Every three-day weekend is another calling for adventure. This past Independence Day weekend was definitely one to remember. Seventeen friends and I ventured out to South Lake Tahoe (in reality, Kirkwood) for the weekend. Most started out from the Bay and only a handful from Southern California... and of course, two amazing individuals from good ol' San Luis Obispo. I was antsy all Thursday afternoon sitting in the office. There was nothing I wanted more than to be outdoors, lost in fields of green at South Lake Tahoe. Never having visited, I had little idea of what to expect of the trip. Here's a quick recap of what went on.
I left with two others in my car around 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning. The previous night I had prepared some humongous spam musubi to eat on the car ride up. It would take approximately 6 hours to reach the rental from San Luis Obispo. The car ride felt especially long while driving on the 41 and 5. There was nothing to be found for miles but desolate brown grass fields. Well, there were a few small pit stops here and there, too. A few patches of green also showed up in the form of a vineyard or fruit/vegetable farm. At one point we passed a cattle ranch that must have had a population of over 1,000,000,000,000 cows for slaughter. It was an interesting sight to see so many cattle in living on one straight stretch of land. The smell of cow dung and musk in the dry summer air was overpowering as it intruded our nostrils. We continued along the 5 and eventually hit some windy roads closer to Tahoe. I was pleasantly surprised by various different shades of greenness amongst the granite and basalt faced hills and mountains
We made a pit stop at Peddler Hill Overlook about halfway to the rental in Kirkwood which overlooks the Lower Bear River Reservoir. The clouds were lumpy and fuzzy like cotton balls, and the air was crisp and warm. We walked around a bit and stretched our legs outside of the car. I snapped on my 14-24mm f/2.8 and took a couple shots out over the horizon. Nearby, two large stacks of hay bales were left abandoned on the side of the road still on trailer(s). Not sure why... they disappeared when we passed again later during the weekend.
After twenty or so minutes we decided to continue our journey into Kirkwood. The roads were windy (as in, curvy) and reminded me a lot of the roads back on Kauai. The clouds, woodlands, and roads brought back many memories of driving through the back roads of Kauai in my Tundra back home. I wished I had a truck here to do the same... perhaps in a few more years.
We made it out to the rental around 3:30 p.m. However, we were lost as the address only gave the rental's unit number, and not actual address. It turned out that the rental was part of a duplex. We waited another hour for the person with the keys to arrive. A few cars full of people showed up in between and we stood in a circle, chatting away, while taking in the fresh air. However, most were tired from the long drive to Kirkwood. Some of the rental neighbors also arrived shortly after we did, comprising mostly of small families (and dogs).
Tired and hungry, everyone unpacked their cars and lounged around in the rental. A lone ceiling fan circulated air around the living room. I started to defrost 8 lb of ground beef in a pot of water for dinner. Meanwhile, we spent some time catching up with each other's lives. Most of us were friends back in our Cal Poly days. A few more cars arrived during that time and people trickled into the rental. The sun started to set as we started dinner. Many willing hands aided in preparing the night's meal, but the kitchen was a little cramped for more than three people.
We ate well that night... Home-made burgers, store-bought buns, and an accompaniment of salad. Meanwhile, 50 First Dates started playing on the TV. A few of people planned out the following day where we anticipating hiking 11.7 miles (it was actually more) to Lake Aloha in South Lake Tahoe along the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). Meanwhile, I and a few others started preparing the stew for Saturday night's dinner. After 11.7 miles of hiking, everyone would be hungry, hangry, and craving for a meal. Most people went to bed by midnight. I stayed up an hour longer to let the stew meat soften a bit more, and then crashed quickly afterwards.
Surprisingly, I awoke rearing to go at 6:00 a.m. I woke up my roommate and headed towards the kitchen to start making breakfast. Some of the other guys and girls joined in on the effort as well. We made cooked up some pancakes, scrambled eggs, and hot links. Everyone ate a few bites, although I don't think the food was quite hardy enough. Everyone was to make their own sandwich(es) for the day, so that freed up time for the people preparing the main meals to pack their bags for the trip. Jocelyn packed a couple sandwiches for me as I cleaned up the kitchen with a few other helping hands. Then, I packed up my camera bag and everyone else was soon ready to leave towards the trail head.
