Trip report by Native Eyewear Ambassador Savannah Golden.
What do you think of when you hear the words “Desolation Wilderness”?
DES•O•LATE: (of a place) deserted of people and in a state of dismal emptiness
WIL•DER•NESS: And uncultivated, uninhabitable, and inhospitable region
Even though the exact Latin meaning might make someone feel like it is a place of emptiness, Desolation is far from that. When you get out into Desolation Wilderness you will feel very far from alone even though you are all by yourself or with your small group of family or friends. The breathtaking views, blooming wildflowers, babbling brooks, and running rivers flowing into enormous high alpine lakes; the chirping of the birds and sounds of other wildlife make you feel right at home in the most comfortable way.
Desolation Wilderness is 99 mi.² (or 63,960 acres) of land between the Lake Tahoe Basin and El Dorado National Forest in El Dorado County, California. This land is federally protected by the US forest service with over 120,000 visitors annually, including overnight and day hikers some of which are thru-hiking famous trails like the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) that run right through the Sierra Nevada Crest.
Luckily, I was fortunate enough to share this experience with my family. Our group consisted of my boyfriend Cooper, my Mom and my Dad, my uncle Dave, and my cousin Eric. Most of which (besides my dad and I) were first-timers to Desolation Wilderness and some more than “overnight” backpacking in general. On Saturday morning we finished packing up our bags, checked our lists twice, grabbed a late brunch and set out for our six-day, five-night adventure. We started at Eagle Falls trailhead which lies right in Emerald Bay, a historic and very popular landmark in South Lake Tahoe, California.
Over the next six days we would walk approximately 40 miles, over three mountain passes, hike and swim in at least eleven magical bodies of water including the Rubicon River and the five lakes that we camped at which consisted of; Upper Velma, Four Q, Clyde, Gilmore, and Dicks Lake.
Since the Sierra region had such an insane winter there was still plenty of snowmelt runoff to feed the creeks and lakes and give nutrients to the wildflowers that were blooming ramped all along the trail. We hiked through a few high desert areas but for the majority of the trail there were wildflowers flirting with our feet and tall grasses growing along the lush pine trees. Along with the majesty of the lush wilderness, came the mosquitoes (which was really the only downfall of the trip.)
The 40 miles we hiked contained no shortage of views, as we climbed mountain passes we were in awe of the huge peaks that stood tall around us and the deep valleys that gave foundation to these huge mountain ranges. One of my favorite summits being Mosquito Pass—a well-traveled, rocky mountain pass with 360-degree views at the top.
In the evenings we would get to our destination for the night and set up camp. Setting up camp was as routine as it sounds. You literally set up your tents, organize your packs and your food, cook, eat, hoist up your bear hang, and watch the sunset over an incredible high alpine lake. Then you crawl into your cozy bag and crash out. In the mornings you repeat that routine in an opposite motion, pack up and head out for your day. The routine of backpacking in the woods really brought everything full circle for me. It IS home out there in the Desolate Wilderness, it’s just a different kind of home—free from responsibility, the stress of day to day life, and cell service.
I felt humbled by these prominent mountain ranges, the deep valleys containing crystal clear lakes (of which the water temperature would not rise above 45 degrees F) and the gorgeous amount of growth and wildlife that surrounds these areas. Our group all stayed in good health, got a little dirty, enjoyed some breathtaking views, frigid water, lots of yummy trail food, and most of all great company. I really can’t wait to go home to Desolation Wilderness again next summer. A home of peace, earth, and disconnect from the world that we usually live in.