desolation wilderness – meeks bay trail – stony ridge lake and hidden lake

oct2012_desolation_03


A long weekend spent visiting a few lakes along Meeks Bay Trail in Desolation Wilderness.

the trail
The Meeks Bay trail starts right on the western bank of Lake Tahoe, some 10 miles south of Tahoe City.  We hiked in about 7 gradually uphill miles to Stony Ridge Lake on our first day, passing Lake Genevieve, Crag Lake, Hidden Lake, and Shadow Lake.  Then, on our second day we hiked back down the trail about a mile to Hidden Lake where we spent our second night.  That day we attempted to reach the summit of Rubicon Peak, but we were sadly unable to make it.  On Sunday, we hiked back down Meeks Bay Trail and out of Desolation.

Total distance: 19.23 mi
Max elevation: 8133 ft
Min elevation: 6178 ft
Total climbing: 12146 ft

 

day 1 – the way in
Meeks Bay Trail starts in a small lot just off of the 89 a few miles south of Tahoma on the western banks of Lake Tahoe.  The lot isn’t large and the first mile or so of the trail is a wide and flat dirt access road that seemed to be popular among day hikers and dog walkers; get there early enough to secure a spot for your vehicle.  My buddy Carlos and I, planning on going different ways after our trip, drove separate cars and took the last two available spots when we arrived. When the trail parts ways with the access road and officially enters Desolation Wilderness, it starts its slow and steady climb up into the mountains.

Though a fairly constant upward trend, it’s never very steep and it’s sprinkled with plenty of flat areas.  This section of the wilderness is much more densely populated with trees than the portion of the Rockbound Trail we hiked a couple months ago.  There are still the characteristic granite outcroppings that were nearly ubiquitous on the way to Maud Lake, but most of this trail is covered by evergreens.  On the initial ascent, there are some stretches of trail where stopping and turning around reveals views of Lake Tahoe in the distance.  Our original plan was to camp at Crag Lake on the first night, but upon arriving we decided to push on to Stony Ridge Lake and come back to Crag on our second day.

On the way between the lakes, we passed a turn off for the steep downward trail to Hidden Lake and then we skirted the banks of Shadow Lake, which is slowly turning into an meadow.

 

the campsite

After surveying the entire edge of Stony Ridge Lake, we decided the best site to set up camp was a wide, flat area about half way down the bank of the lake.  There was easy access to the lake itself and spectacular views of Rubicon Peak across the water.  In warmer months, this spot would be a perfect beach.

The rest of the day we spent exploring the perimeter of the lake and hills on the other side of the trail.  There’s a man-made dam on the northern tip of the lake where Meeks Creek runs back toward the other lakes.  Also, there are a couple of great campsites just across the creek and dam in that area.  From the hillside above the western side of the lake,

we caught some more spectacular views of the water and Rubicon Peak.  That evening, the sun lit the mountaintops and the few clouds in the sky a magnificent red while it dipped below the horizon.  That night, I realized that the batteries in my SteriPen had died and I only packed 1 replacement with me.  Luckily I had some purification tablets, which, along with boiling got us through the rest of the trip.  The night was cool.  My pack thermometer broke while we were in Peru a couple weeks ago, but I’d say the low was somewhere in the upper 30s (around 3°c).

day 2 – the trail
After a very late breakfast, we packed up camp and decided to head back down the trail toward Crag Lake.  About a mile down the trail, we reached the turn off for the trail that drops down the hillside to Hidden Lake and decided that we should check it out.  Hidden Lake is positioned just south of Crag Lake and the two nearly touch.  At the base of the hill we found an excellent campsite and set up camp.

We then trekked back up the hill, across the trail and through the woods with the goal of summiting Rubicon Peak.  The base of the mountain was relatively easy to navigate.  The woods gave way to low bushes quickly, though, and our progress slowed.  We picked paths up the hillside to the scattered granite outcroppings, avoiding the low, scrubby brush as much as possible.  Tikka made her best go of it, but there were several times when she simply couldn’t make a jump or manage the bushes and we had to lend a hand, often passing her between us up the rocks or across a crevice.  Behind us the valley dropped away revealing Stony Ridge Lake, Shadow Lake, and to the north, Crag Lake.  In spite of the promise of a view of Lake Tahoe from the summit,

eventually the tough, impenetrable bushes conquered us.  We were both tired, our legs were scratched and bleeding, and Tikka had definitely had enough.  Also, it was lunch time.

We went back to camp, ate lunch, and set back out to explore the banks of Hidden and Crag lakes.  The area is beautiful.  Granite outcroppings with spectacular views are surrounded by pockets of forest and the creek makes its way through it all between the two lakes.  We came across some great campsites along the southern tip of Crag lake and noted them for future trips, especially during hotter months.  Crag Lake seemed exceedingly swimmable.  The reflections off of the mirror-still Hidden Lake at sunset erased all memory of the earlier failure on Rubicon.  That night, the stars were brilliant and the air was still and cold.  I slept great!

day 3 – the way out

The next morning, we had breakfast, packed up and took off.  During breakfast we took some time to celebrate Carlos’ birthday.  I packed in a birthday candle and presented it in his breakfast oatmeal bar.  The trail out seemed a lot steeper than it had felt on the way in, but it was easy enough to manage using only one trekking pole.  Before long, Lake Tahoe started peeking at us between the trees and within a couple hours we were back at the cars and headed to Tahoe City for some Mexican food!

the pics


the details
Same details as my Maud Lake trip a few months ago, though the price was a little lower, perhaps because we’re in the off season.
Permits and reservations – from recreation.gov
The cost for us was $20 for our 2-night, stay.
Bear canisters are not required, but recommended.  We encountered no bears or marmots this time, but there was an army of chipmunks for Tikka to make friends with!
Dogs allowed!

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