Water Drop Photography

This is one of my first attempts at water drop photography.  You can buy all these fancy rigs with precise timing to get crazy collisions and they do look amazing but I can’t afford all of that business so I did this by trial and error.  It’s fun to mess around with this kind of flash photography to freeze the drops.  More to come as I learn my way.

Drip drop

Drip drop


First Quarter Moon, 46% illumination

First Quarter Moon, 46% illumination

First Quarter Moon, 46% illumination

I didn’t know much about the names for the various moon phases until recently.  There are 4 major moon phases: New, 1st quarter, Full, and third quarter. In between the major phases there are sub phases.

New Moon- the moon is not visible because the sun and the moon rise at the same time.

1st quarter- we can see half of the illuminated part of the moon, or a quarter of the entire moon.

Full moon- we can see the entire part of the illuminated part of the moon.

3rd quarter- we can again see half of the illuminated part of the moon as we head towards a new moon.

In between those phases we have other terms, waxing= increasing illumination, waning=decreasing illumination, gibbous=humped, and crescent.  Gibbous basically looks like more than a half moon (larger than a quarter moon) and can be either waxing or waning.  Crescent is just a sliver and can also be waxing or waning.

Island Lake & cathartic musings

28 Degrees at Wrights Lake 6:47am

The  picture above is one I took while driving to the trailhead at Wrights Lake.  It was 44 degrees on highway 50, but after I turned off and headed up to Wrights Lake the temp started dropping quickly.  When I got to this point it was 28 degrees and frigid.  Elevation around 6000 feet here.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  It wasn’t planned out but it just sort of happens that way sometimes. I was hiking every single weekend during the summer so there was always a new adventure to write about.  But life, as it does got the best of me and hiking took a back seat for about a month.  My folks came out from Michigan and we had a really nice visit.  I took them to Yosemite for their first time and it was, as always,  incredibly beautiful and soulful.  I don’t know if I will visit Yosemite with them again but I sure hope so.

Mom was too scared to go to the other side for the better view, but I'll cherish this portrait of my folks always.

Mom was too scared to go to the other side for the better view, but I’ll cherish this portrait of my folks always.

I got one hike in after that month off on October 3rd, 2015, which is the subject of this post and then took another two weekends off which bring us to today.  In the meantime it’s been a tumultuous time at work.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.


Okay I just heavily edited this because I had shared too much personal stuff regarding my work situation that I am not comfortable with so this may seem a little disjointed now.  Sorry about that.


You’ve got to get up early to catch the good light.

I will somehow feel better if I put some of these thoughts out there/here and maybe the three or four people who read my blog will see them and I will in some sense feel that I have been heard.  If you know me personally and you happen to read this, I’d appreciate you not bringing any of this up just yet because I am not ready for a discussion about it.  I may even edit or delete this later because I feel a little uncomfortable sharing this much.  Fair enough?

I often think of the famous Steve Jobs speech that he gave at the Stanford commencement and in particular the quote below whenever I ponder my work situation.  (I occasionally spend my spare time watching old, obscure Jobs interviews and there is one that is really fabulous, its a 60 minute documentary that isn’t free, but you can find free clips from it on YouTube. Just search Steve Jobs Silicon Valley Historical Association and you will find a few.) Here is the Stanford quote:

If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

It makes perfect sense.   Why would anyone continue to do something over and over when they don’t want to do it?  Well certainly there are a number of reasons (some noble)  including maybe the most important- providing for ones family or ones own subsistence.  Certainly there are millions of people working at low paying jobs,  living in outright poverty.  Undoubtedly many of them are much happier with their jobs than I am.  So I shouldn’t complain, and I am fortunate to have a job but that doesn’t change how I feel inside.  Change is needed.   What good am to those around me if I constantly exist in an unhappy state?

Still with me?  Let’s talk about something awesome now, my solo hike to Island Lake and beyond!

Standard stuff that I am now too lazy to repeat but if you read through some of my older posts, a few of them list the standard things to bring along on dayhikes and you should check them out.  While I generally hike alone, I recommend you not hike alone. Do as I say not as I do I guess?  If you do hike alone (its awesome), at least tell someone you trust where you will be going, your general hiking plan, and what time you expect to be back.


Sun rays breaking through the pines on a fine desolation wilderness morning.

That way if you end up getting hurt or lost or otherwise in a situation you cant get out of on your own, rescuers will have some idea where to search for you, or your body. By the way, SAR (search and rescue) are ALL volunteers in El Dorado county. So keep that in mind.  People who go out in the wilderness totally unprepared irk me.  They put themselves in danger as well as the volunteer rescuers with SAR.   If you have extra cash, get yourself a SPOT or a PLB so you can transmit an emergency message. Learn how to use a map and compass.   Depending on where you are hiking, maybe you will have cell service occasionally, but that wont help if your phone is dead, loses signal in a canyon, etc. It’s also a good reason (indeed a requirement) to fill out those day use permits at the trailhead.

For this hike, park at the Twin Lakes trailhead which is located at the Wrights Lake Campground area, off Highway 50 between Kyburz and Strawberry.  You don’t want the loop trail that just goes around Wrights Lake, so after you fill out your daily use permit, follow the trail that goes to the right.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 10.48.38 PM

GPX visualizer route. Start point on the left at Wrights Lake.

