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Echo Lake to Meeks Bay

Page history last edited by lmckeega@... 10 years, 6 months ago

Trip Report



The three amigos


Our second six day backpack, which was actually five days,  was in the Desolation Wilderness, from Lower Echo Lake to Lake Tahoe's Meeks Bay.  There were only three of us on this trip: Cristina "American Princess" (AP) Lauck, Laura "SoLaura" McKeegan and me.  On Tuesday, September 21, we met at the Taco Bell in Cordelia and drove East on Highway 50, to the Forest Service Visitor Center, at Pacific House, where we picked up our wilderness permit.  From there we drove to South Lake Tahoe and set up our bivouac at the City of South Lake Tahoe Campground, across from El Dorado Beach.  We then drove to Harvey's Casino, in Stateline, and had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.  After dinner we drove both cars to the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail trailhead parking lot at Meeks Bay, where we left "Hellin" for our end-of-hike shuttle.  We then returned to the campground and snuggled in for the night; lulled to sleep by the ever present traffic on Highway 50. 


Wednesday, September 22 - Echo Lake to Lake Aloha - Elevation 7,511 to 8,130


Since we would be passing so many good restaurants on our way to the Echo Lake trailhead, we decided to get up an hour early and stop at Ernie's Cafe for breakfast.  After hot food, and our last flush toilets for the next five days, we drove up Meyers Grade and got to the PCT trailhead parking lot.  This being past the end-of-summer-Labor Day-rush, there were only a few cars in the lot and we had our choice of spots.  We did some last minute pack adjustments and were on the trail before 9 am.
Our hike began by traversing the easterly shore of Lower Echo Lake.  The trail works its way up and down, between the contours, and we passed many cabins built along the shoreline.  We stopped for a short pack break overlooking the westerly end of Upper Echo Lake and enjoyed the warm sun and stunning views.  Soon we pressed on and passed the spur trail at the Upper Echo Lake shuttle boat dock.  At that point the trail becomes steep and rocky and we slogged up the hill, stopping now and then for photo ops.  Just before the switchbacks we began to pass a few backpackers coming from the North.  We continued our climb, stopping for a pack/snack just into the woods where the trail levels out a bit.  After a pleasant break we continued northwest, past Haypress Meadow, topping out at 8317 feet, before beginning the descent to our planned stop at Lake Aloha.
At the junction of the Lake Aloha, westside trail, with the PCT, there is a very nice campsite just to the right of the trail.  We have stayed there many times in the past, and I had been hoping it would be vacant this time.  We were in luck and everyone got a place in the shade.  SoLaura found trees suitably spaced for her hammock and we busied ourselves setting up camp.  Then AP and I walked to the lakeshore to get water.  The water level in Lake Aloha is controlled by a dam and is usually drawn well down by this time of the year.  We were fortunate to find an area of rocks at the waterline, with adequate depth for dipping and no muddy approach.  We filled the water bag and carried it back to camp, where it was hung in a convenient location for general use.
AP and SoLaura did some exploring of rock hopping routes across the lake while I took a nap.  Then it was time for dinner.  We enjoyed a hearty meal; I of "enhanced" freeze dried meals and the ladies of home made, dehydrated, fare.  Thiers smelled better than mine, I know it tasted better.  After dinner we cleaned up and organized our gear for tomorrow.  This late in the year it's getting dark earlier and it becomes harder to justify sitting around in the dark to wait for an adult bedtime.  I was in the sack before the others and took some time to study the map and remember other trips in Desolation.  We'd done 6.5 miles, 1839 feet ascending and 1284 feet descending.



