Backpacking Desolation Wilderness

While my mom was in Ethiopia, we had talked about her coming to visit me in Georgia and so that could backpack a section of the AT. Then, my cousin, Richard decided to get married, so we happily changed our plans. It was one of the best weddings I've been to and it was so, so good to be with my extended family. After the wedding festivities died down, my mom and I drove up to Lake Tahoe for a 4-day backpacking trip in the Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

My first backpacking trip was when I was 2 weeks old (yes, you read that correctly) and I think I've been camping every summer of my life since then. As a kid, I hated backpacking so it came as a big surprise to everyone when I actually started to enjoy it. My mom and I have done several trips together and this was the first time my pack was heavier than my mom's. With a map in hand and half a plan for our routes, we headed into Eldorado National Forest. 

Day 1 - Eagle Falls Trailhead to Middle Velma Lake

We started our first day around noon and headed up the slow ascent from Eagle Falls Trailhead. The Sierra Nevadas are incredible granite mountains, like none I've ever seen before. The day started hot, but the clouds quickly covered the sky and were followed by loud cracks of thunder. We (stupidly) hadn't brought rain gear, so we did our best to go as quickly as possible to our destination. At one point we had to take a break in the shelter of some trees until the rain lessened. Since it didn't seem to be stopping, we kept going in the light drizzle until we reached Middle Velma Lake.

We chose this destination because I have a grandmother named Velma, who is 87 now. She did her last backpacking trip last month (it was only a mile and someone carried her pack most of the way, but still!), but she's always wanted to hike to Velma Lakes. It was so fun to go in her stead (especially because we also passed by Dicks Lake, the name of one of my grandfathers!). 

We set up our tent in record time and got in the shelter until the rain passed. We had a fantastic, private site with a beautiful view of the lake. There was a brief scare where we thought I'd lost my phone, but it thankfully showed up exactly where I thought it would be, so we were able to catch the incredible sunset over the water.


Day 2 - Middle Velma Lake to Gilmore Lake and Mount Tallac

After a slow morning, we packed up camp and headed to the PCT. We first went to Lake Fauntanlis, which was absolutely stunning. The first few pictures barely do it justice. We tried to follow a trail to Dicks Lake but got a bit confused so we ended up doing some bushwacking to find our back to the trail. My mom has an incredible PCT app on her phone that tells you how far you are away from the PCT. I can't believe something like that actually exists, but we found it very helpful.

We trudged up the long climb to the top of Dicks Pass (9400 ft) and were rewarded with incredible views in every direction. After a much-needed lunch break (salami, ritz crackers, and mozzarella sticks (a Nile family classic)), we headed down the other side of the mountain to Lake Gilmore. We arrived in the afternoon and set up our camp next to a small brook. 

After dinner, we hiked up to the top of Mount Tallac to watch the sunset. The summit was more incredible than I could have ever imagined. You can see all of Lake Tahoe, over to Lake Aloha and Pyramid Peak (the highest mountain in the region) and scattered lakes throughout. It was stunning. We started our descent as the sun set and finally had to turn our headlamps on to get back to our campsite. It was the perfect end to the day.


Day 3 - Day Hike to Lake Aloha

It felt so good to wake up on Thursday and not have to pack up our camp and put on heavy packs. We decided to stay at Gilmore Lake for two nights so we could do a day hike to Lake Aloha. Lake Aloha is one many thru-hikers favorite parts of the Sierras and we were not disappointed. Lake Aloha is the largest lake in the Desolation Wilderness and very shallow. It's surrounded by solid granite mountains and is like nothing I've ever seen before. The water was freezing but absolutely worth the swim. 

The hike to get to Lake Aloha also passed by two other beautiful lakes and made for a wonderful day hike. We got back to our campsite and were so glad we had saved our best meal for last- mashed potatoes, chicken sausage, and canned wine from Oregon. It was delicious. You aren't allowed to have campfires in the Desolation Wilderness, but we honestly didn't even miss it. Plus, we were so tired we were ready to fall asleep around 8:30 anyway.


Day 4 - Lake Gilmore to Eagle Falls Trailhead

We got up bright and early on the last morning because the first part of our hike out was all uphill to the top of Dicks Pass. We were able to hike in the shade for most of the way up and didn't see any other hikers till we reached the top. We took a short break at the top and made our way down past Dicks Lake, and then headed back toward our trailhead.

We were given advice by a friend to take a different way back than we came, and we were so glad we did. The Bayview trail is incredibly steep so we were grateful to be going down, not up. We passed tons of hikers heading out for the weekend, so we were even more grateful that we went during the relative quiet of the week. We had incredible views of Lake Tahoe going down, and once we got to the trailhead, we hiked along the highway for a mile down to our car.


It was an incredible trip and not just because of the scenery. It felt so good to unplug and disconnect from all that is going on this world, especially politics. I'm glued to the news cycle and it's taken a toll on me. It was like being on a news sabbath, and to have multiple days where I didn't even mention politics was badly needed. My mom and don't often get to spend so much time together and I was so grateful for the opportunity to be out in nature together. I talk about my mom all the time on my blog because she's such an inspiration to me. She's got even more energy, passion, and drive than I do, for everything from her ESL students to hiking all of the PCT someday. She's been battling some mysterious health problems for the last 6 months and yet she still made it through the whole trip. 

California, you'll always be home state. Thanks for an incredible journey.

Gear List

I thought I would include a list of the gear we brought, in case anyone was interested. I tried to find links for most of them, but most of the gear is from a couple seasons ago, so in those cases, I just linked to something similar.


Sleeping Bag
2-person tent
Stove, propane, matches
Bowl, mug, utensil
Water purifier, water bottles
Water purification drops
Pocket knife
Toilet paper and shovel
Swimsuit, shorts, and tank tops
Fleece, leggings, and warm shirt for nights
Sunglasses, toiletries
Camera, phone, portable charger
Hiking shoes, chacos