Here are the mileage and elevation details.  Broken into two parts because my phone crashed at the halfway point, so the first image is for the hike out and the second is for the return.


GPS details for the hike out. Phone crashed and I lost Altitude details.


GPS details for the hike back

While there is an official marked trail to Twin Lakes quite a bit farther to the East, I decided to veer off to the Northeast towards Twin Lakes sooner. I followed a use trail that breaks away from the main trail that was indicated by the maps I had loaded on my phone of the desolation wilderness area.  I highly recommend the Backcountry navigator app if you are on android.   If you continue to follow the main trail it will take you towards Grouse Lake.



Now thats a sun flare. Sun just breaking over the peak

So right after I took the picture below I had another one of those chance encounters on the trail with a couple of guys.  It seems that every time I go hiking I have at least one odd experience or more.  So recalling how unmarked the trail over to Twin Lakes is in most spots, two guys came walking up and asked if I was coming from Wright’s Lake.  “Yep I sure am, how are you guys doing?”  “Pretty good, we got lost back here last night and had to camp out”   The first time I came out this way I heard about 4 people getting lost back here and having to call 911 for SAR to come get them.  Now this.  So suffice it to say, this is a trail you could get lost on if you don’t have a good sense of direction, a map and a compass or a GPS 🙂


Wrights Lake off in the distance

This is a cool section where the trees thin out and you find your self climbing up a bit.


Trees of Desolation appreciation picture





Got that sunstar nailed. Love the quality of the light here.


This program brought to you by La Sportiva, Black Diamond, GoPro, and Osprey packs. I’m a corporate shill.


Un-named but beautiful pond



Whoa…is that a trail? Yes yes it is. Close to Twin Lakes you will see an actual trail again.

The first named body of water I ran across was Boomerang Lake.  It’s beautiful and peaceful.  And sorta shaped like a boomerang hence the name. I was alone in my thoughts here and that was fine by me.  Words can ruin moments like these.


Boomerang Lake is bad ass.


Obligatory Selfie. Some people see a bunch of rocks, I see heaven on earth.


Twin Lakes (well half of the two sections)


Panorama of some of the Crystal Range. Un-named peaks.


Another of Twin Lakes with Mt. Price as the backdrop @ 9974 feet of elevation.


f22 will get you a nice sun star, and the effects of diffraction.


Island Lake in all her glory. If you came out this way but didn’t come all the way here, you missed out big time.


Hiked all the way to the East side of the Lake


Yet another viewpoint of this pristine sub alpine lake. Now climbing out of this basin to the ridge line.

Just a little tip if you decide to climb up to the ridge line to see Clyde lake like I did, as you face Clyde to the East you will see a few possible routes up.  One on the left, one in the middle, and on the right (to the South).  Take the one on the right side which is easy to identify since its a bunch of smaller rocks in a gulley like depression.  I took the middle route up and found it much harder than when I came down via the gulley.


Climbing up to the ridgeline now and looking back towards Island Lake.


After climbing close to 800 feet in a very short distance, I made it to the top to see Clyde. WOW.


And the view looking back the other way at Island and from whence I came. Bucket list item checked off.

Ropi Lake and Horsetail Falls

Experience is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward- 

Vernon Law

At various times I have considered myself a cyclist, a runner, a triathlete, and now, a hiker.   Friday was the first time I ever took a day off work to go on a hike. Hiking is starting to become part of my identity now and I think of doing it often when I am not out there.  Now that I have a decent amount of miles in my legs my physiology is changing and I feel improvements in my mental function, mood, legs, lungs, endurance, and more.  I am starting to feel like my old self again.

About 8 years ago I had reached my peak conditioning level in my life up to that moment.  I felt good all the time.  From that peak I dropped pretty low for a good while.  It’s been a long journey getting back to this point where I can start to feel those old sensations again and I am very happy about that to say the least.

On paper, hiking to Ropi Lake doesn’t appear to be a big deal.  All told its about 1750 feet of altitude gain and about 6.3 miles.  I spent a fair amount of time looking at satellite images on google maps and studying the topo map of the area but clearly, I have more to learn when it comes to interpreting topographic maps.   I also read a few trip reports that gave me some good info on the area,  but the various trip reports were in sort of two camps regarding the hike and that didn’t make sense until I did the hike myself and figured out why that was the case.  Because I took different routes up and back down I learned the options better than I would have otherwise.   Let me start by saying this: It was easily the hardest 6.3 miles I have experienced thus far.

One on hand people talked about going off trail into massive amounts of manzanita, and on the other hand people talked about being prepared to do some scrambling, bouldering, and hand holds in certain spots.  Both of which are true.  Other people also talked about a relatively pleasant hike up to see the picturesque falls with no mention of the other challenges I just mentioned.   Also true.  Huh?

So there are a few ways you can approach this hike.  One way is to hike on the portion of the trail that is well worn and easy to follow, which is the loop trail.  It will get you to some nice vista points area where you can see the falls from afar and its not strenuous at all.  This is the route I recommend you to take if you are with children, not experienced at hiking, or don’t have the time to go farther.