Princess learns to rock climb


Thursday, September 23 - Lake Aloha to Camper Flat - Elevation 8,130 to 7,204


Today our route would take us North, on the PCT, to the northeast corner of Lake Aloha.  There we would turn West, onto the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail, traversing the North end of the lake, to the foot of Mosquito Pass.  Crossing over the pass we will descend, North, into Rockbound Valley, where we will follow the Rubicon River to the intersection with the Rockbound Pass Trail, where we would choose where to set up camp.  We were up at 6:30 and on the trail by 8:20.  When we arrived at the foot of Mosquito Pass we met a fellow we had spoken with the afternoon before.  He was from Eureka, and had planned on a large loop of the wilderness but had turned his ankle and was doing an in-and-out from Echo to Clyde Lake, and return.  That's a nineteen mile round trip on a bum ankle.  Sounds like a dedicated hiker too me.
Princess and Solaura were taking photos and the "ankle bum" volunteered to take a group photo.  Wishing him thanks for the photos, and a safe hike, we climbed on up to 8427 foot Mosquito Pass and enjoyed the cooling breeze and the views North, down Rockbound Valley.  We began our descent and soon passed the spur trail to Clyde Lake, headwaters of the Rubicon.  Just beyond that, we stopped for a pack break just below "Donn's Notch".  This is a notch in the top of the ridge that forms the Crystal Range.  I lies at an elevation of 8825 feet, in a line between Island Lake and Clyde Lake.  It was first noticed by a party of Carrying A Good Thing Too Far hikers, on the August, six day hike about 2003.  It was brought to the attention of the group by Donn "Por Donnde" NIbblett, and on the spot was named after him.
As we wound our way down to the valley floor the temperature rose an we were out of the wind.  After a knee pounding descent we rock hopped across the river and followed the easy grade of the shaded trail.  The TYT/Rubicon Trail, from the North side of Mosquito Pass to Buck Island Lake, is mostly a gentle down-hill grade and makes a fairly easy hike.  We stopped for a short pack break at China Flat and were soon at the Rockbound Pass Trail intersection, our destination for today.  This is not a primo camping area.  I had chosen it because of the mileage and because the proximity of the river meant access to water wherever we decided to stop.  SoLaura and AP said it was too early to quit and it was only about another 2.3 miles.  It was "Doable".  Yes it was doable.  And, yes we did it.  And I was glad to be at our old favorite site, on Schmidell Creek at Camper Flat (West), instead of mucking about in the brush along the Rubicon.  But my feet didn't agree, and begged to argue.
It was a good thing the Schmidell Creek was flowing, as it always has.  I was completely out of water.  When we walked up there were three people pumping water at the creek: an older couple and a young man.  The couple were from Minden, NV and the YM was Todd, from Novato.  The couple had been doing a loop of the Rockbound "High Lakes" and, though they carried a map, had become disoriented, and had arrived at the crossing by accident.  Todd had been backpacking with his father and had become separated two days earlier.  Todd was carrying most of their food and their tent.  He had no stove and no water filter.  His dad had only trail snacks, but had the stove and filter.  Todd also didn't have a map.  He had been wandering, on-trail and off, and had no idea where he was.  The couple had filtered water for him and he had been drinking alot.  Todd said he had stopped sweating a few hours earlier.  Shiver me timbers!  Todd could have easily died out there.

If there is clear, clean-looking water, and you have no filter or other means of purifying it, DRINK IT.  Filter it through your tee shirt, if you must, but DRINK IT.  If it's turbid, dip up a pot/bottle full and let it settle first.  Dying of thirst is not all it's cracked up to be and ruins an otherwise perfect day.


If you're lost, and have no map - and especially if you find a trail intersection marker - SIT DOWN.  If you remember passing a trail intersection marker, go back to it and SIT DOWN.  It is likely that there'll be more traffic at a trail junction.  At the very least, if you die on a trail, your body may be more easily found.  SIT DOWN and wait till someone comes along.  Oh, and don't forget to keep your water bottle topped off, when you pass a water source.  The very best situation is a trail junction at a stream crossing.  But you've got to stay on the trail and SIT DOWN.  Don't be a "moving target".


Todd said his dad should be at Lake Schmidell and we pointed the way, describing the trail and what to expect.  The couple debated adding three miles to their next day's route, and hiking with him but Todd said he could "do this".  So off he went, to follow the creek a mile and a half up the mountain.  We haven't read anything in the paper so he must have found his father.
We all dithered about picking our camp-sites.  AP and SoLaura set up in the grove of small trees just northeast of the crossing, and I chose a site in the trees, just southeast of the crossing.  Soon we gathered at the cooking rock and began dinner.  I had taken four Advil and my aches were further dulled by the thought of good hot food.  Again the ladies dinner smelled better than mine.  And I could have used some salt and pepper.  Let's see, what can I leave behind to off-set the weight of salt and pepper.
It had been a long day, we had come 8.7 miles with 1196 feet up and 2157 feet down.  I was bushed.  I turned in early and was soon sawing logs.

