Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tahoe Rim Fastpacking: Echo Lakes to Tahoe City Yo-Yo

Day 1: Lower Echo to Dicks Lake. 15 miles.

I was going stir crazy sitting around at home thanks to the government shutdown, so I had to get out!  My original plan to explore Kings Canyon National Park was out of course, so I had to look around for something fun that didn't require national park access or whatever.  I have wanted to explore more of the mountains around Lake Tahoe and found that a short 3.5 hour drive from the bay area brings you to a trailhead off of highway 50 at Echo Lakes.  The mountains traveling north along the tahoe rim trail (TRT) looked pretty interesting with a cool name like "Desolation Wilderness".  So the initial plan was to do the TRT to Tahoe City and back, about 100 miles.

I started from Lower Echo Lake at just before 3 p.m.  It was a pretty nice day, maybe a little windy.  I found the travel pretty easy.  Not very big climbs or descents.  Some rocky, technical stuff on day 1.

Lower Echo Lake

Upper Echo Lake w/Talking Mtn in back
 The sun was starting to set and I had made up my mind to get up and over Dicks Pass before calling it a day.  I underestimated the climb, and the wind was crazy.  By the time I crested the pass the wind was blowing so hard I was walking sideways and freezing, shivers and all.  The sun had set at this point and I was dealing with a little bit of twilight.  I decided to run the descent down to the lake to try and get some warmth in my body.  I was so cold that I didn't even bother getting out my headlamp and was bombing down some rocky, technical trail (I found out how rocky and technical it was on the way back) in the darkness.  I think I was lucky not to wipe out horribly.  By the time I got to Dicks lake I was still shivering pretty bad.  I got out my headlamp but still couldn't find the lake until I heard the waves crashing.  I fumbled around trying to filter some water and then setting up camp with fingers that were barely working.  Fun times.  I then sat in my sleeping bag, cooking some dinner, and then wore most of the clothes I had inside of my sleeping bag.  It was still pretty cold, tough time sleeping...  The wind was so crazy that the waves were crashing all night.  I had visions of bears splashing around in the water, just to torment me.

Packing up the next morning was pretty much just as fun, but I got this pic of Dicks Lake:

Dicks Lake, Pass, and Peak

 Day 2: Dicks Lake to Page Meadows/Tahoe City. 33 miles.

Friday was cold and windy.  Still, the views and trails were pretty fun until the TRT leaves Middle Velma Lake and enters a deliriously long stretch of forest trails that all look the same, with basically no views.  I will dub this stretch "Sherwood Forest".  I had visions of Robin Hood jumping me in the middle of nowhere and taking my titanium spork.  To make it worse, I just never could warm up much. Here is a picture of a "stream" during this section:

Then I reached Barker Pass, and things got better.  Well, at least the views and trail got more interesting.  It was still windy and cold.  I couldn't hear myself think.  There were cool ridges, peaks and volcanic rock formations to check out:

Lava Formation

Reminded me of Devil's Postpile

Twin Peaks

Right before you reach Twin Peaks the trail splits: The Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) goes north into the granite chief wilderness, and the TRT goes east, down the ridge to Tahoe City on Lake Tahoe.  I was tempted to explore more of the PCT and see some more high alpine landscape, but the thought of staying up on the ridge in the cold put an end to that plan pretty quickly.  I decided to decent down to the city, but purposefully stopped two miles short to camp in the forest.  You don't know how many times I considered walking straight into town, sitting down to a steak dinner at the brewery and getting a hotel room for the night.  But I decided that that would not fit my goals for this trip.  I find that "roughing it" in the wilderness allows your mind to reset, to humble yourself, and to make yourself thankful for the things that are in your life, including warm beds and steak dinners...among other things.  Dropping down off of the rim helped with the wind and the temps.  The night was a restful one.

 Day 3: Tahoe City to Susie Lake.  37 miles?

I had decided as I was descending to Tahoe City that I didn't want to go back on the TRT.  The thought of enduring Sherwood forest yet again numbed my mind.  I drafted a new plan.  Go to Tahoe City, and then head south along the bike trails that line the lake until Meeks Bay where I would pick up the trail back to the rim and reach the "Tahoe Yosemite Trail" which by the looks of the map looked really enticing with multiple high alpine lakes to explore.  This trail would then hook back up to the TRT at middle Velma, where I could return to my truck on the "fun" trails.