Option 2 is to follow Pyramid Creek all the way up to the TOP of the falls.  This is definitely class 2 climbing territory, and although I don’t know much about rock climbing I would hazard a guess that some parts are class 3, especially if you aren’t careful about route finding.  You will be doing a fair amount of scrambling if you take this route or the other option below this.

Class 1: Hiking

Class 2: Simple scrambling, with the possible occasional use of the hands

Class 3: Scrambling; a rope might be carried

I cannot stress enough how important route finding is if you go this path . If you aren’t a rock climber, you will find yourself in some sections where you will have to think very carefully about how to clear them.  There are other spots where I flat out gave up and backtracked to find easier routes.  I am relatively cautious by nature so take this with a grain of salt but I don’t think I am over exaggerating here.  You could be seriously injured or die on this route.

Option 3, and the one I recommend for most hikers is the one I took on the way on the way up- which is to travel on the loop trail until you are about half way up to the falls and start to see massive shelves of granite on your left, to the west.  At that point you should start to climb up and out of the canyon to a ridge line which you can take over to Ropi Lake or the very top of Horsetail falls.  Some scrambling is involved on this route for sure, but its nothing like the path that follows the creek all the way up.

Below are the route and distance details.

Backcountry navigator trip details

Backcountry navigator trip details



Looking at the route below, I took the route that heads up the incline to the left about halfway point to Horsetail falls.  You will climb this all the way up to the ridge line at about 7600 feet.

GPX visualizer route

GPX visualizer route



Just your average trailhead sign



Nice single track style trail to start off your day



The first of many beautiful pools along the trail



Of course this sight caught my eye! Ahhhh!



I hope you enjoyed this trail marker, as its one of the few you will see from here on out!


Another beautiful pool






Impressive slab of granite



When you see trees like this you know you are near Desolation Wilderness





Close up view of the previous tree



You have to hand it to the Forest Service on this sign, they nailed it.  Definitely great advice that you should listen to and be prepared later.


Kudos to the Forest Service for this sign. Heed its warnings!



Another lovely gem of a pool I saw and one of many waterfalls today


Tiny waterfalls feeding a beautiful pool



It is almost time to climb out of the forest into the granite wonderlands that make up Desolation.


GoPro almost got the entire tree into the frame



This is the point where I began to scale the incline on the left.  Basically from here you want to pick the path of least resistance and do your best to route find.  Truth be told its all rather steep and somewhat sketchy in places, but not all that bad compared to what I will be seeing later.  I had initially thought about following the creek upwards but it didn’t look too feasible from where I was at, so I continued upward towards the ridge line instead.  For the most part just follow the path of least resistance and you will generally be ok.  Eventually you will may run across some cairns to guide you.


Left turn time.



Trees of Desolation!



It is time to climb in earnest now.  GPS says this was about a 49% gradient.  I believe that.  I was already struggling with the climb and had to rest more than usual.  Keep an eye on your footing and stay alert, this is not the time to lose focus.


Time to climb



The struggle is real



Believe it or not this is the right way up. With the sun just breaking over the peak to my right I was in sheer awe of the incredible landscape I was witnessing.


Here comes the sun. And I say, it’s alright.



At this point I am starting to feel a bit like a rock climber.  This is already a lot more scrambling than I’ve done before on Ralston Peak and most of Pyramid Peak.   I took a few moments here to rest and take in what I had accomplished so far. It felt good to get this far but there is more adventure ahead.


Looking back from where I came from



People ask me why I hike.  I think pictures like this should help to understand why I do.  I feel honored to be in the presence of such beauty. Nature is incredible, don’t you agree?    The payoff for pushing yourself to go higher and farther is priceless.


Incredible light and view



Eventually I find a cairn.  It was nice to see since it confirmed that I am not the only crazy one who has come this way.  Up until this point I was not sure I was on a good path or a fools errand in climbing up towards this ridge line.


Helpful cairn





In the company of one greater than I



After climbing for a good 45 minutes, I can finally see the top of the ridge. I am feeling quite a bit more tired than I would normally be at this stage of a hike, but the steep challenging terrain has tested me.


Almost there



Now I am on top of the ridge line and I can see Avalanche Lake down below. Desolation valley and Ropi Lake are to the right of this image.


Avalanche Lake



A short while after reaching the ridge line I start to see the various “fingers” of Ropi Lake. Here is one with some nice light filtering   in and a mirror reflection on the water.







Death and life intertwined



I filtered water to drink from this pool. It tasted incredible.





I like how this accidental picture turned out. The lone hiker



I am not sure the purpose of this dam at this point. But it sure was pretty.


The dam



Now that I arrived at Ropi, I sat down, took off my backpack and had some snacks.  I got out my “real” camera and put on a 10 stop ND filter and shot some images of this pool.


Long exposure



Looking back the other direction, normal exposure.



Ropi is not a uniform shape at all, but this is the largest open portion of it. Again with the ND filter to make the water look more like glass and Pyramid Peak in the background.  If I go here again I would change the camera viewpoint so that the tree’s background is just water only.


