–- Joan Benoit Samuelson
According to the U.S. Forest Service website, the Tahoe Basin was covered with ice sheets over a thousand feet deep during the last ice age, over 200,000 years ago. The glaciers receded 10,000 years ago, creating the wonderful place we now call the Desolation Wilderness.
With Yosemite National Park blanketed with smoke from the local forest fires, Faye, Li, and I headed over to the Desolation Wilderness for a mid-week excursion. We arrived Echo Lake shortly after 9 AM and parked at the Echo Chalet. We not so quickly sorted out our gear, loaded up our running packs, visited the latrine, and hit the trails at 10 AM. Faye and I ran the trails, while Li hiked.
Running along the trail overlooking Echo Lake was a different experience. The last two times I've been to the Desolation Wilderness was in the winter and we snowshoed across Echo Lake. The lower perspective from the lake's surface provides wonderful views of the granite mountains forming the northern border of the lake. Running the elevated trail offers one a different, but equally beautiful view of the lake and terrain beyond. We followed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), running along Lower Echo Lake and the smaller Upper Echo Lake. I find it amusing that there are two Echo...Echo...Lakes, but, I digress. After a few miles, the trail overlooks Tamarack Lake on the left, which is a distinctive flat spot surrounded by trees during the winter months. Continuing northwest along the PCT for a few more miles, we reached the large, but shallow Lake Aloha. I'm always curious about the names of backcountry lakes and Lake Aloha is one for which there is no apparent explanation. Perhaps the islands in the middle of the lake reminded one of the Hawaiian islands in the Pacific. Anyway, we stopped at Lake Aloha to take in the the beautiful views and to snap a few photos. We neared our predefined turnaround time, so we proceeded a bit beyond Lake Aloha to Heather Lake. I took a quick photo of the lake with my iPhone, capturing a square composition to be uploaded to Instagram back at the parking lot...and then we headed back.
It was a very relaxing and enjoyable trip; a bit of running, a bit of walking, and a bit of landscape photography. For me, that's the beauty of these "fun runs." We took our time and made sure to pause for a few special moments to enjoy the incredible views. The total round trip distance was 17 miles, with about two thousand feet of elevation gain. Overall, I thought the trail was graded nicely and was mostly runnable, although there were sections of really rocky terrain which we walked to minimize the risk of twisted ankles. The trail climbs from 7,400 feet at Echo Lake to 8,120 feet at Lake Aloha, so the "actual" pace was slower than the "perceived" pace. Often at elevation, I feel like I'm running eight minute miles, but my Garmin GPS watch lets me know it's only ten minute miles.
Here are a few photos from the trip.
I liked the mirror-like reflections.
I tried to use the grass in the water to provide some foreground interest.
In the winter, the islands in Lake Aloha appear as bumps on an expanse of white. It's such a different view in the summer.
There were a lot of day hikers on the trail and the younger ones were thrilled to see Barney.
Faye (AKA, Vanna) and Wayne at the Desolation Wilderness boundary.