June 8, 2014 – Desolation Wilderness, Lake Tahoe area
I finally made it up to Tahoe for an overnighter (Thurs/Fri). My 220 mile John Muir Trail trip is now 8 weeks away and I’d been wanting to get up to the backcountry to test my gear (and my fortitude) and to work on my night photography techniques. Mainly, though, I wanted to experience the beauty and solitude of Middle Velma Lake in Desolation Wilderness. I went up and tried this trip three weeks ago, but had to abort when unexpected weather brewed up in the high country. This time, I had a more favorable weather forecast ahead of me, and upgraded wet weather gear just in case.
The most important thing I learned years ago on Mt. Whitney is that mountain weather should never be taken for granted or trifled with. It only takes one harrowing experience to learn this lesson and it usually stays with you a long, long time. I started up the Eagle Lake trail just before 11:00 under a brilliant blue cloudless sky and warm temperatures. My Gregory Baltoro 75 backpack was pretty much at the same weight (42 pounds) that I’ll be trekking with along the JMT. I didn’t take many photos during the first two miles since I wanted to get to my camp as early as possible. But I did stop for my requisite photos of wildflowers before I got to the Eagle Lake junction.
Above Eagle Lake, I saw a single white puffy cloud floating innocently above the ridge to the west. I joked that a storm was brewing, but I was only half joking. If there’s enough moisture and warmth for one cloud to form, more can be expected. I rested for a bit at the intersection of the Velma Lake Trail and the Bayview Trail then continued on. I began keeping a constant eye on the skies as more clouds, thicker and darker, formed to the south. Once I got to the Dicks Lake junction, I veered north away from the clouds. That’s when I took the sepia-toned photo above. The nice thing about brewing storms is that they make for better images.
What also makes for nice images is the reflection of mountain & sky off ponds and crystal clear alpine lakes. Unfortunately, this time of year, stopping for a few seconds on the shores of these bodies of water is like ringing a dinner bell for hungry hatching mosquitos. After shooting the above image, I rushed on toward Middle Velma, away from the infernal winged beasts. It’s short hike from Upper to Middle Velma, but in the time it took to get to my destination, the clouds really thickened behind me and looked as thought I’d be overtaken. Right around the time I got to a high spot to look for a suitable site above the lake, I heard the first deep rumble of thunder. I rushed to set up my tent on a nice flat spot about 100 yards from the southern shore.
Thankfully, the storm veered to the east, but I was uneasy for the next hour. Eventually, though, the skies cleared and I was treated to a glorious afternoon and an even more sublime early evening as the sun set and the stars started to appear.
After choking down a dinner of dehydrated Mountain House chicken & rice, I made a couple of trips to the lake shore to take some photos as the sun dropped toward the horizon to the west. There were still some residual clouds in the distance and to the north, which again made for some stunning views.
Admittedly, I’m a novice when it comes to night and star photography. This was a big reason I wanted to make a trip to the mountains. To work on my skills away from the light pollution of the Bay Area. Even on our clearest nights where I live, I might think I see a lot of stars, but it isn’t until I get into the wilds that I truly realize how few I’m able to see. I didn’t get a lot of star images, but I was thrilled with one image I got about an hour after sunset.
Shortly after my night sky photo session, I called it a night and crawled into my tent. I fell asleep to the sound of frogs croaking along the lake and woke to the sound of birdsong. Such a treat. I was up early to head back down the mountain. Once again the skies were bright blue and free of clouds. And the mosquitos were even hungrier than before. I almost had to sprint across the logs across the outflow of Upper Velma lest I get eaten alive (even with DEET slathered on my exposed skin).
On the way down the mountain, I was able to get a handful of wildflower photos to satisfy my seeming obsession.