Another long exposure. Pyramid Peak and Ropi Lake



And a GoPro image of the same general area


After briefly considering heading up Pyramid Creek father to where I saw a long waterfall (fed by Desolation Lake) I instead became fascinated with this section of the creek which is headed down to Horsetail Falls and I started to want to get some pictures of that, so I headed back down.  It was also at the critical point where I decided to head directly down along the creek instead of doubling back and going back the way I had come up the valley.  I would regret that decision later and I will probably not take the route along the creek down again, until I am a stronger climber.


Pyramid creek


Really enjoyed spending time here.  I had Ropi Lake to myself and that was just fine by me.


Obligatory GoPro selfie



Pretty happy with how this turned out for a daytime long exposure.


Shot with the Fuji X-E1, 10 stop ND filter



Unnamed body of water..I wish I had GPS tagged this one.



Avalanche Lake



It was cool to be here to understand how Ropi Lake Pyramid Lake, Desolation Lake, and Lake of the Woods all feed into Pyramid Creek which ends up being Horsetail falls.  I haven’t been here during a non-drought year, it must be even more incredible!


Horsetail Falls origins



This beautiful emerald pool is almost at the drop off point.


Water pooling before the final drop off




Going down in a barrel might be fun



In spite of the difficulties there were occasionally spots that were safe to stop at for pictures such as this.  But mostly at this stage I was wanting to get back down to lower ground, or at least safer ground that didn’t require so much scrambling.


Horsetail Falls !



Looking in the other direction


Right after I took this image I started to realize how hard the descent down along the creek was going to be. I tried a couple of routes close to the creek that ended up in failure because I didn’t think I could make it safely.  That turned into some backtracking and a few dead ends. I eventually found a route up a bit higher but trust me when I say it was all rather sketchy and I started to not enjoy this part of the hike. Also, much of the path was through dense manzanita bushes which tore up my legs mercilessly.




This was the last image I took before I spent about 45 minutes very carefully making my way down several dicey white knuckle sections that took all of my concentration and focus to clear without much incident.  All the while I was remembering that Forest Service sign at the bottom.


Mighty Horsetail falls, even in a drought year




Not having fun descending here, but the views….



I know it doesn’t look like much from this angle, but the section below was super hard to get past. This is at the bottom looking back up from where I just descended.  When I arrived here, there was a couple attempting to climb up this section.  One of them got stuck halfway up it and was terrified and unable to continue upwards.  I spent about 10 minutes waiting for them to try to work together to get up it but eventually they gave up and decided to stop at this stage.  I then had to descend down it.  It’s probably about a 12-15 feet drop from the top and no hand placement points to use to lower yourself slowly. My strategy was to wedge my body between two slabs and shimmy down as far as possible, but the last 6 feet widened and I ended up slipping down it too fast and scraped my elbows, legs, and my back up a bit.  The alternative to this would have been going all the way back up to the top of Horsetail Falls  and then using that ridge line again which would have added at least another hour to my trip.  In hindsight I just wouldn’t take this route again!


Looks can be deceiving



Just to give you a visual for how much abuse I put my legs through on this hike.


It looks worse than it is

Lake of the Woods- Desolation Wilderness

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness- 

John Muir

I had been wanting to visit Lake of The Woods in Desolation Wilderness ever since I hiked out to Lake Aloha back in early June 2015.  Of course I had seen from afar it from Pyramid Peak, which is one of the reasons that I wanted to see it up close.  It looks majestic from a distance so I knew it would be special to visit it directly.

As you probably have figured out by now, I typically hike alone.  Hiking alone is great for when you don’t expect to be getting far off trail, especially in Desolation because there are always plenty of people on the trail during the day so you aren’t too likely to get yourself into trouble without hope of assistance.

Lately though,  I have been yearning to about travel more off trail into the back country which isn’t the best idea alone… of course plenty of people do it.  I started researching the various satellite message devices which do provide some measure of safety because they can be used to message emergency personnel and even send an “I’m ok” message to friends and family.  Now, if you have a heart attack or are otherwise injured in such a way that you can’t use one it doesn’t do you a lot of good, except that these devices do track your movements and can be used to find your location regardless of your ability to operate it.

I digress.  So on this trip a buddy of mine expressed an interest in trying a hike with me so we made plans to start at Echo Lakes and see where the day would take us.  It was fun planning and helping him with gear choices and advice.  I feel like I have learned quite a bit over the past few months but still have lots to learn.

Since it’s hard to know how your body will react at altitude the first time hiking, I figured Echo Lakes was a good choice for his first hike because  I know the route well and knew that we had an easy route back if the elevation or climbing was too much for his first time.  Also, while the altitude is relatively high at about 7000 to start, it’s not off the charts high either.  I’ve hiked at 12,000 feet and it’s a whole different ballgame than 7000 to 8000 is.  Without further ado here are the entire trip details:

GPS track Log

GPS track log

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 9.41.21 PM

GPX visualizer route map

I love leaving Echo Lakes trailhead early in the morning, and this tree is one of the first that sticks out in my mind when I hike here.  I love it!


Good Morning Desolation

These next images are out of sequence with the time of day they were taken.  Most of the following images were taken on the trip back but they roughly follow the route of the hike on the way to Lake of the Woods.


