Today, we entered the Desolation Wilderness, a scenic section of trail we’ve been looking forward to all hike.
CareFree and I attempted to get up early (or at least, earlier than we usually do when in town) to get a ride back out to the trailhead. We called Leilani, who was out for a walk herself, and therefore not immediately available. We then ran down the entire list of other trail angels; two of them were on vacation out of town (and yet actually answered their phones!); all the rest went to voicemail. So instead, we got a ride with a Lyft driver back to the trail.
We arrived back at the trailhead around 9:20 am, and there were eight hikers already there trying to get into town. As we got ready to hike out, two more showed up.
From US 50, we made our way up a hill and back down to the parking lot at the Echo Lake Chalet. Probably because it was still somewhat early in the morning, the climb up felt much easier than it did than when I made it in 2018. It was also much less dusty.
Upon entering the parking lot at the Echo Lake Chalet, I saw a familiar, and quite unexpected face: Dylan! I first met Dylan when I hiked the PCT in 2018, coming down from San Jacinto into the desert. Along with Quoi (whom I met on the same day), and Flowers (whom I met two days before attempting to summit Mount Whitney), the four of us hiked together for various parts of SoCal and the Sierra, until fate pulled each of the other three off-trail.
Dylan is attempting to thru-hike the PCT again, and so far making it further than he did last time. Hopefully he’ll make it to Canada this time!
CareFree and I continued along the trail, across the dam over the outflow for Lower Echo Lake, and headed alongside the northeastern side of the lake, slowly climbing up the rocky trail. Closer to the lake than the trail, (probably) expensive cabins lined the lake. It might be nice for a summer home, but I wouldn’t want to live there in the winter.
We stopped for a break shortly after we entered the Desolation Wilderness, a by-permit-only area in the Eldorado National Forest, and famed for its many lakes and beauty.
We watched as several groups of day hikers and backpackers hiked past. Most of the backpacker groups looked like they had way too much in their packs, and many of them were just trudging up the hill, with no joy or enthusiasm.
With so many people, we were a little worried about campsites (or party crowds near our campsite). But then I realized that there were other trails (and lakes) some of these hikers may have been heading towards, which lessened the (theoretical) demand for wherever we were going to stop for the day.
As we continued to climb into the Desolation Wilderness, we took a look behind us towards the Echo Lakes and saw smoke rising from a mountain to the south beyond the lakes. It seemed there was a forest fire somewhere (relatively) nearby, which is unfortunate; more than enough of the forests on the US West Coast have already burned in recent years.
We took a break at Lake Aloha, where I had camped last time I was here. It continued to be a beautiful alpine lake with rock islands, with a short chain of mountains as its backdrop.
While we were there, a helicopter flew over the lake from the north, and proceeded to do something around one of the mountains across the lake. We guessed maybe it was a search and rescue operation, but had no way of finding out.
After about an hour relaxing at the lake, we continued on, heading deeper into the Desolation Wilderness. The trail followed Lake Aloha for a while longer, with mostly rock tread, and then turned away, passing several small ponds.
As the trail passed Heather Lake, it turned into a rocky mess, making every step difficult (and occasionally painful). It was CareFree’s first time hiking this section of trail in the day, and while she had remembered the rocks, she had not realized that there was also a drop-off to a lake!
The rocky terrain (and the sun, unmediated by clouds or trees) wore on us, and we stopped for another break barely more than an hour later. We amended our plan by a few miles and a lake, deciding to stop at the first available campsite on Susie Lake, rather than commencing a moderately steep climb uphill to Gilmore Lake.
Arriving at Susie Lake, we quickly set up our tent, because there appeared to be storm clouds in the distance. (Fortunately, they never came near us, and it never rained.) CareFree thought that this may have been the campsite she and her group stayed at when they were hiking the PCT in 2017.
We quickly found our campsite home to several chipmunks and a marmot, and hoped we weren’t going to have animal problems overnight.
Later, after dinner, CareFree heard a guitar being played from across the lake. Though we’ve seen thru-hikers carry musical instruments, we suspected it belonged to someone just out for the weekend, since it would be a lot of excess weight for a thru-hiker to carry.
Tomorrow: we continue through the Desolation Wilderness, going over Dicks Pass, one of the most scenic spots on the trail.