Tuesday, August 16, 2011

PCT and TRT in Desolation Wilderness: Echo Lakes to Dicks Pass

Sunrise on the drive to the trailhead. 

Trail: Technical singletrack

Distance: 26 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Challenging

Trailhead: The trailhead at Echo Lakes Resort can be reached off of Hwy 50 near South Lake Tahoe, CA. Just south of Echo Summit, turn south on Johnson Pass Rd. At the Snow Park parking area, turn left and follow the road for about a half mile to the resort at Echo Lakes. Public outhouses are located adjacent to the parking area.

Season: July to October

Water: Creeks and lakes are plentiful during approximately the first ten miles. After the turn off to climb up to the pass you may find snow patches in early season or big snow years.

Notes: Wilderness permit required, even for day use. No fee, as of 2011. You can fill out permits at the trailhead.

Trish, Monica, Jennifer, and Jamie, trailside.

Trail Description:

Head south on the Pacific Crest Trail and Tahoe Rim Trail (the same trail, at this point) and follow the signs to Dick's Pass. Trails are well marked. You can turn around whenever you'd like for a run of any distance.

Stormy skies and snowy peaks above Aloha Lake

I set out with Jamie, Trish, Monica, and Jen (Caren caught up with us later) for a long, beautiful day in the Desolation Wilderness. Days like these are reminders of just why I live in Tahoe, and why I do this crazy ultrarunning thing.

The trail began across technical, rocky terrain along Echo Lake. We engaged in the standard conversation for this stretch of trail: Just how does one acquire one of these boat-in, lake-front cabins on National Forest land? Given that they can only be inherited, schemes ranged from befriending elderly landowners to marrying them.

After the glorious beauty of Aloha Lake, we made a wrong turn across the snow. I personally found the off-trail scrambling and snow traverses to be a fun adventure. The remainder of our group at least took the adventure to be reenforcement of what complete badasses we are. 

Yeah, anyone can get there if they take the trail!

Climbing up to the pass

After passing Echo, Aloha, Susie, and Heather Lakes, we worked our way up towards Dick's Pass. There is more climbing on the way out than on the return trip, and we were still full of spirit and soaking up our surroundings.

Jamie, Monica, and Trish at the top of the pass.

View from the top.

I found it fitting that the trailside lakes carried female names. It is rare that I spend an eight hour day running with a group of 5 other women. It's been a topic of much conversation lately not only why there are so few women in the sport of ultrarunning, but also how lucky we are to find ourselves among them. Although I quite appreciate most of the men I've met and run with, it is certainly a unique and wonderful atmosphere to be out in the wilderness with a group of badass women. It promotes unique topics of conversation as well. Enough said.

Trail along Heather Lake

We found a beautiful waterfall on the return trip - good for filling water bottles and for mid-run showers.

The day wasn't all that hot, but I couldn't resist the refreshment. It felt something like this ... 

Return trail along Aloha Lake

We pondered the name "Aloha" and decided it was chosen for the clear blue water, almost tropical looking, and tiny granite islands that look like sandy beaches. 

The last 5 miles back along Echo are always tiring but wistful. My legs felt shot from all the rocks, and the going was slow. My feet were hammered, feeling every piece of granite beneath my shoes. Still, I felt the peaceful sadness of the day coming to a close.

My fitness is not what it was in June, but it was such a wonder to be out there. A blessing, every mile.

Technical trail leads to Echo Lake.

Back at the car, a quick swim in Echo Lake is the satisfying cleansing to finish this prayer. The wind was fierce, and I nearly chickened out. Jamie went under first, obligating me to go. 

And that's exactly what good, badass, chick, ultrarunning friends are for.


  1. It always looks surreal to see runners in summer gear posing in snow, especially in August. I guess you can't escape the snow no matter how long you try!

  2. Great pics. And it looked like a great outing.

  3. So beautiful...the pictures, the description, the place. A 3-minute vacation for us readers :-)

  4. A blessing, indeed, for sure. You - and many others - live truly in paradise, and luckily, take full advantage of it. Desolation wilderness and Dick's pass bring memories from last summer. The places around Tahoe are beautiful! I honestly had never been on all-girl long day trips (not that many girls, anyway, or not that many hours at once), so I wonder what the conversations were:)

  5. Love this, Gretchen! A perfect day.

  6. Anne - I think this will definitely be a year with 12 months of snow on the ground. We'll see how September plays out on that front. No worries though - it's finally to the point of just being beautiful rather than burdensome.

    Hank - Thanks! I'm really trying to work on my running-photo skills and also become a better editor on that front. It's tough though, to choose only a few pictures. I'll keep trying!

    Paige - Yay! More vacations for you! :)

    Olga - Oh, I think you would have fully appreciated the conversations. Honestly, during the first two hours there was more than one occasion I had to stop running because I was laughing so hard, and I recall thinking that we would not be saying such things if men were present on the run. You are invited to join us at any time! ;)

    Meghan - Hooray! You, as well - come join us any time!!

  7. Oh. My. Goodness. I can't believe how beautiful that looks - I need to sneak up there and join you for one of these adventures sometime. What a perfect day.

  8. I love your adventures, Gretchen! And you're right about long runs with ultra-women. The conversation always goes deep, and you always end up laughing!

  9. The pictures made me ache for the runs I use to do in the Pac NW Cascades. There's no mountains in Memphis. Keep posting those beautiful pictures - Please!

  10. The pictures made me ache for the runs I use to do in the Pac NW Cascades. There's no mountains in Memphis. Keep posting those beautiful pictures - Please!

  11. Donald - Well, yes. I believe I've already made that suggestion to you. Get on it, kid!

    Pam - Definitely the conversations can be passionate or hilarious, and sometimes both at the same time.

    Dave - I love the North Cascades! I will certainly keep posting. Thanks for reading!

  12. So beautiful! Sounds and looks like an awesome outing. I hadn't really thought of fewer women in ultra running, but I guess you're right.