Looking out towards Tamarack Lake

Just after we descended the switchback you see below, we stopped to talk to a woman who was hiking with her 12 year old son & dog. She had a large external frame backpack (we later guesstimated it was about 40lbs) on and a lot of gear and was sitting down on a log. She seemed totally fine and was asking us a question about the distance to Lake of the Woods as that was their destination, when she instantly passed out right in front of our eyes! We both caught her by the arms, pulled off her pack and propped her up to prevent her from falling forward. At first we thought she was having a seizure. It was luck maybe or something else that we happened to be there. She woke up a short time later (her son was very distraught obviously) and looked at us with no recognition initially of who we were or why we were holding her up. We gave her powergels and energy chews and stayed with her until she was feeling better. After that we walked with them back down to Tamarack Lake and assisted with carrying her stuff until we felt confident she was ok.  I later talked to a friend who is a doctor who indicated she may have had an atonic seizure. Scary stuff whatever it was.  Crystal and Aiden, if you are out there and reading this, I hope you are well.


Heading down the switchbacks towards Tamarack Lake.


Dave making his way down the trail.


Lower Echo Lake


Dave at the Lower Echo Lake viewpoint.


Water color is just ridiculously beautiful here.


Lower Echo Lake


The crooked mile


I hear the cabins along this lake are on a 99 year lease from the USFS. Must be nice to have one!


I am a lover of trees. And this one is pretty incredible.


Ignoring the distortion on the trees to the left and right, the one in the middle looks just like you see it here.


Through the trees, I see my cabin.


More amazing trees.


Close up detail of a twister Juniper

After you leave the Upper Echo Lake area and right around Lake Tamarack is where the trail really starts to kick up.  It’s not that much elevation gain and not too steep either.  But you will be climbing non stop for a good 45 minutes on some rather technical terrain which is mainly the typical scree you find all over Desolation.  Which is why it is so nice when you get to the top and enter a lush forested area with some nice soft dirt as shown below.  This is the trail junction for Lake Aloha and Lake Of the Woods.  Left to LOTW and straight ahead for Aloha.


Here you have the junction for Lake of the Woods. Straight to Aloha, left to LOTW.

We absolutely loved the Haypress Meadows area. The trees are especially incredible around here and the terrain is just gorgeous.  The next several images are all from Haypress Meadows.


Haypress Meadows doesn’t fail to disappoint.


More Haypress Meadows


After the brutal scree and abuse your feet have taken climbing up from Tamarack to here, the soft loamy soil in Haypress Meadows is very welcome.


For some reason, the trees in the Haypress Meadows area are very special.


See what I mean? Don’t forget to look up!


Simply superb displays.


The jet stream trails were especially nice.


The power of imagination makes us infinite

Now I had consulted my topo map before we headed to Lake of the Woods, but not close enough to realize there is a bit of a elevation drop down into the LOTW area.  And what goes down must come up.  So just be aware that you are looking at about a 400 foot drop down to the lake and of course back up if you are not staying in the area long.  Also, there is supposedly another route to the main trail head  & Lake Aloha from LOTW besides the one we came down on, but when we got to where it was marked on my map, we didn’t see anything that looked like a trail, just a straight bushwhack up through terrain that wasn’t much fun looking.  So we stayed on the same trail we came in on back to the main trail.


Dropping down into Lake of the Woods


You have arrived


The mountains are calling and I must go.


Dave making his way down to the water


Almost there

I have a new tradition/tip for my hikes.  Find an alpine lake, remove your socks and shoes and stick your feet in the water for a while.  Or bring a bathing suit and go for a swim.  Talk about a great feeling and a really good way to give your feet a break mid-hike.  Also, the water here was as you can see, incredibly clean and pristine as was the air.  Right now California is on fire everywhere, and in the Sacramento valley the air quality is horrendous.  Up here in the Sierra it was just fine thank you.


Feast your eyes on that ridiculous view! I highly recommend swimming or at least soaking your tired feet in this lake! So refreshing.


Dave snapped this of me shooting at Lake of the Woods. One of the only pictures I have of myself working a camera, which is pretty cool.


It was neat to see Pyramid Peak from this perspective.


Another view of Pyramid Peak


On our way back up now.

We came across a large group right around this area.  Dave snapped this one of me on the way.


“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”

This gives you some idea of the elevation on the way out.  Somewhat misleading because this is from a GoPro and it has a lot of distortion on the edges.


Up Up Up


Dave on his way back up from LOTW

I saved the best tree for last.  This one is my new favorite in Desolation.  Yes I know I say that in every post!


Now this specimen was astounding!

Secret Lake & Grouse Lake hike

Time for a short post about my Grouse Lake/Secret Lake hike back in June 2015.  This started off as a quest to scale Blue Mountain.   Truth be told, by the time I reached Secret Lake, which was no small task in and of itself,  I did not feel like I had the energy to scale Blue Mountain and then make it back in decent shape, so I left that for another day.  Blue Mountain would have been my first bagged peak in Desolation, but that distinction later went to Ralston Peak the next weekend and that was pretty alright with me.   It was a hot day and although this hike now seems relatively mild to me now, on this day I suffered quite a bit with the small elevation gain and distance of just 6.2 miles total.   Read on for the details.

This hike starts at the Wrights Lake trailhead. On the way up to Wright’s, which lies a good distance off highway 50 you will get some epic views like this one below.  Immediately stopped the car and got out for this shot.  Don’t forget to fill out your day use permit (its free) at the trailhead.

