Echo Lakes to Eagle Falls via Lake Aloha and Dick’s Pass in Desolation Wilderness

Sunset at our camp at Lake Aloha

Who: Liz, Alex, Patrick, and me
What: Backpacking
When: 6/20/14-6/22/14
Where: Desolation Wilderness
Mileage: 20 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +3600ft/-4200ft
More photos: here

This is the third and final trip of my whirlwind 9 day seminar talk inspired road trip all the way around the Sierra. After finishing my hike in Dusy Basin on Thursday afternoon, I drove up the 395 to South Lake Tahoe. On Friday morning, Patrick drove Liz and Alex out from Oakland and we met up to do a car shuttle, dropping a car at Eagle Falls trailhead before heading back to Echo Chalet. This would be Alex’s first backpacking trip and he hadn’t really trained, so we planned to keep the trip very easy. (This seems to be a bit of a theme this summer!) We had a glorious evening at Lake Aloha and perfect hiking weather the whole weekend.

Day 1
Echo Lake to Lake Aloha
4 miles, +1200ft/-400ft

After getting a ridiculously late start due to car shuttles, traffic, and organization, we were finally ready to head out of the Echo Lake area at around 2:30pm. We cheated three miles off the beginning of the hike by taking the Echo Chalet boat taxi to the end of Upper Echo Lake.

Cheating 3 miles off the hike by taking the Echo Lake boat taxi

Whooooooooo we're flyin'

It was 3pm by the time we started hiking, but luckily we only had to cover three miles to the edge of Lake Aloha. The trail is very gentle, climbing only about 800 feet to Lake Aloha.

Starting up the PCT towards Lake Aloha

Looking back at Echo Lakes

Our first peek at the peaks that would keep us company

Having camped at Lake Aloha before, I knew we would get the best sunset and sunrise if we headed out of the woods at the south end and along the eastern shore for a bit before choosing our campsite. As we neared a promising area, my friends dropped their packs and I scurried up the hill scouting sites. About 100 feet above the trail, I found two promising sites and went back to bring everyone up.

Camp 1 at Lake Aloha

The only downside of our camp was a lack of water. We made a trek down to the lake shore to gather water, adding some elevation to our day (packless, at least!). Settled in to camp and stocked up on water, we cooked a satisfying dinner of ramen (sans flavor packet) with peas, cheese, and bacon. We only had one stove, so it took a bit of time to get everyone fed. Not a problem, since we had an amazing view.

Dinner with a view at Lake Aloha

Dinner at Lake Aloha as the sun started to set

Fading sunlight just barely highlights Pyramid Peak above Lake Aloha

After dinner, the sky treated us to one of the most brilliant sunsets I’ve seen. We were lucky to have a few clouds to catch the atmosphere-filtered electric rays of sunlight. We kept turning back and forth, looking southeast and southwest, each time thinking it couldn’t possibly get more beautiful. We had some bourbon-spiked hot cocoa as the sun faded. Complete perfection.

The beginning of the most amazing sunset

Patrick enjoys the sunset over Lake Aloha and the Crystal Range

Liz enjoys the sunset at our camp at Lake Aloha

Sunset at our camp at Lake Aloha

Day 2
Lake Aloha to Dick’s Lake
9 miles, +2100ft/-1900ft

I had talked up the spectacular sunrise at Lake Aloha and Alex and I got up for it, but sadly there was a bank of heavy low clouds in the east that blocked any chances of alpenglow on the Crystal Range. Disappointed, we crawled back in our tents and napped a bit more. Around 8am, Patrick and I were up and getting our things together as the sunlight crept down from the Crystal Range to flood Lake Aloha.

Sunrise at our camp at Lake Aloha

Sunrise glow on Lake Aloha's many islands

By the time we’d finally finished breakfast and broke camp, it was 10:30am. I was a bit worried about our ability to cover the necessary ground this day. Patrick and I were laden with bear bins full of everyone’s food to make it easier on our friends and to help us train for an August trip on the High Sierra Trail. This ended up balancing out our pace so that we were all hiking the same speed, so it was a good call in the end.

We headed back to the trail and hiked along Lake Aloha for a while before reaching the junction with the trail to Heather Lake.

Heading back down to the trail from camp at Lake Aloha

PCT along Lake Aloha

Pyramid Peak stands guard over Lake Aloha

We passed Heather Lake and then Susie Lake on our way towards Dick’s Pass.

The Crystal Range behind a ridge above Heather Lake

Colorful Jack's Peak looms above Susie Lake

As we climbed towards Dick’s Pass, the views just got better and better. We could see the entire southeast portion of Desolation Wilderness, including the route we’d taken. We stopped for lunch midway up the climb.

