We’ve talked about going backpacking locally for a long time now, but life (and mountain biking, roller derby, etc.) kind of got in the way. Until this past weekend, when we took a quick overnight trip into Desolation Wilderness. It was an experiment of sorts, one that I’m not sure entirely succeeded.
Over the years, we’ve amassed a surprising assortment of lightweight hiking and backpacking gear, though said collection has never really been used for its intended purpose. After our last trip to Switzerland, N surprised me with a stable and lightweight Black Diamond backpack (to match his), which he reasoned would work well for future hut trips as well as backpacking. The dimensions of the packs are such that you need a really small sleeping bag or else you have room for little else, so his next purchase was two super light down bags from Western Mountaineering. I supplied us with titanium pots (thanks to Steep & Cheap), and with our Jetboil stove and Eureka Zeus 2 tent we had all the fixin’s for super light backpacking.
Part of the incentive for this is because our dog is getting older, and really isn’t capable of the 15+ mile day hikes we used to do. An overnight trip means less miles per day for her, and would give us an opportunity to relax in the backyard (read: Desolation Wilderness) that we’ve spent so many daylight hours exploring. Plus, it’s like Disneyland for the dog, providing her with infinite numbers of sticks and logs to play with, lakes to swim in, and things to sniff and mark.
It being August, we hoped that the upper elevations of Desolation had melted out enough for us to camp. Clearly we were not the only ones with that thought, for finding an overnight permit was tricky. The one option that didn’t require a 9 mile hike or a waist deep creek crossing was a lake (Triangle) that had a reputation for bugs. But magical thinking convinced that it wouldn’t be all that bad, especially if the nighttime temps dropped to the mid-thirties, as they have at our house the past week.
How wrong we were. The mosquitoes arrived almost immediately, and while it cooled off a bit, it wasn’t enough to convince them to leave. I was in the tent by 7.30 pm and didn’t leave again until the morning, when the promise of coffee, and a reprieve from the hard granite slab we slept on, roused me. Alas, mosquitoes are apparently early risers too, for they were up and at ‘em before the Jetboil was done. While they served as an incentive to break down camp quickly, I would have preferred a more leisurely morning.
I refused to believe that the bugs were that bad in other areas of the wilderness, so I convinced N that we should take an extended day hike to Lake Aloha, which is typically breezy. There was still a bit of snow there, along with a lot of mud…and a lot of gnats and mosquitoes. The mountain breezes that seduced us into stopping to filter some water on the lake’s edge skedaddled the second we had our packs off and filter half in the water, leaving us surrounded by a cloud of buzzing and biting insects. It’s obvious my magical thinking was flawed all the way around. We did have bug spray with us, and pretty much depleted the travel size we brought. I’m not a fan of chemicals like DEET, but in this case I was ready to drink the damn bottle if it kept me from becoming a giant welt.
Fortunately for our sanity, the hike out to Echo Lakes was much more pleasant, involving a descent, wildflowers, bugs of a more manageable volume, and even a breeze. And I should note here that the flowers are absolutely INSANE this year. I’ve been hiking in Desolation for 10 summers now, and I’ve never seen so many vibrant flower-filled meadows. Even so-called ‘dry’ areas are boasting lupine, paintbrush and a ton of other varieties that I can’t identify.
So it’s definitely worth a visit (or two). Just remember to bring some industrial grade mosquito repellent and a good camera.