Even the drive up Wrights Lake road is amazing, had to stop when I saw this view.


Going to climb those spires one day. Wrights Lake Road

Here is a partial GPS track log of the hike from Backcountry Navigator.

Backcountry navigator track (partial)

Backcountry navigator track (partial)






GPX route map




At the trailhead there is a small parking lot, park and walk past the closed gate towards the Twin Lakes trail. This trail is signed pretty well everywhere. Here is what the beginning of the hike looks like once you are past the area right around Wrights Lake.


Let’s do this!



A few small creek crossing points and some possible hints of the location of the elusive emerald pools around this area. I need to come back to find them soon.  Even with the crazy drought we are experiencing there was ample water sources in this area.  I ran across a couple of guys who looked lost and wanted directions.  They had maps but no idea where they were on the map.  A few days later SAR had to come out to this area and save a family who got lost back here.


A quiet spot to pause a moment

A quiet spot to pause a moment


Once you get past the Desolation boundary you start to see the typical granite filled landscapes that are so familiar around here. I have quickly fallen in love with this terrain and I can’t believe I squandered so much time not enjoying this place.



Granite galore

Granite galore



Right around this point the trail starts to kick up a bit.  I still cant figure out why this hike was so tough.  It’s not particularly long, steep, nor does it involve much elevation gain.  Maybe I just had a bad day.  Whatever the reason, this morning was a struggle.


Time to climb a bit

Time to climb a bit



I have a personal hashtag on my instagram account called #TreesOfDesolation.   I think these beauties qualify.


Trees of Desolation

Trees of Desolation



“My shadow’s the only one that walks beside me. My shallow heart’s the only thing that’s beating”  I digress.    Shout out to the Green Day fans out there.


Shadow partner

Shadow partner




Say what you want about the GoPro being a shit camera, it sometimes blows me away.  Obviously this is edited, but I think it held up well here.   This is Grouse Lake.

Grouse Lake is incredible!

Grouse Lake is incredible!


A short hike after Grouse Lake gets you to Hemlock Lake.  It’s tiny, but very special in my opinion.  It has a lot of character with the granite cliffs and clear waters.  Plus its called Hemlock.



Hemlock Lake. Are you kidding me?


This next shot is a frame grab from 1080P GoPro video I think.  Not too bad considering that.






Wildflowers abound this day.  GoPro again.


Wildflowers were in bloom

Wildflowers were in bloom


I headed cross country in the direction of Secret Lake from Hemlock.  There is no trail to it, so its all bushwacking fun.    This after I spent 3 minutes looking for my sunglasses that I thought I had misplaced a little ways back.  After not locating them, I realized I was WEARING them.  Perhaps the lack of oxygen….  I found this spot after some bouldering action on the way over.  Great place to eat and admire Grouse from afar.


Off trail headed for Secret Lake, stopped to eat here

Off trail headed for Secret Lake, stopped to eat here


AHA!  I was happy to make it to Secret Lake.  It was an adventure inside of an adventure making it over here but I am super happy that I made it.  I don’t think too many people have seen this lake, or maybe they never wanted to.  For me, it was totally worth it.  Sadly by the time I got here I didn’t have much left in the tank and I had to hike all the way back.  So I decided to leave Blue Mountain for another day. The ascent starts back to the left of this shot, you can see it headed upwards.


Obligatory GoPro selfie

Obligatory GoPro selfie



A sight many will not see with their own two eyes. Secret Lake.   YES!


Secret Lake. It’s not easy to get to. Which is the point.



Now in between that last shot and this next one, I embarked on a murderous cross county bushwack and a healthy dose of bouldering including some pretty steep downward motion at about a -40% gradient. Being that I was not at all experienced at this time, that was either stupid or a whole lot of fun.  I choose to believe it was the latter.


The other side of Grouse lake

The other side of Grouse lake



The Trees Of Desolation never disappoint.  I fear I am dwelling on that theme a bit to much but its honestly an obsession now.  Sorry.




Oh and there actually is a large recreation area here for the campers, at Wrights Lake.  I didn’t spend much time there, but I snapped this on the way out.


Wright's Lake

Wright’s Lake

Mt. Tallac Summit

Mt. Tallac.  Oh the adventures you give us.   It’s no surprise why this hike is popular- it’s very close to Lake Tahoe and there are many campgrounds nearby the trailhead so it’s an obvious choice if you are in the area.  Also the views from up top are pretty legendary, offering 360 panoramic views of the Tahoe basin and the Desolation Wilderness to the West.   That said I have to wonder how many people get lost in this area.  While it’s signed pretty well in most spots, as I found out there is one junction that’s particularly important to take note of and I don’t think it was marked, or I flat out missed it on the way down.  Because there are multiple routes and trailheads to get to Mt. Tallac, you really need to pay attention especially at the Mt. Tallac/Glen Alpine trail junction on the way back down.   More on that later.

While I would prefer to have the time to fully research all of my hikes,  the reality is I don’t always find enough time to do that.  What usually ends up happening is that I  pull up a list of hikes in the area I am considering and decide which one to do on Friday night after work.   And since I do not enjoy the heat much, I prefer to hike starting early in the morning.  Since I live an hour and half from most trailheads, that means a really early wake up.    But that works out well because if you are doing a climb, you do most of the hard work going up while its still relatively cool and by the time it starts to heat up you are descending already.  