Friday, September 24 - Camper Flat to Middle Velma Lake - Elevation 7,204 to 7,910


Today was to be a short day and we got up a half hour later.  We were on the trail just after nine am and crossed the Rubicon before starting the ducked route, East up the Velma Lakes Trail.  The sun was warm and we stopped to huff'n'puff often as we climbed higher.  About two-thirds of the way up the hill the trail flattens out and begins winding about, between the contours, until we came to the PCT/TYT junction.  From there we headed East, three tenths of a mile, on the PCT/TYT to just above the South shore of Middle Velma Lake.
There we bushwhacked down to the lake shore and began investigating possible campsites.  There were several very illegal spots with stunning views of the lake and we wondered about the likelihood of a ranger coming by.  In the end we camped in the bowl of an ephemeral pond - now dry - that provided tent sites, properly spaced hammock trees, and a ready made "cooking rock".  We filled and hung the water bag, and, while the girls went for a swim, I took a short nap.
We were soon joined by two women hiking together.  One was from Richmond Virginia and one from southeastern Alaska.  The were hiking from Tahoe City, South, to Echo Lake and had a rather tight schedule.  They had to catch a bus in South Lake Tahoe in two days.  They were planning to hike from Middle Velma all the way to Lake Aloha.  Having come from Rubicon Lake, via Phipps Pass, it would make about a seventeen mile day.  We looked at maps and discussed alternate routes and the best hitch-hiking possibilities from area highways.  The girls discussed the options and were soon on their way to Gilmore Lake.  They would be taking the trail over Mount Tallac and down to Highway 89, near Camp Richardson, the next day.  This would get them to their bus on-time, with the added benefit of the fantastic views from Mount Tallac.  The ladies wanted to get to get on the trail, still having to get over Dick's Pass today, so off they went.
We waived them good bye and went on enjoying the wonderful weather and beautiful setting of our campsite and making note of the huge, thick clouds of gnats, hovering about.  Fortunately the pesky varmints were not interested in us or our food.  We'd be dining in if they had been a menace.  Middle Velma had been a good place to stop.  With the short hike today, it was almost like a zero day.  I'd only stayed at Middle Velma once before, on a solo trip from Meeks Bay to Wrights Lake, in 1986.  As heavily used as it is, we found it to be quite clean, with not much visible camping impact.  It's a beautiful lake with more than a dozen rocky boulder islands, several with bonsai like trees.  We were fortunate to be there after Labor Day and pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Today's walk was 2.6 miles, with a gain of 896 feet and a loss of 194 feet.  I slept well, and felt rested the next morning.

Saturday, September 25 - Middle Velma Lake to Stony Ridge Lake - Elevation 7,910 to 7,859


Saturday, September 25 - Middle Velma Lake - Elevation 7910
We were up and at 'em this morning.  Today would be a long day with a large elevation gain/loss.  We got on the trail in good time and headed North on the PCT, the mile or so the Phipps Pass/TYT trail junction.  We turned right and began our path up to Phipps Pass.  Though the trail kept on climbing the whole time, much of it was shaded.  At the last switchback, before heading East toward Phipps Peak, we stopped for a bit, dropped our packs, and scrambled out to the crest of the ridge.  The views of Rockbound Valley were stunning.  Directly West of our position, and three hundred feet lower, lay the summit of 8333 foot Middle Mountain.  To our northwest lay the Rockbound "chain-o-lakes": Rubicon Reservoir, Rockbound Lake, and Buck Island Lake.  To our southwest we had unobstructed views into the eastern maw of 8560 foot Rockbound Pass.  To the North, just peeking out from behind the ridge, we could see 7700 foot, Barker Pass.  Many photos were taken before we recovered our packs and continued our way up.
A unique feature of the trail over Phipps Pass is that, once having reached it's maximum elevation, the trail contours 180° around the South half of the peak.  The views provided by this layout are fantastic.  As the hiker traverses this part of the trail they have a continuous panorama of a major portion of the interior of the Desolation Wilderness.  On the easterly flank of Phipps Peak we passed a wooden trail marker noting the location of Phipps Pass, nearby we found a shady spot with exposure to the cool breeze and some nice views into the Grouse Lakes/Eagle Lake/Emerald Bay drainage.  We stopped for a pack break and lunch.
As we started to pack up, to continue our hike, some backpackers came up the trail from the direction we were heading.  We spoke briefly and they headed South as we continued North down to Rubicon Lake and Stony Ridge Lake, our destination for today.  Just below Rubicon Lake we stopped to let a group pass.  They asked "How far to Rubicon Lake?"  There was quite a group of them, I'd guess more than ten.  They were spread out for some distance and those bringing up the rear didn't look happy.  It was an eighteen mile round trip from Meeks Bay to Rubicon Lake, and return.  Not to mention the more than two thousand feet of gain.  A rough walk was that one.  
We had been planning on hiking to Crag Lake but it was just too far and we decided to make camp at Stony Ridge Lake.  We finally arrived and crossed the outlet creek to a sandy flat above the North end of the lake.  The girls wanted to swim but we set up camp first and filled the water bag.  I explored the northeast side of the lake, finding many good campsites.  Some with shade trees.  I took a short nap, then got out my kitchen kit.  Soon we were all boiling and soaking our evening meal.  I got dark early in the deep canyon, and so we were tucked in by dark.  We had hiked  distance of 7.2 miles with an altitude gain of 2056 feet and a loss of 2094 feet.  I slept soundly.




