Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Desolation Wildnerness

Hey Party People,

Well, after delaying our posting on the trip to Desolation Wilderness, we've finally gotten around to it. Our excuse? We've been having a great time at Cathy's house.

Desolation Wildnerness. What a place. It's name is very appropriate. In 1964, the Wilderness act, as passed by Congress, ensured that the land would remain a wilderness for generations to come. The cool thing about hiking in a Wilderness is that there are no campgrounds, so you pretty much just set up camp where ever you can find refuge from the mosquitoes. Also, there are very few trails, so you're welcome to hike through the backcountry and find your own way. Without a trail, there is a greater feeling of adventure and exploration, which is always nice. Of course, the down side is that you end up taking paths that are both difficult and circuitous. All in all it ended up being quite a trip; we estimated that we hiked 59 miles and killed a combined 900 mosquitoes in 5+ days.

The first day (June 28th), we were dropped off by Bobby at Echo Lake, just South of Lake Tahoe. We hiked a few miles along the lake until we reached a sign that we had officially reached the Wilderness. Leaving civilization behind, we hiked through some sparse pines down to Lake Aloha.

I'm guessing they've so named the lake because of it's many islands, which I suppose make you feel like you're in Hawaii or something. We had lunch (bagels and cream cheese) on the lake and promptly fell asleep. Awaking an hour or so later, we set up our camp about 100 yards back from the lake and proceeded to plan our afternoon hike. Colt had heard great things about Horsetail Falls, so we hiked down there. Once we got there it turned out to be pretty spectacular, with the water rushing over the edge. We'd been warned by the ranger to be careful around the falls; apparently a couple people have been killed by the rushing water of the falls in recent years. However, Colt took no heed and quickly dove into the water, as evidenced by this picture:

Once we climbed back up the falls, we headed to camp, where we sat down for a dinner of uncooked ramen, ciabatta bread, mozzerella cheese, beef jerky, and the obligatory Hershey's bar. Our food for the trip ended up being a little excessive. I think that for the 6 days/5 nights we had something around 25 lbs of food. We ended up eating a ton and still not finishing it all. After dinner we crawled into our tent for one of the worst nights of sleep I've ever had in my life.

The plan for Day 2 was to hike to the top of Pyramid Peak and then descend the mountain on the other side of Lake Aloha. The hike turned out to be a very difficult one, with a lot of up and down before we even got to the base of Pyramid. Once there, the ascent looked even more daunting than it did from far away. The mountain is mostly all rock, except for patches of trees and shrubs that grow near little pools of melted snow. We traversed our way back and forth across the mountain, looking to avoid the steep ascents. It took us quite a long time, but we finally reached the summit at around 2:30 p.m. Once again, we fell asleep, but not before admiring the view from the top:

It was incredible. Pyramid Peak is listed at 9,987 feet above sea level, but let's just call it an even 10,000 so we can feel better about ourselves. It was really high. Although there wasn't a cloud in the sky, it was a little hazy and the view of Sacramento was obstructed. Nonetheless, the view to the North was especially spectacular. The hike back down was also very difficult and required some difficult maneuvering. Luckily we'd left our packs at our tent, otherwise we might have been blown off the mountain by the gusts of wind. We got back kind of late, maybe around 8 pm and had dinner. I was pretty frustrated and tired from the long day of hiking, but as I found throughout the trip, frustration comes and goes very quickly when I'm out on a trip like this. Something might get to me - it was often mosquitoes on this trip - but it would wear off very quickly as I was calmed by both the beauty of the landscape surrounding me and the simplicity of living in the Wilderness. It's hard to stay frustrated for long when this is your backyard:

Back at camp, after a long day of hiking, all we had to do was eat, relax, and soak it all in (also kill a few hundred mosquitoes).

