Carol Crooker Trip Report Desolation Wilderness Lollypop Loop.

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 12 February 2016

Carol Crooker Trip Report
Desolation Wilderness Lollypop Loop.
Member Profile



 Carol shares an excellent report of a June 2015 solo backpacking trip with us below. I find great benefit in Carol’s anticipation of the nature of the experience through her gear selections and trip planning. 

I also find wisdom in her use of time. Carol gives herself the time to explore and experience the line of her hike, rather than rush through.

Carol's account shows she tipped the balance between lightweight effective gear, the weight of her food & overall pack weight, and the distance & duration of her trip to both cover significant distance and have the leisure-time to deeply observe, scout about, and fully enjoy the distance covered.

This required Carol carry extra weight, and was able to carry the extra weight that gave her the ability to spend time engaging, exploring, and enjoying the environment at rest and in motion.

Carol effectively merged her experience and strength to create an ideal backpacking trip.


Trail Guide Resources 
Desolation Wilderness Map

Detailed Map of Carol's Route

Trail Guide
Lower Echo Lake Trailhead

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit


Here’s Carol’s report, followed by a list of essential trip facts, her gear selections, and skills deployed:

Desolation Wilderness Loop backpack from Echo Lake
By Carol Crooker

This is a description of an approximately 40-mile loop backpack in Desolation Wilderness. Starting at Echo Lake, I hiked along the PCT and then back through Rockbound Valley to return to Echo Lakes. I wanted to be in the wilderness for 9 days (that was about the most food weight I could handle) so hiked at a leisurely pace, went swimming, explored and listened to several books on my iPod during my trip. I live at 1200 feet elevation and it takes me awhile to adjust to higher elevations so I planned the first three days of the trip to be very short, acclimation days.

Acclimation -  Fitness

I flew into Reno on June 9, 2015, rented a car, made a stop at REI (conveniently located near the airport) to pick up 2 fuel canisters, drove to the nearby Whole Foods for an awesome buffalo burger, then drove about an hour and a half to Echo Lakes Chalet. I caught the boat to take the first 2 and half miles off the hike, then had only a mile and a half to my first camp at Tamarack Lake. By this time, it was heading towards 5 pm and the wind was blowing hard. I found a spot away from the lake that was more protected and squeezed my ZPacks Duplex tarp inside a circle of trees: 

Carol Crooker's ZPacks Duplex tarp set up in Desolation Wilderness.

I walked about a hundred yards to the lake to get water and the wind was howling. My spot was much calmer. That night it rained 3-4 hours with an overnight low of 45 degrees. I didn’t notice anyone else camped at the lake. In the morning I packed up and moved my camp about two and a half miles to Lake of the Woods. It rained pretty steadily for 6 hours at Lake of the Woods. After I set up my tarp I put on my rain gear and spent the next 3 hours or so exploring. Even with full rain gear, the 50-degree rain eventually chilled me so I made my way back to my tarp, snuggled up in my sleeping bag and bivy sack and took a nap. When I woke up, it was still raining so I listened to the podcast, ‘Serial.’ A friend had recommended this series where a journalist explores the case of a man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend over a decade before. I didn’t expect much of the podcast, but I quickly got hooked and listened to the whole 12-hour series over the course of my trip. The sun eventually came out and I started drying out my gear. 

Carol's sleeping bag set-up for early Summer Desolation Wilderness backpacking.

Western Mountaineering Summerlite & NeoAir Xterm xsmall air mattress

I normally use an alcohol stove, but those are not allowed in Desolation. I used a Snowpeak Max Lite canister stove with an 850 mL titanium mug from Mountain Laurel Designs for my pot to cook dinner. The setup was light and had nice simmer control. I steam baked a banana nut muffin for desert in a BatchStovez 12 oz cookpot inside the larger mug with delicious success. I’d picked up a 350 mL box of wine at Whole Foods and was feeling quite decadent as I sipped that along with a “homemade” muffin.

Squirrel checking Carol out in Desolation Wilderness.

Above: Local Color

The overnight low was 40 degrees. I was cozy in my Western Mountaineering Summerlite on top of a NeoAir Xterm xsmall air mattress. During the night at Lake of the Woods I heard a huge crash nearby. Other than one couple I’d seen hike by in the rain, I hadn’t see anyone the whole day. But the next morning hiking west along Lake of the Woods, I met another couple who had arrived in the afternoon. They said they had also heard the crash. We agreed it must have been a tree falling over and were glad it didn’t fall on us. 


