Saturday, July 23, 2016

Desolation Wilderness - Echo Lakes to Waca Lake - 07/16 & 17, 2016

Trip Logistics
  •      When - July  16– 17, 2016
  •      Desolation Wilderness – Echo Lakes to Waca Lake
  •      Total Elevation Gain – Approx 1000 ft.
  •      Total Mileage – Approx. 16 miles; Partial off trail

Desolation Wilderness, as most know, is hardly Desolated so I’m always looking for places that may not get too much foot traffic.  After studying the map I bit I settled in the area to the South of Lake Aloha - Channel Lakes, American Lake and Waca Lake.  Since Waca Lake was a bit further from the trail I chose that as our weekend destination.  From Echo Lake this is about an 8 mile hike with minimal elevation gain - less than 1000 feet.  I couldn’t find many trip reports about this lake and what was the best way to get there.  I saw one report from someone who took a less than ideal route and spend much longer trying to find the lake than needed and another report from a family who said you could simply walk across the dam at Lake Aloha. Hmmm tough choice I’m thinking the dam. 

We set out from Echo Lake a bit later than we had planned because of some missing hiking shoes that required a early early morning stop at Wal Mart.  As usual there was no parking in the lot and we ended up parking on the road leading to the lake.  As the years go by I think this trailhead is getting more and more crowded.  The hike from Echo Lake was uneventful…there were tons of hikers mostly headed to Lake Aloha and the weather was pleasant thanks to a stiff breeze.   We eventually got to the intersection of the PCT and Lake Marjorie and headed off trail due west.  We immediately ran into Channel lakes…which were very very pretty and took a break to have some lunch.

After lunch which just kept making our way over to the north end of American Lake where the dam was located.  The navigation was very easy with lots of small ridges to use for navigational purposes.   The dam at Lake Aloha was huge…multi-tiered even…so that was cool to see.  There were lots of people in the area some fishing and some just exploring.  We crossed the dam and of course Steve just headed straight up the hill…while Curtis wanted to take the low route which headed south and then west over a small saddle….of course in hindsight neither of these were really the best option.  So we took the small saddle route and saw the lake when we got to the saddle as well as an excellent camping spot which was too close to the water…but it was quite established.  However the trick was really figuring out how to get down to the campspot.  In the end we decided to have fun with talus and do a little butt sliding to get to the campsite and it sure was beautiful.  There were a fair number of people at the lake given it’s location but figured given the permit quota most were probably just there for the day.   We setup camp and Steve and I decided that we would take a little hike as well as try to figure out what would be our return route and if scrambling could be avoided.

We ended up just following the water flowing out of Waca lake down to Pyramid Lake.   We actually came across snow on the ground which was very exciting to see in July…a rare sight these last few years.  Pyramid was a beautiful lake that had a waterfall from Pyramid Peak flowing in the the lake.  The lake also seemed pretty shallow since we saw a guy walking on water or at least he appeared to be.  This is definitely a lake to come back to and can either be approached from the north from Lake Aloha or via Twin Bridges or via Ropi Lake…so lots of options to get there.

We settled in for the evening and I was looking forward to doing some night photography since I had figured out that the Milky Way would be just to the right of Pyramid Peak somewhere around 3 am.  The downside was that it was a quarter moon and the moon was rising a bit later so there would be a lot of light in the sky.  The real downside however was that I did not have my L bracket with me so I could mount my camera onto the tripod…doh….I had been weighing my backpacking gear that week and had forgot to put it back on.  Thank goodness for clothes and sticks….so I did my best to make do and level my camera on a rock to do some star trails.  It was a very windy night accompanied by very little sleep.

In the morning we were treated to my favorite backpacking treat - Steve’s pancakes which were lilikoi (passion fruit) with guava syrup…thank you Hawaiian Sun.  Do not expect an early start when pancakes are involved.  We were finally on the trail after 9:30 and we did not find a non-scramble out option so Steve shuttled our backpacks out and we scrambled out of our lovely camp location.  We decided to head back to the dam by skirting around Lake Aloha and this was a great route and the one I would recommend if you are interested in going to Waca Lake.  

The hike back was uneventful…we saw several PCTers many of which were wearing Altras….which I apparently was very obsessed about.  We came back via Lake of the Woods which was nice since there were lots and lots of wildflowers in bloom especially the lupine.  Curtis decided to take the shuttle back across Echo Lakes…and it was pricey - $15.  Steve and I did the rest of the hike together and I took a major fall about a 1/4 mile away from the trailhead….klutz alert!  Getting some rainbow sherbet at the trailhead did help me feel better about my boo boo and that was the end of our lovely weekend trip.  Waca was a very nice destination…the best campsite is a bit challenging to get to but you get great views of Pyramid Peak from there otherwise if you are not too wound up about staring at a peak from your campsite try the west side of the lake for campsites.

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