Desolation Wilderness Loop

I spent a fun three-day weekend hiking through Desolation Wilderness with my dad on a beautiful 26-mile loop.

Day 1: Glen Alpine Trailhead to Susie Lake (4.3 miles)

We planned to leave my house at 7am but when we woke to thunder, lightening, and heavy rain and we agreed to delay our departure. A few hours later, despite a forecast calling for continued rain, we decided to proceed. We drove through rain almost the entire way to the trailhead and we pulled over several times to discuss our options. Each time we opted to continue despite the heavy rain.

At the trailhead we agreed that we could return to the car at any time if either of us wanted to turn back. There was no point in being miserable. All of the delays meant a late start: it was 1:45 when we started hiking.

This was my first opportunity to hike with my new trekking umbrella and I loved it!

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Hands-free hiking with an umbrella!

The trail looked like one long puddle. However, shortly after we started hiking the rain tapered off. Dark clouds perched on the tops of the mountains, but we reached Susie Lake without seeing another drop of rain.

Susie Lake
Susie Lake

We scouted for a sheltered campsite and decided to camp beside the lake’s outlet, where my husband and I stayed on our cruise through Desolation over Labor Day weekend. Moments after we set up our tents it began to rain. My umbrella was a major asset when we set up a tarp (borrowed from my dad’s friend) under which we cooked dinner. As soon as the tarp was up the rain turned to hail. Great timing! We spent the night with intermittent rain, hail, and wind.

Day 2: Susie Lake to Velma Lakes Trail  (8.9 miles)

I crawled out of my tent early, hoping to witness a stunning sunrise similar to the flood of color I experienced here in the beginning of September. This morning’s sunrise was pretty but underwhelming.

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Sunrise at Susie Lake’s outlet, looking down at Grass Lake.

We packed up our tents and wet rainflys and began hiking toward Heather Lake, Lake Aloha, and Mosquito Pass. We saw blue sky for the first time on the trip!

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Heather Lake

Without a specific destination in mind for the night our goal was simply to hike and enjoy the scenery. Blue sky continued to peek through the clouds and we even received a few stray sunbeams on our way to Mosquito Pass.

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Lake Aloha
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Another view of Lake Aloha, with ominous but photogenic clouds.

Curiosity took us on a short detour to Clyde Lake, which was gorgeous but appeared to lack any established campsites. While contorting my body between boulders to score a photo of red berries I managed to abrade and rip one of my pack’s mesh pockets on the granite. The picture I ended up with was not worth this damage!

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Clyde Lake and mountain ash berries.

Curiosity satisfied at Clyde Lake, we returned to the main trail and continued down Rockbound Valley. We stopped for lunch at a crossing of the Rubicon River. After lunch the trail crossed multiple springs and streams and took us through a pretty meadow at China Flat.

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China Flat

When our trail met the trail to Velma Lakes we opted to set up camp rather than tackle the climb to Middle Velma that evening. We found a nice campsite and settled in for the night.

Day 3: Return to Glen Alpine Trailhead (13.3 miles)

We woke to a cloud-free sky…and lots of frost. My thermometer read 25 degrees. I dressed in my big down parka and crawled out of my tent hoping to photograph a colorful sunrise. Again, sunrise was pretty but underwhelming. We took our time making breakfast and attempting to dry our frosty tents. We eventually left camp at 10am – a late start! The trail began climbing immediately, sending us over granite slabs where our path was outlined with carefully-placed rocks.

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On the trail to Velma Lakes.

At the top of the ridge we hit the PCT, then breezed by Middle Velma Lake and climbed to Fontanillis Lake. At Fontanillis we stopped for a short snack break.

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Fontanillis Lake

Then it was more uphill to Dicks Lake and, finally, Dicks Pass. When my husband and I climbed over Dicks Pass in September it was unbearably windy, but today there was hardly a breeze. My dad and I enjoyed our time on the pass and took many photos of the stunning views.

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Enjoying the view from Dicks Pass.
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Susie Lake, Lake Aloha, and Half Moon Lake from just below Dicks Pass.
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Dicks Lake and Fontanillis Lake

After the long climb from the Rubicon River to Dicks Pass we still felt strong, so we opted to finish the trip and hike back to the trailhead rather than spending the night at Gilmore Lake (our backup plan).

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Descending from Dicks Pass.

When we glimpsed Gilmore Lake through the trees we decided to detour off trail for a better view. We ate snacks by the lake then returned to the trail and continued down to the trailhead.

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Gilmore Lake

I wore my heavy leather boots on this trip, rather than my beloved light weight Salomon trail runners, because the trail was one long puddle when we started hiking on Saturday and I didn’t want to travel with soaked feet. My feet stayed dry, but the heavy boots left my feet aching on the last few miles of the hike. Ouch!

We arrived at the car at 6pm and were treated to a light rain shower as we drove back to the highway – excellent timing once again! We were both happy that we chose to go through with the trip even though Saturday’s weather seemed so unsuitable for a multi-day hike. We experienced rain, hail, and frost but the passes were blissfully wind-free and the scenery was gorgeous. What a great way to spend an October weekend!

Health update: The down-turn in health that I wrote about at the end of September lasted for about three weeks. Some symptoms still pop up without warning: I experienced a mild sore throat for the first two days of this trip but the symptoms didn’t progress beyond irritation, and I had enough energy to enjoy the trip.

An awesome weekend with my dad!
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4 thoughts on “Desolation Wilderness Loop

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. My husband is 5 weeks in to treatment for Lyme/Bartonella….what a crazy, frustrating, debilitating disease this thing is! My husband was an amateur boxer and triathlete and now can barely get off the couch for the last 3 months. Thank you for your inspiration and giving us hope that he can and WILL get better!

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    • I remember how overwhelmed I felt at the beginning of my treatment…not knowing if it would work, or how long the treatment would last. It was a long, life-changing journey for me. Best wishes for you and your husband in this difficult time. Recovery IS possible!

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