I spent the third day and night at Lake Aloha after a 2-mile hike along a trail connecting the two lakes. I was glad not to have to hike up the steep incline to return to the main trail. The sun was out, the tropical storm had moved through and it was sunny for the remainder of the trip. The lowest temperature for the whole trip was 33 degrees and the highest was 83 degrees. Mosquitoes were pretty bad at dusk at Lake Aloha. I was fine with permethrin treated loose nylon pants and long sleeved shirt. I’d also treated my Tilly hat and Coolibar sun gloves with permethrin and wore a White Sierra neck gaiter (buff knock off) factory treated with permethrin. The bug repellent neck gaiter was a new item for me and it was awesome. I had it pulled up so just my eyes showed, and my mouth when I was eating. I had a mosquito headnet with me but liked this set up so much I never used it. A woman at the next campsite kept screaming that she was loosing her mind from being bitten but she only had on shorts and a t-shirt.


On day 4 I hiked a little over 4 miles to Gilmore Lake and set up camp. Along the way I checked out Heather and Susie Lakes for future reference (both had nice camp sites), stopped and ate a leisurely lunch, and listened to more of Serial. There were good campsites at Gilmore Lake and a convenient tree to hang my food in. 

Carol's counter-balanced food hang in Desolation Wilderness.

Above: Counter-balanced food hang.

Camp and Trail Skills
Bear Tech 

C-balanced & Tied-off food hangs.

Once I had my tarp set up I explored and went for a quick swim. I talked with a couple of other campers. One woman left to do a day trip to Dicks Pass.  I was concerned about snow on the trail this early in the season so I checked in with her once she returned. She said there was a little snow on the trail but nothing she couldn’t just walk across and nothing to cause her to lose the trail.

Carol's view of Dicks Lake, (Fontanillis Lake beyond) from below North flank of Dicks Pass.

Above: Hiking North from Dicks Pass down to Dicks and Fontanills Lakes.

Navigation Introduction

On Day 5 I climbed over Dick’s Pass, had lunch at Dick’s Lake (plenty of nice camping spots, pretty lake), checked out Fontanillis Lake (beautiful spot to swim, one iffy camp site), then camped at Middle Velma Lake. The hike was about 7 miles including the search for a campsite. It turns out the good campsites are on the south side of the lake. I searched for quite awhile along the west side. There was a good amount of snow on the downhill side of Dick’s Pass. I had to step carefully in my sneakers and use my trekking poles to avoid too much sliding, but the snow was hard enough that I didn’t sink in and others’ footsteps led the way down. I talked with several hikers including some north bound thru hikers and a couple of south bound section hikers. Middle Velma was beautiful and cool, nice for a refreshing swim.

Detailed Map of Carol's Route

The next day I broke off from the PCT and headed west for Camper Flat. There was a wide, shallow crossing of the Rubicon at the end of a mostly downhill 2-mile trek. I sat and watched amused as some hikers took off their boots and wincingly crossed the river in bare feet. I knew my feet were too tender for that and walked across in my sneakers. On my way south towards China Flat I crossed streams a couple more times. I had planned on camping somewhere near China Flat, but decided I had to detour to Lake Schmidell so I could camp at another lake, even though it would be all up hill. The hike to Lake Schmidell from Middle Velma was only about 5 miles but the long uphill stretch was taxing, but well worth it. Lake Schmidell was gorgeous! The west side was directly below higher peaks with snowfields that melted directly into the lake. After I set up camp, I went down to the lake to swim but the water was just too frigid. There was another tent set up when I arrived and some young men arrived after I had set up camp, but I had my precious solitude none-the-less. I was never within speaking distance of anyone else.

Bird in Desolation Wilderness.

I left Lake Schmidell in the morning and headed to Lake Lois. Lake Lois was a pretty little lake with a nice campsite. The trail traces along the north edge of the lake then makes a right turn across the lake outlet to head down the east side. I had trouble reconciling what happened on the ground with what I was seeing on my Tom Harrison map. I really didn’t believe I was on the right trail until I’d tracked all the way along the eastern edge and left the lake behind behind. I was thinking of camping at Clyde Lake the 7th night. I camped at Clyde Lake last year and encountered high winds with not much terrain or trees for protection. I ran into another hiker during this trip who had a similar experience so when I came to the turnoff I just kept on going to Lake Aloha instead. I camped near the south east side of Lake Aloha after about 10 miles of hiking. I explored around the south side of the lake and found a good spot for a swim –always refreshing after a sweaty hike!

Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness.

Above: Lake Aloha.

I spent the last night at Tamarack Lake to position myself as close to the boat pick up as possible. I explored, swam a couple of times, meditated and carefully washed my hair and body with water carried from the lake. I would be getting on a plane the next day and didn’t want to smell too bad.

I got up early the next morning and hiked to the Echo Chalet boat pick up. When I called for the boat to come it was already on its way to drop off some backpackers. What a delight to find that the group included a woman who’d shared some delicious homemade snacks with me at Middle Velma.

I really enjoy the boat ride across the two lakes because it’s nice to go so fast the wind is whipping, it’s cool, and I get a close up look of some of the cabins along the lake side. Then it was back to reality. I changed into my regular clothes in the bathroom at the chalet, walked to my rental car and drove back to Reno. I was ahead of schedule to catch my plane so I drove back to Whole Foods and ordered some lunch. While it was being prepared, I walked next door to Sierra Trading Post to see if I could find some bargains. Then I was off to the airport to catch my flight.

Boat Taxi Information 

Desolation Wilderness is really beautiful and so accessible. I loved being able to camp at a different lake every night. My starting pack weight with 9 days of food (about 16 pounds of food including my carton of wine) and a liter of water was about 32 pounds, which is about 10 pounds more than the maximum I usually carry. I didn’t consume as much food as I expected since I spent so much time lounging and I ended up with about a pound and a half of food left over at the end of the trip.

My pack was the 60-liter, sub-2-lb Gossamer Gear Mariposa. I love the Mariposa and use it for most of my typically 5-day backpacking trips. This nine-day trip stretched it to its capacity and beyond. Not everything fit in the pack so I carried a stuff sack with excess food and gear the few miles to my first and second campsites. (I was able to use the stuff sack later for my exploration trips.) My tender shoulders took a beating carrying so much weight and were quite sore by the end of the trip. Even with the sore shoulders, this was a wonderful trip!

Thanks to Kevin Gong for the loop idea and to Alex of this website for lots and lots of help with the weather. I made my plans well in advance (plane ticket, permit) and was anxious about weather conditions so early in the season. Alex was a great help to me. Thanks Alex!

High Sierra Weather


Lower Echo Lake North PCT
to Middle Velma Lake.
West to Camper Flat.
South to Lake Aloha and
PCT to Lower Echo Lake

Distance & Duration
40 miles in 9 Days
June 9 to 18, 2015

Temps and Weather
33 degrees and the highest was 83 degrees

Starting Pack Weight
About 32 pounds

60-liter, sub-2-lb Gossamer Gear Mariposa
I love the Mariposa and use it for most of my typically 5-day backpacking trips. This nine-day trip stretched it to its capacity and beyond. Not everything fit in the pack.

 ZPacks Duplex tarp (pic)

Backpacking Tent Forum

Sleeping Bag and Bivy Sack
Western Mountaineering Summerlite (pic)

NeoAir Xterm xsmall air mattress  (pic)

Backpacking Sleeping Gear Forum

Outer Shell
Full rain gear: 

Ultra-light rain suit by Zpacks made of WPB cuben material. So the set
weighs under 9 oz.

Backpacking Shell Forum

Permethrin treated loose nylon pants and long sleeved shirt.
I’d also treated my Tilly hat and Coolibar sun gloves with permethrin.
White Sierra neck gaiter (buff knock off) factory treated with permethrin.

Spring gear for Desolation Wilderness backpacking.

A woman at the next campsite kept screaming that she was loosing her mind from being bitten but she only had on shorts and a t-shirt.

The Kitchen
normally use an alcohol stove
Snowpeak Max Lite canister stove

Backpacking Stoves Forum

850 mL titanium mug from Mountain Laurel Designs for my pot to cook dinner.

BatchStovez 12 oz cookpot.

Backpacking Cookware Forum

Tom Harrison 

Trail Guide Resources 
Desolation Wilderness Map

Detailed Map of Carol's Route

Trail Guide
Lower Echo Lake Trailhead

TYT-PCT Route Miles
(N to S across Desolation)

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

Skills and Safety 

Acclimation -  Fitness



Bear Tech 

C-balanced & Tied-off food hangs.

Bear Country: Don'ts

Navigation Introduction

Boat Taxi Information


High Sierra Weather


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