As we gain elevation towards Dick's Pass, the views back towards Susie Lake and the Crystal Range open up

Lunch high above Susie Lake with a view of the Crystal Range

Patrick and Jack's and Dick's Peaks

We climbed higher towards Dick’s Pass and were rewarded with lovely views of Half Moon and Alta Morris lakes. It was fun for me to look down on were I’d been hiking a few weeks before and to see the difference in snowmelt that a few weeks could make.

Jack's Peak's northern slopes still hold a little snow

Almost at Dick's Pass on the PCT

Before reaching the true pass, the trail gives a little teaser by approaching a saddle with a view down to Dick’s, Fontanillis, and Middle Velma lakes. Some cliffs on the north side of the pass above Dick’s lake prevent the trail from descending before first climbing higher.

Our first view of Dick's, Fontanallis, and Middle Velma Lakes from the teaser saddle just below Dick's Pass

The view southeast as we gained the pass was absolutely spectacular.

The view back towards Susie Lake is impressive

It's fun to look back over the terrain we've covered since leaving Lake Aloha

We could see all the way to Lake Aloha; a bird’s eye view of all we’d hiked this day.

Pyramid Peak and Lake Aloha make an appearance!

We made our way down to Dick’s Lake, finding it overrun with people camping essentially right on top of each other where the trail meets the lake. We decided to head down towards Fontanillis Lake a ways and try to find a spot along the creek that flows out of Dick’s and into Fontanillis. Again, I was in charge of scurrying around looking for an optimal spot since I’m the one that seems to care about this the most. We had dinner and enjoyed a decent enough sunset before turning in.

Patrick heads down the trail to Dick's Lake

Scouting a place for dinner. Patrick makes for a bit of Where's Waldo. Can you find him?

Patrick gets his sleeping gear ready

Sunset at Camp 2 between Dick's and Fontanillis Lake

Day 3
Dick’s Lake to Eagle Falls
7 miles, +300ft/-1900ft

Another late start on our final morning, mostly due to cooking breakfast for 4 with one stove and also to some rather unsuccessful coffee experiments. I’m a huge fan of taking care of my caffeine dependence with CLIF Shots, but Liz found a coffee filter contraption at REI and wanted to give it a go. Let’s just say that some controlled practice will be required to figure out how to actually use it. I’ll be sticking to caffeinated goo.

Morning at Camp 2

Alex was getting a bit tired and Liz had some blisters, so we opted to head down the Bayview trail instead of looping around past Fontanillis and the Velmas, though we did head over to Fontanillis for a short packless visit.

Fontanillis Lake

The mosquitos and gnats were completely INSANE, so we did not linger very long.

SO MANY MOSQUITOS!!!

We headed down the Bayview trail with wildflowers and views of Lake Tahoe as we made our descent.

View of Tahoe as we head down the Bayview Trail from Dick's Lake

Wildflowers on the Bayview trail

When we shuttled the car, we left it at the Eagle Falls trailhead, but Liz’s blisters were hurting her and she was not excited about walking on the very rocky and steep trail that leads down to Emerald Bay. So, I headed down the Eagle Falls trail to retrieve the car while Patrick, Liz, and Alex took the more forested, less rocky Bayview trail.

Wildflowers and a peek at Tahoe on the Eagle Falls trail

Once I passed Eagle Lake, the trail was swarming with some absurdly ill-prepared day hikers. On the trail nearly at Eagle Lake, I saw a mother dragging along a crying five year old in flip flops (poor kid had to hike a round trip of 2 miles over rocky stairs in FLIP FLOPS). Next, I saw a woman in a black leather biker vest and jeans (it was 90 degrees, mind you), but the prize for Weirdest Thing Possible has to go to the couple carrying their dachshunds in shoulder bags. Two people, each with a dog in a bag. Hiking. Yeah. Needless to say, I was happy when I finally reached the wilderness boundary and the trailhead.

The wilderness boundary on my way out. So many stairs on the way down from Eagle Lake!

Want to do this trip yourself? Desolation Wilderness is a heavily used area and you will need a permit for your overnight stay. You can reserve one in advance or try for a walk-in at the Pacific Ranger Station or the Taylor Creek Visitor Center. Download the Fallen Leaf Lake USGS quad or pick up the Tom Harrison Desolation Wilderness topo.

3 thoughts on “Echo Lakes to Eagle Falls via Lake Aloha and Dick’s Pass in Desolation Wilderness

  1. This looks incredible! I am planning to hike this area this upcoming summer…thanks for sharing!
    Also, beautiful pictures – mind if I ask what type of camera you use?

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