Isolation in Desolation Wilderness
So here we are in June, in Lake Tahoe, where most people have set away the ski gear for the summer season and the bikes and fishing gear slowly start making their ways out of garages and storage units. For the hardcore skiers, if there’s still snow on top of the peaks, then why not keep getting after it if mother nature continues to provide an opportunity to slide on snow? The summer corn harvest becomes plentiful as the snow melts into rivers, lakes and, in some instances, forming its own pond. Located deep in The Desolation Wilderness you can find this phenomena with a 50+ pound pack full of gear, ideally accompanied by a few good friends who might be just as crazy as you are.
It’s a funny thing going skiing in summer months. When people see skis on your pack the most typical response is, “Wait, you’re going skiing? Where??” Understandably it’s a comical scene when a hardcore skier/snowboarder is hiking along a dusty trail with literally no snow in sight. On this specific mission, I’d respond to each person with a humorous, “We’re going water skiing!” which created puzzled faces on clueless out-of-towners.
However, the informed locals, with excitement under their breath, would ask if we were heading up to the Fountain of Youth. This was immediately followed up with a question that I was asking myself, “Does it go?” A good question given that it’s a six mile hike when the ferry is running along the Lower and Upper Echo Lake. Unfortunately, like many businesses in this day and age, the ferry was not running due to the Covid pandemic, which meant adding an additional two miles to the hike. With 50+ pound backpacks, those miles add up quickly and equal some seriously tired legs.
The Fountain of Youth lives up to its legendary name. It’s a 40 yard long pond with an astonishing vibrant tone of early morning blue sky. In low snowpack seasons you can pond skim the Fountain of Youth from mid June to early July. If you arrive a few weeks early, the Fountain might still be frozen over, and if you wait too long into the summer months it can completely melt off, exposing large granite boulders.
As we arrived at what may or may not be a skiable pond the next morning, my anxiety subsided as I took in the surrounding views. I quickly reminded myself that the pond was never the prize. It’s the adventure that makes the trip worthwhile but, as it happened, we may have lucked out with our timing. After the 1,000’ vert scramble up the last peak, the pond showed itself and its immaculate water. My grin widened as I transitioned from hiking shoes to ski boots. The session began fairly swiftly as I ‘won’ the opportunity to test out the waters first. My only objective was to make it clear across the pond and not get wet, but the transition from snow to water seemed abrupt. Come in with too much speed or not enough speed and you’d find yourself taking an ice bath.
A little nervous, I clicked in from the top of the run-in and started racing down towards the pond. “Faster is always better than fast” is the saying, as I straight-lined from the top, coming in hot! For a moment, I might have closed my eyes as I started gliding my 4FRNT skis across the pond. Next thing I knew, I was on the other side of the snow bank, soaking wet from a backslap half way across the pond. Everyone burst out in laughter and began hollering back up to the rest of the crew, who were ready to drop. There were cheers and jeers as successful pond crossings were had, but the failures were just as plentiful. Celebratory beers were deemed necessary by those crazy enough to carry the extra weight, which was well worth it if you ask me.
With tired legs, we skied down from the infamous Fountain of Youth and moseyed our way back into camp. Hungry from a full day of adventuring, hiking, skiing, and for some of us swimming, we decided to have ourselves a quick MRE (meal ready to eat) dinner in order to catch the day’s golden hour of fishing. Rumors have swirled that fishing certain lakes inside of Desolation has actually become null and void. Since 2008 the USFS has been removing all fish within the Desolation Wilderness in order to protect the endangered Yellow-Legged Frog, which is native to and only found in the Sierra Nevadas.
I was unsure whether we would find any fish within the surrounding lakes, however I had heard rumors from local guides about real lake monsters located in Lake Aloha. The word was that some were reaching up to 30 inches. Eager to toss the wet-fly into the waters, we bolted to the edge of the dam after dinner. After a short stint of trial and error, we managed to land a few nice looking 14-20 inch Brook Trout, which really putting the cherry on the cake of another successful backcountry mission.
All Photos Riley Bathurst