It took about an hour from the rental to reach the trail head. The roads were just as windy as before, and there were less cars on the road than the previous day. Our four car caravan arrived at Echo Lake, where the hike was to begin mid-morning. We had some trouble parking and ended up in a dirt parking lot perhaps half a mile away from the trail. The sky darkened and drops of rain started pitter-pattering on the car roofs as we parked. Grumpily, I muttered to the people in my car that I hate rain during hiking... which I do. Partly because of safety, partly because of comfort.
After a quick prayer and short while, the rain dissipated and we exited our cars. I decided to leave my 14-24mm f/2.8 in the car to lighten my backpack load. Our group of eighteen people gathered under the tree cover nearby and we started to walk towards Lake Echo. The sky was still overcast as we bought our Desolation Wilderness (what the area was called) passes. Regardless, the lake was serene and calm. A few visitors were kayaking and others were riding their boats along the water.
We started the leg of the Pacific Coast Trail shortly thereafter, wasting little time. But first, we took a few group pictures before the hike. The view from our stopping point was nothing short of breathtaking.
Shortly thereafter, we started our escapade towards the mountains and lakes. On the way to Lake Aloha we passed by three other lakes: Upper Echo Lake, Lower Echo Lake, and Tamarack Lake... all in the Desolation Wilderness. Inevitably, our group of eighteen split into three distinct groups. The first group sped along on nimble feet and ankles. I found myself part of the second and third group(s) who were a bit slower, but were enjoying the scenery nonetheless. Time seemed to pass at a snail's pace as we made our way through the PCT. The most difficult part was adjusting to hiking at 8,000 ft in elevation above sea level. Thankfully, the overcast weather stayed with us the entire duration of the trip. Despite inconsistent drizzling every half an hour, the hike wasn't strenuous at all. However, the hike was indeed very long and definitely the longest I've ever hiked in the past 23 years. The following photo is of the end of Lower Echo Lake, just as it turns into Upper Echo Lake. Numerous cabins littered the edge of the lake, some accessible only by boat or kayak.
An hour or so later and we found ourselves at the end of Upper Echo Lake. We ran into many backpackers and fellow hikers on the way. Many wished us a "Happy Fourth". Surprisingly, there were many families with young children on the trail. Many of them also had small (and big) dogs along for the hike. We stopped for lunch mid-afternoon, savoring our sandwiches, power bars, fruits, and water. The sky continued to cry throughout most of the journey and I left my camera in my backpack for most of the trip, taking it out only when the rain stopped. Here is another photo (in black and white this time, because why not?) of Lake Tamarack, which was the last lake before Lake Aloha. Soon after eating lunch, the group of eighteen again split into a distinct set of three groups with I and Jocelyn in the middle.
Eventually, the first group stopped on an uphill portion of the hike. All three groups reconvened at that point and some were conflicted whether we should settle for Lake Tamarack or proceed another few miles to Lake Aloha. A couple passing by had mentioned that Lake Aloha was another two to three miles away from our current stopping point. However, we took a look at our map and figured that it was only another mile and a half to Lake Aloha. The group took a vote and it was decided to continue towards Lake Aloha as a bellow of thunder roared from the distance.
We pushed forward in our groups. Jocelyn and I found ourselves wandering into the wilderness without much direction other than the trail(s) before us. Arrows at each of the forks helped us find the main group. I was worried that we were going to get ourselves lost, but she insisted that we would be fine. Eventually, after an hour of wandering without any others from our group with us, we arrived at our final destination: Lake Aloha.
A few daring individuals jumped waded, jumped, and swam in the fresh water of Lake Aloha. It wasn't the most appealing scenery I've ever ventured upon, but the ambiance was certainly eerie. Dead trees forty to fifty-some feet in height towered above the lake. A few tents littered the lakeside amongst the granite rocks a bit farther inland. We stuck around for an hour or so before deciding to head back to the trail head. By the time we arrived back at the rental it was close to 9:00 p.m. We quickly made dinner and ate in silence (partially because of food, partially because of tiredness). A few people stayed up to watch Up, while the rest dozed off or cleaned the kitchen. Then on Sunday, we ate, then bid our goodbyes and farewells until next time.