On day three, we woke up and packed up our camp at Lake Aloha. We moved north, going on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), hiking past two smaller lakes (Heather and Susie) and setting up camp at Lake Gilmore. Feeling disgusting from 2.5 days of hiking, we took a quick dip in the lake and had lunch. Then, we set up camp and started our hike up Mt. Tallac. Compared with climbing Pyramid Peak, Tallac was a breeze. Although it is nearly as high as Pyramid, we started from a higher elevation and had a much more gradual, easy ascent. Reaching the top, we were hoping to have a view to the East of the devastation wreaked by the fire. However, it was hard to see anything other than the red, fire retardant dust dropped by fire fighting helicopters onto the trees below. Like Pyramid, the top of Mt. Tallac was nothing but boulders.

While hanging out at the top, we also made friends with a cheeky chipmunk, which would try and come steal our food while we were watching. I guess even in Desolation Wilderness the wildlife is accustomed to humans. Back at camp, more of the same. We started sleeping a little better on the 3rd night, but it was surprising that we were unable to pass out given our long days of hiking.

On the 4th day, we pushed further North. Staying on the PCT, we went though Dick's Pass.

At the Pass, we met two "PCTers:" people who were hiking the entire PCT. This pair had started on April 19th, 73 days earlier, in Mexico. On their way to Canada, the were not even halfway finished. About 300 hikers attempt the PCT every year, with about 60% successfully completing the journey. We were amazed by these guys and I wish that we'd had more time to talk to them about what they were doing. But, unsurprisingly, they had a lot of hiking to do.

Perhaps inspired by the PCTers, we planned to do 9 miles after lunch. It turned out to be the most unpleasant 9 miles of the whole trip. The land was relatively flat forest, with little water. It was nice for the variety provided by the trees, but they also blocked the wind, giving mosquitoes a safe haven. We did the 9 miles in just about 3 hours, not wanting to stop lest the mosquitoes catch up to us. Arriving at our destination, we found a lake that appeared to be crawling with more bugs, so we pushed on to the next lake: Hidden Lake. This turned out to be a great decision as Hidden Lake was easily our nicest camp spot.

It was a much smaller lake, with warm water, so we both jumped in to clean off. After being attacked by mosquitoes, the water felt especially good. We swam out to the rock in the picture and rested in the fading light.

Day five was our last full day of hiking. We left the heavenly environment of Hidden Lake and hiked South, on the Yosemite-Tahoe trail. We had lunch at Phipps Pass:

Tired from the previous day (17 miles), we had a much shorter day, arriving at Lake Velma in the late afternoon. We played a few games of Go, and ate as much of our remaining food as we were able. Although it was a beautiful night with a great sunset, it was also the worst night for mosquitoes. Colt was driven to extreme measures to protect himself:

On our sixth and final day, we got up early and cleaned up our campsite. We hiked down to Emerald Bay, which, for the Midwesterners out there, is attached to Lake Tahoe. Here's a view of the bay:

It was a nice, short hike to end on. We got to Inspiration Point at around 10:40 am and called Cathy for a ride back to warm showers and hot food. On the ride home we drove through the char zone and recited a few "That's a bummer, man"'s. It was amazing to see how selective the fire was, some houses were left to rubble while the neighbors house would be untouched. The tree-near-your-house-tradeoff is very apparent here, more shade and windblock versus fire danger. As I (Colton) have just joined the Nevada Conservation Corps and will be doing a lot of forest thinning, I wouldn't worry about any more forest fires in the area for awhile.

After returning, we had a sweet 4th of July around the house with some Camino-style-charades and a continual flux of Tommy's friends. In a fit of pandemonium, Tommy's bf, Brett, blurted out "When are you guys leaving?" to us (I think he likes us). This reminded us that it is time to continue our adventure. We continued on to Six Flags Vallejo on Friday, where every ride is referred to as an "adventure". Ex.: "Welcome back from your adventure, please exit to the left." or, "Loose articles are not allowed on your adventure, please store them near the exit." Also, every "adventure" there is the tallest, fastest, longest or something-or other in either California or Northern California (not so impressive, but they sure let you know about it).

So, as I said, we will continue our adventure when we head back down to Berkeley to pick up adventure-enthusiast Michelle Wang and head out to Uncle Tom's Westport dream house. Now we head up to Tahoe for some rum runners and tourist watching. Adios!


James said...

if the point of this blog is to make readers jealous of what you're doing, you have succeeded in my case.

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