We’ve been talking with Kyle and Krista about going on a backpacking trip for quite some time. Finally we all found a date that worked for us so we planned a little one night overnight trip to Desolation Wilderness. The plan was to do about 6 miles the first day, camp at a lake up there that is known for having good flat areas, and then finish another 7+ or so miles the second day. The weather forecast was to be about 50 during the day and 35 or so at night with no signs of bad weather. We were so pumped. We all rented backpacks, trekking poles, and a bear canister from a store down here and packed up all our gear. Kyle and Krista spent Friday night in our guest room so we could hit the road to Tahoe nice and early Saturday morning.
We got out right on time about 7am Saturday. The drive up only took 3.5 hours which is some kind of record for us. We stopped at a Subway for “lunch” at South Lake Tahoe and then drove up to park at the Eagle Lake parking lot where we would leave our car for the weekend. With our boots on and plenty of energy we strapped on our rental packs and hit the trail. My pack weighed about 25 pounds, a pretty good percentage of my body weight, and it took a bit of getting used to carrying it. I had some trouble breathing at the beginning, but you sort of get used to it as you go. We made it about a half mile when we stopped because Kyle’s pack was dripping water. His entire behind was soaked through along with the bottom of his pack where his sleeping bag was. Sadly he had to continue that day with a wet bottom and a worrisome water bladder.
We continued on up the trail, knowing the first mile or two would be the steepest and probably the most difficult. We encountered many day hikers along the way, though they became fewer the further in we hiked. What we did not account for was that many sections of the trail would be snow covered, or worse, sheets of ice. Even though we were on the trail before noon the uphill ice and snow we were facing slowed our pace down to about 1 mile per hour which was quite a bit more than we had anticipated. Still we did make it to our desired camping location just before sundown. We were able to set up our tents and everything in the light, but then we were stuck cooking and eating in the dark. It did feel rather cold with no campfire and no more activity once the sun went down, but having some warm food helped. We then packed all the food, scented items, and trash into the bear-proof canister and placed it a bit away from our tents. Everyone piled into mine and Eric’s tent to play some cards, but somewhere around 7:30pm we were all just too tired to stay up. Early bedtime!
Around 9:30pm we heard something start to mess with the bear canister. Scratching at it, rolling it in the snow, hitting it up against rocks. I guess we were being visited by a bear! The Sierra Nevadas are bear country after all. But we felt confident we had done everything we were supposed to. Our packs and tents were free of food and our food was safely inside the bearproof plastic container. We listened to the bear mess with the container for a long while. I kept thinking surely he will give up and go away. Instead he decided to come up to our camp area. We had made the mistake of cooking too close to our tents I think. The bear walked up and rooted around in mine and Eric’s packs, snorting and sniffing a little too close to our heads through the tent. It then went over to Kyle and Krista’s tent and just mauled their packs. Kyle’s pack had an side pocket ripped open, and his map showing bear claw scratches. Krista’s bag had been dragged 10 feet away from the tent and the contents strewn about outside. The bear was in our camp investigating and rifling and making a racket with the canister for 2 hours. I think we learned from this that bear encounters do happen, and in the future we will be much more careful about cooking away from the sleeping area. And maybe also keeping bear spray on hand. Also, I’m not sure how she managed it, but Krista was asleep for all of this and had no idea we had a bear visitor that evening until the rest of us told the story the next day.
In the morning we enjoyed seeing the bear tracks in the snow, and also had to go searching for our food. Unfortunately the bear seemed to have rolled it into the creek flowing past our camp. In the darkness that night Eric hadn’t realized how close to the creek he was placing the canister for safekeeping. So we had the pleasure of rescuing it out of the water in the morning. Thankfully it hadn’t floated away entirely. Sadly while these containers are apparently quite bear proof, they’re very much not waterproof. We spent a bit of the morning picking through the contents to see what food was still edible. A good bit of our food had been packed in tight ziplocks or prepackaged so we still had enough. But some was lost, and the trash we were packing out was now wet trash that weighed more. Fun. Another lesson learned about location of the bear canister and also about always bringing extra food and packing it well.
Even though the planned hike was longer in distance for the second day we were getting an earlier start and also knew it would be mostly downhill so it should go faster. That probably would have been true if it weren’t for more ice and snow. Krista and I were thankful for the trekking poles on more than one occasion where the trail was a sheet of ice on a downhill. Even so there were only one or two instances where anyone went off their feet and those were no big deal. At some points the snow was around ankle deep and Kyle and Krista’s shoes were not holding up well so they had some uncomfortable wetness for much of the hike back. Again this day took almost twice as long as expected for various reasons and we did not make it to the car until a bit before 5pm. Regardless, we did all make it back feeling very accomplished. The vistas and solitude out there were just incredible and breathtaking. Even though we didn’t expect the ice and snow that slowed us down or the bear to bother us, we had a great time. I think we would all like to try another backpacking trip in the future, too.