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Stories from the valley

Day Trip, Desolation Wilderness

Contributed by Carl Gwyn

With the advent of spring and abundant snow in the Sierras, you might want to consider a trek deeper into the backcountry on your skis or snowshoes. This could be a day trip, or with proper skills and equipment, an enjoyable overnighter. A favorite destination for many is Desolation Wilderness. Let’s envision a day trip to Tamarack Lake just inside the wilderness boundary, for a total distance of about nine miles.

Starting at the Echo Lake Sno-Park, cross Johnson Pass road and head out the well-traveled and well-marked trail to the Echo Lakes. When you reach the Echo Lake Chalet, you’ll find a kiosk by the dam, from which you can obtain a free wilderness permit for day use. If you are going to spend the night, you would need to obtain an overnight wilderness permit online or at the Pacific Ranger Station in Fresh Pond. Be aware that the ranger stations are closed on weekends.

It’s time to choose your route. Crossing the dam and going along the north side of Lower Echo Lake would take you along the summer trail. Most travelers choose to cross the lakes themselves, which are currently frozen with several feet of snow on top, providing a unique experience and breathtaking vistas. If you opt to do this, be aware that conditions change and a warming trend could make travel across the thawing lakes hazardous. When you cross the isthmus from Lower Echo Lake to Upper Echo Lake, avoid the area around the mouth of the channel. The ice is thin.

Once you reach the west end of Upper Echo Lake, go to the right side of the creek, where you will embark on a quick climb toward Haypress Meadow. Continue about one mile further to arrive at Tamarack Lake. The slopes above the lake give excellent views of Mt. Ralston and the Echo Lakes. The trip back will reward skiers with some wide-open areas for Telemark turns down the beckoning slopes.

This trek can be a bit of a challenge as a day trip for skiers and snowshoers, but it’s extremely rewarding, with spectacular views and a sense of accomplishment at your journey’s end.