Post subject: Solitude and Desolation (Desolation Wilderness, 3/24-3/25)
Posted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 10:09 am
Joined: Thu Apr 26, 2007 11:42 am Posts: 521 Location: Oakland, CA
Date: March 24-25, 2012
Location: Echo Lakes and Desolation Wilderness
Weather: Blustery winds, blowing clouds, stalling storms and a little bit of snow.
Conditions: Windblown and a tad bit of fresh powder on top of fudgy refreeze
Disclaimer: There is a serious lack of gnar and turns in this tour. I've been recovering from an injury and the conditions on big terrain were suspect, so this was an out and back to test out my new camera, explore the area, and see how it felt to schlep a few pounds miles deep into the wilderness.
Tourers and Photos: Schralph
Music: The Album Leaf - Another Day
(it really does go well with the images)
Solitude and Desolation (Desolation Wilderness, CA, March 24-25, 2012)
The tour begins with a long 4-mile skin across the two Echo Lakes. In the summer, the only access to each of the cabins is by foot trail or by boat.
Our motto was to go fast and light, carrying the smallest packs possible.
My pack was so light that I was only sinking knee deep, carrying a long zoom lens on one hip and a Canon 7D with a midrange zoom lens on the other hip. Super light setup.
At first - I didn't care about weight. I was just so happy to be back on a wintery skintrack again, ready for my first overnighter of the winter season after dislocating my shoulder 3.5 months before.
After clearing the Echo Lakes, Ralston Peak came into view. There were other parties down at the Echo Lakes, but once we pushed up to Tamarack Lake we saw nary a soul for the rest of the weekend.
There had been some pretty good recent avalanche activity on this entire ridge, with almost every bowl fracturing full-width. 4 or 5 days prior, the sun had come out and heated up 4 feet of storm snow.
We pushed up to Haypress Meadow and set up camp in a well-protected area around 8400', anticipating 70 to 90 mph ridgeline winds that NOAA had called for. We readied the home for a pretty good storm ... that ended up not even fluttering the tent and dropping only 3" of snow. It did actually blow pretty good around the ridges that night - but our site selection was perfect.
At this elevation, with exertion and exhaustion, dehydration is always an issue.
But we were prepared with the proper fluids.
We were also prepared with the proper nutrients for such a strenous tour: cheez-its and corn-nuts.
After setting up camp, we continued on for an evening tour along the ridgeline in full view of the Crystal Range. It was clearly blowing pretty hard over Pyramid and Aggassiz, moving snow, and I wasn't up to shape, so we decided not to really push for Crystal Range descents the next day.
The storm stalled on the west slope all day - creating really nice light and contrast of the entire Desolation area. Pyramid, Aggassiz, and Price ...
Jack's Peak with Dick's Peak overlooking from the right shoulder of Jack's. You can see Red Peak (or is that Silver?) waaaaaay back there around the left 1/3 of the horizon.
From the ridge we could see the two Echo Lakes that we crossed earlier, as the sun was lowering.
And then the steep north face of Ralston came into view.
Last week's storm must have come in wet and windy.
Lake Tahoe is always a delightful sight from any summit.
And, of course, I practiced my usual summit routines.
The sun was lowering and the storm was coming in so we skied the mellow ridgeline, holding sweet windblown powder, down to Tamarack Lake. We then skinned back to camp for an exquisite meal of split pea soup, garbanzo bean curry with rice, chocolate, and VSOP cognac. Camping in style.
The next morning it dumped ... but only for 2 hours.
We did manage to take advantage of the few inches of new snow. I tele skied some sweet powder ...
... before getting down into the Aloha basin. It's amazing how vast this entire area and this range is. One of the most spectacular places around Tahoe. Being down here by ourselves was just mindblowing. No one around for miles and miles in this expansive lake basin, surrounded by massive peaks.
The basin is aptly named. Desolate, gnarled junipers stand alone on tiny islands of granite amongst a giant lake complex. Meanwhile, the monstrous faces of the Crystal Range loom way overhead.
We did get some playful turns on the fresh snow in some microgolf zones around the lake basin, before packing up camp and skinning the long miles back out to the car. I was indeed so tired, and weighed down by my pack on the exit that I didn't even bother to lift the 4 pound SLR from my hip to capture the beautiful straylight breaking through the clouds as we crossed the windblown, expansive Echo Lakes. All in all, 18.5 miles traveled over the weekend, thousands of calories burned, but unforgettable solitude in the middle of nowhere with a good buddy.