Sunday, September 26 - Stony Ridge Lake to Meeks Bay - Elevation 7,859 to 6,253



Today we'd be walking out to Meeks Bay.  We were up by 6:30 and on the trail before 8:30.  The trail descends fairly uniformly for the first four an a quarter miles, winding down Meeks Creek Canyon and passing Shadow Lake, Hidden Lake, Crag Lake and Lake Genevieve; finally crossing Meeks Creek, before dropping into flat, sandy Meeks Meadow.  As we hiked along we passed several camps, with folks just getting around to breakfast.  Then we began to meet day hikers and backpackers, on their way into the wilderness.  They all smelled so clean.
Now we were in Meeks Meadow slogging along the sandy track.  The sand wasn't all that deep but it still reminded me of walking on the beach.  The good part was the scattered trees shading the trail.  Down here there was no breeze to cool us and it was getting hot.  Since it stood in the shade we paused for a photo op at the wilderness boundary sign.  It seemed we had been walking in sand for more than two miles and I was out of water and ready to "be there".  At last!  There they are, the cars!  We'd hiked 6.26 miles while ascending 544 feet, and descending 2102 feet, at an average speed of 1.78 miles per hour.  I knew we could average more than 1 mile per hour, and we can.
We soon had loaded our gear into Hellin and were off South on Highway 89, to South Lake Tahoe and lunch.  After a few miles we had to lower our speed and keep a watch for runners.  This was the day of the Lake Tahoe Marathon and there were occasional runners and sag stations.  As we approached high points in the road there were signs advising runners of how many vertical feet to the top.  By the time we got to Emerald Bay the runners had increased in numbers, and we began to see more of them going in our direction.  We stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant that used to be Cantina Los Tres Hombres.  We chose a table on the patio and enjoyed cold drinks and delicious food.
After lunch we headed West on Highway 50, to Echo Lake, where we loaded the "girls' gear into Laura's SUV and began our drive back to the world.  I stopped in Vallejo for ice cream and Novato, to pick up my parrot, Xquytl.  We were home before eight pm.  It was a wonderful trip and we wish you could have been there.
Laura Mckeegan, being the designated club "techno geek", carried a SPOT, personal satellite tracker and also a Garmin GPS unit.  She also carried an MP3 and had installed a solar panel on top of her pack to recharge all of her electronics .  Perhaps she'd be willing to post a photo on our blog-site.  Laura has used her GPS to track our routes this summer.  Included in the captured data is an elevation profile.  This information is very handy  for reviewing past hikes and trip planning.  Below is a day-by-day look at our performance.

Trip Statistics:
Day One:        6.5 miles      5:34 hours hiking       1.17 miles per hour average speed    1,839 feet ascending    1,284 feet descending
Day Two:        8.7 miles      7:24 hours hiking       1.18 miles per hour average speed    1,196 feet ascending    2,157 feet descending
Day Three:     2.6 miles      2:18 hours hiking       1.04 miles per hour average speed       896 feet ascending        194 feet descending
Day Four:     7.22 miles      6:57 hours hiking       1.04 miles per hour average speed     2056 feet ascending      2094 feet descending
Day Five:      6.26 miles      3:31 hours hiking       1.78 miles per hour average speed       544 feet ascending      2102 feet descending
Totals:        31.28 miles    25:44 hours hiking       1.22 miles per hour average speed     6531 feet ascending      7831 feet descending 


