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desolation

2023.08.19

After working full time since I left college, I finally took my first 'real' vacation, a solo backpacking trip to Desolation Wilderness on the southwest tip of Lake Tahoe. I reserved the wilderness permit (a must) from recreation.gov, and rented a modern ultralight 55l pack and bear can to keep my food in, which were both very helpful this time around.

I have been to Desolation twice before, and have visited Lake Tahoe with my family almost every summer since I was born. This time, however, I went alone.

It turns out that August is peak wildflower season in the Sierras. After a record amount of snowfall last winter, the number and variety of flowers around was unbelievable. After summiting Mt. Tallac the first day by noon, I descended the back side of the mountain, which was covered in lush meadows and a variety of blooms.

meadows on the back side of mt. tallac
The first night, I slept at Gilmore lake, which had a handful of other campers staying as well. My garbage was located by a bear, so take care in storing food away from the tent if you sleep here. Though beautiful, the water had some particulate, it was relatively crowded, and there were very very many mosquitos, so I was quick to make my leave in the morning.
gilmore lake
Next, I decided to make my way to the sprawling Lake Aloha, on the western side of the wilderness area. On the way I passed two other lakes, Lake Susie (many, many mosquitos around in the morning), and Lake Heather, which was mostly surrounded by cliffs and seemed deeper.

heather lake
Lake aloha is quite unlike most other lakes. Instead of a muddy or silty bottom, the water washes over large, smooth granite rocks. Since there is so little dirt around, few things can grow except for a lonely pine tree or bush. There is almost no shade so you come face to face with the full might of the sun.
lake aloha
scarcely any plants giving shade
Nevertheless, this was certainly my favorite day of the trek, and I had a wonderful and peaceful time in the water contemplating life.

In life and also in backpacking, the further you go, the fewer people there will be. I treasure this fact, and count it as an extra blessing, since I love to travel far and be alone. Backpacking is sommewhat of an odd activity by logical standards. Why would you throw away all of the modern comforts and conveniences and take up this heavy pack and live in the dirt? For me, the appeal is that it combines some of my favorite things all together, foot travel, nature, and being alone. The sense of independence and accomplishment is never greater than after a long day on the trail, and small things like a sip of water or a meal become extraoirdinary gifts of life. That, to me, is what makes backpacking so special.
views from the trail
Past solo outdoor trips have sometimes given me great revelations about my life, but I have no such thing to report from this excursion. My mind stayed on lighter topics, and often stayed on nothing at all, just observing the scenery. At the end of the trip, I was neither so exhausted and desperate to go home, nor despairing at the prospect of re-entering society, (both things I have experienced before) I was just content. Perhaps I have grown out of some of the anxiety and stress I used to have. This trip was the simple joy of being outdoors, and I was lucky to experience it. I hope I will be back next year!