Monday, August 6, 2018

Backpacking Trip number 1 - June 6th-8th, 2015

This is the first post in a series covering backpacking trips in the Tahoe Basin and Sierras.

The first trip was conceived early in 2015 and we were able to cobble together a ragtag group.  For most of us it was our first trip in a long time.  It was also my first camping trip west of the Rockies.  This trip rekindled my love for being in the outdoors and ignited a fascination with the Tahoe basin and backpacking.

Meek's Bay to Eagle Falls:

The route goes through Desolation Wilderness in the Tahoe Basin, California.

Interactive Topo Map:

As you can see from the profile below, more than half of this hike is through forest, there are some moderately strenuous climbing sections (in fact we climbed for the first day and a half) and the descent to Eagle Lake takes a toll on the knees - thankfully Jeff let me borrow a trekking pole which saved the legs on the descents.


Jeff drove to my house after work and we got him setup in a spare bedroom so that we could hit the road bright an early.  After a quick trip to home depot to pick up some trash compactor bags to line my pack (water proofing) we enjoyed a beer before turning in early.

Day 1 - Saturday:

The crew arrived at my house around 7am and we hit the road.  It was approximately a 2 hour drive to the trail exit (Eagle Falls) where we dropped off a car.  From there we drove North to the trail head at Meeks Bay.

After settling into our packs and picking out a radio channel, we snapped a quick group picture thanks to the Rangers stationed at the trailhead.  We headed southwest on the Lake Genevieve and Crag Lake trail.

This being my first time backpacking in Tahoe, I was surprised by the elevation gain on the first day.  The hike was strenuous for me, but not so for the CalFire guys almost running up the hill with their gear, chain saws, axes, and shovels on a PT (Physical Training) run. 
Even though 2015 was a fairly lackluster snow year, there was plenty of water in Meek's Creek from snow melt.  In the above photo you can see Spencer with his ever present headphones (audio books) and the heavy flow over the falls in the background.

The first day of hiking offered relatively few sweeping vistas.  Those were reserved for day two.  Following Meek's Creek we passed quite a few lakes: Lake Genevieve, Crag Lake, Hidden Lake (available from this trail via a 0.1 mile side trail), and Shadow Lake.  At this point the trail continues southeast and is named the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail.

Spencer at Shadow Lake.

After a short-ish 6.3 miles, we stopped at Stony Ridge Lake for the night.  It was about 3:30pm in the afternoon and a few of the crew decided to setup camp or take a nap.  The northeast side of the lake is steep barren rock. However the southwest side is relatively flat and offers plenty of places to camp.   We picked a site that had been frequented by other backpackers many times before near a large boulder.

Stony Ridge Lake: at Sunset

Day 2 - Sunday

Day 2 was another short-ish day at 6.2 Miles from Stony Ridge Lake to about half way along Middle Velma's southern shore.

Stony Ridge Lake: *Note: Jeff has his sunglasses as we left Stony Ridge Lake.
After crossing the inlet to Stony Ridge Lake we climbed about 400' up some switchbacks to Rubicon lake where we stopped for some fishing, lunch, and relaxation. 

Switchbacks - *Note: Jeff is missing his sunglasses

We had made it a short way up the switchbacks with Jeff realized he was missing his sunglasses.  He ended up dropping his pack and walking most of the way back to last night's camp to try and find them.  Only to learn that they were a few meters back from where he noticed they were missing. 

View of Stony Ridge Lake
Rubicon Lake was breathtaking.  While we sat around, fished, and generally relaxed, I watched an osprey circling overhead and crying its distinctive call. A short while later that same osprey swooped down to the water and snatched a fish from the lake.  Under it's new, heavy load, it flew to our left and enjoyed its noonday meal.

Rubicon Lake: Spencer and I chowing down for lunch
I had peanut butter, jelly, and tortillas for lunch.

Rubicon Lake: Jeff, fish (catch and release), and Mark

Fantastic views followed us after lunch.  We popped up to the top of a hill and found a granite bowl at the top about 30' in diameter.  Inside the bowl at the top was decomposed granite rocks that had formed from the freezing and thawing action of countless seasons.  These small rocks where about the size of a small raspberry with incredibly sharp, rough edges.

The climb to Phipps Pass offered breathtaking views and solidified my new love for Desolation Wilderness and the Tahoe Basin. 
Climb to Phipps Pass: There is a reliable spring at Phipps pass that was cold, clear, and a welcome rest spot.
Phipps Pass climb

By the time we got to Middle Velma Lake it was lake afternoon.  We were happily fatigued and ready to make camp.  After scouting around the lake we found a good spot away from the water and setup camp.

I attempted, and failed, to get fully immersed in the water.  I did however make it to thigh depth and was able to use the lake water to rinse off the dust and dirt, and generally freshen up.

Middle Velma

Mark, a braver man than I, swam for a second time on this trip.  I made a pact with myself to man-up next time! :)

Day 3 - Monday

Middle Velma: Morning View

I was woken up in the early morning by Mark yelling "ho, bear!" and banging something metal.  I unzipped my bivy as quickly as possible and Jeff hopped out of his hammock and grabbed the bear spray.  By the time I saw the bear, it was ambling slowly away and barely gave us a backwards glance.  It had walked through our camp looking for easy food.  We had all brought bear barrels and they were about 200' away.  Forget caffeine, a bear in your camp is a much faster way to wake up.

We broke camp and headed for Eagle Lake and Eagle Falls.  Not far from Middle Velma, we encountered a wide heavily flowing stream.  It took a while of searching up and down the bank before we found a conveniently placed log.
Me on the "well placed log"
The terrain after this crossing changed and became very dry and desolate.  The afternoon also heated up and I was becoming concerned about water (I drink a lot of water). 
Wide Open and Dry

The long climb down to Eagle Lake was characterized by steep steps built into the trail with large boulders.  I was very glad to have the trekking poles as they really helped save my knees.  I could take some of the weight off my back by leaning forward onto the poles and then stepping down.  We started seeing day hikers climbing up the steep parts.  Seeing these folks was very strange as we had only seen a hand full of folks in the last three days.  But here was this large gaggle of day hikers, staring at their cell phones.  Very strange.

We got to Eagle lake before lunch and spent some time hanging out, lunch, siesta, etc.  While we reveled in the shade, a day hiker swam out to the island in the middle of the lake and sat shivering in the sun on the island for quite a while before swimming back. 

Eagle Lake
Eagle Lake: Rick, Jeff, Me (Vince), Mark, Spencer

Hike out to Eagle Falls

The hike out was bitter sweet.  I was sad to be leaving and exhilarated at our accomplishment. 
Well done.

Stay tuned for the next hike:
Big Meadow to Echo lake, early in the hiking season on a heavy snow year.

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