Pass. On the way we did summit a lava mountain, Elephant’s Back (9,585). From there we could see the smoke from the Donnell Lake fire.
We met Srisuda for resupply about noon and got clean clothes and another 5-day supply of meals. But the real treat was when she hauled out the table and stove and cooked hamburgers! After re-constituted meals for 5 days, the burgers were great. Srisuda went off to hike and camp (her first solo adventure) and we went on to Meiss Cabin, a historic 1842 ranch cabin. We camped near the cabin on a creek and spent a very cold night.
We woke up with our water frozen and our tents covered in frost. We packed up quickly and headed back up to Echo Lake. Our goal was to catch the water taxi, avoiding the 3-mile rocky hike. The last taxi was at 530 and we thought we could make it. Good news – We made it by 430. Bad news – The taxi stopped running for the season the day before due to low water levels. So, we had the rocky hike to Upper Echo Lake and dry camped. We had a view of the water, but this was our only night not on a lake or creek.
Pyramid Peak was on our wish list to summit and we planned to camp next at Lake of the Woods. This was a long cross country bushwhack. We encountered log bridges spanning roaring rivers, dozens of little lakes to circumnavigate, creeks to wade, granite ridges to negotiate, and one big snag – a ranger. This is usually never a problem, but because we changed our route from the original, we were in Desolation Wilderness past the date of our permit. We had to leave and could not camp in the wilderness. This made for a long hike (again down the Echo Lake Trail). Srisuda was now staying with a friend in South Lake Tahoe, but we could not reach her right away, so Jack asked some lone hiker if he could give Klaus a ride to town. He was accommodating and when Klaus gave him all the cash ($29.00) he had on him, the guy took Klaus all the way to his car, an extra 20 minutes up the road. Now we had wheels but no place to stay. Srisuda comes to the rescue again and explains the situation to her friend, Susan, and Susan welcomed us to sleep and shower in her house. Ahhh. No tents, no ground, no wind and no cold. Susan’s two little daughters Melissa and Allison were intrigued with the three smelly and tired looking hikers. We made friends and cooked the little girls a hiking breakfast the next morning.
We experienced glorious views, scorching heat, freezing cold, dirt and dust, comradery and the generosity of strangers on this adventure. It was an awesome experience covering 82.2 miles and 16,300 vertical feet.
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