Echo Lakes – Easy To More Difficult?

On a bright summer morning, I pulled myself out of my slumber and drove two hours to get to a remote trail.  As I drove out of South Lake Tahoe, my maps told me to turn onto what looked to be an off ramp but turned out to be a two way road.  It twisted as it climbed into the mountain.  I began to wonder if I was being lead in the right direction.  I passed a hotel and soon entered a dark path.  My map told me that I had another mile to go when I found Dale walking along the edge of the road.  At 9 am all the close parking was taken.  He parked just a little ways back, and I should park too.  As it happened, there was a parking spot right in front of me.

I gathered my stuff, and we continued up the road to meet Heather. She was putting on sunscreen at a log, so I took the opportunity and followed suit.  Thinking that she wasn’t far from the trail head, I asked her about bathrooms only to find out that there was a hill and a ways before we reached the trail head and bathrooms.  As we came around a turn, we saw the sparkling lower Echo Lake.  The trees on the shore line gave it a very secluded feeling.  We had to cross through the boat launch and the spillway of the dam to reach the actual trailhead.  Heather had already gotten the wilderness pass for Desolation Wilderness Area, and we set out on the trail.

The map said that Tamarac Lake was four miles away, so that is where we set our sights.  The trail was rocky and steep, but it was doable.  We were in and out of trees much of the day with the lakes off to our left.  Somehow we missed the trail to the taxi boat on the Upper Echo Lake.  We saw the taxi full of people several times however.  I didn’t want to take the taxi, but I wanted to see what it was about.  I felt like we were climbing most of the way past Echo Lakes, but I would learn how wrong I was.  Along the way there were cabins I thought would be great to rent for a week to use to base out of.  We could hike and boat and swim and… We sat on a log in the shade of one of the cabins to eat lunch one.  On this trip we became Hobbits eating two meals and several snacks.

When we left Echo Lakes, the ground changed for a while and the hillsides were rockier.  It became more difficult to climb over the rocks.  I also kept checking the mileage because we felt sure that we should be coming to Tamarac Lake soon, but there was no sign of it.  We hiked on, passing people going both ways.

A head of us we see a group of kids climbing on rocks, sitting under trees, and gathering around a sign.  We figure that is our sign for Tamarac Lake, but we didn’t’ see a trail.  Adults catch up to them and so do we.  It is indeed the trail marker.  A brief discussion with the adults and the kids take off to our left.  Other adults join in, and we wait until they leave.  We can now see a faint trail toward the lake.  Knowing where they went, we follow along in the general direction quickly losing the trail.  But it doesn’t matter because we see a quiet shore line that we hike to instead of following the boisterous kids.  We sit on a log in the shade facing the small lake and eat lunch number two.  The clear water of the lake calls to us.  Heather takes off her shoes and wades in the water.

I don’t want to have to put my socks onto wet feet, so I restrain myself even though I know the cool water would feel good on my tired feet.  We have hiked twice as far as our last hike together.

Going back is difficult at first because we can’t find the trail that leads back to the PCT.  Climbing onto a boulder gives me a better view, and I see it just to the right of us.  I have to do this a few times until we see the trail marker again and we aim toward that.  Once on the main trail, it is like a homing beacon is on Heather.  Her pace increases, and she stops less.

Since it felt like we were constantly climbing on our way out, we expected to be going downhill much of the time.  That was not the case.  Once again it felt like we were doing a lot of climbing with short reprieves of downhill.  After a while Dale slows down.  His legs are bothering him.  (He did a bunch of squats the day before.)  We stop a little more often to give him a break.  He is glad he has his poles to lean on.  Near the end is a switchback downhill run.  I pick up in speed letting gravity pull me.  Dale is done, though, and takes his time getting off the trail.  At the trail head is a store, bathrooms, and cool drinks.  We sit on a short wall drinking icy cold tea.  Then it hits me.  I have leg wraps that would have helped Dale had we thought of it the first item he said something.

Sitting on the wall, I feel myself stiffening, and I feat the long hill we have to climb to get to our cars.  We discuss leaving Dale behind, getting a car, and picking him up.  But when we finish the tea, he hikes out with us.  While sitting, we saw a trail that goes behind some cabins.  We ask about the trail and learn that it goes to the parking lot cutting out the looping climb on the road.  The trail is steeper but many times shorter.  We take it stopping frequently.  At the top, we are happy to have taken it.  There is still a ways to our cars though.   At this point my phone says we went 10 miles.  My car is first, and we pile into it to make the last little bit to Dale’s car.  Turning around on that little street in my boat car was a little challenging.  I had to pull into a driveway and still ended up making a 5 or 6 point turn.  There was a parking spot near Dale’s car where we pulled over, and I promptly took off my shoes and socks putting on my flip flops.  What a relief.  And yet, I only had 1 small blister.  I was just tired of the weight and confines of the hiking shoes.

I am curious, after we completed this hike that the designation of easy to difficult was listed for the hike.  I don’t think there was any portion I would have called easy.  Maybe walking to the trailhead.  I would designate this trail moderate to difficult.  And only difficult if it gets harder beyond where we turned around at Tamarac Lake.  Easy hiking is what we have found around Donner.  There are many obstacles, reflecting light, and people to deal with during the climbing at Echo Lakes.



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