I woke up and walked the final two miles into town and then headed south, sure to make a stop at this bakery that my wife was a big fan of when we visited here this spring.  I decided one little luxury wouldn't quite spoil my wilderness experience...

Tahoe City

Coffee, Bacon and Cheddar Scone, and a fireplace.  Roughing it!

Views of the lake from the bike path
 The Tahoe Yosemite Trail did not disappoint.  It was fantastic.  Nice and steep and rocky with awesome views.  If Sherwood forest gets a rating of 1 out of 5 stars, I would give this one a 4 (with 5 being reserved for the SHR at Twin Lakes, which isn't even a trail at all)  Even better, Saturday was basically perfect from a weather standpoint.  It was like the calm after the storm...

This is what I did with my shutdown.  Thanks Government!

View down to Grouse Lakes and "the bowl"

Tahoe Yosemite Trail Rocks!

Lower Velma and Middle Velma Lakes.  Eagle Lake is just on the other side of the ridge to the left.

As I headed back along the TRT I was treated to some wonderful reflection shots like the one above.  I got up and over Dicks Pass as the sun was setting once again, but this time the weather was wonderful and I timed it a lot better.  It got dark just as I picked out my camping spot at Susie Lake.  The only downfall was that there were a bunch of more hikers out and there was a fair amount of racket at Susie. Sleep was so-so.

 Day 4: Susie Lake to Lower Echo Lake.  10 miles.

The final stretch back to the car was ok, but I felt like a zombie marching.  It seems to happen to me on the last day of these adventures sometimes.  It's almost like the body realizes that you are about done and meters out the exact amount of energy that you need to get it done, even though you know you could keep this up for days.  Another calm and wonderful day for pictures:

Reflections off of Lake Aloha of Pyramid Peak, Mt Agassiz, and Mt Price.
That last picture is probably my favorite from the trip.  

Small world: about a half mile from my car I run into Jason Reed.  He is in his running setup and all and I just assume he is around to pace Victor Ballesteros in his TRT FKT attempt.  But instead, his race at the lake got cancelled and he decided to bag Echo peak instead.  Small World.

Video clips:

Gear and Food Notes:

  • I think if you see a forecast for a low of 25 at night at lake level, you need a sleeping bag rated lower than 30.  Live and learn.
  • I used basically everything from the previous trips and it all worked well.  No significant issues besides the bag not being warm enough.
  • I could have used some warmer bottoms.  Running shorts just didn't do it.  I did have some arm sleeves that I used on my calves (runners can get away with this...) and they helped a little bit, but some sort of wind pant would have been nice.
  • I replaced my normal round of clif bar products with some home made bars that my wife prepared, they were delicious and I will definitely keep those on my list.
  • I added chocolate to my goodie list.  Keeper.
  • I had an Epoch bar.  It was okay, but I prefer normal jerky, or the salmon that I brought along on this trip.  The salmon was delicious.
  • New thing I did that would almost certainly freak out everyone that gives advice for these trips:  I put my food bag in my bivy while I slept.  If any animal wanted my food, it would have to deal with me first.  And I have a beard.


  1. I like the idea of keeping food inside bivy ... :P

  2. Wonderful pics! My fav is the framed reflection one, just gorgeous. And I did kinda freak out about the food, but you're here safe and sound. Running w/o light on the technical downhill may have been riskier. You just know that God still wants you alive. :) Glad you had a good recharge!

  3. Sounds like a fun trip. Are you still on shutdown this week? I guess with the reimbursement bill, you technically got paid to do this trip... Right? :-)

  4. "If any animal wanted my food, it would have to deal with me first. And I have a beard." Ha ha. Good one dude! And I'm super jealous of your trip. Though my sleeping bag is only rated to 40, so I probably would have frozen to death.

  5. This is awesome. I am planning a 50 miler from Echo to Tahoe City scheduled for June 14. I have done many hikes around the 30 mile mark, but never 50. This is inspirational. I will be going with an "ultra" buddy who will be sleep-walking as I punish myself. I am thinking about an 18 hr. goal. What time of day would you leave the trailhead? I can't find any logical references to use for start times.

    1. Matt- I would start after a full nights sleep. The rest will take care of itself. As long as the weather stays will need a permit.