Trip Information

This trip will be in the Desolation Wilderness.  The route is twenty-eight miles, from Lower Echo Lake to Meeks Bay, via Lake Aloha, Rockbound Valley, Middle Velma Lake and the Talent Lakes.  On the way we'll cross 8479 foot, Mosquito Pass and 8855 foot, Phipps' Pass.  This hike is rated about the same as our previous, Emigrant Wilderness, trip.  The bad news is that the Echo Lake shuttle boat will be closing for the season on Monday, September 5, so we'll have to walk the two-and-a-half miles around Lower and Upper Echo Lakes.  The plan is to hike North on the Pacific Crest Trail and stay the first night at Lake Aloha.  On our second day we'll continue on the PCT to the northeast corner of the lake, then turn West and North, crossing Mosquito Pass.  From there we descend, past the headwaters of the Rubicon River, into Rockbound Valley to the near the junction of the Rockbound Pass trail, where we'll spend the night along the West bank of the river.  The third day we continue North, down the valley, to the Velma Lakes Trail, turning East and climbing up to the PCT and camping at Middle Velma Lake.  On our fourth day we head North on the PCT for a mile, before turning northeast and climbing over Phipps Pass.  From the pass we continue North, descending to the Talent lakes, where we'll spend the night at the Crag Lake.  Our last day's hike will be down-canyon to Meeks Bay, on the West shore of Lake Tahoe, where we will have left a car for the end-of-hike shuttle.  We'll then drive the twenty-six miles back to Echo Lake, stopping in South Lake Tahoe for lunch.
For this trip we'll rendezvous at Taco Bell in Cordelia, on Tuesday, September 21.  From Interstate 80 (Eastbound) take the Suisun Valley Road exit.  Turn right and get into the left lane immediately.  Turn left at Central Place.  Taco Bell is ahead, on your right, just across the street from McBarnyard's Golden Starches.  Be there and ready to leave by noon.
From Cordelia we'll travel East on I-80 and US Highway 50, through Sacramento, Placerville and Pollock Pines, to the US Forest Service Visitor Center on Mill Run in Pacific House.  We'll stop there to pick up our Wilderness Permit and continue East on Hwy. 50, to South Lake Tahoe, where we may stop for dinner.  We'll then head around the West shore of Lake Tahoe, on Hwy 89, to Meeks Bay, where we'll leave a shuttle car.  Then we'll head back to South Lake Tahoe and take Hwy 50 West, over Echo Summit, turning off at Echo Summit Road, to the PCT trailhead parking lot.  There's no camping near Echo Summit and I'm not yet sure where we'll be bivouacking Tuesday night.  How about Harrah's?  Room service and breakfast-in-bed.  Now that's the way to start a week of sleeping on the ground.  Maybe a campsite in the City's El Dorado Beach Campground and breakfast at Frank's?  I'll come up with something.
Here is the current weather forecast for Lake Aloha - Elevation 8116:
Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 58. Southwest wind 7 to 10 mph increasing to between 15 and 18 mph. Winds could gust as high as 22 mph.

Sunday Night: Clear, with a low around 42. Southwest wind 7 to 16 mph becoming north northeast. Winds could gust as high as 23 mph.

Labor Day: Sunny, with a high near 63. East wind between 14 and 17 mph becoming light. Winds could gust as high as 25 mph.

Monday Night: Clear, with a low around 39. West southwest wind at 8 mph becoming south southeast.

Tuesday: Sunny, with a high near 55.

Tuesday Night: Partly cloudy and breezy, with a low around 37.

Wednesday: A chance of rain and snow showers. Partly cloudy and windy, with a high near 42.

Wednesday Night: A chance of snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 36.

Thursday: A slight chance of rain and snow showers. Partly cloudy, with a high near 44.

Thursday Night: A slight chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 37.

Friday: Sunny, with a high near 50.

Friday Night: Clear, with a low around 36.

This is the "Shoulder Season", weather conditions are variable.  THIS TRIP WILL BE WEATHER DEPENDANT.  If you intend to join us for this hike you MUST confirm your attendance with a phone call or email.  That means everyone.  I'll be checking the weather forecast daily and will keep you informed of changes.


1.  Your 15 minute Fallen Leaf Lake Quad Map.
2.  Your Compass, Ruler and Sharp Pencil.  Set your magnetic declination to 14°(plus a very small skosh) East.
3.    Your tent
4.    Your sleeping bag and pad.
5.    First-Aid kit.
6.    Canteen or bladder, and water treatment system.
7.    Flashlight  (fresh batteries this time).
8.    Pot, cup and utensils.
9.    Stove and fuel for at least 12 meals.
10.  Clothing suitable for expected conditions.  You should carry rain gear for this trip.  Note forecast temperatures.  You may need extra insulation.
5 Breakfasts
5 Lunches
5 Dinners
The extra lunch and dinner are for emergency rations.
Don't forget trail snacks and please consider an electrolyte supplement for your water.
As always, if you have question please call or email me.  I'll be traveling to Oregon and Washington from September 8 through the 15, but I'll "have my ears on".  Cell: 707-338-6955  email: redleader429@comcast.net
Red Leader out

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