I decided to start my ascent from the Glen Alpine trailhead, expecting approximately a 5.5 mile hike in each direction.  It took me about 2 hours to get there from Sacramento.  Nothing much to note about getting there, besides the last 5 miles which is on a very narrow road off highway 89 called Fallen Leaf Lake road which takes you past the south shore of Fallen Leaf lake.  Honestly it’s a bit of a drag on the way out due to heavy traffic.  You will be constantly pulling off to the side to let cars pass for most of the way back.  You continue on past the fire station for a ways before you will see a gate and a small parking area.  Apparently this gate is open sometimes and you could drive in farther if you had a Jeep or other 4WD vehicle.

Here is the entire hike detail from the Backcountry Navigator app, it was actually 6.2 miles to the summit, and I added another mile to that on the return trip.

Backcountry Navigator GPS log





GPX route map




When hiking in Desolation Wilderness, remember to fill out a day use permit at the trailhead.  If you are hiking alone always make sure someone knows where you are planning to go and when you expect to be back in case you get in trouble.

Here is my standard list of things I try to take on any dayhike.  While some may disagree with taking so much, if you ever get stranded in the wilderness overnight, you will be glad you took this stuff.

  • Hydration.  I use a platypus big zip bladder which I place inside my Osprey backpack. It’s great.  I usually take at least 80oz on a hike of this distance.   I highly recommend also taking a way to purify water on the trail, like a Sawyer Mini. That way you can filter right from mountain streams and creeks if you run out of water.  I also recommend electrolyte caps in your water.  Drinking nothing but water won’t help you replace lost electrolytes.
  • Navigation- map/compass or gps
  • Fuel- take stuff such as power gels, fruit, granola, power bars, fruit bars, G.O.R.P. (trail mix), beef jerky.
  • Small first aid kit
  • Fire- matches, lighter, magnesium/flint fire starter, etc.
  • Emergency blanket/poncho
  • Fleece jacket
  • Knife
  • headlamp
  • sunscreen/bug repellant

I snapped this one from the South Shore Of Fallen Leaf Lake.


Fallen Leaf Lake South Shore. Gorgeous!

First thing you will see after you park and get on the trail is this nice smooth fireroad section.  Enjoy that, it’s going to be a very rocky hike after this.  You definitely want to pay attention to your foot placement on this hike pretty much the entire time (kind of a drag)  so you don’t roll an ankle.

Fire Road leading in

Fire Road leading in

The light coming in from the East was really lovely.


First rays of sunshine coming through the trees

I liked how the clouds were filtering the light from the sun, letting it through in some places, but not in others.




The first of several structures on the way in. Some cabins back here also.

I liked the details in the wood here.


GoPro capture

Here you see the signs for the Glen Alpine Springs resort, a backwoods resort that opened first as a campground in 1878, then in 1884 resort buildings were constructed.  It closed in 1966.  Check out more details at LakeTahoe.com Glen Alpine Springs history


Glen Alpine Springs signs

For the history buffs. I usually snap a picture of these and read them later on.


Glen Alpine Springs history

There are a few “staircase” sections on the trail, here is the first section.  The trail is pretty well maintained, thank you U.S. Forest Service!  It should be noted again though that this trail is not at all smooth for the vast majority of the hike.  You may start to resent the rocks by the end of this hike!


Up up up we go

There it is.  That sign indicating you are entering that magic place called Desolation Wilderness.  Adventures and beauty await inside these boundaries for sure.  Keep your camera handy, as mother nature is ready to put on a show for you.  You did fill out your day use permit at the trailhead, right?


Deso boundary sign.

Now that I’ve climbed higher the views are starting to get a little more epic and the trees are starting to thin out.   About 15 minutes after this I ran across a guy hiking downwards looking a little confused and concerned.  More about him in a few moments.


Paradise, aka Desolation Wilderness

Even the tree stumps are amazing in the Desolation.  This made a nice focal point for the foreground of this picture I think.


Incredible tree stumps even

So I’ve now heard from 3 other people who have hiked this trail who have gotten lost back here. It’s deceiving for sure because it doesn’t seem tricky at first, but it lures you into a false sense of security and you think there is no way you can get lost.  Well, you kinda can, and you can pretty easily.  It may be a popular trail but like any place off the beaten path you need to pay attention to where you are and where you are headed.  I noticed at least 3 junctions that weren’t marked at all.    This reminds me I need to take that map and compass navigation class.  Oh wait, I have a GPS, I don’t need that, right?  Wrong.   Let me tell you a short story about a guy I met right after I snapped the picture below.

So I see this guy coming down from the Mt. Tallac direction and greets me and tells me how he went off in the dark from his campground at Gilmore Lake to um, take a dump.  He somehow got turned around in the forest and couldn’t find the trail for a while.  Mind you the sun rises at 6am this time of year and it’s now 8:20am and he is wearing sandals, with no water, food, etc.  He explains how his buddy is at Gilmore Lake with no idea where he is and probably getting worried.  He asks if I know the way to Gilmore Lake, and I say not really because its my first time here but I offer to show him our location on my hiking/GPS app.  So I do and we point at Gilmore Lakes direction and he seems convinced he needs to head down more to get there and we part ways.  A few minutes after this I start to wonder about Gilmore Lakes location because it seemed like I read about it the previous night and it was farther UP the trail, not down.  About 20 minutes after this I start to see signs for Gilmore (see further below) and I realize the guy headed in the wrong direction, further from his campground, not closer.  Damn.

