Full time residents of Lake Tahoe often refer to the off-peak time of year as the shoulder season; traditionally the gap between summer-winter & spring-summer. The lake water is colder, temperatures drop at night, and one day of snow will be followed by 5 days of sun and 85 degree highs. While every season in Tahoe is special in its own way, the shoulder season has always been a prime opportunity to enjoy nature and the quiet, peaceful solitude before the crowds come back.
With Labor Day passed and summer in the rear-view mirror, the shoulder season is officially here. My girlfriend Mary and I planned a weekend jaunt to take full advantage of the smaller crowds. The destination was a no-brainer: Desolation Wilderness.
For those unfamiliar, Desolation Wilderness is a 64,000 acre federally protected wilderness area in the south western portion of Lake Tahoe. The crest of the Sierra Nevada runs through it, too. Countless day hikes, multi-day hikes, and thru hikes are all possibilities. The well-known Pacific Crest Trail and Tahoe Rim Trails both travel through this expansive wilderness area.
Indigenous groups to Tahoe commonly referred to the area as “Devil’s Valley.” At the turn of the century the land was recognized for its rugged and beautiful landscape, so much so that preventative measures were taken to prevent development (the Truckee Donner Land Trust, friend of TMR, would be proud!). Eventual passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 set aside the area and would ensure its natural setting for generations to enjoy.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago – excitement began to grow as we laid out our gear, clothes, and food in preparation. During the 4 day, 3 night backpacking expedition we would be joined by our fearless furry companions, Woodstock and Buckingham (Woody & Bucky). Routes were mapped out, final plans made, and equipment triple checked. Our journey was about to begin:
Day 1: Eagle Falls Trailhead to Upper Velma Lakes
Camp 1: Upper Velma Lake
Day 2: Velma Lakes Trail > Tahoe Rim Trail > Pacific Crest Trail
Camp 2: Camper Flat, Rubicon River Bank
Day 3: McConnell Lake Trail > 4Q Lakes > Rubicon Trail
Camp 3: Granite Lake
Day 4: Bayview Trail to Emerald Bay
Concluding our trek: In total, we hiked over 35 miles, summited several +9500’ peaks, crossed granite shelves, waded through rushing rivers, and swam in alpine lakes. Evidence of the historic 2017 winter was everywhere. Bands of snow emphasized the dramatic peaks while lower elevation valleys were lined with flowering fields. The juxtaposing of the landscape, easy access yet desolate locale, is something very special. With few fellow hikers in sight our time spent in the woods was a great opportunity to reconnect with nature: a shoulder season tradition that will continue year after year.