Velma Lakes in the Desolation Wilderness!

Steph by the Lake

This was a really cool 4 day hike in the Desolation Wilderness with Steph's brother, Ian, and Steph and I! It was a bit early in the season to get super far, but we did well. We meant to go in on day #1 to the Velma Lakes, then the next day to move on into the Rockbound Valley to either Camper's flat, or one of the lakes near there, then make our way back to Velma Lakes and then back to the car. But it worked out rather differently than planned. Steph got sick, and the trail was essentially unfindable past the lakes because of snow and innumerable creeks and ponds from the melting snow. So we ended up spending day 3 at the same place as we did day 2 and then coming back straight from there.

It was SO beautiful, though! We didn't mind it at all. The first day, we got a late start, and thus only got into upper Velma Lake and couldn't find our way across the stream that goes to lower Velma Lake. So we camped there, and it was really pretty. On the way up, there were TONS of beautiful views which I tried to capture with the camera. At first, it was mostly just an uphill slog along a well maintained trail with lots of rock stairsteps that were really tiring for some reason. But after the trail to eagle lake split off, it got a little less well used/maintained. There was some snow covering parts of the trail, and there was plenty of water running down the trail as well. But it wasn't too hard to find where to go. We arrived there, set up camp, and cooked just as it was getting dark. The temperature was going down and down, so we hopped into bed and slept in our cozy warm sleeping bags.

The next day, we waded across the lake at the head of the stream, where the current wasn't strong and there was a nice big piece of granite to walk across rather than a bunch of boulders. It was fucking cold. Of course, not 40 feet away were big snow drifts melting directly into the lake, so this wasn't surprising, but man oh man was it cold. I felt every capillary in my foot trying to all at once to cut off circulation in my foot and leg so that I wouldn't pump all my heat out into that frigid water and die. Man that hurts. Anyways, after drying off, we moved on, and almost immediately lost the path in the snow drifts and their little river deltas that they were creating as they melted. We kept finding it and losing it, and then when we'd find it, we'd find that it was impassable because of a new snowmelt pond or a big huge snowdrift or a downed tree. Progress was slow, and Stephany was coming down with something, so she was feeling less energy than she normally would have, so we ate some lunch and turned back to Middle Velma Lake. We left Steph in a pretty little area and searched for a campsite. We eventually found a little spit of land that jutted out into the lake and allowed us to see all of the snow covered mountains, the lake and it's islands, and everything. It also was beautifully sheltered from wind by a nice grove of trees and a big granite ridge kind of thing. It was perfect. We set up and lounged around for the rest of the day.

The night was pretty cold, but not so bad. Nothing that an application of "The Oven" couldn't remedy. :-) The next day was clear and beautiful, and we decided to walk around the lake. We did so, and it was tough going over there on the eastern side of the lake. Lots of little bays and steep areas, etc. But it was a nice hike. We then came back to camp, and Steph began to get sick in earnest. She was tired, and began to feel ill, and was miserable. So we all sat around and looked at the beautiful views and read.

That night, it got really cold. And windy. We were really happy with our spot, because we could hear the wind roaring in the trees nearby, but would only get a little buffet now and then. But then, we heard it start to rain!! I woke up and ran outside and covered our packs with my poncho and then ran back inside to make sure that I didn't freeze. It was cold! This was later confirmed by the fact that it wasn't rain, but snow that collected to about an inch by our tent. And many of the stagnant snowmelt ponds were frozen over while hiking later on that day. It was freezing! It was hard to unzip and get out of the sleeping bag in the morning because it was so cold. We got up and had to basically pack our stuff and go right away because it was cold enough that we would have gotten too cold just sitting around. Steph was feeling better, but we still took all her gear that we could pry away from her to lighten the load.

We went back around the lake to the stream crossing which we again had to wade. We couldn't find any other good places to do this, and as it turned out, this area became quite a traffic jam, with all sorts of people going both ways all shedding clothes and wading across. We were glad that we hadn't stayed at our site there, because there were around 6-7 people milling around there that morning.

On our way back, we encountered a ranger and a companion, both with shovels for an unknown purpose, who asked us about our permit and the trail conditions. We gave her the best info we could and went on home. It was tough for Steph in her weakened state, so we took it slow and carefully, and we made it back. It was amazing how much it helped out to get to lower altitudes. It got so much warmer!

There were NO critters at all. Well, a few mosquitos. But that was definitely set up to change quickly. There were so many snowmelt ponds and marshy type areas that I have no doubt that as the temperature rises (many of these ponds were frozen over the last day), there will be a VAST array of mosquitos to do battle with. And there were some squirrels, so we hung our food/garbage. I saw a lizard or two, but it was still pretty cool for them. Oh! And we also saw what we believed to be a marmot. Either that, or a HUGE gopher, or maybe a beaver without a tail. We didn't know if that was an unusual thing or not, but we forgot to ask the rangers. It was pretty cool looking though, and ran away fairly quickly. So I guess there were some critters.

And the trails were in many places completely obscured by snow and streams and everything. In many places, it was map and GPS time. Past Velma Lakes, the trail was completely lost under snow and snowmelt ponds and so on. The later in the season you go the better the trails will be, I'm sure, as stuff melts and as people set up cairns to mark them. But for those who push on through them, quite an isolated world awaits!

During the week, there were no people at all. Except one group which we camped near the first night. They were a bit annoying because they actually had a fire, something which is EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN in the Desolation. Trees grow so slowly and with such difficulty in that harsh landscape that dead wood is just not replaced nearly as quickly as it can be burned. And that dead wood removes what little organic material has been collected by the trees from the ecosystem, and I'm sure that causes problems. We told the rangers we met on the trail that somebody had a fire, and they were very disapproving. Anyways, many more people showed up on the weekend, so if you want more desolation, go during the week.

But for the people who we met, everybody was really nice. Many times, when we run into other people, they get kinda unhappy that they aren't all out there alone and sort of seem to resent your presence. But everybody who we saw seemed genuinely friendly and happy to see us. That was nice.

And permits are _really_ neccissary. We actually got asked twice by rangers. Once by the rangers on the trail, and once by some rangers in the parking lot. They were really nice about it, but if you don't have your permit, it's $100/person (or was that $200? I can't remember!)! And what's worse, the $$ goes back to the federal government in Washington DC, and doesn't go to the Desolation wilderness like the permit fees do. So BUY YOUR PERMITS!

Also, this trip, I rented some trekking poles and really tried them out. I'm somewhat of a skeptic, but my sister swears by them, and lots of folk seem to like them. I think they helped out, in the end. My knees, despite having a tough ski season where they had problems, held up without pain. And they certainly helped me walk with much more assurance over snow and creeks. They also helped going up and down quite a bit, because I could pull myself up and let myself down with my arms as well as my legs. That was good. But they tended to get in the way a bit while walking on flat areas, and while going through brushy bits of trails. Perhaps I just need to get more used to them, but they felt kind of extraneous while going on the levelish bits of smooth rock that were all over. But going up or down or over rough bits, they really helped keep my balance and prevented me from falling or tweaking my ankle/knee a bunch of times. I also noticed that I was looking up and around me much less while using the poles. Maybe it's because I haven't gotten as good with them as I ought to be, but I found that I was paying a lot of attention to my arms and legs and not as much to the surrounding views. But perhaps if I were to get more experience, I'd think about that less. So it was interesting. I'm not a rabid convert, but I'm definitely interested in trying them out more.

So here's the map of the route which we took.

My pictures are here.

Have fun!

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