Unfortunately there isn’t much I can do, my phone doesn’t work and there is no telling where he is by now, so I resolve to reach Gilmore Lake and try to track down his friend to tell him I saw his buddy.


I hope you made it back safely brother

By now I am preoccupied thinking about this guy but I cant help but be amazed by the trees still.  Its possibly my favorite part of Deso.


Trees and more cool trees

Interesting viewpoint of this little hill.


Nope this is not Mt. Tallac


Nice little reflection on the pond

The tree worship continues.  All hail the trees of Desolation.


Looks like this was split in two by lightning.

Here is the first sign I see for Gilmore Lake.


Good trail junction sign. Wish all the junctions were marked so well.

Gilmore Lake.  I snapped this picture and right after I come across another guy, from Philly.  He waves me down and starts to tell me about a funny thing that happened with his friend…and I cut him off immediately and say, I saw him about an hour ago headed down the trail.  I explain the whole story and he pulls out a map and asks me to point out where I saw his friend and I give him the exact time I saw him.  Neither of our phones work, so there isn’t much we can do, but I told him I was pretty sure his friend would mostly have figured out he was headed in the wrong direction pretty soon after I saw him as the trail just keep going down.  Crazy morning already and we havent even gotten to the point where I got briefly lost.  I wish him good luck and hope the best for them.

Gilmore Lake

Gilmore Lake


Fallen but another will rise

This gives you and idea of  the trail conditions.


Shout out to North Face and La Sportiva

Not too far up the trail from Gilmore now.  The trail REALLY kicks up from this point on to the summit.  You will be working hard from here on out.  This section is flat but there was nothing but up up up from here.


A view of Gilmore a bit up the trail

Getting closer to the summit the wildflowers started to show.



First view of Lake Tahoe you get is almost at the summit.  You dont get any view of it until almost at the top.  A shame but hey, what can you do?


Lake Tahoe

Turn around the other way to see Gilmore Lake and Desolation…..WOW!


Gilmore Lake and deso

Is this even real?  Check out the storm on the left coming in and more crazy views.



Who is that crazy guy?  Thanks to Adam for snapping this on his way up.

DSCF5971 copy1

Me and Lake Tahoe

A nice view of Tahoe and the tip of Fallen Leaf Lake.


Tahoe, Fallen Leaf


A view through the rocks of Tahoe and Fallen Leaf

Looking back into Desolation Wilderness.  I can’t really explain how much I love this place.


I believe thats Snow Lake in the distance


Gilmore Lake seen from Mt. Tallac


Gilmore Lake and Half Moon Lake beyond that


Panoramic view of Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, Tahoe and Fallen Leaf. It doesnt get much better than this.


Panorama of the view to the West showing Desolation Wilderness

Still with me? Good.  Story time.  This is my actual route overlaid on a topo map. On the left you see my route on the way up.  The fork you see to the right just down from the summit of Mt Tallac a bit is the route I took on the way back.  This is the Mt. Tallac trail.     I dont believe this junction was marked, or I possibly just flaked and missed it.  I do sort of remember a point where I was going to head in the proper direction but calculated that I needed to go the other way, and I think thats where I took the wrong fork.  As you can see I made it a good way down the trail before I realized it.   At that point I was getting a little low on water and it was starting to get hot.  I also calculated that I didn’t think I had enough energy to hike back up the other way and take the right fork so I decided to chance a cross country trek to link back up to the Glen Alpine trail at Gilmore Lake.  Sounded good at the time.


Details of my screw up

And seeing this epic tree confirmed I made the right choice, or so I thought.  The terrain didnt seem to bad here and I continued on a bit until….


Favorite tree of the day

This is looking back at the rock garden I just traversed.  It’s actually longer than it looks in this photo and that was not fun.  I eventually made it to the tree line and things got a little easier after that.


Surprisingly I didnt fall down at all

I eventually made it back to the Glen Alpine trail.  What you didnt see was me suffering for about an hour bushwacking my way to said trail.  I had to climb a little bit but I minimized that by walking sideways along the hill up for a time until it evened out a bit.

A welcome sight

Just another amazing view. After a while you get used to it…. OK not really.

Getting closer to the end now


Those clouds tho…..

A few more switchbacks until we are back on the fireroad

Remember this structure? Here is a shot from another angle. Cool building.

And with that, another epic day ends.  Over 13 miles and 3600+ feet of climbing.  I wont pretend I wasnt cursing the rocks the last 2 miles, because I definitely was.   I didn’t have much fun the last hour, but currently on hikes of this distance I get a little sore past the 10 mile mark.  The more I hike the less that will happen I know. I also know I am pushing my limits a bit, but you need to do that to improve your fitness and get your legs and feet conditioned more.  Just trying not to overdo it, which for me is never easy.   Cheers if you made it this far to read this!