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[Yosemite]

Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Hiking, backpacking, running, biking, climbing, rafting, and other human-powered activities in Yosemite National Park

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Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby balzaccom » Mon Sep 21, 2015 2:22 pm

Over the past few years, we've made many attempts to hike to Island Lake in the Desolation Wilderness. We chose to cancel on our first attempt because of a nasty storm. Then P got sick right before we were to go the second time. Both times, we lost the $26 reservation fee via Recreation.gov.

Wrights Lake from the climb to Grouse Lake:

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Smith Lake

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The third time we got that fee back, because the trip was cancelled by the USFS due to heavy smoke and fire danger in the area. And by that time, we were wondering if we were destined to never see Island Lake.

Until this last weekend. It wasn't easy. When P went to Recreation.gov to reserve our permit, it told him that there were no more permits for Twin or Island Lakes.

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It would take more than that to stop us this time. P had also wanted to camp at Smith Lake...and there were permits for Smith Lake available! The itinerary for our trip then specified the second night at Island Lake, as we were on our way! No traffic accidents, no fires, no running out of gas...

Our friend Robin joined us on this trip as we hiked the first day from Wrights Lake up to Grouse, Hemlock, and finally Smith Lake.

Parts of this trail are as steep as anything you will hike anywhere, but happily the whole route is only a little over three miles. You gain 1700 feet in those three miles, and at least one mile of the trail is pretty darn flat. The rest goes right up the side of the mountain. And when you drive up from sea level as we did, this part takes a bit of a toll. But it is only three miles.

There are few good campsites at Smith Lake, but we found one perched on the ridge to the north of the lake, and enjoyed the fact that all of the day-hikers left in the late afternoon...and we had the place to ourselves. Very peaceful. And beautiful. The views out over the Central Valley in the evening were incredible.

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And worth the climb.

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The next day we hiked back down to the junction and then took the fork to Twin Lakes and Island Lake. This is an easier trail, and as always in Desolation, we had plenty of company, including a boy scout troop and a couple of charming father and son teams who were out exploring. The route up to Twin Lakes is glorious as it heads up long smooth granite slabs. The views open up, the sun was shining....it was a good day for a hike!

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Once at Twin Lakes, the trail gets a little less clear, but within a couple of hours we were looking for a campsite at Island Lake---with about the same success as at Smith. But we found a spot on the North shore fairly far along and had a wonderful afternoon wandering around and above the lake. From there the views of Island Lake were worth waiting for--even if it did take us about five years to see them.

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And as you can see in the photo below, evening was once again spectacular.

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And the next morning:

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On the way home, we hiked out on Sunday morning and met a wildly diverse crowd of day-hikers---everyone from young families to old geezers, from urban walkers to Sierra Club vets. locals to travelers from around the world. We've never seen anything like it on a trail outside of Yosemite. But Everyone was in a great mood...as well they should have been Perfect day, lovely hike, and the time to enjoy it all.


And now we can finally cross Island Lake off our list of places we'd like to see....and add it to our list of places we'd like to visit again.


The rest of the photos are here:
https://picasaweb.google.com/balzaccom/ ... erness2015
Check out our website and blog at: http://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby Grzldvt » Tue Sep 22, 2015 1:08 am

I have done Desolation several times and it is an incredible place. 10,000+ foot scenery at 6000 - 8000 foot levels. W had a huge coyote problem at Wright's Lake. The guy next two us had 2 German Shepard Dogs, and the coyotes would come around at night and try to draw them out. Must have been 30+ coyotes based on the yipping and the eyes we could see. But a great place and awesome scenery. I have an incredible pic of Lake Aloha, with a reflection that makes it difficult to figure out which is the lake versus the sky.
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby balzaccom » Tue Sep 22, 2015 6:22 am

Very cool. We did hear one coyote on Sunday morning up at Island lake...
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby Phil » Tue Sep 22, 2015 6:33 am

Beautiful place and beautiful photos. Thank you for the report. How were the nighttime temperatures and where did you park? Some trips stymie you for years, but it's nice to know that it was well worth it. Is that $26 fee based on a per zone reservation, or can we pass through and camp in multiple areas under the same permit, assuming space is available? We might just have time for one more trip without full winter gear, and this may just be it.
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby balzaccom » Tue Sep 22, 2015 10:31 am

Temps were mid 70's in the day, mid 40s at night---so pretty much perfect. We parked at the Twin Lakes Trailhead parking near Wrights Lake. Permits are a $6 fee plus $10 per person, and the quotas only apply for the first night. So once you spend one night in the backcountry you can pretty much go where you want.
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby MadDiver » Wed Sep 23, 2015 11:57 am

Good pics and a really nice looking area that makes one wonder how the name "Desolation" was chosen (I tried looking it up but couldn't find anything). Up in New Hampshire part of the Pemigewasset Wildness is the Desolation area due to massive fires in the early part of the last century that laid waste to a huge area and led to major changes in logging practices.
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby balzaccom » Wed Sep 23, 2015 1:57 pm

It's because there are large areas of pure granite. And for those early settlers looking for farming land or grazing land, it was pretty desolate.
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby Phil » Wed Sep 23, 2015 9:16 pm

Thanks Balzaacom. Just picked up the map today. If the weather holds, we're going, even though our toes are still sort of trashed from the steep switchback-less descents on the Lost Coast. The climb will be a treat. Not much in the way of trail system continuity or loops in that area you visited. Lots of short in-and-outs. I can see why the day hikers like it.

Can you give me a better description of where you ended up finding a site at Island Lake? It does look pretty minimal. Were there any more than just that one? Did you get any sense of possible cross country routes to the east towards Clyde and Aloha Lakes while you were there and looking around?
Last edited by Phil on Wed Sep 23, 2015 9:31 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby Phil » Wed Sep 23, 2015 9:19 pm

"... And for those early settlers looking for farming land or grazing land, it was pretty desolate."

And yet, someone said, "Hey we're here, and we'll call it Reno."
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby balzaccom » Wed Sep 23, 2015 10:14 pm

Phil wrote:Thanks Balzaacom. Just picked up the map today. If the weather holds, we're going, even though our toes are still sort of trashed from the steep switchback-less descents on the Lost Coast. The climb will be a treat. Not much in the way of trail system continuity or loops in that area you visited. Lots of short in-and-outs. I can see why the day hikers like it.

Can you give me a better description of where you ended up finding a site at Island Lake? It does look pretty minimal. Were there any more than just that one? Did you get any sense of possible cross country routes to the east towards Clyde and Aloha Lakes while you were there and looking around?


The route Northwest out of Island Lake to Tyler looked quite possible from the Island Lake side. We met some people who had done it from the other side. In Sierra North they give a pretty clear description of this route. You'll want to head up nearer the outlet of the lake and aim for the pink granite blocks on the ridge there, rather than farther east.

As for campsites, we slept in a minimal site near some larger trees on the big peninsula on the north side of the lake near the narrows. Not a great spot. Twin Lakes has more. There may also be a few sites between Twin and Island lakes....
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Re: Desolation Wilderness--Island Lake at last

Postby sarwanov » Sat Oct 03, 2015 10:02 am

That's really amazing lake indeed !!
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