Monday, July 24, 2017

Upper Velma Lake (& Eagle Lake) - 7/20/17

Lowest Basin of Upper Velma Lake

Eagle Lake

Eagle Falls above Emerald Bay

Steps begin Immediately
 The Eagle Falls Trailhead is a popular place and it is a good idea to get there early. It is located on Highway 89 at Emerald Bay just before you turn down into the park if you are coming from South Lake Tahoe. Signs demand No Stopping along the sides of the road but when we finished our hike, there were cars all up and down on both sides! Eagle Falls flows down from the road to the bay and is a great place for sunrise photos. The trailhead that heads up into Desolation Wilderness begins from the paid parking below. Grab a permit as you pass by the kiosk and begin your stair-climb up the path. Take a photo of the creek and waterfall then hike on up to cross the bridge.

Creek & Trail Bridge
 Soon, you will come to a Y junction. The right fork is a shorter loop hike. We took the left fork and continued our stairs. After crossing a granite terrain, we climbed some more steps!

Eagle Lake at Shore
 In short time, we came to another Y junction. The right fork took us down to Eagle Lake where, at this time of morning, there was a fantastic mirror in the lake for photos.

Eagle Lake from Trail Above

Pause in Climbing Steps
 We took our required photos and returned up the short trail to the junction and turned right to continue up the hill on the ... steps! There was a nice long traverse along the steep hill with a view of Eagle Lake below, next. Then we entered into the trees at a small creek crossing. Here, the steps continued and small switchbacks were added making it easier to catch photos of our large group of moderately strenuous to strenuous hikers. The scenery was that of walls of a large canyon. We were ascending one wall of the canyon. Water flowed down from above us in several places. There were also a few wildflowers blooming.

 David, our coordinator, kept a nice even pace and made only a couple of stops all the way up the hill. We reached a "lip" on the terrain and saw a family playing in one of the snow patches off the trail.

 After the "lip," we descended sharply then were rewarded with another very nice traverse. Then, there were more steps!

And, more Steps and Switchbacks

Finally, a Pleasant Traverse
 More steps. More small switchbacks. Then, we reached a saddle and trail junction. The left turn headed toward "Bayview" Trail with a grand view of Mt. Tallac. Our right turn was labeled "Velma Lakes." After a short break and small talk with a couple of hikers resting there, we headed out along a gorgeous traverse along the edge of a ridge to our right. To our left was a grand view of the mountain range that divides Desolation Wilderness. Out of this range rises Phipp's Peak, Dick's Peak, Jack's Peak, Cracked Crag, and Ralston Peak. Mt. Tallac rises on its own ridge between this range and Lake Tahoe.

Granite & Mountain
 There were several small alpine ponds filled with water in this area. Most of them offered a nice mirror effect.

Arriving at Bayview Trail Junction Saddle
 A few small switchbacks with ... steps ... went up and down along this stretch. An interesting weathered tree grew above one switchback.

Velma Lakes / Bayview Saddle Sign

Traverse in Open Terrain
 Several of us hung back trying to capture the scenery with our cameras. Near to impossible to do it justice! Too soon, we came to another trail junction. The left choice led to Dick's Lake, a viable destination but, at this time, requires a high water crossing. We took the right turn choice heading to Velma Lakes. We passed a few more beautiful ponds and started downhill on a winding trail. It wasn't too steep but we realized that we would need to climb this hill on the way back! We saw a lake in the distance. Probably Middle Velma Lake. Next, we curved around and came to a large body of water. Not large enough to be Upper Velma Lake but pretty large.

Panorama of Mountain Range
 David told us that this was a lower basin of Upper Velma Lake. Its views were nonetheless gorgeous with the snow capped mountains in the background.

Small Mirrored Pond
 If at all possible, we wanted to reach the upper basin of Upper Velma Lake so we stopped here for a much needed break on the shore.

Un-Named Mountain

Tough Tree
 After the break, we returned to the trail and continued a little further. Yep. The river crossing that was necessary to reach the upper basin was flowing too strong. An exploration of the river deterred us from going any further. Still, this was a very pretty basin and we were pretty happy! In walks our new friend! A PCT hiker walks up to inspect the river crossing. He told us of his travels and seemed a little beleaguered of the high water challenges. It didn't take long for him to change his direction and he fell in with our line of hikers thirty to forty years his senior. He was very friendly and went by the trail name "Farfel." (There's a story behind that!)

Velma Lakes / Dick's Lake Trail Junction Sign
 We promised him a ride back to South Lake Tahoe at the end of the hike and enjoyed his company all the way down.

Larger Mirrored Pond
 When all the photos were taken at the lake, we turned around to make our way back to the trail. On the way, we found a large "cat" print in the sand.

Descending Hillside

Pond above Lowest Basin of Upper Velma Lake
 Facing that climb back to the last trail junction, some of the stronger hikers got out front and used some different muscles to make the climb at a faster rate. (The slower muscles were tired!) We went on past the Dick's Lake junction and enjoyed the traverse. At the Bayview junction saddle, we stopped to wait for the other half of the group. They weren't too far behind and didn't even stop when they reached us! We fell in behind them and started the long descent of the ... steps.

Overflowing River from Basin (Trail crosses This)
 Those steps were tiring as we descended. The recreational hikers we passed on the way down seemed envious of our hiking sticks!

Basin to River
 We were making good time until one hiker took a mistep and fell. He was an experienced hiker and bounced right back up. But, the pace slowed a little then.

Climbing Back up to Dick's Lake Junction

Descending from Bayview Saddle
 As we neared the bottom, we passed more and more day hikers. It was really quite crowded below Eagle Lake. The smoke from a distant fire had begun to lift and we could almost see Lake Tahoe!! We left the trailhead and climbed up the road to our car. On the other side of the road, Eagle Falls was crawling with sight-seers. This was an excellent choice for a hike on a day we all had a lot of energy. We felt like we were up in the alpine mountains. Well, we were! Loved it!

9.5 miles; 2300 feet elevation gain; 6.25 hours

High above Eagle Lake

Down, down, Down

Smoke lifting off of Lake Tahoe

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