Backpacking Aloha Lake: Moonlight, Alien lore, and Unexpected Snow
“Moonlight backpacking,” this was Trail’s next big idea. We were just settling in at Track 7 Brewery for some goodness and burritos when she pulled out the moon cycle calendar on her phone… When was the next upcoming full moon? Where can we get moonlight reflecting granite? You available?
This is how Trails, Route, Curtis, and I ended up hiking out to the Aloha Lake region of the Desolation Wilderness between the hours 8:30 PM and midnight. Completely alone on this normal crowded trail in darkness.
“So guys, isn’t this exactly how every X-files episode starts?” – Me.
Ha… don’t worry I wasn’t abducted …OR SO I THINK… & I am now able to give you the straight and narrow on Moonlight Hiking Alien Facts:
Fact 1. When backpacking in the dark your sense of touch, even through your boots, kicks it up a notch to help you find the path. I was seriously aware of every sense – except sight! Which means I was not even thinking to look for UFOs in the sky. Bummer.
Fact 2. Given a certain amount of patience and a well marked trail everything will stay the course, until you reach snow. It is so difficult to follow snow trails in the dark. This must be why people get turned around and lost in blizzards. Be safe moonlight hikers, know your limitations.
Fact 3. The data I have now collected online points to the fact that we may have been hiking at the correct time of night for an alien encounter, but not at the correct time of the moon cycle (AKA: Peak brightness = no aliens). Was this a good thing? A bad thing? A questionable use of basic and very lazy statistical analysis thing? Your choice!
Backpacking Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness – Lake Tahoe, CA
Trailhead: Reach Echo Lakes via Hwy 50. As you approach the highway summit a brown Forest Service sign for Echo Lakes will appear out of nowhere, at which you want to suddenly turn left onto Echo Summit Rd. Follow this for a half a mile to turn left onto Echo Lakes Rd. There is a large parking lot about another half mile down the road (busy during the day, great at night!). Either follow the road down to the trailhead or a small connecting trail leads from the right side parking area down. Map
Distance: The maps estimate it is about 6 miles to Aloha (12 out and back). My Garmin, started from our sweet camping spot about mid-lake, said it was just over 7 miles (14.5 out and back). The trail next to the lake is fairly flat, with the largest climb starting at ~3.25 miles in, gaining about 800 elevation in 2 miles.
Trails has a great little trip report of this whole hike up on her blog. I am going to reiterate a couple key points from there. No topo maps today because I have a brand new laptop and haven’t downloaded everything I needed yet. It is a popular hike, so hope one is already available online somewhere.
The hike starts out by walking over the Echo Lake dam, then following along the perimeter of the lake. This was a completely new stretch of the Tahoe Rim Trail to me, because on my Tahoe Rim Trail thru-hike we had skipped this small chunk by taking the water taxi. But since there is no water taxi at 8:30 pm in June I got to check these couple miles off the list – TRT extra complete!
At just below 8400 ft we had reached the snowline in the woods. The snow levels were to be expected because this was a June Sierra hike, but since this is the first year after our persistent drought it was still a surprise. The hour was nearing midnight, so it was about time to set up camp and call it a night anyhow.
By morning daylight it was much easier to follow the trails into Aloha Lake, although not entirely a cake walk either. I would recommend keeping a map nearby and remaining ready to re-evaluate in snow.
Lake Aloha was beautiful surrounded by the snow capped peaks. We found our campsite above the wet snow and mud on the ridge, away from the marmots to please our canine companion. It was very sunny, windy… and got colder than expected at night. We woke up to a frosted over lake.
Traveling back to the car on Sunday morning we were surrounded by a girl scouts, a group of over a dozen backpackers, day hikers, and fellow weekenders. The trail was new to our eyes in both the daylight and the crowds. Trails has described moonlight hiking as a as a way to turn an out and back into a loop, and she is right. COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. More importantly, the Echo Lake Chalet was open with snacks when we were done, which always a win. :)